15 February 2019

2019 / 13

13:00 – 16:00
Mild, sunny, clear and calm. 12°C. Less breeze then yesterday

Robert Macfarlane: Word of the day (16 Feb 2019): “Waldeinsamkeit” – the feeling of being alone in woods or among trees (lit. forest-solitude, German). Usually (but not always) connoting calmness, meditativeness & the solace of nature.
“Ich floh in die grüne Waldeinsamkeit. Im Wald, im Wald!” – Heinrich Heine

Translation: I fled into the solitude of the woodsInto the forest, Into the forest

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Woodside in. Birdsong all around. A different approach this afternoon- the idea is a more focussed count. I have a reasonably good sense of numbers, but every now and then I adopt what is, at least for me, a more ordered approach to counting. It was satisfying last night to compare the more accurate tallied totals for each bird species with yesterday’s approximations and find them to be remarkably alike. Very similar populations in different parts of the wood

17 species active and singing down Woodside, with max totals each of 10 Blue Tits, 8 Robins, 5 Great Tits, 5 Goldfinches, 3 Nuthatches – and two Firecrests! There is a pair up at the top, outside the wall of the Old Vicarage. I saw them well while watching a croup of other small birds in and around an oak. I haven’t considered Firecrests up in the village before – wonderful.

Out from here over the farmland, and the relative quiet of open space. There are every few birds between here and the Roughs – I can here song from both ends of the path but the idea of counting ‘accurately’ means stopping and recording only what is immediately present. But there is one song that lifts the heart along with the binoculars as I scan the blue above. The Skylark is still here, away to the north in the field below the pylons.
Timeless marvel.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! 
Bird thou never wert, 
That from Heaven, or near it, 
Pourest thy full heart 
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art…

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know, 
Such harmonious madness 
From my lips would flow 
The world should listen then, as I am listening now
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, June 1820)

Two Buzzards perched up in the same tree along the stream course. I can see 3 Mistle Thrushes, 3 Magpies, 2 Black-headed Gulls and about 40 corvids. The Pheasant coughs, but he’s out of sight.

Moving down into the Wood, two Redwings take off from beside the water trough, and immediately I am back among a chorus of birdsong. Today’s most prolific and vociferous songster is the Great Tit – in all at least 25 birds on the circuit. There’s even two along the stream where the ash trees stand. Marshall’s Row, cleared back up towards the houses. The firs smell beautiful in the slightly still damp coolness at the top of the slope where they face away from the sun. I do so love these slender “ash thighs”, now topped with downy, soft new growth. An I alluding to erotic imagery? Maybe – the Wood is female after all. Perhaps herein is some of her more sensual character

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North down Marshalls Row. Ash, birch, pine and fir.

Along the north walk, warm in the high sun, the two Buzzards are now circling high above the trees. The Kestrel is up with them, but for the second consecutive day the Ravens are absent. A small charm of Goldfinches up in the alders as usual, and with them two Siskins at least. These flew in from the clearfell, calling overhead and beautifully lit. At the pool, I determine to find Firecrests again, but there is only one and he is hard work.

This afternoon’s wanderlust brings me to Upper Velmore, where the grass is green and longest. Tits and Goldcrests flitting and calling, and another Firecrest, just inside the wood before stepping out onto the track. Conditions are perfect – hello little friend. There must be others active here, so I’m taking some time to stand and watch the holly either side of the descent. The largest tree on the right is in full sun. He greets my arrival with several bursts of spring song, as if telling his partner I am here and to come and say hello. Both birds show extremely well, hopping out on slim new growth that reaches over the track. Eternally restless. Stop motion. Head twisting. This one chooses not to sing while I am watching, but we make eye contact and it is utterly engaging.
What is more reward than this?

Time with Reedmace.
Bursting now. Fluffed and dispersing. Inside out.

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The gentlest of breeze stirs the seed heads, and the motes drift away like mist, without form. Around us, columns of flies, no more than particles of light, rise and fall in curious bouncing motion. I wonder what they are? I don’t know my insects at all, but they are a feature of the clearfell and as I expand my view I can see countless thousands of them all around. They are like vapour, like water sprites and erupt as fountains do.

 

400 birds of 33 species. 35 species over the two days.
1 year tick (Skylark = 47)

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14 February 2019

2019 / 12

13:00 – 16:30
Bright, sunny and mostly mild 10°C. Chilly S/SE in exposed areas

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I have cycled here again today, and the bike is tucked away under a large rhododendron at the end of Copse Lane. Half an hour, strenuous exercise. Probably good… It is what everyone around me this morning is describing as a ‘beautiful day’ and seems to be considered the ‘first of spring’. It is indeed warm in the sun approaching the wood on this south side, but at the bottom both the glade and the track are already in shade. The strong sunlight is filtering through and lighting the slim pine trunks, but it has yet to deliver much heat within the trees.
There’s a rising confidence though in the sun to the south west, in the face of a defiant halfmoon high in the opposite direction. From here, the view across the clearfell is uplifting and inspires an extended stay this afternoon. I am in no hurry, and I have time to wander. The Japanese have a word for an appreciation of how the light filters through the trees “komorebi” which seems to have no English translation. And the phrase “shinrin-yoku” – forest-bathing. Serenity, wellbeing and mindfulness.

