Saturday 31 March 2012

Raptors Abound

After a few highly pleasant days sitting, running, writing and drinking tea in sunny climes, it has been very noticeable that the ever increasing local Buzzard population has taken to the skies, their tiny black broad y shaped bodies silhouetted against crystal blue skies.

And I'm not just seeing them out of town, I have been seeing them smack over my garden as I read a book and try not to get too red in the face after a long run. Two days ago, two largish raptors took off out of a nearby tree, seemed to squabble a little, before heading their separate ways. Now these birds puzzled me, they didn't fly with wings slung slightly forward, wingtips spread.

Instead their wings seemed rather "pointier", and held out at the perpendicular to the pody, which was pale underneath and had a black wedge shaped tail. Two days ago while I out running, I saw a similar bird on Millgate keening as a Buzzard does, as it was mobbed by a couple of smaller birds of prey, kestrels by the look of the build. I had already had a good look at a kestrel out of town at Cotham, sat spying on me from a telegraph pole.

So I'm probably seeing Buzzards, but the wings don't quite sit right with me.

I wonder if the Hobby and Harrier have reappeared at RSPB Langford Lowfields yet? That would make it a bumper time for raptors I could get to see, at a time when as ever they are undergoing illegal persecution.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Across the Sky by Rum

And we are not talking Scottish islands here either!

Once again, 3am found me outside with a Rum and Coke and my 10x50s, and this time forarmed with a far better idea of where to look for things.

Sure enough, Messier 5 was found a little way at 4 o clock from Alpha Serpentiis, close to a brightish 5th mag star, and almost as prominent as Messier 13 if harder to find. Tick one off, give a little "whoop", take a drink! As I wrote on twitter yesterday, I then confirmed that it was the cluster IC4665 I found in Ophicuchus, surprised something as prominent and easy to find has no NGC number let alone a Messier one.

Really on a roll now, I then managed to find Messier 3, which kind of makes a roughly equilateral triangle with Arcturus and Rho Bootes. Last night I reckoned M5 looked more impressive, but other sources rate M3 the better cluster.

New targets are now Messier 10 and 12 in Ophiuchus, and Coma galaxies.

This morning had a run out to Willow Holt. Gorgeous day, ended up rather too hot really for an 8 mile run, and a chiff chaff - I think - was singing loudly by the Wyke Lane entrance. Further along the river saw Reed Buntings and another finchy looking bird with a black and white tail, and seeming red patch on it sforehead.

Now I'm out of the sun, which is hazing now, and recovering!

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Cuba Libre Astronomy

With the moon well out of the way, decided to head out last night with my 10x50s for a spot of stargazing. This time of year the spring skies seem rather bland and empty to someone who hasn't got a telescope, so I thought I'd just float around for a bit as well as trying to target particular objects.

It was a cold night, so I took out a rum and coke with me, just to fend off the chill a little. I wasn't expecting it would help me see more stars though. That would be stupid.

If anything, it must have done the reverse. Messier 5 was still totally elusive, although today I found out I've been looking in slightly the wrong place due to my faulty memorization of wiki starmaps. Messier 3 I didn't even bother, I always end up with a sore bloody neck for nothing.

But in the East, the Milky Way and the Constellations of summer were rising, so I got a good look at Messier 13 - very impressive in my 10x50s on this night - and Messier 39. Omega 1 and 2 Cygni make a fine pair in binoculars, and although you can't see it's companion, Albireo was a lovely gold colour.

Had a sweep through the bowl of Virgo for galaxies, but I think they are all well out of reach of my 10x50s.

Rum or no rum.

Monday 26 March 2012

A Murmuration of Wagtails!

The other night, relieved after surviving another day at work but depressed because the next day would bring another one, I left the building and sorted my bicycle out, only to be assailed by a veritable battery of familiar sounding bubbling whistles.

Long tails in the sky and a deeply undulating flight path revealed a large flock of 100 plus wagtails had decided the sickly looking trees by the lorry park at work was the best sort of place to consider roosting and weren't at all worried that sitting on the road, tails-a-twitching was also the best place to be flattened by a 18 wheeler.

They circled in the sky, whistling furiously and full of the joys of a beautiful evening. A looser less organised roosting display than starlings, but still distracting to watch when wobbling along on a bicycle!

