Sunday, 27 January 2013

Rapturous Raptors

First sight of snow free ground and blue sky made me decide to head out on the Coddington circuit today, pretty pleased to see a yellowhammer as I went over the A1 bridge. There's not much in the world yellower than a yellowhammer's head!

Also enjoying snow free ground today would be raptors, giving them a better chance of hunting than the recent terrible weather has given them. I was saying to myself as I went over the aofrementioned A1 bridge "I wonder if there's a kestrel in the trees here" and lo! one appeared flying swiftly left to right across the road.

After a bit of a haul up the hill into the back of Coddington - I'm not used to running on hills at the moment - I saw a buzzard just flying into land in the stand of trees at the entrance to the village. Only it didn't land. It stretched it's wings out wide, white underwing marking showing plainly in the bright light, and turned into the wind looking for any kind of thermal to soar on. I didn't rate it's chances as good, despite the blue sky and bright sun, but if there was any rising air to find, the Buzzard would find it.

No other bird I'm likely to see around here commands the skies like a buzzard. Thousands of feet up they circle, and can probably read the logos on my trainers...

Friday, 25 January 2013

Loving running in the snow!

A couple of years ago, I would have just jammed myself under the duvet in fear at the idea of running in bad weather like this, where there is still plenty of lying, hard, slippery white and brown snow in many places. The memory of smashing my elbow after a fall on black ice on my driveway was too vivid, my sense of balance too poor.

Most people would sum this up as "You were chickenshit".


The past is the past though, and now as long as I'm careful I'm relishing these conditions. You can see birds better, everything feels fresher, the sense of achievement is perveresly greater. And also, I can pretened to do "stride and glide" classic style crosws country skiing. To the bemusement of the dog walker and baby pushers I'm finding out on my travels.

Didn't see very much today, went a different route along the cyle path and then along Grange Road to Sconce Hills. Never very much to see there. A few Great Tits were out on the cycle path, and the cemetery trees are stuffed full of watchful woodpigeons and collared dove. The pigeons especially are so motionless is looks as if someone has glued stuffed birds to the trees for a joke.

On Balderton Lake, the black headed gulls sit waiting for the evening, when they take off and form big echelons flying heaven knows where. And me, I run on by, always thinking, always wondering what I'll be lucky enough to see next.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Fieldfares are about and so am I

Set out just after 830am - note to self, get out of the house pre 8am to get real praise from yourself - for a ten k walk to take in the air and see how easy or hard a ten k run will be this afternoon. Some hard ice about, mixed with slushy and clear patches. Cycle track looks good though.

London Road Lake is most covered with what looks like a rather porridgey ice, and Clay Lane has an attractive mess of sludgy half frozen mud like a dessert.

It was on the railway bridge I first watched a pair of fieldfares fly over, white undersides with a sort of russet triangular patch, like a sort of avian superbird logo. These were the first I'd conclusively seen in town this winter, I'm surprised I haven't seen big flocks of them or redwing, the cold tends to drive them into town.

I followed Clay Lane along and then up to Beacon Hil, along the path where the snow is still abundant and unsullied white. A few Goldfinch and possibly Greenfinch - an uncommon sight in town these days - were in the Hawthorns. I kept walking, relishing the cold air about my face, although not my raw and bloodied hands.

On Beacon Hill, the oilseed rape field was being occupied by that same flock of ground loving finches that I saw before, but alas too far away to get a good look, about 50 of them. Still inclined to think they are Brambling.

Another two fieldfares flew over near Timico, but it was in a grubby car yard car park that I had a really good view of one. Struggling with a frozen looking hip berry, a fieldfare was trotting about amidst the muddy tire tracks and patches of dirty slush. On the ground, it is the slate grey head and long slate grey rump that is the dominant feature, and this fellow was not afraid to let me watch him for a few minutes, shoving his hard found berry about, driven into town for food and into the eyes of towny wildlife lovers like myself.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Happiness in the simplest things

So, I geared up for a walk this morning having fallen asleep with a rum and coke while following the Lance Armstrong interview with my mobile phone.