Sitting at the viewpoint resting my legs (I must cycle more!) I can see two Buzzards in the distance, but otherwise only a few crows and pigeons drift past. Two pairs of Stock Doves are going about their seasonal business. Everything is restful. Such a Big Sky. We pause for the jets. What was the question…?
A movement catches my eye beside the clump, and I have it down as a Mistle Thrush. One has been calling in that direction for a while now. But no, there’s a swoop and a shimmy – it’s a male Kestrel (1). He drops from his vantage point on a birch to fly low over the bracken to a similar tree, moving between various perches over the next few minutes. Then up, catching a draft and circling overhead, tail fanned, those beautiful orangeblack feathers spread, tipped with diagnostic black. There is a substantial breeze out here, not without a degree or two of chill. Enough to put the jumper back on. Unusually, from the south/south-east, and the motorway traffic is carried upon the rushing air. Sirens, lorries. Drone. I only hear it when I listen to it, blessed to be able to shut the sound out with little effort. Great Tits in the yew. Blackbirds, Robins. Dunnock. Blue Tits whirring calls.

Whither shall I go? The farmland calls, but from the corner where the tracks join, a Firecrest calls louder. We have met before, but today I can’t persuade him out of dense cover. Curse the breeze. These little birds are very sensitive to significant air movement just as much as they are to warmth and light. For the next hour, disappointment and frustration accompany me through the north belt as I get rather intense and focus on nothing other than ‘turning up’ some more Firecrests in the ‘new’ part of the Wood I discovered last month. Standing among the trees, listening. Watching. Stepping over water channels. No log bridges. Ferns and thick leaf litter. Mature holly, rambling and unchecked. Briar and ivy. Cascading creeper. Natural glades. Moss-covered logs. Damp, soft. Cushioned seating. It becomes hard to discern where the ground stops and the plants start. There are few defined edges.

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There are Coal Tits, I think a Treecreeper, and at one point a party of charged-up Long-tailed Tits. A Great-spotted Woodpecker high and alert.
Goldcrests entertain; Firecrests evade. I don’t know this part well, and perhaps they avoid it…? Perhaps its too dark? There is a bird flitting around back up by the pond, briefly, and I call one to me while cutting up to Velmore behind the reeds. Harder work than I hoped. It would seem that, like butterflies, their behaviour is determined by light levels and wind movement – which of course can vary in different parts of the wood and at different times.

Putting this theory to the test, I return to the new ‘Velmore transect’ recently cut behind the chestnuts and the Douglas Fir plantation. Now open and bright, it is immediately apparent that the transect is well considered and will work. The young trees lack sufficient height to block even the winter sun, which falls unfettered on the ‘back’ of the holly hedge line that marks the farmland. The holly, between large oaks and beeches, is set behind an old ineffective barbed wire fence, with occasional ‘gaps’ that enable views across the paddocks. Here, some 40 Redwing are feeding, with a couple of Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds. Corvids and gulls on the other side of the road. Pheasants, Magpies. And overhead, two white doves (2). I remember them, but haven’t seen them over the Wood since October.The thrushes are not used to being disturbed here, and take flight into the trees as soon as I get anywhere near them. They chatter incessantly, half-singing. Crows – at least a dozen – noisy and restless.

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The new cut restores access to this area that has been allowed to grow over for between 10 and 15 years, and it passes beyond my guided tour on Monday afternoon. I have walked beyond the repaired fence along the road, and the offices of Aviva and Ageas are now directly opposite. Dusty, skeletal gorse exposed and in shock. Bones of stunted birch. Brittle trees, starved of light. Fragile and packed too closely together. The work ends at a stream, flowing freely, that I deduce to be the East Stream at the top end of the Wood. It is rather disorientating here, and I am unfamiliar with this area. There are few birds and lots of litter and debris, discarded building materials from Elliott’s. It is a different place altogether. Uncomfortable. Some of the debris has been formed into a crude camp, and the vegetation is flatted around it suggesting regular use, if not recent:

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I don’t like this at all, but curiosity takes me as far in to the pines as I can go. There is no way from here through to more familiar territory so I return over the stream via a scaffold plank and into the cut.
It takes on an altogether different atmosphere now walking in the opposite direction. Time has passed 3.00pm, and the wind has given up. Everywhere is suddenly still and I have returned to warm.

I am surprised and delighted. Humbled to experience the next half hour. In a large oak, now on my right, Great Tits and two Nuthatches. Neighbours. Long-tailed Tits and a Treecreeper. A Firecrest calls, close and persistent. Have I stepped too close? Here he comes, scolding, right out in the open and not 10 feet away. Such a tiny bird, with a fierce spirit. Agitated, his wings and crown feathers flickering in a curious rage. I am allowed to see him sing, and it is a privilege I will never take for granted. And here comes partner. they chase, they dash, they flicker. Hovering to feed.
50m beyond this territory, another male singing! Delighting in the new light arrangement no doubt. He’s harder to see and prefers to stay in the bush. A staccato shadow. Back at Lower Velmore where this cut emerges, another pair and a fourth male, in the exact spot where I first saw one here four years ago! This is now where the sun lies longest. I am inclined to think the pair is in the territory that I watched last year behind the fallen oak which I can see at the side of Q2 from here, now less hidden since a bay was cut to the ‘front’ of the Chestnuts.
They have come good. Different timelight, and the air has stilled.
I am buzzing.

