10 December 2018

2018 / 82

Bright and clear morning. Light W. 7°C but colder in the shade

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In the ten days since I was last here, the migrant thrushes have virtually stripped the holly of its berries and moved on. There are still a few remaining on the south side of the track, where there Blackbirds and Redwing were concentrated this morning. One or two smaller ‘squadrons’ of redwing around, but no more than 40 birds now. A dozen Blackbirds, just 2 Mistle Thrushes and 6 Fieldfares. The latter in one noisy group flying out from the SW corner.
At the top of the crossing on my way out, where the sun comes through in early morning,  a Blackbird fly across the track calling in a thin whistle like a Song Thrush. Moments later, a Song Thrush burst from cover, “truckling” like  Blackbird.

Goes to show how difficult bird calls can be, and how much more vocabulary they display than is described in most field guides. Calls – especially at this time of year – can be often atypical and cause confusion and mis-identification. Same is true of the chup-chup-chup of finches, which I find indistinguishable – between Chaffinch, Greenfinch for example.
Bullfinch is easy – just a couple of those today, in Q3.

Above here, on the way down about 7.45 before the sun was up, a Muntjac ran across the top end of Q2 – higher up than I have met one before. Prior to this, 4 Roe Deer were in the eastern clearing, and two more in the West.

The ‘tree bags’ are back. FC are re-planting (again) in an attempt to establish a new crop of Scots Pine. There was a man on site this morning, digging and setting the young trees. His presence will have added to the reduction in bird numbers I expect, along with the diminishing berry supply.
I watched him walking during the 20 minutes I spent at the viewpoint, watching the morning sun rise and begin its slow, shallow climb above the trees. Only patches of the Wood get the sun this early. I am rarely here at dawn.

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As I sat here, a few birds moved overhead: 80-100 Woodpigeons, moving south; 6 Stock Doves, 5 Black-headed Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-back; a dozen Crows, one Meadow Pipit and one Siskin. Highlight has to be the group of 5 Mallard that appeared briefly along the fields to the north and disappeared quickly over the farmland. First record since May, and the largest number so far.

The unseasonally mild weather has brought a lot of Catkins out in hazel. This in turn has given at least one pair of Stock Doves the feeling that spring is in the air, display flights and ‘paper plane’ floating over the clearing. And I watched a pair of Great Tits prospecting in a yew, talking about their options for a nest site.

One man walked opposite the clearing with his dog.
Why do people have to wear hi-viscoats when they walk in woodland?

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30 November 2018

2018 / 81

Mild afternoon – cloudy with bright spells. 11°C

13:45 – 15:30

Robert Macfarlane- Words of the day: “lower”, “lour” – of a weather-front, sky, facial expression or looming future event; to be sullen, menacing or scowling in appearance; to presage trouble. Cf early modern Dutch “loeren”, to frown or knit the brows, & German “lauern”, to lie in wait.

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Storm clouds rolling over the cleared area

Took a route through the southern woodland this afternoon, and rather predictably saw very little birdlife. Only Wrens, Robins and a few Blue Tits active. This is the least active part of the wood due to its proximity to the motorway. Late November, and mid-afternoon.

I did come across another camp though, and evidence that the wooden ‘skate ramp’ construction has been more or less completely dismantled. There is a lot of litter in the area too, lining the well used path that leads to the tent, so whoever is there has been resident some time. They have chairs, a washing line – and a golf bag?

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This photo shows the striking absence of understory in this area, which also makes it quite unique in the Wood.

From the top of the Crossing, I walked down halfway and into Firecrest Alley for a change. It was mostly dull and gloomy here, and as devoid of birds as everywhere else. Coal Tits and Bullfinch heard. At the bottom, beside the stream that marks the edge of the wood, I disturbed a female Roe Deer that headed at high speed out into the middle.
At this time of year, with the vegetation receding, everything seems more open and paths appear that have hitherto not been very obvious. It is clear that ‘someone’ is regularly using this route and walking form here out across the cleared area. I almost never go on there myself, and decline to do so in most circumstances.
Nevertheless, there is clear evidence that it is well used, as the grass is cut back and the crossing over the stream has been cleared that I have not seen all year:

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Heard a Pheasant from here, and a Siskin flew over.

