2 March 2021

2021 / 16

13:30 – 17:00
Bright sunny and clear 12°C but cooler in the shade. Light easterly breeze keeping temperature down

Slow time.
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.

27 February 2021

2021 / 015

06:00 – 08:30
Initially cold, 3°C after a light frost. Clear blue sky, very light S-SW

Full “Snow” moon, low in the west sky at dawn

Deer barks there at low Snow Moon
Bright lamp in dawn's west jackdaw sky
Rabbits skitter frosted field
East pink scatterlight arrives

Half an hour before sunrise on a clear, February morning.
I know nothing about watching badgers, but I have sat here hopefully now for nearly an hour and seen nothing. Do I need to come earlier? Or late at night?
Rabbits in and out of the burrows throughout, but no more than three at any one time. Two Roe Deer have been out for a while at the bottom of the slope where the forest will linger for a while yet. As the light rises, thrushes volley out of the trees and across the field. redwings, in good numbers. I have counted 120 birds, but not managed to see where any of them have gone.
Two male Greenfinches and a pair of Chaffinches have territories in this area.

As I head down the footpath into the Wood, a Muntjac gallops away and then barks indignantly several times as he hides in the vegetation at Marshalls Row. A Bullfinch hoots from the left, down among the impenetrable bushes and scrub in the bottom of Q4. That’s three finches among the first dozen species this morning. Birdsong all around. Once the Crows give the all clear, the Robins start up and within a few minutes the rest of the chorus takes its cue.

Great Spotted Woodpecker up Where The Tracks Join, a couple of Nuthatches, and a Goldcrest calling persistently on the corner.
It’s lovely just to stand here for a while and watch the morning slowly come into focus while I decide which route to take. I would not normally come in this way early and it would be good to do so more often, walking into the light as it arrives in the wood.
Left I think, along the north side and up The Crossing, which should mean that the trees along the Top are in the sunshine by the time I get back round here in an hour or so…

Here at last is the first frogspawn of the new season. Two clumps so far, in the channel at the edge of the clearfell, exactly the same place as last year. Encouraging, even if I don’t have any kind of eye for herpetology. I don’t believe these creatures are not here, I am just very aware that I don’t (yet) know how to see them. All around locally now people are recording Adders, Grass Snakes, Lizards and newts. There is a pond full of toads at Chilworth. I need to learn new skills…

The Gorse Gap at the end of Q3

At the bottom of The Crossing, where Velmore comes in from the left, its a delight to be stopped in my tracks by three more deer. A female Roe with what I presume are two offspring born last year. As they walk casually away, my ear catches an unfamiliar song in a larch up to the left. It’s that of a male Siskin, looking great in the bright spotlight in the canopy. And there are loads of birds up behind him too. I have met the finch flock again – 30 mixed Siskins and Redpolls. And Goldfinches too. An overlooked bird owing to its familiarity. In spring sunshine, their almost caricatured plumage looks vivid and fresh.

So I am convinced that this morning I will see at least ‘some’ Crossbills too, and experience tells me exactly where they will be. Right on cue, four birds come out of the Chilworth Pines and circle overhead at the birch line before heading back in to the trees. And up in the corner, working my way back along the top, I wish I was leading a guided walk this morning. Whether these are the same birds or not is impossible to say, but there are three adult males, one immature bird and at least three females up in a Scots Pine right out in the open, feeding in the sunshine. I can’t recall better views, and they are in no hurry to move on. Always seem surprisingly big birds, heavy and almost clumsy as they drop and swing to peck at the pine cones. One of which falls to the ground and rolls over to my feet. A gift…?
Perhaps of all the bird encounters I have had in this delightful Wood, the common factor is the quality of the views and the experience of meeting with birds so personally in their natural habitat. Nowhere before and throughout my catalogue of notebooks over 40 years have I had such good views of the ‘speciality’ birds like Hobby, Firecrest, Nightjar and Crossbill. All of these I have learned how to watch, where they will be and I like to think I have gained their confidence. I feel ‘accepted’ in a way, kind of trusted, and have reaped the benefit of that relationship over the last five seasons. I think I know (and recognise?) individual Firecrests now, and that the Nightjar that spirals over my head from the same tree every June is the same bird. There can be no doubt that one of these Crossbills is that which came down to the nets in November and January.

And that’s seven finches again.
Cue the birders instinct for ‘more’ and ‘next’. I would love to find a Hawfinch of course, but there is another species that I may have overlooked. Perhaps throughout my time as a birder. How many Bramblings have I ever seen…? Watch this space.

I am not going to list Brambling among the short-term “target” birds for 2021, but it must be up there as a strong possible?
I “need” three more species to reach 90 birds, which would be very satisfying in my fifth full year.
What will these be?
WHEATEAR remains in the Top Spot, especially now I am more familiar with the farmland and watching that more often. This spring – within the next month? – I am determined to unblock this one.
REDSTART seems a similar candidate, which I feel should turn up in the East Clearfell one spring morning fairly soon.
WHINCHAT possibly next. Same places – perhaps on the fence posts around the fields to the north?

Speculating on ten more if I ever dare consider that the Hut Wood list might reach 100?

Mute Swan flying over?
Moorhen on the farm?
Snipe in the clearfell?
Little Egret flying over?
Honey-buzzard or White-tailed Eagle?
Hoopoe or Wryneck?
BEE-EATER – the one that got away!
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Great Grey Shrike in the clearfell?
Dartford Warbler
Nightingale on passage?
Linnet on the farmland?

