Friday 24 February 2012

Bats Begins

Had a little four mile trot in a darkening and beautiful twilight, decorated by a thin crescent moon, brilliant Venus and Citrine Jupiter in a straight line as if pierced by an arrow.

On London Road lake, The Great Crested Grebe was wearing his summer plumage, and there was a veritable battlefleet of tufted ducks trying not to be distracted by hooting Coots, displaying like little black pagodas again.

Most of the time as the sky blackened I was racing a fellow runner in a neon yellow vest, vainly and in vain trying to catch him up.

Eventually I got round to Millgate, after not having seen very much but drank in the sight of a lovely evening as an overall wash of impression. But there, flitting along by The Watermill pub, was the first bat I've seen in a few months, a little black shape, wings beating, just about visible infront of grey stonework.

I wonder if there were any moths to be tasty this eve?

Thursday 23 February 2012

Long Run, Hot Sun

OK, Hot might be a bit of a strong word, but a week and a half after cycling to work in agony in temps of -14 C it was a blessing, by crikey.

Today, I headed out a long way, out under the new underpass along Farrndon Road as differs pushed drying mud around, and eventually through a short cropped Will Holt nature reserve, I think my first trip out here of 2012. A Bumble Bee was buzzing my window just as I left so I was hoping for a hardy Red Admiral or Brimstone, but no, no butterflies.

Just as the Holt began, saw a pretty flock of Goldfinches watching a long tailed tit fly past. Had a really good look at one fairly tame specimen, who obligingly sat as I trundled by.

The river stretch of the Holt, extensive coppicing has taken place, but some of the Willows look stunning. They are literally gold in colour, and shine in the sun.

Another 6 miles of running followed, but I saw naught so memorable as the Willows of Gold

Sunday 19 February 2012

The Scorpion Rises

Was up very early for work as usual - left the house at 0610 to find a spot of indigo-green twilight in the sky (hooray!) and the thinnest slice of a waning moon glowing orange scraping a rooftop.

Virgo and Saturn were visible, but are already starting to set. What I could see, low in the South South West and red as a hot coal, was Antares, Alpha Scorpii, sat viciously beneath his claws. Alas from here, his sting is never visible.

To quote Death in Vegas, "Scorpio Rising". Signs that winter is perhaps on the way out. A sign of a chance to hunt star clusters and the centre of the galaxy low down. Fat chance in he orange smog above the rooftops!

Have just had a little stint with binoculars. Despite the neighbours security light, the starfields of Orion, Monoceros, Gemini and Auriga were beautiful. Had a look for Messier 41 and Messier 50, but low down, and no joy I think. Luckily the sky in this part of the universe is one massive star cluster.

Friday 17 February 2012

Cootish Antics

Went running today, and went running into unknown places, trying to record a piece about sport while I did so, hoping that this would give it added authenticity.

It didn't. It was a load of panting crap.

However, before getting lost in a ploughed field that deposited so much mud on my running shoes I weighed twice as much at the end of it as the beginning. This was across the field beyond the nursery in Beacn Hill Park. I went through the funky tunnel I was always curious about...before that!

Before that, I ran past London Road lake to see signs of what I shall gently term "increasing randyness" upon the water. Ducks were flying around, agressive quacking, an anatid saturday night clubbing tussle.

What really caught my eye though was a coot clearly engaging in a display for the benefit of a presumably female specimen - I don't think Coots show any sexual dimorphism - sailing along making that funny little shrill airhorn call, with his wings puffed up and folded over his body, so he looked like a mandarin teal or some sort of gothic avian pagoda.

He was glossy black, a very handsome specimen. I hope he scored.

Thursday 16 February 2012

Under a Shark Grey Sky

So, I've been a bad bad boy by not running yesterday so by way of punishment I decided to have a really long one in the morning.

Which was a bit of a fail as I didn't get up till 11am, and so ended up spending a productive afternoon writing and researching in the library, before watching the lazy mallards on the river at the museum cafe, my most favourite place in this town.

But I did get round to it eventually, and set off late at 415pm, heading through a cemetry where white snowdrops and purple crocuses, past Balderton Lake where the white headed gulls have found better weather on the coast again I think and only a few cruising Canada Geese disturbed the surface of the calm waters.

