Thursday, 31 July 2014

Life in the Lavender

Lavender is where it's at these days.

I have a number of favourite lavender bushes around town that have become among my favourite places to spot wildlife in the last couple of weeks, more specifically bees and bumblebees. 

There are three bushes in the Newark Library park that today were attracting numerous species of bumble, and a common blue butterfly dropped in. I really don't care if people think I'm insane when they see me jumping around the plants with my mobile phone camera taking pictures. 

The other bush I like is up on Beacon Hill estate, and is owned by a very nice chap who came out today to talk to me about it both today and yesterday as I tried, almost convincingly, to identify a few of the species for him while doing my mobilly phone St Vitus Dance again. He's very proud of letting his lavender grow for the bees, although he reckons there aren't as many as last year.

I struggle to see how there could be more, because at the moment his bush is a busy mass of honey bees, and bumblebees as well as a few cuckoo bumblebees, working away like crazy. 

I took plenty of photographs, but sadly, I can't show you them! 1) My new Moto G is not great for close up nature shots - the res isn't great, but a worse problem is the terrible autofocus. 2) My new Moto G won't upload pictures to blogger.

Answers to those issues would be appreciated!

In the meantime, I'm trying to persuade my folks to get lavender for their garden, but my mum is resitant, saying it doesn't do well there. I really hope she is wrong. There seems to be two kinds - the traditional bath oil smelling one, and also a silvery, sharper, more herbal smelling one.

Both seem to be like catnip for bees, and for all I know, they are like catnip for cats too.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Milky Way - Doesn't Ruin my Appetite

It's 2am, and it's Pimms time, daaahhhlings

And to go with that Pimms, some stargazing with my 10x50s.

The doldrums weather has passed over with the colder front that swept over town most photogenically at 8pm last night, a sheet of clear crystal blue pushing the clouds and the horrific clinging humidity away.

The sky was still clear, blue turned to black, in the deep of night, so I headed out, glass in hand. First thing I noticed was that even in my urban location, the milky way was clearly visible in Cygnus overhead, although not quite clearly enough for the rift to be apparent. This is such a rare occurrence these days, and sweeping North to South in my 10x50s was richly rewarding.

Who needs to know your Messier and NGC numbers, when sprinklings of stars everywhere are simply falling off the sky onto you. There were clusters and knots everywhere, and for once I didn't feel the need to know what they are.

Although to be a proper astronomer, I probably should.

Well if you want names and numbers, I had great views of Messier 39, Lacerta clusters, the coathanger, Messier 71, Messier 27 the dumbbell nebula, Kemble's Cascade, Mirfak cluster and its orange friend, the Perseus double cluster, and the autumn harbringers Messier 31, Messier 15 AND a glimpse of the Triangulum spiral galaxy Messier 33.

But cold numbers do not translate the wonder of it all, I'm afraid. You need to look for yourselves.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Sunbathing Under Scrutiny at RSPB Langford Lowfields

My new bicycle hadn't yet had the chance to ride out over the bumpier, squidgier bits of the Sustrans 64 route to RSPB Langford Lowfields. "Well, I must rectify that", I thought as a warm sun lay over the ground like an electric blanket on Wednesday morning, and filled my new drinks bottle before heading out.

Ah...the new drinks bottle. I've never used one while actually cycling before, and having congratulated myself for being able to pick it out the cradle without crashing, I then found out why filling the damn thing with fizzy coke on a warm day is a bad idea.

"Achievement Un-unlocked" I thought, as I was soaked in a foaming, wild spume of coke.

When I got to Langford, happy to arrive in a blur of butterflies and dragonflies, I realised that as is often the case, high summer days are not the best for bird spotting, but this didn't bother me. I had a quick scan of the reedbed from the screen, got frustrated trying to photograph a common blue damselfly, and watched the big metallic winged brown hawkers flying around with those characteristic instantaneous angular turns of the big dragonflies.

Sad that I wasn't able to have a laze in the beach hut, but I settled down on the waterside benches to scan through the heat haze with my 10x50s. No egrets, lots of sad looking brown eclipsing drakes, but a common tern came down to feed a fish to a partner, or very grown up fledgling, seemingly walking on water.

And then a hobby made its way over the reedbed, my first sighting of one since 2012.

I wandered around the edge of the platform, noticing what looked like small perch in the water, and looking at the common blue and blue tailed damselflies flying, and occasionally mating while doing so, low over the water. The squashed bodies of broad bodied chasers were also in the air, looking oddly like giant glow worms with their pale tip to the abdomen. Common darters had also been around.

Then, I heard the buzzing, a loud hum in the hot, thick air.

