Thursday, July 27, 2006
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Roses (single varieties are far better)
If you have a patch of grass that can be left uncut as a meadow and plant it with wildflowers specifically for insects.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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!