Tuesday 27 December 2011

Late Night Astronomy and Messier 44

After a pub visit last night featuring many creatures let out of their christmas cages by their keepers, I was relieved to get home in one piece rather than several, and happy to note that skies were clear enough for me to get the 10x50s out for a bit of an enhanced stargaze.

Once again had good views of Messier 42, The Perseus Double Cluster and Messier 35 (not 34 as I referred to it previously!!!) in Gemini. The main target however was Praesepe, Messier 44 in Cancer. Even on a fairly unfrosty night, the sky conditions were evidently still good and the cluster was quite easily visible with the naked eye using averted vision, and a good view was had in the binoculars...sees to be 4 or 5 brighter stars in a sort of squared off ring in the centre of the cluster, with the fainter stars surrounding. It does rather look like a mini Pleides.

Orion, especially in the belt area, is alive with stars in the 10x50s and Monoceros is rich too - possibly may have spotted Messier 50;


As a nebulous patch containing 2 prominent stars. But I could be wrong.

I did find that I still struggle to really use both eyes with the binoculars, and found that after my half hour observing session my eyes were strained and I had a dizzy-ish headache, so perhaps observing when not used to it and after a fair few drinks over the day is NOT TO BE BLOODY RECCOMMENDED!!!

Monday 26 December 2011

Boxing day run

I was good today and yesterday. After a brisk walk for an hour on christmas day, I found today even warmer for the "If you don't do this you will end up as fat as a barrel" run this morning.

With the sun out it felt positively springlike. And I wasn't alone in thinking that.

As I turned on to the path leading onto to the cycle path from London Road by the bridge, a leaf flew up from the ground and bothered my face, before spiralling higher into the air and being blown down the road a little way by the breeze. Noticing the leaf didn't seem quite right, I followed it to where it settled, and found a very foolhardy red admiral butterfly. Foolhardy, but hardy indeed; I have never seen one outside this time of the year. Ever. Judging by the condition, it's a hibernator from last year rather than from a wintering pupa, but I wouldn't really know, to be honest.

I was really rather startled to see it, but it shows how unseasonal the weather it. 12-14 odd today it was.

In other news, I have a new pair of 10x50 binoculars for day and night use. Trying them out last night I had great views of the Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy and the Perseus Double Cluster.

red admiral on boxing day

Friday 23 December 2011

coot amid reflections

the edge of the lake

Walking and running in the wet

This is a combined report, last night's run and today's 90 minute walk. Not that there was very much to sea...

Actually, to start with, I'll throw in my train trip to Nottingham, where Thurgarton lakes were bust with large flocks of Black Headed Gulls and Tufted Ducks upon the waters. Also there was a small swan, which I couldn't make out properly but might have been a Bewick or a Whooper. No Egrets about, I have seen one in the vicinity before. It's a place I'd lake to take a good look at if I ever get the chance.

Last night, ran not very far in the dusk, my legs aren't used to running again after 7 weeks off and so they are pully, and stiff. As I passed down the side of TK Maxx a bird was startled up from a tree at the back of the new flats there, and arced off into the distance. Judging by the wingbeats, I thought it might have been a kestrel, I know there is one that hunts down by the marina - see a previous post - although knowing me it might have been a pigeon. Silhouette seemed to be wrong build for a pigeon though.

Proper naturalists must read this blog in utter disgust.

Today, walked for 90 minutes past a rained upon London Road Lake - the usual suspects in action here but no Grebe today - and through Beacon Hill. The big attraction here was a large flock of Goldfinches working across the Nursery east to west, the golden wing bars unmistakeable even at a distance. Always a pretty sight, and  a more common one with every passing year.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Long Tailed Tits Everywhere

I've not really been following any reports on this or anything like that, but if round here is anything to go by, Long Tailed Tits are having a bumper winter. Everyday I get flocks moving through my gardens, nibbling what they can off the sycamore trees and smaller greenery, and today while out walking I saw a flock working the trees by the marina bridge over the river again.

Ever since I mentioned it to Notts Wildlife Trsut however, I have not seen a single white headed Scandanavian variant however. Sods law in action. I never thought I'd see a day where Long Tailed Tits were a more common sight than Greenfinches, that disease seems to have all but wiped them out round here.

Out by the railway line, near where the X2 Connect building is looking really quite interesting in its half demolished form, there are damson bushes (I think, rather than Juniper) which are seemingly so full of juicy blue-purple berries it looks like they've decorated themselves for christmas. I shall risk a muddy ditch to take pictures next time I am in the vicinity.

With warmer weather, London Road Lake is quieter - only a couple of Tufteds and a lot fewer Black Headed Gulls. A couple of Coots made an attractive sight as they cruised abreast down the little dyke, and the baby moorhens are still about.

It is pleasant enough to sit out today, I suggest everyone spends some time outside taking in the sights!

Monday 19 December 2011

I'm only a poor little sparrow

Since all the holly berries have been scoffed by various greedy blackbirds and the odd woodpigeon, the garden isn't looking terribly festive. This contrasts with last year, when it seemed like I had two feet of snow and ice and some cheery robins making the place at least vaguely like it could have come from a christmas card.

Albeit, a really really downbeat one.

Now, as regular viewers will know, I've got various busted and painful legs at the moment, so my usual runs have been curtailed in favour of walks that don't really cover as much ground. Add to this the fact that the whole world has seemed suffused in a grey clag of drizzle when I have managed to get out, and it hasn't seemed a very colourful or lively environment I've been trecking through.

Luckily however, the sparrows have been keeping me cheerful. Every so often, either in the little bush outside my living room window that they frequent in a squabblesome fashion, or in various trees I've seen while walkiing, a little party of sparrows will put on a cute little show for me.

They puff themselves up to keep warm, sometimes putting their heads under their heads to sleep, and gabble amongst themselves, sometimes stretching their wings out and almost giving them a casual inspection, before flitting to another branch and repeating. Sometimes they get very flighty, and do these little minuture flights, a frenzied little 18 inch flap, to get themselves warm I guess if nothing else.

And then sometimes they sit quietly, huddling against the cold, and with their plumage looking in perversely good nick for the time of year, they look like little chocolate baubles from a christmas tree.

A heartening sight in unhappy times.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Last night's Geminid Report

OK, the one man member of the East Notts Astronomical Society (Meteor division) has an extrememly sore, torn, pulled and wrecked buttock and a bit of a cold, so don't expect 6 hours worth of observations. I was watching a documentary about Steve Jobs. However, at about 2045 or so I went out for a fifteen minute observing session when I spied clear skies - occasionally the clouds would roll over for a spell last night - and saw 7 Geminids and one sporadic.

Nothing was as spectacular as the mag -5 fireball I saw the previous night, but the meteors were bright, up to mag zero, slow moving and left smoky trails in some instances. Although other observers were reporting blue or pure white colours, to me they looked an ivory white colour, similar to that of Jupiter. One specimen was a long way off the from the radiant, and followed a somewhat crooked path, almost looking like it was tumbling through Lepus and Eridanus down towards the southern horizon.

At about 11pm, I had a shorter session and saw 5 geminids and one sporadic. As the moon got higher and interfered more, a 0045am session resulted in only two geminids being spotted.

It is interesting to me that The Perseids are regarded as "The Meteor Shower" by the media. For I found the Geminds generally brighter, slower moving, and easier to spot. The radiant is also much better placed for evening observing, although I suppose like lastnight, the viewing conditions vary from cold to brass monkeys!

They certainly seemed easy to spot for casual non astronomical observers I mentioned them to.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Geminid Fireball

Last night the wind was howling in, a bitter southwesterly liver slicer, that frankly made the idea of astronomical observing rather unattractive compared to stuffing yourself with tea and biscuits. The high waning moon in Gemini near the radiant made meteor watching seem an unrewarding prospect as well, so aside from the odd peak outside, I stayed in and I drank tea and stuffed myself with biscuits.

But at 0045 I stuck my head out again, and immediately was rewarded for my lack of persistence by the sight of a glorious fireball heading north through the bleak badlands beyond the pole star towards the northern horizon. Easily brighter than Venus, I'd put it at mag -5, and it was a sort of copper flame green colour, and was emitting pink "sparks" as it burnt up. It was that pretty I told my girlfriend I ought to have hung it around her neck.

Fortified with a strong rum and coke, I had a more determined watch for half an hour or so at about 3am, but the moon was virtually overhead, and I only saw one meteor of about mag zero in this period - I don't have great skies either so I was double hampered.

Will try again tonight in patches. But my god, wrap up warm. It's turn your hands purple weather.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Surely not in this wind!

But go out I did! And not just walking. I even managed to do a little jog for about 3 and a half miles, although my legs aren't thanking me for it now.

Like Bill does for Sookie, I ache.

I am annoyed at becoming so feeble.

Anyway, it would appear that anything feathered had the sense to stay out of the air today, the bush outside my living room window was full of weatherblown sparrows looking like the sort of xmas decorations I wish I had.