In February
The king reclaims
His crown of flame
Each holly curtilage
Ablaze with rage
He glitters
He flickers
Scolding lest we should
Forget who rules the Wood

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West along the new Velmore transect. Northside holly perimeter

 

Two patch yearticks today:
1) Kestrel = 45
2) Feral Pigeon = 46

11 February 2019

 

2019 / 11

13:-00- 16:00
Overcast with some bright spells. Mild 7°C

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New cutting, east of Velmore towards north perimeter

One of the primary objectives of the FC management plan in Hut Wood is butterfly conservation, in line with the 2007 – 2017 Lepidoptera Conservation Strategy

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/fce-butterfly-conservation.pdf/$FILE/fce-butterfly-conservation.pdf

To that end, an application has been made to UKBMS that a transect is identified in the Wood, and registered as part of the national database and monitoring scheme. Working in association with Butterfly Conservation UK, FC intend to develop last summer’s cutting work with more detailed succession management this year, including removal of mulch, clipping and trimming edges in order that food plants and nectar sources can be encouraged. Primary species targeted are the Pearl-bordered and Silver-washed Fritillaries – both of which FC are confident will be re-populating the Wood within the next 3-5 years. The clearfell with its bracken and grass should attract Pearl-bordered and the woodland edges with bramble and thistle are considered ideal for Silver-washed, once they can establish a population of violets on the rides.
The increasing re-generation of honeysuckle looks good for strengthening the population of White Admirals.

http://www.ukbms.org/About

Management of deer (12 individuals have been shot on the site this season) should enable flowering plants to establish too, and the general attitude is encouraging. It’s probably a Grade C site, deemed ‘favourable’ now for further investigation and investment.

I met the Solent Wildlife Ranger by the barrier (“it’s not a gate”) just after 1pm, and we headed off down the track towards the second quarter of the wayleave after scanning for the Ravens. No sign early on, which was a little disappointing. Apparently they have showed a lot of interest in the deer shooting for obvious reasons, and he has at times left some organs and scraps out for them…

“We might open up the top section a little, but I understand what you mean about leaving this a little wilder. What we don’t want to do is encourage a sightline through from the track at the top, but I think some cutting would be beneficial. I might take some of the trees out closest to the wayleave and see what that does.”

Stepping into Q2, we start to talk a lot about the equestrian presence, and the affect this is having on the grass and ride edges here. Further action is being considered. “Aggravated trespass”. It is especially disappointing to see how all the natural barriers to screen off Q2 from the track are persistently removed. But that’s because “they got a bit heavy handed with the tractor and have opened the end up, which is not what I instructed. Hopefully though, the bramble will soon come back and the gorse can expand across the gap.”
The horse riders like circuits, and various strategies are being considered to block up certain routes more structurally and therefore break up a ‘way round’. Create a few dead ends. “We can photograph whatever we do and if we see that things are being cut or moved, it strengthens the Estate’s case to charge with wilful damage.”

A surprise awaits me as we approach Velmore. Passing the chestnuts (and planted oaks), there is what I thought was a bay cut into the herringbone of scallops all down this section of the passage. Last one on the right, and just a few metres from the Velmore path. Walking to the end of here, it turns sharply right – completely invisible on approach – and follows a new line cut northwards and then northeast behind the trees and wiggles around the holly to the northern perimeter. A few metres of high holly, birch and some yews screen the cutting from the adjacent farmland, but as we proceed behind the Douglas Firs there are several natural ‘windows’ in the edge that afford great views across the paddocks and the road that serves the buildings.
It’s a revelation.

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Viewed from * (above) looking north along the perimeter

Along this transect, a stream has been exposed that runs out onto the farmland along the hedge line. After the rain recently, it is full and the water is moving freely. Some pressure has built up, forcing through leaf blockages. The birch has been cut with a tractor and sidearm, then laid on the right around and between some of the new young oaks. In a matter of weeks, honeysuckle and bramble are starting to grow among the laid birches. Several rowans grow here and have been left to provide food, cover and shape.
It’s an example of the ‘dead end’ strategy too. 100 metres ahead, the transect bends right and comes to an end up against the fence along the road into the farm. There is a plan to cut similar back up and loop into wards the eastern clearfell, but they may be next season and the two will not be linked.

Robins singing the spring song in the warm sunshine. Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrest and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Stock Doves nest in one of the larger old oaks.
I can hear a new sound, and we pause to confirm the presence of 2019’s first calling Chiffchaff. Above us, 3 Buzzards. Two adults, and above them last year’s (much paler) juvenile.

From here its back down Lower Velmore, along the muddied path and up into Q3 from the northern belt. I enthuse about Firecrests but we hear only one. Our attention instead diverted to the finches in the canopy and a singing Mistle Thrush on the edge of the track.
In the middle of the large clearfell, we undertake a cursory inspection of the ‘crop’. Scots Pine and some Douglas Fir are still struggling to establish, and there are signs of considerable deer grazing and damage. And there are TWO ditches, running in parallel from the birch line diagonally towards the East stream. One of these, on the north side, hosts the Reedmace away to our left at the bottom of the slope. I had previously thought there was only one. Between the two, there should not be new planting, and it is frustrating to see at least two lines of failing saplings. “They won’t survive, but that’s no bad thing. We need to stay at least 3 metres clear of the watercourse on both sides.” Rather too many birch trunks and heavy boughs have been allowed to lie in the streams.
Within this strip of land, and henceforward across to the track on the south side, it is surprisingly wet underfoot. Squelchy. Surface water from the recent rain in the furrows, but high ground water that has built up and enabled moss, fern and sedge grasses to grow. It is impossible to see any of this from the edges.

“Good for Snipe perhaps, and certainly Woodcock.”

There is a flutter of bird activity from a clump ahead of us, and our attention is drawn to what looks to be a cut area, a grassy and gravel stand. Around the edge, typical hazel, birch and holly. Glittering in the sun from a rowan – three more large bird feeders, full of seed. The BTO ringing group have moved their project a few hundred metres south to the other side. There are Goldfinches calling, but only one bird on the feeder, and that’s a Lesser Redpoll. Half a dozen accompanying Siskins fly off as we get a little bit too close:

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We start talking about ponds and pools, suggesting this area down by the Reedmace. Scrape out a small area, pushing the dredging up against the bank of the stream creating a hollow which can be filled with run off from the stream via a new-cut short channel. Water can find its own way out from the back of the pool to rejoin the stream course. It would certainly be quiet, out of view from the track. Undisturbed. Nice.
A similar project – as well as, and not necessarily an alternative – is on the east clearfell, cutting into the East stream. Smaller, more sedge-y and grass fringed…?
We are discussing this option and, as if to prove a point, two Mallard appear from nowhere, rising up out of the grass and heading off north east over the Aviva pines. A second – and quite unexpected year tick. An omen. “It wouldn’t take them long to find any standing water that we create”.

