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?