Friday, 27 January 2017

27th January - In the Dark Time of the Year

A very cold week, with plenty of daytime fog.  Today has seen the fog lift, and overnight there was some rain that froze as the skies cleared at dawn.  One highlight of hthe week has been that the Song Thrushes have started to sing, on both Tuesday and Wednesday I saw two birds, one in Lymington Bottom and the other along Brislands in song at the top of the Ash trees.  Another first year sighting was a Moorhen that scrambled across the road by the frozen pond, it was clearly searching the leaf litter along with the blackbirds for food.

The garden too, has turned up a first for the year, and the first for some time, the last time one was present was January 2015.  A female Blackcap, resplendent with a chestnut red cap was seen at first on the feeders, and then in the tree.


She would wait her turn with the Goldfinches


And while she did she went through some very vigorous exercises and flapping her wings.


However when finally she did make a move back to the feeders she was not greeted well.  This male Siskin clearly not happy she was moving in.


Last year's mild winter did not force the Blackcaps into the garden, prior to that they had been regular winter visitors with at least a pair turning up.  We shall have to see if she is joined by a male as the winter goes on.

Up to now I have only been able to catch the Siskins on the feeders, but today they treated me to some shows in the branches which always look better in the photographs.

This looks like a first winter male just beginning to get its adult plumage.


Here you can see the fine bill, that while being a seed eater allows it to take advantage of fine seeds such as thistle, and pine cones.  It is slightly finer than that of the Goldfinch.


Here a more advanced plumaged male.


The black cap distinguishing it from the heavier, and stockier Greenfinch


We have had at least four individuals in the garden, and I hope these, and the Blackcap stick around over the weekend as it is the RSPB Garden Birdwatch.  So if you have the time to give an hour watching your garden please do so it is for a good cause, and a very enjoyable way to spend your time.

Monday, 23 January 2017

22nd January - No Flag or Uniform

Yet another cold day, clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine, I headed out a little later today, it was a good evening last night!  As I walked along Brislands it felt a little warmer than when I was out yesterday, but still in sheltered spots there was frost.  I turned into Gradwell in the hope of seeing the large flocks that had been present yesterday, but could only find a large flock of Chaffinches that flew up from the edge of the field and into the surrounding trees.

I turned uphill towards Kitwood, and as I passed the house opposite the school I was scolded by a Wren that sat out in the open on the fence.



A little further on a Nuthatch called from the trees above the road, as it constantly searched the lichen on the branches.



I headed out along Lyeway, into the sunshine which was very bright with the sun being so low in the sky at this time of year.  Out in the fields, a few gulls were circling the field, and there were several brown lumps casting shadows that stood out amongstthe short stalks of the crops.


These were brown Hares, and I counted six "lumps" spread out across the field, the highest count I have had here, previously the high numbers are normally around the fields at Plain Farm.

A little more scanning revealed three Lapwing also in the field.  These two approaching one of the "lumps".


From nowhere the number of gulls seemed to increase.  There was a few Black-headed Gulls, but at least 15 Common Gulls, they circled the field constantly looking down, very much in the same way a barn or Short-eared Owl would.  Sometimes from a distance this behaviour can lure you into thinking there is an owl hunting.


The ever increasing circles brought them closer to the camera.


For some reason I had ignored the field on the opposite side of the lane, and when i turned I noticed it was full of birds too.  At first I thought they were thrushes, but then could see that they were actually Golden Plover.

Using the hedge as cover I was able to get quite close to the birds as they fed.


In total spread out across the field I managed to count 160 in the field, for once they were all actively feeding rather than just grouped all together in a roost.

As a car went past several of the birds were spooked and flew away from the hedge calling.


A small group flew around calling, and then headed away to the south and the fields on the other side of the farm.  The remainder continued to feed but a considerable way away from the camera, and also into the sunlight.

I carried on walking, stopping every so often to scan the fields.  A lone Buzzard sat on the lower metal of the pylon, scanning the area too.
 

