Sunday 31 March 2013

The First Butterfly of Spring!

It was a bright bright morning, and although the morning was getting on a bit thanks to the clocks goings forward, I decided to get a really solid run in.

So with "Just a Minute" on Radio 4 giving me something to mentally stimulate me as I ran out on the long boring run out of town towards Hawton and the countryside I haven't seen in a while due to the weather. I was hoping to see an early swallow or martin in the fields around Hawton, but the solitary citrus flash of a yellowhammer as I turned onto the Farndon Road.

Irritated by a runner behind me I did a couple of sneaky, childish sprints as I disappeared round corners and eventually got a hundred yards on him.

And then, as I entered Farndon and ran down towards the Boathouse - I figured Willow Holt would still be too soggy - a shadow flitted across my head, and looking sharply to the right I saw a very tatty looking butterfly being tossed around on the cold wind. It was dark underneath but I only got a fleeting glimpse - probably a peacock, perhaps a tortoiseshell.

The one tangible animate sign of spring I've seen!

A bit further round, on the river just before the power station reach, I noticed a small dark bird, that dived and never re-appeared despite me hanging around for a couple of minutes. Either it had Scuba gear, or my tired eyes were rubbish. I think it was a little grebe, which would be a very unusual sight for this section of river.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable long run, the sun almost felt warm. But everytime the wind blew, you felt the Siberian Jaws (a phrase miscoined by my Russian colleague when he read an earlier entry!) close their icy teeth on Spring again.

Thursday 28 March 2013

The Singing Chiffchaff tries to welcome Spring

Yesterday morning, as I left for work, that was the sound that greeted me as I toddled my bicycle out of my gate. The powerful, repetitive song of the chiffchaff.

Now the chiffchaff takes its name from this song, although to my ears, it should be called the "deepdoop". It is a small member of the warbler family, and although some are resident in the UK, in this part of the world these little birds, smaller than a blue tit, will have spent the winter in Southern Europe or North Africa before migrating over to us in late march.

A bird of little sense, it would be appear.

They flit about the treetops and shrubs with their tails twitching, difficult to see with their olive green backs and creamy buff underparts. But the song! Last year I heard one blasting out this two note tune for an hour without a break, maddening me as I attempted to read Aldous Huxley.

And I never saw it. In fact, I've never seen one at all. But I have certainly heard them, and so will you if you spend any time outside this...extended winter lasting till October.

Further information here;

Sunday 24 March 2013

The Heron in the Wind

This morning I went for a 5 mile walk, and this afternoon I went for a 5 mile run. From one to the other the sky turned from grey to blue, but the wind stayed howlingly cold; a bitter, scything wind straight from the jaws of Siberia.

The mallards are very feisty, and the males I saw today when the sun had come out were in beautiful condition, a real irridescence about their bottle green heads. Further down the cycle path when I was running, a raptor of some kind struggled against the wind before giving up. Initially thought it was a kestrel but its wings looked a little rounded so it may have been a sparrowhawk. Over the marina, above the big dutch barge I wish I owned, a stuby cormorant was making no headway into the wind either, yet it did not give up, even though it was going absolutely nowhere.

Doing slightly better as I saw it over Sconce Hills Park - the Valley Prospect end - was a heron making its way North to South over the football pitch. Legs trailing, wings beating the air slowly, I had a great view as it went straight over my head, the dark lines down its neck being particularly apparent. I was willing it to set down on a TV aerial on the houses by the park, but it kept on going, slowly, and far more gracefully than I could manage into that frozen breeze.

Saturday 23 March 2013

A winter walk

Run cancelled due to having found a hole in my running shoes that makes frostbite or trenchfoot a real possibility running in the snow a real possibility.
The cycle path had a real eerie beauty today, although the picture gives you no idea of the howling blizzard that was going on at the time. The only living things I saw today were cars and squirrels. Birds, apart from a few pigeons and magpies seemed to be in very short supply.
Beacon Hill Nursery was a true winter wonderland. A hardy woman runner passed me in the opposite direction, and made me feel very lazy. I think I will try a run this afternoon, foot death or no.
Sustrans Route 64 has been sort of blanked from the map. No trip to RSPB Langford Lowfields for me today sadly. I'm desperate to go as well.

Thursday 21 March 2013

The lying birds are trying to tell me its Spring

Went out running today and did the "Tour of the Two Lakes". A freezing east wind was lowing so hard my fingers began to bleed and I could feel my face dessicating with every step. The sky was as grey as old tripe.

Yet the birds are trying to act like it's spring now. The starling murmurations are getting smaller as the winter roosts reak up, although a small one appeared above my garden for the first time. The blackbirds are singing from any convenient perch, and the mallards look very sexually flighty indeed, with much quacking and chasing going on oth on the air and on the water.

My parents report that the little goldcrests have returned to their silver birch tree and are working the leaf buds with their tiny beaks. One flower has appeared in my garden, forget the forget-me-nots, my first flower of spring is a purple nettle flower poking up pathetically from a sea of dew. I've seen a couple of blown down nests, presumably from the idiot collared doves and woodpigeons.

Nature is trying to tell me that spring might be starting. My purple hands and dropping off fingers tell me different.

Saturday 16 March 2013

Chaffinch time at Beacon Hill Reserve

Yesterday's route was the 8 mile circuit out to Coddington along Barnby Lane. The A1 flyover kestrel was absent, and only a few Blue and Great Tits decorated the hedgerows. Hordes of crows and woodpigeons sat plumply upon the farmland, but there were no fieldfares or yellowhammers.

All seemed quiet. The power lines and telegraph cables were empty, awaiting the arrival of the swallows and martins. No sign of those yet, the Hirundids are not stupid birds and will be watching the weather forecasts with interest. They probably will arive in June and leave in July, if they bother visiting our windswept isles at all.