Finally, the Ravens. We are heading up the track towards the vehicle as four birds appear from the Southwest, grunting and whistling to one another. We watch to see if they settle at the nest site, but they choose not to and continue towards the supermarket beyond our line of sight. A second local pair has been located in the Eastern Docks. They will be rolling and performing well any time soon, before the first eggs are laid.

It’s been a fascinating circuit. I love to find new bits of the Wood and to see it differently. new places to explore in my own time, with a purpose. Butterflies will emerge during April, and I have a project to be getting on with. In a couple of weeks, staff from Butterfly Conservation UK will be on site to approve the transect that has been sketched out as we walked today. To advise, and to listen. They will benefit from my knowledge of what’s here already, and the best places to see the different species. “We’ll advise what time of day to survey, and in what direction etc.”
Three years of monitoring perhaps, to see how the colonisation works, the succession management. The food plants and egg laying sites.
Warblers will love some of the sunny edges now exposed, and there should be some improvement in numbers there too.

“Oh, and snakes too. yes, bound to be. Leave your binoculars at home one day and I’ll meet you on a sunny morning for a snake survey. In the meantime, keep checking all these ditches and puddles for spawn. Even in the temporary water frogs and toads will lay eggs. We can always pick them up in a bucket and move them around a bit.”

I am so blessed to have this place, and these opportunities.
And this gull. Another yeartick (the third today) as an adult Lesser Black-back moves purposefully up the Bournemouth Road.

Check your email – I’ll send some dates.

06 February 2019

2019 / 10

13:00 – 14:30
Very mild 8°C and little breeze. A bright spell during an otherwise overcast sky

It is very wet in here at the moment, and today especially there are deep troughs of water along the side of the track as well as countless puddles in the footprints and tyre ruts. Which makes it all very slippery on the main circuit.

I have come down the Upper Quarter of the wayleave, watching a busy party of mixed tits feeding in the scrub by the top stream before the bridge. There is a lot of birdsong, and already between here and the entrance I have had three each singing Robin and Goldcrest, as well as Great Tit, Blue Tit and Song Thrush. It’s a bit quieter in this immediate area. I can hear a Dunnock calling.
Long-taild Tits especially, probably a dozen flitting here and there.
Someone lets off a Blackbird in the trees beside me, and there is a Woodpecker knock-knocking about. But not drumming. I have still yet to hear drumming in the Wood this season. Surely anytime now – there were two drumming all afternoon in Swanmore yesterday and it is forecast to be warm for a few days.

Approaching the end of Q1 it is indeed ‘quite warm’ and the sun is doing a good job of making it feel like early spring. Still too, virtually no air movement and, with what little breeze there is coming from the northwest, the Wood is unconcerned with traffic noise.
I have met two other birders, sitting on logs at the edge of the east clearing enjoying a peaceful lunch!! They have come by bus, seeking Crossbills…
Nothing much to tell them about today and they had lessto report after an hour on the Track, but were delighted with great views of confiding Goldcrests and a couple of Treecreepers. Probably not the best time of year to explore a woodland you are not familiar with, but they seemed impressed enough to want to come back. Made me think that it really is not an easy place to come birding unless you ‘know’ your birds quite well? Calls can be difficult, and most things are hard to see well unless you have time, patience and a degree of experience.

We spoke of Ravens, and were not five minutes parted when the first of two came over.
In fact, more ‘through’ than over, as it passed below tree height along the track, heading east. No call, but the bird’s passing caused a fuss among the smaller birds present, and it was escorted by a volley of alarm calls and fluster. I hope the others saw it, but I couldn’t see them by the time the Raven was out of sight.
Just a moment later, I pick up a second calling over Crossbill corner, and it shows very well circling low over Q2. Calling too, so there’s a good chance they will have seen at least one. The second bird, I presume the male, stays in view for some time, gently circling and calling and then it too slowly drifts away.

At the Bottom, there are Bullfinches calling, Great Tits singing and an irritated Jay. I have a Firecrest too, right on the corner at Velmore. I hope my description of the call made sense – it’s very hard to describe exactly how it differs from Goldcrest. To my attuned ear, they are completely different sounds, but I would do well to remember that others –  especially those unfamiliar with Firecrests and excited about the possibility of seeing one – find them impossible to tell apart. It’s a richer call, with more depth. Not as ‘thin’ and ‘zitty’…?
Beyond the stream, and visible only as silhouettes from trackside opposite Q3, there are 30 or more jangling, buzzing finches in the top of two alders. Charming. Among them, Siskins (four more flying in to join the group), and as they explode from the tree the distinct trilling call of Lesser Redpoll trickles back downwards like dispersed seed. First ones this year – there aren’t many around.

Something ove ron the farmland has put everything up. Several dozen corvids, agitated Jackdaws. A clatter of Woodpigeons and one gull. A young Herring I think, but it’s distant and heading SW with everything else.

Walking back, on the gravelled surface of the top track.
Both Ravens together, low and conversing.
Heading home. They approach the tree from the West, low and swoop upwards. A stealthy approach. Thus they arrive unseen by most observers. Together, hidden in the highest Scots Pine. We have ‘at least’ 3 pairs around the city now.
What a delight they should choose to return here. Alternate years perhaps?