Common Toad
A newt species

Not to mention all the beetles, insects, fungi and flowers that I have no clue about!
What a fantastic list of possibilities and opportunities! BRING IT ON

23 February 2021

2021 / 14

08:30 – 12:30
Bright, sunny and clear. 9*C. SSW F2-3 forecast to increase significantly

What a difference a bit of sunshine can make. Not just to the wildlife, but to our demeanour and mood. Lifted and bright. Walking out today with renewed interest and a sense of spring.
Parking at the Chilworth Arms and coming in form Woodside, there is birdsong all around and lots of activity in the gardens and surrounding trees. Jackdaws and Woodpigeons crooning on rooftops and chimneys; Nuthatches singing loud and clear; Goldfinches, tits, Robins, Wrens, Blackbirds and Dunnocks. Halfway down Woodside, where the tall pines come to the verge, there is a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers chasing around. Flirting, flitting. Calling to each other constantly. She backs away from him, reversing down the tree trunk, her spiky tail fanned wide for extra grip. His wings flick in stop motion, crown feathers raised. Great Tits in the same tree, one carrying moss.
At the end of the road, at the bridleway signpost, the first spring flowers. Self-seeded from gardens of course, but a welcome splash of colour. Primroses and Snowdrops:

The light over the farmland is transformed, and the view feels expansive and fresh.
A small group of Meadow Pipits are moving form one field to the next across the path, each one or two settling briefly up in the blackthorn before the holly. Great little birds in bright spring plumage, often not seen well. I can count 8 birds, maybe 10 – they disappear on landing in the grass. A Mistle Thrush comes up from the field that is otherwise occupied only by a few Carrion Crows and Woodpigeons. There’s a Greenfinch singing – one of at least territories – and lots of activity all along the hedge. every other bird is a Blue Tit: two here, two there; four together by the trough.

At the pylon by The Roughs, I rest to take my now familiar scan of the fields. I enjoy just standing here, watching the sky, the shadows of clouds moving across the landscape. Distant cattle grazing. Its very easy to overlook the closest field boundary, but every so often something moves and gives away the presence of feeding birds. In fact, there are about 30 birds – mostly Redwings and Blackbirds, but at least four Song Thrushes hopping around. Another Mistle Thrush, two Pied Wagtails a Pheasant and – what’s that, halfway down the slope? The female Kestrel still here, and still showing her preference for walking around pecking at the ground. Seems bizarre behaviour for a raptor, but I guess the pickings are good.
I am watching a Buzzard drifting in from Valley Park about half a kilometre away. Above it, something larger? Possibly another Red Kite…? The bird circles, banks and catches the sun. It’s a gull, and it really is huge. A Great Black-back, coming onto the farmland and dropping down, out of sight, in the maize field. Great stuff – only my third record. I recall seeing one there last spring too, while watching the Lapwings. So I am pleased but not surprised to pick up that fabulous squeaking, bag-pipe song and then see the performer, presumably a male, flying low along the hedge line. This is the incentive I need to walk out of the woodland and along the road, right down to the edge of the fields. And in, along the fence and through the wet grass to view that maize field. Black-headed Gulls, Crows, lots of Pigeons. A couple more Meadow Pipits, and two singing Skylarks. And there’s the Lapwing – bingo! Barrelling, rolling and fluttering like a kite in the wind. Feels good, kind of pioneering. Proper birding, finding out of the ordinary birds in overlooked places. It’s a long way off though, probably well over 250m – which makes identifying a large flock of 40 finches at the same distance against the sun completely impossible. And with the wind picked up across here out in the open, its impossible to hear them either. Be nice to thing they could be Linnets…?

It is 10:30 when I arrive back at the signpost and the primroses, and peacefully silent in the shelter of the trees. Birdsong all around, and a happy (if somewhat slippery and awkward) walk down the footpath into the farm. Over a mile. I stopped three times for Firecrests and heard none at all. The bird feeders in the yard are empty and unattended. Two women look up from their chairs and nod a good morning as I pass through. Stablehands walk horses. At “the puddle” there are no Meadow Pipits today, just a couple of Pied Wagtails, six more Blackbirds and another Song Thrush. Two Bullfinches come out of the hedge by the gate and disappear into the Wood.
In the paddocks I note 120 Jackdaws, 50 Rooks, 10 Carrion Crows. Two Pheasants, 8 Magpies, 2 Herring Gulls and 20 Black-heads, 6 Pied Wagtails. 4 House Sparrows. No Starlings? And to the right, behind the reedmace and next to the dressage ring, the lone Shetland pony is accompanied today by at least 30 Redwings and another half dozen Blackbirds. Two Mistle Thrushes. Dunnock, Greenfinch and a Jay.

Turning into the Lower East Side and walking behind the holly hedge along The Bowery, the morning sun is now warm on my face and very uplifting. The Green Woodpecker I still haven’t seen yet calls from nearby. Its not easy going here though, still very muddy where the path continues to get turned up by the equestrians. In two places, recently cut trees and brash have been dragged to the sides, so I decide to restore these temporary barricades. Half an hour of dragging and repositioning logs, branches etc and it looks quite effective.
Nothing they can’t move out the way again of course, but its a start and I feel better for doing it.
Nice few birds as I work – Great Spotted Woodpecker, Siskin, Stock Dove and Firecrest.

