19 November 2020

2020 / 72

0700- 0915
Mild and initially overcast but soon becoming clear and bright.
F4 WSW so quite breezy

The gate is wide open this morning?
Atter a bit of a search, I found the padlock pressed into the ground rather as if it had been driven over. Not sure of the best repsonse, so I have locked it all up again. Anyone here lawfully in a vehicle will have a key…

I am here in the prelight of dawn, before the sun and unfortuantley fo rthis first half hour at least it is quite gloomy and there is a relatively strong breeze. Birdsong escapes the safety of the tree cover only in scattered fragments and it is a while before I actually see anything. Even then, as I walk around the track and down The Broad, there is just a couple of Stock Doves and the occasional Jackdaw overhead. One or two Blackbird-rockets shoot across.
My instintively preffered road is to come down the wayleave int he mornings to get the best of the sun, but I am well ahead of anylight coming through here yet and the heavy cloud – although moving eastwards quite rapidly – is suppressing any kind of daylight brightness. Apart form a ragged gang of about 25 Redwings coming out of Lower Velmore and heading fr the farm there is nothing to report. The trees are noisy in the wind, and it is raining dusty larch needles…

But the wind is dragging the night away like a thick, heavy duvet and the cloud is rapidly dissolving. An orangepink colour washes the remnants, scruffy scratches of grey white hastening eastwards. By 8.15 it is a different scene altogether and – as one last wisp of ‘fluff’ hurries across the blue as if late – everything is bright and blue. Some Blue TIts have woken up; there is a persistent Chaffinch calling, celebrating the rosepink wash on the back of the clouds. Song Thrush, Robin, Nuthatch.

Steppng out into the BIg Arena at the clearfell is like stepping out of bed into new day. Everythng ‘opens up’ before me – light, sky and space

This is the scene on the north side of the clearfell, walking up towards the corner Where the Tracks Join. Which I shall now temporarily refer to as “Where The Crossbills Were”. And indeed still are. Four birds this morning, but again vocal and flighty not really offering perched up views at all. Every few minutes or so, two or more birds appear, fly around calling overhead and disappear back into the tops of the pines. Six weeks now these birds have been around, commuting between Hut Wood and Lords Wood just a mile or two south-west of here.
There are two large flocks of Redwing – at least 150 birds. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Mistle Thrushes and a couple of Magpies. The clatter of ‘some’ unseen Fieldfares. Considerably fewer small finches thn of late. They have probably started to head off to Europe now. It is great though when one has made a note of less than 20 bird species so far and that includes Crossbill! And even better to add Raven as well. Here comes the regular bird, low level circling slowly. Calling and curious. I like to feel we ‘know’ each other, and I make an attempt to grunt and kraw back to him.
Fifteen minutes or so just watching this corner rom on the clearfell. Golden glow. Yellow morning light. Shifting, shaping. Making sure I always stand in the shadow of a Yew tree to minimise the disturbance of my presence. Roe Deer (two) and a skittish Muntjac.

Skywatching. Tme to admire and appreciate the simple glory of creation – the colour, the infinite space above us. The blue around yew

The light pooling and peeping round corners coyly as if trying not to be seen but keen to make its presence known

Looking through gaps in tree lines, seeking new angles

There are gulls, gleaming in the sun. As white as the aircraft above them.
Six Black-headed Gulls with their pointed purposeful flight and slate grey dark underwing, in formation; two Herring Gulls washed with an orange glow, their translucent secondaries always distinctive. And three Lesser Black-backs, elegant and darker – all distinctly different ‘jizz’ and styles.

I never tire of this beautiful place. A small inscape of magical peace, uplifting tranquility and rich natural diversity. Stewardship, experience, mindfulness and connection.

13 November 2020

2020 / 71

Briefly sunny, with increasing cloud from West
15:30 – 16:45

I have come down via Woodside, to spend an hour or so watching whatever might be moving to roost over the farmland.
One of the smaller oaks along the bridleway has been uprooted by the recent high winds. And more holly berries here than on most trees and bushes in the Wood.
I htink it has been some time since I walked this way. The second field – the Skylark field – has been ploughed and has large areas of standing water. This has attracted about 75 gulls, mixed Black-headed and Herring, and might be a place to watch. There are corvids and pigeons scattered round too.

