Sunday, 15 October 2017

15th October - And Fly A Diamond Night

The weather has become very mild and unseasonably warm over the last few days, but unfortunately without clear blue skies.  Heavy cloud has draped itself across the south, and at time this has become mist and fog.  The wind has been somewhere between south and south westerly, and to cap all this we are told we will get the remnants of a hurricane early into next week.

So what effect has this had on the wildlife around Four Marks?  Well very little to be true.  The one noticeable feature though is that the leaves are changing and falling quite quickly, this being a little earlier than in recent years.

I decided to walk through Old Down with the objective of looking for fungi.  As I walked along Brislands I could hear, and had brief views of Jays as they foraged in the oak trees.  Coming out into the open as I walked towards Old Down, seep calls above produced four Redwing heading to the west.  The fields were also busy with Meadow Pipits, and I could also make out the sub song of one or two Skylarks.

Mixed in with the Meadow Pipits were Yellowhammer, and a small group settled in the tree alongside the road.


Walking through the woods there were groups of Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests calling from the tops of the trees.  I took the north perimeter track, but it quickly became clear that there was hardly any fungi about other than the bracket fungi on the fallen branches.  There has been a distinct decline in fungi here over the last three years, in fact after the forestry work.  Its disappointing, and difficult to understand why.

I could hear the begging calls of a bird of prey coming from the adjacent field, and stepped out onto the edge of the wood to get a better look.  As I did so I could see the long and lazy wings of a Red Kite lifting up from the field.  It has recently been ploughed and was probably providing some earthworms as an easy snack.  I followed the Kite as it spiraled up from the ground.  This is an immature bird, from this year's brood, and was also probably the owner of the begging calls.


It spiraled, taking it out against a background of the fields


Gaining height.


Then one became three, with two other birds coming from the other direction.


The fields over towards the Watercress Line were being ploughed and drilled, and the kites drifted in that direction to join the many Gulls all looking for an easy meal.


I walked back through the wood, and up the main path which is now overgrown.  Because the farmer has ploughed to the edge of the wood, where the footpath should come out it means walking through the soil.  People have now created another path which comes out close to the stile leading down into the Desmond Paddocks.  As a result the main path is not walked that much and the bramble and nettles have taken over.


Past the Ash trees and leading up to the crossroads, the path opens out a little more.


As I turned towards Swellinghill Pond a Buzzard drifted over the tops of the trees.


At Swellinghill Pond there were now only four Mallard, so this year there does not seem to have been the build up we have seen over the last three years.  The pond was very quiet, a typical autumnal scene.


I walked down the lane, turning towards the school.  As I walked into Gradwell a Red Admiral was feeding on the ivy.  There had been quite a few Red Admirals about today, all on the wing, but this was the first settled one.


As well as the Red Admiral the other notable insect seen today was the Hornet.  In Old Down there were several about, buzzing past showing off the yellow and red colours, and looking quite big.

I continued to hear the raucous calls of Jays above us, why is it such beautiful birds have such an ugly call?  The Jays were not alone in collecting the acorns though.  Walking through the woods you could hear rustling in the leaves, and every so often movement through the branches.  The Grey Squirrels are busy at this time, and as I came along Brislands towards home one took the time to sit on a branch above me.


Despite the heavy cloud the sun was trying, and every so often there would a brief spell of sunshine, but during the afternoon the clouds finally rolled back and there was blue sky.  The Red Admirals were still about, and with the sunshine became attracted to the buddleia flowers in the garden.


There was also a Small Tortoiseshell that didn't stay, but a Large White that did.


As well as the butterflies there were also bees and this White-tailed Bumblebee was also taking advantage of the nectar in the buddleia.


October continues to be yet another strange month.  It is not just here locally that it seems to be quiet, the autumn has not been that productive around Hampshire.  It just seems that all the good stuff is on either side of us, and we are being missed.  Winter is now not that far away, the Tawny Owls are calling in the early morning in Reads Field, and pretty soon the garden will be full of birds on the feeders.  

Monday, 9 October 2017

9th October - The Violets Explode Inside Me

A weekend of two halves, wet and windy on Saturday followed by a calm, warm and sunny day on Sunday.  Saturday saw me braving the elements at Farlington Marshes, where the best bird of the day was a Red Kite over the house when I returned home.  Through the last week the Swallow has remained at the horse paddocks on Alton Lane, last being seen on the 5th, while the calls of Chiffchaffs have continued with even one in the garden on Sunday.  The Roe Deer continue to graze in the field alongside Gradwell Lane.  Despite some extensive listening over the last few days there has not been any sign of the autumn's first Redwing, I am sure though that it will not be long before their distinctive call is heard.