I turned my head, very very slowly, and found myself looking into the huge, droplet-like eyes of a big hawker dragonfly, no more than 20 centimetres from my head. It's body was brown, with duck egg blue "vents" as I call them on the thorax, and similar coloured stripes on the body. I don't recall glinty bronze wings, so possibly a migrant hawker?

It then headed out over the reeds, hawking for food, allowing me to get back to feeding my body with vitamin D, as sand martins skimmed the water.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Common Blue Butterflies in Love

This is the sort of photo op I'm always dreaming about when I'm running. Taken on Beacon Hill Reserve, these two lurrvved up flutterers were just off the path where it splits to go down to the Industrial Estate entrace, and back towards Beacon Hill.

Common blues have been very skittish with me in the past, and so I held my breath like you wouldn't believe, as I settled down on the grass to take these pictures. But they were so engrossed they didn't notice, allowing me to get the mobile phone camera to about 6-8 inches away.

They are beautiful. Their wings are like those of a peacock.

Just stunning.

Butterfly Studies in Newark

Newark was alive with flutterers today, and as I trotted through town this morning, scanning the buddleias, or ran through Beacon Hill this afternoon, scanning more buddleias, I never had my eyes shut for even a second.

Summer buddleia, thistle and ragwort are so attractive to moths and butterflies, virtually wherever you see any growing, a closer look will probably reveal something of interest.

And that goes for anywhere, not just a nature reserve. Wasteground, brownfield sites, bushes next to busy roads.

Gatekeeper, Beacon Hill Park
Meadow brown, Beacon Hill Park
"The world looks better this way up!" - Peacock, Beacon Hill Park
On the edge, Millgate Bridge
Wings folded, Millgate Bridge
Peacock now gives a sneaky peak, Millgate Bridge
Fading but still pretty; small tortoiseshell, Clay Lane
Small tortoiseshell, Clay Lane

Monday, 21 July 2014

Damsels and Dragons on the Willow Holt Run

It's a long time since I've been out there 1) since I last ran out to Willow Holt and 2) it actually happened, I'm writing this blog five days due to busy-ness.

1) is explained by run rustiness.

2) Is explained by 90 degree heat at work sapping my brain of all but the most rudimentary functions.

Thus it was a very slow, overheated jog that took me out to Farndon by the unambitious old A46 route - no diversion into Hawton for me.

As expected at this time of year, the Willow Holt grasslands are rich with meadow brown and ringlet butterflies, disturbed as they are but the gentles of steps, my clodhopping running sure enough flushed many of them into thei air from the grasses next to the pathway.

But my main hope on this visit was the sight of dragonflies and damselflies, and I wasn't disappointed.

Although common blue, and blue tailed, damselflies were conspicuous by their absence compared to other years, but the banded demoislesss are still going strong all along the Trent. A female common darter, a demure yellow-green compared to her male counterpart also put on a display low down by the beanfield as the river turns East, but the real stars were above, and below.

Above was what appeared to be the first Southern Hawker of the year, inquisitve, restless, turning without effort, hawking for I ,suppose gnats, midges and mayfly.

And then down on the path, I saw a dragonfly I couldn't initially quite place, wings outstretched. Then I crept closer and got a good view of the flattened body, and realised it was my first broad bodied chaser of the year. But at the angle and the light, the normal pastel blue hue of the dragonfly was not visible - instead what you had was what looked like a dark, blackberry covoured body, frosted with pale sugar.

This is an effect called "pruinescence", where colour pigment is almost sprinked upon the surface of an insect in a bloom. I wish I could have photographed it for you.

Photographed? Ha ha! Photographing a broad bodied chaser is like shaving your eyeballs. So beautiful, and like most beautiful things, very elusive.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Astronomy is Still a Pimmsy Business

I haven't blogged much about matters astronomical lately, which makes me sad. The trouble is that there hasn't been much in the way of clear or moonless skies when I've been off shift, with plenty of frustrating nights where it looked like it would be clear early on, only for clouds and haze to roll in when I'm ready to head out with my binoculars.

But, when I do get out, I like to be all posh and civilised about it, and take out a glass of Pimms and lemonade along with my 10x50s. Witness the last couple of evenings, where a last quarter moon was deemed no obstacle to some observation sessions.

They weren't thorough deep sky object hunts, more a slow sweep along the milky way just happy to take in the multitude of stars, clustered into sparkling little knots here, so thick they looked like a dippable bowl of sherbet there.

I embarrassed myself by forgetting how to find the Vulpecula Coathanger.

Elsewhere Messier 31 and Messier 13 were easily visible despite the moon, the galaxy and the globular. Messier 39 in Cygnus also easily seen, but tracking the milky way into Lacerta to spot the open clusters there was more tricky.

Perseus is rising at 2am, and so the Mirfak cluster, with its fascinating little 7-8th mag orange interloper amidst the hot blue-white stars, and the double cluster were observed.

