Saturday 29 September 2012

Kestrel on the Hunt

Two good running days yesterday and today.

Alas yesterday, after running out to Hawton then across to Farndon, I found that Willow Holt was closed for Haymaking and cleaning up Dog Mess - ugh, bloody nature reserve and still folk can't clean up after their dogs. I saw a few Dragonflies about on the cut across to Farndon, but strangely none by the river, which seemed to be being readied for some exciting World Team Cup of fishing.

Haven't seen any sign of the opening ceremony on television though! On the reach opposite the Power Station, someone was catching a beautiful 5 pound or so Barbel, greeny silver sides, vermillion fins. I'm not massively keen on coarse fishing, but it was a pleasure to see such an attractive fish. On the whole it was a good run along the river, about 8 miles, and the sun shone and the fields glistened.

Today, not long back from a run out to Beacon Hill park, the clay lane, back of estate way. First sight of a flock of Long Tailed Tits on the cycling path, not seen any of those for a while, and a Comma butterfly obligingly allowed itself to be photographed at the entrace.

 Someone put on a real star show for me today, as I ran along the main grassland of Beacon Hill reserve; a Kestrel was hunting low down, barely 10 feet off the ground and no more than twenty metres away. Never seen one so close, hovering in that characteristic fashion, occasionally dropping to the ground before flying up again, empty taloned. Have never seen one working the reserve before, and was very glad to see it today, working East to West across the plateau. Wonder what lives in the grass up there - voles and field mice I guess. No rabbits to be seen at the moment, which is very unusual.

A Southern Hawker (I'll keep calling them that) flew alongside me as I ran, looking rather a sad, dull blue in the grey cloud that came over at that point. I wasn't sad though, it was a lovely early afternoon to go running.

I know so many nice places round here. And you don't!

Thursday 27 September 2012

All Is Not Yet Lost

For there are still Dragonflies about today, lit beautifully in a bright low sun and patrolling the river. I was running along the path opposite the castle when a flash of brilliant yellow green darted out of a bush, and then the turqoise-green abdomen hoops of what I always take to be a Southern Hawker revealed itself.

I ran round the Island by the weir, sadly the blackberries are al but over - I'm rubbish at working out the best time to forage them, I only remember them when they are stomach rottingly underripe or a dog urine coated bird pecked dying mess. But attractive Hips, Haws and Elderberries and other winter fruit are decorating woodland and hedgerow. The young Moorhens skate the banks on their comedy feet.

Grebes are about on both London Road and Balderton lakes, but not many Tufted Ducks at the moment. Mallards are coming out of eclipse, they always show finest in October, green heads sheened in blue.

Up on Beacon Hill, the grasses are wild, aforementioned berries paint the hedgerows in spots of black and red; but butterfly park is closed for another year. The Buddleiahs are all but over, purple and white flowers gone to brown till early summer, although there are still Commas, Peacocks and Red Admirals to be seen on the wing, riding the savage winds we've had the last few days.

Friday 21 September 2012

The Berries are Upon Us!

I'm no forager, but I wish I was.

Unfortunately, I think I would be the sort of forager who manages to pick some juicy Deadly Nightshade in Newark, where none has ever been seen before; or stumble upon Britain's only example of the death-within-two-hours-causing False Blackberry.

Incidentally, the only place I can ever remember coming across Deadly Nightshade was on a school trip to Bradgate Park in 1983. I think it was a sharp metal axe thing that Lady Jane Grey found a greater hazard back in the day. But I digress.

This time of year, the Haws, the Hips, The Edlerberries and The Blackberries are all out in large numbers in my usual running haunts. I wish I could collect big bags of them, along the cycle path, in Willow Holt, up on Beacon Hill Reserve. A dear friend told me of all the things you could do with them, jams, wines, preserves and heaven knows what.

If I collected them, I wouldn't know what to do. It would be a sad waste. Red and black berries mushing in a plastic bag, a tupperware sandwich box if they were really lucky. How I wish I knew what to do with things; how I wish if I went looking for mushrooms I would end up not poisoning myself!

But I'm sure you folk can. The weather is colder, the wind is blowing. But it is still great, and free out there. Go take a look.

And if you do make any Elderberry wine, save me a bottle.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

First run of The Autumn

There is an official start date for autumn, I guess several of them. 1st September. Date of Autumnal Equinox, that sort of thing.

