The woods stand perfectly still, the air is calm and yet there is always one branch shaking like it has the crazy itches. What's that all about?
The cold hung heavily with the constant drone of commuter traffic. In complete contrast to the last time we searched for barn owls, when a peaceful silence shaped the atmosphere before their arrival. However, this was not the Haven, but the centre of Gosport - pause for 'jaws-like' dramatic music to start-up.
From experience, it seems that barn owls are good time-keepers and stick to a time-table, unlike waxwing. And sure enough at 5.11pm, the appointed time, the female flew out of the alder carr and into view. At first she simply made circuits, reconnoitring the field, flying stiff winged, like one of those elastic band powered toy aeroplanes.
Then 'old hushwing' started to hunt displaying great manoeuvrability; cartwheeling, hovering and plunging into the grass for prey. Drifting towards us she landed in a small tree a few feet away. She peered hunchbacked into the woods - we could just make out her markings, small teardrops trickling down her ochre-coloured back. A male emerged, he was much more ghost-like, white wings coloured blue-grey on the coverts and distinctly smaller. Together they floated over the meadow, gracefully performing an aerial ballet - beautiful. We watched for as long as the cold and light allowed us to, but eventually the dusk gave way to engulfing darkness and the white shadows mingled into the night.
The harebears are conspicuous by their absence. Apart from this worry, we set foot on the Haven, for the first time in ages. Enjoying some bar-tailed godwits and sanderling - good winter birds for the reserve and missing an Iceland gull (nothing new there then).
And, oh yes, the frogs are still doing unnecessaries in the pond.
Activities have quietened down a little in the pond, for now.... left are a few bachelor boys musing at the fantastic night skies we've had of late, plus two tonnes of spawn. Jupiter knows where the newts are going to put their eggs once they get going.
Went to Sandy Point, Hayling on Saturday. Ok walk, saw a Stonechat!!
Meanwhile back at the hares.
All our previous visits to the hare field were early in the morning. For a change we wanted to see what the hares get up to later in the day and so with weather set fair on Mad March 1st Hare day, we were once again tucked into the hedge watching these fascinating beasts. The light was low, warm and casting great shadows. The colours on both hares and winter wheat glowing, making a change from the more acid greens of previous trips.
We counted fifteen hares in the main field, with another five or six in the satelitte fields. They seemed very relaxed, preparing themselves for the rigours that the ensuing night will bring. Some casually grazing, others spending time carefully grooming, paying special attention to their long legs and toes, in the process forming comical poses, which were both fun and challenging to record.
Although we can't pick out individuals yet, we now know pretty well where the pairs will be stationed and where the unattached boys will sit and watch activities from. Hopefully we will be able to sort out some telltale features on a few hares and work out whether these areas are important territorial citadels, with a turnover of individuals holding sway on them or the same hares sat there each time we visit.
The reliability of their presence is one of the joys of coming back to this group. As the light slipped away from day, we left them in still grooming and chomping in the knowledge that the next time we drop in on them, there they will be. In any case it was time for fish n'chips.
Apart from the vastly improved roads that take us up't north to Coventry'nil, over the last twenty-odd years, the other joy when making the journey has been the increase in the numbers of Red Kites seen along the way. On the stretch of road from the north Hampshire to the M40 it's not unusual to watch many Kites gliding low over the verges in search of carrion. In the past, I've tried to keep mental notes of these majestic birds fresh in my mind and then quickly put them to paper when we arrive. But I have struggled to relive the moment and the end results never really satisfied.
So. On this visit to the old-duck-in-law's, I had pencil and pad at the ready and made sketches as we saw them and good fun it was too. We counted about twelve on this occassion, some encounters were fleeting, others stunning, with one or two flying very close to the dual-carriageway. With eyes on the birds, not the paper I was surprised to see that four pages had soon filled with their shapes, some pleasing others indecipherable. It was impossible to add colour at the time (ok so the roads are not that good), this was added later. Some feel that the whole sketching/painting process is only real if completed in the field. This is ok if practical, but colours always remain fresh in my mind and I like to let them develop a language of their own.
By the way, I did say that Rosie was driving didn't I?
Meanwhile, the frogs continue to amuse. I'll have an update on the frog porn soon (thanks to Paul for the pun).
BRRAAARP! BRAARP! BRARP! AYEEEIIIAYE! BRAAARP! BRAARP! BRARP! AYEEEIIIAYE! Paul McCartney's Froggy bloody Chorus bouncing round my head all night!
TWENTY SIX frogs at it all night - net result more spawn than water!
'Billions of blue blistering barnacles!'
Three Blue Tit (still!), two Great Tit, Wren and Dunnock. Desk-bound, so still only able to make ten minute sketches of birds in the garden. Luckily the weather is rubbish. Good fun though.
BREAKING NEWS ---- Blimey! I've never seen anything like it.
'I think you'd better come and see this' - Rosie had just popped downstairs to make a brew. We only have a glorified bucket for a pond, but it is hosting what I can only describe as a froggy orgy! Watch this space for the latest sketches, if can spare my blushes.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.