There was a brisk wind last night that has blown the frost out of the trees, and the mist has lessened to leave a view of a sickly yellow grey snowy sky that hasn't started depositing any snow yet here in Nottinghamshire. Paths are still slippery, and my hands are still getting cold. I have invented a new way of keeping them warm by vigorously blowing under the wrist, amusing mysel;f as the glove comedically inflates like a pulsating living entiry about to wrap itself around a passing throat.

London Road Lake is frozen apart from a small area down the far end, where the mallards are squabbling. Great tits blur gey and yellow as the fly along the cycle path. A friendly dog owned by a co-worker lumbers joyfully into view from someone's garden.

At the back of TK Maxx, by the river, someone has put out a few fat balls in red stringy bags low down on a willow tree I think. Old skool bird feeding! Nothing was on these feeders, but underneath and not more that 5 feet away, there was a veritable bird party going on. 7 or 8 Blackbirds, a couple of Dunnocks making faint little peeping noises with their pretty striated chests showing up against the leaf litter. And there was also a fearless robin strutting back and forth on the ground, all but barging the much larger blackbirds out of the way. It flitted up onto a low branch and gave me a series of hard avian stares, as if it wanted me out of the way before feeding, or alternatively starting a feathered blood-bath.

By the barge pub, a cormorant caught a fish, and made a great show of swallowing it, casting its head back, gulping, shaking its beak, and generally looking like an fat man overdoing the praise of a gourmet meal.

I saw nothing exciting, or extra-ordinary today. But that doesn't matter. It was a simple walk, seeing simple things, on a simple sort of day. And I enjoyed it greatly.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A mysterious walk in the ghostly grey and white

I noticed that last night at 1am, I was walking home in a glittering world of frozen ice crystals drifting in streetlit glow, so I think what looked like a fresh dusting of snow was probably a very heavy hoar frost. All my trees are thickly coated with meteorological icing sugar, and the ground shows the footprints of bird, cat, human, and a new species I shall refer to as Homo Wintertraxius that appears to have diamond shaped feet.

I wanted to be up at 7am to get a really early walk in, to try and scout out a possible non icey running route for later, but I'm just off shift and tired, so it was gone 9 when I left my home. With the hard weather, I was hoping Clay Line might be set hard so I could go the whole length of it, which I have not been able to do for months due to its passable impression of a World War 1 battlefield.

As soon as I started the route, I saw a flash of blush settling in a tree by what I think of as almost a little urban farm at the beginning of the lane proper - a Redwing, one of the birds I was hoping to spot. Sadly only a solitary specimen, but I'm sure his friends weren't too far away.

Clay Lane looked magical in the soft grey light, a tunnel of trees disappearing into the mist. As I walked a little further, a largeish Jackdaw sized bird shot out of the hedgerow to my right and disappeared over the path into the copses. All I saw was a fast moving vividly chestnut brown coloured back, and pointedish wings - possibly I'd flushed out a kestrel.

The mud had set in most places into a hard eged landscape like the surface of one of Saturn's moons.

Farmers were blasting shotguns at heaven knows what, unless it was under their nose they couldn't have seen anything.

A little further on, stubby little birds were flitting amongst the Hawthorns. A flare of white rump, and then the birds settled to reveal pink undersides. A pair of Bullfinches, as hoped for. Clay Lane is the only place in town I see Bullfinches. I noticed they were looking slightly washed out, whether that was the light or not, I don't know.

No Fieldfares masscaring the berries on Beacon Heights estate, but I could see on the floor that they'd been in the vicinity - gutted orange berries gushing out their insides.

Flocks of Chaffinches in Beacon Hill Park, and was trying to observe some very vividly red breasted birds through my little 8x field glasses. Never got a good look though.

