Friday, December 29, 2006

Cheddar Reservoir

Down in Somerset for Christmas and the New Year with friends. We went for a walk around Cheddar Reservoir to get some activity after eating too many chocolates over Christmas. Unfortunately not with Bella, their black lab as she's recovering from an op and not allowed on anything more than a brief walk into the fields. There were hundreds of Coots on the water. I don't think I've ever seen so many together but they migrate from further north to overwinter on lakes and reservoirs so you might find your local population has expanded too.

There were also the usual Mallard, a dabchick and several pairs of Gadwall. These are fairly indistinct grey ducks when seen at a distance but up close they have the most beautifully marked feathers on their backs and a more delicate head than most ducks.

There are a few pairs of mute swans on the reservoir and as we walked round towards the yacht club there was a swan sitting on the slipway, obviously injured as it was having trouble holding it's head up. As we stood watching and wondering what to do, a man from the local wildlife charity Secret World arrived with a large net having been told there was an injured swan to rescue. He asked if we'd lend a hand helping him catch it - to which of course we said "Yes". It didn't take much catching and didn't even put up a fight only just managing to raise it's head. It was a female swan (you can tell by the size of the black lump on their bill - the male's is larger). She was very quiet and we weren't too hopeful that she'd last very long as we made our way back to the car where she could be placed in a cage and taken back to the centre.

At least we'd done something to help.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Long-tailed Tit


Just spotted a long-tailed tit in the garden before I head off for the Christmas break.

It's the first time I've seen one actually in the garden. They're very distinctive not only for their appearance but their high twittering calls, as they flit from branch to branch - usually up in the treetops and in large groups, flitting quickly from tree to tree.

This one appeared to be on it's own as I couldn't see any others. The trees in the park close by are more mature now, so there are a lot more woodland birds around and I've seen them occasionally there. They're lovely to see it and perhaps it will be back with a few others later in the year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Female Sparrowhawk

Another first. Quietly minding my own business this morning, doing the washing up and watching the birds on the feeders when there was a flurry of activity at the bottom of the garden and a female sparrowhawk flew up and landed on the fence before quickly flying off into the trees. Obviously chasing a bird judging by the way the sparrows and tits scattered in all directions. Being a female, it was a large brown bird (bigger than a kestrel) with a distinctly barred tail. I didn't get to see much more of it as it didn't hang around for long. They don't - ambushing birds by flying low through tree branches or swooping into gardens.

I know they're in the area - I've seen them flying fast between the houses or through the trees up on the park or playing fields but never had one come into the garden. One of the downsides of having feeders in the garden - it attracts the small birds which then in turn become prey for birds like the sparrowhawk.
Shortly after, another bird appeared in the garden that I haven't seen in a while, a dunnock or hedge sparrow. Quite secretive and a dull brown/grey bird but with a lovely song.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Stoat or weasel?

On most of my runs I don't see anything out of the ordinary but this morning just as I was coming back up to the corner of the Tye, I spotted a stoat - at least I think it was a stoat rather than a weasel. It was sitting just on the edge of the undergrowth only a few yards away, looked at me and then turned round and disappeared.

You see them so rarely these days - I wasn't surprised it was there as there are plenty of rabbits around but I've never seen one up there before. It was mid morning, windy but clear and there were a couple of dog walkers about but that was it. The last time I saw one was over in Pulborough last year. I'll keep an eye out but I don't expect it will be a regular sighting.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter Running and Flytippers

Back out running as I'm now seriously in training for the Brighton half-marathon in February. This does mean that I'll need to brave the wind, rain and mud over the winter. Not too bad last week but this week it's definitely been pretty muddy up there and the ground is getting more churned up by the cattle that have been grazing up there and the horses that get exercised on the Tye.

This week someone has dumped a load of what looks like compost, rubble and manure right in the middle of the track. Effectively blocking anyone from getting through. Fortunately the majority of traffic on that road tends to be 4x4s so it had already driven across on one side so anyone walking up the track didn't have to scramble over the heap. The wooden pallets that were dumped up on the corner last week have now disappeared - at least they can be put to some use. There's a lot less rubbish being fly-tipped up there since they put up the bunds to fill in the gaps but it just gets left on the side of the track now. Include a few months ago, a burnt out MG.

Anyway, it's a lot muddier and so far I've managed to time my runs to avoid the showers. It's also still not too cold so although the hat's come out the gloves and scarf haven't as yet but I'm sure it won't be long.

If you enjoy reading my nature ramblings - please take a few moments to sponsor me on my half-marathon as I'm raising funds for Cancer Research. Further details and sponsorship here -
http://www.justgiving.com/clarehalfmarathon

Friday, December 01, 2006

Fencing At Ditchling

Yesterday, I was out volunteering again and once again the weather was kind to us. Something a bit different for the day's activities. We were mending fencing along the lower part of the road up to Ditchling Beacon where a car had crashed through, damaging not only itself but the sheep fencing and as the sheep were about to be let into that area it needed to be secured to stop them getting out onto the road. That was after we'd had to winch both the landrovers up the track as the mud made it impossible for them to drive up, even with four-wheel drive. I'd like to see some of those chelsea tractors attempting it!!

Hardly surprising that there are so many accidents along that stretch of road, as people were speeding past on that stretch of road. Boy racers in their micras and those good old white van drivers. There were 10 of us out working - plus the two rangers. The most so far. We cleared all the undergrowth and scrub back from the fence so that we could get to it. Tightened up the barbed wire all along it's length and fixed two stakes.

After a cold lunch break in a cleared area up above the underhill lane, we all set about clearing the track down to the small carpark, so that emergency vehicles could get up to the livestock if needed, with the help of a 'lawnmower' that was capable of cutting down Mostly easy stuff and just for once I haven't come back with scratches and splinters, although I did get twanged by the barbed wire when we were tightening it up. Only a flesh wound.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

November Birds

It's still so windy that there isn't much birdlife around - the skylarks are the few birds around up on the Tye and I usually spot a stonechat sitting on a fencepost or on top of a bramble and perhaps a wren. There's usually a songthrush and of course plenty of blackbirds feeding on the berries all round the playing fields which are still pretty plentiful.

In the garden - the feeders have been kept topped and and I've managed to put off the wood pigeons by switching to a feeder that doesn't have a nice large seed tray they can sit on. I've moved that elsewhere where it's less accessible to them. I saw a blackcap a couple of weeks ago but so far the regular visitors are blue and great tits, sparrows, starlings (who prefer the peanuts and fat), a robin, wren and a pair of blackbirds. That's about as exotic as it gets round here - except for the magpies of which there usually half a dozen hopping around on the rooftops, the crows over in the park and the seagulls which don't often come into the garden.

One of my nut feeders has vanished completely - whether a seagull, magpie, crow or cat has made off with it I don't know, but the hanger snapped and the whole thing has totally disappeared. I did spot a squirrel in the small wooded area just up the road but I've never seen one in my garden ... fortunately, so I don't think it's the culprit.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Save West Thurrock Marshes

OK, I know it's not in Sussex but as a keen, lifelong supporter of several wildlife groups, I remember reading about this wildlife site that is being threatened by development. Marshes are not wasteland, there to be developed. They are important ecosystems in their own right, supporting a huge variety of fauna and flora.

West Thurrock Marshes is home to over one thousand three hundred species of invertebrates, birds and reptiles, including dozens of rare species and 36 animals listed in the conservation Red Data Book. Royal Mail have just been given the go ahead to develop it into a warehouse and lorry park.

Save the marsh - sign the petition by going to http://www.buglife.org.uk/

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sussex Water Levels

Is anyone else pleased that it's raining?

While I prefer the sunshine, it's nice to see the heavy rain showers that we've had over the least few days. The dewpond on the Tye is full, well, as full as it's going to get with a damaged lining and the local reservoirs are beginning to fill up again - and are mostly above average for the time of year.


Reservoir Levels:
Arlington - 50%
Ardingly - 75%
Bewl Water - 57%
Darwell - 57%
Powdermill - 64%
Weir Wood - 63%

However, most of the water for the region comes from groundwater and rivers and it will take time to replenish otherwise the drought and hosepipe ban will continue next year.

You can get water saving tips from most water supply companies. The Environment Agency has tips for the home, garden, business and industry.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Urban wildlife - a heron!

I was driving into town today along the coast road when a fox ran across the road in front of me. Fortunately it wasn't rush hour so there wasn't too much traffic around but it was broad daylight and it was crossing four lanes of dual carriageway from the cliff edge across and up the bank to the fields by Roedean school. It was pretty late in the morning for it to be out in daylight and what it was after on the other side of the road I'm not sure - rabbits maybe? Off to checkout the waves for a midday surf?

