A Lot More Spring and not so many Robins..


Well, after a few days last week when the weather turned considerably milder, I simply had to get out on the Local Patch to have a catch up and see what was about!

 I wandered up to the entrance to the woodland and could see a couple of Grey Squirrels scooting about in the trees around the pond – still in courtship mode!  I paused for a moment, as did one of the Squirrels, who gave me a bit of a lookover before continuing after the one he had been pursuing. 

I continued over to the pond, where a couple of weeks previously, there had been a somewhat smaller, but earlier, Frog Ball going on.  The Frogs had arrived ten days earlier this year than last and the party had been in full swing, with plenty of Froggy couples and quite a bit of Frogspawn.  The pond is somewhat shallower than it has been in previous years, however this has not deterred the frogs.

As I looked around the pond, a regular annual visitor caught my eye, a female Mallard.  For a short time each spring I see either a pair of Mallards or a male or female on this pond. 

After she had wandered off, I had a closer peer at the pond – a lot of it is covered in Chickweed.  After a moment or two I could see Frogs over on the far side, so carefully and quietly picked my way around the edge.  Once settled and waiting for little Froggy heads to pop up above the water again, I spotted another resident of the pond, a very smart Grey Wagtail.  The bird was foraging around on some of the dead branches at the edge of the pond, before spotting me and flying off to a nearby vantage point. 

The Frogs reappeared and were either in small groups 

Or having a quiet moment by themself. 

After watching them for a while, I started to head on my usual route through the top part of the woods, as I did so, I could hear drumming overhead.  I looked up, it seemed to be coming from high up in an Oak, however the drummer was bashful, so I continued on.

The woodland floor is beginning to green up more, with the Bluebells having doubled in height, although they are still nowhere near flowering.  There are clumps of Scarlet Campion foliage, however, Wood Anemones, Wood Violets and Aconites are still nowhere to be seen, beyond a few shoots or leaves here and there.

As I wandered along the path, I could hear three Wrens declaring in different spots, I ventured across to a familiar Wren territory and sure enough, flitting between a bramble patch, an old fallen tree and a Holly Tree, was the territory’s ‘owner’ 

I watched him flitting from point to point and delighted in listening at the chorus given from each perch.  After a while he disappeared off beneath the brambles, so I turned to continue. 

 All around the woodland Great Tits were in full voice, together with a few Robins, The Great Tits were all chasing about through the branches and here and there I could see Blue Tits acrobatically feeding as well.  A quiet, thoughtful song caught my ear and looking around I spotted a handsome male Blackbird perched quite high up. 

After watching and listening for a little while I continued onwards, enjoying listening to the assortment of birdsong and watching the birds as they continued about their business, either courting or feeding.

I crossed over the woods to the fallow field, looking to see if the Primroses had bloomed, however, not yet, so wandered along the woodland edge on the field side to see if the Goldcrest or any of the Wrens were about.

They were all off and busy, however along this side of the woods are a few fallen trees, which are still alive – their crowns now rest on the ground, however they still come into blossom and leaf every year.  One of them is a large Sallow and as it is the cooler side of the woods, was mid way between green spikey flower heads and a mass of yellow fluff. 

This was not a deterrent to quite a few bees and hoverflies, which were exploring the flowerheads and finding food.

Starting to cross the field, I noticed a fluttering movement along the path I was headed to.  I had already seen my first Brimstone Butterfly of the year earlier in the week, so I wondered who else had awoken!  Here and there across the grass large Bumble Bees were floating along, occasionally picking up some speed as they’d head towards a crop of tree ivy or towards a Salix already yellow with blooms.

As I reached the path, I watched the fluttering settle and walked carefully closer – it was my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year and looked to be in perfect condition. 

Last year was not a good year for Small Tortoiseshells on the Local Patch, so to see one early on and looking very fresh as well is a real treat!

Wandering along the path by the brook, I could hear a Robin singing quite loudly, near to where I had been serenaded a few weeks before.  Well I looked in the Oak tree, I looked in the nearby trees, I looked in the ivy cloaking the Oak…. No, the singer was out of sight! 

During a pause in his song and in between snippets of chorus from Dunnocks and declaring Great Tits, I heard a relatively quiet phrase of song that I have been listening for.  The Robin started singing again and looking back towards the Oak, I could see him flitting out onto the brambles, singing and then disappearing, in full voice mind, back into the Tree ivy.

Hearing no more of a short repetitive phrase, I continued to where the Lizard colony is, now was it warm enough I wondered?

I looked carefully at the usual basking spots but could not see any Lizards,  A sweet nearby song caught my attention and across the brook, about half way up an elderberry tree I could see a Dunnock.  He carried on singing for a while longer and then saw me. 

I got quite a disapproving ‘Dunnock’ glare as only they can give, before he continued with his song.

Turning my attention back to the log, I looked into the grasses (I only ever look, as Common Lizards are protected, I never disturb them or the vegetation around where I see them and watch from a short distance away) and on one of the ‘slanty’ bits I could see an adult Lizard peering back at me! 

We gazed happily (well I was happy at any rate at seeing the Lizard!) at each other, when from the far side of the bank I heard a bubbling and chattering going on, it was a pair of Long Tailed Tits, gathering nesting materials and nest building in almost the identical spot to last year! 