On London Road lake, the waterfowl were all collected down the eastern end, where I'm guessing someone had been lobbing bread in. The Tufted Ducks and the solitary Grebe were not party to these socialist handouts and remained aloof further out in the water. No young Moorhen in the choked little drain though today.

On Northern Road, as the sun dipped below the horizon, the starlings were gathering. One small flock at the Laurens end of about 150 birds, and down at the Winthorpe Road end, I noticed 4 small flocks take off from various trees and bushes round and about, and commence the evening murmuration at about 1545.

The way the small flocks gradually merge fascinates me. It's like two badly superimposed pictures of flocks passing in front of one another, clashing, as if on different plastic sheets being held to the sky.

But then the birds begin to harmonise their movements, and the two flocks begin to move in unison, no longer clashing against the winter cobalt sky but circling together, seemingly spirallying until two become one.

Friday 9 December 2011

Wetter than the ducks

Yesterday was a thoroughly undistinguished late afteroon walk...headed down to London Road lake with a spring in my step and joy in my heart despite the cold and the fierce wind that has characterised recent conditions, however 30 seconds after I had turned onto the sustrans 64 cycle path that runs by the lake, I was wishing I was still at home under my duvet watching an entire series of The Tudors or other light viewing.

For, a grey curtain of rain was drawn across the land, one that quickly turned into a cloudburst so hard the great pregnant raindrops bounced a foot back upin the air, and you could see the wind making the raindrops behave like a flock of starlings.

The ducks, which were numerous, seemed unbothered and sailed serenely around in squadrons, mainly mallard but The Tufted Ducks have also arrived back, and were patrolling in a neat little mixed flock of about 10 birds, which along with a gaggle of mallards passing by in line astern, made it look like a quacking, befeathered prelude to the battle of Jutland.

Me, I was watching all this from under a bridge no doubt used to by courting couples at night, shivering, my clothes wet, my feet soaked, my jeans about ten kilos heavier.

At least the ducks are waterproof. There's nothing waterproof about me, I can tell you that.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Out by the river

Today was a bitter bitter day, wind slicing through you like a band saw, cold air drying my skin and making it bleed raw. But, I felt I had to be out. I need to be out.

So I walked, rather than ran, out to Farndon and turned down the puddled, muddy lane down towards the river opposite the power station. Almost immediately a redwing flew out of the hawthorns on one side of the path before settling in a tree in the other, and this, dear friends, was a a definite sighting. A bit further along, another two redwing were perched in a tree.

I was struggling to keep an eye on anything, as the wind was just blowing straight into may face, making my eyes water, and the hood I had up to stop my ears dropping off in the cold. But as I reached the river past the bare fields that had been full of corn and wheat in warmer times, the unmistakeable bright yellow flash of two yellowhammers caught the sun as they headed out over the water.

And that was that for the trip, it was so cold I could barely concentrate. But I revived quickly after a cup of tea at the fantastic little museum cafe, and reflected that it is always better to be outside, any chance you get.

And besides, my flat is so chilly, it's often warmer outside!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Let's talk about tits...

...and watch that hit count tise, hopefully.

So yep, today I was a bit lazier and didn't find my way out on to the roads until past half ten - slaps own face for laziness. I walked out to Sconce Hills Park, and back right along the River Devon, and to be honest noticed very little apart from the large quack squad of various mallards and hybrids on the river. I was to busy being annoyed at the feature on phone apps on 6 music, most of which as I tweeted only R2D2 could find a use for. Also I was trying to figure out how to buy presents with no money, and no hope.

But that's by the by!

But after my cup of tea at the museum and trot through town working out where to get my horrible, and diminishing, hair cut, I got home to find my garden and drive area alive with birds.

First up, even before I got there, the tell tale zupping of Long Tailed Tits reached my ears, and sure enough there was a flock of about 20-30 of them working my sycamore trees, cute as hell, and interestingly a mix of white headed and stripey headed sub types. They obviously found a good food source there, because they stayed in the vicinity rather longer than usual. They were joined by the "sips" and "seeps" of Great Tits, and a Blue Tit did an agile dance along the door of my shed - I reckon there's plenty of little spiders and insects at the gap at the top of the door where this little fellow was flitting along like a gossamer extreme climber.

I'm trying to get better with bird calls by the way, will write more on this subject another time.

The prize spot though, was when a blackcap warbler suddenly appeared in the sycamore amidst the Long Tailed Tits, not singing though, a male looking a little lost.

Goes to show, there's always somnething to see smack under your nose. Often when you least expect it.

Monday 5 December 2011

Kestrels Tea and Twitter

...as I set off at 9am for a very bracing and occasionally sleeted on walk.

London Road lake was very lively as I went by on the cycle path. Large amounts of yarking squawking black headed gulls fighting over a single flake of bread, moorhens and coots, a Great Crested Grebe and many many mallards dabbling furiously as if they know the ice is on the way.

Feeling brave but still frustrated I can't run on my gammy leg, I walked the whole length of Clay Lane, happy that colder weather has temporarily at least driven away the fly tippers. Along here, unconfirmed because as you know I'm a rubbish birdspotter I think I spotted my first two redwing of the winter, alas not close enough. I did however have a lovely view of an unselfconscious female blackbird in beautiful condition stuffing herself with haws like she'd never heard of Britains Next Top Model.

Over Beacon Hill estate a Coromorant flew, high. Unusual sight there, but on Beacon Hill reserve the flocks of Chaffinches were not so. Also a pretty little flock of Long Tailed Tits - are they never not pretty? - was working through the woodland on the edge of the site. The Chaffinches are all puffed up for winter like blushing little pom poms.

Greenfinch still all but invisible.

As I came to the marina on the river, I was greeted by the most interesting sight of all. A Kestrel was working the fields and bushes on the edge of the marina, hovering with intent before sliding out of stationary like a sharp knife over the top of a block of butter to perhaps a more promising location before commencing to hover again, tale splayed, wings making whipped cream with the air.

It was a great spot to take to my usual museum tea and twitter session! I become more of a gentleman with every passing day.

Thursday 1 December 2011

A jog and a walk, then tea. Civilised!

Despite soreness and general uselessness, I have a fantastic degree of obsessiveness and rank stupidity when it comes to injuries and exercise.

I have a sore leg, some sort of pulled calf in fact. So obviously the best thing to do is try running on it JUST TO SEE DAMMIT if it will stand up to it. The day or so after you bloody hurt it again. I'm stupid. Stupid stupid stupid earthling.

So yes, the intention was to dress up warm and walk the brisk winds to the far end of Devon Park and then back through the sconce and along the river a bit. But no, despite being dressed for the tundra seemingly, as soon as I got into my brisk walk the urge to jog took me, took me further into the realm of the extraordinary, as Ewan Magregor would say in his punchable advert.

Well, I guess my jog didn't take me anywhere extraordinary, it just took me to the path where a vigorous woman was being taken for a spin by an alsatian. My leg wasn't hurting yet, oh no, that was saved for the day after.

But it got me along the River Devon, and evidently to a non striking museum, where I got an underweight pot of tea, and having watched a grey wagtail the day before, merely heard wagtails all of the time just out of shot of the view through the window. The sort of two tone whistling you get as they fly.

On Riverside park, running now abandoned for taking in the sights, I listened to the various high pitched tseeps and tsipps that to my untrained ears are starting to indicate the presence of tits of some kind. Sure enough, amongst the willows and bushes by the river, a number of blue tits were cavorting about as Sparrows less delicately crashed about on thicker twigs.

A pleasant run, but, yep, my leg, sore again. Such a fool eh?

Monday 28 November 2011

Morning walk in the cold

Still a bit worried about my leg so still resting it up and risking increasing chubbiness. Instead I wrapped up warm, set my mobile phone for 6 music, and set up on one of my regular running routes at a brisk walk, faint traces of frost upon the greenery.

London Road lake is busy with mallards, black headed gulls, a great crested grebe and many coots and moorhens - it would appear the autumnal clutch of baby moorhens has largely survived thus far, they are still scurrying about on their comedy Krusty the Clown feet. Plenty of haws and hips about still, but not so many songbirds down here.

However, up at Beacon Hill reserve, there was a large flock of chaffinches startled up from the weeds in the Oilseed Rape field as I walked past, and then further through the reserve, at the lower entrace where the Bindweed chokes, a large flock of Goldfinches were in action as a jenny wren skulked at ground level in the bushes. Elsewhere, Great Tits are kicking about amongst the Hawthorns. Didn't see any rabbits though, they must have been all snug underground, watching and sobbing at Watership Down on DVD.

It was a pleasant walk, I enjoyed it, and it hurts a lot less than running. But my stomach won't thnk me!

My garden and driveway has suddenly become very busy  - Woodpigeons have now started to strip my much denuded Holly tree of berries, joining in with the blackbirds. I've got Blue Tits and Great Tits in increasing numbers, and every so often a pretty little flock of 20 or so Loong Tailed Tits will come and work through the garden - zoopinng and tseeping in their cute fashion. Sometimes a little later they will work their way back through the trees in the opposite direction, taking small insects from the bark and twigs I guess.