Up at the viewpoint, I was delighted to reconnect with the cap I left behind last week. Just a handful of Greenfinch and Chaffinch moving about, and two Mistle Thrushes.
A large flock of 200 corvids moved along the northern perimeter – mixed Rooks and less Jackdaws.
Altogether, just 23 bird species recorded this afternoon.

The weather is confusing everything. In the west, there are new catkins!

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And a few more artistic photographs:

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26 November 2018

2018 / 80

13:00 – 16:00
Bright and clear afternoon 6°C. Light Northerly breeze

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November continues to be as changeable as ever. Temperatures since the last frosty morning visit have risen to 13°C with winds and rain from the south and another blast of grey from the east to just about everything in between. This week looks set to be no different, with today forecast as the coldest and driest day for another week.

I arrived (via the Chilworth Arms) with the dog just after lunch, with time and intention to do a thorough circuit and spend a bit of quality time in the Wood

There’s a Goldcrest singing in Woodside, and a buzz of Blue, Coal and Great Tits. At least three Robins singing, and plenty of Blackbirds in the various gardens. A helicopter bursts over. Red. In its peaceful wake, a Buzzard cries.
There is less wind but no more birds than I anticipated over the farmland, and it feels surprisingly sheltered on the bridleway walking northwards. A group of Redwing dive into the holly bush, and move further in as we pass rather than exiting over the fields. I can here them rustling around inside.

A dark, slate grey sky dominates the north and west, a backdrop against which the low sun illuminates the buildings scattered among rows of glowing autumn trees. The light glints on a party of Black-headed Gulls grazing among the black cattle, and on the iridescent plumage of the corvids scattered over the distant fields. There are two birds in the sky, circling above the wood, and for a moment I assume they are Buzzards. The higher one is, but the second – and with it a third – are clearly Ravens, though the sunlight on their spread wings gives them a silver and brownish appearance. Two magnificent Ravens, and over the next few minutes they circle slowly and drift closer until they are directly overhead, gently ‘talking’ to each other. The chosen vocabulary today is one of porcine snorts and grunts, loud contact calls as they drift apart and off towards the pylons. By the time I arrive at the Roughs, there is one perched up on a pylon to the west, shouting angrily at a couple of crows giving it an unnecessary hard time. The second bird is nowhere to be seen: I can only assume this is one of the pair and not a third.

In the meanwhile, the Buzzard has come down too, on the recently cut hedge that divides the cattle pastures and runs parallel to the power lines. The local crows aren’t too happy about this either – watching this action helps me pick up a group of  dozen or so Starlings that I probably overlook on most other occasions. There’s a fuss behind me now, and I expect to see a Raven up, but instead a second Buzzard has arrived.
Otherwise in the bushes around the tree clearance, I can see and hear more Redwings, Blackbirds, Robins and the infrequent calls of Chaffinch, Nuthatch and more Goldcrests.
On the way back up, I pass a Song Thrush at the fieldgate; and there is a Pied Wagtail sitting on the cattle trough. This time the Redwings do leave as we approach their favourite bush – 22 of them shoot off into the garden on the left, whistling and chattering.

A check of the time as I get to the footpath, and it’s been an hour since we arrived. Slow time, wandering across the fields. From here, the light is even more impressive and the oaks especial look beautiful against the grey sky. But it’s only grey now directly to the north – all around otherwise it is bright and blue. The path is muddy again, and slippery under the damp leaves. It is particularly wet turning into the wood where – somehow! – the horseriders pick their way along between the young firs. I can hear Coal Tits, a Nuthatch, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and ‘something’ is different.

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FC have cut a new swathe, a deep bay behind the briars back in towards the stream that defines the bottom of Q4. A part of the wood I have never really explored. It penetrates 20 -30m and creates an openness that must benefit flowing plants and hopefully more pollinating insects. It is very wet here now though, and the tractor ruts are deep-filled with brown water – walking up towards the cleared area is becoming characteristically difficult. From here to the seat there are signs that horses have found the descent slippery. the north side of this track too has been cut back, even to the extent of layering some of the young birch and hazel. They have been busy.

