10 May 2021

2021 / 34

20:30 – 22:00

Calm, quiet and clear after a windy day. Mild day, but chlly now 8°C

Man Meets Angel

I have a feeling about this evening…

Left a friend’s house in Eastleigh a little earlier than I might have in order to come here on what has turned out to be a surprisingly peaceful evening after a blustery day with rain showers.

It is already lovely, even just walking down from the gate along past the chestnuts on the West side. Tall trees, as rich in yellowgreen leaf as any other, each of which seem to host either a singing Blackbird, Song Thrush or Robin. I can hear Goldcrests and Great Tits too, and almost immediatley there is a Woodcock over head, flying southwards.
Turning the corner, along south drive, another Woodcock goes over in the same direction closely followed a by a third. This could of course be the first bird again…? He’s really quite high, and seems to be heading off the site altogether, towards to motorway. Now there’s another, but this one is really shimmying and flitting in his bat-like roding display. He almost stops in the air, gives a lithe jerky twist and flies a tight circle overhead. Has he seen me and is doing a quick check?
I can see his head turning from side to side as he moves round, and the last of the sunlight on his feathers looks amazing. Rust, copper, bronze and a deep red. Intricate black and white barring under the rounded wings. He moves off, again southwards. All the birds so far have been travelling in the same direction, but they can’t all be different birds? One or two I guess have turned in loops and come back over me.
As I reach the top of the Crossing, where the trees part and the sky opens out, it is the most beautiful pastel blue, fading to pink as the evening arrives. It is ten minutes past sunset. The songbirds, already now becoming individual voices rather than a chorus, have about a quarter of an hour of their time left. The trees are fabulous in this early green, and it is remarkable how quiet and still everything is after such a windy day. I have come this way in tonight in order that the trees on the Chilworth side protect not only me but maybe the more open areas from the wind, but that has already given up for the day.
Why is it often less windy when its dark…?
WIthout the wind, there is also and suddenly less traffic noise as I reach the clearfell. For a few minutes, walking slowly, I can hear nothing at all. Like the gaps in conversation-flow in pubs and you suddenly realise you are the only one speaking and your voice is rather loud. My presence feels like this, and I have altered the course of my ambling walk to make sure I move on the left side of the track, tucked close in by the Pines. I want only to watch and appreciate this evening, I have no desire to intrude.

No stars yet, and it is still reasonably light. The yews are dark of course and hard to differentiate, but where the last fading embers of day fall on the west facing trees along the stream there is still a tapestry of greens, yellows and browns.

I started hopeful, and in the silence, the faint sound of that familiar churring starts from somewhere near the High Seat, right out in the middle. I have not heard yet of Nightjars being around in any numbers at all and I am thrilled to connect like this. My instinct proved me right. Better, because there is a bird flying right past, over my shoulder from the trees and out into a tall birch on the the edge of the Wood! I have no bins, but I can see its typical outline low along the branch. There are TWO Nightjars, already. My intention is to walk round the clearfell and out along the butterfly transect, but perhaps I don’t need to.
One or two Blackbirds still singing, the occasional burst of a Robin, and a Woodcock heading left to right up Firecrest Alley. Is that the one that flies up the Crossing…? How will I know. So many flying around this evening, I am already up to about 15 flights and fairly confident there are at least 4 birds involved. Perhaps as many as six.
Three this end, three the other end. two go past at low level in that dog-fight way. Different sounds, differently way of moving. I will never know – is this combat or display?

It is 21:17 when a Hobby comes over! That parakeet-like screeching, perhaps even more like the shrieking of an angry primate. I can’t see him, but I know that he will have shot straight into the trees under cover of relatively darkness. They have returned, a great relief after last year when the “Big G” arrived. That will be it for tonight, but how incredible to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe that was the bird actually arriving at the site from Africa? Now there’s a thought.
Wow, I am blessed. Calling Nightjar – quip-quip-quip; squeaking Woodcock; a screaming Hobby AND a male Tawny Owl hooting, behind me towards Chilworth.

The idea of walking out into the middle is irresistable, and there is still enough light for me to do so safely and (almost) unobtrusively. One Nightjar calling to the right, in that SE corner. Much quieter from here. Surely, given it is always in the same spot every year, it must be the same bird? Or at least one that has been born here. Always the first bird is in that corner. His song is brief, and only in short bursts, but the other bird is much more active, calling loudly and wing-clapping along the stream course. I see him twice, but on the third occasion it takes me half a moment to realise I am not this time seeing a Nighjar OR a Woodcock. In fact, its a Tawny Owl, disturbed from a Yew as I passed below it. She – I am sure its a female, as I can hear a family of young calling from the Ringers Clump – heads over to her offspring, circles the clump, rises up, banks and drops in, lost in silhouette.
Then up again, circling! My heart is thumping – what an evening. What a show!