As I glanced across - a heron flew up from the field. Not a sight you see too often right on the edge of town. They do often turn up in fields and not always on river banks. Urban foxes are more common. There's one I've seen around every now and then, wandering down the middle of the street late at night.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tweezers and Thorns

It wouldn't be a scrub-bashing day if I wasn't picking bits of hawthorn out of my fingers at the end of the day.

Not that I quite managed a full day yesterday. I'd been laid up on the sofa for most of Saturday having either eaten something or I'd caught a chill when I was out coppicing on Thursday. [It was cold and wet and I did get soaked but we did a good day's work]. I was in two minds whether to go out but I tracked the group down on the top of Malling Down and helped out with some scrub clearance near the quarry. A tangled mass of hawthorn, honeysuckle and bramble.

What would we do without loppers? They make the job a whole lot easier although we didn't quite have enough to go round, they really do help to clear an area pretty fast.

Yet again it was a glorious, if chilly, sunny day looking out across the Ouse valley as we sat and ate lunch on the side of the hill in a fairly stiff breeze but at least the forecasted rain didn't turn up. We did have buzzard circle over the hill, noticeable first from it's cry.

I left just after lunch as we'd already cleared and dragged quite a lot and the bonfire had been slow to get going. I wasn't sure my stomach would survive the day especially as I'd spend most of the time downwind from the fire and was well kippered.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Not To Be Missed!

Another astonishingly beautiful production from the BBC - Planet Earth. These series just keep getting better and better and this one is no exception. The photography is amazing. The shots of animals close up which then pan out to incredible distances to reveal thousands of snow geese flying over artic tundra or timelapse shots of caribou migrating, have me sitting here with my eyes wide open. They are just stunning!

It certainly makes up for the endless reality TV shows that fill the channels these days (and I've only got four).

This is the second part of the series - the first part went out in the Spring. If you haven't seen them yet, then make sure you don't miss another one. Sunday night on BBC1 at 9pm.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Feed The Birds

I've cleaned and scrubbed all my birdfeeders and filled them up ready to see what will come into the garden. There are four in total - two for seeds and two for nuts. I've put some closer to the house, which may take them a while longer to get used to. I've also got two coconut shells to fill with a fat, seed and nut mixture later in the year and I'll keep a note of what visitors I get.

I've also put the bird table back together after it had fallen apart, not that much stays on it for very long. If the starlings don't demolish it within minutes of putting anything out, the wind will blow it off. I've even had a large seagull standing on the roof trying to get at what's lying underneath.

A pair of blackbirds has been feeding on the pyracantha in the front and the berries are quickly diminishing, which is a shame because it's lovely to watch them so close at hand.

Two red admirals and a peacock butterfly are fluttering about in the sunshine feeding on the ivy which is the only thing with any nectar. Except for the random roses that have come out and there were even a couple of evening primrose flowers opening up. Very confused by the mild weather.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Volunteering Day - Coppicing

Much colder today than last week for another day out volunteering. We were working in a small wood at the base of Ditchling Beacon - coppicing. The wood is owned by a couple who want it managed to wildlife and the South Downs Joint Committee have picked this up.

It's an area that has been left for a long time as can be seen from the four or five large trunks that have grown up from a single stock. The trees are mainly ash and hazel with a few younger hawthorn trees growing up and older oaks. Huge, old ivy stems winding their way up the trunks and brambles along the edge.

Anything that could be cut down with a bow saw or loppers was cleared with the large trees being left for the chainsaw later or just left as they were - especially the larger oaks. The idea is to

a) clear the area back to coppiced woodland so that the products can be used for stakes, fencing or hedge-laying.

b) clear some of the canopy to allow light down to the ground to increase the types of wildlife and plants that florish in coppiced woodland. These are now dependent on careful and selected management to survive as they've adapted to coppiced areas.

We started up the bonfire to clear all the unusable wood. Anything usable was turned into stakes or binders that can then be used for hedging. The trunks were cut up into lengths for firewood. Even when the trunk is only 4-5 inches across, they're a lot taller than you think and you then spend a good half hour clearing and cutting all the branches.

The satisfying crash of trees as they were felled - not many yells of 'Timber!' as we were mainly working several metres away from each other and of course you have to make sure where you hope your tree is going to fall. There were seven of us in total and it's very satisfying at the end of the day to look at the area that's been cleared and see what a difference has been made.

Areas like this were coppiced regularly and harvested every few years or sometimes decades later. We tend to think on a much shorter time scales these days. No instant results when you’re planting for planks of wood. Nature won't be hurried - at least not when it comes to growing trees. Knowing that the tree you plant one year wouldn't be harvested until twenty-five or thirty years later.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Winter has arrived ...

... at least there's been a definite drop in temperature. The blackbird has been at the berries in the front window and a pair of them have been at the ones on the back fence. Plenty to keep them going through the winter and the ivy berries are starting to form which also seem to attract the blackbirds.

I haven't yet started putting food out - despite the fact that this weekend was Feed The Birds Day - it's been too mild but as birds seem to be coming into the garden more I'll get some treats to put out for them. Including making up a fat ball for them which I can pack into a coconut shell. Better get the bird table repaired - it's taken a battering getting blown over in the wind this year.

If you want to find out more about Feeding The Birds - check out the RSPBs website:

http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/index.asp

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cuckmere - Little Egrets

The clocks have just changed and now it's definitely turned into a different season. Although it's still mild and the sun still has a warmth, there was a definite chill as the afternoon progressed and by the time I drove home with a setting sun, it was a lot cooler.

I took a walk along the Cuckmere river to the seashore just to make the most of the day's sunshine and to see what was around - apart from the usual hordes of Sunday walkers - some totally inappropriately dressed in their Sunday best, high heels and clutching their handbags. But then, it is an easy flat walk and if you stick to the concrete road, you're not likely to get your shoes dirty. The river is part of the Seven Sisters Country Park. I walked alongside the edge of the meanders and then on to the raised footpath down to the beach.

I remember seeing my first Little Egret here many, many years ago. Today there were several around. Three up on the meanders and five down in the lagoon by the shingle ridge. I hadn't heard them before but each time one got too close to another they made a sound like a cross between a crown and the hissing of a swan. As I walked back along the main river I spotted ten standing across the other side of the river in a field with a herd of cows - together with three herons. There must be at least twenty along this stretch of river - although there was often one or two flying up and down the river from one place to the next. I watched one feeding in the shallows which would have made a beautiful photo - reflected in the water with it's dark bill, brilliant white plumage and plumes on it's chest. It's yellow feet clearly visible as it picked it's way through the water searching for small fish and then took off as I came too close. There may be more around here at this time of year as they congregate over the winter.

The usual cormorants were around - three drying their wings up on the meanders and another three down in the lagoon. I also spotted a male Reed Bunting in it's more subdued winter plumage but still with it's black beard which was joined by a small flock of greenfinches in the brambles. A flock of eight Redshanks had moved from the meanders to the edge of the estuary as I walked back. The tide was almost fully in but the extend of the highest tide was evident all along the saltmarsh where rubbish and debris was piled up at the side of the footpath - well above the current level of the river.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stonechat back on the Tye

Out for a run this morning on a grey day after last night's torrential downpour. A few skylarks around on the Tye and a few small puffballs coming up through the grass which I left, I think I've had enough mushrooms for this year - although I'd like to find some Ceps but I'm not going to find them up on the Downs.

I spotted a male Stonechat up on the track today. Lovely colourful birds, easy to recognise when you do see one with their dark heads, white collar and orange-red breast I haven't seen one in a long time and hopefully this one will be here over the winter, so I'll see it sitting on the fence wires along the fields and perhaps even see a pair.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Torrential Downpour!

Well after a dry summer of drought orders and hosepipe bans, we're certainly getting some rain now to make up for it. I got caught in a torrential downpour this evening on my way back from Lewes, complete with thunder and lightening.

I haven't seen rain like it for a long time. The wipers couldn't keep up with it and water was streaming down the road like a river as my poor little car drove through it. Large puddles of water on the sides of the road which at one point totally swamped my car as a car went past in the other direction. There was just so much rain that it was pouring off down the side roads in torrents and the drains just couldn't cope with the downpour. Instant flooding all round the lanes and streets.

If only all that water could have been saved, instead of running off into the drainage system and probably straight into the sea. I could have filled up enough water butts to water my garden all year. Water levels in local reservoirs Arlington and Ardingly are still well below capacity at 48% and 65%. It will take a few more downpours to get them back up to 100%.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Three Red Admirals

There were three Red Admirals flitting about in the garden today. Very distinctive with the red bands and white spots on the wings.

I don't remember seeing butterflies around quite so late in the year but I now know that they will be this year's batch of eggs and maybe even a second batch. They're likely to be around into November so I'll keep an eye out.