Finally, took in yet another look at Kemble's Cascade, the waterfall of stars in Camelopardalis, but it is still a little low this time of year.

I emptied the glass, took in a naked eye sweep of the heavens in the sultry summer air, and then headed to bed.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A 6th Newark Photographic Miscellania

This is about nature. Not the cub pack, and besides I was in the 5th Newark, with its strange games of chair football, snooker tables so old every ball was the same colour, and homesickness inducing camping trips to Walesby.

So today I have been walking and cycling all over the place, always on the look out, and annoyed the gatekeepers out in numbers today won't settle for the camera.

It's been a beautiful day, with tea, scones, and reading in between bursts of activity.

And I love it thus.

This hoverfly is a wasp imitator. In the garden.
Small tortoiseshell in the Rumbles Cafe flowerbed on the Sconce
Pollen drenched (cuckoo?) bumblebee, Clay Lane rail bridge
And once again
Small skipper, back of Beacon Hill
Small skipper, different angle
Bee on lavender-like plant, Beaumond Gardens
Beautiful study of a queen bumblebee, Beaumond Gardens
Swan family, London Road lake

Monday, 14 July 2014

Linnets on my New Bicycle

I'm still not back to best running form, and walking, pah, that just isn't enough for me, so it was time to head out on two wheels rather than two legs.

About the same time Alberto Contador was breaking his tibia on Le Tour de France, I was aboard my new steed, found by chance at a roadside bike man's house, and obtained for a mere £45. Compared to the rattletrap (now relegated to commuting and shopping drudgery) it goes like a bomb, despite needing some minor tinkering.

I thus had a good trip out on the Cotham-Thorpe-Home route, although sadly the sun had already gone in and my legs are still a bit milk-bottley compared to the rest of me. Unlike in the wheat fields next to the Elston road, where the Partridges had red legs.

I hope they avoided the combine harvesters, in action today.

Further round, on the rugged lane leading to Thorpe, I looked up at the telegraph lines, and each section had a solitary finch type bird sitting on it, in pairs.

Yellowhammer-Yellowhammer, Linnet-Linnet, Goldfinch-Goldfinch.

I always love seeing Linnets, with their beautiful red breasts glowing out from the smart but undestated rest of their plumage. I used to think of them as rare birds, the truth is, I never got out in the country enough to see them. They are much more eyecatching in summer, and are not urban birds by any means. Seeing one sitting on the fence always takes the edge off my arival at work.

Cruelly, as with goldfinches, the Victorians adored them as cage birds.

I ended up home in record time, a little sore and stiff, but thoroughly happy with my new ride.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Elephant Hawkmoth Studies

This magnificent, if sadly dead, elephant hawkmoth was found at work today, and given to me; my interest in nature is becoming more widely known, although my intention to take a dead moth home raised a few eyebrows above polyester collars.

I wish I could see one of these beauties alive, they are common enough round here, and the imago's nectar sources - garden flowers like honeysuckle and petunias  - are found in plenty of urban gardens. They are night flyers, and this specimen no doubt had been drawn to lights of my workplace, come in through the large open  doors and then got trapped. A small tortoiseshell butterfly suffered the same fate in the day, and I was unable to rescue it.

So without further ado, I present my photographs of the moth. The inverted shots remind me, rather daftly, of the small bugs from "Starship Troopers", such an overactive imagination I sometimes have!

I wish it could have been a live one, and hopefully when I have a go at some rudimentary moth trapping. perhaps the next one will be.

PS - "Imago" is the posh way of saying "adult moth or butterfly". But if I want to make a future in this kind of writing, I'd best use posh words!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

In Praise of Swifts

It's a subject I keep coming back to, I make no apologies if I have written on this subject before.

I feel so lucky that we have a fair population of swifts here; as they disappear from many towns, our population seems to have at least stabilised, although there perhaps aren't the numbers I remember from my childhood.

By comparison, house martins have been reduced to one active nest site I've encountered - in a row of houses with suitable eaves on Earp Avenue opposite the Magnus field - and swallows aren't nesting along Millgate as they once did.

The first spring sighting of a swift, virtually always as I've been cycling home after an arduous day at work, always brings joy to a stony heart, and every day I feel grateful I share my urban space with them. Every time one screams down low and parts the hairs on my head, leaving me in their fluttering slipstream, gives me such a sense of excitement. "Whooah!" I will often exclaim, as they make a formation strafing run along Balderton gate, no doubt to the puzzlement of the sadly unaware passers-by, ignorant of the aerobatics above their heads.