I arrive at the high seat at the same time as the NIghtjar, and I lean against it, watching him. Up and down, flickering, dancing like a huge, glorious moth. Long, long thin wings small body no bigger than a Blackbird, even less. Fanned tail. Flit, flit, swoosh. SO close, checking me out, that I can hear his wingbeats as I am sure he can hear my breath. And up, hovering for a second before resting on a yew branch. Just like a Stock Dove. Immediately off again and below the skyline so I can’t see him. Wing claps and calling. A few moments later there is that clucking call they make in pursuit of another bird. The two must be together? Took-took-tuk-tuk.
When the bird is not visible, I can feel the excitement pulsing through me. Where is he? Which direction will he appear from next?
I risk calling, and deliver my best attempt at a soft “quip-quip”. I like to think it worked, because after just a few moments he approaches me directly, head on and then. I . Freeze. Breathless. The bird is just THERE, hovvering in front of my face, not 10 feet away. I am certain this is not coincidental or being caught unawares. The bird is watching ME…!

Never Moments. Nightjar Moments.

Wonderful wonderful birds. Here in this place, with just me. Gosh, that is a humbling, uplifting and completely smile-making thought. Most people will never see this. Many birders don’t get this. I haven’t until I found Hut Wood and established myself with permission from Forestry England (and the birds themselves) to be among them. Watching them in the New Forest or Dorset Heaths, Norfolk, Suffolk. Every year for 40 odd years since I first saw one at Thetford in 1982
I am well blessed to enjoy something similar every season now, at least one special moment with these amazing birds. And on the first night – that is really incredible.

Before I leave, I need to acknowledge the “supporting cast” of Woodcock, which have been unprecedented themselves tonight. As I cross as directly off the re-stock as I can, one comes in with a weird double-squeak, then whiffles like a duck and LANDS! I can’t see exactly where of course, but he came down there is no doubt about it. That in itself is a remarkable thing.

It feels good to get everything right. Instinct, judgement, experience. Site, time, weather.

Click click

6 May 2021

2021 / 33

07:30 – 09:00

Cold and a light touch of frost over night, but bright, clear and sunny after intense storms, strong winds and heavy rain

Much colder than it should be for the time of year. Forecast of snow in Scotland and Northern England.
May has come in very differently this year.
here in the Wood now, after the gales, green has arrived. One of those young colours that approaches with the cautious shyness of a young deer. Sniffing the air ahead and looking nervously around before deciding to step out onto the track and woodland edges. Waiting for the light to beckon her from cover, until that light is soft enough, co-operative and reassuring.

It is a joy to see, and this morning feels calm, fresh and emergent. Yellowgreen, silver green and bright newgreen. The difference is the oaks. Being last to take up the call, it is not until the oaks dress for summer that Spring takes a more confident step forward. Rowan trees hold posies of small white flowers as she takes each tentative step forward, like offerings for a passing deity.

It is not forecast to last, and another banging SW is due at the weekend, but it feels as if the Wood has reached a point where that will be incidental.

Photos will follow, I have to edit the media library as I have reached capacity for this free account…

In celebration of the presence of greens and springlight, the woodland is bursting with song up at the entrance. I have rarely noticed it so loud immediately at the gate. Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens. One of two Chiffchaffs, Blue Tits, a Blackcap and a Goldcrest close to the track. Notes and melodies rise from the understorey up through the shimmering canopy, spreading life in to the air with open fingers.
Walking down through the grasses in Q1 there are is a lot of Stitchwort in flower, and more violets than I have seen before. By no means a lot, but a significant increase. The patch of Bugle beyond the stream has a good few flower spikes too. A Roe deer is barking persistantly with that familiar rasping cough, to my left in the Middle of The Wood towards the court somewhere.
I am alerted, at the Vemore Crossing, to a brief burst of drumming from a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Her ein the Wood, that is VERY unusual, and i have never really considered why that should be? Are they established pairs on territory? Is there enough nest material or partners to go round…?
To my left, a Mistle Thrush rattles through the trees, swooping up to a nest site in a larch.
I do love these larches, now also coming into their rich green finery and adorned with young cones. But they have taken quite a battering in the recent winds, and there is debris all around.

The re-stock area is stunning this morning.

From the track on the north side I can hear Stonechats, and today they are close. Between this edge at the High Seat. THREE birds, noisy and active. Watching them chasing and flicking about, often up ino low hanging yew tree branches, I realise these are young birds, newly fledged offspring. Paler than the female, with some black speckling on their buffish organe breast, but that would be hard to see in any other than this perfect light. Wonderful to know they have bred successfully. The parent birds are active too, but separate form the family and instead up on the higher ground between the High Seat and the sitting spot.

