After a restless full moon night, it was a cold enough wake up this morning to be able to see my breath in my room and I tweaked open the curtain hoping for a covering of snow but alas there only appeared to be a frost but I was determined to get out for a last walk of the year.
It was -4c when I headed out at just after nine with various layers and hat and gloves and with my camera to hand for the first time since the Reculver trip on the 8th. The cars and roof tops were all coated with a thick layer of white ice but there was little sparkle as the low grey cloud was already creeping in from the west.
I decided on a wiggly Ranscombe route that would take me up and over the M2 and off into the woods that way, leaving me with the steady downhill home at the end of the circuit.
The House Sparrows were chatting away in the Cuxton Road Pyracanthas and several Robins were singing their melancholy winter refrain as I headed for the motorway. The road itself was fairly quiet and the grey view east was punctuated by fast moving beams of watery sun that tried its upmost to break through and illuminate the farmland on the other side of the Medway. There was a biting breeze but the clouds looked like they were moving a lot faster and I was grateful that they were not as strong at ground level.
|Chilly Pig Eons
|Young seedpods on the Foxglove Tree - half the size as last years
There were lots of frosty leaf and post opportunities alongside the road and where the council gritter had cast its salt there was a series of concentric circles around each individual crystal on the pavement. What was bizarre was that there seemed to be rings of melt and freeze for each one so that they looked like monochrome RAP roundels.
I crossed the road and quickly avoided the throng of kids, bikes, dogs and bikes in the car park, cutting across into Merrels Shaw at the start of the mental map I had planned out. The frost was a lot heavier up hear and the new leaves on the young Wayfaring trees looking like frozen Broad-bodies Chasers waiting for the sunshine.
|Broad Bodied Wayfaring Tree
|Mouse Eared Hawkweed
|Plump Grey Squirrel
Redwings were moving to and fro between copses and only occasionally stopped on a tree top but as expected the woods were very quiet as I followed the winding trail through the Chestnuts. I was hoping to put up a Woodcock but had no joy and so go easily distracted by frosty moss and fungi as I passed.
My route took my back up to the Eurostar before heading back in again where the wide ride gave me some nice opportunities with more frosty hips and catkins on both Alder and Hazel.
|Fresh Badger excavations
|Wondrously mossy log
|I was intrigued by the patterns - another Warrenesque arty moment
|Stigmella aurella on Bramble - Did you think I was not looking?
A party of Blue and Great Tits were feeding in the leaf litter and came to see what was making the weird pishing noises shortly followed by a Wren and two Robins.
I skirted around the large fallow field which had nothing bar a couple of Carrion Crows and two Green Woodpeckers bounded off in opposite directions before I could even raise my camera while Jays were the only birds I could hear in the woods themselves.
|I think this is only the second Crab Apple I have found here
I was hoping that the big ploughed field at Birch Wood Corner would once again hold a winter bird flock and it initially appeared that they had all moved on but some shouty dog people spooked the whole field and a Skylark flock appeared from out of the mini furrows. There were no other species at all but I was never the less pleased to have 45 Skylarks in one flock. Once I knew where they had settled I could see them shuffling around looking for seeds.
The sun was trying to break through, casting long shadows of the Oaks in the hedgeline but any glimmer of hope was short lived.
Common and Black-headed Gulls surface picked across the field and several Meadow Pipits were in the re-grown Rape field next door where the very happy young cows and sheep were munching their fill block by block.
A species that I had been looking out for here since the autumn is the Stonechat and so I was delighted to find a male hunting from the electric fence posts around the livestock. They are seldom alone and the expected female flew straight towards me and started to hunt from the fence separating the field from the woodland path where I was standing. She was most accommodating and I was also very grateful for the lady who saw me with my camera poised, put her dog on a lead and waited until I had taken a couple of shots before asking to come by.
The south westerly breeze was sneaking in under the trees but I still stopped by the Meadow Clary enclosure and had my coffee on what I now call Sam’s Bench as I sat here and photographed those persistent sunbeams on the 1st December before sending one to Sam for something to hang onto, unknowingly just a couple of hours before he died.
There were no Linnets this time but 14 Chaffinches came up out of the field and several Wood Pigeons clattered through the canopy while a Buzzard mewed a little further in. Wood Spurge was visible again now that other species have died back and the new leaves of Strawberries and Wood Sage were already showing. The Spurge Laurel had flower buds already forming and I hope to catch it in bloom in the early spring as I was too late by mid-April and the Butcher’s Broom had new red berries.
I spotted a rather robust wolf type spider scurrying across the dead leaves and it stayed still just long enough for me to get a shot with my phone. Now, I am not the best when it comes to Spider id but I have the books and so opened my Wildguide Spider tome when I got home straight onto what appears to be the right species – Alopecosa barbipes – a nicely marked and patchily distributed species.
I pressed on, warmed by my coffee, biscuit and reminiscences and popped into the top of Kitchen Field to see if there were any Orchid rosettes visible and I found several that I think are Man Orchid where I saw them in the summer.
|Phytomyza ilicis on Holly
With the sky becoming more leaden by the minute I started to work my way back up towards the Mausoleum passing two Goldcrests in a stand of still young Wellingtonias but there was nothing else moving in the wood at all.
The Highland Cattle greeted me as I came through the gate
and as usual were completely unphased by my appearance amongst them and I
walked through them and the vaguely warm steam of cowyness they were producing. A twitchy flock of 32 Lesser Redpolls danced over the canopy and alighted behind the pines to avoid further scrutiny.
I stayed on the main drag for a while partly so that I could say hello to the biggest Sweet Chestnut who had also been utilised by a Nuthatch as a suitable spot to jam a nut to crack open.
|One of the many ancient snags still standing
|And a quality rot hole in its base undoubtedly full of wondrous Hoverfly larvae
There were now far too many people on the path for my liking including a group of ten cross country joggers and multiple family groups so I soon veered off as soon as I could and conducted an extra loop back onto the narrow cycle track I discovered on the 1st.
A single Wren was the only sign of life before I popped back out by the bridge over the railway and the way home where small parties of Redwing drifted between the tree tops where an opportunistic female Sparrowhawk dashed in for a hoped for lunch.
The year may be over in just a few short hours but the Lockdown walks most certainly are not...