With the stars now very much back in my life, the sight of Leo and Virgo, Mars and Saturn, in the sky makes me think of spring to come. Alas this is at 6am, and the reaility is we have a freezing winter ahead by all accounts before balmier days return.

I just hope my bloody heating is fixed by them.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Public Space Should be Used!

This seems to be becoming a favourite subject of mine. I'm not going to say that it's close to my heart, because to me this is an unforgiveably slushy Mills and Boon vanilla Hand Holding in the Cinema queue flowers for breakfast yuck yuck yuck mode of expression. But nevertheless, it is important to me.

It's always been there, not unexpected I guess in someone who spends a lot of time out in the open, running, cycling, walking, taking in the sun whenever it bothers to show its yellow face, or merely throwing a tennis ball about and annoying the neighbours. But it is my visits to Brighton, where running on the seafront you have the lawns where people play football, or workout in this gloriously macho weight lugging sessions, or play Boules, Basketball, or just sit and watch the foolish joggers such as me.

It doesn't matter! It's the fact that they are out there, doing something, using space constructively; enjoying themselves. And that the space isn't plastered with "Keep off the Grass" or "No Ball Games" joyless bloody council signs, or at least while the sun is above the horizon, not full of drinking or drug taking chavs - unless I'm being totally naieve.

I want to see this sort of thing everywhere, in every town, starting with my own. I want to see people playing sport, or having painting or photography classes, or putting in little concerts or bits of theatre (pretension alert!), or discussion groups, or even at night, a little so called "Sidewalk Astronomy" or other little events, fun little things that don't have to cost barely anything.

Keep space lively! Keep space used!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

I'm an astronomer again!!!!

Tonight, my 6 inch reflecting telescope got reborn under the stars out on the street here.

After 20 years plus of not being used.

Been looking to do this for a while now, feeling the astronomy bug of my youth coming back. When I got it many many years ago I burnt myself out a bit, and also never really got to use the thing to its best advantage - I was not good at starhopping and using the finder to accurately locate stuff, and urband conditions made it tricky to see deep sky stuff.

This time round, I will be casual, relaxed, and concentrate more on planets, and the moon, double stars, and any comets that might be in view. I will learn the constellations better. I will enjoy myself under the stars.

Tonight, Jupiter was the obvious target, and managed to find it at x60 or so in a 20mm Erfle eyepiece, very shaky view. 12mm Kellner produced a decent view, the main equatorial bands visible, and also the North was showing finer details. Or was it the South? Damn! 6mm Ortho was not useable.

The moon will be a better target and we'll get a better idea then.

Stars look occasionally good, seeing conditions from nearby houses made things crappy I think, and also all the street lights. Using my rubbish 6x30 finder which I've never found much use, managed to get the Andromeda Galaxy but again not a great view.

Meanwhile, the pretty Lithuanian girls opposite must have thought I'd gone utterly insane, as they pretended to ignore me as they parked their car with me on the pavement looking like a super powerful well equipped peeping tom. I imagine other curtains were twitching too, but I'm used to it. I've been quietly questioned by policemen while doing astronomy related stuff before.

Overall I'm excited I did it and my telescope works to some extent, even if it is difficult to see exactly how well. It is obviously a bit tired, but I reckon getting it properly looked at and resilvered will cost less more than getting a Celestron Astromaster AT70 or similar basic but still good refractor.

But I'm glad I can feel legit about calling myself an astronomer again

Sunday 20 November 2011

Birds around my garden

Holed up under my duvet at 2pm I was feeling just a little cold and fed up of my rubbish diet  and generally unhealthy fizzy pop drinking exploits - there's only so much Irn Bru one should really drink. So upon hearing a wide variety of birdsong and calling coming from just outside, I decided to just go for a wander in my garden and up and down the road.

Straight away as I opened my door, I could hear the familiar "zooops" and "zeeeees" of one of our sweeter little residents - sure enough, a sizeable little flock of about 25 Long Tailed Tits were working through the gardens, seemingly picking at the bark and surely non existent leaf buds in the same way Goldcrests do. They actually let me get quite close, interested so see some had prominenet black stripes down their bellies while others didn't, while others were noticeably pink of breast while others were a dirty grey.

Whatever. I always find them a wonderful sight.

Elsewhere, Holly  berries didn't seem to be in demand today but the Blackbirds were making fair sport with the haws, by crikey.

Woodpigeons seem to be short supply this winter compared to other years, but one was sat atop a birch tree looking out for all that's new in the world.

berry laden tree in park

Saturday 19 November 2011

My little local park

Was feeling both under stress and under the weather today, so decided to take a little stroll round the little park near where I live for a little unwind period.

It's a typical public space I guess, paths, dogshit bins, a few benches which at this time of the year are populated in the day by drinkers, and at night by teens and post club goers in various states of courtship all of which are way less attractive than those employed by our feathered friends.

It is of course, our feathered friends that I am interested in seeing here. There are a lot of berry laden trees, some sort of Holly or Katonyaster type things, and they ought to be attractive to wintering birds with not much to eat.

Two years ago, during that January deep freeze, I remember a large flock of Fieldfares taking up residence. I'm hoping to see something similar this year, and maybe, at last, A BLOODY WAXWING!

All public spaces, no matter how small, should be used for positive things.

Friday 18 November 2011

On the lookout for Leonids

I can't recall ever seeing a Leonid meteor you know. November 18th for as long as I can remember seems to have been an endless succession of clouded out nights or enforced early bedtimes.

Last night was one of the lattter events, but as midnight approached I went outside into the reasonably dark but heavily tree ridden postage stamp of a front garden, and looked to the East where a waning halfish moon was rising between the houses on the next street and Jupiter shone between the branches of the shedding Sycamore.

I got quite nicely dark adapted, took in a few of the sights, looking as always at the Square of Pegasus before letting my eyes wander along Andromeda's lengthy curvy body before arriving at rampant Perseus, bearing the deadly head of Medusa. I took all these sights in, always keeping an eye of the east and the rising radiant, but of meteors, Leonid meteors, I saw none.

Will try again tonight but worry about the clouds, I so do.

Saturday 12 November 2011

They Sing and Scoff

Was walking home from the pub at a disreputable hour, an hour when all good naturalists should be in bed waiting for a dawn in a cold damp hide somewhere. Not I. I was walking home, taking some detours to avoid some wankers, and as I approached the little park near my home, suddenly the quiet hours became alive with birdsong.

230am and the Blackbirds were singing as if their lives depended on it, and so sweetly and joyfully it took the sting out of a misty drizzly grey night.

Obviously after a hard night's melodifying, the buggers would be hungry, and sure enough I noticed my Holly tree twitching like it had St Vitus Dance. Looking out my window, two males and a female were gobbling the berries, which glinted like rubies in a weak winter sun ass they momentarily held them in their beaks before swallowing them with a snappy motion.

I'm very glad my holly tree is being used by smaller song birds, and not the stamping ground of the woodpigeons who had already cleaned it out by this time last year.

Seeing as it was a pleasant old evening, headed out for a walk - my leg is a bit torn at the moment in the calf department - and wandered down by London Road Lake to see what I might see. The Mallard Drakes post Eclipse are in stunning condition - bottle green heads irridescent, and also their black rumps have a purple sheen. The (not) Black Headed Gulls drifting around serene with pure white bodies and crisp grey wings are also in good nick.

Alas, the same can't be said for me at the moment!

Friday 11 November 2011

The aerodynamic qualities of leaves

Hi readers (!!!)

Today cycled on my not working terribly well bicycle which seems very draggy in the back wheel department out to Willow Holt. The weather isn't particularly cold, but there is a bit of a breeze in the air.

At Farndon, in marked contrast to my last visit, everything was suffused in a slight battleship grey mist and all the beautiful Southern Hawker dragonflies have gone. In fact, very few birds were on show although there was a fair bit of chatter in the high treetops, and a few Dunnocks I think kept shooting out of the bushes, and a whaat I thought was a Great Tit "teach-ered" past my damp vantage point and my muddy bicycle into the Willows.

The Willows were the things that attracted my attention first, and in particular their golden yellow leaves, a gorgeous colour that I had to photograph. Curiously some other Willows just along were still sporting green leaves, I guess some kind of hardier species.

The other thing I noticed, as I revelled in the peace and quiet of not being in a crappy noisy workplace, was the falling leaves themselves. They were falling straight down, in lazyy spirals, in a mad spinning dervish of orange and brown, fluttering in the wind like a tree's eyelashes. But the best little arboreal acrobat was a twig with three leaves attached, that flew in great circles in the wind like a lazily crashing helicopter, almost seeming to actually gain a little height at times, an optical illusion no doubt but one that re-inforced the idea in my head that the tree god, or the Dryads, were having a little competition to see who could fly a leaf the longest.

Like a sort or organic "Scrapheap Challenge"

Saturday 5 November 2011


So, today suggested to my girlfriend that we might visit RSPB Adur Estuary, as I needed something to write about here, and running around Brighton was garnering me nothing but yarking seagulls of varying degrees of immaturity.

I thought it would be a nice trip out...