It’s nice just standing here, and I wish to stay longer, but duty calls like the persistent Crows and errands tug at my coat like bramble. Cloud cover returns. Dirty shades of grey, smudge-filter applied.

Lesser Redpoll = 41 (2019)

 

 

02 February 2019

2019 / 09

13:30 – 15:00
Snow on the ground, up to 25mm in open spaces. Cold and clear, 2°C. Brisk NNE

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An odd one this. I feel encumbered, the balance is all wrong. Dog is fine, but the presence of too many other people walking dogs makes it difficult. Bertie is even less sociable than me and has developed a tendency to get aggressive – at least unpredictable – when approached by another dog. It’s a shame, because they only want to run and play, and he could have so much fun. But there it is. I am working on it, but for now it adds an extra dimension to a walk and puts me on edge when I see others approaching.
To be honest, that can frustrate me a little here anyway sometimes, even when I am here without him. And this afternoon, given beautiful sunshine and decorative layer of glittery snow, there are more people than I remember seeing  before on a  single walk.
Four parties – at least six people, and five dogs between them. That’s a LOT for this place and reminds me again that weekend afternoon’s are the least best time to come.
To compound my grumbles – and forgive the cynicism here – some of those visitors are constantly shouting and calling their dogs. Let them be – dogs need to be dogs sometimes…
Furthermore, I am annoyed with circumstances for preventing me coming here yesterday (Friday) when the snow was fresh and has not been so heavily trampled and less has melted. Just five miles away in the city, the snowfall was minimal and lasted on the ground only a couple of hours though it fell much more heavily north around Winchester and Basingstoke. I say “north” but everything is north from Southampton! So more snow fell in the Wood than I expected, and I have missed the best of it.

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I have my son’s camera with me, but even in ten minutes I have managed to let the lens cap slip off the clip into the snow ‘somewhere’. This involves also carrying a rucksack (which I seldom do, preferring pockets) containing two other lenses that I find quite heavy and fiddly to interchange. So I didn’t bother, and ended up with a few shots no better than I could have taken on the office phone anyway.

And thirdly – gosh, what a moan! – I haven’t enough time really as I have committed to take my daughter somewhere at 4pm and didn’t get to visit the tip at Eastleigh as early as I would have liked to allow time for a more relaxed walk and thus play with the camera more patiently. Next time, not on the weekend, and not with the dog.
Oh, and clear the SD card too – its full already after taking a dozen images!!

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The Crossing, from the south towards Velmore

Birds? Oh yes – there was a Raven calling overhead. He passed twice, grunting and croaking throughout which suggests another bird was around but I never saw them together.
Firecrest activity was limited – perhaps too cold and too busy – and the wind will have impacted as it was quite penetrative. Two birds briefly in the northern belt. It is ‘their time’ now, sunny February, so I look forward in the next few weeks to really getting back in with them.
Small handfuls of finches here and there, including a couple of vocal Siskins moving around.
A strong Bullfinch presence today too – at least half a dozen calling birds. It is also time for them to gather and start showing off.

40 species recorded on eight visits in January.
February is off to a slow start – just 22 this afternoon

31 January 2019

2019/ 08

0730 – 0930

Proper cold, around -2°C after a heavy frost. Light easterly.
Heavy skies and snow forecast this evening

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The wayleave Q1 from the Crossing

An optimistic hopeful kind of cold
A proper chill, with presence, that reminds the toes
To walk with care on concrete mud
Crunching crystal grass
And shattered leaves.

Delicate diamond
Jewel encrusted seed
Frosted gorse and oak
Sugared cones

I am ahead of the sun today, and it is bittercold on the south side, walking round towards the crossing. The crescent moon and Venus shining bright.
But a smile-making place of cystalline wonder that brings a joy to the heart through the eyes. No filters, no medium – just the beauty of nature. There is little definition between surfaces low down – the frosted grass merges into the banks of bracken and bramble. Above them, young hazels full of tiny twigs dusted with ice look like mist and have indefinite form.
The light shifts and washes, colours and hues softly changing as the day gently arrives. There is little warmth in the sunshine, but the light serves to waken small birds, and though I see very few, I know that all around the birds are calling, singing and coming alive. An occasional Robin, Wren or Blackbird will shoot across the track, and there will be flitters and twitterings from within. Great Tits “teecher”-ing, and – I think – the thin repeated whistle of a Treecreeper. As fragile a sound as the ice-crystals on each leave and stem.

Sunfall has come to the Westside pinewood, like a search beam tracking across the heath:

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Vapourtrail lightning scars the powder blue:

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There is a Green Woodpecker in a favoured tree to the left of the viewpoint, but he is flighty and heads off into the clump as I watch. Almost immediately, his place is taken up by a Great Spot that sits slightly higher on the same branch, loudly proclaiming his presence. I can hear finches, in the clump where the Green Woodpecker went, and with the site all to myself this morning I take the rare step of walking across the clearfell to the clump – wherein the BTO have feeders and occasionally put up their mist nests. It’s a difficult 100 metres – hard enough when the ground is soft, and I slip and stumble several times. There is that twinge in my ankle again. Left side. Months, I have carried that now…
Maybe 40-50 birds above me in the tallest yew.Mostly Goldfinch, but some Green- and Chaff-, as well as several Siskins, maybe 8. I get views of one or two, but from directly under the tree in which they have roosted it is hard to see anything at all.
The inscape and the morning views more than make up for that, and I am struck by the beauty of misted holly, and the sparkling white ‘ordinary’ grass:

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I can see May, and the return of the Nightjars. Before them, the evening Woodcock and with luck and carefully timed management, some Warblers through this spring. Here, there is no concern for exaggerated political and economic concerns. The seasons will come and pass, and the light will shift and change of its own will. We must retain perspective and reason – a Wood can help with that for it cares nothing of such constructed things.