Over the course of an hour leaning on the fence watching the sky, I recorded:

Goldfinch 40
Rook 50
Jackdaw 200
Chaffinch 10
Pied Wagtail 2
Greenfinch 6
Blue Tit 2
Blackbird 6
Song Thrush 1
Mistle Thrush 1
Carrion Crow 4
Meadow Pipit 3

12 November 2020

2020 / 70

Overnight cloud slowly clearing. Light W. 9*C

Yellow rules now. November is stoked and burning bright. There is a small clear patch of sky to the south creating very odd light this morning. The blanket of grey cloud is slowly moving, and the light is opening up to the west – opposite the rising sun which is still shrouded. So it is clear, crisp and bright in one direction and a curious heavy whitepink in the opposite

I can feel
The turning of the light
Pulling away the night
Like a sheet from over me [John Foxx

Less birds than recently: 2 Fieldfares and a half dozen Redwings over head. 3 Stock Doves and 4 Blackbirds, and a Song Thrush flushed from cover at the side of the track. I disturbed this bird as I bent down to investigate the new installation of a small pink flag, marking the site where some kind of plug or footings have been set into the ground…?

Walking down Q2 just behind the sun as the sky clears. The light ahead of me bounces, splashes and snags on the top of the beautiful golden larches and oaks. 2 more Redwings and a Chaffinch fly up from the ground into an oak. A gentle peace prevails – ordinary resident birds going about their business with no fuss. The larch ladies are draped in seasonal finery, heavy velveteen gowns and garlands of fir-cones.
Mistle Thrush and Bullfinch at Lower Velmore, with mostly Blue Tits, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and another Song Thrush.

Lower Velmore

AT the clearfell, morning has broken through and it looks absolutely glorious. The Wood at its technicolour best

It’s almost strangley quiet. Where have the finches gone. Over to Eastern Europe already perhaps where many spend the winter?
The local Buzzard is sitting in a larch, watching the scene as I am. It’s a very dark bird, with a black head , and rufous chestnut neck and breast. Lacks almost any white on the upper body at all.

Two Crossbills fly out from the northern belt to my right and alight in the very top of a Corsican pine at the top. Perfect light, and i take the opportunity to watch them. It’s rare to get decent views so the next 20 minutes is a joy as I watch two birds feeding and calling. A male and I think a juvenile male. The former is a rich rusted red colour, and his titular beak looks heavy. But there are just these two I think – no sign of other birds today.

All of a sudden, a large flock of 300 Woodpigeons comes over form the West (15,000 in different parts of the county this morning), and I meet a small group of at least six Goldcrests together in a noisy group. They join Blue Tits – at least a dozen, and another lovely Treecreeper as they pass down the birchline.

9 November 2020

2020 / 69

07:30 – 09:15
Damp and grey, becoming brighter. 12°C, light SE

An odd morning. All three of us are out of sorts – myself, the Wood and the Weather. It feels like none of us can be bothered. The birds too are lack-lustre and not up to much. Everything is calm and still, but the silence feels cramped by the low cloud and not as expansive as usual.
There’s a Roe deer grazing in the open at the east clearfell and several Redwing overhead. Looking up at the changing trees, I find myself mistaking leaves for birds. Either as silhouettes in the top branches, or spinning towards the ground lower down. Blue Tits are vocal. Chaffinch, Nuthatch and Coal Tit add their voices ot the score; the liquid trickle of a Goldfinch overhead, echoing the stream.
Its really quite muddy today, slippery underfoot and I question the drainage? Yes the pipes under the track have been identified, marked and opened up – but the repair work has yet to be undertaken.

I am hoping the Wood this morning will lift my low mood, but I feel sullen and ‘lost’. And by the time I have negotiated the especially claggy and sticky patch on The Broad it as started to rain. Not liek the thin mist and persistent drizzle of last week, but large slow drops of water that feel as if they coul be counted individually. I have enjoyed a busy and active weekend with my kids and a vist from my girlfriend – hence the low mood which always follows when, in their abscence, I always experience a vacant feeling of melancholy and emptiness. So I come here to find enough of myself to fill the spaces left by other people.
I give too much of myself perhaps, alive and ‘at my best’ in the company of others. Bieng needed fills something…? Unless I am here, when I am most alone and most at peace. It is at times like this, at these time sof slef-pitying sadness that I tend to send text messages to that ‘second layer’ of people, those outisde my immediat efamily and closest friends, enquiring after them and making a connection. I have done that already as I walk this morning. Five names. Which in itself, especially here, is not mindful and actually counterproductive because it takes me ‘out’ of the Wood and does not make it easy for those connections and moments of inspiration to come.
But writing this as I walk — or at least scribbling notes that become this narrative – I am aware of it. Phone is now off and tucked in a pocket.
I must be ‘here’ and I must ‘see’.
Listen and watch.