This is the place to be this morning. Lots of birds around, busy and singing. One is particularly loud and distinctive, delivered from the top of the tallest Yew. Chaffinch-like, relatively scratchy but ending with a characteristic descending and slowing tseeoo, tseeeooo, tsee-oooooh. To clinch to the ID and trigger a memory response in my dull brain, the bird sings in flight and offers these last notes as it descends to a similarly high nearbly perch. Now it offers great views too – an adult male TREE PIPIT. It is four years since the last bird sang here, June 2017, and I have otherwise seen only migrant birds in August. Now though its a treat, and for twenty minutes i can stand here under the confident little bird, watching it perform beautifully. I hope he too finds a mate.
When it is time to move off – I do have a job after all – I pass between the male and female Stonechats. Neither is especially nervous.

AND there are Linnets. Two birds fly across my path and into the large clump in the corner.

This area is (at last) coming into its own.Nightjars next week…

29 April 2021

2021 / 32

19:30 – 21:30
Mild, calm and still evening. Light cloud cover.

It has been very windy again the past couple of days from the north and east, but this evening – Thursday – after a long day at work, a calmness has descended, the light has changed and the wind has got bored and moved on.
The Wood has called me to sit with her; just to be with, to share and enjoy the setting. As I take my place on my Sitting Spot, facing east across the large restock, I immediately become aware of her powerful stillness. This is a time to take in the whole mosaic, the tapestry of the natural world presented as a whole. To step back from walking, recording, monitoring, looking and instead just to see. To appreciate the familiarity we share – as if to just experience the theatre for its own sake. So few people either get or take such an opportunity, and I am blessed with solitude and a humble confidence in being here.
Only light moves, shifting, fading and then strengthening again, briefly as the sun sinks below the treeline behind me to the west casting a golden glow on the pine trees facing opposite. Echoing the glory of mornings, when everything is lit the other way round.

There is, surprisingly, a man out in the middle. He is vaguely familiar, but we have not spoken. He has secateurs in his right hand, and is periodically bending, clipping. Walking slowly and snipping…

Between me and this other figure, a male Stonechat hops, calls, chatters and swoops from one perch to another. A Jay squawks somewhere in the northern belt; a Blackbird chucks, and behind me Chiffchaff, Goldcrest Dunnock and Wren all sing. In turns.
ABove the white/yellow/gold immediately over the trees, the sky blends from pale to “peacock” blue. Thin patches of cloud are ringed with bright haloes of silvergold and fire.

The Stonechat is the only bird I have seen so far. Some of his perches are just a few metres apart. Between them, he swoops down and disappears briefly into the long grass, and then sharply up. Presumably feeding on small flies. Other times he flies direct, from one young tree to the top of another. But at each landing he flutters and puffs, bobbing constantly and shaking or flicking his wings. restless. Alert. From the Middle Of The Wood, a woodpecker kicks out his territorial alarm call. A lone jackdaw passes overhead fast, calling in his soft voice “keow keow keow” Two others come in behind, and they fly off together in a triangle formation without changing course.
Thrushes are loudest, Blackbirds in particular.
The restock is a large area for the territory of one small bird. 250m at least in each direction. Or could there perhaps be more than one pair now. Maybe last year’s young have stayed on and now seek to establish a territory of their own, next to their parents? He works gradually closer, to with 25m of me, and I can hear him clucking and tacking.
It is only when I raise my bins for the first time this evening to take a closer look that I realise this is now the female bird. her mate sings briefly to my left, while a Wren trills loudly and drowns out that of the more modest bird.

It is 8pm, and the sun has fallen behind the trees now, at the highest point in the Wood. Its light still colours the clouds, but no longer the trees opposite. Distant gulls call, commuting over the farmland. Great Tits pair in the nearest Yew, twittering and rattling, in the same place they nest every season.
And now somewhere in the middle, around the High Seat I think, there is a Linnet singing. Beautiful, in the clump where the tallest birch stands. Setting up home in a new place, incoming birds that have found a site to their liking.

Sunset, and the light cools. There is half an hour left for the songbirds, and soon their place will be taken by stars. A Willow Warbler determines that he will be heard at least once before the day is out. A new arrival, in the wayleave, somewhere up towards Lower Velmore. Otherwise, anything else still singing is in the plantation behind me.
The green shades are beginning to fuse, to dissolve into the shapes of darkness when they become just one form, as indistinguishable from each other as they are in midsummer. No leaf or grass is moving, and neither have I, for over an hour. Slowly, imperceptibly, colour drains from the sky and darkness rises form the Wood. It does not “fall” as we like to say – instead it rises slowly upwards into the night sky.

By 20:43 I have walked round past the Pipistrelles in time to see the first two Woodcock coming “as usual” out from the Gorse Gap, flying low and calling, grunting and whistling to each other. A different roding male squeaks out his first circuit in Morse Code, southwards over the clearfell, anticlockwise. There are then two up simultaneously in opposite directions. Three birds so far? Robins, Crows and a male Tawny Owl. Nice – over near Chilworth. I will walk to the stream and then retrace my steps. Female Tawny in response.