Nothing is inclined to show itself this early, not keen to risk the chilling air. I was rather hoping for a ‘random’ flyover and some movement of larger birds seeking accessible feeding grounds, but I doubt it has yet been cold enough for a sustained period. Perhaps this is the start of such a spell, and thicker skies and snow might force a few things into the sky tomorrow. I above watch the clearfell for passing birds, but the list is no more than a token:

Carrion Crow
Woodpigeon
Stock Dove- first four then two. Then two more, but all local birds
Black-headed Gull (4o in all)
2 Herring Gulls, distant
Some Greenfinches
2 Redwing

As I walk up the wayleave past the Crossing, I realise that I have not heard ‘that raptor’ and though I listen for ten minutes around Velmore and Q2, it does not call today. There is a Buzzard ‘somewhere’. It is approaching the time when hawks display late in the morning and early afternoon. And on sunny days like this, the Firecrests will soon enough be ablaze and vocal. I could be here all day quite easily, wandering around, watching and being gently absorbed.

In the Passage, sheltered from the morning, I am walking towards the sun for a change. I seldom come up here form ‘the other way’ and must do so more often. Dawn chorus and spring will take their turn in due course. For now, there is that mist again, the fusion of light, condensation, ice and tiny leave buds on the youngest saplings and bushes. They appear to be dissolved.
The alder is stunning. One favourite tree in particular hangs coned ribbons low, almost to the ground. I enjoy visiting, intrigued by the delicate individual structures and the whole cascade:

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There are still deer. A single Roe female skips off as I get back on track.

29 bird species apparently. Ones and twos of most. Incidental this morning.
I leave uplifted, filled with hope and the joy of now.

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30 January 2019

0730 – 0815. Cold after a relatively hard frost -2°C

On arrival this morning, I walked down the track and found the FC vehicle parked up suggesting they were on site again shooting.
Scanned the east clearing, no sign. Usual birdsong- Robin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush. Blue Tit, Goldcrest. A few Redwings moving N overhead, and a handful of Black-headed Gulls.
Somewhat ironically, a young male Roe Deer stood watching me from the Upper Quarter.

I walked tentatively down Larpers, but very quiet and cold with little light and even less bird activity. At the Crossing I heard a raptor ‘yapping’ further in, towards the clearfell.
Sparrowhawk?

 

Immediately followed by a gunshot, so I decided to leave the Ranger and his team to their business. Access re-scheduled for the same time tomorrow, so with a bit of luck I can follow up the source of this bird call.

 

 

 

26 January 2019

2019 / 07

In which I Make Two Discoveries, and Find Treasure

14:00 – 16:00
Wet and windy. Moderate and blustery SW

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In the Woodside gardens, several Robins are singing – defying the swirling wind that is shaking the trees. As I walk down from the pub car park opposite, I realise the Collared Doves are gone. There are Great Tits and a Nuthatch. Goldfinches and a few Woodpigeons.
The splendid Magnolia at Journey’s End is in a thousand buds – flowers will be out in a couple of weeks, before any leaf emergence.

Dog stops at the junction of the footpath and bridleway, waiting for me to confirm that we are going straight ahead first today. A few yards further on, he checks over his shoulder to make sure I am coming along. A loud motorbike roars up the Chilworth Road. Unseen redwings whistle overhead, just as they were around the house this morning. It is grey looking out across the fields, and we are at a gap in the rain that has been persistent since yesterday lunchtime. The landscape is shrouded in a misty drizzle that thickens by the time we reach The Rough. The mud is deep but firm, and marked with mountain bike tyre tracks. Inbound Rooks – 75 mixed corvids are swirling around with a few gulls down nearer the buildings.

Holly and creeper overgrowing the bridleway scratch at my coat as I pass. Brambles snag against my trousers. Dog sniffs the air intently and ‘pronks’ into the grass. A mouse? Perhaps a lizard? He shuffles into the leaf debris, sneezes and runs off again. 20 yards. Stop, sniff, repeat. I am glad of his company today.
It is here at The Rough, just passed the feeding trough, that I turn off the path between the yew trees. Blackbirds scatter. Duck the low boughs to reach the fence that marks the second field where the Meadow Pipits aren’t. Watching the drizzle and the cows. Neither is especially purposeful.
A quick look up from the base of the pylon (47C 23) to check the Peregrine is still not there. There is a startled Mistle Thrush though. The cables hiss in the increasingly damp air, and the wind through the steel structure roars like a train. Electricity crackles, spit sand buzzes. Stanlow and static. Experimental electronica.

Dog and I play ‘My-Stick-No-My -Stick’. Laughing, tugging. Muddy hands and a friendly growl. It’s a more difficult walk on the way back. Uphill, into the driving wind and I become quickly aware of just how much it is actually raining. Slippery too. Ready for the shelter of the Wood…

It’s been almost an hour, and back at the junction, Dog knows the way this time and leads off down into the trees, where it is immediately quieter and drier, if more slippery in the deepening softer mud. There are four Crows circling Marshalls, quite high, calling incessantly. I can’t see why, but a passing Buzzard a few seconds later would explain it.
I start off heading ‘the usual way’ but decide instead to come in through the tangled back end of Q4 and then, on impulse, turned LEFT along a deer path into “The Bit Where It’s Very Dark” and where – I think – I have only ever been once before, and then from the other way.