Around the farm buildings there were Pied Wagtail and Chaffinches, and in the fields at the back of the barns I could hear Fieldfare, while I could see Redwing feeding out in the open.

Another flock of twelve Lapwing were at the back of the field, they were as ever very flighty, a low flying Woodpigeon putting them up.  They circled and split up, nine headed out across the field and away while the remaining three returned to the field, dropping to the ground in that floppy style holding the wings high as they settled.


The call of another Nuthatch caught my attention, and I turned to find the owner of the call sitting high on a branch above me.


In sheltered south facing spots the catkins were already showing on the hazel trees, the sun turning then a lovely golden yellow.


I decided to walk around the fields to Andrew lane, I don't very often do this circuit in this direction, normally choosing to come up the lane.  The different direction showed me some very different views, this looking down the lanes as I descended.  The frost still present where the sun was unable to reach


As I approached the paddocks I was presented with another different view.  Looking across the valley I could see the path leading to Old Down, and the finger post just visible by the stile.  I wondered why I had not noticed this before and realised that when I stop at the gates to look over the fields and paddock the view is obscured by the trees.  It was only because i came down the hill to the gate that I was able to see it.


As I passed the houses I could hear once again the chuckling of Fieldfares, but I could only see Redwing in the trees.


The Redwing were feeding on Rowan berries, the same berries that are outside, or were outside my house, they are all gone now.  The berries were draped over a wall, and were present on both sides.  It was on the other side of the wall as I approached that the Fieldfare were feeding, and I finally managed to see them.


At the bottom of Andrew Lane there was a large gathering of Magpies. I had seen several when scanning over the paddocks, and here there were at least eight present on the ground and along the fences.  However at the bottom of the land there was another large gathering, mostly in the trees. 


They were then joined by a group of Rooks, and from the commotion that started up I wondered if they had found an owl or something in the trees.  I walked around to get a closer look but couldn't see anything, and as I arrived all the birds flew off.

I turned back and started to walk up through the Desmond Paddocks towards Old Down.  The field was full of Fieldfare, their chuckles being hear every so often as I disturbed them as I passed by.  I counted at least 115 feeding there.

I walked through the wood, the frost in the ground now coming out which made walking difficult as the top of the path was slippery mud on top of a frost hard base.  I stopped to look out across the paddocks and away to the west and the now dropping sun.  The air was full of mist, not a good sign for the evening and rush hour tomorrow.
 

As I reached the crossroads I heard the calls of a Marsh Tit, and quickly found it in amongst the bushes along with a second bird.


As I walked east towards the Gradwell exit the sun was behind me, and sending long shadows and golden light.  Every so often this would pick out a dead frong of bracken and turn it into a thing of beauty.


As I walked along Gradwell towards the turn into Brislands I stopped to check the field.  Earlier when I had walked past it had been empty save for a few Blackbirds and a lone Buzzard in the tree.  Now it was covered in Redwing, moving with that methodical searching approach that involves a stop and start technique, the stop usually resulting in a stab to the ground.  I counted 87 birds in the field.


Brislands takes you once again on an west to east path, and the sun shines straight up the lane.  This time it was catching and highlighting the lighter green on the underneath of the Holly leaves, casting some lovely patterns against the much darker upper waxy leaves.


I walked home with the chattering and whistles of Starlings from the tops of houses, mostly the television aerials.  Those that were not singing away were flying around in small groups as if trying to get a murmuration going.

Another lovely but cold day, this afternoon providing a contrast to the walk I had yesterday morning.  The cold weather is set to continue, albeit with maybe freezing fog through the early part of the week.  A continued spell of cold weather can have an adverse effect on the wildlife here, with birds setting off to find slightly warmer climes, and an easier search for food.  Hopefully this won't be the case too much, and just maybe new visitors might appear from the even colder areas, we shall have to see.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

21st January - Up, Up to the Sky

The cold weather had persisted through the week, but not as cold as it was in Munich.  Early morning temperatures there were -15 degrees, here today it was -3 degrees.  After a trip into Alton I was out and walking in the sunshine.  Despite the cold weather the birds were singing along Lymington Bottom, the most vocal being the Starlings, this male sending out a real mix of tunes from the top of a chimney.


