Thursday 28 February 2013

Buzzards Over Beacon Hill

I was awake early, the sky was blue through the curtains, all augured well for the sort of really early run I'm always promising to do on every off-shift I have.

Alas at 7am I got distracted by watching "The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou" - and so it ended up being nearer 930 when I did my stretches and ventured out into a beautiful day marred by a bitter wind.

I ran out along Barnby Lane, and up into Coddington the back way. No kestrel by the A1 flyover, but the hedgerows were dotted with the usual yellowhammers, chaffinches and great tits. I wonder when the first house martins and swallows will decorate the power lines, and slice the sky up with the joy of their flying?

Decided to run through Beacon Hill reserve, and although no brambling erupted from the scrubby ground cover, I could see a buzzard far off in the distance being mobbed by crows. "Nice sight" I thought. "Bit far away though". But then, as I began to descend the muddy path towards the nursery, my eyes were alerted to the sight of a buzzard having evidently just launched from the belt of trees that marks the edge of the farmland, and struggling to find a thermal. I though it was being mobbed by crows as well, then it transpired there were two other buzzards slowly circling and flapping, looking for something to soar on.

Then suddenly, the sun warmed slope combined with the biting Nor'easterly wind gave them the lift they were looking for, and beautifully, effortlessly, they began to rise.

They were right over my head, and I had superb view, their tails steering them in the air flow, white wing markings prominent in the sun. And I took off my radio 4 blaring ear phones, and listened asnd you could hear them keening, as I remember from eerie dawns at an exes home in the welsh valleys. One bird ws much larger than the other two, whether this was sexual dimorphism or an older bird, I do not know. What I do know is that it wasnt as good a flyer as one of the smaller birds, which at one point gained a hundred feet as if it were in a lift without so much as twitching its wings. I watched them for ten minutes until they slowly moved off towards the industrial estate, utterly engrossed.

And to think folk want to put these birds in cages while they destroy their nests and eggs, or shoot them, or poison them. Ugh.

From Aviceda on wikimedia, this is exactly the view I had today.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

A Quick Trip by River and Lake

Yesterday's run took me through the cemetery, where the crocuses have now joined the snowdrops in bloom, although I haven't seen any daffodils yet. Woodpigeons are crammed into virtually any available tree space everywhere I go, judging by the broken eggs I'm seeing on the ground round and about, a few have even had a go at nesting only to be thwarted by the weather.

On Balderton Lake the goosander have gone, although there is a large number of great crested grebes swimming and diving about. The fearsome looking, almost dodo like chocolate brown muscovy duck is back on the little landing stage, still enjoying his escape from the farmyard and evidently eating well, as he is larger than the canada geese schlepping about the waters.

The moorhens present a comical sight as they run to escape my running, neck's outstretched, clownish feet flitting across the grass.

Lonon Road lake is busy with wintering black headed gulls, one showing a very odd rust coloured patch on its plumage. The mallards find a way to live in the rubbish and algae filled ditch that rains the lake, the birding equivalent of a third world shanty town.

Further along the run I came to the Millenium Bridge opposite the marina, loving the big dutch barge I've always wanted to own and live on. As I pounded up the wooden walkway, a kestrel was flushed from beneath the bridge and headed off across the river, at the same moment a cormorant lazily flapped along in the opposite direction.

Such sights are small things in the great scheme of nature, but bring a lumbering athlete like me great joy.

Sunday 24 February 2013

The Grandest Murmuration

Cycling home from work tonight, struggling on a flattening tyre yet again, I could see them in the far distance even as I entered the badlands of the wasteland cycle path.

Electrons in a cloud chamber...starlings over the KFC.

At times of the year when I'm cycling home in the evening twilight, I'm used to seeing small murmurations along Winthorpe Road and over Macdonalds, and over by the turn onto Northern Road, but this was crazy. It wasn't gaggles of thirty to fifty birds, it was three to five thousand birds in an ever shifting swirl of chaos; a cartoon swarm of hornets making question marks and arrows in the sky; the universe a nanosecond after its creation.

A swarm of birds larger than a football pitch.

Never seen anything like that in any urbanised area before, let alone Newark. It's a sight I shan't forget in a hurry.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Wildlife from my Windows

It's not just on my "epic" running and cycling trips that I cap an eye out for wildlife. There's plenty that can be seen from any window that overlooks even a small garden, or a few trees, and it can be a lot of fun just watching for ten minutes with a mug of tea in hand to see what you might see.

My flat overlooks my own postage stamp sized lawn, and a driveway slash car park area that is surrounded by some large sycamores, and a small ash tree my neighbours park their bird feeders on. From my kitchen, I can watch the feathered trade these fat balls and see generate. Usually it's just sparrows, but plenty of blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and if I'm very very lucky, small pinky breasted coat tits with their white mohican haircuts will give me something to watch as I make my breakfast.