The west and south quarters of the cleared area are in shadow already. A Jay calls, and the trio of Magpies crashing around in the middle brings up all six ‘local’ corvids for this afternoon’s list. There are less thrushes active this time of day – I can only really see 3 or 4 Mistle Thrushes, and one group of Greenfinches bouncing about of between 15 and 20 birds. A tit flock passes over in the Chilworth corner, comprising LTT, Blue Tits and a few Godlcrests – as well as one fabulous Treecreeper. Great to watch every time, and this one seems to like the underside of the silver birch its climbing, meaning it spends most of its scuttle upside down.

Scanning for Stonechat – one day. I am ever hopeful – I feel at peace, and enjoy a sens eof stewardship and belonging. The spirituality of this Wood is enhancing and affirming in a way like no other place I know. To just walk, and be led by your feet. In a place away from signage and virtual information. Read instead the voices and language of nature, and enter a world that is not only real, but commonplace and without pretence or grandeur. There is an inscape of vignettes at every turn, and the knowledge is observational.

My own “nature writing” draws from the same leaf mulch as Roger Deakin, Robert Macfarlane John Sempel-Lewis et al, and they have all inspired me in similar ways over that last 18 months or so. I am delighted to walk among them and experience such well-being.

It is a delight to be here today. The only concern I have regarding the most recent clearance work comes as I descend the Crossing and become aware that one can now, from here, see quite some distance into Upper Velmore. Previously, this has been one of the more secluded paths within the Wood, but already equestrians now pass through. MY fear is that the Hobbies will be a little more exposed now, and perhaps put off next season? That remains to be seen of course, and six months of grass and understorey regrowth may fill in some of the vulnerable spaces I see to the moment…?

There is still time to enjoy the light on the middle of the wood, and I return to the viewpoint just a few minutes after 3pm. Mid-afternoon. Dog has for some time now been trying to interest me in a particularly large stick he has carried for a while, and I am inclined to give in. We tug, growl at each other; throw, return. Pull. He runs ahead to the seat and looks back at me. I nod. he knows and lies down to chew the stick at his leisure.
One of the Ravens drifts back over, but apart from a coupel of Stock Doves, there is little movement other than that of the light. The sunfall recedes quickly into the canopy in a  reverse of morning.

Where the tracks join, there is another tit flock. Fussing and noisy. Among them, two more Treecreepers. The most secret of avian denizens perhaps. A Firecrest calls persistently, and all is – as they  say – right with the world for a moment.

Back at Marshalls, I am rather taken by the open vista at the bottom. Opposite the new swathe, I overlooked on arrival that a large clump of mixed scrub has been removed “behind me”, opposite the Roman Road line where the ash trees stand. It is fascinating to observe even simple and familiar views from the opposite direction. How will this affect things? Grass, I think will benefit here most and hopefully some foundational plant species. The resilience and regenerative power of the natural world is waiting, and I anticipate with a pastoral and quite excitement that lifts my spirit into the misty, fading sunlight of late afternoon

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22 November 2018

2018 / 79

07:45 – 09:30
Cold 0°C with ground frost . Bright and clear after prolonged grey, rain and wind.
Very light Easterly

I have returned. A week since passed, and a transitional November has firmed its hold. There is a fragile surface of thin ice on the puddles this morning. Splintered and satisfying. It is colder than I recall it being, and forecasters suggest this is the first significant ground frost of the season. In the eastern clearing, the grass is white, and the leaf litter is all coated in winter icing. The young saplings resemble the velveteen surface of reindeer antlers. Sugar coated leaves, fringed with sunlight.

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Word of the day: “marcescence” – in trees & plants, the ‘holding-on’ of dead leaves through the winter months (noticeable especially in beech & oak). A “marcescent” leaf – or, figuratively, person – is one that has withered but not fallen (Latin marcescere, to wither, languish). Robert Macfarlane (November 2018)

The Wood is setting, braced for winter’s chill. I have come dressed for work, and my ‘office trousers’ are impractical and no match for the penetrating air. Fingers tingle. Running nose. Deep, cool breaths.

Thrushes abound. Redwings whistle overhead like arrows, between the Yew trees. There are Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds. At least two Fieldfares. I find these to be like Jackdaws – their vocal presence always suggests greater numbers than are actually present. I note ‘c10’ and see only a couple… It is quite easy to overlook Song Thrush at this time of year, but their numbers increase too and local birds become more confident when their Scandinavian cousins arrive. As I descend to the bridge, there is one feeding acrobatically on the plentiful arils to my right. he is strongly marked and beautiful – and for a moment holds my eye watchfully before flying off.