They were on the ivy outside the backdoor which is always a good source of food for both the blackbirds and wasp, bees and butterflies over the year.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

October sunshine

A lovely sunny day - out in the garden doing some pruning and visited by a small flock of goldfinches - twittering away in the jasmine which has now been cut back. The lawn got mowed - possibly not the last one of the year as it seems to be growing healthily with all the recent rain. Having had such a dry summer I guess nature has to balance things out at some time.

Butterflies are still around brought out by the warmth and sunshine - I spotted a red admiral on my brief walk up to the shops this morning and there was a painted lady sitting on the steps in the garden. New and fresh looking so not the tired older butterflies that were around a month or so ago.

By 4 o'clock there was very little sun left in which to sit out and have my cup of afternoon tea. The change in the angle of the sun and how much reaches the garden now in the afternoon is quite marked from a couple of months ago but then at this time of year I don't suppose we normally expect to be sitting out there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More Mushrooms and Swallows

It's still unseasonally warm at the moment - not that I'm complaining. Almost hot over the weekend as I sat out basking in the sunshine.

A gathered a handful of mushrooms out on my run this morning - never wanting to miss the opportunity of fresh, natural produce and you never know when they'll be gone. This added to the legwork exercise as I had to carry them carefully in one hand all the way back as I didn't have anything to put them in this time. However, apart from the aching arm, they probably survived a lot better than the last lot which kept getting caught in the gust of wind, wrapped in my windproof top.

I spotted four swallows flying over the top of the Tye. I expect these will be the last few that I get to see this year although I'll keep an eye out for any stragglers, especially with the wind which is still pretty strong and from the south-west.

The dewpond is finally filling up again - more than just a muddy puddle this time but because of the damaged lining it's not going to get very full.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Swallows along the seashore

I cycled in to Brighton today for a meeting and there were a large flock of swallows (twenty or so) skimming along the shoreline chasing the sandflies. Heading westwards or appearing to but perhaps they'll turn round and go the other way.

The wind is still onshore and pretty strong so they may be refuelling and waiting for it to drop before they head southwards. I'll keep an eye out but these must be the last few remaining swallows of the year.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Mushrooms and swallows

A bumper mushroom crop this morning - again unintentional as I'd gone out for a run, which was longer than usual and not just due to the wind which was pretty blustery. As I came across some wonderfully large field mushrooms, I just couldn't resist, even though I didn't have anything to carry them properly. I picked them and then left them in a heap by one of the cattlegrids, carefully concealed, so that I could pick them up on the way back. They were a bit battered by the time I got back home but as they're going to be turned into soup - not a problem.

There are a few swallows still around - battling against the wind, which can't be helping their migration as it's been pretty strong and south-westerly for a few days now. Skimming low over the fields looking for a few insects before they head off across the channel and southwards to Africa.

Most of the house-martins disappeared a couple of weeks ago. There was a large flock of about twenty of them flying around over the park a couple of weeks ago and then they all just disappeared, but I have seen the odd swallow around over the last week, so they haven't all gone yet or perhaps these are the one's that have come down from further north.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Volunteering on the Downs

I've just become a signed up member of the South Downs Volunteer Rangers, having just spent my 'taster' day out on the Downs. I knew I'd enjoy it, I've been volunteering off and on for a while and more recently with the Sussex Wildlife Trust at Lewes as mentioned previously in this blog.

It was the best fun I've had in ages. A full-on day, blooming hard work and I arrived back home very tired, covered in scratches and smelling of smoke but it's that good physical exhaustion, not the mental exhaustion you get from spending all day in front of the computer and certainly a great stress-reliever.

There were five of us scrub bashing just below the Devil's Dyke. Opening up a small glade at the foot of the Down's to encourage the cattle to come down into that area.

As we arrived at the site, we got a potted history of where we going to be working. Who owned it, what they grazed - cattle or sheep, where the boundary is and what we were hoping to achieve.

Although there were only five of us - including Mark, who was leading the group and in charge of the chainsaw, we did a sterling job, managing to clear a sizeable area and cutting down several large hawthorns, ground elder, brambles as thick as my wrist, still covered in blackberries (must take something to put them in next time) and then burning it all in a huge pile which covered everything, including us in ash.

There are working parties that go out three days in the week and also at the weekends. Knowing how quickly scrub takes over it's easy to see how important it is to keep areas cleared to encourage the chalk downland habitat - the flowers and insects that quickly disappear when the brambles and hawthorn take over.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Swallows migrating

There were a few swallows around skimming over the Tye on yesterday's morning run. I thought they'd gone already as I hadn't seen any around for a while, so perhaps these are some of the birds that have flown down from further north.

There was a large flock of house martins flying over the park the other week looking as if they were getting ready to go. They tend to gather together in an area before migrating in large groups.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mushrooms ... well, two.

Out early this morning as the autumn sun was rising, with the intention of not just having a walk but maybe finding mushrooms for breakfast. I haven't been out for an early morning walk for a long time and being a Sunday morning it was very pleasant. Not at all cold - just refreshing. The usual dog walkers out and about but a distinct lack of mushrooms.

Perhaps I was too late and someone else had already picked them or perhaps the weather has been too dry to bring them out yet. I found one single solitary small field mushroom on the playing fields and after walking up on to the Tye, I found another single decent sized one on the way back. Not exactly enough for a meal but at a little autumnal taste.

Last year there were lots of horse mushrooms in one particular field but nothing this year except a mass of toadstools(?) and tall, slender ink-caps sprouting out of the dried, flattened cow-pats. I've just found something that says they're edible ... but perhaps I'll wait until I've done my Fungi Course next month before I launch into eating anything I don't immediately recognise as edible.

At least there was some water in the dewpond this time - not a lot but at least it's more than just a mud patch.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wheatear in Brighton

Another cycle into town along the undercliff - they've now opened it up the whole way into Brighton - including the section at the back of Asda which has been closed for a long time since the cliff collapsed a few years ago.

I was just coming back onto the cycle track when a wheatear flew across the road and onto a post by the end Madeira Drive. There are quite a few birds around there by the park but I was surprised to see it here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Devil's Dyke Mushrooms and Wheatears

It's Autumn and the mornings are wet, dewy and cool. The sun is still warm and we've been lucky enough to have some lovely sunny days and there's still plenty of daylight in the evenings.

Blackberries are out (although looking very shrivelled after a few hot, dry days) and now, so are the mushrooms. The other evening I met up with my friend Nic who was twiddling her thumbs having been off sick for a couple of weeks. We walked from the Foredown Tower up towards the Dyke, past the stables and horses in the fields along a narrow bridleway. The wheatears were around, there were three of them sitting on the wires and flying ahead every time we came close.

It was when we got out onto the open land that we spotted the mushrooms on either side of the path. Surprisingly they hadn't already been trambled by horses or walkers or picked. As we hadn't set out with the intention of picking anything, we had to carefully put them in Nic's bag or wrapped them up in my jumper, which meant the mushrooms were OK but I was pretty chilly by the time we got back to the car, as it quickly cooled as the sun dropped.

Very tasty though - fried up later, so I'll be looking out for more.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Spiders

Have you ever noticed just how many different types of spiders there are? I must have at least five different varieties just in my house. At least they keep the other creepy crawly population down.

I was out in the garden just now and watching the spiders out in the sunshine. If you can get close enough, they have amazing patterns and colours on their abdomen. There are little tiny ones that blend in with leaves and flowers and then leap out on unsuspecting insects, ones that create the classic web or those that weave a downy mass, ones that move sideways, tiny money spiders, ones that walk on water.

Take a look at the UK Safari site for a list of spiders and their photos - not suitable for those of a sensitive, arachnaphobic disposition.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Small Copper and the Planning Committee

This morning I was out for a longer run than usual and came across a small copper butterfly, sunning itself on the track. I wasn't sure what it was at first, other than an orange and brown butterfly until I got home and was able to look it up in the book. It was certainly living up to it's name of 'copper' as it's wings literally glowed in the sunshine. At least this year I've been able to spot a few more butterfly species

As I headed up to the top of the Tye, there was a group of people walking purposefully up towards the cattle grid by the houses. Not the usual dog walkers or cyclists but people in suits, shirts and clutching clipboards. According to my source at the SDJC, there were probably a planning committee team - out to assess the planning application for a fence along the northern end. It's been there for a while but this is retrospective.

By the time I came back, they were still there but this time taking photos of the group. How that fits into the planning research I'm not sure. A jolly day out of the office - there were at least eight of them!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Where have all the birds gone?

There are very few birds around at this time of year, which considering there were lots of young birds around just a few weeks ago, is a bit surprising.

Its the time of year when birds are moulting after the summer breeding into their new feathers and the young are moulting into their adult plumage. This takes about five to six weeks during which time they hide away to avoid predators, especially when their wing feathers are re-growing.