Barricading the Bowery (Lower East Side)

Approaching the end of Lower Velmore, at the back of the dressage ring, there is a large flock of very noisy finches in the alders. really very loud, almost incongruously so given that I can barely see any! I am too close to look up that sharply, and there is not much opportunity to back away. That requires clambering through some thick vegetation and trying to get a view up into the sunlit tree tops. Goldfinches mostly for sure, but there are Siskins and Lesser Redpoll too. I would guess at least 50 birds. Someone on the farm slams a car door, and immediately everything shuts up. Nothing flies, just falls quiet for a few moments before hesitantly the birds start up again. Good to see so many together – this will be all the local birds in one group.
I am tiring now, and thirsty. It is a slog up the Velmore Paths and especially the Crossing. My water ran out an hour ago. I am crap at rationing. And I forgot the fruit that I can still see at home on my kitchen table… Two Nuthatches either side at the top bring me back to focus.
Midday, and the clearfell stretches away before me under a huge and very welcome blue sky.
Stock Doves and a Sparrowhawk. Another GS Woodpecker (three pairs here?) Two Buzzards up, circling low.
Those Long-tailed Tits buzzing to my right are the first ones today?
There are workmen out in the middle again, clearing around the new plants. Oblivious to the three Crossbills flying over their heads. Short views, but again lovely in the sun. That’s seven finches again?
In fact the Sparrowhawk makes three raptors today? And THREE gull species?
Better still – all six local corvid species, with that Raven calling now, over the Chilworth Pines.
150 Jackdaws, 50 Rooks, 15 Crows, 8 Magpies, 3 Jays and a Raven.
Suddenly its 41 species. Another “first for February”.
And that’s not all. As I have been walking a round, reports ping in to the phone of butterflies locally. Red Admirals in Romsey and Micheldever, a Speckled Wood at the Daisy Dip in Southampton. Synchronicity brings a fabulous Brimstone into the clearfell! Bright, primrose yellow male and completely beautiful, dancing along between the stream course and the birchline.

Exactly two hours since I was at the signpost on the bridleway, I am back there on my way out.
The rabbits are very active, and on passing I notice three scuttling back into the burrows. One turns briefly to quizzically look at me. I know they are only Rabbits, but I see them so rarely. Funny little things. Worth watching them, for a moment at least. There’s a small plastic pot under a log there, with papers folded inside. A geocache! I’ll add a short poem and a signature. First one this year. “Blogged by birdsong”.
Three Siskins fly in calling. The Meadow Pipits are still fussing about, and the Buzzards have now drifted back out over the fields.

What better way to finish than with a superb Firecrest, right up close and personal in the laurel at Kilbracken. Singing loudly as I passed, and coming overhead to within a few feet. Hello there, lovely to see you again.

20 February 2021

2021 / 013

07:30 – 11:30
Overcast with light drizzle. Seasonally mild, 11*C, SSW wind light F2-3

Days pass, and the Wood calls. Wild places, breathing spaces. Shifting seasons, and a change in the weather.
With the exception of a couple of days, it has rained steadily over the past week – changing between intense downpours to prolonged periods of drizzle. The wind has been, gone and come back with a vengeance, having drifted round to the south-west it has warmed up ten degrees too and reached a balmy 14* yesterday.
Forecast to reach that again today, though it remains damp and dreary.

I remain hopeful of finding some amphibians, or at least evidence of them, but it definitely requires a different set of field skills that I struggle with. There MUST be frogs here, surely? Many other LNRs and suitable sites are full of them! I have managed to see only one, two summers ago on a hot dry day, and frogspawn is very hard to find. On my way across the East Clearfell this morning I checked several long-standing ditches and pools, but there isn’t any. I think the streams themselves are flowing too quickly and are full of water. In fact, it is exceptionally wet everywhere and the mud is getting back up towards the “spectacular” levels it was at in 2017 and 2018. Quite an experience in here, and I know of nowhere ‘worse’ for clinging, slippery, squelchy thick mud! It is limited to the Track though, and I find it passable with wellies and caution. Very unattractive for that couple with the tiny, fluffy dog and white trainers though. I guess they will have to learn the hard way…

Even at this hour, before the sun has been able to overcome the cloud, it is almost warm. A significant change in conditions.
The dawn chorus is rehearsing as That Time approaches. I am surrounded by the song of Dunnocks, Robins, Wrens and Blue Tits. Great Tits, a Chaffinch and a Goldcrest. It is becoming harder to ascertain numbers. It is good to hear the Blackbird’s voice among them again. Young males in their first year sing earlier than older birds; a humble song, less of a ‘performance’ than the Song Thrush, and a clear sign that things are changing. I do feel it has been a long drag this winter. Not without its own quality of course, but too damp for too long and not really cold for long enough…

The damp dull air does not provide good light, but it benefits the shades of brown that dominate the view across here down towards the trees. Some of the grasses remain thick and sculptural, a striking contrast against the softening bushes behind them that now bear shoots and early leaf buds.
To my right, somewhere behind Elliotts (in the Aviva Pines perhaps?) a Green Woodpecker yaffles loud. It’s only when noting in my pocket book that I am reminded that this is the first re cord at the site this year, which takes the list onto 47. And where’s there is one good bird, you can bet there will be a second. As I approach the pond, I notice that the water is rippling. A pair of Mallard emerge from the near side, chatting quietly. I’m surprised they don’t rise up in a fluster, but instead they waddle calmly up the bank and continue softly quackling. Two yearticks in two minutes. A sign of things to come…?