The bus trip there took us through the nice parts of Hove, and then the less nice, and then through Portslade and Southwick which contrary to my quaintly romantic view of Sussex, all Downs and posh, turned out to be hideous dumps where pram faces and Croydon Facelifts competed for squawking space on the bus, and the most scenic thing scene was an out of town shopping centre dropped on the landscape like a crashed ship from "Independance Day".

Shoreham didn't start promisingly, with pebble dashed bungalows and dispiriting looking playgrounds, but I was assured the town centre was nicer just as long streaks of rain appeared on the bus windows like the prick marks you find on some kinds of shortbread.

We arrived in the town centre, cold biting through us the second we got off the bus, with no idea of really where the hell we were going. Luckily my gf was able to guide us, and we walked over the Adur on the road bridge before turning on the path by the salt marsh. I figured that was it, and looked eagerly for interesting birds; Egrets and waders!

And what did I see? Bloody nothing but immature seagulls AGAIN and a couple of bored looking crows surrounded by mud. The houseboats were really quirky and interesting; loved the big former torpedo boats and the barge with a bus stuck on top of it.

The wildlife, however, was keeping a low profile. Unless you count a black and white cat with a gammy leg.

Eventually we followed the path right round to the unttractive footbridge and just got the bus home utterly fed up. It just wasn't our day, and I felt unjustly crappy about the town and its invisible birds. To add to this feeling, we took a quick detour onto the beach and found several dead cut up codling, and a discarded dogfish that should have been put back rather than left high and dry on the flinty stones. An unhappy sight.

I will never igonre her advice about day trips again! Ever! But in spring, I shall return! And all will be well.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Park Life

(A one day delay on this report)

Decided to avoid running by the lake and through Beacon Hill reserve, and decided on a fine bright and pretty mild day, to head through Sconce Hills park and see what the people, and any wildlife might be doing.

I remembered sadly how not too long before I had seen swallows buzzing the football pitches, and another time seen massed groups of House Martins feeding themselves up before heading south. On this day the main life was provided by greater and lesser striped footballers - adults taking place in a casual training session it seemed, and then a bunch of young kids taking part in a proper match on the pitch next door.

I have to say, I love to see public spaces being used. That's why I love Brighton Lawns and promenade so much.

Was hoping to see if any birds were after any berries, but there didn't seem to be much of either in the orchard apart from a little vole I spotted running off from the base of a tree into the long grass!

I think the chilly near frosty night a few days ago has probably done for the dragonflies and red admirals.The dark is upon us.

Friday 28 October 2011

Chris Packham is lying!!!

I went running through my local Waitrose car park today, as part of my 7 mile plus little trot, just running round a not terribly big car park looking for birds when there's lots of countryside around would be stupid!

And in this not terribly big car park, there weren't that many trees with berries on them, rather more a few low bushes; and in these not very many very berried trees, no Waxwings, Fieldfares or Redwings or indeed anything could be spotted.

I think the nature researcher pixies must glue pretty birds by their feet to trees when they hear that Chris is going out for a walk so he has lots of things to see and report.

Luckily, I love running outside, and so the absence of Waxwings didn't lead to suicide. There were flocks of Chaffinch again, seemingly very plentiful this autumn, and I saw a very pretty yellowhammer on the hedge by the wheat field at the end of Clay Lane, and the varying colours of the leaves everywhere as the fall continues, like a warmly coloured packet of fruit pastles, lots of pale yellows and fresh fruity greens darkening to blackcurrenty but probably overlychewy reds and browns and even purples.

Lovely out there today. Spend every moment outside you can! No doubt these "minus 20" temperatures the tabloids have mentioned will be upon us with clouds of white death snow anytime soon.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Red Admiral Patrol

Inspired by the BBCAutumnwatch twitter feed having an impromptu little survey, I decided to head out and hit the roads and tracks in Newark to see if I could see any. In the warmer weather of ten to fourteen days ago I saw a few here, even in my garden area, and a few being blown about on Brighton Seafront, and blog readers will spot that I've been reckoning them to be the hardiest of our butterflies this year.

Well alas, I didn't see any, nor any whites desperately hanging on in. But it was a lovely afternoon, and I enjoyed my 7 mile trek through a brown and green Beacon Hill reserve, the little trees in the nursery being various shades of ochre through to cherry red in the leaf department, and still plenty of berries for the birds of which flocks of Chaffinch and a zupping flock of Long Tailed Tits by the Aldi bridge were most noticeable.

As I was running by at just before 5pm, the Starlings were gathering on TV aerials and as I ran along the far bank of the river the eager beavers were just aking to the air for the evening promenade by KFC and McDonalds. What Jonathan Livngstone Seagull would call Breakfast Flock, it it was morning and not evening, was also taking to the sky.

Saturday 22 October 2011

My berries are not yet being pillaged

Every chance I get, I have a little look at my Holly Tree and see if any glorious Redwings or Fieldfares have decided to come and get stuck into what's on offer - that'll be berries then - but at the moment I'm not managing to catch any visitors, not even the boring but temptingly plump Woodpigeons that treated the tree like Macdonalds last year.

Bit disappointing. I'm hoping to get some feeders up this winter and see what I can attract.

Missed the Orionid meteors, sky was cloudy last night although not this morning which was a wonderfully transparent black through which the stars shone. I'm aiming to do one meteorwatch in freezing temperatures in my garden chair in a sleeping bag, hat, and half a bottle of strong rum or something equally warming, if sadly inanimate.

And then brag about it on here, to make my look like a real hard case!

Monday 17 October 2011

More Vignettes of Doom

There's that word again...

First one was at work today. Sipping at my plastic cappucino, I watched as a Buzzard lazily took flight from a tree, and then hovered motionless in the breeze for the longest time I have ever seen a bird stay still, this brutal bird of play splaying delicate wingtips in the wind. Eventually it spiralled upwards without so much a twitch of wing.

Two second ones, while cycling home. Initially it was the rooks heading home after a days squabbling somewhere, presumably rooks heading for the rookery. Or possibly sewage farm judging by the direction. And then, my first proper flock of starlings on the autumn by the railbridge. About a hundred birds or so, but rapidly being joined by other smaller flocks arrowing out of the bushes like a cartoon flock of bees...gradually swelling and swolling until the skies are black with beating wings. Starlings from all over the world block out the sun, and a starling winter begins forever!


Sunday 16 October 2011

Fireballs and Partridges

Two little vignettes for you. BTW I like the word "vignette" - and I like vignettes. And paragraphs that have the word "vignette" in four times.

First up was 11pm last night, as I stood by my door feeling depressed at the prospect of a finger freezing 545am bike ride to work, and indeed work full stop. As I looked north, a brilliant almost a fireball meteor swept by from East to West, travelling through Ursa Minor parallel with the orange star Kocab and the nearby Gamma. It had a brightness in the range of maybe 0 to -1, and left a very noticeable wake of smoke, like a celestical powerboat splitting the fabric of the sky apart.

I've seen brighter ones, but the smoke trail was unusual.

And then as I arrived at work this morning, cycling along chasing but never catching the dismal pool of light cast by my front bike light, I cycled straight past 3 plump and no doubt tasty partridges sitting in the car park!

Some of the more feral specimens at work would eat them feathers and all!

Friday 14 October 2011

Starlings in Brighton be Damned!

Or no Starlings in Brighton, as the case may be.

These days, I have reasons to be in Brighton, and although running 11 miles along the seafront and through the attractively obscure parts of town is very enjoyable, the wildlife as perhaps mentioned before, is a bit disappointing.

It's Herring Gulls, Herrling Gulls, Immature Herring Gulls and more Herring Gulls. Hovering into the wind. Mobbing each other for food. Mobbing innocent passers by for food, although without the savage and brazen intelligence of the gulls of Padstow that poach the 12 quid fish suppers bought from Rick Stein's posh chippy.

But I'm told that the Starlings of the seafront are a real spectacle. Every day, they gather in Hove in increasingly large flocks before making their way to the pier to roost as the twilight darkens. I believe they might even have been on a SomethingWatch programme a couple of years ago.

Well, wherever they may have been, I never saw them! Everynight before I arrived they were about. And then as soon as I left, they were back. But every night I was there, no bloody Starlings. Irridescent white spotted swine, I curse them.

In other news, I am hoping for Fieldfares and Redwing in my Holly tree now that autumn is here and I have a fine crop of berries, and spotted a large mixed flock of Pied and Yellow Wagtails I think on the wasteground by work. I wonder what my Autumn runs will bring me?

Friday 7 October 2011

Nature in the cold before dawn

Now I am back working after my holiday I am faced with the nasty prospect of cycling to work at 5am with the sun a long way off about stretching, making tea and toast and generally shedding some damn light on this miserable world.

Guess you have to try and make the best of it!

The evenings are not yet dark enough to see the clouds of starlings  - starting small but gradually merging until they form bigger and bigger flocks - going about their blackly psychedelic way above the attractive KFC / McDonalds landscape as the nauseating vapours from the sewage farm waft in on a northerly breeze.

