Thursday 27 December 2012

Happy Christmas! But I'm Still Walking and Running

So, after a muddy pre xmas eve with the pretty mystery birds I'm told were probably Bramblings, xmas eve itself was a day off.

Christmas Day I walked for an hour first thing in the morning to look for interesting things at London Road lake and to have a look at the floods. Well London Road Lake was full of folk feeding the ducks - a fair few Tufteds in evidence and that odd domestic duck that has settled in with the mallards.

The floods were, well, floody. The path across Riverside Park was blocked completely by water a good 8 feet over its normal level at least. No interesting life forms about, but it was a beautiful feeling to be out walking on Christmas Day, on a crisp, grey morning and nothing to do AND THUS NO STRESS!

Boxing Day was a proper 7 plus miles, round and abouts, usually through thick mud. Balderton Lake was quiet, with a solitary and rather black looking Great Crested Grebe cruising the East side of the lake. I headed past London Road Lake with all the usual suspects, then found some pretty glorious mud as I headed up to Beacon Hill and onto the reserve, where an unhelpful middle oldster told me not to go on. "You can't go there it's full of mud". Well, I was on a mission to find those bramblings again, and as I squelched along I was hoping to flush them out again. No joy however, and all was quiet apart from a few Great Tits in the copse past the nursery.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a better day.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Aha, a little mystery bird on Beacon Hill Reserve

Today, as a premature penance for xmas overeating, I bolted out into a nice sunny afteroon on a mild day spolit only by a pretty fearsome wind.

Sadly heavy waterlogging has taken Clay Lane out, so after watching a robin carry out a vicious mugging on one of his fellows at a birdtable next to the London Road lake cycle path, I had to take the rather boring Beacon Hill Road route to the nature reserve.

T'was worth it though, for as I ran along a rather muddy path wondering if I should see anything of note, a flock of birds suddenly erupted out of the scrubby cover that is covering the oil seed rape field section of the reserve at the moment.

I saw a lot of pale to white undersides, so my first instinct was "Oooh, flock of Fieldfares. Nice" - then I realised that they were far too small, and far too finchlike. Indeed the impression I had as they flew up into the top of the trees, was of a flock of about 50-60 very slimline finches with longish tails, and an impression of white wing and tail bars like a chaffinch.

Damn the fading light - it was 330pm by this time. The birds were pale underneath, with an orange-pink breast, but couldn't get a good view of much else.

Was thinking about them as I completed my route, along a very bank bursted Newark Dyke where the Barge pub is yards offshore and The Sonning pleasure cruiser appears to be parked up on the bank. The Moorings has booms and an emergency pump in manned by orange Hi Vizzes. The island is about a third it's normal size, the weir has no drop, just a brown foaming torrent.

Still thought about the birds as I tweeted about them, and wiki'd possible candidates. And wrote this article. My current feeling is 70:30 Whinchat:Brambling. But, as I know only too well, I know very little...

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Through boggy marshy fields and not beyond

<p>Two days ago went on a very satisfying, very wet trip to willow holt and back along the river. My feet got a soaking and my reeboks were caked in mud, but I was outside, listening to radio 4 and I was happy.</p>
<p>Also very happy were the swans munching on the farmers crops opposite the power station. Unlike mr goose who copped it a couple of weeks ago these oddly landlocked mute swans are immune from the gun, beloved as they are of the queen.

A cormorant was coasting along by the power station weir, not hunting, not diving, just showing like a carved from wet jet relic.

A kestrel swooped past the river section of the holt. There might have been a buzzard sat in a tree, never got a clear look at it.

Yesterday saw another cormorant in action this time, on the nottingham canal. Flocks of all sorts visible from the train, fieldfares by the railway station, and then right by my home, a handsome redwing in a berry tree. A decent antidote to frantic christmas shopping!

Saturday 15 December 2012

Geminids, chockabloke, checking in!

As with the Perseids, bad weather on the night of maximum has been a bit of a blow this Geminid season. But, braving freezing weather I managed to get out and have short sessions with my neck achily cranked towards Gemini high in the South, and meteors have been around!

The thing I've noticed this year is that the slow moving, yellow orange beauties that are bright and leave a smoky trail as they meander somewhat across the sky, have not been around! The first Geminid I saw this year was like that, but the rest have been mainly short trailers in the vicinity of the radiant, and not many approaching mag 1.

The best night was the 12th. The skies cleared late on, and in what went on to be a -7 degree night in Grnatham nearby - car thermometers in town were reporting -5, I saw 9 Geminids in a 25 minute session before my hands (in two pairs of gloves) threatened to drop off.

And then, the skies went a murky sulfur street light orange on the night of maximum itself, while I had to endure 3 meteors a minute reports from 'Oop Naaaarth. Lucky so and sos!

Last night saw three Geminids in half an hour, but I did have binoculars clamped on my eyes a fair bit of the time as I took in Messier 41, Kembles Cascade and hunted for La Superba against horrible reflected streetlight glow in my eyes. But The Beehive M44 was visible as a prominient naked eye blur, and seemingly one of the Auriga clusters seemed to be naked eye visible. Unless I'm mistaking a patch of milky way for this.

That had me hmming, I can tell you! But who caresa about a little perplexment, when you can VIEW THE STARS FOR FREE

Monday 10 December 2012

Who taught me the stars?

I've been away for a few days. The weather has been bad, and clear skies have been dominated by a harsh moon. I've just been outside looking for geminids in the worsening cold, and saw a couple in five minutes before I got driven back in, badly dressed for the chill.

The Geminids, yellow orange, smoky trails, slow moving in a slightly sinuous flight. The best shower of the year. And without two men, I'd never have known what they are.

I was sad to hear of Sir Patrick Moore's death...many years ago I sat with the little dark blue "Observers guide to the Stars" reading it until the spine fell off and the hard covers disintegrated, the picture of the dwarf galaxy in Sextans that scared me. Through Sir Patrick, I learned about the stars, and the classical myths behind the constellations. Eventually, as a tennager in a fogeyish jumper, I visited my home and looked at his observatories while my sister nearly broke his Noel Edmonds Golden Egg awards and ate the Jaffa Cakes supplied by Woody, his very formidable housekeeper.

She asked my parents if they were communists!

So yes, I learned the planets and constellations. But it was Donald Rudd who got me looking in the first place. He was an eccentric Scottish sailor and painter, who used to terrorise the Dee Estuary in his smoky boat "Fourness", and paint impressionistic nature scenes of the Stewartry; one of them is on the wall behind me. Never made any money out of them. He had a car with moss growing in the engine, a dog called Speedy who's saliva was so toxic I had to be hospitalised after Speedy bit my arm as a reward for pulling his ears, no doubt.

Later in life, he brewed this weakly alcoholic fruit punch in endless 2 litre lemonade bottles, and ran a fast food joint called "Rudds Spudds" that didn't set the catering world of South West Scotland alight.

But crucially, he had been a navigator on HMS Warspite, and he had a star chart, again bound in blue, that he used to show me as I sat by his knee and admired his sideburns and never unlit pipe. And I looked at the book, and revelled in these strange yet beautiful constellations I saw. What on earth was "Bootes"???!!! It fascinated me, it was always my favourite, especially compared to Libra, which seemed very boring - small stars, no spiky edges in the chart - and I hated having as a star sign.

It was Donald who encouraged my love of Astronomy. And Patrick who nurtured it. I shall miss them both, the world needs good old fashioned eccentrics who give of their time to anyone who asks. Without them, it is a bland bland world getting blander by the second.