To me however, there are several more unofficial ones that are actually more meaningful. For example, as I left work yesterday, cycling along towards the scrubby patch of ground, a familiar flutey piping double whistle pinpricked my eardrums.

The first flock of Pied Wagtails of the cold months. You see them in ones or twos throughout the year, but flocks, well, that is a sign of autumn.

An even more certain indicator as the one I had when I went running this morning. It was bloody freezing, and the blue skies that had tricked me from my living room window suddenly disappeared as heavy rain came down, blown on an icey wind from the west.

But even then, there are still things hanging on in. A lovely vivid orange Comma butterfly fed off my butterfly; red admirals still show black and red against the grey. And at night, the summer triangle is still visible.

Hold on to them as long as possibe, just hold on.

Friday 14 September 2012

Triangulum Joy

Night before last, all was chilly and clear. Autumn has decided to start suddenly and early, as summer started suddenly and late. I came back from a quiet and short pint at a comfortable hostelry knowing it was a 10x50s night, so I grabbed a drink of sadly unmulled cider and headed outside.

It was a profitable little observation session. I worked my away over from West to East - M15, M71 in pretty little Sagitta, the Fox's curious Coathanger - Messier 39 looking more and more to me (and wrongly) like a miniature Pleides at the end of a long trail of beautifully myriad stars along the back of The Swan before you jump across the see faintly the two NGC clusters at the head of Lacerta the Lizard.

I took in a few coloured stars too, Scheat, the star Elenin is it? In Draco's head? Enif, the Beta and Gamma Andromedae pair. I then had to switch position and scare any awake neighbours, before catching the usual Perseus suspects and the two Cass clusters, and The Pleides for real, and the Hyades. Even in my shaky hands Jupiter's moon Ganymede was visible.

A sure sign  of winter approaching, a couple of the Auriga open clusters were visible, although it was smoggy lower down - can never remember off hand which Auriga cluster is which.

The Andromeda Galaxy was plain, but it was in Triangulum below my special goal lay. Starting at the bright orange star in Aries, I starhopped up to the point of the Triangle before heading off towards two o'clock and the corner of the square of Pegasus.

Sure enough, a surprisingly large but very faint hazy smudge was visible, at this sort of orientation it seemed \\\\\\\\\ - it was the Traingulum spiral, Messier 33. The third main galazy of our local group, and at 3 million light years away, supposedly the furthest object visible with the naked eye.

No chance of seeing it with the naked eye, and looking at how low its surface brightness is compared to Messier 31, I'm amazed you can; but it's the furthest object I've picked up in my 10x50s - I had a look for Messier 81 in Ursa Major and failed, and I've never really picked up Messier 51, so, that record may stand for a while!

Unless I ever go to a deep sky park!

Thursday 13 September 2012

Swallows make me less bereft

Ran out to Coddington and back today, out the back way, back along the Sleaford road. And up on the top of the back of Beacon Hill, on Balderton Lane (by the converted Windmill that sits there insulting me knowing I'll never be able to afford to live somewhere cool like that) I saw some swallows swooping low over the fields.

Higher up, some House Martins were about too.

I was very glad to see them, it made me feel less miserable about the end of my little holiday from work, and the summer of 2012 in general. I'd seen some in Norfolk by the coast the the other day, lining up on power lines, teasing me knowing they will soon be off for warmer climes. But they didn;t count. Not seen any in town for a few weeks.

But in a week or two, I'm guessing they will be gone, and gloom descends, early morning starts and stars in cold winds, no sun, Orion blazing out of a freezing sky.

Also saw a blue hooped dragonfly out my living room window, buzzing round my Holly Tree. He'll be goners too, soon, whatever kind of Hawker he was.

The time of year makes me sad. In every way.

Monday 10 September 2012

Trip to Holkham Beach!!!

THis is a new one for me; In fact I haven't been in Norfolk since a school trip to Hunstanton when I was 10  - three nights in Le Strange Hotel, rampaging around the beach and garden; finding a nest of baby Plovers on the beach as the parent did the wounded walk away from me...

Holkham is a bit further round from Hunstanton, and in fact the park up for food and Iain M. Banks reading pre walk session was at Burnham on Sea - where a narrow tide out creek provided peoplewatching amusement as yummy mummies carried babies in ridiculous pappooses; dogs gambolled in the shallows, and paddleboarders and canoeists tried to make headway in ankle deep water.