A naughty squirrel has been defeated by the cage my neighbours have put around their feeder, but it still tries, hanging upside down at times as it tries to get its paws on a peanut. No joy for squirrels these days!

Out my living room window, my holly tree attracts fieldfare and redwing if I'm really lucky, but mainly the berries are all snaffled before christmas by woodpigeon and blackbirds. The sycamores sometimes attract a passing blackcap, or the joyful sight of a flock of goldfinches, but my favourite visitors are the little flocks of "seep seep seeping" long tailed tits that work their way from tree to tree, never stopping long as they look for insects on the skinny twigs, their tails twitching as they flit from branch to branch. A sight of them always cheers me up, no matter how gloomy I'm feeling.

So, there's always something to look at outside, no matter how humble your view. From sparrows squabbling endlessly outside my lounge, to flocks of all sorts splashing in the melting snow, the world's a pretty place if you let it be.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Birdwatching at Cotham Flash

With the weather smiling fair this morning, and Langford Lowfields probably still out of order while they sort the path out, I decided to have a ride out to Birdwatch somewhere different. I had read about Cotham Flash on a site about Notts Birding, so reckoned that might be the place to try and see something different.

I took a trip the long way round, happy to see cycling families out on the Sustrans 64, and joggers, and proper cyclists, and proper dogs too. For it was too nice a day to stay inside, although as ever, when you get to the rubbish tip where apparently the exotic Glaucous and Caspian Gulls are around - not that I'd have a clue - the smell is rather unpleasant. Waxwings have been reported near here too, but as usual for me, they may as well have been in Norway.

After giving a tatooed mountain biker directions to Bingham, I turned onto the road through Cotham and headed back towards town, getting a fantastic view of a beautifully turned out Pheasant by the road, just as a Yellowhammer flew across in front of me.

Cotham Flash itself is a pretty unprepossessing spot on the opposite side of the road from the fishing lake, a small wetland area on the old entrace to the tip. As I cycled muddily around the perimeter, I could see a few coots nodding about on the water emitting their clarinet alarm calls at this unexpected human. The main body of water seemed to be populated with Greylag Geese, and the usual Mallard and Tufted Ducks. As I approached nearer, I flushed some partridge in the direction of a hovering Kestrel in the bleak field in the direction of British Gypsum.

Feeling slightly disappointed, I unpacked my 10x50s and had a scan around the pond. Spirits were lifted by the presence of mallard looking ducks with green heads, but with a rusty brown band on the body - a couple of Shelduck! Never see those on the town lakes.

But as I came still nearer, there was this tremendous flappy commotion from the scrubby thorny undergrowth and from the water's edge, and suddenly the best part of about 50 ducks took to the air, along with a tremendous whistling. At first, I saw a lot of black and white flashes, but getting a view of these exciteable small ducks flying around in formation in my binoculars, I could see white bellies, a very pronouced white V along the wings, and a distinct red head with a flash of yellow on it.

I watched for 15 minutes, every time one flock landed and settled, it seemed another would take off for a few circuits.

Youtube confirms it. As I thought, they are Wigeon, a new species again for me...the habitat, patterns in flight and the whistling seem like giveaways to me.

Not an exciting spot by any rational birding standards, but it made my little trip to this bleak spot worthwhile, and added to the following wind I had cycling home!

Monday 11 February 2013

I revisited the Goosander

After a lazy duvet sort of day yesterday, I set out running at 4pm, as the light started to fade, hoping to see the Goosander again on Balderton Lake.

I ran about three quarters around the whole body of water thinking I was going to be disappointed, until finally in one of the little bays on the north west corner of the lake I spotted a single male specimen.

I actually ran onto a little tree covered "peninsula" in the lake, and got a really good look as the bird was only about 5-10 metres away before he realised he was being goggled at. The pronounced forehead and narrow serrated beak was easily visible, and the whole duck has a very sleak, streamlined appearance compared to the Mallards and Tufted Ducks also on the lake. The Goosander is clearly designed for underwater performance!

I suppose this lone fellow will have gone tomorrow, all his friends have disappeared, but I'm glad I got a good look at him today. A Goosander is probably not much of a spot for some readers, but it's an unusual bird for a lake in the middle of town.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Goosey Goosey Goosander

Today's run went out through a snowdrop sprinkled cemetery and out around Balderton Lake, where amongst the Grebes, Mallards and a low flying honk of Canada Geese, was that same unfamiliar black and white species I had first seen there a few weeks ago but not since.

They were large ducks, rather larger than a mallard, with from a distance black heads, a black back and white flanks. Further round the lake was a pair of them, one of them with a very obvious chestnut coloured head. They were divers too.