Crossing the West stream is “interesting” now. Since the national lockdown, I have noticed (but not necessarily seen) considerably more people than usual visiting the Wood for their ‘daily walks’. At several of the muddiest sections of the Track, new ‘paths’ have been trampled into the trees to avoid the worst areas, and most of the streams have new crossing points stomped out bypassing the need to leap across or struggle with fast flowing deeper water and slippery banks.
People have found the pond too, and I trace their steps into Q1 at an awkward diagonal into the wayleave. There are Goldcrests here, Long-tailed Tits and a Raven I can’t see passes overhead calling. Two small channels cross the wayleave here, in which the water runs from right to left into another that I haven’t previously paid attention to which runs exactly along the demarcation between the passage and the trees, For half an hour, I am exploring, mapping, scribbling rough alignments and picking my way across this channel inot what I have re-named the “East Plantation”. This addresses some point or other I made before Christmas that my cartogrpahic representation of the Wood is restricted to points of interest and lines of travel. The equivalent in a town plan to buildings and roads. I felt the need then to pay more attention to ‘districts’ and ‘areas’, art which I guess this is a start. So the “East Plantation” is the area between The Broad, the Wayleave (Q1) and Larpers Lane (The Beeches), marked on the west side by The Crossing and by the East Stream on the other. The Court is more or less in the middle of the East Plantation, and it was in here that I saw the Silver-Washed Fritillary. I will need a separate name for the small area between the Wayleave and the bend in the Track where “North Drive” turns into the Broad. There is a Firecrest territory here. Or do I?: actually no, probably more straightforward to include this in the East Plantation despite it being isolated by the Wayleave:

Within the East Plantation, just a few metres after stepping across the channel, I come upon a route through the trees defined by old tyre tracks. Perhaps 30 years ago this was planted, and here one can evidence that period of forestry. The route of this leads west to the Broad, but it is not easy walking. Roots, stumps and all manner of dips and holes – now full of dark water. Perhaps too temporary for frogspawn, the pools seem to hold only fallen leaves, larch cones and some pine needles. Moss covered brash and discarded logs lie between the trees, and to either side of the passage is an apparently impenetrable mash up of holly, bracken hazel, honeysuckle and young beech or briches struggling for light.
There are very few birds either: mostly Blue Tits, Robins, Coal Tits and Wren; my Treecreeper still eludes me.

Inside the East Plantation

I turn right at The Crossing, coming face to face with a male Muntjac at the top end of Upper Velmore. He skitters off quickly, and makes me jump some time later with a loud bark as I stand quietly watching a flock of finches. This is at th epoint I used to call ‘Crossbill Corner’ since my first encounter here in 2017, but which has subsequently become a misnomer as I haven’t seen the birds here since and the current flock favour the trees at the west end. It is instead now familiar to me as ‘the Velmore Crossing’ : the point at which the Wayleave (Q3) dips away to the left down to “The Bottom”and Lower Velmore also dips down towards the farm buildings between the northern belt and the East Side.
There is a whole bunch of birds here just now, including at least a dozen Blue Tits. Fun to watch, they are busy feeding. One in particular “parachuting’ with wings held wide and feathers spread, spinning in crazy little circles. Has there been an emergence of small flies perhaps? I can here finches too, chirruping and jangling. The light is poor, but there they are, moving around in the top of the tall larch. Two Siskins fly in from the right and I step this way and that trying to get a view. The Lesser Redpolls are lower down and easiest to see, which makes a pleasant change. I can see at least two birds well, and there are others up to probably a half dozen. The same birds no doubt that I watched last week, 100m away and along the stream with Tony. I can hear Nuthatches, at least two, a Song Thrush and a Siskin singing. Unfamiliar in the Wood, but a common sound up in the West Highlands where I hope to go again in May. Excellent – and to complete an intense five minutes while I stand here, the Raven comes back from left to right, two Crossbills follow immediately, calling loud and distinctive, and a Firecrest calls persistently from the large holly to my right. It is 0845, and everything happens at once.

Q3 from the Velmore Crossing. Finches in the tall larch on the left
Once there were dragons…

Half an hour later, after a purposeful walk through Marshalls and out of the Wood, I am standing at the signpost where the footpath meets the bridleway. It is just beginning to rain. I can hear a Greenfinch singing, and there has been a lot of activity recently around the ‘warren’. Evidence of Rabbits, Badgers (lots of deep scraping), and plenty of new mole hills at the edge of the field. I am alerted by the sound of Geese. Yes, really!! Only the Canada Geese I saw come through the Wood this time last year made any noise, so these Greylags are quite something and its a properly incongruous sound. And there they are, a large skein coming over the Roughs and moving east. Large by local standards – 28 birds. Which beats my previously largest group by 25. Good to watch them for a while. Even in the gentle rain, there is a glint of sunlight on their distinctive silver forewings. They look smart, and it is always good to appreciate birds you don’t normally see in a particular setting, despite how familiar they otherwise are.
Sixth sense drives me along the bridleway, through the puddles and mud down to the pylons to scan the Skylark field. It is early, but I have a confident feeling.
And yes – after counting half a dozen redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Pied Wagtail and a Pheasant in the field, the Song of Spring ascends and my yearlist rises to 50 species for the first time before the end of February. There are actually two Skylarks singing, one close enough to see at the same height as the electricity cables spanning the field. Always a sound of inspiration and hope, but there is little better than the first ones of the year.
Also two Jays and another Greenfinch. They seem to be doing better now, and I note one or two most visits now? Good news.

Time to sit and watch the sky
See whatever passes by
Clouds across the quiet hours
Birdsong, buzzard, gentle breeze
Spring forms light on waking trees
Shabby chic sky
Scratched and worn by winter hue
Thin cloud over last year's blue
It won't be long before the sun
Renovates it new

At 1030, I am back in the Wood and at the Top. It seems an age since I rested in my Sitting Spot on my favourite tree stump. A log I positioned upright here FOUR YEARS ago. Mossed now at its base, part of the landscape.
Fifteen minutes, just to watch the sky and the shimmering, struggling light. I am deceived by a Magpie flying straight towards me. Unfamiliar angle. A couple of Jays, equally weak in flight. And a group of Stock Doves, much more at home in the air. Balletic, fast and strong. Still plenty singing around me: Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin, Wren. A Mistle Thrush.