I got some provisions - multiple diet coke cans - and headed out on the path, this red ironstone path (if such a thing exists!) that I remember forming a layer at the cliffs at Hunstanton all those years ago. All seemed a bit drab at first; a few gulls, endless cormorants, some dull old coots on a pond, but soon I saw a V shaped flock of Geese overhead and as I learned later they weren't borinhg old Greylag or Canada-Drooping-Machines-Geese, but were Pink Footed Geese on the move to and from Wells.

Pausing at a corner on the path where the creek heads for the sea and a large area of Salt Marsh begin, I scanned the area with my 10x50s and saw a low lying group of little birdie heads in the mid length grasses behind a bored looking gull. Dark faces, specly bodies. I figured them for some sort of Plover, and a kindly typical old twitcher type I asked told me they were Golden Plovers just down from their breeding season in the hills. Big new spot for a rubbish birder like me!!! He got me excited with tales of a Marsh Harrier, but I never saw it.

A couple of Egrets were also doing their snow white work in the little ponds and creeks. Had a good look at the these most elegant of birds.

After what seemed like an age, walking along the track, wondering what these small flocks of birds were occasionally flitting across in front of me - I guessed almost certainly wrongly they were some kind of pipit - I got to the beach and wandered around, taking in the sight of an endless carpet of razer shells marking the High Water line, pink crab shells interspersed within.

No little terns nesting in the protected area and only a few gulls to see, and turned round for home. On the way back, found large flock of waders probing the mudflats. As I half guessed right at the time, another new spot for me - Redshank, with the fine black and white striping on their tails. Not Godwit, you fool! *punches self*

Back at the car park, more Vs of Pink Footed Geese came the other way - could see the pink feet in the binoculars - and eventually stopping off at Brancaster, spotted a Turnstone rapid dancing the creek edge. A skittery and very pretty little bird, that.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Egg case from holcomb beach

Watching Day and Night

Two stage day yesterday - the afternoon took me out to Willow Holt, where the meadow dwelling butterflies are all gone, but there are still a few Peacocks and Red Admirals and Whites about. I chased a cabin cruiser along the riverbank, waiting for jeers from the beer swilling crew that never came, and saw a few Hawkers about - I've all but given up trying to identify them as I scad along.

Condiditions were hard, rough baked mud tracks, strong winds; the heat sapping what passes for my endurance. But I made the 8 miles, and enjoyed the open air as ever, the beautiful river, listening to Radio 4 and trying to be clever; the overall happiness being outside gives me.

And then, 2am, I was outside with a drink and my 10x50s looking at a waning past half moon; unsteady hands - not caused by booze! - making it hard to see clearly but I could pick out Clavius near the terminator, and the dark grey floor of Grimaldi.

Spectacularly, there seemed to be a crater rim picked out right in the nightside of the terminator - perhaps it was a mountain. A shine in the dark.

Other things to see, even in the moonlight - Messier 15; The Mini Pleides of Messier 39, The Pleides themselves, the Hyades, Mirfak cluster with it's red interloper. And finally, Mu Cepheii, the Garnet star - which I think is still the reddest star up there, sorry La Superba. Even with the naked eye, it's like an ember on a dying fire. Lovely.

Thursday 6 September 2012

The skies of Leeds

The skies of Leeds? What skies of Leeds?

Sad, but hardly unexpected, is the fact that in the centre of Leeds where my sister lives, in an otherwise great city that appeals very much to me, the only things you can see in the sky are the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus. Everything else is dazzled out by a twenty four hour cictyscape, orange hazes, streetlights painting the sky with a murky glow.

Makes me wonder how I would carry out any astronomy at all if I were to move there!

The night skies are about the most beautiful free thing that anyone can see. It seems sad that it is permanently unavilable to some folk, living in flats in city centres; the penalty paid for having easy access to good bars and jobs. It's not great here, but at least I can take a drink out and have some great views of the great beyond.

You see the success of the great dark sky parks in Kielder and Galloway, and wonder if you could have small scale little dark(ish) reserves of city open space where lights can be turned off just to give folk a small chance of seeing the milky way or a few meteors, or the wonderful colour tints of stars I enjoy so much.

"Crime magnets" I suppose some would say, many in fact. Human nature screws us up again?