However the bird I had expected to hear was very quiet.  This tree is normally the perch where the Song Thrush can be heard singing at this time of year.  There was a Song Thrush in it but it was silent.


Rather than sing the thrushes were occupied with finding food.  The frozen ground was posing a problem, and the search was on under the leaves by the side of the lane.  I disturbed this Song thrush from the verge and it flew up into the bushes.


Once upon a time the Song Thrush was a common garden visitor, leaving the remains of snails on rocks.  This is not so much the case these days, but at this time of the year they suddenly become visible.

In the trees above me as I walked along Brislands Great Tits were busy foraging on the lichen on the branches.


From Brislands I turned into Gradwell, and passed several Redwing feeding in the field alongside the lane.  I turned on to the footpath leading to Old Down as a Red KIte flew above me.

The thrushes were busy feeding in the ruts where the sun had partially melted the ground.


Looking across to the entrance to Old Down it looked cold.


Part of the field had been ploughed before the cold weather came, and here the soil was easy to find food on, and there were large flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws, and Gulls.  Every so often they would fly up.


I walked into a silent wood, no Robins singing just the odd nasal call of a Coal Tit.  Walking was easy with the ground frozen, when the thaw eventually comes it will be very muddy.  I turned off the main path and checked to see if the Tawny Owl was in its usal tree, but there was no sign it has been there.  

I decided to head out across the field towards Kitwood.  This took me over the hard fallow ground, and then on to the ploughed part.  The clods were still frozen, and it wasn't too difficult walking over them.  

In the middle of the field the gulls took off again, a mixed flock of Black-headed and Common Gulls, with one or two Herring Gulls.


Then a surprise, a flock of Lapwing took off rising out of the dark earth and flying around along with Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.


I counted 34 Lapwing, this is the first significant flock I have seen in this field, they circled around for a while then slowly headed back down to the earth, the flock resembling a sheet settling down onto a bed.


From Kitwood I walked along to the pond.  The water was frozen on the main pond so I checked the small pond to the side.  The water there was frozen too.  A Wrem appeared on a piece of wood stuck in the ice, and I watched as it crept around the edge looking to drink water where the ice met the edge of the wood.  Times are tough when the freeze comes.

 
A Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming from the surrounding trees, it would seem despite the cold, the presence of sunshine seems to encourage them to display.  Great Tits were also calling and chasing each other through the branches.

I walked on and into Old Down, again the path was frozen solid making it easy to get by.  As I walked I was watched by Robins, looking to see if I disturb the ground and give them the chance to find something to eat.


Alarm calls then rang out, and above me drifted a Red Kite, probably the same bird I had seen earlier.


When I reached the crossroads I was joined once again by a Robin.  It sat in the hedge, and I was able to get quite close.


Robins are a very important bird to birders on the first of January, as they look to get that all important year tick, then that is it.  I took the chance to enjoy this one, and to take some lovely shots in wonderful light.


It too wanted a closer look.


Again if this turned up on the east coast of the United States it would be considered stunning.


I left the wood at Brislands and headed back into the village.  The sun was no at its highest point and the birds were now much more vocal.  I stopped to watch a pair of Goldcrests feeding in a pine tree.


It is always a challenge to pin them down as they are constantly moving.



As well as the Goldcrests there was a Coal Tit.  It was feeding in a similar manner to the Goldcrests, hovering under the pine needles and constantly moving all the time.


As I reached the recreation ground a Song Thrush was sat on the fence.  Still no song from them, but it won't be long before we hear those lovely flutely notes repeated up to three of four times to ensure we don't miss anything.


As I walked home I thought about the same time last year.  We had daffodils out then, this year there is no sign of them yet.  I much prefer a real winter with temperatures that challenge us and the wildlife. Today I was blessed with some wonderful light that has shown some of the local birds beautifully.