A vast oil slick off cloud has spread across the sky, like foam on the sea.

20:54 Woodcock and Crows. Still one or two hardy and determined Robins. It is cooler now, as if the fingers of this cloud are drawing whatever remains of the day into the malevolence. Unless I am mistaken, and I am listening carefully to avoid this, I can hear TWO male Tawny Owl voices…? The familiar Woodcock patrols North Drive, up and down. He stutters and shimmies in stop-motion. How bat-like he flies! A second bird follows, same direction.
A deer barks from the Velmore Plantation, and there is no birdsong now. Even the Crows have settled and calmed at roost.

I am reminded why I usually choose not to park in Green Lane for these evening rambles. It is VERY dark in the trees, especially disorientating when there is no moonlight. I am unsuited to the environment, stumbling and tripping twice like a fool. How clumsy is man…

26 April 2021

2021 / 31

13:45 – 15:15 (with Elsie)

Clear, dry and bright, scattered cloud.14°C, Still and warm. Very light F2 WNW

Butterfly Transect 2021 – Week 4

Less butterflies, more spread out

Section 1
Main track: Turning area to Wayleave

Brimstone x 1 (one other on the re-stock left of the transect)
Peacock x 2 (three others on the re-stock left of the transect)
Green-veined White x 1 (first of the year, visiting dandelions)

Encouraging spread of Common Violets

Section 2
Main track: Wayleave and Upper Velmore

No Butterflies recorded here today. Too windy?

One very high Buzzard circling.
Adult female and one juvenile Slow-worm under mat 6, and two piles of Muntjac droppings

Section 3
The Crossing

Warm and in full sun, but the wind is chilly at low level F3

Large White x 1
Speckled Wood x 1 at the top end of The Crossing, left (west) side
Holly Blue x 1 (high up over the yews by Larpers Lane)

also one Firecrest singing by the end of Larpers Lane, an unusual location

We then continued along South Drive towards the clearfell. 3 – 4 singing Chiffchaffs along here, and the first Mistle Thrush I have seen for a couple of weeks. One Blackcap territory at the edge of the wood by the west stream and another Holly Blue butterfly here. A pair of Robins dancing and then observed mating on a bleached white log.

Something of a surprise to have two Feral Doves whizzing past us here at low level, one a curious mottled and splodged black and white bird. Not a year tick, but the first in the Wood itself for some time.

Beautiful light on the clearfell. the gorse flowers and young birches especially glowing golden yellow.

Section 5
Main track: Where The Tracks Join
to the Gorse Gap

Bright, sunny and warm. Sheltered from the SW wind

Large White x 3
Peacock x 3
Green-veined White x 1

One or two Ashy Mining Bees, but generally less activity along the track here

A strange “helicopter” skims over, like nothing I have seen before. Small, clearly private. Black and yellow torpedo body with a tall column holding the propeller high. Sep3rate compartment behind the leading ‘capsule’…?

Section 4
Main track: The Gorse Gap to Upper Velmore

Clouding up again.

One very large Queen Red-tailed Bumble Bee poking around in the sandy soil by the stream

Peacock x 1

Nothing else to report until back at the entrance. Here we saw our first Orange-tip of the year on the East clearfell, and a second right up by the entrance.
Nine species recorded here this year so far – and I have not yet seen a Red Admiral?

24 April 2021 (2)

2021 / 30

19:40 – 21:30
Clear, mild and dry. A beautiful evening, lit by April’s Pink Moon, now just two night’s away from full

The year’s first evening session. there are no reports yet of local Hobbies, but I expect the Woodcock will have been active for a week or so. I am early – still 40 minutes form sunset, but I want to enjoy the peace and splendour of the woodland this evening.
Breathe in the silence. Relax and restore in “my sanctuary”.

Plenty of birds still singing all around: Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens; Song Thrushes, Goldcrests and even a couple of Chiffchaffs. These songs rise from the trees as if each had its own voice, and its a joy to be surrounded by “treesong”.
A soundscape to explore. Therer are still Long-tailed Tits up at the top, in Chilworth corner.

20:42 and no sign of any Woodcock yet when I meet the first of four or five bats. Hunting Pipistrelles, up Where The Tracks Join.

The first roding Woodcock comes down from the west wood at 20:48, almost exactly half an hour after sunset. he flies dead straight along the treeline, over the gorse gap and out of sight up the wayleave.
Four minutes later two birds come bursting through that gap chasing each other. No a display flight, so I reckon probably different birds? As if to confirm this, what I presume is the original bird then comes back from whence he came, squeaking and squealing on his territorial patrol.

A second bird comes from the same direction, but then heads to his left, across the clearfell towards the high seat.
And back. Round and round these two birds go, each following the same circuit three, four even five times.