To my left is the bank along which the rusted barbed wire fence runs beside the footpath, and around me immediately 25+ Long-tailed Tits flurrying and intense. Great Tits and another Treecreeper. They move to the woodland edge, and suddenly there is nothing else, no movement or bird sounds. It really is dark here, among an acre or so of mature Scots Pine that lets in little light but even less rain. The floor is ankle deep in dry, brown pine needles. But it is the holly that is especially striking. The lack of air movement has prevented many of the needles from falling to the ground, and instead they hang like thick dusty old beards on the understorey. I feel I am in the entrance hall of a huge old castle, where the statues and armour is hung with a millennium of cobwebs

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Wandering for the next ten minutes or so, it is clear that no-one comes here, and even deer have not worn a path within. I feel awed, and awkward, not entirely such of my direction and whereabouts. It’s enclosed, an inner space, with no invitation ‘through’. A couple of Jays – missing yesterday – are left on guard and screech furiously at my audacity. This raises a dozy Squirrel that scolds in its turn. Hidden things (Blackbirds probably) skitter and scuttle away. Stepping over a straight ditch (where does that go??) th enext space is a courtyard, a space between the spaces. The trees were cut here many years ago, and the low stumps are mossed and old. There is a carpet of bracken and the court is open to the sky and surrounded on two sides by holly. Holly, and more holly, ringed by the thin birches that I recall from my previous foray. There are two large winding oaks, also covered in a green moss.
We will come back with a camera, a tape and sunshine…

We came out just before the pond and the horseriders ‘path’, emerging onto the track that is a mess already. Skidded hoofprints reveal just how slippery it is, and the heavy drizzle has increased and purposefully ‘set in’. I resolve to walk up to the Crossing and back around the far side, but its pretty wet and unpleasant. The stream is in a quiet space oddly sheltered, and from here there is an opportunity to scan the clearfell just in case. Which is how I came to see the bulrushes:

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Sway in the wind gave them away. Otherwise, how have I not seen these before. 20 stems of Great Reedmace, growing at the bottom of the stream course defined higher up by the line of Birches. These images will do for now, but I’ll take some better ones when I come back with that camera next week… What a treat!
And from the south side, these plants are more or less impossible to see and quite a long way off. Even knowing where they are – I took bearings as I approached them – one would not see them, blending so well as they do into the browns and yellow setting.
Forestry Commission talked about a pond in their management plan. Perhaps this would be the spot?

So that’s the two discoveries. The dark acre in the NW corner, and the reedmace.
What about the Treasure? Well, the hornet’s nest ‘extension’ has collapsed, revealing a large (two-inch diameter) hole in the tree trunk where the main colony is. There are bits of the structure scattered on the floor, and I picked up a few to keep. But it is a delicate as ash! I expected something stronger. The largest piece I have is 10cm wide and 3cm thick. Smooth and layered on the exterior, but intricate and aerated wall structure that dissolves as soon as you even look at it. A beautiful treasure and I look forward to seeing the insects on the wing again next year, wherever the new home is.

25 January 2019

2019/ 06

Damp, dull and mild. Overcast and 5°C. Light W

07:30 – 09:30

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Its been ten days since I last walked here, during which my time has been filled with work or disappointing weather. The only two bright days we have had coincided with early starts in the office, and they proved to be only a brief interlude in this otherwise relentless dull grey period. Bring on March  statistically the coldest month of recent years…

In the Wood, the mild weather has brought forward much growth in the grass and catkins especially. But now these are joined with new leaf on the emergent honeysuckle, which seems to be colonising some of the bays we cleared last summer. I am greatly encouraged. It twines symbiotically among the rampant holly, which itself bears many signs of vibrant seasonal issue. The new leaves are the brightest and richest green, fringed with yellow and needle sharp spines. They gape like young birds, demanding sunlight and air:

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And where there is holly, there are Firecrests, especially in this pocket of Hampshire . Three gave themselves away this morning: one called a couple of times in the gloom at The Bottom, and then a pair showed rather better at the side of the track on the way up towards the Crossing. A new location, no doubt chosen by one of last season’s male birds.
He chose to sing today – the first performance I have heard this year.

But different species made the headlines today. At the side of the Passage at Q3, just beyond the reeds, I came upon the first of two large parties of Long-tailed Tits and spent some time in their delightful company. About 20 birds, flickering and fluttering, hanging acrobatically from pines and chattering non-stop. They sound like rain, constantly pattering, clicking and whirring. And with them, Goldcrest and at least one Treecreeper.
A similar party was performing in much the same way at the top end of Q4 – which is becoming a favourite feeding place for many small birds early in the morning. It is here the light – when there is any – falls first. These were virtually at ground level, hanging like pendants from hazel and swinging from one twig to another like miniature Capuchins. For ten minutes, I am utterly absorbed. Watching birds, and thoroughly engaged by them. There are these tiny shapes, and as they move around me there is nothing else.
Except another pair of Treecreepers, busy about their own morning. I resolve to make this species a feature of my rounds here this year, and already I am developing an awareness. One I watched today played all the trump cards, spiralling round a tree trunk  like a mouse, walking ‘upside down’ on the underside of a low branch. As I watched, it twice let go its hold and hovered for a moment before resuming its stop-motion ascent. I don’t yet know a male from a female (is there a noticeable difference?) and have also yet to determine territorial aggression for ritual display. They chased and called, up and into the ivy out of sight.
Above the Treecreepers, I watched a Goldcrest in a Corsican pine, catching it perfectly performing its own acrobatics. They descend through the air in a spiral – flycatching or displaying?

Water droplets – before they are disturbed by foraging tits – adorn hazel branches like Christmas lights.

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For most of the circuit today there is ‘no sky’ and a thick mist hangs over the Wood:

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But at 08:45 there are signs of hope. Patches of light appear behind the cloud, giving the impression of a worn carpet, threadbare and tired. It comes to nothing, and has stayed grey all day, drizzling by lunchtime:

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A few Black-headed Gulls passed over, and the Stock Doves are displaying regardless. Of particular note, I counted at least 15 Pied Wagtails moving north individually. Unusual in my experience – only generally see these on the farmland.