A feature of the garden over the last few days has been the large flock of Goldfinches that have been present.  As ever they will collect in the surrounding trees and then drop down to the feeders.  On Saturday afternoon the feeders were all occupied with sixteen birds using the available perches, while in the trees I counted 23 birds making a total of 39 present which is the largest count I have ever had.



Monday saw a return to the gloom and was mixed as well with a drizzly rain.  The Starlings have been building up in numbers, and the odd few can be seen flying around the houses and settling on the TV aerials at dusk.  This morning, I noticed for the first time that they have acquired their winter plumage, the entire plumage densely sprinkled with yellowish-white spots.


The attraction this morning were the last remaining berries on the Rowan.



Once again the weather is not helping in bringing in the birds, but there are signs that we could be in for an Indian Summer into next week.

On a late afternoon run, there were Redwings calling over Telegraph Lane....winter is coming!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

3rd October - Take Those Golden Wings and Learn To Fly Again

Today we said goodbye to the man who has had the most influence on my life.  In all aspects, my education, my sporting success, and my love of the outdoors.  We will all miss him so much, but my Dad goes to be with my Mum, and I know that somewhere they will be watching over us all.


When we arrived at the house this morning, and pulled back the blinds, there in full bloom was a single red rose, through out the summer I have not seen a rose flowering in the garden.  A coincidence I know but a lovely one.


Mum and Dad rest in peace, love you both very much

Sunday, 1 October 2017

1st October - So I Can Shed My Leaves And Let It Blow Through Me

It has been a strange September, normally we are treated to a warm dry spell, but this year it has been a real mixture, with warm, cold wet and dry spell.  Around here it needs the warm and sunny weather to bring something out, and  this month I have only been able to get out on one of those days.

The month though, did end with a good sighting.  While out on one of our walks on Thursday I noticed a bird of prey over the houses as we walked around Badger Close.  At first I thought it was a Buzzard, but something about the way it was flying was not as you would expect from a Buzzard.  There was a long tail, plus long wings, not the bulky type you would see in a Buzzard.  I ran up the hill to get a better look, and as it banked away with the wings in a classic "V", I could see the pale colour on the head and the leading edge of the wings.  It was a Marsh Harrier, and it drifted away to the south and finally out of view.

Of course no camera, or binoculars but the identification was solid for me, and another bird of prey to add to an impressive list locally, and a new bird for the patch.

As well as this surprise there have been sightings of Swallow all week, and the continued calls of Chiffchaffs in the trees.  The House Martins in Reads Field all seem to have now moved on, and we are left with the small groups of Starlings whirling around the rooftops, attempting murmarations just before dusk

Today though was the first of October, a new month and hopefully a little more productive.  The weather though was not playing ball, and we awoke to rain.  In fairness we had been expecting it as the warnings were that we would be getting the remnants of Hurricane Maria.  Remnants was probably right all we had in the way of wind was a brisk southerly.  By midday the rain had stopped and I took the chance to pop out to start the month off.

As I walked along Brislands there was a breeze, but it was a mild wind.  It was though blowing the leaves about, and it now felt like autumn was well and truly with us.  These overcast conditions though, once again, seemed to keep everything quiet.  There was the odd sequence of Robin song every so often, but apart from that very quiet.  As I reached the junction with Gradwell a Jay called from the Ash tree on the corner.  Always a shy bird this time of year is the best time to see them as they are caching acorns to see through the winter.


As always the Jay managed to hide in amongst the leaves and I was nable to get a better view.  Leaving the Jay another animal collecting nuts ran along the top of a gate, this one a Grey Squirrel, and it was carrying hazel nuts.

As I reached the entrance to Old Down, several Meadow Pipits flew over calling, and heading out into the middle of the field.  Scanning out across the field I could see a Buzzard drifting lazily above what was probably the A31.  As I stood watching the Buzzard, I heard scuffling close by and this cock Pheasant appeared looking quite smart.



The walk through the mud in the wood could have been made a little more easier if there had been anything to see or even hear.  It was though almost completely quiet.  Normally I would hear the call of a Wren, or the song of a Robin, or a Blackbird would fly across in front of me, but today, all I heard were two calls from an invisible Chiffchaff.

From the wood I headed to the pond, as I approached I could see two Moorhens on the water, and walking around the outside I first found six Mallard.



Then a little further round another two.  There were six drakes and two ducks, the ducks seemingly paired up.  This is now the highest count here, eight.  The high numbers usually peak around the this week of October, so there is still time for the numbers to build up.

Again it was quiet around the pond so I walked on, and came across a patch of trees where there were repeated Chiffchaff calls, and also those belonging to Blue and Great Tits.  I decided to stand and wait to see if something would show.  I had some brief views of the tits, but I was hoping to see the warblers.  One flew out to catch a fly, but disappeared back into the leaves.