But in the mornings, as I cross the lime cycle path that makes a geisha out of my bicycle, I get to see all manner of things. Even as I leave home, I see the weird shadowy  woodpigeons alighting in the sycamore, how sinister they look at night.

As I near work, I see ghostly flashing white tails streaking away in terror at my approach, as the uncountable rabbits that live up on this windswept plateau are started by my grinding bicycle. I always see Wagtails at this time of the morning, the white flashes on their tales undulating in the glow of my wonky bike lights, making that plaintive little whistle of theirs.

But the most spectacular sight was maybe a week or two later this time last year. As I parked my bike up, I could hear twitterings up above. In the glow of the lights that illuminate the signs on the walls, a huge flock of small songbirds was circling. No idea what they were, but there were hundreds of them, spiralling...and it was only that one morning, about 545am. Migrants of soe kind, incoming or outgoing, but a beautiful sight.

And as the cold weather closes in, I wonder if the Wagtails are roosting in the tree outside The Bell pub in Nottingham slab square yet? Sometimes you see hundreds around there.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

ash keys on a hot day

Gooses! Geeses!

Didn't run yesterday, instead had a pleasant little cycle ride round and a bout for a few m before settling in Riverside Park to catch the last decent weather of the year propped up against that obelisk thing.

Didn't really see very much, a lot of folk about in the warm weather and had to concentrate hard on not wiping them out. Hot days mean overexcited children with a tendency to leap out in front of you from trees and other unexpected directions.

I did notice on Lakeside Lake that a huge flock of Canada Geese have arrived. I'm never really a big fan of these birds, not their fault I guess, but I tend now to think of them somewhat as messy foreign pests. I have no idea if this is harsh or not, but I do sometimes wonder if they are good for the pot. We seem to be being encouraged to eat Signal Crayfish, so why not Canada Geese?

I'm guessing it's because anything that produces huge slimy bogey oyster droppings like that must taste totally hideous!

Sunday 2 October 2011

Last of the warmth at Langford Lowfields

So, I was a good boy and did indeed make it out of bed early enough.

The trip out was pleasant, not too hot, bit of sun, and a beautiful big flock of goldfinches on the sustrans 64 corner where the field of sand is.

Was that where the excavation was? Major Roman remains have been found on this site, well we are near the old Fosseway, and there is a villa at Brough village a mile or two away.

On site, the first two lakes were well populated with Tufted Ducks, back from breeding wherever - I have never seen a Tufted Duck family. As ever, there was a good opportunity to lie on the ground and try and stalk Common Darter dragonflies for a picture. Looking a fool comes easy to me.

As easy as flying away just as I'm about to take a picture is to the Common Darters, who I think are all sworn to drive me mad. Still, I had two long close up views of these prettty insects. The warm red abdomen really stands out from the grass, and there seemed to be all sorts of interesting structures on the back of the thorax.

At various times I noticed cheeky red eyes turning to glance at me, obviously calculating the most irritating time to fly away.

Lot of activity at the hide, a guided party walking round the reedbed and a few unattached visitors came to the hide with their big telescopes and 200mm lenses overpowering my puny little 10x25 field glasses. They were spotting kestrels miles off, I felt rather pathetic. But with all the work on the bed there was very little to see, apart from birdwatchers and rangers clearing reeds and burning stuff.

The great tits were in the hedges behind me in, presumablyly munching the large amount of haws and sloes around the site.

So I had a nice trip out, but it did seem strange for there to be so many people there!

Saturday 1 October 2011

Love those clear skies

Been back on shift, boo hoo, so no expeiditions or anything. I have been getting up at 445am or better in order to cycle to work.

This is miserable, but has its attractions. Like clear skies in pleasanter weather without summer twilight getting in the way. As soon as I open my door, Orion is dominating the southern aspect, his sword rampant and his faithful great dog sat to his right, its eye Sirius twinkling blazingly.

Leo the lion, his sickle tail cutting a swathe through the western sky, is rising.

And this morning, a fluttering dark shape circled my garden a couple of times before alighting in my sycamore tree. A woodpigeon I think, although at first I stupidly thought it was a very large bat!

Large bat! You really are a dunderhead of a naturalist. But, it was early...

Thursday 29 September 2011

And in the late summer sun

It is bloody hard to run.

As I found yesterday when hauling myself round the length of the cycle path, and the somewhat dispiriting haul from the old British Gypsum place across to Sconce Hills.

I was proud of having outpaced a couple of teenage lads training for some vaguely militaristic looking exercise with their rucksacks and boots, but after a few miles I was flagging rather badly in the late afternoon early autumn unexpectedly frazzling sun.

The butterflies weren't flagging, a few of them had popped out for a final frolic before hibernation or death in a few days time. Whites, the sturdy Red Admirals, and unexpectedly a few speckled woods! All doing better than I was.

My neighbours bird feeders are attracting some chubby squirrels. Their much vaunted intelligence seems to be belied by the fact they haven't put any nuts in them yet.

The neighbours that is, not the squirrels.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

pink flowers at willow holt

sunset looking flowers

Another bike trip to Willow Holt

As predicted I was a bit late out of bed this morning to contemplate a trip to Langford Lowfields so headed on this nice warm day to Notts Wildlife reserve at Willow Holt. Typically, with the weather taking us for a trip to an Indian Summer, I will be back at work soon and miss out on it.

I actually cycled gently right the way through the sight, through the cropped paddocks with the grazing cattle, through the field that two months ago was filled with Meadow Brown and Ringlet, and then to the river. Took pics of these late blooming pink flowers and of some rose hips. Beautifully peaceful, one very loud chiding call from a bird nearby but couldn't see it.

After a little sit down and a think, cycled towards the marina and was passed by a vivid greeny blue Southern Hawker again, flying in spiy zig zags into the Willow. Cycled back along the river.

Took in a flock of chaffinches speeding to keep ahead of me; a couple of Common Darters startled up from the path. A couple of proud as ever looking Goldfinches. Another Hawker taking in the beauty of the river. The maize ripening on the tall, alien looking plants, like the pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Tioday's prize spot though, and a new one to me, was what I thought as the time was a Dipper opposite the Power Station weir that flew up from the river bank as I came past. That would be a very unusual spot for round here, although I can see that weir and the rapids beyond being an attraction for it.

Psyching myself up for afternoon run. Pics later, I hope.

Monday 26 September 2011

And there was a Southern Hawker!!!

Right on cue, as I went running late afternoon, there was a big happy Hawker of the Southern variety again by London Road Lake. I'm sure a few years ago you used to see many more of these and other big Hawkers and Dragonflies down on the cycle path, but I've not seen many this year.

It was a pleasant run on a warmish evening, started off my me noticing some more Dandelion and Ragwort flowers in my garden, and down on the cycle path there are clumps of these orange flowers  about a centimetre across without any petals that look like sunset suns! I'm hoping that if I can get out of bed early enough I can get a trip into Langford Lowfields tomorrow.

Big if, I know. I'm an owl, not a lark.

Southern Hawkers

Aha, thanks to a pic on the headers page for the RSPB Langford Lowfields alert, the most common dragonfly (along with the Common Darter) I've been seeing all year is revealed.

Yes, those steampunk zeppelins, those miniature versions of the Lexx from the weird sci fi channel show, those delectable sky captain bombers, are Southern Hawkers;


And yes they do seem curious of people - they come to me at Farndon at Willow Holt, down by the river, hovering up like buzzy little spying devices.

Beautiful creatures.

Sunday 25 September 2011

The Night Sky

Another traitorous post about The Sky at Night, as it were!

Well, it is nature, it just doesn't breath, although sometimes it seems as alive and vivid as any furred or feathered beast upon the earth.

The skies at the moment are beautiful. A few nights ago I was walking home and 3 brilliant, brilliant meteors flashed across the sky in the space of ten minutes. September Perseids I think rather than the more famous August variety. Orion is rising late on. Auriga with the bright yellow white Capella, the star that in December will dominate the overhead. Gemini is rising, Jupiter the brightest thing in the sky at the moment apart from the moon.

There is always much to see and appreciate. Even without a telescope.

Friday 23 September 2011

A cold hello

Looks like I'm picking up some new readers again, so I thought that as I'm sat in a library looking for jobs, and a mixed assortment of green, greeny brown and brown trees are blowing in a stiff breeze outside, I'd take the time to greet you.

It seems that even with supposedly warm temperatures in the air, the brightest of days at the moment are still decidedly chilly. There are still a few reminders of the summer gone - windswept butterflies seemingly trying desperately to keep warm on the wing; moorhen chicks on the lake; brightly coloured dragonflies still on the wing. But the flowers have been replaced by berries and the lush foliage is pairing back to reveal brown stubbly farmers fields along the tracks and paths I run along.

I'm desperate to go out to Langford Lowfields RSPB reserve, but fear the strong winds and bustering rain as I thrash my creaking bicycle along the sustrans route 64. Running out to Willow Holt seems a major effort, headwinds making me run backwards as a stitch twists my side, skewered like a knitting needle.