And that set the pattern of the day. There wasn't much to see in the eventually darkening flat grey light, a shark grey sky that wasn't threatening, but still wasn't pretty.

But as I've said before, you don't have to see anything for it still to be worthwhile, after all a scientist will tell you that a negative result is just as important as a positive one, and sometimes more so. Just love being outside and active, revel in passing slower runners on the cycling path while restraining yourself from farting as your backside passes them or making obscene gestures to re-inforce your utter superiority and hoping that someone older than you, and faster, doesn't pass you as you do so.

Only a few Starlings were murmurating, but that didn't matter, I just love being outside and so should all of you.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Birds at War

Well, as I went running down past London Road lake, still rather slippery in places, and up from the sky came some piercing shrieks.

Black Headed gulls were having an aerial battle over some piece of possibly edible detritus.

Ran down Clay Lane a little way. Three rats ran past a startled Dunnock and buried themselves in a pile of damp brown hay.

Running between Clay Lane and Beacon Hill estate, a kestrel swooped low across the path of mud and ice, straight over my head. And then, rising slowly from the stand of trees, up came a Buzzard, slow wing beats clawing the thin cold air. And just as it got to some sort of maintainable altitude - fat chance finding thermals today! - a couple of crows came hurtling out of a tree and set about mobbing it, vicously harrying it as the poor majestic fellow tried to get on his way to look for dead carcasses to eat. I watched them for a couple of minutes and a couple of hundred yards, they never let up, even when they were but dots in the distance.

So, the sky was rather full of aerial dogfighting today.

But that wasn't it for interesting sights. Up on Beacon Hill reserve by that fascinating bit of chemical steampunk tech and what I call Butterfly Corner, I saw a few goldfinches fly across me, but up in the tree tops on the opposite side of the path, feeding on some sort of bud or seed poddy things, was a large flock of very noisy chattering and chuntling finch type birds. Dark faces and heads, but really hard to see clearly in the flat grey light against the sky. Striated undersides by the wings. For all I know, hungry house sparrows. Could nver get a clear look.

And then on a little park near home, on the little katonyaster type trees that no bird usually seems bothered about compared to my holly tree, th Redwings have arrived in town. These most pretty of birds, and like the Fieldfares, a sure sign that the countryside is frozen and foodless.

Frozen and foodless. Just like me!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Look ma I can run on the ice!!!

Titale says it all really. Determined not to get cabin fever and fat by being cooped up in bad weather like a frustrated walrus, I crawled out from under the duvet from where I had spent most of the day, put on my running shoes and hit the paths.

A lot of the snow had thawed overnight, but it was colder out and the snow left was hardened uneven slush. I avoided it where I could, pretending to be an antarctic explorer skirting crevasses, but when I got to the cycle path by London Road lake it was crusted.

So, no choice but to carry on, and you know, it was ok. I didn't break my neck, I didn't smash my elbow again. I kept going on the ice, uneven, crunchy, and though I didn't really see anything of any great interest whatsoever, this brave soul, this mighty warrior, felt very proud of himself when he got back in.

Monday 6 February 2012

Fieldfares! The weather must be cold!

After a welcome couple of days down South, were sadly tropical temperatures were not in eivdence however, I returned last night to a crisp white world under a moonlit sky full of haze.

Today, with the hard freeze of the night already thawing away, I strapped on these WinterTrax crampon things, and set sail on slushy - but I think still slippery - paths.

London Road lake was frozen but thawing, apart from a hole down the far end where there was clear water and here most of the waterfowl were congregated. 3 ducks made a fascinating circular appoarch and landing, which one of them cocked up rather.

On Clay Lane a Mistle Thrush watched me from a treetop, and Dunnocks, Wrens and Blue Tits flitted about the frozen hedgerows.

On Beacon Hill I noticed a large flock of songbirds, perhaps a hundred or more, with what looked like white undersides and black underwings. I followed them to where they had landed in some trees and shrubs, and got close enough to them to realise that they were Fieldfares. They were wary rural birds - you never see them in town in these kind of numbers unless the weather is really bad - and didn't get terribly close to them, but the white undersides and slate grey rumps were very distinctive.

After they had flown off, I inspected a couple of the ornamental berry laden trees of some kind they had perched in. They had absoloutely raped it, discarded half eaten fruit littering the pavement and driveway like squelched meteorites. A pretty sight though, and now I hope for Redwings in town. Or dare I say it, Waxwings.