Finally I managed some brief views of a Chiffchaff as it moved through the branches.



I waited but I was not going to get a better view, and as it had started to rain again.  Walking on I headed back down toward the school.  In the field were Woodpigeons feeding, and another Pheasant close to the hedges.

I turned up Gradwell, again in silence, and in fact all the way home I can't recall any bird song or calls at all.  The dry spell though had come to an end, and the drizzle had returned, so I should be thankful that at least I had some time out.  Not much to show for it though, and I hope October does not continue where September left off.

Friday, 22 September 2017

22nd September - To Stoop, To Scorn, And Knuckle Under

At last I was able to get out with the sun shining.  The morning started clear with a deep blue sky, and a little chilly, however by lunch time clouds had bubbled up, but there was still a good amount of blue sky about, and with that plenty of sunshine.

The garden has been very quiet all week, this is as a result of taking in the feeders due to the birds being sick.  The Robin is still about, but still no sign of our Blackbird, I am afraid we have to assume he has gone, maybe away, or maybe just gone.  It is sad, but we like to think he was looked after over the last year.

Out and about this week there have been Swallows around the fields, and House Martins around the houses in Reads Field.  In the trees the calls of Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers have been regular but with few actual sightings

I drove up to the pond, at this time of year when the sun comes out there is quite a show of dragonflies around the pond.  Out on the water were a pair of Moorhen, and on the far bank the Mallard numbers had increased by one.



As I scanned the edge of the pond, I realised that the mallard numbers had in fact doubled as there were two more hiding in the iris bed.

There were dragonflies about, Common Darters coming over the water and onto the bank where they would settle on the grass.



They are commonly seen warming up on seats and boardwalks, taking advantage of the heat generated by the wood.  This one though was settled on a fallen leaf.



I decided to walk along the footpath that runs close to the field all the way up to Lye WAy.  The sun aspect was very good and with the ivy now flowering there was chance of butterflies and maybe some warblers.  As I walked I could hear Chiffchaffs calling, and even breaking out into song in places.

One or two butterflies passed me, from the size I assume these were Red Admirals.  I reached some tall oaks and ash trees that were covered in ivy.  Butterflies were visible at the top of the trees, settling on the leaves and taking in the warmth of the sunshine. I picked out a Comma.



And a Speckled Wood.



The Red Admirals were the most numerous, with about 5 seen around the ivy.



They stayed at the top of the tree though, never coming down closer.



Chiffchaffs would appear and fly through the branches, they were also singing and calling, but never settled in view for an acceptable photograph, this was the best.



The warm weather was not just bringing out the butterflies, a Hornet was attracted to the hawthorn berries.



As I looked up at the ivy hoping that the chiffchaffs might appear I noticed a falcon overhead.  From the shape it was clearly a Hobby, and flew slowly over my head.



This was the first of the year, and while they have been seen almost every year on passage in the spring and autumn, I have never been able to get a good picture, today was different.



The sun didn't help in this case, the Hobby flying into it, and making it impossible to track as it headed off towards Ropley.

Satisfied at last with a good bird, I walked on towards Lyeway.  Here I walked around to the fields where there was a good collection of gulls feeding in the recently ploughed field.



There were Black-headed Gulls, Herring and Common Gulls of varying ages, and a solitary Lesser Black-backed Gull.



I scanned for any chance of Wheatear, but other than a single Meadow Pipit there was nothing about.

I walked through the farm, and then along Lye Way towards Kitwood.  A Juvenile Kestrel came out of the line of trees along the bridleway, and flew off towards the south.



Again flying through the sun!



I turned towards the pond, where I was hoping I could spend some more time trying to photographing the dragonflies in flight.  The Common Darters had been joined now with two Southern Hawkers.  They fly alongside the edge of the pond, and patrol a territory, darting to chase off anything that came into the area.



The darters were still about, and one pair were coupled.  The hawker was not happy with them being close and there would be battles as the hawker chased them off, and the darters fought back.

The Darters tended to spend their time further out over the water, and with the Hawkers about could not be seen settling on the grass on the bank.



Back home there was a Small Tortoiseshell on the very sparse buddleia flowers, and a Comma on one of the flower head spikes of the Scabious.



I have been sparse in my walks locally, mainly due to the lack of interest, but as is always the case it just takes one event to reignite the interest, and today the arrival of a Hobby has started that process, lets hope that there are a few more through to the end of October.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

17th September - Look At Me, I Am Old, But I'm Happy

Another grey and overcast morning, at times it was misty, and there was even some drizzle about.  Through out the week Helen and I have been walking around the village in the evening, these walks were "at pace" as we like to say, and without the camera.  On one walk we came across a pair of Roe Deer in the field off Gradwell, and heard plenty of contact calls from both Chiffchaff and Willow Warblers.  THis morning then when there was a little mist and some drizzle about I thought maybe there might be something about.