My walk back through the Wood up to the east end is a joy, lit by the waxing moon high and bright above the Middle of The Wood. A silver, bluelight casting shadows across the track which seems to glow in response. My own shadow passes between those of the trees. I am dancing, arms outstretched, spinning slowly

And another Woodcock, circling the east clearfell. Four birds. Three roding males and one (possibly two) others

Carried away by a moonlight shadow, with the trees that whisper in the evening…

24 April 2021

2021 / 29

0900 – 1200
Warm in the sun, still, dry and clear

A leisurely and enjoyable walk with the family dog this morning. It’s been a long time since he was here, and it is a place he loves. One of the casualties of domestic circumstances.

Immediately on the East Clearfell, just heading down the track and the first Orange-tip of the year dances past us. Past here, I am engaged mostly in throwing sticks and connecting with the dog so I see the place differently, until we come to the west end.

Here I am excited to hear a singing male Crossbill high up in a pine on the northern edge. This is a first for me, but immediately I knew what I was listening to. The song is interspersed with that familiar jip-jip jip call – a mixed series of trills and whistles. Delicate and engaging for such an otherwise relatively clumsy bird I think?.
Good to see. he continues to sing, in flight, moving in a spiralling song-flight across to a yew tree on the clearfell. Translucent wings fanned and whirring, red colouring bright in the morning sunshine. A blessing.

https://www.xeno-canto.org/575835/embed?simple=1

Five minutes later, just in the willows that mark the start of Q4, there’s another unfamiliar sound. And this time it is a bird that I really don’t know and will have to be “one that got away”.

It sounds, in the first instance, like that first explosive note announcing the loud song of a Cetti’s Warbler…? Repeated five or six time over the next couple of minutes, deep in the vegetation. A Great Tit comes through, but I am relieved to say it is not that. Too often, anything sounding unfamiliar in a woodland will be a Great Tit… But this call is loud. It is not a Cetti call, which is a ‘tick’, or ‘chikk’. Its very hard to render or describe bird song phonetically!
I am willing it to sing, which of course would be instantly recognisable. But no, just that first teasing note, and I can’t see anything!
So what else could it be… my only other guess is Nightingale? Have I ever heard a Nightingale call?

https://www.xeno-canto.org/637234/embed?simple=1

Well, no – but its not that either. Which to my ears is a hoot, rather like a fluty Willow Warbler.

And its gone. The best I can do is write “thrush” in my notebook and chalk this one up to experience.

For the next hour and a half I am busy, chopping and raking last seasons’ bracken from the spot I cleared last year, where a half dozen each of Wood Anemones and Common Violets have come through.
Now this is done, I need to come back and “damage” any new fronds that grow. Though I could do with clearing a larger area first really.

Robin, Song Thrush Blackbird and surprisingly a Goldcrest each hop down to investigate what I am doing, hopeful of grubs and insects.

Dog sits, rests, wanders off doing his own thing.

19 April 2021

2021 / 28

14:15 – 16:00
Clear blue, cloudless sky. 14*C, light but chilly ENE

Green Lane in this afternoon, to have a look at the work Forestry England have been doing in the Chilworth Pines and West Wood Plantation. Lots of rhododendron has been ripped out and mulched, letting a lot more light in to these areas. But at the moment it is all very dusty and dry.
New sightlines have opened up too.
I wonder if this is preliminary work ahead of the next timber clearance…?

At this time of day it is quiet among the trees, just the occasional chirrup and flitter of busy birds. One Firecrest is singing on the descent to Chilworth Corner. There are otherwise at least for Chiffchaffs singing among the Blackbirds, Robins and a Wren.
Emerging onto the track, there is a single Buzzard circling low. A textbook individual, neither especially light or dark.

Today’s pre-determined circuit will take me along the south side of the Wood and up to the entrance, then down the wayleave before crossing the clearfell for the last time. Two Blackcaps along the south side, singing Nuthatch and two Peacocks. Constant checks up into the vast blue reveal consistently no raptors, or anything else. Even when I sit for half an hour watching the sky, only a single Jackdaw goes over high – otherwise local Stock Doves and Woodpigeons.

Best by far is a really good view of the female Stonechat flitting around, and several approachable Dark-edged Bee Flies.

There is a new Blackcap territory in the Upper Quarter where I have found a couple more patches of Common Violets. There are four now along the top edge, in Section 1 of the butterfly transect. Two Brimstones skipping about and four Peacocks. Very different movements – the Brimstones fly it seems with their wings upright, while the more aggressive Peacocks skim with wings held open horizontally and flap downwards.

Counting flowers in Section 2 where I intend to continue some bracken clearance at the weekend turns up surprising number of Wood Anemones. 15 patches – really encouraging, At least six Common Violets too, and in some places the Greater Stitchwort is in flower now too. Long-tailed Tits buzz and twitch in a small oak; there’s a Blackcap by Reptile mat 6 under which I find one young Slow-worm. There’s an adult female and another juvenile under mat 7, but number 8 has only large numbers of black ants.