After that, things were a little flat. The slush was worse, but Beacon Hill reserve was weirdly lit under a ghost of a grey sun. Nothing to see though, a flatlit grey white landscape where anything sane was underground.

I felt the same! That's why I went to bed for the afternoon to read in warmth and peace.

swans and waterfowl in a waterhole

Runnings by Night

two days ago, in defiance of the snow and people who thought I might be insane and risking my health, I took off down the Kingsway on Hove Seafront as bitty gritty white stuff fell on my head, and a fierce wind blew in off the sea.

My monkish grey top and hood were blown every which way. Luckily, there wasn't much to see!

I had always had the foolish notion that all of Sussex is pretty, elegant, expensive resorts, piers reaching out into the sea like a Dowagers fingers and nice cafes and restaurants stuffed with nicey nicey patrons eating tea and cake.

Not so. The moment you cross the border from Hove into Portslade, at the end of that peculiar harbour that runs from the lagoons parallel to the seafront, you go into frankly a bit of a rough place. The pavements suddenly go cracked, the road a little narrower and more threatening, the sea disappears behind rows iof grey terrace houses with signs advertising motor repair pasted on the end, and stripey tracksuits and gold chains start sppearing out of pub doorways. The flecks of snow even looked grey.

It didn't take me long to turn round; for my patronising self to run shamefully back the way I came, back into posh Hove where the homeless people shiver in tents upon the pitch and put.

They weren't the only thing shivering. As I passed the end of the tennis courts in the dark, a small bird was startled off the ground. I could barely see it, but every time it flew off a few feet when I approached, it seemed to have wader shaped wings, black on the leading edge, the back edge half white. It was no bigger than a small thrush, although seemingly chubbier built. No idea what it was, it was far too dark to see anything clearly apart from the wings.

It made a change though, so used to seeing only gulls on the seafront.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Working for you night and day!

Just rounding up a couple of days of observations!

Couple of nights ago, on a freezing freezing night, did a bit of "post-pub astronomy" with my 10x50s, half moon just about setting, but I think I bit of high altitude haze about. Managed to see M44 Beehive ok, but couldn't get Messier 67 a little further South. My eyes didn't want to work properly! Had a look for Leo and Virgo galaxies, slowly sweeping the skies, but no chance. Had a look for Messier 51 Whirlpool Galaxy in Ursa Major as I had read it can be an easy Binocular object, but no definite sighting. After a few minutes your eyes start to play tricks with you, especially when using averted vision. After a pint.

By this point, my hands were so purple with cold they were all but glowing in the darkness as if black-lit, so I headed inside to bed for a read, a DVD and some fortifying toast with a shot of rum.

I do love my rum. They should sell it with telescopes in winter.

Yesterday, before I went running I had the pleasure of having a really good long look at a Blackcap Warbler in my Holly Tree. Easy as pie from my living room window! THe poor bird, which at a cursory glance resembles a female house sparrow, although perhaps a lighter softer, cleaner grey with a head dipped in a black inkwell, sat shivering on a branch for a good 5 minutes, body fluffed out to reduce it's surface area relative to volume and preserve heat.

It was singing a little, and seemed to perk up after a few minutes rest before heading off. I bet the daft sod was wishing it was a Wood Warbler in Africa...

I note my garden area is not being visited by flocks of Long Tailed Tits at the moment.

Anyway my run was a 8 mile affair past the two lakes - Another Black Headed Gull wearing his Black Head too early on the larger Balderton Lake! I do wonder about this bird, I wonder if it is the same one I saw before.

The mystery bird that didn't seem exactly to be a Great Crested Grebe I reported a couple of days ago wasn't there on London Road lake.

Ran along a frozen, yet still bloody muddy Clay Lane, spotting chaffinches, wrens, great tits and similar in the hedgerows. And a Robin, which I haven't seen as many of in my garden area this winter.

Most interesting sight, apart from the folks doing a spot of rabbitting on Beacon Hill with a whippet and some terrier or other, was three Herons flying high near the castle, in a triangular formation. Slow wing beats, ruling the skies, and curiously reminding me of WW2 German Heinkel 111 bombers.