It was a lovely walk out, revelling even in the bitter cold. Love listening to Radio 4 as I walk, free and happy AND OUTSIDE. Even on a day like this, I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Thrush Confusion Leads to Panic

...well not really, but it was an example of my tendency to "exotify" birds sometimes, when I can't make a clear identification.

Was at work, in the horrible little upstairs canteen where thankfully the cockroaches are on holiday and Top Gear re-runs on Dave are compulsory, when decided to have a little gaze out of the window into the fog and look for Kestrels.

Nothing on the sky, but hopping about on the grasscrete by the water towers and mysterious utility things that have little bearing on our workplace until they catch fire, were a few thrushes, hunting for goodies on the lightly snowed on ground.

I say thrushes. I don't specify any further because these birds were a little too far away to identify. But identify them I did, thirty times a minute, and in constant flux.

Redwing...Song Thrush...ah white underparts Fieldfare, no I fancy I see a red blush there Redwing...Redwing and Fieldfares more likely to be off the ground? Song Thrush...etc etc etc etc Song Thrush REdwing Fieldfare.

I have no real idea. Other than that there wer about 8 of them pottering about, and they were a wonderfully distracting watch

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A Barn Owl Hunts by Night

I don't normally expect to update this blog while I'm working, so it is rather remarkable (ok, it isn't) that here I am updating it twice today.

I'd just finished another day of brain destroying tedium, had packed what was left of my self esteem in my empty sandwich box, and headed out to the shed to meet up with my sad looking bicycle.

And then I headed off across the cold wasteland of a cycle path, the limey hardtop crusting my wheels and staining my awful trousers. When it's light, you might find me writing about the wagtails or flocks of Pipets I've seen here. But by night, there's usually nothing to see apart from the dimly lit folk listening to ipods that you nearly run over.

But tonight was different. As I cycled over the puddles, about 50 metres ahead of me I noticed a ghostly white shape carving the air barely a couple of meters above the ground. The wing and body shape was a total giveaway, as if one was needed.

It was a Barn Owl, silent on the wing, lit sulphur white by the street lights, hunting. I noticed it would fly about ten metres in one direction, before making a slightly awkward fluttering turn at roughly a right angle before quartering another section of ground. I have no idea what goodies would interest a barn owl on that patch of scrub this time of year, rats maybe, but as it disappeared in and out of the glow of the car headlights on the A17, I hoped it would find something soon, just for making my night.

Even at gloomy work, you can still find something to cheer you up.

Well I knew this was an unusual bird!

I thought it was an escaped Muscovy Duck when I saw it while running the "wrong way" round Balderton Lake as I did yesterday. The local rag seems to think it is newsworthy. I found it sat with a bunch of Canada Geese on a wooden platform - exactly where it is in the photograph - and knew it was a Muscovy as my cousin Robert had one on his farm in Wales when I was little, that savaged anyone who dare enter the farmyard.

Took a huge chunk out of my grandad's leg! It was called Rocky. Obviously.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Get Outside with binoculars for BBC Stargazing 2013!

First up, hello to any new readers who have come to this blog via the BBC Stargazing hashtag! This post is an attempt to draw a few of you into my world, I'll come right out and admit it, and I hope you like what you read.

I like to be outside, and I like to do stuff that doesn't cost much money - it's the Scottish blood. Wildlife and Birds during the day, and the Night Sky after sunset, are all free, and I firmly believe we should enjoy them as much as possible. Without wanting to sound all pious, if a mere, solitary, single person gets to enjoy such things for themselves after reading this blog, then it has done its job.

Nature and stars are good for the soul! That's what I keep telling everyone!

Obviously last night was a bit grim and grey here in the East Midlands, but tonight is clear, if a little hazy. I've just had a little practice observation session with my 10x50 binoculars, and took in a couple of easy, and attractive binocular ojects for you to try out.