It's why robins, blackbirds and starlings are looking slightly strange and not quite as they do in the book. It's even more difficult with water birds where the males lose their colourful spring plumage as they grow their new feathers and look dowdy and more like the females.

Wait until October when they're looking a lot less confusing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rain at last

It's been raining recently so everything has been recovering from the last few weeks of drought. The Tye is starting to go green again after looking very dry for several weeks since it was cut. There are lots of yellow flowers out and of course the blackberries are now ripening everywhere in the hedgerows.

The dewpond is still very dry with just a small, wet mud patch in the middle. The recent heavier showers have not been enough to start to fill it yet. Just enough to soak into the ground and freshen up the grass and revive the wilting plants.

I've noticed the lack of birds around and they're all very quiet. No skylarks at all. The swallows are still around as are the starlings and mixed flocks of finches - green and gold. I did startle a green woodpecker when I came back into the playing fields and it took off with a loud squawk.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Volunteer your time and energy

I was out yesterday volunteering with the local wildlife trust after our meal on Saturday, helping to clear a footpath, which had become overgrown. It's part of the Malling nature reserve that I started helping out on at the beginning of the year. It covers a pretty large area and there were only seven of us out working yesterday.

Much of the English countryside has been farmed for many years and so it isn't necessarily in it's natural state. Grazing of sheep, cattle and ponies has an impact on the variety of plants and animals that inhabit a particular area. Grazing here on the South Downs has resulted in the chalkland fauna and flora that exists today, much of which is rare and would disappear if it wasn't for the grazing and the work of volunteers keeping the scrub down.

Most local councils and wildlife trusts do not have the funding and resources to manage the land, so they rely on the work of volunteers. There is always far too much work to be done and not enough volunteers to do it.

If you'd like to get involved, it only takes up one day a month and most working parties don't work over the summer. You'll get out into the fresh air for a few hours. Work hard, there are always a variety of tasks for different physical strength and abilities. It's very rewarding even if you only feel your scratching the surface of what needs doing.

Most days start at 10.00am and finish around 3.30pm although you don't have to stay all day. If you work for a company - why not organise a day out for your team. Most companies these days get involved in the community as part of Corporate Social Responsibility so why not do something worthwhile and make a difference to your local countryside.

Local Wildlife Trust Volunteering.
British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
RSPB Volunteers

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Walk in Lewes

Saturday afternoon and a walk up over the back of Lewes by the golf course with the SWT Volunteers. We had a great view of two Peregrine falcons flying past below as we stood at the top of the chalk cliff.

Walking up the valley towards Bible Bottom and I spotted four partridges way off in the distance. There were also a pair of wheatears sitting up on the fence posts at the top of the field. We'd just been discussing that it was the time of year when they come back through. I haven't seen any up on the Tye this year.

There were also seven Kestrels hovering along the ridge or over the fields. Presumably this year's brood out hunting.

We got another great view of one of the Peregrine's as we came back along the road, sitting up on a ledge on the cliff-face. Lots of jackdaws around but it wasn't bothered by them and they didn't bother it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Westhay Nature Reserve

I stopped off at Westhay Nature Reserve on my way back from Street. It's based around old peat cuttings with two main tracks either side and footpaths linking them up. Some flooded areas, reedbeds and wooded areas with several hides.

A pretty good tally of birds over the course of the couple of hours that I was there.

Cormorant - a couple of birds flying over the reserve. Coots and Mallard on the main expanse of water on the far side of the reserve. There were also at least 20 Mute Swans there and another 30-40 on the main North Drain.

Heron - only spotted towards the end of the day, although I saw two birds while driving down the narrow road to get there. One on either side of the road just a few feet from each other.

Kingfisher - I wouldn't have spotted it if I hadn't been scanning the far side of the water through the binoculars. It was fishing from a dead tree on the edge of the water and I watched it for several minutes before moving on.

In the wooded area down from the Tower Hide there were lots of Blue Tits and a few Long Tailed Tits flitting about in the trees with a couple of wood or willow warbers. I didn't see them long enough or close enough to identify properly.

I spotted a Hobby as I was sitting in the hide at the bottom of London Drove, where they were still digging up the dark, almost black peat. It was flying down and skimming over the water over by the trees before flying up to the upper part of the reserve. It was larger than I expected, slightly smaller than a Kestrel but it's pointed wings and red legs very distinctive.

Also heard and saw Reed warblers, whitethroats and what I think was a female Reed Bunting.

On the way back I had to follow a cow that had just walked straight through the edge of a field and then walked slowly down the road ahead of me. So much for cows just needing a painting of a fence to keep them in. This one just walked straight through a piece of orange string that was stretched across by a gate.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Clouded Yellow

Down in Somerset again for a few days. I went out for a run – just before it got too hot. Too late in the day for the early morning wildlife but it’s still possible to see something different down here.

A bright orange yellow butterfly flew past – later identified as a clouded yellow. There were either two of them or the same one was still flying around when I came back up.

A very bright orange, marmalade coloured fox took off into the safety of the hedgerow as I ran down the track past its field. It was noticeable brighter than most this year and looked larger.

I was alerted to a bird cheeping from the ditch. It was a black, fluffy baby moorhen. Moorhen mum’s don’t appear to be the best of mothers as shown by the high mortality rate amongst chicks – at least I’ve only seen single chicks around this year. I’m presuming that mum was around somewhere.

I didn’t spot a buzzard until later in the day. It was circling high up and disappearing slowly into a tiny dot way above the Mendips.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Seashore

Out for another cycle to and from town and stopped off at the Undercliff Cafe for tea and cake. Unfortunately I didn't have my binoculars with me as there were a few birds around.

There were a couple of Common terns diving for fish just offshore and the usual herring gulls. The more delicate black-headed gulls, which are now loosing their summer chocolate brown heads were also flying round in small groups. Three of them were circling round eyeing up some cake someone had left on the sea wall. They were too cautious as there were lots of people around on the beach and walking up and down the stairs, so lost out to a herring gull who flew down and scoffed the lot.

A pied wagtail flew past. I haven't seen any of them around at home this year. They're usually around somewhere on the rooftops but not this year. A small flock of somethings flew by but they were too quick to see without the binos. Next time.

As I cycled back, the rock pipits were around as ever. There are quite a few all along the coast and also the fulmars. Much straighter wings with rapid, shallow wing beats compared to the gulls.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Abbots Wood

An afternoon out walking in Abbots Wood. It was another hot day so I met up with a friend to go out walking and we decided walking in the trees would be a lot cooler than being out in the heat of the day, even though she didn't get to me until 2.00pm, it was still hot.

Somehow I managed to find my way to Abbots Wood without too much trouble. It's owned by the Forestry Commission and is a small wood but big enough to get lost in as the paths are not that well marked.

The place was full of butterflies. One we named the after eight - chocolate brown with white markings on it's wing, otherwise known as a White Admiral as I discovered when I got home. Another that we called leopard butterfly, actually the Silver Wash Fritillary. A large orange-brown with darker brown speckled and striped markings on it's wings.

There were lots of Jays around. We saw three at once up in the trees and then flying down on to the forest track. We saw another three on the way back to the car having ended up walking round most of the edge of the wood (it could have been the same three) and another single one.

There wasn't much happening on the pond - just a moorhen and one small black, fluffy, chick. Lots of butterflies and dragonflies. No sight nor sound of the kingfisher.

Being woodland there was also a Greater Spotted woodpecker and a Green woodpecker with it's distinctive flash of yellow as it flew across the path. Several coal tits, a very bedraggled (moulting) robin and the usual wood pigeons, crows and blackbirds. Made it back to the car just as it started chucking it down with rain.

We stopped off to have a look at Arlington reservoir on the way back which surprisingly was full. I guess maybe the reservoir is full but the ground water levels are still low. As another heavy shower descended we didn't stop.

Rain and snails

With the recent heavy showers and thunderstorms, I've had some welcome rain in the garden. It's brought the snails out and I've just been around the garden looking under plants and 'pruning' my garden of snails.

I'd noticed that there are a lot of thrushes around in the local park and several broken snail shells so I thought I'd deliver their meal to them as they rarely make an appearance in my garden. I collected at least thirty in a bucket, including four mating pairs (those can definitely go before they produce yet more offspring to plague my garden) and dispatched them to the local park (a short walk - me+bucket, not them walking!) where if the thrushes and crows don't get them, at least they can chomp away there, rather than on my plants.

It's also a more environmentally friendly way of getting rid of snails rather than resorting to blue pellets which I don't like to use but when they turn my hostas into shredded pieces of lace, it's the only thing that works!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dewpond (what's left) and butterflies

Out a bit earlier than usual this morning before it gets too hot. The dewpond is dwindling to the size of large puddle. Not helped by the fact that the sheep are getting in and drinking the water too. Unless we get some rain soon it will be gone by the end of the week.