And a helicopter.

13 February 2021

2021 / 012

14:00 – 15:30 (with Elsie and Nora)
Freezing cold -2C, bitter wind from ESE. Shifting grey/white cloud cover

Farmland footpath. Hut Wood on the left, walking west towards the bridleway (at hedge on horizon).

Second consecutive walk here with a primary purpose other than watching birds. This time, choosing to come without binoculars.
“It would be nice if you come without them Dad, for a change.
And anyway, you are bound to see something interesting if you leave them at home!”
Prophetic words from my youngest daughter…

The track remains rock hard, puddles and footprints have frozen into several interesting layers. Frost on frost. Some are solid. Stones, and ice-blocks skim and skate across them. They bones and spin across the pond surface, bouncing with deep resonant notes, I am confident there is nothing in there to disturb.
Much fun is had trying to smash it up. Stomping, skimming, stones and sticks. Shapes. Sheets almost an inch thick eventually snap and shatter

And in some places, depending on tree shelter, exposure to wind etc, the sheets are thin and delicate, suspended over the pits and holes that lie empty under that crystalline surface.

Some of the pieces are formed, as if manufactured. Ridges on the underside form handles and rims.
At the mouth of drains, where water issues, there are ragged icicles, patterns and suspended sculptures.

We have come out onto the farmland footpath via The Bowery and the Lower East Side. This is where the work has been done recently. Lots of birch removed between the spruce trees. Left in lines. New passages cut. Harvest imminent?

Recent clearance work on The Bowery

=Horses come over, curious. Wrapped in blankets, some with face coverings. Holes for ears. Snorting, breath condensing. Hello. Soft mouths, friendly patting and chatter.
The trough, providing them with drinking water is frozen, and stands in lake of ice where the rain water never drained. Around this, scuttling and restless (occasionally running across the ice and seeming to be just above its surface) a gathering (a “seed”?) of Meadow Pipits. Of course, without bins they are hard to see in the tussocks of grass 50m away. But they oblige by rising as one flock, settling scattered. We determine between us there to be at least 30 birds. The same collective as up on the Top Field last week, and now increased in number.
Past the paddock, at the gate where the surface track ends, the west stream crosses the footpath. Lined by a hedge, along which I dared to walk a few times last autumn. More surface water here, frozen, at the bottom of this field. And a bird moves as we past. This one is a Crow, but there are others, and there is a distinct call. In the dull light, with cold air and distant mist, the plaintive Lapwing’s “peeoo-wit” is hardly more than the squeak of a branch rubbing against its neighbour. Delicious melancholy. As we stand, watching the scene to our right, 14 birds rise from the grass, settle and rise again, swirling and calling. Moved and disorientated by the cold weather. This is the one I was “bound to see” without the optics. An impressive count. The field in which two pairs probably nested last year is only half a mile to the north, just about visible from this angle.
I love Lapwings, and seldom get a chance to see them. As a child, my notebooks recall the presence of swirling flocks in several thousands around Northamptonshire. Some of the great ornithologists describe them collectively as a “vanelline deceit”, which is a wonderfully archaic term but suits them well of course. Vanelline refers to their fan-like “floppy”wings in flight, so buoyant and aerobatic, and the “deceit” describes they way they – and other plovers – feign injury or even death to lure predators away form the nest. For me, the call is a particular favourite, and evokes those teenage recollections. Wonderful to hear it again here on my patch. Today, in different conditions, it’s not the loud, “song” produced by the displaying male. This is conversational, mutual reassurance. Contact calls. I will come back, with bins, and scan for them more carefully to see if some do stay on again.

Between the log and the water (left) 14 Lapwings gathered in the grass

There are thrushes too, ‘paragliding’ into the field from the edge of the Wood. At least 40 Redwings and a dozen Blackbirds. Two Mistle Thrushes together land next two two others up by the next trough. Two more come out as we pass – at least six of them.

Back into the back of the Wood at “the dippy bit”(??) and through the West pines, hopeful of meeting the Goshawk. No chance, of this or Crossbills when one is purposefully aware and looking! Coal Tits and Nuthatches calling.

Time to go home. Been more than three hours since we had a cup of tea…

12 February 2021

2021 / 11

09:30 – 11:15 (with TB and Ernie)
Bitterly cold East wind, reducing temperature to -2°C after hard frost. Clearing to blue sky by mid-morning.

winter sunlight on the South Side

A walk to catch up with a good friend today, to share much missed time together and talk in confidence in a quiet open space. Spring is coming, times are changing…

We started at Woodside, and paid a visit to the Firecrest site at the top, but they were not coming out today. The cold, persistent wind seemed to be swirling right into the holly and conditions throughout were far from ideal. Even in the bright blue sunshine an hour or so later, conditions were not much improved. I also noted that the holly favoured by the birds has been significantly cut back. Hopefully they have not been disturbed, but that’s to be investigated further another day.
Nothing out on the farmland, and just a handful of Blackbirds and a Nuthatch at the Roughs. Again, the biting wind whipping across the exposed fields.