Today, been out running. Great Crested Grebe at London Road lake is in full on summer display colours, but no idea who it might display to, while Peacock and Small White butterflies made their first showing to me today.

Tonight, had a look at the Venus, Crescent Moon and Jupiter trio, a long thin triangle in the sky that a bat flew as I watched.

Venus is so bright it looks it has been punched through the sky from another dimension.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Green is the Colour

Was out running today, again not a lot out of the ordinary to be seen, and so as I went past the lake and along the full length of Clay Lane and through Beacon Hill reserve, it was another day just to bask in a beautiful afternoon, and relish the fact that I am outside in some pretty places compared to other places I could have ended up. By the castle another glossy cormorant flew by.

Was thinking of the colours. The muddy and dead browns of Winter are being replaced by the bright minty greens of spring. Green is the colour.

Green is where it is at.


amphibian love

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Sitting Beats Running

Today I ran 8-9 miles, past the two lakes and all the way along Clay Lane and through Beacon Hill Nature reserve. It was a lovely day. But, I really didn't see much of any great interest.

This doesn't matter. Just being outside and active on a glorious late afternoon is something to be grateful for.

But today, the most interesting things I saw was when I was sat down, and not looking for them.

This morning, I was at the Millgate Museum cafe, a favourite place of mine to while away an hour. Something caught the sun, and sat twitching upon the glorious, rusting, British Waterways dredger barge was a gorgeous Grey Wagtail, black of neck, yellow of breast with a slate grey back. Apparently the black neck means the bird is a breeding male, on the hunt for pretty wagtail ladies. I wish it luck.

In the background, a cormorant shone blackly in the sun, circling round looking for a likely fishing spot upon the river.

Later, I sat in my garden reading, and spent the afternoon being blasted by this incredibly loud, repetitive two tone whistle. Looked everywhere for the source, but couldn't find it; in fact it mocked me with it's absence, seemingly echoing from the other buildings round my garden and moving from tree to tree. Where was it? No idea.

What was it? No idea! I'd like to think it was possibly a Chiffchaff, I listened to that call and it was definitely similar. Perhaps as ever I'm overkilling it. But it just goes to show.

Sometimes sitting is better than running.

Monday 12 March 2012

Comet Garradd

After my busy day on bike and on foot yesterday, thought I'd have a little look for this comet in the vicinity of Ursa Minor and Draco last night - heard it was visible near the bottom end of URSA Minor so had a little look with my 10x50s - think I might have picked it up with averted vision as a misty patch with a noticeable tail at about 2 o clock from Kocab - Beta Ursa Minoris - and about the same distance away as gamma is from Kocab.

But my eyes weren't properly adapted and they may have been playing tricks as usual. Will keep an eye out, but I think it is going to be a difficult object under my skies with my 10x50s.

Kocab by the way, is a gorgeously orange star in the binocular view. Like a lollipop!

Probably because its name is a bit like Kojak.

Sunday 11 March 2012

First trip to Langford Lowfields 2012

Where is this sun coming from, I asked myself, non verbally, deep within my mind thing, as I got up this morning and tried to think of a constructive way to spend the day.

So I mounted my ailing bicycle, and headed out into what was still quite a chilly morning, and hoping I wasn't going to freeze when I got there. Couldn't have been more wrong. Glorious day. But the cycle path rather muddy and tacky though.

Armed with my new 10x50s, first thing I spotted was a Reed Bunting, the black capped and bearded male sat proudly in a small tree, the dowdier female a mite more shy in a bush. This was by the Dragonfly lake, which was well populated with Tufted Ducks.

More pairs of Reed Buntings were to be found in the rushes next to the next couple of small lakes, as a squadron of 4 swans passed overhead like Lancaster Bombers. More swans were to be found on the reed bed, radically different from my last visit, surrounded by honking and screeching Greylag and Canada Geese. One Greylag in particular was super comical, fighting off all comers, neck outstretched and honking in a totally ridiculous way.

I noticed that the RSPB bods had put up feeders by the hide, and although they were empty all manner of songbirds were eating the fall out from the floor. The binoculars revealed a flock of Tree Sparrows, unbelievably a new species for me, that's how crap I am, chestnut heads dipping up and down as they ate. As time progressed they were joined by Blue and Great Tits.

