2021 / 16
13:30 – 17:00
Bright sunny and clear 12°C but cooler in the shade. Light easterly breeze keeping temperature down
Parked at Copse Lane for a change, coming into the Wood through the Chilworth Pines. Shaded and cool. Filtered sunlight through holly. Mutterings, flutterings and small buzzing flies. Several Robins singing at the same time; “pinking” Chaffinches, Great Tits and busy Blackbirds. Lots of Coal Tits – their calls echo each other. Repeat, respond. Repeat, respond.
Descend to the clearfell past the bole on the birch, listening for (and calling to) Firecrests. No repeat, no response…?
Loud proclamation from that cock Pheasant I saw on Saturday.
I feel I have not walked here in the afternoon fo rsome time, when it used to be my preferred choice. A change of lifestyle.
It is quiet at the clear fell this time of day. Only Dunnocks and Wrens inclined to sing. More Chaffinches out on the feeders, there definitely seem to be more around than I am used to. Long-tailed Tits too – the first of four groups today.
Picking my way through the brash and the channels. The slope up from the stream course faces the afternoon sun. Scanning for reptiles and amphibians. A scuttle in the grass reveals a Field Vole, and there’s a second out near mat 10.
My feet lead me down past the Reedmace to the West Stream at the end of Firecrest Alley. Unfamiliar, and a very pleasant place to sit. There could be different views of the Nightjars from here. “Something”flies away from me along one of the netlines, and again I curse my lack of observation! The size, pale colour and bouncing movement is all in the manner of a Stonechat, but it lands out of sight and I can’t relocate whatever it was…
As I sit watching the stream course, day dreaming in the afternoon, I can hear Bullfinches all round me, thoug hit is probably only two birds. Behind the familiar, mournful hooting call is a subsong: a harsher, nasal two-note call that sounds difficult to produce and if anything more apologetic and sorrowful than the first. I don’t remember hearng it before. I reflected previously that Hut Wood has given me better views of some birds than anywhere, and I note now that also it has made me aware of different calls. Birds i like Nightjar, raven, Greenfinch, Siskin – and now Bullfinch – all have a wider vocabulary than popular field guides suggest. By spending time among birds going about their daily buisness in their natural environment, one gets to hear all manner of conversational chit-chat between them that otherwise goes un-noticed.
Stepping through the trailing holly is like parting a curtain into a different setting. Here, in Firecrest Alley, it is relatively dark and much cooler. And there are no Firecrests today here either. This is The Middle Of The Wood – see my updated map – and each side of “the alley” is quite different. The north side is more typical of the Velmore and East Plantations, while the south is mostly yew trees, stuggling against each other for light. Instead of one or two large old specimens, this part is closely packed with younger, thinner trees and lacks almost any understorey. Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits and Goldcrests.
Blinking in the sun, The Crossing is much warmer and in a month’s time the Butterfly Survey will start. Before I step out, I check for deer as if crossing a main road. There are none around – again much harder to see in the afternoons.
The track is drying out rapidly, and it is a really pleasant stroll up to ‘Gatekeeper Junction’ [a new name] and then along The Straight. This is the part of the Wood that has now timber crop and is almost entirely mad eup of deciduous trees. Oak mainly, but lots of nice beeches too, interspersed with perhaps too much silver birch and holly. The birches are thin because there are so many, looking almost skeletal in their white livery. New growth at the top is reddish purple, which looks beautiful against the blue sky. I have named this district “Larper’s Wood” for obvious reasons. This really should be where the Treecreepers are, but again this afternoon they are not. Maybe my decision to make this a year in which I focussed on them has alerted them to my intentions and they’ve gone into hiding. Reminds me how hard it is to find things when you look specifically for them. Like missing keys or a favourite pen. They “turn up”, but cannot be found by purposeful searching…
Up South Drive, reinforced by old bricks and my recent aggregates for vehicle access, and a Song Thrush is hopping around at the conduit. As he takes of into the Wood, a Buzzard comes lazily out and floats up the slope directly away form me, not more than head height from the ground. More Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Siskins overhead.
There are more of the latter at the east clearfell, suggesting that the large flock has dispersed. Individual birds and occasionally pairs move between the Upper Quarter and the East Stream. It is 15:10.
My next half hour is spent on the East clearfell, walking slowly and carefully around the edge where the sun falls warm on the grasses and brash. Scanning the banks and what I consider likely places, I am looking for the glint of an eye or any movement that might give away the presence of a lizard or snake. No joy, it will take time to learn how to watch differently.
But there is a freshly emerged Peacock butterfly here, stretching its wings in the light. I am pleased to see it, acknowledging that I would not if I had not been looking properly and more carefully than is my natural inclination!
And equally exciting is the discovery of frogspawn in the pond! Hurrah.
Lovely to then meet Mike Terry out a walk. He’s been round the farmland and scanned The Roughs. Good results too – not only a half dozen Buzzards and two Sparrowhawks (one possible Gos…??) Mike also reports two Lapwings and the season’s first Chiffchaff. I am not miffed by this at all…!!! Seriously, its great stuff. I like sharing the Wood with other naturalists. We chat for while at “The Bottom” and then go our separate ways looking for finches and thrushes.
I am considering that its time to head home. Again, note my inadequate provision of refreshment. There’s a “fuss” on the far side of the clearfell. Two Buzzards circling and calling, mobbed by a particularly irate Crow. They seldom seem to bother with each other round here…? And beyond them, at the edge of the Pines, there is a Raven. Correction – TWO Ravens. Calling, “singing” and circling around. For a better view, I scuttle quickly up to the High Seat, noticing that they have temporarily landed in a tree top. They are quite ridiculous birds, perching on tiny twigs that can’t support their weight at all. So flapping, fidgeting in a way that makes them appear to be laughing at each other. They leap up, and then take off, twisting and dancing. A pair, displaying, and just enjoying togetherness and sky. They stoop, spiral and continually grunt, chant and chatter between themselves. It’s a fabulous show of the freedom and joy of birds. After ten minutes or so, they move off east, flying purposefully to a favourite roost.
I have enjoyed the show, and from here, perched on the fallen structure, its more than pleasant to watch the orange glow of the falling sunlight along the West stream. Chaffinches, Great Tits, Dunnocks. A Wren, another Greenfinch and various Siskins. Stock Doves of course, balletic and cool as usual.
Something I don’t recognise immediately calls, persistantly. Definitely a Stonechat – so I was right before. This one is a superb male and I can see him easily without my bins, 100m away on the top of a young tree. He’s showing off now, songflighting, and looking magnificent in his full breeding plumage. No doubt they have stayed all winter, and are now gettng ready to raise another brood. Hopefully something else I can really get to grips with int he weeks ahead. 52 now for the year, and a perfect way to end another lovely walk.