So into the Wood via Marshalls, where it is more sheltered, warmer (marginally!) and much quiter. The track underfoot is set hard now, but no easier to walk on than when it is slippery with soft deep mud. The rucks, ruts and tyre track are filled with frozen water and the whole uneven surface challenges even the stronger ankles in firm boots.
From the South Side, with the sun shining brightly behind us, we watched a pair of Buzzards together up over the clearfell. First time this year I have noted two birds together, and these were displaying and calling to one another. We earler located a large, ragged nest in the West Wood, so that is worth keeping an eye on.

Down the Crossing – wind in our faces again – and along Velmore picking up a couple of hardy Goldcrests at different points on the way, and then suddenly into the peaceful tranquility of Q3. We realised standing here that we had been shouting to eahc other for most of the way round, raising our voices above the swish of trees and the crunch of ice underfoot. Laughable once everything feel quiet among the trees.

Lookiing down into Q3 from the Velmore crossing

And for the first time we could hear birds – most noticeably down at The Bottom when I picked up the squeaking chatter of small finches behind Great Tits, Jackdaws and a Nuthatch. Had to pick my way along the stream a few metres into the trees to track them down, and promptly came upon two Lesser Redpolls about 20 feet up in a large, picking at cones. I like to think these are the same two birds I saw a few days ago at the East End, but of cours eit is impossible to tell. I believe there were more behind them in a flock mixed with a dozen or so Siskins, but they were all very mobile and frustartingly also just out of sight.

The Buzzards and Redpolls made a difference to what was otherwise hard work for 21 species, and the wind stopped us getting the Firecrests to pose for Tony’s camera. But it mattered little in the context of association and connection. Nature and mental health management. Woodland wellbeing. Happiness and energy. Sensory cleansing; birdsong and wind in the trees, ice underfoot; moving air against the skin, branches in the hand, feet leaping over streams and climbing slopes; pine trees, soil and cold smells in the air; seeing blue or green, browns and shades, opening the eyes and focussing at distance. Noticing change, and an experience of the world beyond our selves.

9 February 2021

2021 / 010

07:30 – 09:45
Bitterly cold in the north-easterly wind. Light snow overnight and forecast all day -2*C

Rather looking forward to a better walk than this today, but the thick grey cloud prevails and the precipitation is somewhere between snow and hail. Tiny splinters and dust of sharp cold ice fall with an annoying intensity of the hands and face. There is a couple of millimetres of snow on the ground, the puddles are frozen and the mud is firm but pliant.
I am not surprised that few birds are showing, and even the deer and squirrels have stayed under cover.
There are some desperate Blue Tits around the east clearfell, Great Tits on the hunt for breakfast and the occasional cheep or mournful whistle of other hidden things. Among them, the “kick” of a Great Spotted Woodpecker.
Its a challenge picking my way along the Broad and stepping up over the ditch into Q2 as is my familiar morning circuit. Here, Chaffinch and Bullfinch call from the right, and up to the left there are two birds fluttering in the top of a larch. Only silhouettes, but they come out and circling round in pursuit of one another. That distinct nasal chirruping and the size of the birds (which appear tiny) can only be Lesser Redpoll – a very welcome addition to the yearlist


I really should cover my bins in these conditions, or at least by a lens shield…

Noting that it is especially cold out in the clearfell as I headed out towards Marshalls Row, I was using up superlatives by the time I got to the bridleway and the farmland. The wind here has free rein, and is bitterly cold and freezing with a vengeance. Hardly surprising there are virtually no birds out and about. I am optimistic that something might fly over like last week’s Red Kite, but I can’t find a place to watch from that is sheltered and my inclination to stay and watch doesn’t last long. Maybe I get less tolerant of such conditions with age – I never used to feel cold, and even less did I used to mind it really. But more recently it cuts into me and drags my spirit down, pushing me back into cover.
Like that very brave little Rabbit there. A Rabbit?! It is VERY rare to see a rabbit, even here at the bank where they must live. This one sat on the edge of the field, looking out into the weather and no doubt like me, headed for home sharpish!
Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Jackdaw and two Jays.

Back on the south side, Forestry England have two contractors in, cutting bracken and other vegetation away from the new trees. Sickels and scythes – effective. Cold job though this morning!
Watching the men working, and the Crossbills emerge from the Middle of the Wood. I’m standing at the top of the birchline as a dozen or so birds come overhead into the Chilworth pines, calling. They sound different today, more metallic against a heavy sky that dulls sound as it does colour.

04 February 2021

2021 / 009

08:00 -09:45
Damp and misty with rain forecast. Reasonably mild though, 6*C

At first light this morning, about 7am, it was clear and bright at home about four miles south of the Wood.
By the time I arrived, later than I intended but ultimately of no consequence, the weather had either changed entirely or it was never like that here at all. Instead, everything is shrouded in a damp, thick mist and within an hour it is raining.

At the entrance, a new fence has been installed, blocking access to each side of the gates. The barrier hosts a new sign too, advising of increasingly severe consequences for anyone using motorbikes or similar in the Wood. Good news, let’s hope it makes a difference. Maybe too late for this season – the track is completely trashed and may not host pioneering plants again, though I hope some of these and the insects I was beginning to see have survived.. It has been especially disappointing to see how far off the track these bikes have now encroached, cutting onto the clearfell and especially into the Velmore paths:

I am on a mission to find frogspawn, but there is nothing yet in the Pond which is probably still too young to attract amphibians and needs to be colonised by micro-plants etc first. The standing water in the ditches beside the track is devoid of spawn too, and all the streams are currently full and flowing fast. Last year, the only site was up Where the Tracks Join, but as yet there is nothing here either. It is still quite early, and frogspawn is hard to find here, but I remain optimistic.
Looking a bit more intently at the ground than usual, I am mindful that we have done very little work in the last 12 months, which has unfortunately undone some of the clearance we did in the previous seasons. The bracken for example, although damp and brown, still needs pulling out and cutting back. I fear for the Wood Anemones and Violets this time round, but let’s wait until things are drier and the sun prevails.