It is the holly and yew that ad depth to the colour scene. They provide a rich dark green backdrop against which the birches and oaks can dance in the transient robes of yellow and orange. And from my modest eye level, looking up towards the canopy of Scots and Corsican pines 60 feet above me through the woodland, those trees have the same effect against the golden larches and sliver birch. At thi time of year, teh Wood starts to open up and reveal her secrets. New lines of sight are available, deer paths connect open spaces and secret glades that remian hidden through midsummer.
Goldcrests are active here, and I can hear a Firecrest too, pricking my attention. Hello, little friend…

The holly and yew are also considerbaly older than most of the other trees in this area and their evergreen nature provides stability and permanence to the otherwise shifting scene. And with that, a feeling of time passing more slowly. These trees are the ‘cathedrals’ and ‘oceans’ of this landscape – something that is always there, dependable and solid, around and upon which we build our fragile temporary lives.

Looking into the Wood from here, one is presented with a chariascuro of seasonal colours, shape and texture. Light and dark creating three-dimensional volume

And I have stepped in. Impulsively, drawn to the enclosures and glades, the scribble and tangle of all that is ‘within’. Long-tailed Tits object and buzzing angrily all around as I pick and stumble my way along a deer path through wet bracken and clinging bramble. Why…?
To a quiet ‘space’. This is a network of small rooms, and stepping between trees or briars is like a doorway or passage between each.

I must re-visit my map. It’s all very ‘linear’ and focusses on the paths and points around the blocks of trees. There is little detail about the ‘area’ features and I am of a mind to do some work on the blocks, the planted areas. Each has a different character and subtle variants in the plants etc
I am in “the bit bordered by The Broad, the Wayleave and Upper Velmore” at the moment. A tangled disorientating maze. My Firecrest is my guide.
A little ‘project’ for the winter…

Thick, dark cloud over the clearfell. The mobile groups of different birds have come together in two ragged flocks, each of 40-50 birds. And it is impossible to identify most of them. Easy enough to pick up 4 rattling Mistle Thrushes and a dozen – maybe 20 – Redwings, but the finches “all look the same”. Which, as a birder, is frustrating. But at the same time, it is always interesting and challenging to find gaps in knowledge. Calls and behaviour will be key, but they all chatter and chup and whistle to varying degrees – in conversation with each other.
One call is (similar to) that of a Skylark, but I can’t see any individual birds going over. Something among the flock maybe?

The wind has found its way through the cloud, and as I come round to the top it is raining again. In the birch line, 8 finches – and clearly Lesser Redpolls. Trilling and nasal. I would never have spotted them if they hadn’t been so close.
And watching them, I can hear Crossbills overhead but they keep spinning round and I can’t see them.

But with the wind comes a first breath of sunshine. Light is radiating from the oaks on the southside, and the Great Beech glows with a soft yellow.
This is airlight. Picking out individual leaves with brighter colours, but otherwise diffusing those behind.
Leaves are spinning, and one allows itself to be caught between my fingers.
That’s better, and I feel more at ease. My step is faster, my eyes awake.
A Nuthatch, and a smile.
At 9:15, as I walk up the slope past the chestnut trees, another lone Crossbill calls heading out of the Wood.

Me too. Awakened

5 November 2020

2020 / 68

12:30 – 16:00
Bright, clear and mild 12*C

It is beautiful here this afternoon – a perfect November day with good light, mild temperatures and still, clear air

I am wandering around within the East clearfell to begin today, stepping around the now-established new trees looking for fungi. Most of the specimens I can find are over now and reduced to slimy lumps and broken orange stems. It is wet underfoot, and standing water fills the channels between the planting. Mostly grass, brash and heather. Other than a few clumps where Wrens hide, there is less bracken here. Thin willow and birch, turning yellow and gold.
I make neater notes than usual of the dozen bird species around in this first half hour – mostly Blue Tits, Wrens and Blackbirds but including 3 Crossbills overhead, a couple of Siskins and a single white dove that circles twice as if disorientated and then heads off north.

Slow time prevails. No breeze no sound, no shifting light. I am wandering quietly down The Broad listening to very little except the occasional squeak of an invisible Coal Tit. Birch leaves spin gently to the ground, where they lay like gold coins. I am not inclined to move at any pace, and I move alone and drifting. My Small Self realised among the trees which seem to stand vast and tall today. The Quiet Man is at large. Faded, dissolving. Wrens and an occasional Blackbird shoot across ahead of me low and casting shadows among the pools of light that pattern the track like a zebra crossing.
A squirrel pops out and hesitates on the left. I am reminded of the ROSPA campaign in the 1970s and the charming character of ‘Tufty Fluffytail. This little chap ahead of me does all the right things, looking around carefully before bounding across…

In the way leave, damp bracken lies twisted and rusting. Decay and tangled abandon covers most of the ground. I am drawn to Lower Velmore and A Path Through The Wood along the north belt. Maybe see if the Firecrests are at home and feeling sociable; see how the light feels in that part of the site now its a little more open.
It seems to be a good afternoon for the ubiquitous and humble little Wren – I should count more diligently, but they are everywhere today. Each one busy and restless, but clearly taking a lead role in this afternoon’s act.
Stepping over the stream and around the cut trees placed deliberately by Simon and his team to obstruct the passage of equestrians, the trees close in and I came hear them gently breathing. My stroll here is pestered by dancing flies. Among holly, but this year there are yet few berries and it is nothing like the bumper harvest of 2019. Nothing much for the Redwings.