A new swathe has been cut – see top photograph – in the week since my last walk. I am encouraged. Simple flail clearance down the side of the cleared area, three or four metres across, but instantly it feels more open to the air and light. I miss the cobwebs, but they will inevitably return without too much delay. I can hear a Jay and see a few Crows. Nuthatch, Robin, Greenfinch and Blue Tits. Quite a few Blue Tits in three small groups between here and the point where the Track crosses at the top of Q2. A handful of Long-tailed Tits and Great Tits among them, but I can only managed to determine a single Goldcrest. Unseen things. Moving leaves. Perhaps it is a little too early – the sun is still behind the hill to the west and managing only to reach the tops of the trees beyond here.

But how they shine! Embers, glowing in the canopy. Bright orange, yellow and gleaming gold, releasing a gentle condensation mist as if still afire. Smoulding ash, birch, oak and Corsican pine. Which poses a question of etymology
Nov – embers? I wonder if the suffix ’ember’ refers in any way to the ‘smoulding remains’ of the tree canopy in the early morning sunshine at this time of year?

Beside those still in leaf, other trees reach fingers into the crisp blue sky that are as cold and gnarled as my own. I am blowing on my hands and pause to stamp my feet as I reach the stream at The Bottom. Its tinkling jangle is a delight, but I make rather a Big Deal of stepping over it today. Still struggling more than I would like with stiffness above my left ankle, no doubt exaggerated in the cold. And I am not in the best mood, but feeling low and rather sad this morning. Melancholy hangs heavy.

Emerging at the track, it’s clear this is where the majority of the birds gather and there is much activity among finches and thrushes in particular. Small Tremblings of Greenfinch  rise like flies and bounce around in a similar fashion. Mistle Thrush, more Fieldfares (but how many?) and clearly ‘lots’ of Blackbirds and in all probably 200 Redwings. A Crowd. Most of the treetops are occupied by silhouettes, and overhead there are many indefinable ‘chups’ and ‘whistles’. There are twitterings and flutterings. Chattering and scuttling. I do find it hard to distinguish finch flight-calls, but have recently researched Brambling and like to think I would pick up the more nasal quality of that call should one go over.
But today, it is Chaffinch numbers than seem to have increased the most. Ones and twos pass straight over, going south, and in all more than 20 birds feature in the next half hour. That isn’t many, but a significant increase on the resident population.

Scanning the cleared area, there is a sense that things have changed. The bracken is receding and now rises little more than knee high above the ground; around the edge, an extra metre of cutting on each side of the track enhances the sense of ‘space’ and open. There is an exhalation, captured in the gentling rising condensation.

And then I see it. A structure, unfamiliar and presently incongruous. It will merge quickly, but for now the forester’s High Seat stands out to the trained, observant eye.

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I have to investigate, and walk across the clearing along a track cut and pressed to iron hard mud by whatever vehicle transported the seat to its well-chosen spot, south facing, aligned with the birches opposite and all but invisible from every direction other than the south side. Unfortunately, my phone has temporarily died so I am unable to photograph the view from the top, but it is wonderful to sit there for even just 15 minutes, surrounded by arrowing thrushes. The tree visible in the picture between the legs in the background is the exact one that the Nightjar circle around from whence I watched the Twilight Dance. I look forward immensely to observing the same from here next summer. A place of calm, to read and watch the Wood. The ladder is secure enough, if a little wobbly. Ironically, the structure’s presence is mostly given away by the sunlight glinting on the warning sign connected to the third rung.

So a deer cull is planned? The trees are struggling to establish. How and when will it be carried out? Who will be onsite to do the shooting?
Little wonder there is more of a presence now to deter public access.

14 November 2018

2018 / 78

07:45 – 09:45
Mild 13°C with light breeze at high level and clear sky.
First ‘calm’ day after three days of wind and rain

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A new notebook
A new page
Beautiful Bindewerk by Arne Katzbichler

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There’s a contractor here, with a sidearm flail mower. He looks at me too long, drawing a friendly ‘hello’. He’s obliged to point out this is a private wood, and he’s been asked to turn people away. Fair enough, just doing his job. I explain, and he expresses an interest in the wildlife that puts us both at ease. As I leave, he is working slowly up the south side, cutting back the grass and bracken at the side of the track at an inclined angle, and occasionally hacking into some of the overhanging branches. A fresh damp smell follows that of burning fuel and engines.