But I promise, I will. There will always be new things to see, and write about.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Told a lie

There are still some butterflies about! When I was running along Clay Lane yesterday there were a few whites around, and I also startled a couple of Red Admirals out from the soggy undergrowth. Got to be on their last legs though, the nights are starting to frost over a little bit.

The rich variety of berries about are attracting big flocks of song birds. Walking up the cycle path from the railway the Haws, Damsons, Sloes and Rose Hips were set upon by a large flock of long tailed tits, "zupping" across the path from West to East and rattling delicately about in the trees and shrubs.

There was a flock of greenfinches as well. Busy birds feeding up for the crueller months. A squirrel is finding the acorns from my youngish oak tree irressistible, and was today cutely scoffing one in the branches from between its front paws.

Saturday 17 September 2011

A solitary splash of colour

Ran about 10k today, maybe 7 miles, out down Lowfields Lane past the Egg stall with the honesty box. Love those things, keep meaning to get some - £1 for a half dozen free range is really good these days. I don't have much money but I can't buy anything that says "Eggs for Caged Hens" it just sticks in my throat.

After I emerged onto the cycle path had a little sccot round IDP's little fishing lake looking for dragonfly, but no dice - the very children's book looking lilies and lilypads looked very nice. And as I ran along here, a solitary bright pink flower, kind of like a sweet pea, shone out at me. Nothing much else with this kind of colour is around, I was surprised to see it. There's a few greater bindweed out, but you know I don't count these trumpet shaped blooms.

They are too damned ubiquitous!

Further down the cycle path noticed a fair few finches, might even have been greenfinches which I have seen precious few of this year, and the squirrels are getting even more frantically active. All the Conker Trees here a blighted by that moth pest, and have all but shed all of their diseased leaves. The little oak on my garden, well its leaves are changing colour in a most attractive fashion, must photograph it.

Friday 16 September 2011

As the grey skies closed in

Tonights run was past the lake, where a family playing with a radio controlled boat didn't seem to be bothering the Coots, Grebes, and Tufted Ducks, and then through Beacon Hill Park where the only flowers now showing are the Wild Garlic and the ragwort slash groundsely stuff has turned into the cottony seeds that the strong winds must be spreading far and wide.

The sky was blue and pleasant above, but far in the distance gun metal grey clouds were dropping feathery looking curtains of rain to the south west. I had to get a shift on to avoid a soaking. And as it turned out I was right to.

Today's star sighting was by the bushes next to the river opposite the castle. As I thundered by, I startled out a Banded Demoiselle damselfly, which flapped agitatedly flapped around me before settling on the privet for not long enough for me to get a photo.

Still had a super view, of the deep metallic blue blody and the darkened wingtips. The blue is beautiful, much deeper than the Common Blue damsel, the colour of bottle of Babycham!

Ah Babycham, is it still around, delighting somewhat rough girls with its illusion of sophistication.

Thursday 15 September 2011

holly berries growing up

Still Dragons but no Butters

Did 7 plus miles, counted at least 4 little moorhen chicks, or are they coot chicks, down on london road lake.

It has been a nice day but by the time I had hit the road things had gone a little greyer. No swallows or martins to be seen. No butterflies to be seen, not even a white. Clay Lane is a mass of fields harvested and cropped down to brown stubble, the beautiful yellow and red field of early summer a memory. The colours are dark, berry hughes amongst the brown and greens.Shaggy Inkcap mushrooms out by the castle, a sure sign of the seasonal change.

Still with us though, are Dragonflies. I'd never seen any in Beacon Hill before, but there were a fair few (Common?) Hawkers flying around, there yellow striped thoraxes reminding me of the titular spaceship of "Lexx" for some reason. If only they were flown by Eva Habermann...

Tuesday 13 September 2011

So yeah, I ran

I ran in a beautiful golden yet crisp early evening light, glowing over a London Road lake that was alive with waterfowl.

There was the largest group of Tufted Duck I've yet seen on there, loads of Coot, Moorhens plus chicks, out of eclipse Mallards, one of which's bottle green head registered quacked up surprise as an immature great crested grebe surfaced directly beneath it and nearly sank it. The Coots were really crying out, a sound I haven't really heard much of on London Road. Martins Pond you could hear them calling all the time.

Lots of berries out, Hawthorn, Elderberry, Rosse Hip, other really warming and dark looking crimson berries. The Holly berries on my tree are just starting to redden, but will barely survive ripeness for a day before the Woodpigeons descend like a biblical plague.

A biblical plague of Woodpigeons...there's an image!

Back in trainers

Right, the wind is howling, but the sun is out and I'm ready to get my creamcrackered trainers back on and hit the roads and tracks after my little holiday at home and in Brighton. Curious to see what's out there in Willow Holt, Langford Lowfields and Beacon Hill, as the season changes.

Langford Lowfields in particular should be interesting as migrants pass through and winter visitors begin to appear. Out on the tracks, I wonder when anything will apear to munch all the big fat berries that are out. Redwings and Fieldfares to look out for. Wonder if Waxwings will also appear, this is a bird I haven't been lucky enough to see yet.

Also, how long will summer sights still be seen. Dragons, Darters and Damsels? Any Martins or Swallows left. The Willow Holt Sedge Warblers? Interesting times

Sunday 11 September 2011

Song of the Gulls

With apologies to King Crimson...

Spending a few days in Brighton of all places, and have been spending time walking the entire 4 mile length of the seafront. Wildlife not really a feature apart from enormous and rather evil looking Herring Gulls patronising the sea front cafes, and standing still in the air as they face up to a sea gale.

Inexperienced younger gulls harry their elders for food, and get short shrift amidst a fusilade of offensive "yarks". I'm disappointed not to have seen any waders or black backed gulls, although it is a busy beach and as gravel not wader. There was a lesser black backed gull in a flea market, but it was wearing a Brighton and Hove Albion scarf and was in a taxidermy case along with a Jay in a straw hat.

It's a lovely city, but too expensive for me to live in. There's always something interesting to see, the cafes and bars are great, Nick Cave's favourite coffee shop divine, and as I write this kite surfers replace Hobbies and Kestrels, screaming along the waves as the wind strengthens by the second.

I can see them from my window

Thursday 8 September 2011

I am debauching

I am around, but on holiday from running, as I've been ill and have a friend visiting who is pretty hot on high culture, architecture and retro arts and technology, but probably doesn't want to be dragged through muddy fields and up and down dale to look at not terribly exotic butterflies.

And frankly it has been quite easy to avoid running for a few days, and instead have nice teas in cafes with a river view and in the evening enjoy a few glasses of wine while dancing away to old goth tracks on youtube without having to worry about doing a ten mile trot the next day. I apologise to all lifeforms in the fields for my laziness, but I'll be back in my trainers soon.

In the meantime, as I worry about the number of readers I have, and whether this blog has anything worth reading in the first place, here's the Roman's guide to blogging


Saturday 3 September 2011

Moorhen Chicks

Dinky report! Had a very chesty heavy legged run late this afternoon, was surprised to spot at least three moorhen (I think) chicks on London Road lake! Bit late isn't it?

Delightful little things moorhen chicks, black pom poms with comedy feet! Cold breeze today, the wind was fluffing their down up even more!

Cold wind at Langford Lowfields

Luckily I had the wind on the way there! Surprised to see plenty of my fellow humans, a birder with big binoculars, a couple with a very friendly bike loving Collie, and a warden ranger guy of whom more later.

Even before I entered the reserve area proper, the 64 path was littered by "Common" Darters, both male and female. Seem to keep lower to the ground than other dragon fly, still can't photograph them for toffee though. I tried stalking one, looking like an idiot in the process to passing birdlife. Many Yellowhammers flitting in and out of the hedges.

On the path, more "Common Darters", only they might be ruddy! And some common blue damselfly too. As soon as I arrived at the hide and looked out, the Hobby did exactly the same dragonfly noshing scything flight along the bed as it did last time, but aside from that not a lot to be seen and a freezing cold wind blowing.

Then a nice warden gave me a heart attack by popping up as I had a look at the flowers and scanned the ground for damselfly. He was really helpful and listened to my imbecilic observations with a lot of patience. He told me that yes the Common Darters were Common, but could be Ruddy and they are damn difficult to tell apart, something to do with waisted abdomens that captain slow eyes here is never going to see! He also said that there were bigger Brown Darters, and Brown Hawkers common too - I'd thought I'd seen these bronzey metallic looking things and was glad to have it confirmed. On the way out, as I spotted a couple of Egrets and a Heron on Lake 1, and did I see a couple of bright blue Emperor Hawkers? Maybe...Also some quacking ducks flying in echelons round and about and I'm not sure they were Mallards either. Couldn't get the field glasses onto them.

One thing I noticed as I left the site. On the corner past the portaloos, on a big weedy bank of earth, a big flock of 50 plus little birds erupted startled by my bike and circled round and about. Don't think they were finches, maybe a flock of warblers getting ready to head off? No idea!

Thursday 1 September 2011

The last of summer

It wasn't supposed to be sunny and warm today, but it was. I ran 6-7 miles, a bit painfully I've overdone it a bit the last few days.