This is when it feels good to know a patch and be familiar with its residents. Chaffinch, Jackdaw. Great Spotted Woodpecker and – Firecrest! I do so love these birds, probably my favourite in the Wood, and now they come back to the foreground. There is one calling close by, and I respond with a gentle ‘pishing’. here he comes, out to say hello and assertive enough to come quite close. His partner comes by too, and the male displays, flickers and raises his neon crown. Like a blob of bright orange paint among the shadows and green. I can see him easily with my naked eye.
A few metres further on there’s another territory, and that birds prepared to sing. Three more birds ahead – bingo! A fiesta of fireworks – perfect in this setting in ideal conditions.

Walking in this rusted sea
Sunlight-ocean over me
Between the golden yellow trees
I come alive

Underneath an endless sky
Larches burn and blaze up high
The tiny Firecrest and I
Join in the dance

Birdsong fragments on the air
Glittering diamonds everywhere
Silent stillness has no care
For happenstance

With this beauty all around
Immersed in fragile tender sound
My small self herein is found
At nature’s thrive

I move as a flaneur does through a city. Sauntering, aimless but observant of that which comes and goes. This afternoon I am especially directionless and my notebook stays tucked in a pocket for more than an hour.
At 15:40 I find myself back at the east end, walking up the steep slope to the sunniest and brightest bank in all the Wood. One birch tree radiates a seasonal charm that is absolutely captivating and I am drawn just to watch it. Yellow and red against blue. One light, three colours:

And here again, experience helps. Immediately behind this beech and the holly which stands at its base is a Corsican pine full of birds. A Robin, several Blue Tits, Coal Tits and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The woodpecker is at low level, not six feet above the ground and showing superbly, picking at the tree and pulling off flakes of bark. A beautiful male, but I have no camera for this kind of shot. A delight to watch, I note that he moves backwards down the tree in shot jumps. Compare this with a Nuthatch above that runs unblinking along the underside of a branch, or shuffles headfirst when coming downwards.
And I knew that if I watched long enough, there would be a Treecreeper. I hear it first, and within moments pick up two birds as they chase each other down from the canopy. They move differently again, in short nervous flurries and stop-motion jerks. Up the tree in a spiral, a helix – and down in a similar freefall flight. Siskins come in, brightly coloured in the sunshine. Goldcrests and Bullfinch. Through the the tree trees, shadows move and flicker with each bird.

Enchanted. Bird – WATCHING. Nothing more.

4 November 2020

2020 / 67

0700 – 0845
First ground frost of the year. Crisp clear and bright morning

Such a gentle, beautiful morning.
Waking slowly, and walking even slower in the cool airlight, descending the track down into the frosted east clearfell.
At the top, in the bushes around the edge, a small group of Long-tailed Tits are busy flicking and fluttering. I have been allowed to stand among them, ans several birds come within a few feet, inquisitve. Buzzing and bleeping. Beady eyes gleaming like the glittering leaves around them.
Overhead, a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers pass calling loudly, as if in some kind of domestic argument. Perhaps abuot why they seem to have woken up in the wrong place and whose fault that might have been…

The passage is typically cold at this top end, and the long grass is thick with a heavy dew. Spider webs drip with diamante jewels. There is a different light here, no colour yet. Birds detectable only by the chorus of calls around me: Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds. Tits, Nuthatches and the thin familiar “sssseeep” of invisible Redwings.
It is the time of year to watch the skies. “Vis Mig” the unfortunate term that birders use – visible migration. I get very little of that over the Wood, just the irregular and unpredciatble passing of local birds. A few Crows and Woodpigeons. Jackdaw, Magpie and the occasional gull. But then Fieldfares – four birds high up, rattling, heading West.

My toes are cold.

Passing quietly over Velmore (Muntjac skitters away to my left) the rival elf-clans on either side of the path hurl Blackbird-arrows at each other.
Morning’s descending light snags in the top of the magnificent golden larches. Here are Coal Tits, Goldcrests and ‘some’ Siskins. I can see only one, but there are others calling out of sight. And the disembodied voice of a Raven over the back of the trees.