I've identified plenty of nest sites this year - Aroma Chinese takeaway and the old church on Baldertongate, the London Road Congregational Church; several sites on Victoria Street, the Forge on Millgate. They need an older style of building, with a very particular type of roof and eaves they can get under to nest. Like Lucy Worsely, they have a fondness for heritage.

They like old fashioned pantiles, I think! Modern bland styles of construction are anathema to them.

We probably have no more than three weeks of our glorious rulers of the air before they head south; their dogfights and joy of flight a memory for another year. The seasons move on.

We don't know how lucky we are.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Wherever I can Find Beauty in Newark (picture post)

White tail / Buff Tail on Beacon Hill eastate lavender
Early bumblebee weighed down with pollen, same location
A magnificent thistle, Beacon Hill reserve
Poliinators busy on a thistle, Beacon Hill reserve
Small skipper (I think) Beacon Hill reserve
6 spot burnet on knapweed? Beacon Hill reserve
Bees all over this garden lavender. Looked, smelled and sounded wonderful
Is this ladies bedstraw? Or yellow bedstraw?

Friday, 4 July 2014

Non Particular Newark Wanderings

Today I walked with no specific goal other than relaxation and recovery. The weather was fair if not stifling, and I'd be happy to see whatever I saw, as long as there were tea and ice creams along he way.

The tea was taken care of at Rumbles, where small tortoiseshells were loving the flowerbed, and along the paths I saw red admirals, and what must be newly emerged second flight commas. I hadn't seen a comma until today, and was rather relieved to see their familiar deep orange, ragged, wings sunbathing on a nettle leaf.

Also new in the air today was a brown hawker dragonfly over the second pasture, flying at angles, bronzed wings glinting.

I kept walking, past the multitude of bumblebees and honeybees enjoying the fragrant lavender on the library park, and down Clay Lane to snap a small tortoiseshell feeding off a thistle. Clay Lane field itself was full of meadow browns - I like how they've left half the field to grow wild for nature.

I kept walking, looking out for architectural things for I was away from green space, other that the abandoned nature reserve at the end of Beacon Hill Road. Must write about that place soon.

Soon, when I don't have a thought of an ice cream to distract me as well.

See how many butterflies you can spot in this picture of the Rumbles flowerbed
Speckled Wood by the Devon Park woodland
Meadow brown on a thistle, Devon Pasture
Gee gees
Small tortoiseshell, Clay Lane
The bee in the sun
Bumblebee close up

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Blackbird Vignette from Newark

As I went out my front door this morning, prepatory for heading for work at 6am, I had another of the lovely little widlife vignettes I so enjoy.

An adult blackbird had brought back an enormous lump of bread for a very grown up fledgling on my driveway, so grown up its gape had faded and it was practically larger than its parent. However, the bread was far too big for even the greediest of chicks, so after an initial attempt at feeding bounced off the fledglings head, the ungrateful child peeped insistently at the adult until it tried again, with exactly the same result.

I was reminded of the “And that's how I acquired my drinking problem” scenes from the Airplane movies.

Eventually, after a few avian accidental headbutts the bread had reached edible size, and the fledgling was duly fed, with that same insistent peeping in between each mouthful. Early evening at home, there were three fledglings sat on my back wall; I pity the parents of this demanding little brood.

I love such moments; unremarkable, un-noteworthy perhaps, but a cheerful sign of life going on around you as the prospect of a grim roadwork hassled cycle to work looms over your helmeted head. When I arrive, there's often a singing linnet sat on the fence at my grim industrial workplace, but that's another vignette I may have written about before, and may do again.

Copyright creamcrackerednature  03/07/14

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Today's Newark Wonders (another photographic miscellania)

The weather turned fine, but my muscles were still sore after a long run where I took a few mis-steps in the long grass. So I walked through a rather drab and uniform cemetery compared with the constant living changes of spring.

I walked through the threatened grasslands of the sports hub site, where butterflies - skippers, large whites, small tortoiseshells, meadow browns, ringlets, common blue and small heath were all on the wing there.

I walked through the estate, where I always look for life in unusual places.

And then I walked through Devon Park, where butterflies and damselflies flew, adoring the nettles like the least tacky QVC jewellery you've ever seen.

Even at home, a forest shield bug sat on a sycamore leaf, and helped me read Empire magazine in the sun.

This bluebottle can't read this Sconce Park sign
Small copper on the Sonce fortification
Female banded demoiselle chomps down on a mayfly of some kind
Female common blue damselfly, I think, on Devon Pasture
Grasshopper on the Sconce
A tricky subject - small heath on the Sports Hub site
Large skipper
Another large skipper - the small ones don't let you get close!
Common blue at the sports hub, wing undersides look a little dully coloured
You see I think these underwing spots are wrong for a common blue, but nothing else you'd see round here fits
Forest shield bug on sycamore
Not the prettiest face