How I miss the hope of seeing really summery birds and butterflies. The warm rays are now mixed with autumnal berries and colours, the last few whites and red admirals are still strong, but I think I saw starlings beginning to flock on the footbridge over the river.

The Holly berries are now beginning to redden on my tree, awaiting obilteration by woodpigeons before any far more interesting Redwings or Fieldfares. Cold days and nights in my flat are upcoming.

But I will enjoy every damn thing I can. I found a little shield bug on my old gap jacket, an emerald green photographic subject!

Wednesday 31 August 2011

No no swallows do not an autumn make

Ran out to Hawton today then across to Farndon and through Willow Holt before the river.

Was delighted to see that although there's none in town, there's still a few swallows out in the country - a few at Hawton, a few more eating midges on the river by the power station as a Cormorant sat atop a post watching all the old gents fishing.

I was glad to see the swallows, in this cool summer it gives you hope you might have a last couple of warm days before the thermals come out!

Willow Holt has had a haircut, and as I was surprised to find as I ran in through the Wyke Lane end, a herd of brown cows have moved in to that field. They were surprised as hell too and went running off, before pausing to regroup and take a few unfrightened steps towards me.

Being a coward, I figured a quick burst of speed would avoid a savage  harge by these terrifying beasts...I think I could have rested easy though.

In the wood by the river, a couple of biggish dragonflies still about, and by the river, I saw a peacock as well as plenty of whites. The cropped meadows mean no more gatekeeper or meadow brown though in the Holt.

Overall, a good run, but it was another drab grey green day and gives me unhappy thoughts of the days to come.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Poor Tufty

Today's run was a weird route I've only done once before - to Balderton and then along the length of Lowfield Lane. It's a curious spot, pretty open fields and sewage works. Ubiquitous Sloe and Hawthorn berries everywhere, and Robins are becoming more prominent as Summer ends. Their red breasts show up more as the colours fade.

No swallows to be seen anywhere.

Was delighted to find a place selling eggs along here with an honesty box outside! Have promised to go and get some for my mother, lovely big free range hen eggs, or maybe duck eggs if we're lucky.

Just love to see that sort of thing.

After running a long way back along the cycling path, Grebe and chum on the lake, more out eclipse Mallards (I make them sound like Pink Floyd fans with all this 'eclipse' business) on the lake, I came to the river to find a couple fishing on a barge - man I love barges, I so want one - returning a very large eel to the depths. Whoah, had to double take at that. Have never seen one of these taken before although I imagine it happens often enough. I doubt anyone fancies eating anything taken in Newark waters! I notice the authorities at the lake even took down the "Do Not Eat the Swans" signs. The polish folk found it hilarious to be branded as swan eaters!

Later, saw a Squirrel killed on the road. One second a happy quicksilver ball of fur, the next it just ran straight onto the busy road. Like I fool I cried out as two cars hit it. Upsetting. Poor thing.

A grey end to a grey grey day. It's like running through a Husker Du song.

Monday 29 August 2011

The Martins are Massing

Today's run went out to the British Gypsum site today, up a distinctly autumnal feeling Sustrans 64 cycle path, berried rather than flowered, the field harvests all in and everything cut to stubble.

No dragonflies by the little fishing pond by the ID whatever it is site. Still WOrthington Simpsons in my brain. IDK is it?

So ran along the rather nothing road back into town, then the long slog into a headwind along Grange Road, having nasty perfume on women wafted up my nose while they were still thirty yards away.

On Sconce Hills park, noticed in the distance that a lot of birds were massing. Thought initially it might be swallows ready to "Fly to EEEEEGGGYYYPT" - how I love that phrase - but as I dragged myself along, I realised that they were little characteristically chubby and stubby House Martins, plumper than swallows but just as capable of carving the air to filament with their wings.

There were two big flocks - one at the Valley Prospect end of the park, and another over the river where they have the picnic tables. Maybe 50 plus birds or more in each flock. Very active, swooping around, sometimes quite close, little white rumps showing against a grey and green backdrop of trees dull sky and a depressed looking fottie pitch.

Don't know whether this was a stuffing themselves exercise, or whether this is them massing prior to heading south, I don't know. But it made the trip for me.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Cricket and white flowers

Another bright, but thin, brittle day with a cold old breeze seemingly blowing in your face no matter in which direction you are running.

Did the two lakes (and missed out Beacon Hill, figured it would be as muddy as hell up there) but did a strategic few laps of a cricket match at Elm Field, the old RHP ground. God, that leg spinner, reckon I could have panned him out the park. And I was a hopeless batsman.

Not much action on the two lakes - Mallards and Coots mainly, but as I set off down the cycle path to the railway station, noticed a few White and Peacock butterflies around what's left of the buddleiah. Also noticed this new plant that seems to have flowered late, clinging to the depressing and creaky chicken wire fence that separates the path from the cheap and scratchy looking East Coast Trains hammering up North and down South.  It has these feathery looking, trailing white flowers that could easily belong on mars.

Not a clue what it is, as usual.

I apologise for this blog being written by the most idiotic botanist ever to walk the earth. The prisoners in Plato's cave would identify plants better. I just have no idea where to go - the world of the green leafy and flowery things is just so huge!

Saturday 27 August 2011

All feels like shutting down

Only a shorter 5 mile route today or so, noticed again that aa few of the mallard drakes seem to be coming out of eclipse and getting their bottle green heads again. The Great Crested Grebe was back on London Road Lake after some sort of holiday, the Tufted Ducks still seem to be on theirs.

All the Blackberries have been eaten by the birds. And irritating children.

Beacon Hill is losing its colour, Buddleiah's fading fast. Only have dim memories of seeing a few White butterflies about. EVerything feels bleached out blanched out, summer colour washing away on a bright, sunny yet 'thin' feeling sort of day.

I've ttried to make the most of it, but it doesn't seem like there's been a really proper summer this year. What will I be able to look for at Langford or Beacon Hill or Willow Holt as the autumn blows in on a flow of golden leaves?

Friday 26 August 2011

Too tired to look about me

I was feeling fat yesterday - thyis time off work has drawbacks you know! - and so decided to run a half marathon on the course used by the town for the race a couple of weeks ago.

4 and a half miles in after the unscenic slog around Hawtonville, decided that this was damn stupid and figured that doing a tour of the two lakes and Beacon Hill would be better. Who needs to go out in the bleak vastnesses beyond British Gypsum?

So theoretically I should have loads to report, but as I ended up running for over two hours and probably half marathon distance anyway, looping up and down London Road and out along Clay Lane, I don't. Apart from the fact that my legs aren't as sore as I expected. There are still a few red admirals about, and on Clay Lane a flock of Long Tail Tits were "zupping" in the Hawthorns and Elderberries; as ever a most pretty sight. Seems to be spring and autumn when you see these little flocks the most, I say without anything really to back this up bar a wonky memory.

Weather foul today, so may not get out at all. Lazy lazy boy.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Aerial Killers

Today, I spent hours outside.

But they were mainly lazy hours. I've been running for five straight days and my legs are sore, my ankles ache, my back creaks...yeah, and what I really wanted to do was just sit in the sun all damn day!

And mostly I did.

But, you must get out and do something more positive on a glorious day like this, in a summer where we've had so few of them, so I figured I could combine a bit of a sunbathe with a bike trip to Willow Holt and that's what I did, risking the nasty roadworks and the A46.

So, parked up by the river at the back end of Willow Holt, I lazed around, keeping my eyes open of course, but just generally feeling good. In contrast with what I've read, still seemed to be a few of the little Sedge Warblers flitting about the willows on the water and swallows swooped about the river.

But as I trotted around, frighteningly shirtless and jeans rolled up to reveal odd socks, every so often, a menacing shape would cast a cold shadow across my face...

You'd think only a largish bird would do that, but as I turned, I found that it was a large dragonfly. As ever maddeningly never settling so I can get a proper look at it let alone photograph it, it hummed past my head, another, more frightening steampunk little war machine (see what I wrote about ladybirds) flying in a spiky series of straight lines. 

It wasn't alone either, there was a fair few of them about on this little stretch of riverbank. And they were hungry too - they were flying high, and as I watched, they were effortlessly taking smaller insects on the wing; just sailing up behind them and plucking them out of the sky. You could almost hear the chomping. What beautiful and staggeringly effective pocket Spitfires they are. They are even painted up like a particularly flash airfix model.

For eventually a few of them came close enough to me to get a decent view of the colour scheme. They were all of the same species - bronzey looking wings, a large head and thorax patterned in yellow and an abdomen of greeney-blue. Not solid coloured so not an Emperor, I'm pretty sure now that these Dragonfly, which I see more of than any other round here, are Common Hawkers.

Monday 22 August 2011

Steampunk Ladybirds

Ran 6-7 miles today, the back way from Clay Lane to Beacon Hill, past yet another fly tip halfway up, past the fallen tree. Horrendous. I've notified the council to keep an eye on the area, no idea if they are doing so or not.