Through the gorse gap and out into the clearfell

It is unerringly beautiful here today. I am blessed and uplifted.
Mistle Thrush ratlles; the babbling charm of colourful Goldfinches. Gangs of Redwing. A half dozen Stock Doves huddle in the top of a Yew. A few minutes later, I am up at the top end watching these delightful aerobatic birds. They spin and soar and spiral like Nightjar do, and in their manner they look just like every other bird of similar size. At first like hawks or falcons, then Nightjars. Also thrush like, direct and fast. Among the humblest and most overlooked of resident birds here, I have an affectionate soft spot for Stock Doves.

From the seat, watching for 20 minutes, virtually nothing comes over. Another squadron of four Fieldfares. Same number – same birds?? Small clusters of Woodpigeons. And three Starlings. That is unusual. Today’s highlight. If you exclude the Crossbills. I am standing back on the track in a patch of sunlight, facing the sun as iy passes above the trees now and begins to offer warmth. The Crossbills are moving about in twos and threes so its impossible to say how many there are, and they won’t land today where I can see them.
So I settle for Greenfinches, out where the High Seat was. Was?? Still is, but it has come down and lies helplessly akimbo like a wounded, rather pathetic cranefly

Soon perhaps it will be time for another Hawfinch? I make a note to learn the call.

Yes, there is still room for one more ‘Good Bird’ this year

26 October 202O

2020 / 66

06:00 – 08:30
Cool, fresh and clear morning. 9 – 10*C

Super clear sky this morning, lit by the pre-dawn brightness of Venus in the south-east. The air is brightening slowly, filtered through the trees, heralding the sunrise in half an hour or so.
From the entrance, Wrens and Robins click and knock. Blackbirds go off like fireworks all around. Several land on the track or trace silently as dark shapes across in front of me. There is not yet enough light at ground level to really see anything at all. Adding in the birds around the clearfell I think there are over 30 here now – a significant increase.

Descending into the Wood on this north side, passing the Pond, the traffic noise softens as the trees close in. The stream is full, and flowing fast, splashing a gentle allegro of sound into the mix. As refreshing to the ear as the cold water is against the fingers.
Overhead between the trees, Redwings pass with their familiar gentle whistle. Bullfinches are tuning up, an octave lower than anyone else. Siskins bounce over, cluttered and disorganised. Lots again, 65 at least. Back and forth. Restless silhouettes.

I am headed towards the clearfell intently, to get there as the sun comes up, and it continues to get progressively quieter. I can hear a Chiffchaff somewhere, and the first Blue Tits are waking up. At the Crossing, where the air is cool and still, there is a thin layer of skinny, fragile voices. Unseen voices of Long-tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Treecreeper. Overhead low enough to hear – a handful more Redwings and a single Pied Wagtail. Pigeons and a couple of Crows. And Crossbills! They are still here, and they are still seven. One family I think. Here for a few weeks now, and I feel sure we will meet again…

A distant clock chimes 7am, and I step from the track to my seat at the Top End of the clearfell. It has been A Long Time since I sat here. Coat folded against the damp tree stump. Not cold, facing the dawn. A bank of cloud has appeared ahead of the sun, back lit now with a crisp, glittering halo. Morning glory.
Active birds everywhere, moving from one tree to the next. Its time to decipher the code – the chirrups and chirps, chupps and cheeps. Thrushes are identifiable easily enough: more Blackbirds and Redwings, and a couple of Mistle Thrushes rattling. That clatter is a Fieldfare. There are two, with a gang of their migrant cousins, and a thrill of excitement tickles the back of my neck. First Fieldfares I have seen this year in the Wood.
Of course, Birding Moments follow a pattern, and within seconds the famous Two-Bird Theory is illustrated again. Those three finches coming at me now, wheezing and nasal are Lesser Redpolls surely? I knew they’d be here somewhere as birds are now being reported all over the place. Great little birds – too easy to overlook.
I realise though that from here, I am making things difficult for myself by facing the rising light. Finches are hard enough to identify anyway, and as silhouettes they become impossible. The largest group is of between 50 and 60 birds most of which are Goldfinches, but there are Greenfinches among them. There is also Jay, Jackdaw, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker now. And then 15 Crossbills. Assuming the first group have now joined their neighbours, these are all the birds that have been here a while. They are elusively out of view behind me in the West Wood but offer as chance to count properly as the circle the birch line and disappear into the Chilworth Pines where They Always Go. And a few minutes later, three more from the same direction. Different birds I think – the count increases.

