Wednesday, 17 May 2017

16th May - The Finger Prints of Strangers

We have finally lost the cold north easterly winds, and this meant some sunshine and warmer winds over the weekend, but also a few welcomed showers.  The weekend saw a trip to the New Forest (details here), and as a result of that the possibility of an interesting story surrounding the life of a Wood Warbler which has had a geolocator fitted to find out where it spends the winter.   This is one of the many mysteries of the summer migrants that visit these shores that are slowly being unraveled by utilising the latest technology.  Hopefully I will learn more over the months.

 Monday saw some more welcome rain, but today up until about mid afternoon there were sunny spells and very warm and muggy feel.  However by the time I arrived home high clouds had rolled in, and there was even the threat of drizzle in the air.  Despite this I decided to go out for a walk.  As I left the house there were many House Martins flying around the estate, as is normally the way in still conditions when the threat of rain seems to increase the amount of airbourne insects.

I estimated well in excess of thirty birds around the houses and over the trees, which matches up with the total number of nests I have counted around the estate, in all there are 16 nests that are in the process of being repaired or being built.  Unfortunately this area does not fall into one of the squares selected by the BTO for recording.

At time the House Martins would swoop quite close over my head, making it a challenge to track them through the air.

I walked up Brislands, which now is almost completely enclosed by the leaves of the mature trees, the one tree that is still to come into full leaf are the Ash.  Every year I quote the old tale that "Oak before Ash we are inf or a splash, but if it is Ash before Oak we are in for a soak", and every year for the last five years the Oak has come into leaf first, and it hasn't made the slightest difference to the weather, with years of heavy rain throughout the summer (2012 & 2014) and average for the others.  There must though be a reason for this wives tale.

I had hoped to find the Swallows around the stables as I crossed into Old Down, but there was no sign of them at all.  In the woods it was still, and relatively quiet.  A distant Chiffchaff could be heard, and along the main path a Blackcap sang.  Sometimes known as the Nightingale of the north, the Blackcap's song is along with that of the Wood Warbler one of my favourite warbler songs, and for me very much up there with that of the Nightingale

The Blackcap belongs to the family Sylviidae, members of this old world warbler family are sometimes known as "Typical Warblers".  the genus name Sylvia is from the modern Latin name for a woodland sprite

All are strongly built, with stouter legs and a slightly thicker bill than many other warblers.  The plumage is in varying shades of grey and brown, usually darker above and paler below.  Many of the species show distinctive male and female plumage.  In the Blackcap, the male is almost all grey with the distinctive black cap, while the female has a chestnut red cap.  They are active warblers usually associated with open woodland, scrub, hedges or shrubs.

For once this male was quite happy to sing out in the open.

I decided to walk through some of the more denser areas of the wood, in the hope that I might locate some Roe Deer.  The frequency of sightings in Old Down has definitely fallen in the last 18 months, and i doubt this year I will find any family groups.  The field that is usually where the kids get is now being used for grazing cattle.

My walk took me through the woods, taking the main path, then heading out on to the southern perimeter coming out at the ash tree plantation.  I searched this area for any possible signs of Spotted Flycatcher.  This has been a productive area in the past, and the time from mid May is the best time to look for them as they pass through.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any birds let alone a flycatcher.

I took the diagonal path through the Beech trees.  There were still some Bluebells about and I had to take one more final scene before the canopy finally condemns them back to the wood floor.

We look forward to them arriving, but every year they seem to come and go so quickly.

As I walked out of the wood I passed at least two singing Song Thrushes.  Turning onto Brislands I could hear a Yellowhammer in song, and as I came from under the oak trees into the open, with the hedges on both sides of me, I thought about how this area was once a good spot for Whitethroat, and that over the last two years I hadn't seen one here.  No sooner had I had that thought a brief snatch of Whitethroat song came from the elder bush alongside me.  I stopped and could see the owner skulking behind the leaves of the Elder bush.

Then, bizarrely and quite brazenly it flew onto the hedge on the other side of the road, and burst into song.

Normally the Whitethroat is difficult to see, its country name "nettle creeper" describing its habit over moving through the brambles, nettles and hedgerows out of sight.  This individual appeared to be scolding me.

A great opportunity too for some clear and open shots.

Just like the Blackcap, the Whitethroat is a member of the Sylviidae family of warblers, and you can see the similarity in the bill, and structure.  Like the Blackcap, male and female are slightly different, the male having a grey head, and white throat, while the female lacks the grey head, and has a much duller throat.

It then moved to the top of the hedge to continue the scratchy song.

As it delivers the song the feathers on the white throat patch move revealing a darker colour beneath.

This is a bird of open country and cultivation, with bushes for nesting. The nest is built in low shrub or brambles, and 3–7 eggs are laid.  Over the last five years records have been sporadic locally, with the majority of sightings coming from the Plain Farm area.  It was good then to find this male singing here along Brislands.

It stayed quite happily singing, allowing me to get very close.

I left it singing and made my way home without anything else of note.  Around the house the House martins continued to fly, while in the air I could sense rain about to fall.  The forecast for the rest of the week is for a spell of heavy rain on Wednesday and then fresher conditions to the end of the week.  we definitely need the rain, but I hope this is not the start of a wet summer which has been the pattern in previous years following a pro-longed dry spell.

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