First up, I looked at the Mirfak cluster. Mirfak, Alpha Perseii, is the bright, yellowish second mag star leading the constellation of Perseus. With the naked eye, you can see a few of the brighter stars associated with it, but 10x50 binoculars reveal a number of white stars in what is a true grouping rather than a line of sight effect, a kind of halfway house between the Hyades and the Pleides.

What nails this cluster for me, however, is the vivid red star of about mag 6, that sticks out like a ruby in a diamond cluster. I've never been able to find anything much out about it, other than it is probably a line of sight interloper, but as with all strongly coloured stars, it fascinates the hell out of me!

Not too far away, and on the lists of Moore's Winter Marathon, is Kemble's Cascade. Virtually overhead at the moment, but slightly tricky to find in the stellar desert known as Camelopardalis, it is an attractive little chance curved line of stars that more or less fills the field of view of my 10x50s. Photographs reveal the glorious mix of coloured stars forming this asterism, but in my experience with it, the colours are hard to see from my town back yard.

Use the stars at each terminal end of the Cassiopeia "W" as pointers to find it.

On a good night, you see the line end at a faint fuzzy patch - this is the star cluster NGC1502 which requires a decent telescope to see properly.

Anyway, a couple of easy objects for you to have a look at! The sky belongs to you, get out there and enjoy it.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Abortive visit to RSPB Langford Lowfields

THis was a new adventure to me...up nice and early, stymied by the dary, so had to sit on my hands for a bit before I could set off on my first ever winter cycling trip to Langford Lowfields. I announced thus on twitter, and headed off, underneath an excited flock of twently long tailed tits  off Barnby Gate; past a kestrel rising from the woodland next to Beacon Hill and trying not to look at it for fear of being involved in an accident; and along the road in Winthorpe and Langford, with Great Tits, Blue Tits and Chaffinches baubling the hedgerows.

Large flocks of pigeons rose from the Somme like muddy fields, crows dotted an electricity line. I turned onto the N64 route through the boingy gate, and just enjoyed being out on my bike on a supposed winter's day. I was even sweating.

Uh oh. Bad news. Alarm bells as I tuend a corner on the path, and found that the sandy field on the west side of the site was almost entirely underwater as four swans glided over (no way of telling if they were the Whoopers on site!). I carried on, through more boingy gates hoping I'd be able to get onto the east side of the site, but it was as boggy as hell. And then, the new path works had closed the entirety of the east side path - minor quibble about this being a bit excessive as I couldn't see anyone working for two hundred yards at least and I'm not sure how a new hardcover track would fall on my head.

Sad. But not a wasted journey, because being outside for free is never wasted. I look forward to seeing how the site improvements pan out.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Mystery birds have moved elsewhere

Those mystery birds, and I'm pretty sure they were the same species as I saw up on Beacon Hill, were flitting about high tree tops along the Elm Avenue side of Newark Cemetery. The light was again poor, so no clear view again, my researches last time led me to believe they are Bramblings however. Not as many of them as in Beacon Hill, maybe a flock of about 20 birds.

As I reached Balderton Lake, something else cuased me to reverse course in a hurry, no easy task on the muddy paths that have been the bane of my running life this winter. There was a very hybridised Goose sailing along with a group of Canadas - the beak was orange, like a Greylag, and the body was sort of striped in Grey, like a Zebra would have been had the gods spilt white paint in the black pot. A very strange looking bird.

And then, as I ran round the dreary suburbia at the back of the lake, I watched the crows going home after a hard day scavenging on the new industrial estate behind the Tawny Owl and perhaps the rubbish tip. Used to watch an endless parade of crows doing this when I worked in Bilborough - sunset everyday, hundreds of crows would fly over from the south after a hard day's crowing about, heaven knows where they had been.

Up on Beacon Hill, it was too dark to see much, but I did enjoy listening to Radio 4 when I was out running! How long ti took me to learn to love Radio 4. What a fool I was!