My toes are chilly, and my breath is condensing. It is not as warm as technology might suggest. Ahead of me, the dew – which will freeze soon enough – rises in a soft mist. As the sun rises above the cloud, so it pours colour into the ampitheatre and illuminates the droplets of moisture on the gorse and bracken. Like cobwebs, like icing. Like glittering dust…

I think the situation of the Wood and the adjacent motorways are a significant barrier to anything flying over. Five miles away at Weston Shore 4,000 Woodpigeons are reported moving north-west… I have six gulls: one immature Herring and five Black-headeds. 200 local pigeons in a few groups, and maybe a half dozen crows.

Finches scatter, agitated and restless. A Sparrowhawk has arrived, and flutters down into one of the yews, sitting for a moment on an exposed branch. Out of context – usually see them circling overhead – it looks remarkably small. Not even as big as a nearby Stock Dove it seems, so a male I think though its a silhouette from here.

Down now to the birch line, which looks especially beautiful in this light.
Small birds moving around. Tits – and a couple more Chiffchaffs

Sounds like the Radiophonic Workshop are warming up. An odyssey of clicks and whirrs, loops of buzz and chitter. Patches and circuits, courtesy of Roland, Buchla and the ARP. The cronk, cronk of a Raven adds a little more definition to the soundscape. Just one today…?

Its nice to have enough time to walk gently along the South side and return to the start, instead of leaving it too late and always hurrying through the older part of the Wood. Today it is about colour and light as much as birds

Catwalk colours
A new collection from the October Lady

Almost inevitably there are less birds now, but these include two Firecrests calling from either side of the Great Beech, and the same Sparrowhawk circling up at the gate. It’s clouding up too, but doesn’t look anything like the forecast squally showers.
But from the entrance, a steely grey darkness is gathering out West and there is, set against this, the most glorious rainbow…

Perhaps I have caught the weather off guard and Monday at her best.

19 October 2020

2020 / 65

13:45 – 16:00
Mild and overcast, with brighter spells. Wind 2-3 from SE

From the Green Lane “in” for a change today. I am here for air and space after a challenging shift in the office.
No sooner have I locked up my bike under the usual rhododenron and started to make my way down the overgrown slope towards the silver birch ‘bole’ than a Firecrest starts to sing. I am hoping for more encounters form now on as we move into the time of year when their numbergets swollen  – by European migrants coming through and local families dispersing.
And stepping onto the track, two Crossbills fly over my head. I am alerted by their call, but no sooner have they headed out over the clearfell they return back to the Chilworth Pines.

Guided by my feet, I have little direction and purpose today other to go where the Wood invites me. I walk left up the track towards the top, guided by Robinsong, and then (after a brief pause for no apparent reason) I head right and into the clearfell for a change, walking down along the stream course in the sunshine. The unusual SE wind carries the roar of traffic out here into the otherwise quiet ampitheatre, and it is a temporary distraction. It also carries a Buzzard, several Crows and a flustered small (male?) Sparrowhawk. He’s quite a regular lately…
In defiance of the wind, there’s a ragged flock of 25 Feral Pigeons checking out the Wood today. Over the course of an hour, they whizz round at least three times.

I have timed it well by fortune, and out her  in the middle with the sun over my right shoulder a spell of clear bright weather prevails. I don’t see the immediate landscape from this direction often enough as it is rare for me to come mid afternoon these days I think. In the morning, the sun would not be co-operative at all.

Under the refugia I can find only one small vole at first, but then two mats in succession (#9 and #10) reveal something a bit more interesting.

Thsi little beauty, just over an inch long and with a stunning purple iridescent shimmering, is a Ground Beetle (Carabus problematicus) similar to the common C.violaceus (Violet Ground Beetle) but with rough sculptured wing-cases (elytrae) and found mostly in heathy woodland.
Research locally suggest they are rare in the south of Hampshire and that this is a good record.

As well as the return of the Sparrowhawk, I also pick up a Kestrel sitting on one of the Nightjars favourite spots. How long ago it seems since they were here!

And a ragged and tired looking Speckled Wood.
Last butterfly of the year…?

A few moments with my favourite tree, the large Beech on The Corner.
Light on leaves
Sun-rest in trees


14 October 2020

2020 / 64

07:15 – 09:00
Clear morning, light rain forecast 12*C

There is no light yet to bring detail, only the definition of trees against a dull white sky, ahead of forecast blue.
A party of four Herring Gulls pass over heading north – family group of two adults and this year’s two young. In the east clearfell, usual birds waking and chattering – Wrens, Blackbirds, Robins. An early Nuthatch.
And finches. They are hard enough at the best of times, bouncing around in silhouette all making an similar array of chups and chirrups. But these are Siskins, and very vocal. One large party of at least 60 birds, bouncing around restlessly from on tree to the next. In and out of sight.
A good start, followed immediately by a “chipping” group of 7 Crossbills. Also a family I think. Wondering if they bred here – I don’t think so – or dispersed from nearby Lord’s Wood?