Moving down into Section 4 (where the deceased Lesser Redpoll was) it is good to see that Ashy Mining Bees have now emerged here too. I can see half a dozen. Chaffinch and Goldfinch singing in opposite trees.

A Siskin calls as it passes across the track.
Lots of violets too, in seven or eight small patches. Brimstones and Peacocks.

17 April 2021

2021 / 27

13:30 – 15:00 (with Nora)

Clear, dry and bright, no cloud.13°C, Still and warm. Very light F2 WNW

Butterfly Transect 2021 – Week 3

Right from the start today it is evident there are a lot more butterflies on the wing, and slowly more flowers are emerging.

Section 1
Main track: Turning area to Wayleave

Brimstone x 5
Large White x 1 (first of the year)
Peacock x 3

Also along this section there are several active Green Tiger Beetles (vicindela campestris) which have recently emerged from burrows where they spend the larval stage. Always impressive – they move SO fast!

Two Ravens overhead, calling

Section 2
Wayleave Q2 and Upper Velmore

Brimstone x 2
Peacock x 1

Significantly more Common Violets this week, especially along here, and a few Wood Anemones coming to life which is good to see. Also the earliest flowers of Greater Stitchwort at either side of the deer path

A Buzzard circles lightly across towards the Wood, and down at the bottom into Q3, I can see the BTO ringing team in action along the stream. They are engrossed in their work, and we have limited time so other than a polite and friendly .wave, it is best to move on up Velmore and out to the Crossing. A Muntjac skitters away as we reach the start of the next counting section.

Section 3
The Crossing

An hour earlier than the previous count here, and it is almost hot in the full afternoon sun at 13.55

Brimstone x 1
Large White x 1
Peacock x 2
Comma x 1
Small White x 1 (first of the year, and the fifth species this afternoon)

Also good to see the impressive sight of four Buzzards together at the top of the Crossing.
Only Chiffchaff and singing Goldcrest otherwise of any note.

Section 4
Main track: Upper Velmore to the Gorse Gap

60% of this section is in shade today, in the shadow of tall trees. There are violets, some Stitchwort and a lot less bees than two weeks ago although it is hotter in the sun and even drier.

Brimstone x 2
Peacock x 2
Holly Blue x 1 (first of the year)

Only brief views of the Holly Blue, in the west plantation, but a always a delight. After White Admirals, I think these are my favourite butterflies. One ion the garden at home this morning too.

Highlight here though, and one of those Never Moments that really do only come along once in a lifetime…
As we came around the bend and down the slope towards the stream, Nora and stopped and pointed out a small apparently furry creature curled up on the track. It was a bird, sadly dead, but freshly so as it was not cold and showed no visible signs of injury or ants, parasites etc.
Unbelievably, it was a Lesser Redpoll, which I can only assume had recently fallen from a larch?

Such a joy to hold. For such a tiny bird, its bill seems quite large. And look how deeply forked the tail is!

Section 5
Main track: Gorse Gap to Where The Tracks Join

Bright, sunny and warm.

Brimstone x 2
Peacock x 3
Comma x 2
Speckled Wood x 1 (first for the year, and seven species this afternoon)

Good to see Ashy Mining Bees (andrena cinereria) on the wing now too. Up close too these are beautiful bees, and they tend to fly very low to the ground in circles about a foot across.

A crescent Moon and the sun are both up high over the clearfell, relatively close together.
Between them, a wonderful translucent white adult Herring Gull.

Makes you think that even these brutes have a splendour that we overlook. Magnificent, circling high against the full spring sunshine.

15 April 2021

2021 / 26

06:30 – 09:15
Cold, a touch of frost. Forecast dry but chilly, max 10*C. Sunny spells between thick cloud.

It continues unseasonally and disappointingly chilly, the breeze today NNW and with an uncomfortable edge.
The grass is frosted and in fact, stepping down through the shade of Q1 by the pond and before the sun gets above the trees, its bl**dy cold! More like a nice day in January than the middle of April.
There seem to be a lot of Blackbirds about today, and usual busy Blue Tits. Long-tailed Tits make an appearance, which is a refreshing change. And today they are two MALE Mallard at the pond, rather than the familiar pair.
Approachable too.

Watching these, and a Greylag Goose comes over, low and heading west gently muttering to itself.
Rather like me…
I will have to update the status of this species to ‘occasional’ now. With five records this year, I no longer consider it to be ‘rare’.

The first Quarter of the wayleave maybe in early morning shade, but there are Common Violets here again which is encouraging. Even more so is the emergence of two Wood Anemones along here which I have not located anywhere else yet. Several flowers on each, still dozing this morning, heads bowed. Very nice

There are more Long-tailed Tits in Q2 but I can’t see any young birds, and plenty of Blue Tits, Robins and Coal Tits flitting around. Noisy activity high in a sunlit larch gives away at least two Siskins, and a Bullfinch flies out of the same tree no doubt fed up with the fuss. A Muntjac barks its lack of concern and struts off into the labyrinth, white tail in the air. Opposite, a bird is flycatching. In fact two birds, fluttering together in the air. Blackcaps. Amorous and hungry.