Birdwise this morning I am working against the odds, and it is raining persistently when I get to the clearfell. From the track here at the gorse gap I can hardly see out into the middle. Visibility now down to about 200m, so nothing is inclined to fly around. Plenty of optimistic singers though, including at least two Song Thrushes in the north belt, and an especially clear and tuneful Nuthatch. In Q2, a couple of Bullfinches went through as I passed, their melancholic calls perfect for this rather dull and “sad” morning. Two Siskins passed from the north belt into the larches, providing a highlight.

Until I got to the Top.
Watching a mixed tit flock, I stepped forward to photograph some new honeysuckle and a WOODCOCK leapt out of the ditch and whizzed off into the trees! It was typically gone before I had any chance to watch it. Just shows what goes on in a quiet, safe place undisturbed early in the mornings.

02 February 2021

2021 / 008

10:00 – 12:00
Overcast, murky and generally dull. But occasional bright spells between drizzling rain showers.
Moderate F3-4 breeze from SW. Heavy cloud. 4-6°C

I have come via Woodside again, looking forward to walking the farmland and surrounding areas, with a mind not to enter the Wood itself this morning. The sky is full of character and complexity right now: huge thick clouds rolling low on the wind; but heavy and sullen, prone to melancholy and drizzle. There is a yellowish hue to the grey, and despite monitoring only 4 degrees, it does not feel cold. There is rain, but it all feels different – somewhere between belligerent and bewildered. Blue sky above it all, but it is as if the cloud does not want that to be known, and hastily tries to stretch and smudge itself over any ragged gaps or tears that appear as it hauls itself low over the landscape.
Everything is subject to change – neither the sunshine nor the miserable rain is willing to commit itself.

As I walk down the road between the houses at first it is blue that prevails, and there is a crisp, clear light. So there is birdsong of all kinds, and both Blue and Great Tits are especially active. Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush. There are a few Goldfinches jangling around, and Coal Tits piping from high in the pine tree canopy. As I stand outside the gates of “Robins Wood” (no apostrophe) admiring the profusely endowed magnolia that stands in the neighbours’ front garden, a group of Crossbills flies over and into the top of the tallest trees. For a few moments they glimmer and sparkle in the sunshine, chattering incessantly among themselves before they are quickly gone. I didn’t count them. 8, maybe 10 birds? Always a delight, and I haven’t seen them here before, along their commuter route between Hut Wood and Lords Wood a couple of miles southwest of here.
Nuthatches call too, with Jackdaw, Woodpigeon, Magpie and Chaffinch.

Looking across the fields from the bridleway, the view is shrouded in a dull flat mist. The pathway is very muddy, ankle deep and slippery, and ‘lakes’ of floodwater stand in the low-lying areas along the hedges and stream course. Two Bullfinches rise up as I pass from ‘the holly bush’, and more Blackbirds fire off and chatter loudly as they go. There must be ten birds here at least…? A Meadow Pipit calls typically from the field and as I watch it lands in a tall tree with at least a dozen other birds. That’s a large flock, and they all move off together joining more hidden in the long grass and mole hills in the top field. At least 25 birds – an unprecedented count of a species that is usually recorded in ones and twos!

Conditions on the bridleway, towards The Roughs

Overhead, the electricity cables hiss and crackle. An eerie sound in these strange conditions. I have stepped under one of the pylons to scan the flood water, but at first there are no birds at all. It feels as if I am standing at the edge of the weather, in a hinterland between winter and spring, between rain and sunshine; woodland land behind me full of singing birds and misted, damp farmland ahead devoid of life. It is 10:55, and the rain is taking its turn now, coming in from the west. I am sheltered between two oaks at the edge of The Roughs, with no hurry to do anything much except watch things pass. Within minutes, the precipitation turns from a cold sleet, falling in a swirling cascade, to large heavy drops of rain that fall loud on the leaves and explode as they hit the saturated muddy ground. A different crackle announces the arrival of a Mistle Thrush, and it is with a sublime, ethereal magic that he starts to sing. And apart from a half dozen cackling magpies along the fence line almost out of sight now, he is the only bird I can see. Exemplifying the “stormcock” moniker.
A small bunch of Long-tailed its arrive at my shoulder, bimbling and fussing as they do and adding another layer of texture to the experimental electronic soundtrack so perfectly fitting to this unusual situation.
It really is very different here and now, a time and combination of weathers that I have not experienced before, making this walk different and quite unique.
As the rain lessens, lifts and seems – for a while at least – just simply to forget to fall, I can see that a small group of half a dozen Black-headed Gulls have come to paddle in the standing water. More are coming in from the left, the north (Chandlers Ford) and above them a much larger bird. I’m thinking Great Black-back at first until it banks and reveals the obvious forked tail and long wings of a Red Kite! Seemingly incongruous, but perhaps indicating that today at least, anything might be possible. The earliest record I have, and the first for this year, taking the list for 2021 on to 42 species.
In the meantime, the gulls have increased four fold. Where do they come from? Restless birds, rising and circling in a ragged group. Visibility is poor and I can’t see anything among them. Twenty becomes thirty, and then once in the sky there are 45. Still no corvids or Pheasants – just three Pied Wagtails. And another, smaller raptor, low over the ground from right to left. For a moment, with no light or scale to set the bird in context, I wonder if it might be a Merlin. It rises up and sits on fencepost, confirming it is “just” a female Kestrel after all. Another year-tick. Up again, and hovering hopefully. She has seen something, but her dive is half-hearted and results in no catch. Instead, she pecks at the ground and wanders around. Indecisive, heading off again low and to the right. Up onto a pylon in fact – I disturb her as I pass without being observant on my way back.

