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.
OOOPS! Fell asleep for a moment there, sorry about that.
Still you can't beat a good furtle - depending on your definition of furtling that is. I think it was Shakespeare that scribed in one of his lesser known plays 'I am that merry wanderer of the forest..... and sometime furtle I and make me smile'. Or perhaps it was Morrissey, always get those two mixed up.
Anyway, in between the wind and rain we've been out a few times in our usual haunts bothering the wildlife. Overall it's been a really odd spring and I suspect an even stranger summer is to come.
AND we dropped in to watch the hares for a while. Mostly they were in loafing mode, pottering about the big field nibbling and grooming. Perfect for leisurely painting and shape collecting. The height of the winter barley is beginning to make it a little harder to make out the 'harey lumps' in the field, but it has also accentuated areas of the crop where the hares have chosen to graze. The favoured patches are distinctly shorter in stature and are a slightly different tone of green.
I think the local humans are used to coming across this daft couple staring intently at a field and now pass us by with a cheery wave. This time, I heard a car coming and waved to the occupant as it went by, I then heard it stopping and two things crossed my mind, the first that the driver was pulling up for a chat and the second that it was a good thing for him to stop because Rosie was sat in the middle of lane sketching flowers.
It turned out that the gentleman was the estate farmer and a very interesting conversation ensued. He told us of some of the background to the area and the farming methods employed. The key factor in there being such a good number of hares present, is that they are not shot and apart from having to get out of the way of the odd tractor, they are left pretty well undisturbed. As we chatted a red kite flew low over the big field punctuating the idea that modern farming and wildlife can make good bedfellows.
At the nearby copses we pootled about looking mainly at the flora. Carpets of wood anemone and dog's mercury prevailed, with the anemones giving an impression of patches of freshly fallen snow. Peering closer we picked out the new shoots of Solomon's seal and the tiny flowers of the aptly named townhall clock or moschatel. Chiffchaffs, blackcaps and a garden warbler celebrated their successful migration from winter quarters with bursts of melodic song, well maybe not in the case of the chiffchaff, but he was happy. A 'pitchoo' call, drew our attention to a marsh tit, as we watched it was joined by two others, all three carrying soft material and taking it into a nest box. Not seen that before.
Making our way back to Beacon Hill for a coffee, we noticed two red kites circling low over the watercress beds at Warnford. With a screech of brakes, we pulled off the road and bundled out the car to enjoy these superb birds at close quarters. Sadly an unnatural gap in the primary feathers of one of the birds, suggested that not all landowners in the area have the same enlightened regard for wildlife as the gentleman we met earlier in the day.
With deadlines conveniently juggled we managed to contrive some time to be out and about this week - destination harebears. Arriving earlier than normal at their field our first task was to pour ourselves a mug of medicinal coffee. At first it all appeared very peaceful, the hares relaxing in their usual locations, but within a whisker's twitch all things can change and a calm scene can quickly transform to 'carnalage'! I'm not sure what the hare equivalent is of 'come on over big boy', but first one doe gave it to her beau, followed swiftly by another doe to hers and after a few rounds of boxing, the towel was well and truely thrown in. For a while the scene was similar to that of recent activities in our pond, but not so wet. Pleasantries were short in duration but frequent. Once unnecessariness' were complete peace broke out in the form of some indifferent grazing interspersed with periods of grooming, which continued until the next twinkle shone in her eye! This cycle of events continued throughout our time with them. We were both able to make useful sketches, but only between the moments when our eyes were not blushfully adverted. Exhausting stuff and we were only watching (is there such a thing as 'hare dogging'?)!!
To recover we popped over to a nearby wood, only to discover that there were Wildlife Trust volunteers tidying it up. So much for it being quieter during the week. Onto woods number two then, all was quiet here and a very pleasant couple of hours were passed looking for signs of spring. Rosie painted sweet violets, accompanied by a bee-fly. I mooched around watching a chiffchaff, a lot of brimstones, commas, peacock, red admiral and queen bumble bees.
And onto Beacon Hill. Here mooching activities were resumed. Nuthatches greeted us with a fanfare of calls, a red kite drifted over at treetop height and a pair of bullfinches slipped silently through the hazel coppice. Brimstone butterflies were in abundance, with males patrolling manically along the pathways and females basking in the glorious sunshine. Making our way back to the carpark I caught up with a couple of bee-flies, sporting their fine long noses. All signs that spring is starting to sprung with force.
Finally as we pulled into our close I noticed a deal of gull activity just over the houses, looking closer we picked out a red kite flying among their ranks being comprehensively escorted out of the area.
The hares were charming this weekend. Things had changed since our last visit, the two boys that were usually seated nearest to us now have girlfriends. Things appeared normal with the other pairs in the field, so we spent our time watching one of the new couples.