We set off up Reads Field,and along the footpath to head down towards Blackberry, and across the field towards Alton Lane.  Other than the melancholic songs of the Robins it was very quiet, not a single warbler call at all.

We crossed Willis Lane, and admired the Highland Cow that was looking very relaxed in the field by the footpath.


It had been a long time since we had walked the path between Willis and Hawthorn Lane.  There had been some changes, and like a lot of the footpaths around the patch today the footpath was fenced in.  I am not sure why this has become the case, but it does away the beauty of the area, you feel now that everything is fenced in and that nobody trusts you.  Before we could walk down through the field but today we were ferried close to the edge of the field.

We came through the gate and walked down Hawthorn Lane.  Some of the trees are already showing signs of autumn, the recent cold spell probably having an impact.


As we turned up Kitwood I noticed a different shape at the top of a dead tree, the shape then called to give away a Great Spotted Woodpecker.


A large flock of Long-tailed Tits were very vocal in the hedge, and I stopped to watch as they flew across the road into the trees.  As well as the tits there were several warblers, the calls led me to believe that they were Chiffchaffs.  The warblers moved quickly through the leaves and were impossible to catch with the camera, and only one Long-tailed Tit posed for me.


At last there were more calls along the hedges, at least one call belonged to a Willow Warbler, but the rest were Chiffchaffs, and they were fly catching, but hiding in the leaves and then darting out to drop back quickly.

The fields alongside Kitwood are all full of ripening maize, the first time I have seen it grown in these fields.  Another difference here was that there was a boundary left to flowers, and in places there was still some summer colour.


We walked on with still the Robins singing on both sides of the road.  At the pond there were two adult and three juvenile Moorhens, the highest number I have seen here, it would appear the adults have had a successful year for a change.

There were also three Mallard, the first time for awhile that there have been more than the pair.  The edge of the pond was littered with feathers which shows that there probably have been more ducks about, and that they are using the pond for their moult.  Hopefully numbers will build up again as we go into October.


There were also two fisherman, one with the longest rod I have ever seen, it reached well over the middle of the pond!

We walked into the wood and took the perimeter path.  Almost immediately we came across some fungi.  The path here is always a good place to look in September.  A dead Silver Birch had several Birch Polypore brackets showing, and looking quite impressive.


A little further on there was another bracket, this time a Beefsteak.Fungus.


Other than these there were not many other species about.  The usual places where I would expect to see some fungi were empty, maybe it is not going to be such a good year for them.

We crossed the field and headed towards Gradwell.  As we walked along the path by the edge of the paddocks a large flock of small birds flew up in front of us.  We stopped to watch them, and could see that they were all Chaffinches.  The mystery though was what they could be feeding on.  All we could find were fallen Crab Apples and Elder berries all on the floor, not what I would expect Chaffinches to flock for.

A pair of Jackdaws were sitting on a chimney breast, and one had an acorn that it was holding with its foot and hammering away at with its bill.


As we came close to home I felt I had to photograph one of the singing Robins.  They are the main feature of the countryside at this time of year.  Their song sounding melancholic, mainly because they are the only bird in song at this time of year.


Back home the garden has been full of Goldfinches and Greenfinches, but unfortunately like last year, they seem to be falling to the disease Trichomonosis once again.  The signs are lots of seed on the floor.  The birds appearing to be very fluffed up, and very easy to approach.  The only way to address it is to bring the feeders in and make sure everything is clean.  The feeders need to be kept away for at least two weeks.  The Goldfinches seemed to be a bit bewildered that there were no feeders about, but it is for their own good.


It is yet another reminder that you have to keep both bird baths and feeders clean.  I have invested in the RSPB easy clean feeders, you just twist them and they come apart, no screws, and a very quick and easy way to ensure you clean them.

The other garden news is that we have not seen our Blackbird since coming back from our holiday.  There have been very few blackbirds about, but our favourite seems to have gone, where we don't know.

And finally, one of the reasons for the reduced coverage over the summer, has been dealing with a major family issue. This weekend we lost another loved one.  He has been a major influence on my life, and was responsible for introducing me to nature and outdoor life, I can remember cold winter days fishing on gravel pits outside Oxford, and us both watching the electric blue of a Kingfisher as it zipped past us. Over the last five years he has not been himself, he missed my mother so much.  Yesterday he left us, peacefully.  it was unexpected, and happened very quickly, but now he is at peace.  I miss both so much