I should reflect more on the transitions incurred while walking within this Wood. As I leap the East Stream (the logs placed within the channel have ‘been moved’) into the wayleave, the atmosphere and inscape changes and one steps into a ‘different’ place. darker, cooler. Yellow leaves here hang tired and the air is chilly. There are a few early Blue Tits around, and a Goldcrest calling somewhere.
Another transition, stepping out form the long grass, knapweed and (white?) thistles into the open space of the track. A Muntjac one side skitters off, but the Roe Deer to my left is less bothered and stares throughout my passage.

Stepping into Q2 it is different again. Greener, brighter. There is a gentle sway in the tops of a few larches now, and the sunlight is descending form the burning orange embers at the top. Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Coal Tit. A magpie and a couple of noisy Crows.

One of my favourite parts of the Wood is this section of the clearfell, and in particular the two oaks we have left standing here. At early morning, they catch the first sunlight and on a clear day that light is filtered, dappled and softened harmoniously. Long-tailed Tits flutter and fizz. Little particles of energy.

At 8am, I am at the clearfell, stepping through the GORSE GAP and perhaps the most dramatic transition of all – out into the space and light of a large open theatre. Reminds me of the Albert Hall, stepping through into the stalls from the corridors lined with pictures of stars and advertisements, through a door and in the breathtaking auditorium.
Redwings, Goldfinches and other shapes in the twiggy tops of isolated trees. Mistle Thrush, Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker. 3 Skylarks go over northwards, chirrrrruping distinctly, a Kestrel sweeps back and forth, and a Raven comes the other way, escorted by two indignant and slightly ridiculous Magpies

Where there is one Raven, there will most likely be a second. And half an hour later I have a conversation with both birds together, circling the Chilworth Pines on the south side. Great birds to spend time with.

11 October 2020

2020 / 63

10:00 – 13:00
Bright, clear and relatively mild at 17*C

It is later in the morning than is ideal here and the Wood is Sunday-morning busy. Frustrating, given the new signs and increased Forestry presence… This woman’s two dogs are friendly enough, but the Rottweiler puppy is a little overfamiliar. I would much rather entertain him though than the smaller ‘yappy’ dogs over on the north side. They are just annoying, and the constant whistling and calling from the owners is unnecessary and invasive. Gosh, what a grump I am… I love dogs, and dogs in general are fine here. Its the owners that irritate me. Shouting to dogs, talking on phones. Music, hi-vis clothing. Litter…
There’s an older couple later with a pair of bins and its nice to talk with them. But what is an appropriate response when one is asked whether there is “anything interesting about?”…
Is the “interesting” stuff easy to see? Firecrest, Crossbill, Siskin. Will they know the calls…? Are Redwing and Stonechat “interesting…?
What about deer, or darters?
Crossbill excited them, and they were happy to have been watching a Kestrel. This is what I love, and asserts in me an inclination to host a series of introduction to woodland birds next spring. Pitching a walk and tour lends itself to an appreciation of more familiar birds that one overlooks. Like Kestrels.
I perhaps have a tendency to be dismissive and go “oh look, a kestrel” because I can identify it instantly and just write a note in the book. How often do we spend time watching that bird, enjoying it. Learning it and appreciating it, especially relatively close up and in good light?
Too seldom, that’s the truth of it.
I am pleased to be at a stage now where I am moving beyond that and actually ‘watching birds’ properly and appreciating them far more than I ever have. this Wood has taught me so much in that respect. Slow down, be mindful and aware. The downside of this is a more recent tendency this year not to log and count everything, and submit records, and to manage my database of numbers and all the other details I used to write up and store. I drift through, wander and enjoy differently.

Rather like listening to music. I have noticed a similar tendency over the past couple of years to listen to less music. This is in part because I developed a habit of writing about (in another blog) researching and reviewing everything I listened to and maintained a list of whatever song I played at any time. Then entering online discussions about particular artists or albums. Maintaining all that became laborious and boring, which in its turn stopped me listening. Now I have returned to the youthful joy of ‘putting a record on’ and just listening to it for its own sake.
Same I come to the Wood and watch birds, enjoy the landscape and connect with the place (and with myself) differently. Just simply to “be” and appreciate the situation for what it is. It is too easy NOT to do this.
I have found that an awkward balance at times.
Even writing this can be a challenge sometimes and narratives get delayed and are never as much fun to write retrospectively