And speaking of fluttering, there’s a trilling overhead. Redpolls. Two birds at first, but then six. Six becomes 8, maybe 10, and then wow- an explosion of birds. Bouncing and chasing between three or four of the beautiful larch trees is a swarm of these delightful finches. Hard to count as they are never still. 18? 25. No, at least 30. As well as twittering and trilling, they are so close and the air is so still that I can hear their wings. It is a moment of great joy – this is the largest single flock of Redpolls I ever saw. My notebook says 34 birds. Amazing and delightful.

The Chiffchaff singing up from The Bottom, behind the Gorse Gap is number 5 this morning.
And I am out at the clearfell, breathing in the open-ness and quiet space. Woodland wellbeing. Bathing in the splendour of tree-light. Mindful, natural refreshment. Slow-time, replenishment and simple, de-stressed LIFE.

Here in the middle, I feel a strong connection with this place. and enveloped entirely within it.
There are birds all round. Each in its turn does a a passable impression of the Stonechats I am looking for, perched at the top of an emerging young tree: Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit and even Long-tailed Tit. At last, away to the left, the female Stonechat takes her turn, but over the next 20 minutes there is no sign of the male this morning.
But there is, incredibly, another LINNET..! A female, flighty until she heads off to the track in a high tree. And up there a few feet away is a male bird. Once i come off the re-stock myself and onto the track (north side) they both return towards the fallen high seat. What is it with Linnets this week?

Chiffchaff number 7 and Willow Warbler number 3 are singing at Marshalls. A pair of Chaffinches at the Woodland edge, Siskin calling up by the sett – and scuttling Rabbits in the leave litter. Hiding from the helicopter that clatters over head, low and deafening loud.

A dozen Rooks drift in from the Rookery, to join a large flock of corvids on the ground in the first field. A lot today – maybe 250 birds? The wind bites, but a defiant Skylark soars. Blackcap number 4.

At the Roughs, the trees block the wind and it is almost warm. Certainly still, and quiet enough to hear the distinctive song of a Treecreeper at close quarters. At last!!! Two oaks, and two birds, flitting around showing as they really should. Gosh, they have been hard work this year and these are only the second and third I have managed to find. The song is VERY much like that of a Willow Warbler, but softer and thinner, as you’d expect form such a tiny bird. I am smiling out loud, leaning on the fence watching the sky to celebrate. And a Firecrest sings in the holly to my left.
That will do nicely. But then, wait for it… a pair of Linnets come in stage left, alighting each on a fence post, twittering! A separate pair to those in the Wood no doubt. A remarkable “ínvasion’of a new species.

A Raven drifts by. Is that all six corvids again. yes – there were two Magpies in the top field half an hour ago.
And 12 Chiffchaffs in all, including the three together up at the entrance, chasing each other around among ivy. Three Willow Warblers (down on the six recently), but now six Blackcaps. Two Firecrests.

38 species and, thanks to the crows, over 500 birds for only the second time this year.

But gosh my hands are cold!!

12 April 2021

2021 / 25

08:45 – 12:00
Cold, sunny spells. Light N-NW

Parked at the Chilworth Arms and walking in via Woodside. A different time of day.
Why not, for a change…?

All around are busy Blue Tits and Great Tits, in every garden it seems. Robins and Blackbirds hope out onto the steep sloping road leading down to the Wood.
A brief encounter with the Firecrest at the top is a relief. They are still at home, and are entitled to be a little less showy as they go about their business at this time of year. One bird is calling persistently from within a think holly. Surprisingly, there is a second bird – singing this time – a few houses down at a property called The Glade where I haven’t noticed them before.

On a nearby chimney, a pair of Jackdaws croon and nuzzle close.
I am reminded that I haven’t recorded Collared Doves yet this year…?

Which starts me thinking. So far, I have 58 species onsite for 2021. That is the most yet before the end of March.
Today feels right for the list to reach 60 – but what will they be?
Local migrants recorded for the first time over the weekend include Swallow, Redstart, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Cuckoo. I still haven’t had a Wheatear, and of course I am well aware of the Mega-tick that came through on 11 April last year. The Bee-eater that got away…
Fairly confident that won’t happen again just yet, because weather conditions have been all wrong for ages. The wind continues to come in from the north, veering occasionally west- or east- as it chooses, bringing snow, sleet, hail and rain even on the same day as glorious bright sunshine!