I took a different route today up to the houses on the top of the Tye and down the track behind Saltdean. Not very far but at least it's not so much of an uphill slog as the Tye. The sheep were all up at the top where that part of the field has also been opened up and the electric fence taken down.

Masses of butterflies around - Painted Ladies, Meadow Browns, white ones (!) and a Marbled White and lots of bumblebees over the maize fields.

The flocks of starlings are mix of the adults and the younger browner fledglings from this year. Most birds seem to be around with youngsters. The crows in particular in pairs with a smart glossy black youngster and it's parent looking slightly moth-eaten as they're now moulting.

The house martins were flying overhead in a large flock - up where the insects were. Probably some swallows up with them too but running and bird-watching don't go too well together.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Sheep back on the Tye

The sheep are back up on the Tye - recently shawn but not too trimmed. The cattle are also back but restricted to the field on the corner and the larger field above.

The sweetpeas are out in the brambles but seem to be mainly in the upper part of the hedgerows on the funeral track. It smells good and might be good for the bees but not exactly native. There is lots of yarrow everywhere all along the track doing down to the coast road. The pink clover is still out. They didn't mow to close either side of the track so there's room for the wildflowers - poppies, thistles, ragwort and a few cornflowers.

I also spotted what I thought was a wheatear in flight as I was running part way down the track - it was only a brief glimpse but there was a definite flash of white and it was about the right size. I've not had any definite sightings this year.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Save our butterflies - Butterfly Week 22nd-30th July

Butterflies are a good indicator of the health of the natural ecology in an area. There are lots of butterflies around at the moment and I'll be keeping an eye on what's around in my own garden this week. My buddleia is out but not doing very well with the scorching heat and the flowers are already dying off.

It's Butterfly Conservation Week this week 22nd-30th July. Find out if there's an event on in your area at the Butterfly Conservation website. Here's whats on in Sussex this week.

Saturday 22 July – Sheffield Park Gardens Butterfly Day, Haywards Heath
Sunday 23 July – Butterfly Walk in Marline Wood, near Hastings
Monday 24 July – Butterfly Spotting at Bo-Peep Bostal, near Alfriston
Tuesday 25 July – Friends, Romans and.... butterflies
Wednesday 26 July – St Leonard's Forest, near Horsham
Friday 28 July – Bedelands Farm, Burgess Hill
Saturday 29 July – Swanborough Hil, Kingston
Sunday 30 July – High and Over, near Seaford

Friday, July 21, 2006

Swallows and house martins.

Out on this morning's run there were several house martins and swallows at least 60 of the sitting up on the wires at the top of the Tye. They took off as I approached and then flew up over the dewpond. I always associate large flocks of these birds with them getting ready to migrate but it's still early in the year so perhaps this is just the young birds and their parents getting together.

Being early enough in the day there were a few more birds around than normal. A mixed flock of sparrows, chaffinches and greenfinches on the concrete road at the top of the playing fields and a small group of goldfinches further down. The usual woodpigeons, rabbits and crows up on the fields which are now empty and mown although there's a sign saying the cows will be back soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Seagull casualties

It's the time of year when the young seagulls are leaving the nest, or rather the rickety platform of a few twigs and bits of grass that goes for a seagull next, stuffed between the chimney pots or on a flat roof or even up against the ridge. Something that vaguely equates to a clifftop in seagull terms but has been transposed to the nooks and crannies of buildings.

The adults are flying around cawing loudly and the youngsters are still mewing pitifully from the rooftops and continue to do so - even though they're fully fledged and able to look after themselves, except that perhaps they haven't quite worked out how to rip open black plastic rubbish bags and their road sense isn't very well developed.

It's also the time of year when you come across their flattened corpses on the road, usually just the remaining pile of feathers. I almost hit one the other evening on the way home. That was an adult and should have known better. Obviously this is more of a hazard down here on the coast but as seagulls are become regular inland residents I guess it's a hazard pretty much anywhere.

There were three casualities I spotted on the way into town the other day. It takes a while for them to learn that these large metal objects moving along the grey tarmac they've landed on aren't exactly friendly and do a lot of damage. Being young birds they also haven't mastered the art of vertical take-off, so have to run and flap along before they get airborne - adding to the likelihood that they'll be hit.

I don't suppose they do the cars much good either - so slow down and give them a bit of leeway.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Evening Nature Ramble by Bike

I had a great bike ride on Sunday evening. It was too hot to do much during the day and I'd wanted to go out for a run or a long walk but waited until it had cooled down and decided to take the bike out and up onto the Downs.

It's a route I haven't done since last year and it's a shame really ... I should get out more! It took longer than it should have done as it was more of a Nature Ramble by bike. I kept stopping to have a look around and get the binoculars out.

There wasn't a lot around but I was out for three hours, so in the end I did see quite a bit. Not least of all were the butterflies that were flittering around and landing on the track. There were several Painted Ladies. Easy to spot being quite large with black tips to their wings. I also saw a Small Tortoiseshell and lots of very small speckled butterflies - probably Heath Fritillaries.

The skylarks were still out everywhere and I saw a group of goldfinches on the track as I cycled up to the Tye. The dewpond is getting very low but there were several housemartins and swallows dipping through - while I sat watching for a few minutes. There are dozens of snails on the surface but no sign of the newts. I'm not sure what happens to them when it dries up completely.

It was still very hot, so although a few birds flitted past - usually when I didn't have the binoculars to hand, there wasn't much to see - except for wood pigeons and starlings taking off from the field every now and then. Up by the corrugated barn, there was a scraggy pigeon nesting up in one corner - an ideal location for an owl box - although I don't know how much use the track there gets, I think it's part of the South Downs Way or at least a bridleway, so perhaps to busy and disturbing for them. I spotted a whitethroat up there and also something else with a distinctive call (not that I recognised it) - something like a finch and having just listened to a recording on the RSPB site it's a Corn Bunting. Don't recall seeing one of those before - or at least not to have identified it.

Even more exciting than that, I saw a Buzzard over on the edge of the Downs on Swanborough Hill. The first one I've seen over this way. They tend to get more common the further south-west you go. While I was watching the buzzard there was a yellow-hammer singing from the bushes behind me. If you don't see it's bright yellow head you can certainly recognise the song "a-little-bit-of-bread-with-no-cheeeeese". I heard both a pheasant and the yaffle of a green woodpecker in the trees below somewhere as well as a few swifts and a kestrel.

Shortly afterwards, as I headed back down the long concrete track and stopped, yet again, to look at a bird sitting on the top of a low bush - which I'm pretty certain was a Meadow Pipit, something dashed across the track behind me at speed and quite large from one field to the other. I turned round when I heard the rustling to see this line appearing in the field as it ran off through the crop - like something out of the 'Tremors'. I have no idea what it was - but I optimistically imagine it was a hare judging by the speed and size and the way it disappeared in a dead straight line into the field. Too fast to have been a fox which I'm sure would have stopped, too large for a rabbit and to quick (and too early) for a badger.

By this time it had cooled down and the sun was disappearing. I saw another yellow-hammer down by the farm at the bottom of the steep descent from Mill Hill as I circled back towards home, which I managed at a very slow pace and trying not to go head over handlebars! Having managed the steep hill up out of Telscombe Village, there was a kestrel hovering at the top of the Tye and a few greenfinches, pigeons and starlings on the way back.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Operation Bumblebee

Watching Countryfile this weekend.

Bumblebee populations have declined by more than 70% over the past 30 years, primarily through loss of vital nectar food resources and nesting sites as cropping patterns have changed. One of the 20 bumblebee species has disappeared altogether, and three other species are on the verge of extinction.

While Operation Bumblebee is aimed mainly at farmers there is still a lot we can do in our own gardens by planting insect friendly flowers:

Ajuga
Alliums
Apple
Aquilegia
Borage
Buddleia
Campanula
Ceanothus
Cherry
Chives
Catmint
Clover
Cotoneaster
Currants,
Delphinium
Escallonia
Geraniums
Heathers
Helianthus
Hollyhock
Honeysuckle
Lonicera
Lavender
Marjoram
Mint
Pear
Plum
Raspberry
Rhododendron
Roses (single varieties are far better)
Sage
Stachys
Sunflower
Thyme

If you have a patch of grass that can be left uncut as a meadow and plant it with wildflowers specifically for insects.

Ants in Flight - Phase II

Sunday morning and they're still there. Doing much the same - the large winged adults coming out, climbing up the stems and then going back down again. A couple made an attempt at flight but just flopped back down on the grass and went back down into the nest.