The pair of them work well together, one working on the nest whilst the other waits nearby with more nest materials, before changing places and one keeping lookout.  When the materials had been put in place, off they would go to gather more. 

Whilst I waited for them to return, I had a further look about for any other Lizards, sure enough, emerging from the undergrowth and onto a nearby part of the log, a youngster appeared.  It was not alarmed at seeing me, however gradually made it’s way towards where the adult was basking. 

The Long Tailed Tits returned with more materials for the nest.  They build the nest using feathers and lichens, weaving it all together with spidersweb silk.  It is usually suspended between sturdy stems or branches and is completely enclosed, apart from the entrance.  The spidersweb allows the nest to be slightly elastic for when the chicks grow and it is warm inside with all the feathers that it is lined with. 

I watched the Long Tailed Tits for quite a while bringing back feathers, lichen and spidersweb back to the nest and on one occasion one of them returned with a feather nearly as big as itself! (There are a few Pheasants about, some of which are of the fancier varieties, so, having seen a trio of them in the area I think it was a Pheasant feather that was brought back). 

The Lizards meanwhile, had settled comfortably onto the same bit of log and were basking under the blonde grasses which still partly covered it. 

I decided to wander on a bit, scanning the line of Salix and Birch trees on the far side of the bank as I did – I was still hearing that little phrase from time to time!

 Lower down along the treeline, Great Tits were chasing back and forth, some stopping for a short declaring session 

or others to catch a moment before the pursuit continued. 

They and Blue Tits, certainly have an energetic courtship!

Then I saw the owner of that song.  The first Chiff Chaff had returned, to the same patch of trees I always see him in upon his return. 

As he is first back, he has the pick of where to call his territory, so as there was no competition, was calling a little and concentrating more on feeding – high up in the sallow, which was blooming, there were plenty of insects and after that epic flight back from the Mediterranean. I suspect he was peckish!

After a few moments, he was off again, but very high overhead I could see two of the local Buzzards circling each other.

Wandering towards the Western patch of woodland, I kept my eye on the treeline and grasses in the middle.  I could see small birds flitting about and hear Wrens declaring from the far bank of the brook.  I paused at one point, peering across at the bramble and field maples, when there was a flash of chestnut and a scuffle and rustle of vegetation low down at the edge of the brook.  I waited a moment to see if I could catch a further glimpse, however a harsh bark confirmed  that it was a Muntjac, as did further rustlings amongst the undergrowth.

Wandering on a bit more, I caught a glimpse of a Jay between the branches, as I looked up to try and see where it had gone, I could see two raptors just above the trees, circling each other.  One disappeared, the other continued in flight, four strong wingbeats, followed by a glide, then repeat.

They were too small to be Buzzards and too large to be Kestrels (wrong shape as well) but I know and have had the briefest of glimpses on many an occasion of a flash through the woods of an awesome predator – it was a Sparrowhawk. 

The pair of them disappeared out of sight so I wandered into the next patch of woodland; as with the first part of my walk, the woods were full of birdsong and Great and Blues Tits flitting about, the occasional peal from a Blackbird, however they were not posing for photographs as they were busy in courtship or feeding.  When I reached the far side of the woods, before heading out again, some way ahead of me the two Sparrowhawks  flew off from where they had been perched, halfway up an old Oak…  I shall be keeping an eye open, I suspect there may now be a breeding pair!

Leaving the woods behind, I walked through an area of new planting, musing a little on the few Robin sightings I had had compared to recent walks, I was still hearing them, indeed this one was singing heartily from the top of a clump of Silver Birch trees, however, it is probable that many of them are all off busy with nesting preparations. 

Wandering amongst the new trees ( well the plantation is about fifteen years old now, so quite well established) most of the trees are still bare of foliage, however, ahead of me I can see a cloud of white!

There in the middle was a smallish tree, no leaves but smothered in white blossom. As there was a white sky and I was against the sun, I had a play about with the camera for a while. 

When I changed angle, so that the sun wasn’t in my eyes, I could see quite a few (honey) Bees going from bloom to bloom higher up the tree.  

Realising time was getting on, I decided to start wandering towards home.  I was a little too early for the Marsh Tits, however, I caught sight again of distant Buzzards and a few Crows picking about in the field.  As I approached the row of Salix, which is usually an explosion of yellow, only the high branches were in bloom, All the side branches had been destroyed when the farmer flailed them last autumn… slim pickings for the Bees.

Just as I approached the edge of the woods, I could see a tree, unflailed and covered in lambs-tails, a hazel.  I had a closer look. 

Hazels carry both the male and female flowers, although they will not self pollinate, instead being pollinated by other nearby hazels.  On this one, the catkins were in bloom and at the tips of the branches, the tiny bright male flowers were just of the cusp of blooming too.

Pondering of the firsts of the afternoon, the Grey Wagtail, Chiff Chaff, Common Lizards, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies, the Bees and blossom, well one more first awaited me.

Near the pond, in the warmer months, I have often seen little holes in the path with piles of spoil nearby; well today I met the residents, some really cool Tawny Mining Bees (Andrena Fulva). 

These were just returning and digging themselves in for the night.  The area where the little burrows appear is quite extensive, so I imagine that there is quite a large colony under there!  There is a short video if you click on the image below to watch one digging.


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