I’m encouraged to see more enhancement in progress.

Lots of bird activity in the eastern clearing – Redwing and Mistle Thrush in the tall trees. Robins singing. Long-tailed, Blue and Coal Tits flitting about. But it is cooler and quieter in Q1, where only a Great Spotted Woodpecker and some Blackbirds made their presence known. Actually, there are a lot of them here today, pooling together in groups of 6 or 8.

Dew drops on fallen leaves. Oak, birch and hazel underfoot. Thick, damp grass. The smell of November. Corsican Pines now draped in heavy yellow robes.

More Redwing, Blackbirds and a couple of Bullfinch at Lower Velmore, but no sign today of deer or Foxx. The stream at The Bottom is flowing again, and the sound of running water returns to the wood. The adjacent reeds, now faded and brittle, lie flattened by the recent wind. There is a tit flock here – I can only see Blue and Long-tailed, but there is at least one Goldcrest calling. It is difficult to get anything much on any of the birds at all as they move so fast.

At 8:40, I step out onto the Track. This is a regular and routine morning route now , from here round the track past the viewpoint and back along the south side. I am greeted by noisy, rattling Mistle Thrushes and can immediately see half a dozen birds in the central clump. Experience tells me there will be more than that, and it is not long before a large group of thrushes heads off to the east. 22 Mistle Thrushes among them, and at least 50 Redwing. Blackbirds have stayed behind, and there are still a few Mistle Thrushes up at the top – maybe even as many as 30 birds here today? I can here Fieldfare too – but from the top everything in the middle is a silhouette today.

On the right hand side, where the sun is strongest, there is another flock of small birds moving through the hazel at the top of Q4. I don’t often step in here, in the long grass, but perhaps this time of year in the mornings it is a worthy watch. Here today are more Goldcrests, at least 5 and in good voice, low and restless. Migrants from Europe are arriving on the south coast – the Isle Of Wight has had Pallas’s Warbler and Yellow-browed this week. Keep watch, be aware.

Fluttering finches. Fifty or so, in two different flocks. Mixed Goldfinch and Greenfinch, with a handful of Chaffinches thrown in.
Soon perhaps a Brambling or three will drop in, and there are enough thrushes and flocking small passerines now to attract maybe a Merlin…?

A group of 8 Stock Doves circle twice. They appear long-winged today? Another feature I have learned that makes them readily distinguishable from the heavier Woodpigeons.

Behind me from the seat, on the morn-facing edge of the West Wood, one silver birch shines out like a golden beacon.

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9 November 2018

2018 / 77

13:30 – 15:30
Mild 13°C but seasonally unpredictable. Heavy rain showers between blustery sunny spells. Strong S- SW winds (30-40mph)

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A delightful palette now of broad-leaved yellows and rich evergreens, bronzed and copper bracken and splashes of grey drizzle.

The track at the bottom of Marshalls Row is collecting surface water and becoming claggy underfoot. There is little venturing off the ground on the exposed farmland, just a few ragged Rooks drifting in from the west. Random pigeons travelling in no particular direction. Scanning from the pylons, I am being watched by a crisp male Pheasant, sharply defined against the misted grass. Upright and alert, as if he has emerged from under the ground itself. In the distance, beyond the hedgerow among the corvids, four Black-headed Gulls are battling the oncoming wind.
Little sound too above the rush of the wind in the treetops and the presence of Jackdaws.

I seldom come into the Wood when the wind is visiting, and from the south today it carries a lot of traffic noise. The pines stand patient, not unduly perturbed, but the birches in the cleared area flex and swish. It is raining golden leaves – swirling at height in exposed areas and, on the south side, skittering across the track as if propelled by rolling, like marbles down a slope. It is like a crowd scene, everyone rushing in the same direction. The chestnuts, first to turn, are almost naked now. There’s a scattering of finches when a Sparrowhawk dives in, Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush sounding the alarm. Only a half dozen Redwing around today.

