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.