It wasn't until later in the day around 4pm, that they started to come out again and this time I watched them flying off in ones and twos every minute or so. Another small ants nest on the lawn was doing the same. Just the odd one or two ants climbing up to the highest stems and launching themselves upwards.

Last year I sat in the garden and watched a stream of hundreds of flying ants taking off from three or four nests in the lawn all at the same time. Nothing as numerous this time - unless these were the tail-enders and I missed the main show while I was away.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Ants in Flight - Phase I

The ants are on the move. I got back from my weekend away to find that the large ant mound which had built up by the back door, was looking partially collapsed and abandoned as if the ants from this nest had already flown.

However, this afternoon, I was out in the garden reading when I spotted a Meadow Brown which landed on the grass in front of me and appeared to be laying eggs on the yarrow which is spreading across the lawn. Well, it hardly equates to a 'lawn' as very little of it is actually grass. There was not much chance of seeing the eggs as it was hard to see exactly where if at all they were being placed, but I could see it's abdomen being extended out underneath towards the blades of grass or stems of the yarrow.

It was only when I looked closer that I noticed the flying ants emerging from the ants nest behind it on the edge of the patio. The winged adults are huge in comparison to the worker ants that were busying around them. Probably about ten times the size - looking more like small bees than ants. They climbed up on the grass around the nest or inspected each other and after a few minutes of wandering up and down plant stems appeared to head back down into the nest having decided perhaps that is was a little too windy for take-off.

They're still there half an hour later - a few more having emerged - perhaps waiting until it cools down.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wiltshire: Birds of Prey

Heading back to Brighton through four of the southern counties - I stopped off in Wiltshire for lunch with my sister.

Sitting out in her back garden we spotted no less that three birds of prey flying overhead. First a peregrine, then a kestrel hovering over the houses at the back of her garden and then a pair of buzzards circling overhead.

She was also telling me about a bird that had taken out a pigeon and landed on the gravel at the front of the house. Likely to be a sparrowhawk as it didn't fit the other birds we'd seen but she wasn't sure.

Not bad for one day.

Somerset: Yellowhammer on Lodge Hill

My final morning walk with Bella before heading back to Brighton. I'd intended it to be a short walk but it was such a lovely day that I took longer than intended.

Worthwhile though, as I walked up onto Lodge Hill to get a view over the levels. There was a single deer in one of the fields below. Probably a roe deer, it was too far away to be sure. Definitely an adult so probably a male.

There was a buzzard circling on the other side of the hill. Pale underneath so probably the one I'd seen earlier in the week.

I spotted a yellowhammer too. I haven't seen one of them in ages. A very distinctive head and when you get tuned in - a distinctive song too. Often seen around farmland, sitting at the top of a bush in a hedgerow - unmistakeable with it's yellow head. It's on the red list so I probably ought to log this one.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Somerset: Glow worms and a badger

Down on this part of the levels there are colonies of glow worms. I took Bella out for her bed-time walk last night to see if we could spot some - not that she was interested. Anything within two feet of her nose isn't of much interest.

I walked up over the railway bridge and spotted my first one and a few yards on a second. They're a very bright glow - often close to the ground - like a pale green led glowing in the grass. Close up, I could see six little spots of green light (bio-luminesence is usually green or blue-ish) but not the whole of the insect. It's the adult female that glows and they can be found in large numbers. Just the two tonight but I didn't go that far down the road where I know there are more.

Walking past the farm, I heard something coming towards me along the side of the road. Bella was behind me, so I knew it wasn't her. I thought it might be a fox, it sounded to large and noisy to be a cat. I switched on the torch and there a few feet away from me was a badger with a bird in it's mouth - it looked like a pigeon - about that size! I can't imagine it had actually caught the bird itself - it's more likely to have scavenged it. It stood and looked at me - obviously startled by the sudden light and then padded off back down the road stopping a couple of times to turn back and look at me before crossing and going into the back of the farm. I followed it briefly, trying not to shine the torch directly at it but just enough to see it's black and white markings. You don't get to see them very often - unless they're lying dead on the side of the road but it's worth going out at dusk to see them if you know there is a set in your area.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Somerset: Sunday - Two dog walks

Early morning walk - overcast with low cloud shrouding the top of the Mendips up above the village.

I walked Bella across the field and down to the pond - a few swallows about and a young moorhen on the pond. It was wet, misty and drizzling so there wasn't much else about. Walking back up the lane there were a few birds on the ground ahead - a mix of willow warblers (I think, I wasn't close enough to see if they might be chiff-chaffs, they seemed yellower), chaffinches, a dunnock and a robin. There were a pair of collared doves in the farm as I walked through. They're much more delicate than the noisier and more bulky wood pigeon. It's hard to believe that they only arrived in Britian in the 50's and are now one of the most common species.


Lovely walk in the evening - it had cleared up and the evening sun was still warm when I took Bella out after her supper. There are lots of fields and hedgerows around this area, mostly low lying but with tors (like Glastonbury) and hills like small islands scattered round the area. On the flatter areas, reeds fill the ditches and it was down here that I heard my first reed warbler of the year. I could also hear two other birds cheeping from deep in the bushes - sounding like the cheep of a sparrow but not quite. After a few minutes peering into the undergrowth I finally spotted a young chaffinch. A little round ball with no tail. It's difficult at this time of year with fledglings still calling for their parents, with juvenille plumage and not quite fully grown and the adults now moulting.

There were lots of butterflies around - a few in pairs which when I managed to catch them were red admirals. One I saw on the ground looking very tattered. There were lots of other butterflies around - mostly meadow browns, perhaps a few others but too much 'flitting' to identify them.

Walking through into the next field I saw a couple of bullfinches. I only got a good look at the male but I'm assuming it was the female I saw first. His colour was paler than the bright pink plumage of winter and early spring.

Not quite sure if we were following a deer track or an actual path as it wasn't distinct enough. Bella didn't mind - eating enough grass to start producing milk and generally having a good sniff around. In one field where the grass was particularly long and Bella disappeared from view - she managed to flush out a pheasant - totally accidentally, she just stumbled across it and then ignored it as it flew away with a loud squawk up over the hedge into the next field.

Having found my way back round to the pond through a field of cows, there were two lovely little chiffchaffs in the willows by the pond. Very close, so easy to see their dark legs and pale, light brown bodies.

The cows were now out in the field and joined by a stocky brown and white bull, so I bypassed the field and went back through the farm by which time they had all come up to the gate. Even the bull came up to have a look but didn't get close enough for a sniff.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Somerset Levels

I'm now in Somerset for the weekend - house and dog sitting.

I took Bella (the dog) out for a walk this afternoon, after the family had finally set off for their weekend in Devon. It's a beautiful part of the country here and I love coming down. Once off the main roads - it's a lovely drive and I can feel the spirit lift the closer I get.

We walked down the track that leads down to the levels. There are lots of open fields - mostly grazed by cows but some with crops. They were slurry spreading down on the farm and there was a lot of run-off going into the ditches, which I'm sure wasn't doing much good.

As I walked up Lodge Hill, I could hear a buzzard mewing and was looking skywards but couldn't see it. I finally spotted it sitting in a dead tree on the edge of the wood. It sat there while Bella and I walked up the hill along the hedgerow. She (a black labrador) was of course totally oblivious and more interested in sniffing around and eating grass than observing this bird of prey. I always love seeing large birds of prey - especially when you can get close to them. I had my binoculars with me so got a really good view of it. Very pale front, with a browner head and shoulders and yellow legs. It took off after a short while and circled round to the other side of the hill.

I walked down the hill and part way down Long Drove, which is surrounded on either side by deep ditches which at this time of year are almost totally overgrown with giant hogweed, http://www.purplesage.org.uk/profiles/meadowsweet.htm, horsetail and further down the track, bullrushes. There were at least three whitethroats around (I now know these well enough having seen and heard them up on the Tye) dozens of crows, rooks and woodpigeons, two very scruffy magpies and a wren scolding from the bushes and a moorhen somewhere in the undergrowth but not much else.

I did see another buzzard flying across from the levels - this was a much darker bird, being almost totally brown underneath - unlike the one I saw earlier. I heard some gold finches flying overhead and as I walked back there were at least a dozen swifts flying low over the fields with house-martins and swallows. Swifts are more often seen high up so it was unusual to see them flying so low over the ground - usually a sign of coming rain as the insects fly lower than they do on a hot, sunny day.

A272 Petersfield to Winchester

The A272 between Petersfield and Winchester is a lovely road. It's mostly single carriage-way but it's a much nicer route than taking the motorway. It goes through open country-side and small villages and much of the route is flanked by trees, especially copper beech which at this time of year is lovely.