Setting off, inclined to explore. I am partial to gaps in fences, and there is a long stretch at the end of the bridleway that invites the curious wanderer. It has been a while since I walked here, and the immediate area itself is almost spectacularly uninteresting. Nothing but closely packed young silver birches and no understorey. But beyond this, out of sight from the path, the land slopes away and becomes wetter either side of a stream I have not hitherto noticed. Mixed trees again: hazels, willow, beech and mature oaks. Sedges, bramble, gorse. Ferns and bracken. And a few birds again. It has stopped raining. Blue Tits, Great Tits. A Chaffinch and a rather surprised Jay. I’m inspired to walk along the stream course, picking my way along a belt of woodland that looks textbook perfect for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. No that really would be something to find! I’ll settle for another Nuthatch now, and a brief view of a Buzzard that takes off indignantly when I get too close. Again, I am made away of just how unobservant I am. How did I not see him, perched up on a ten foot high broken birch? Which makes this a day of three raptors for the first time in ages.
On my left now, the Top Field rises up to the bridleway and looks a rich, warm green in the sunshine. It is fenced though, and I won’t climb anything deliberately unless I get lost. So its back the way I came, having enjoyed a good wander, extending both my knowledge and the extent of my “patch”.

Firecrest next of course, now that the light has rapidly brightened. Two years ago one autumn I found a bird here by the gate, where the bridleway goes in to the Woodland between The Roughs and the Skylark Field. It is not a territory I check often, and that is an oversight. Within a few minutes a bright male appears, flicking his wings and calling. No leg ring. Without wanting to feel smug, I am getting very good at these birds! Makes up for not noticing that the Kestrel was perched up on a pylon just a few metres away!

The gulls down at the bottom have continued to multiply in number, and moved further away into the paddock where most of the horses seem to hang out. 250 in number now, they look like a patch of snow, or a spread of galanthus embroidered onto the field. Corvids too, about the same amount. Mixed Jackdaws, Rooks and Carrion Crows too far away to separate. It has all turned out rather nicely, and my decision to stay out of the Wood is vindicated. Thus it is especially pleasing to meet the Woodside Firecrests on the way back up. Both birds are out, flitting from telephone line to holly to beech to briar. Confiding and convivial.
Add Greenfinch to the list, and I am at 32 species in a couple of hours – the highest total for a session here so far this year. Something out of nothing. Put the kettle on…

25 January 2021

2021 / 07

14:30 – 17:00
Cold but clear and still. 0*C with patches of thin cloud. Virtually no breeze

There are still remnants of yesterday’s snowfall in the shaded places, especially around parts of the track. Rather disappointing at no more than 15mm (half an inch in real terms) but I am happy to see at least something. After the snow fell – between 6 and 9am – it quickly turned to rain and most of it washed off pavements and roads in the city.
But just 4 miles north of home it is colder, further from the sea and the built environment, meaning that the snow stands, more defiant than dazzling. Hardly a winter wonderland, but still white and wonderful in its own way. My third encounter here with snow. One fall in each of the past three years.

I have parked at the Chilworth Arms to come into the ‘back’ of the site via Woodside.
This gives me a chance to knock on the door of the friendliest Firecrests I know, and stop by for a chat. After a moment or two of patient “pishing” the female bird appears and comes out to say hello. She is active and engaging, curious, head on one side. Flicking, bobbing. I have seen before each bird on the same small circuit outside their holly bush: across the road to the small beech tree, up onto the overhead telephone wire and back inot the cover. If I stand very quiet and still, and in a particular spot, they seem to accept me and become almost tame. Briefly the male appears, and they call to each other. Passing so close for a minute or two that I managed (at last) to capture a couple of photographs on my phone. Artistically perhaps nothing to get excited about but even a ‘record shot’ on this device is more than good enough for me:

These birds set a high bar. I spent a good hour later on picking my way through the North Belt and only managed to locate one other bird. A single male this time that showed (almost) equally well and sang beautifully from deep within a yew tree. I was hopeful of more on a beautiful still and sunny afternoon, but maybe it is still too early in the year, and maybe it remains just too cold. Temperature did not rise above freezing today. There is ice on puddles more than a centimetre thick.

The irony: Velmore Farm has put up various signs along its perimtere fencing that read “Private. No Trespassing”

Apart from this single Firecrest, the northern woodland is exceptionally quiet. Coal Tit, Jackdaw and a couple of screeching Jays. A single Buzzard wen tover, heading north. I followed the rough path right along this edge, crossing Lower Velmore and connecting through a dark, overgrown alley into the bottom of The Bowery. Just a few Blue Tits and another Jay. Evidence of Pheasant: footprints in the snow:

Up the Crossing and round to the south side, for expansive views across the clearfell. I have rarely known this place so quiet and still. Apart from me, nothing is moving. There is no traffic noise and hardly any birdsong. The silence is strong and present. Take time to stand at The Top and just listen to nothing at all, watching the colours and huge sky. Breathing. Connected.

I have noted the absence of Redwings in recent weeks, so it is good to connect with a gang of 20 or more right up beyond Marshalls on the way out. Light late too, almost 5pm and its “not dark”