Eventually, in one binocular field of view under the feeders, I had Reed Buntings, Yellowhammers, Greenfinches - first I've seen for ages - Tree Sparrows and Blue and Great Tits. A star cluster! Only with birds.

And the day was not done with me yet. As I cycled home contending with a broken bike seat, I realised I wasn't the only one enjoying the sun. Brimstone butterflies were out for a sunbathe too. To say that I hardly saw any the whole of last year, and then today to see a fair few of them fluttering about in early march was rather surprising.

But then, what do I know. A whole lot of nothing, that's what!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen...Mercury!

The words of Captain Kaneda of the Icarus 2 were in my head, the beautiful music of the film Sunshine in my ears, and smack in front of me, floating on the top of a layer of jade green twilight, was planet Mercury.

The fact that given the window related shenanigans I had gone through to see it the night before, the fact I was watching it on my bike ride home from work seemed crazy.

It was about 3 and a half times the distance from Venus to Jupiter, and rather below an imaginary line connecting the two. It was about half a hand span above the horizon - say 8-10 degrees and plain as day, nothing anywhere near it in the sky.

It was a hell of a distraction as I cycled home, luckily it was still there visible through my bedroom window for a short while, sinking towards the cruel all swallowing horizon.

Can't belive I found it so easily after so long, although without the Venus Jupiter conjunction I think I would have struggled. But even at my ok not so collosal age, I'm glad I can still find new things to wonder at.

And I didn't share Kaneda's grim fate after he saw Mercury!

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Multiple Astronomy Fails

I've spent the last few days utterly failing to see things.

A couple of nights ago, sat inside but every so often having a look at the sky...was I looking out at 940 or so when a once in a lifetime fireball as bright as the moon went over? Nope. I was watching some god knows what crap on TV and trying to write.

Great. Bloody great.

And then last night, my best chance to easily see Mercury? Nope! Not a chance. Everywhere I went or stood it would have been just below the rooftops or a bloody great tree was blocking the view from an upstairs bedroom. Grrrrr. Double grrr. And tonight, when I might have had a chance on my way home of finding a good vantage point up the hill, it was cloudy.

Sod it. I'm a rubbish astronomer.

Saturday 3 March 2012

Gone Fishing!

On a beautiful, if not particularly warm afternoon, well filled with tea and with some gloopy cheap isotonic drink to take with me, I set out on what I knew was going to be a longish run, through a cemetery carpeted with purple and white crocuses, with a few small daffodils now coming out. On the cycle path many blue tits were enjoying the weather.

Out by British Gypsum, noticed a few Fieldfares going over - in flight they always looks like they have black wings and white bodies.

I sort of followed the roads around, hoping perhaps to see a hardy early butterfly, until ventually I was going the other way down the cycling path past London Road lake. And here, among the trees at the bottom end was a first sighting for me on this lake of a cormorant!

The fishermen would love that I thought. To them Cormorants are Harold Shipman and the Yorkshire Ripper rolled into a feathery package.

As I watched he dived, and I stopped running to see where he would come up. A few seconds later, he reappeared with a nice Roach in his beak, glittering silver in the lowering light. And then, presumably having scared all the fish off, he noisily, splashily took off, and turned round to head for the river. I watched him till he was a long way off, but eventually I caught up with him again, down by the Castle.

Mr Cormorant, he doesnt do any discarding...

Friday 2 March 2012

Yo! Vixen!

Well, it was probably a dog really...

As I arrived home last night, no stars to be seen apart from faint mars through a smoggy sulphurous haze so no chance to fail to spot Messier 3 or Messier 5 with my binoculars and feel like a failed astronomer again.

As I went through my creaky gate, I was aware of movement behind me. Thinking it would be another cat, I turned and lo and behold there was a smallish and somewhat thin looking fox trotting up my driveway after me. Hungry, perhaps looking for food to strengthen up for a howling breeding season, it looked this way and that, before seeing me lurking in the shadows, or more likely smelling evil human as a faint breeze whispered from the south.

And then it was gone, padding back the way it had come, and across the road to raid someone elses dustbin...