It was warm, but the sun was only intermittently out. Good job, as I didn't have one of my low cost and probably useless isotonic drinks with me and was feeling a bit overheated. Stupid boy.

Still the odd Gatekeeper to be seen in Beacon Hill at the Nursery End, but Butterfly Park, well the Buddleiahs are over, and all the peacocks and red admirals. As in spring we counted them in, now one by one we count them gone. The Birds Foot Trefoil is over as well, those lovely little yellow carpets.

Suddenly the House Sparrows have come back from their holidays, and are screeching about in little flocks on the industrial estate, and back on my drive.

Been wanting to write about ladybirds again. There's a lot of 7 spotters around in my garden - and a yellow and black one turned up on my arm the other day - and I love watching them fly about. They are like dinky little steampunk airships, little buzzing wings, opened up carapace and dangling legs. You could see them in Alan Moore, League of Extraordinary Gentleman or some other piece of victorian dystopia, piloted by a beggogled waistcoat wearing type. Airborne steampunk disco!

Man, how I'd love that!

Sunday 21 August 2011

A Hobby - Today's Big Attraction

And what came out to feast on the dragonflies? While taking in the sun and scanning the trees behind the hide I noticed a falcon rising up from seemingly the farmers field - where there had been a lot of clanking and whirring from some sort of baler or harvester - and then disappear out of my view as it headed out behind the tall hedge onto the river end of the reed bed.

Ach, probably another Kestrel, I thought to myself.

But then looking out from the hide, it suddenly veered into view high from the right, not hovering like a kestrel and with I think a slimmer body shape with narrower tail and wings, sickle like wings in fact.

Very evidently it was hunting for prey on the water, until as it made its way round to where the RSPB hut was, it suddenly stooped, dropping like a stone almost onto the water, a process it repeated a couple of more times as it followed the water course away to the left.

I've read about it often enough, it would appear that finally I've seen the Langford Lowfields Hobby.

And not before time, it can't be long before it scuds off down south for the winter and was presumably stuffing itself with dragonflies by way of preparation, which are very numerous at the moment.

It wasn't done with me, as I cycled back up the path it was working over Lake 1 before heading into the wood. Excited, its a magnificent fast flier, it seems to be barely moving and then you realise its another hundred metres further away!

Late Summer at Langford Lowfields

A beautiful morning clouded over the second I climbed on my bike, which is typical. As soon as the sun came out when I arrived on site, I took my shirt off in the heat and immediately attracted every biting insect within 132 miles. This is also typical.

What was not typical was seeing lots of interesting things before I even got to the hide. The air was alive with damsel and dragon flies, in particular some very vivid red specimens. Not so many butterflies now, but a peacock was on the path, unusual for me to see one here.

And on Lake 2, an Egret was settled on the bank, had a good watch through my field glasses at this pure white elegant little heron, sinuously striding about looking for fish and frogs.

It would have had more chance there than on the main reed bed by the hide, because the water level there is really low. A rather landlocked swan was just about visible behind the hedge, and no herons anywhere - water level must be too low. But another Egret was visible in the middle of the bed, and a little later another one was stalking in front of where the RSPB hut used to be! They've moved it!

One thing I've learned to do, is now pay attention to the ground and the hedges behind me, as well as the reed bed. Well worth it too, as today lots of Small Blue Butterflies, these little flying parma violets were feeding on the birds foot trefoil. Far too wary little things to let me get near enough to photograph them though!

Again there was a Common Blue Damselfly, but a short time later, I spotted an unfamiliar specimen of similar size but with a mainly blue black abdomen with a neon blue tip at the end. Research indicates that this was a blue tailed damselfly.

They are all blue somethings, aren't they?

And back on the path on the way back up, I was able to get a decent look at the red dragonflies that were so numerously out today. One landed nearby, wings spread, not folded. Definitely a dragonfly then. I vaguely remembered about certain darter species being this vivid red colour, and indeed I believe it to  have been a Common Darter. I think I saw a broad bodied chaser as well, despite the RSPB reckoning they aren't common at Langford, and there a few of the big ones that look like WW1 Albatros D5 german biplanes. Emperors?

All these dragonflies about must have been the reason I finally got a chance to see today's main attraction...

Saturday 20 August 2011

Tonight I fly for Eeeeeeeggggpyt

7 mile run today, full length off Clay Lane route. The Sloes are starting to appear, making my mother slaver at the prospect of me finally making some Sloe gin for her.

Same slavering as every year! It'll never happen. I will endeavour to collect some though when they are ready, and must get at the Blackberries before they are over as well. Always a bit nervous about picking berries in the wild though. Orgo warned me about this on He Man when I was a child, and I still heed his words about berry picking!

LOL, should be ok with Sloes and Blackberries though. They are pretty distinctive, no?

Ringlets seems to have gone at Beacon Hill, still Speckled Woods about, and plenty of Gatekeepers.

The swallows are still continuing to mass, sitting on telegraph wires or making confetti of the air with their wings as they feed for their lives. No idea how much longer we will have them; the swifts are already gone, it would appear.

Migrating swallows - I always think of Oscar Wilde and his story The Happy Prince. I mention this every year I'm sure, somewhere. The animated version of this I still cannot watch, even now. Like Born Free, brings me out in tears every time.

Friday 19 August 2011

From the river to the lake

Today's run took me out to Kelham, across along the country lane to Muskham, and then back into town along the Great North Road.

It is, by no means a pretty road. It's busy roads, lorries, badly driven vans and bland farmscapes with all possible lanes blocked off with heavy tree trunks and gates to prevent fly tipping.

And on the lane to Muskham,risk of being taken out by a car. Shan't run along here, I declare.

Not much to see then, but I fancied a change. Plenty of Goldfinch and other finchy looking flocks in the hedges though. Because of the roads, I ducked out onto a footpath that led through a field along the Trent, again a rather unattractive stretch, but a Banded Demoiselle greeted me, and another big yellow brown dragonfly, similar to the ones I most commonly see at Langford Lowfields. A fair few white butterflies about too.

I found that the fences under the bridge to the Muskham lake had been vandalised, could easily have run round the lake. But fishermen were about and no doubt some rod wielder or other would have kicked up a fuss. So I just ran home along the road.

As usual, the lake was sterile, devoid of life, barely even a bush in sight. Really dislike that place. If the restricted access preserved wildlife, I wouldn't be bothered.

But there is barely nothing living to see.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

speckled wood

bracket fungus

Willow Holt bike trip

Before talking about that, had a run of absoloutely no value yesterday round and about Sconce and the River Devon - nothing to see! I saw more in my garden when I gapeling Blackbird - with fully grown tail though - rustled through the first fallen leaves and turned them over hither with vigorous hakes of its head. Tried to photograph it as it let me get quite close, obligingly it waited until the split nanosecond before my cameraphone was focussed, then jumped off onto another twig.

Just back, via Morrisons, from a trip on my Bike to Willow Holt reserve. It's a fine brightish day, but not exactly warm and when I got to my little stamping ground by the river end of the reserve on a park bench it seemed all the little birdies had gone to bed for the day. It was beautiful and peaceful, but not a mere twitter of birdsong to be heard. No waterfowl either, the Trent is usually well populated with Mallards and Canade Geese, but not today either. One thing I did notice is that the Black Headed gulls seem to have lost their heads already! Seems very early, wonder if the rubbish summer has done this. Come to think about it, I'm sure we are getting the first falling leaves early as well.

But I might be imagining it. My imagination can run riot somedays!

After fruitlessly scanning the canopy with my 10 x 25s and finding nothing, I wandered around the woodland a little and found a couple of photographic subjects - a little Speckled Wood, and a fantastic bracket fungus on a tree. Will put those up later, I'm not staying on this library computer a second longer, the hamsters aren't spinning the internet wheel quick enough.

And then, as I was leaving and the sneaky little fellows had spotted me doing so, the birds started singing.

In celebration no doubt.

Monday 15 August 2011

Oh sweet lil' rodent thing

Got some time off work so plan to be active.

Did tour of the two lakes today, ran about 9 miles or so in quite warm humid conditions. As ever the big Balderton lake was pretty boring, the only noteworthy sight being a couple of white domestic ducks that seem to have moved in - lot of hybrid mallards on this lake and the London Road lake.

London Road Lake - quiet

Clay Lane - quiet, still lots of fly tipping evidence about, Whites, Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers still about. The corn paints a warming cast on the fields. I felt like collapsing into it and leaving a creamcrackered man shape kind of corn circle. I was hot by then.

Beacon Hill reserve is getting very tangly and overgrown with late summer plants, I guess, saw a skipper amongst the thistles.

All the ringlets seem to have disappeared.

The novel sight of the day was actually running alongside London Road lake. About 5 metres in front of me (does google prefer me to be metric?) a wee dinky little rodent scuttled across the path in front of me. No idea what it was, didn't seem to have much of a tail tail and looked a little big to be a mouse. Bank Vole? No idea. But I've never seen such  a sight before in all my runs along the cycle track.

Goes to show, really, that there is always something new to see, even in the most familiar of places.