We snuck 'laneside' along the hedgerow to gain a better vantage point and tucked ourselves against an oak to keep ourselves hidden. Fat chance! They were onto us instantly with ears alert and eyes starring straight at us, but they didn't bolt. Although only about thirty metres from us, they assessed us to be no immediate threat and held their ground. Not once did the male take his gaze away from us and gave us the impression that he would like to move, but the famale - 'Blue-eyes' appeared to have made a scrape and she was reluctant to leave it. The male - 'Grey-back' fussed around her, being attentive, sometimes too attentive, resulting in the occasional box on the nose. All this suggesting that the bond is new and the male is making sure that the female dosn't lose interest in him.
Every now then a party of cyclists would pass by, their bright jersies startling the hares. This gave the male his chance to lead the female away from us, but not for long, moments later she would bundle back to her scrape with himself not far behind as if pulled on an invisible lead. Maybe this is where she will have her leverets.
During this time the farmer had been spraying his crops nearby. We noticed him moving his tractor to a field adjacent to the 'Hare' field, within seconds hares were appearing all shapes. It would have been mad trying to shake a stick at them, there were just too many. The dynamics were now in turmoil, with hares, haring all over the place. No boxing involved, but we discovered just how fast these magnificent creatures can motor when they want to, demonstrating what those unlikely lengthy backlegs were evolved for. Suitably warmed and entertained by the sojourn, we left them to settle down and restore order to an oversubscribed 'Hare fest'; we were off to suss out some woodlands.
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.
Scattered like tiny WWII pillboxes, the sentinels of the field kept a watchful eye on the skies, themselves and us. We counted ten harey lumps hunckered down into the ground hardly moving, only occasionally taking the odd nibble of grass. Activity was considerably less compared to last weeks debauchery. It was perishingly cold again, maybe too cold for excessive running around and definately not the weather for any unnecessariness!
After a most welcome mug of coffee and a chunk of almond chocolate, we settled down to some sketching. Then from the right another hare appeared and ran straight to the nearest resting one. It stood facing the other, if not in a threatening manner, undoubtedly within the others personal space. Eventually the resting hare rose, slowly strecthed it's legs and with the interloper in close attendance made their way towards another of the seated hares. It was impossible to tell if they were male and female, but the newcomer ran alongside the other behaving as if it was a suitor. They soon reached the third hare, again indulging in a face-off with each other and again the sitting hare stood up. This time a spot of half-hearted boxing took place making it impossible to keep up with who was who. The outcome of this was that two hares wandered off and the other ran to another seated hare, where the same behaviour was repeated and repeated again with a fifth hare, each encounter ending in the same manner.
It was difficult to work out what all this was about, however, we had noted a number of other hares resting in adjacent fields to the main 'boxing' arena. Could these be immature males, watching and learning from the sidelines? The interloper certainly had the look of a young buck playing-the-field, rushing into a settled scene and stirring things up. Indeed the episode finished with a pair of hares loping off into the distance, over the hill and out of sight. Maybe he got lucky.
So, forget the Leveson inquiry, if it's intrigue, sex and scandal you are after, follow the Leveret investigations.
The sun was bright, the sky was blue, not even a cloud to spoil the view, but it was monkeys, brass monkeys in my heart! Never mind that is was perishingly cold, a hare is not just for Boxing Day it's for life and we there ring-side seat ready for the main bout, top prize the Meon Valley belt.
Tucked into the hedge we counted seven hares loosely grouped at the top of the field, most were resting, nibbling or grooming their impossibly long ears, but one pair was sparring. We watched as they began a frenetic interweaving dance, punctuated by sessions of duffing-up - wonderfully endearing and very amusing, just what we had come out to witness. His antics appeared to have the desired effect and the Jill gave him the 'come up and see me sometime' nod. To be frank, he wasn't that good at it! Although he humped energetically away for about twenty minutes, most of his efforts were well wide of the mark. Eventually, whether more by luck than judgement the Jack had his Geoff Hurst moment - 'they think it's all over. It is now' and with a wiggle of her tail and nose in the air she loped off, it certainly was all over.
Sketches and notes of all these activities were frantically made, most of which are too raunchy to post here and would result in a knock at the door by the local constabulary. So, I will only post some of the less shocking sketches for now, but our appetite is well and truely whetted, who knows what we'll post once all the hare bears start up.
Sunday's weather was too good to be spent around the house, hence the day was devoted to exploring Beacon Hill area of the Meon Valley for Hares and Kites. Less ramblings, more pages from the sketchbook for this post!
The morning Herald!
We looked too hard for the Hares, they were only a few feet away from us all the time, but sneaky with it though.
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