The most sheltered part of the circuit is at the bottom of the crossing, where somehow the wind can’t reach from its preferred direction. I come across the first evidence that there are small birds active within the trees. I see only glimpses and hear persistent calls. Long-tailed Tits. Overhead, easy to count and nearly 20 in this group, but once in the trees they are restless and gone – here and there without pause.
A Jay and ‘some’ Coal Tits.

My ankle hurts, and it has just started to rain properly. The walking up the crossing will be a slog.
I’m tired now, and it’s been a busy week.

In this season’s new style, the trees look taller.

Back at the descent towards Marshall’s, there are more tits. A larger group of 40. For a few minutes, I am watching birds. Here are Goldcrests too, at least three. Equally noisy. And higher, a Treecreeper for a pleasant change. I am minded to look out for these next year – they seem almost impossible to find? I shall call these two broken birches The Silver Twins, for cartographic purposes. There is a line of Woodpecker nest holes. The stump on the left looks like a flute.
Robert Macfarlane (9 November 2018) Words of the day: “The Watchful Tree” – folk-name given variously to the silver birch & the aspen, because of the ‘eyes’ that seem to gaze from these trees’ trunks – formed either by natural bark-markings, or the healed lesions left by dropped branches.

Still a few Fly Agaric under the small trees beside the path here. One large flat one, opened out to a full 5″ across. Two more, three. Smaller and still domed.

I am walking back up Woodside with some difficulty and not without irritation. There is a hard, angular ‘something’ in my right boot and the muscle around my left ankle is causing me to wince and wobble on the sharply cambered road.

3 November 2018

2018 / 76

08:00 – 09:45
Mild and sunny 11°C. Bright blue sky and high cloud, passing quickly in light S wind

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I am later than I would have liked this morning as I had to call into the office on the way over. This irritates me unnecessarily, and of course the Wood is a delight anytime. I was rather expecting it to be colder today and wanted to catch any early movement overhead. No need to have worried as there are plenty of birds around anyway – an encouraging 32 species once I added my notes up.

There is a lot of birdsong  at the west end – Robins, Blackbirds mostly, and a few small groups of tits. Exceptional views of a male Dunnock singing from low in a bush as I crossed the stream. Q1 smells deliciously damp and autumnal.
More tits in Q2, and it would seem Goldcrests have rediscovered their voices now too.Mixed with clicking Long-tailed Tits.

A flurry of activity as I stood watching this group at the Velmore crossing. A group of 8 Bullfinches went over calling mournfully and then I noticed a large flock of Woodpigeons going west overhead. 400 together- so presumably continental migrants. Altogether I counted over 800 in the next hour, in groups of up to 100, all going int he same direction. Moments later a Buzzard went low along the northern belt, shouted at by Crows, and a single adult Herring Gull came by, gleaming in the morning sunshine.

There’s a movement further on in Q3, where the grass is richest, and a female Muntjac steps out into the light, cautiously grazing. She is within 30m of me, but unaware and is in no hurry. She is closely followed by a calf- and i don’t think I have ever seen one before. I draw a sharp breath- what a privileged moment. Seconds later, a third appears, a male. Presumably young because he is much smaller than the female?
They don’t see me, and walk slowly across the Passage out of sight. I am blessed.

All the bird action follows then in the cleared area, where i am greeted by the familiar chack-chack call of a Fieldfare. First returning birds of the season and there are two or three groups of 4-5 birds spread around. In fact, there are 22 birds – and they all leave together on the stroke of 9am, flying right overhead as I sit at the watchpoint. From here also 60 – 80 Redwing and at least 10 Mistle Thrushes. Woodpigeons as mentioned, and a single Meadow Pipit headed east calling.

Two Sparrowhawks circle over, upsetting the 80-100 finches. More Chaffinch than I am used to – probably a dozen birds.
Next to my seat, the Orange Peel fungus is still beautiful, though now just passed its best with a few insect holes and torn ‘petals’:

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A few Hornets still on the wing too, and one grounds just a metre in front of me and proceeds to walk through the grass over my feet. Great to see so close.

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The wind has found its way into the Wood on this south side, and it is raining golden leaves. Ash, oak and beech all spinning down – the occasional yellow birch leaf gets caught in a whirl and drifts back upwards.