I ended up taking a 'slight detour' round Petersfield and ended up on lovely little country roads, cutting up to the A272. As I drove down the single-track road there were two young deer on the side of the road ahead. I slowed right down and they bounded down the road ahead of me, stopping every now and then to try and get through the hedgerow into the field. I was surprised to see two young ones together and no sign of mum. Maybe they were twins. They were still faintly spotted with the long gangly legs of youngsters and certainly not adults, so I'm assuming they were fallow deer.

Shortly after they hopped through a gap in the hedge, I spotted a buzzard flying overhead. The further west you go the more often you see buzzards. I saw another three over the road during the course of the journey.

There's a wonderful stretch of road just before you reach the A31 where the road runs dead straight up and down hills, along a ridge and then curves around a large natural amphi-theatre before joining up with the traffic and hustle and bustle of the A31/A34 and the M3 motorway. A striking field of bright lavender was growing on the left-hand side of the road. I think it was possibly hemp rather than actual lavender.

There's even been a book written about the A272 - Ode to a Road!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Close brush with a sparrowhawk

Notes from afield ... on my way to Somerset for the weekend.

Stopped off at my parents on the Hampshire/Sussex border. They have cultivated a wealth of wildlife in their garden. They have a resident family of pheasants who come to fed morning and evening. Woodpeckers - both green and spotted are also regular visitors as well as the usual variety of garden birds. There is a badger that visits occasionally, moles, rabbits and more recently an old, scraggy dog-fox. Not that I've seen these - well, except for the rabbits.

The three of us were standing in the garden chatting, when a sparrowhawk flew within a few feet of us. Swooping down across the garden, through the crab-apple and over into next door. They're ambush predators and fly through tree branches and hedgerows to surprise other small birds. I also saw one on a previous visit - sitting on the edge of the bird bath. It's a regular visitor and although it does prey on other birds it's still good to see it.

There were several young birds around - cheeping from the hedgerows. A couple of young, yellow blue tits were feeding on the nuts. My Dad is very good about having food out at all times of the year even in the summer. They still need feeding even in the summer when they're feeding young and moulting. Make sure you provide a variety of food and especially water.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Flying Ants ... preparation

The ants are on the move. I'm surprised there is any sand left under my patio paving slabs they've been so busily moving it out from underneath. This afternoon - I noticed a lot of activity around the one just outside the back door. They build their nests upwards into a small mound over the summer which culminates with all the flying ants coming out in a steady stream on one particular day. Sometimes several ants nests all launch on the same day and you can see them all taking off at once. Usually on a hot sunny day and from mid morning onwards.

Flying ants are the larger adult males and females which then swarm and mate. The males die but the females find a suitable nest site in the ground in which to overwinter. She lays her eggs in the spring, which emerge as workers and the cycle starts again.

Amazing creatures when you see how busily they work and how much they can shift between them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Showering on the run

I thought I was going to miss out on a run today - not wanting to run in the heat of the day and with a business meeting at either end of the day but as it clouded over at lunchtime I took advantage of the drop in temperature to get out before lunch.

I also chose the time when it started raining! Actually it was very refreshing and not at all unpleasant. Only a few light showers which didn't actually stop the whole time I was out.

As I run up to the Tye the two wood pigeons were there in their usual place on the telephone wires at the side of the unmade road. One had it's wing raised up ... yes, the woodpigeon was taking a shower!

As it was raining the swallows had come down low - the housemartins though still seemed to be flying up high. I counted at least 15 swallows sitting on the brambles near to the dewpond and flitting around. I stopped to watch them for a while - dipping low over the pond to dip their beaks in for a drink. Sometimes missing and sometimes not.

The skylarks are still around and flying up from the ground. They mowed the entire Tye yesterday, so I really do hope that their young had fledged by now. According to the RSPB Bird Guide they fledge within 18-20 days after being incubated for 11 days. As they were nesting a month ago there's a good chance. Most of the Tye is now covered in large rectangular bales but the top triangle has large round bales ... ? Perhaps the round bales are going to become silage.

One of the round bales looked as if it had rolled down the slope and ended up against the fence next to the rape field. There was a whitethroat there sitting on the barbed wire. I thought at first it was a stonechat as I haven't seen those around for a while.

As I came back down the track - I could feel the heat coming off the concreted track from being in the sunshine earlier in the day. I almost collided with a female blackbird that flew out within inches of my foot and flew startled into the undergrowth. It had a mouthful of food as did several other blackbirds and song thrushes that were flying to and fro across the playing fields.

It's about time I took a walk further afield to see what else is about up on the Downs.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mackerel Fishing

It's been another gorgeously hot, sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. I had my Tai Chi lesson in the park this evening (we'd moved out of the usual church hall location) and it was lovely out under the trees in the evening sunlight with at least four grey squirrels hopping about up and down the tree trunks. A little distracting as I was meant to be focussing on the form! I also spotted a wagtail flitting across the grass. I was just thinking that I hadn't seen any around at home so far this year.

As I drove back along the coast road later this evening there were three fishing boats with their lights on out at sea - not too far from the coast. I immediately thought 'mackerel' for some reason. I know there is a mackerel fishing season and for some reason I associate it with summer. A little research found this:

Best time of day for UK Mackerel Fishing - evening and dusk, especially warm summer evenings

MACKEREL are widely found in the mid to surface layer of the water. They like a steady to fast flow of water and warm evenings with not much wind will find them feeding well.

From the shore look out for:
- steady to fast flowing water at headlands, breakwaters and piers
- active sewage outlets
- diving birds suggest the presence of Mackerel

It was certainly a warm, still evening - the sea was flat calm. It was dusk, as the light was gradually disappearing and there was a lovely half moon out. They also happen to be downstream from the local sewage outfall! So it seems like a fair bet.

They were also cutting the grass on the Tye as I came past. At least I think that's what they were doing - there was a tractor out with it's headlights on. I hope they skylarks have fledged!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cockchafers at dusk

It's a gorgeous summer evening. It's been hot all day and I went out for a run as it started to cool down. The buttercups have almost gone from the Tye and the white and pink clover is well out on the lower half along with lots of grasses - some of which look like barley and may have been left from previous years when the area was farmed. I was trying to see what other flowers were around. It was a good excuse to slow down for a bit!

There don't seem to be any sweetpeas growing in the brambles this year. Someone was throwing down seeds each year but they've been discouraged as they're not exactly natural. The red poppies have come out on the chalk making up the bunds that were put up along the Tye last year. They always grow in disturbed soil. I spotted what looks like yarrow a white and a pink version. I'll have to get the wild flower books out and swot up on my flowers.

As I came back over the top of the Tye there was a crow with what looked like a bare patch on it's rump. Either a result of a fight - they can get quite quarrelsome or over enthusiastic mating. I saw one in the Park this evening with white patches on it's wings. There were several of them poking about on the grass.

As I walked up to the shop there was a blackbird flitting up from the ground into one of the overhanging trees. It did this a couple of times and must have found something tasty there. As I walked back there were lots of Cockchafer beetles buzzing around in the evening light. I hadn't noticed them before but this evening they were everywhere. Large bumbling insects that make a loud buzzing sound - about as aerodynamic as a bumble bee but not quite so appealing.

Several swifts and housemartins about but no swallows - at least not down here in amongst the houses. I see them more often up on the Tye flying over the dewpond.

There seem to be more Song thrushes around this year. There were two in the park this evening. One on the ground, which didn't move at all as I walked past quite close by and the other singing from a treetop. I often see one up on the playing fields too. I just wish they would find their way into my garden! There's a ready larder of snails there for them. I have seen one appear every now and then but it's a rare visitor.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Clover on the Tye

Went out for a run this evening having put it off all day and not managed one this morning. Sunny but that cold wind is still around.

Two woodpigeons were doing a balancing act on the telephone wire - looking like trainee tightrope walkers.

Heard the whitethroat and saw one solitary linnet as I ran back up the hill on the Tye. A few greenfinches around and of course the skylarks. The lower part of the Tye is heavily covered with clover and grass - I haven't been down that far for a while. A result of the area being ploughed and farmed over twenty years ago. It just goes to show how long it takes for an area to revert to natural meadow.

Didn't notice the sweetpeas that were all down the funeral track last year. So called because the funeral carriages used to go up the track to Telscombe Village at the top of the Tye.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sunny and wind

Mid morning run - sunny but a cool wind blowing in from the sea which keeps the temperature down.

Not many birds around although I did see a couple of goldfinches at the top of the hawthorn bushes. I also spotted the female kestrel flying off across the rape field which has now all gone to seed. The grass in the next field to it has been cut and the large round bales are waiting to be collected.