I pondered there identity as I completed my run round the lake and made my way along the cycling path, past London Road lake where the mallards were looking frisky and the Tufted Ducks looked like acquatic Othello pieces on a floating board. Up in the Oilseed Rape field on Beacon Hill Park, I flushed a large flock of pigeons. But my mind was ever on these mystery ducks...ok slight exagerration, I was thinking of a million and three ways to make my life better, but I kept mentally returning to the ducks.

They were Goosander, no doubt, the chestnut headed specimen being a female. They large diving ducks with a serrated bill for catching fish and amphibians. The heads are actually a dark bottle green on the males. This is a new species for me, and a new one for Balderton Lake in the last three years I've been running round it.

Pleased with myself!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

The Evil Eye

Left for work at 6am, a journey under skies that started as clear as deep space itself, and finished with snow coming down all but horizontally out of the sky.

But in that time, I had a wonderful view of Antares glowing red low in the South East, with a waning crescent moon not far away to the north. The whole effect was to give the scorpion a malevolent, sideways blinking eye gazing contemptuously down on a mere bicycling mortal like me. It was a very very eerie sight, dawn light making the scorpion glow a little!

And then the snow began to fall.

My bicycle no doubt spent the day getting wet and miserable, while I spend the day being wet and miserable at work. And the scorpion circled the sky, looking for prey...

Monday 4 February 2013

The Kestrel by The Farm

Headed out yesterday on the back road to Coddington, mild conditions, sky mainly the grey of an unwashed athletics vest, muddy verges, wetly green vegetation.

As I ran round the tricky farm corner, the little Z bend I always wonder which side of the road is optimum for getting wiped out by a car on (either of them), a flock of thrush type birds was flying over the slightly bleak looking winter farmland. They could have been Fieldfares, they could have been Redwings. My instinct is to say fieldfares, as there have been a few more of them in town lately, although sadly none of the hundred plus flocks I saw on Beacon Hill last year.

As I turned onto the Coddington Road, racing a much better dressed, slimmer, younger, faster runner 150 yards behind me - he didn't catch me until Kwik Fit in town! - I could see a flock of about 40 finches wheeling over the farmland between the A1 and the hill into Coddington. They settled into a tree, and I was desperate to get reasonably close to them. Fat chance, they went before I got within twenty yards, but not before I saw a flash of white rump on a few of them as they flew off and settled in the rough vegetation in the field. Think they were Brambling again, they behaved as the birds up by Beacon Hill reserve do.

A near glowing yellow head, with a brown bird attached to it, then shot across the road - another yellowhammer.

The best sighting I had though was just before the A1 flyover. This is kestrel country, the A1 embankments presumably a good place for mice and voles. And sure  enough, as I attempted to sprint up the hill, I could feel a pair of eyes watching me. Peering to the left, I could see the keen eyes, and victorian moustache, of a kestrel perhaps wondering if it could carry me off and eat me, or not. Rejecting this on the grounds of my weight, the kestrel flew off towards the A1, chestnut back and swept wing aspect riding the air effortlessly.

Within seconds, it had covered a distance it takes me long, dragging minutes to attain.

Friday 1 February 2013

The Virgin and the Scorpion

Further signs that winter is not going to last forever! Before christmas, the sight of Arcturus rising over the rooftops gave me some sort of hope that eventually sping would come and my numb, agonised, bicycle riding purple hands wouldn't have to suffer forever.

Since then, there's barely been a star to be seen as white stuff fell out of the sky, and grey clouds blanketed us in misery.  But the last few days, there's been a few clear night skies to be seen, and in the mornings, as I rolled my bicycle out to work, the winter skies have given over to summer ones, even if the temperatures still firmly belong to January.

In the South West, the huge constellation of Virgo takes over not far off a quarter of the sky, it's galaxy filled libation bowl star pattern seeming to await and offering from Leo the Lion. Saturn shines creamily, a little further from Spica than it was in December, when Venus was adding to the show too.

Something to say about Spica. I don't know whether my eyes are going funny, but whereas once Vega was the only star that appeared to have a definitely blue colour, Spica now also seems to have a distincy blue cast to it, although not as beautifully intense as the steely glow of Vega. Come springtime, if you're not an early morning cyclist like me, take a look at a more civil hour than 6am!

Meanwhile, athwart the very south of the sky, sits Scorpius. It's claws are grabbing the sky away towards London, a malevolent celestial threat to the capital, and it's heart, bloody red Antares, beats its evil on the vault. It's a pity you can't see the whole beast from the UK, for it rivals Orion as the most spectacular constellation in the sky. Hopefully I will see the whole thing again soon.

First snowdrops of the spring