Two couples with two dogs this morning – all amiable and in good spirits.
Hard not to be in this place.

29 October 2018

2018 / 75

Clear light, cyan blue this afternoon. Reasonably mild in the sun (12°C) but only 7-8°C in the shade. Gentle N-NE bringing chill to exposed areas.

13:00 – 15:00

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Looking due east from the footpath over the Rook field and the hedgerow

Feels like its been a while since I came this way, walking in from Woodside and leaving the car at the Chilworth Arms. No surprise to encounter very little birdlife on the walk down – Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Robin, Great Tit, Blackbird, Goldcrest.
I arrived at the footpath just in time to see a Sparrowhawk being chased along the field edge by a couple of crows. More Blackbirds along the bridleway, where the holly bush is bursting with berries ready for the winter thrushes:

In the field, 150 corvids, most of which are Rooks. There always seem to be a dozen birds in flight, moving from one side of the group to the other. Occasionally they climb on the breeze high enough to define Robert McFarlane’s appropriate “word of the day” this morning: “gyre” – a turn, a whirl, a circling or spiralling motion (from Greek γῦρος; ring, circle)

The wood too is quiet. Not much seems to move around this time of day. Apart from holly berries, my eye is drawn to the ripe red of a well-endowed Rowan on the woodland edge beside the footpath, and a few minutes later to a wonderful Fly Agaric specimen tucked in the grass at the end of Marshalls Row:

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Now that Summer Time has passed, even by 2pm the sun is low behind the Chilworth Pines and only the north side of the track and woodland remains bath in light. Here, I had two Firecrests with a small titflock at the top end of Q4 – a new location – and a third further up Q3 towards the reeds.
From here up to Higher Velmore, and another FC flitting around in the holly at the junction with the track – again one of the few places holding sunlight. Another tit flock here, and walking back down towards the stream it got quite noisy for  few moments. Two FCs especially vocal in the big holly trackside here, which has recently become a guaranteed spot. I am becoming aware this afternoon that these birds are using a  variation of their familiar call now. The usual thin “pseep” repeatedly persistently is a little sharper, and is definitely repeated less often – occasionally only once or twice. An alarm call, instead of the contact call I am more used to hearing.

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I can’t decide whether or not I like the effects on these photos, applied ‘somehow’ by my phone camera?

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27 October 2018

2018 / 74

Cold today. First ground frost of the season. 2°C
08:00 – 10:00 Clear, cloudless blue. Light N, chilly breeze

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Sometimes I see you
Glittering on the vegetation
Hiding in the margins for a while
Sometimes I feel you
Tingling my circulation
Filtering through leaves and through time
Hello Frost and Light
Frost and Light
Hello Frost
Frost and Light

Sometimes I’ll glimpse you
Pouring into a situation
Glinting in the corner of my eye
I’ve often known you
To slide in here in without invitation
Slipping through the seasons like a scythe
Hello Frost and Light
Frost and Light
Hello Frost
Frost and Light

I’ve often seen you
Engineering quiet exchanges
Devising a truth of your own design
And I’ve often sensed you
When day’s begin and not paying attention
Waiting at the edges of my life
Hello Frost and Light
Frost and Light
Hello Frost
Frost and Light

And now I see you
Pooling into thirsty pine trees
Tickling my toes and my spine
It’s good to feel you
On my back and on my fingers
Calling me to witness all the changing signs
Hello Frost and Light
Frost and Light
Hello Frost
Frost and Light

I am here before the sun this morning. She is awake and rising, but still below the treeline on Hicknor Hill. The earliest direct light is just on the tallest Corsican pines. They are like flaming torches, gold and gleaming at the crown. Over the course of 30 minutes, the tree tops soak up the light, drinking it in until the canopy absorb enough colour and energy to declare it morning.
Above me, the sky is vast and blue, fringed by a rim of golden light. And below, at my feet, the first frost of the season. White grasses, ice-coated sugar leaves. Hard soil. Cold against the boots. In between, there is at first little movement other than my own.
In the stillness here at the east end, I feel more than usually conscious of my presence and walk slowly without speech.