Lots of butterflies have appeared over the last few days both up on the Tye and around the garden. The round orange flowers of the buddleia opposite are attracting Red Admirals. My buddleias haven't flowered yet but I'll look forward to seeing what they attract when they do.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Evening walk

It was a lovely evening for a walk having been cooped up all day in the house - although I had walked up to the shop earlier and spent most of the day sitting out in the garden, taking breaks when it got too hot. Going slightly stir-crazy and finally bored of my own company.

I didn't set out until about 8.30 knowing that it didn't get dark until almost 10pm these days. There was a song thrush singing loudly from the clump of trees on the edge of the lower playing field, being echoed by another in the gardens on the other side with some equally vocal blackbirds.

I'd recently read about a form of walking meditation which I managed to do for a few yards this evening before slipping back into just absorbing the world around me. In the cool of the evening there was the smell of dew forming on the grass after the heat of the day. Moving away from the noise of the road and the gardens up to the quiet of the fields.

The sun was just setting over the hill as I walked up onto the Tye. Quiet and still, apart from a whitethroat calling up along the track. A pink and purple band of colour tinged the sky out to sea which was flat calm with an oily sheen that you get on still, flat days. Orange and gold starting to glow as the sun started to disappear from view. Bright white ribbons of plane exhausts streaked across the sky.

I walked up to the dewpond which was shrinking in size after a couple of days of heat and no rain to top it up. The lining is very cracked and exposed, so it's never going to fill up and the water is muddy like milky tea. Despite that, the pond is full of snails and waterboat men, which must have lain dormant as eggs when it dried up completely last summer or buried themselves deep in the mud. I also spotted a newt! I had to watch carefully again but, yeap - it was definitely a newt. A smooth one, not a great-crested. It's amazing how creatures will appear in a pond from apparently nowhere.

I did wonder if there was a chance of seeing a barn owl but there were two kids roaring around on a quad bike and 4x4s using the track from the village, so unlikely. I headed back down checking out the field at the top to see if there was a fox about. I noticed the badger pathways disappearing into the ditch up along the field. You could see where they've been digging, so their set must be around somewhere, probably in amongst the scrub and nettles. If I waited long enough I might be lucky but it was getting darker and I was really dressed for sitting and waiting - at least not tonight. I have seen a badger once when I went up for a run one evening. It ran across the road in front of me.

There was the "pink, pink, pink" of a blackbird's alarm call - a very evocative sound remeniscent of hot summer evenings. Usually alarmed at a cat or a bird of prey but this time it was probably me. Two swifts flew by. Surprisingly the skylarks were still singing away up on high. It must have been at least 9.30pm - almost dark but they were still singing.

As I came back down across the playing field, the song thrushes were still going. I was on the look out for bats, thinking they'd be coming out by now and sure enough, I spotted one just by the car park. It was a large one, can't think off hand which one, I know it's not a pipestrelle. Nice to see as I don't see them around very often.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Fox out in daylight

I finally got out for a run this morning. The first one in over a week as I've been stuffed up with a cold and cough for a few days. It's still not clear but I felt well enough to go out.

A grey and blustery day - complete contrast from the last few days of sunshine and heat. Not much to be seen - a few greenfinches on the wire and blue tits in the hedgerow at the top of the Tye. The cow parsley is well out and now that the hawthorn is finishing the elderflowers are coming out. I heard a couple of whitethroats along the track and of course the skylarks are around and nesting up on the Tye. The cows and sheep are gone leaving the nesting birds in peace. The grasses are out and the buttercups now almost finished. The dewpond is only half full - the last couple of days heat have started to dry it up and the black liner is torn and exposed so it's never going to fill up which is a shame. The flag irises are in flower and there at least two other water plants in there. One of which looks like bullrushes - but no flower spikes yet.

On the way back down I spotted a fox in front of me on the track. In went through the fence ahead and when I climbed up to have a look, had doubled back past me and was making it's way up the edge of the field being mobbed by two crows. It was their cawing that alerted me to where it was. Every now and then it stopped to have a go before moving on a few feet as they pestered it further. I lost sight of it as it trotted away along the edge of the field. I think it's den is up in that field as I've seen it there a couple of times.

Back at home, I think the starlings may be starting a second brood in the roof. I heard them this morning and they've been very quiet for a couple of weeks so the first brood must have fledged. I also watched the house martins yesterday flying up under the eaves of a house across the way. Hopefully they are nesting. I had a pair under my eaves several years ago but they haven't been back for a while.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Telscombe Tye Survey

As part of the BBC Springwatch - I happened to note that there was a wildlife survey taking place on Telscombe Tye. As it's my local patch I thought I'd go and help out. They took some tracking down because not only was the number on the BBCs website incorrect but no one seemed to know much about what was happening or who was organising it. However, undaunted by the first call, I managed to track down the local organiser after a series of phone calls and after a very helpful BTCV member got back to me with a phone number.

It was a glorious sunny day. Summer seems to have finally arrived and I walked up to the Tye - stopping on the way to herd some errant sheep back into their field. Two were in the rape field with their lambs and another three were on the Tye. Despite not being the most intelligent of animals I managed to get them back into their field without too much persuasion. Who needs a sheep dog!

The 'surveyors' were easy to spot as there were a group of them with binoculars studying small birds on the gorse and brambles. It turned out the survey was intended to see if the skylarks were nesting on the Tye and if so, how many. The farmer wanted to take a cut of the grass which would obviously destroy any nests so the idea was to delay this for a month.

Yes, there were several skylarks - particularly at the top end of the Tye and that is where most of the wildflowers and downland grasses are. It has been free of fertiliser for twenty years so is more naturalised and the hope is that orchids will return to the area. They hope to get some money together to repair the dewpond at the top of the Tye, which has more water in it now and was attracting a few swallows and a small flock of linnets. Several housemartins around and a couple of whitethroats.

Apparently a barn owl and hares have been seen up there so I need to get up there early morning or late evening to see if I can see them.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Waning Moon

There's a beautiful moon out tonight. It's setting in the west and is coming up to an old moon. Not quite a sliver but there's enough glow from the sun that you can almost see the whole of the moon's disc. I'm sure there's an astronomical term for it.

There's also a star close to the moon. I'll need to check my astronomical map but I think it's probably a planet. As the moon wanes the stars and constellations get easier to see. Especially here in the light polluted south-east where it's often hard to see any stars at all with the interference from the street lights.

Far better to get out into the countryside away from the city lights with a star chart and get to know the night sky.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Breeding like ... rabbits.

I spotted a group of linnets up by the dew pond this morning while out on my run. At least three males who'd been having a bathe and flew up into the bushes as I came up.

More baby rabbits are appearing. A few weeks ago there were lots of small ones around which have been getting gradually larger and now there are small ones again! They're breeding like ... well, rabbits. They do at least keep a nice neat swathe of grass along the hedgerows, where they venture out a few metres on either side. Goodness knows how many more there will be at the end of the season.

I also saw the kestrel for the first time in a while. It was taking the easy option and sitting on a wire observing the edge of the field below. One way to save energy. I see the female quite often hovering somewhere up around the Tye. I think this was the male, although the light wasn't brilliant and as I don't take my binos on my runs I wasn't able to check it too closely.

There was a young starling with a parent on the track on the way back. I thought it was a little early for them as it seems only a few days ago that the pairs in my roof were starting to nest but I haven't heard them for a while so perhaps they've fledged too - or been got by the crows or seagulls.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Clever Crow

Crows and other similar birds, like magpies and jackdaws are known for their intelligence. I have a large carrion crow that regularly visits my garden bird bath with a large chunk of bread which it dips into the water for a soak and then flies off to consume the now softened meal. Clever thing - how did it learn that.

The first time I saw this happening, I was sitting out in the garden when it flew in and nearly collided with the trellis as it spotted me and did an emergency stop. It's now got braver and will come in when I'm sitting on the bench as long as I don't make any sudden movement.

Whether it's the same crow or a couple of them who have learned this trick I don't know.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Linnets and lambs

I went out for a walk Sunday afternoon with my friend Nicola, for some fresh air after strenuous cleaning of the windows inside and out. She'd turned up with chocolate muffins so we got out to walk them off! It was overcast so there weren't a lot of birds around. Several skylarks which are always there but this time performing their familiar aerial song. Lots of starlings feeding up on the grass - no doubt busy feeding their young. My starling families under the eves have hatched out. I can hear the young now and there is a lot of too-ing and fro-ing from the parents. Also spotted a couple of swallows as I'd been pointing out the difference between a swallow and a house-martin. She'd been having a debate with a colleague at work who had convinced her martins were swallows!

Saw my first linnets of the year up on the Tye. A small group of three chattering overhead and then landing by the dewpond for a few moments. Long enough to get the binoculars out. We also spotted a whitethroat on the way back, while watching the bouncing lambs which have moved with their mums into one field.

I was surprised to see that linnets are on the red list, so endangered and needing urgent action.