I will settle at least for Willow Warbler, which I have recorded on 6 April twice in the previous four years.
And there it is, distant at first heard from the bridleway as I head out to the Roughs, but there are two birds around the pylons singing typically. I do love that clear, liquid descending song.
At least three Chiffchaffs in this area too, one Blackcap. The latter showing exceptionally well in a young birch right on the edge of the gorse line under the overhead cables. And out on the field, under the pylons – two Song Thrushes and several Blackbirds. three Pheasants, a couple of Magpies and two Roe Deer.
The first Skylark is up singing but some distance away, and I am lucky to see another rising up to join the chorus. In fact, there are two more birds still out in the open on the rough ground. The distance is a stretch for my binoculars to be honest, and I am grateful for characteristic jizz and setting.
The same is true of the two Ravens way off over the hedge line – just something in the way they fly and those long wings (even in profile) that gives them away every time.

I am tempted to “do” the Lapwing site, though I haven’t heard any birds. Takes only ten minutes to walk round and in through the hedge…

Cuckoo-flower or Ladies’ Smock (cardamine pratensis)

It is wet along the stream, and getting increasingly difficult to approach the field. And it is on private land, impossible to watch from the road. A single Meadow Pipit comes up from the grass, and a Jay screeches. Scattered Corvids. One male and two hen Pheasant close to the fence, surprisingly unconcerned about me.
No Lapwings…
But that flock of finches again, that I recall wondering about a couple of weeks ago. At least 40 birds.
This time they are a little nearer, but between me and the sun which, despite being behind a cloud, makes view conditions less than ideal. But surely they MUST be Linnets…?
What else would flock up at this time of year, bouncing over a stubble field, typically unsettled. Chup-chup-chup calling not unlike Greenfinches? Definitely Linnets. They appear rusty brown and grey.

So that’s 60. Not of course what I was expecting – and also the first new tick for the patch in 2021, which now stands at 88. You can guess what I will be considering soon as Redstart, Wheatear and Cuckoo come back into my head!
It is rather an inauspicious tick though, and really stretches the geographical definition at the limit of The Patch.

The Roughs and the Pylons (middle distance), and Hut Wood (left horizon) – viewed from The Far Field.

Two large gulls overhead. Difficult to size at first, but now closer and VERY large. Deep grunting calls to one another. Great Black-backs. Brilliant – first record of two together.
They are closely followed by a ‘disturbance’ among the common smaller birds around, and three more Meadow Pipits start calling. A Sparrowhawk flap-flap-glides across the field boundary, a male with a missing inner primary feather.

It is 10:15 when I step off the Baddesley Road back onto the bridleway. A transition, and suddenly it is quiet again out of the wind and the traffic. Nuthatch, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Greenfinch. Great-spotted Woodpecker. Skylarks.
But what is THAT song?
Unfamiliar. A finch? Chuck-chuck-chuck-wheee. Repeated. Quite intricate, complex phrasing. Clear and musical. Not Siskin, not fluty or jangly enough. And where is it coming from? Somewhere close, and I think right ahead of me.
I can see the bird, upright, in the top of an alder, but it is a silhouette from this angle. Quietly, stepping softly on the firm (thankfully yielding) mud. Looking up, and back. There it is, much better. A male Linnet! Just to confirm the species place on my site list. Fabulous!

I am delighted, and as the clouds have parted and I am out of the direct path of the wind, it is worth another scan of the fields. 40-50 crows too far away to differentiate, and a Buzzard in the hedge. Two Pied Wagtails, a Pheasant and – wait no. Not a Pheasant, too small?
Retrace my steps, back to the rusted fence behind the big yew tree. Thick leaf litter. Badger and rabbit scrabblings. Scampering squirrels. Two birds. Red-legged Partridges. Another tick for 2021 (61), and I am not convinced I saw any here last year at all…? Pecking at the stony ground, undisturbed, and now in bright sunlight. Nicely marked birds.

ASs I walk down the footpath now into the Wood proper, it is clear the badgers are still very active. New diggings everywhere, and with a bit of rummaging myself through brambles and young fir trees and a careful (socially distanced!) approach the main entrance to this satellite site is exposed form the opposite side. It’s huge – two large holes. I MUST make an effort, on a June evening after Nightjars, to come this way and wait.

There’s another Willow Warbler singing in the usual area they like to stay in. Dense young birch.
The wood looks beautiful. It seems the leaves have burst forth all of a sudden, and down here at Marshalls everything is a soft, bright green. Rowan especially is colourful, delicate and joyous

At this time of the morning, approaching mid-day, the Wood’s birdlife tends to fall quiet. There are a few Siskins overhead, calling, and a Firecrest and Blackcap both in Chilworth Corner.

I have come over the Top, along the South side and down the Crossing, to return along the North Belt while the sun is high. A rather disturbing discovery at the Crossing – a deer’s head lies at the side of the track. Gnawed by dogs and dry, but gross and foul-smelling. Bones exposed, most of the flesh rotten.
It’s a male, perhaps the animal I have enjoyed watching as his antlers take on the full summer velvet glory. Sadly, they have been sawn off. Poachers again…?