A Blackbird sounds the alarm and explodes from a low bush beside the path. There are Robins singing, and two Nuthatches piping on either side. A female Roe Deer crashes away across the clearing, leaving her nervous calf at the wood’s edge, looking straight at me with wide eyes and ears erect. Then he too makes a dash for it.
In Q1 it is proper cold before the sun gets up, but a good few tits are foraging around. I have a few moments watching a Goldcrest that comes out in the open, hopeful that it may just be a Yellow-browed Warbler…
There are Siskins overhead, maybe 5, and enough Redwings for me to think there are more than on previous mornings. Two Mistle Thrushes in the Crow’s Tree.
And crossing from Q2 into Q3, where the sun is more or less at ground level, I become aware of the silence. A tangible, touchable stillness. There is no road noise, and the quiet in the middle of the wood is like that of a cathedral.
I am holding my breath because I sound so loud. Listening only to Chaffinch, Great Tit, Coal Tit. Siskin again. Bullfinch. Crow and the first Woodpecker.

At the cleared area, I find a smile on my face as I step out onto the track. I wonder if this is what it must feel like to walk onto a stage…? This bowled arena, ringed with morning fire is a place of extraordinary beauty. Beholding light.

But it is still cold, and I walk through shadows to the top aware that my toes and fingers are chilled. Breath condensing – I will be glad of a seat in the sun. Here are more Redwings and Mistle Thrushes; a flock of 30 finches and a group of a dozen or Blue Tits.
Green Woodpecker and Jay somewhere. A pinking Chaffinch. And ‘something else’ – I can’t see the birds, but there are two Crossbills calling, loud and clear. The call rings out briefly – somewhere between Chaffinch and Nuthatch. It’s the second record here this year. While scanning for these – somewhere in the corner of the northern belt to my left – I pick up what I thought at first was a finch in the top of a birch. It’s a silhouette, but instinct says immediately that its a Reed Bunting. Something in the posture and the head shape. Long tail, translucent outer feathers. Upright posture. I need a better view, but of course as I walk out to the right and forwards, the bird drops out of sight. But I am happy with the ID, and so the list for the Wood moves to 76 species – 69 recorded this year.

By the year end, I may add one more. Since last week, the unidentified wader has been bothering me. I have a very clear imprint of the bird in my head, although I made no sketch. And I don’t have a lot of fieldguides either, but Hayman’s SHOREBIRDS (Helm 1986) has done me well for many years. Golden Plover keeps suggesting itself to me. This photo captures just about exactly the best view I had (though MUCH further away)

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The demarcation between breast and belly was as clear as this, and the bird gleamed white as it went over. There was a distinct but not extensive wingbar, white at the base of the primaries. I didn’t notice anything about the tail and upperparts. But this in itself might be another diagnostic as a Golden Plover would be otherwise unmarked.

It is fascinating how light makes such a difference to the appearance and coloration of birds. This morning, there are significantly more Woodpigeons coming over than on previous mornings. Two or three groups of over 150, and a total of well over 800. And as they twist in the air, as I view them from different angles and the sun moves across the sky even this most familiar bird can vary from dark grey to yellow/bronze.

But no – the wader was NOT a pigeon!!

There’s a kerfuffle in the corner. Noisy Crows alert me to a Sparrowhawk that comes in low along the front of the West Wood. The escorting party includes a couple of Magpies too, and in the next few minutes at least 10 Magpies come in from the west and drop into the cleared area. I count up to 15 birds in view at the same time – highest ever count.
Apart form the increased Woodpigeon count, there isn’t a lot else going over. 3 Skylarks (two together and one single bird later) and two Starlings. One first year Herring Gull, a  Raven and a lone white Feral Dove. Starlings aren’t a bird to get excited about, but they are very unusual over the wood itself and most records are from the Velmore farmland.

Also unusual today – a man in the middle of the cleared area with a bag, a camera and a notebook. He seemed to be collecting mushrooms. Harmless enough, but I think his presence accounted for the movement of the finches and thrushes in the central area.

It was a beautiful if relatively birdless walk along the south side back tot he car. The sun had by now moved across to light the oaks and beeches. Two Firecrests in the now-regular spot by the Hornets and, surprisingly, a singing Chiffchaff to finish with. 34 species

Back at the entrance at 10am, I left just as the weekend LARPers arrived.
It’s a pirate theme today.

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