And where have all the finches and thrushes gone? Today there are just small groups (5 or 6 each) of Greenfinch and Goldfinch over the cleared area, and I have heard just one Chaffinch. Other birds notable in their absence this morning – no Jay or Great Spotted Woodpecker. The latter is of interest, as its among the ten most consistent birds seen throughout the year. They are late risers – like Nuthatches – but I am rather surprise to have heard none this morning, and no drumming activity yet this year.

Time moves on, and I need to be in the City by ten. On the way out, I visit the ‘pond’ briefly, noting that it is filled with tiny wriggling larvae. A fly traces a helix across the clearing.
Further on, where the West Stream passes under the track, I wonder if there has been some attempt to clear the course at the point it backs up before dipping underground? Where I Saw the Fish. The water is crystal clear, 3 to 4 inches above the thick leaf litter on the bottom, and the banks seem more accessible than last time I recall taking notice.

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15 January 2019

2019 / 05 – Bicycle debut

1340 – 1530

Overcast again. Grey cloud, but a very mild 10°C. Light SW

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An unexpected afternoon out of the office, and an opportunity to follow up a challenge I set myself for the New Year. Cycle to the Wood. It’s only just a little over 4 miles from home so there really is no excuse, but I lack both fitness and confidence.
It took no more than half an hour, and was manageable enough for me to want to do it more often. Environmentally preferable too of course, and feels altogether more in keeping with the whole purpose of being here.
Without the heavy coat that habit obliges me to walk in as a rule, I am light today. It’s very mild, and a thick shirt is enough. Boots, not wellies. Better connected?

The things we tell ourselves…

So, the Copse Lane “in”. Down between the hedges at the end of the gravelled road’s last property and in to the Chilworth Pines just above the steep side that leads down to the birch ‘bole’. Plenty of birdsong. The Wood feels calm and restful. It feels good to do it differently, and arrive a different way. I am ‘strolling’, a wandering flaneur.

Hands in pockets. Looking, and seeing. Listening. Being.

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Half an hour at the view point. There are as many as forty noisy finches in the tall oak on the south side, but it is never really possible to see more than a half dozen at a time. There is no light upon them either, and they move constantly. The first to leave are a couple of Siskins, and they head off into the pines. The rest remain, occasionally erupting like seeds from a dandelion head.Scattered, indignant. Return.
A couple of Crows are patrolling – no sign of the Ravens this afternoon – and in the Yew to my right, the Great Tits are setting up home. It’s a relaxed scene, tranquil and calming. I am entirely without intent or expectation.

I settle on walking to the farm, and head off down the track to the footpath along the northern perimeter. Where the tracks join, I am attracted by a Firecrest calling, close to the edge. It is perfectly quiet here just a little bit lower. There’s the call again, and why not – I’m going in. It’s an easy one, and I just have to pull aside a curtain of ivy and creeper to find myself standing in a ‘room’ with holly walls. A space within a space within the Wood. The bird is holding court, and has invited me inside. For ten minutes, I stand utterly captivated by this wonderful little bird checking me out. Constant flickering, jerking. Here and there. head this side and that.. So close I can here the movement of his wings. A tiny, tiny jewel, now descending from above to within no more than an arm’s length over my head. There is the nominate call, the high pitch, flutey peep of three or four notes. But under that, there is a trill and a whisper that I have never heard before. It is completely silent here except for my joy and the huge presence of this minute creature. He is barely  an inch long, and entirely in charge. We converse. Me with gentle ‘pishes’ and soft breathy whistles. He responds directly and it is magical.

There is nothing more intimate, special and humbling than to make prolonged eye contact with a bird. I feel this is a moment that will stay with me. A treasured gemstone of time.

I am at the footpath beside the wood before I register getting here. The farmland is as empty as I expected it to be, but the wind has put up some of the ragged Rooks that feed in the more sheltered grazing paddocks within the farm. They suit this kind of sky…Others commute in and out, exchanging conversation as they pass in their opposite directions. I set off east, towards the sheds, noting that the Oak That Fell last summer has been cut down neatly so the passing is clear. There’s also a Firecrest here too, but its not as confident as the first and does not care to be seen. Along the hedgerow, half a dozen Blackbirds,a  Dunnock, two Fieldfares and just a single Redwing. I can hear one or two others chackling – the first I have met this year.

Another two yearticks are waiting for me out in the paddocks. Along with more than 250 Rooks, 50 each Jackdaws and Woodpigeons and 30 Black-heads are two Herring Gulls and about 80 Starlings. These take off as one when I pass, and alight in one of the tall oaks that stand more or less behind the Chestnuts in Q2.
Further scanning of the birds grazing reveals a few Stock Doves and Pied Wagtails, but most notably at least 15 Pheasants. Perhaps they all fed here – they all seem to prefer this environment than the more exposed farmland.

It is more or less precisely 3 o’clock as I step into the Wood again at the Velmore “in” and her mood has changed. She’s gone ‘quiet’ again, but less relaxed, and colder.
Blue Tits scold me now and I am not inclined to hang around much longer.
The wind has somehow ‘got in’ and the pines are swishing above.

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It is loud and invasive, and it’s a relief to reach Upper Velmore and be on the Crossing.

Here are the tallest hollies – some 20 feet at least. That makes them reasonably old.
A splendid Bracket Fungus, bigger than the span of my hand.

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There are few birds left to be had.
My notebook suggests an encounter with 33 species – that most I have recorded on a  January day – and the yearlist, for the first time this early, has reached 40. My fieldcraft has improved

And it’s downhill almost all the way home.