Next it is horseriders. A big group today. Not sure I have seen SIX of them together before, including two young girls on small ponies being led by women on the larger animals. And the have six, seven dogs. Maybe more? A couple I have met, including a lovely spaniel named Daisy and something black and fluffy called Holly. I have learned to remove my hat and take off my bins form around my neck when they come past, but stand in a spot where the horses can easily see me and don’t get spooked. I know they shouldn’t be in here, but I can’t help but be respectful.
Their presence will be reported, because of the damage done to sensitive areas, the grass that is completely ruined by their constant passage. etc Unlawful access and removal of fencing in order to get in at all is not my battle… Otherwise, they are a much more peaceful presence than almost any other visitors, and significantly more so than the MotoX riders that trash the rides and will leave great piles of litter now. Energy drink bottles, crisp packets and oil cans. Tins, biscuit wrappers… always in the same place too. I have a bag and a grabber with me today and take another large sackful out.

But none of this is what I came in for, or set out to write about.
I have time for a longer session, one in which I have actually challenged myself to document more carefully than others.
And starting with the east clearfell again, where there has been more activity lately than I previously recall. Less so at past ten o’clock though, and my ears will identify more birds than my eyes.
Chaffinch, Wren, Robin. Blackbirds. An increase in their numbers…? Five or six here, some of which will be migrant visitors. Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit. Nuthatch. Goldcrest.

A single Grey Heron going away from me over the north side.
That dataset I mentioned will tell me the last time I had one? No more than 3 or 4 times a year perhaps. I had two once apparently. “Occasional visitor overhead”…

The track edges have been cut since Friday. A flail mower has been in and everything smells fresh and ‘new’. new light, new plant colonisation with any luck. There are still thistles and Knapweed with ragged flowers here and there.
But not here, in Firecrest Alley, where i Have not walked since earlier in the spring. It’s a dark place, quite chilly and could also do with a little more light coming in. Lots of holly, but not many berries yet. Its a concentrated effort to pick up one Firecrest somewhere to the right, and otherwise only squirrels and the occasional squeaking Coal Tit make any sound. There’s a Buzzard up too, mewling, making its leisurely way out to the clearfell behind. I am following its passage, and emerge at the stream into bright sunlight. Agitated Crows have picked up the Buzzard and are ‘encouraging’ it to move off over the Chilworth Pines. But they are non-committal in their protests and really just ‘going through the motions’ – the raptor is equally unperturbed and neither hurried nor aggressive.
While watching this exchange, I pick up two Crossbills calling overhead, a couple of Meadow Pipits and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers are calling to each other from left and right.

Feel the quiet, breath the space. I like the clearfell from here, it feels remote and inaccessible. Birdsong is carried delicately on the still air. A silent splendour prevails. Browngold yellow and copper green. Pipits passing, wrens unseen. Heather turning, bracken burning. Finches come when summer’s done. Goldfinch charm over 20 now, 30 maybe. A couple of Siskins. Chaffinch. Greenfinch. Unusual.

In the wake of summer’s rush come Redwing and Mistle Thrush…

Voles in holes. Two under mat #9, scurrying in little circles. and a Common Shrew under 10 which is only I think the second live one I have seen here. Long nose sniffs me when I lift the mat and he runs off to one side.
And so I pick my way through damp grass and brash of bones, stumbling on roots and furrows along the stream course up towards the high seat. In two places, the line is clear where the BTO set up nets, and small coils of string hand on the new trees to secure them in place. Here is where the Grasshopper Warbler was ringed. There is a Hornet buzzing around, and a couple of Chiffchaffs. I expected more fungi, but there is barely any. Lichens and mosses are beautiful, and tiny insectivorous plants that I know nothing about. Lots of tiny flies, and still a occasional crickets.

And a Stonechat. Nice to see them still here, but who is to say this is one of the resident family or a new bird coming through? There is just one a juvenile and it ducks and bobs characteristically on gorse and heather, always keeping bout 25m ahead of me. “Not heard to call”.

As it begins to cloud over and the sky take son a more dramatic appearance, so the soundtrack changes. Out here now, the chirrup of two migrant Skylarks lift my head to track them in the grey-blue. Which in turn connects me with a half dozen late House Martins and a Pied Wagtail. More Siskins – distinct increasing. Odd mixture of calls.
Cheeps, chirrups, whistles and wheezes

Walking back up the Broad. Wandering. In a small tit flock, there are 2 or three flycatching Chiffchaffs. They’ve had a good year, like these Crossbills. Two more calling overhead – perhaps the same birds as before. I wonder how many are here…?
There’s a Raven. Grunting, so I expect there’s a second bird within a few minutes but it doesn’t appear. A reasonable ‘daylist’ is forming. 36 species, says the spreadsheet list.

And a Brimstone. Patrolling the top edge of the Wood opposite the gate.
I wonder if that is the last butterfly this year…?