Things were cheerier in Beacon Hill reserve, where large flocks of chaffinches were flitting off the farmland and into the trees, then back again, all the way along the farmland path and making a heck of a racket while they were at it too. Above a watery sun was tying to shine through some sickly looking clouds. But all in all, there wasn't too much wrong with the world.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Carpets of crocuses

Today went for an early run under crystal skies. There were bullfinches on Clay Lane, given away as they flew from my thumping footfall by their flashing white rumps. And above Beacon Hill Reserve, those three buzzards were soaring on the wind updraft from that North West side of Beacon Hill, turning endlessly against a beautiful azure background, no doubt spying upon the plump rabbits and perhaps newborn kittens as they poke their ears and noses out of their warrens.

But, having seen them as I ran through the cemetery, I had to go back with my camera and take some pictures of the beautiful purple and white crocuses absolutely carpeting the ground. I was watched by a cheeky squirrel disposing of acorns from atop a gravestone, quicksilver tail twitching...

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Comet Pan-STARRS

Well I saw Comet Pan-STARRS! It really wasn't easy though.

I noticed it was going to be clear enough at 530pm after a day of bright sun interspersed with a huge blizzard mid-afternoon. The thin moon was visible pretty high above the roof tops in my bedroon window, so I figured spotting the comet would be an absolute doozy.

How wrong I was.

I first went outside about 620pm with my 10x50s. The moon seemed pretty high, and I had some great views of that and jupiter, which were the only celestial bodies easily visible at that time. But of the comet, no sign in the section of my garden that had good western views. Damn damn damn! I though, and headed back to my mobile phone for info.

"This will help me spot it!" I said to myself. Wrong wrong wrong!

By 650pm I figured it was below the rooftops, so went into my bedroom, which had a decent western aspect over the old folks home - the residents of which may have thought a maniac with binoculars was spying on them. I wasn't, I was spying in gaps in the purple-black clouds that had rolled in from the North West.

I was getting really frustrated at missing probably my best chance of seeing it, and then suddenly, in between tree branches and skating on a roof top, I was it and wondered how I'd missed it. Brightness is not the problem, it's the size - it is showing a tail maybe 10 minutes of arc or less in my 10x50s, with a faint ion tail too. It was about 9 degrees at 5 o'clock from the moon, and by the time I'd tweeted someone to tell them how to find it, it was gone below the rooftops and into the cloudline too.

But I saw it! A difficult object, and I managed to see it in the middle of town! No matter how brief it was, still a proud astronomy moment for me.

Cocktails and astronomy

It was freezing last night for my first astronomy session in an age last night. So I decided something tropical would help me feel warmer.

It has indeed been an age since the weather allowed me to get on with any stargazing, so despite temperatures of minus 3 and a strong desire to crawl under my duvet, I headed outside with my 10x50s to see what I might see. Alas not Comet Pann-STARRS - the sunsets at the moment are pretty, but that is because of the pretty orange and pink thick clouds.

To me, this is always a bad time for binocular astronomy; there's not much in the way of milky way objects to see, and the galaxies of Virgo, currently dominating the southern aspect, are far too faint from my urban skies to see.

I did take the opportunity to find Messier 3, the globular cluster on the borders of Bootes and Canes Venatici halfway betweem Arcturus and Cor Caroli, but was totally unsuccessful in my attempt to see La Superba. It must have passed through my field of view countless times, but I see nothing glowing like a ruby hot coal to confirm its presence. Damn and blast.

Feeling my hands and fingers begin the process of falling off, I turned my 10x50s south, and took in a lovely view of the constellation of Coma Berenices. It's more like an oversized open cluster than a constellatio0n, and although none of its galaxies are visible, it sits there glittering near Leo's back legs, in the manner that legend has it Queen Berenice's hair glittered, impressing the Gods so much they decided to place her shining tresses in the sky.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Oh the joy of spring!

These are the sorts of skies that have been greeting me as I get up with the bitter lies of the "Spring is coming!" weather forecasters reverberating from my dreams.

The South and West were reporting temperatures of up to 17 degrees, and my twitter feed was full of joyous folk reporting that they were out in speedos and thongs and taking pleasure in the first sightings of Brimstones of spring. Meanwhile here the temperature has barely scraped above freezing all day, and on Balderton Lake I could barely see more than ten metres out.

There was however a large duck out there I couldn't identify, I large dark headed duck with a sort of dirty grey body with darker splotches on the body. Judging by one or two other specimens I saw, I'd say it was a mallard crossed with a large domestic duck of some sort. Nothing interesting I'm afraid. There are plenty of Grebes about, and a squadron of Tufted Duck were patrolling on the water like a waterfowl representation of the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Starling murmurations continue, but it is interesting to note as the days get longer, I leave work earlier and earlier relative to the sunset, which means at the moment I'm catching the gathering earlier on, as smaller flocks mass before forming the thousand plus strong starling murmuration that is so annoying the residents of Lincoln Road, according to the advertiser.

The male blackbirds round my home really are singing their hearts out of the evenings now! I hope it bears the sweet fruit of love for them.

Friday 1 March 2013

Murmurations Redux; People versus the Starlings

I noticed in the Newark Advertiser on thursday 28th Feb, that the Lincoln Road, Winthorpe Road area starling murmurations have been a talking point in town for a little while.

The locals are complaining about the noise, and the mess. Apparently some folk have even been shooting rockets into them...

Heaven's sake, one of the most powerful sights nature can provide, for free, on your doorstep, for the first time anyone can remember in that part of town, and all folk can do is complain about a bit of bird mess on their cars, and the tweets and whistlings interrupting their enjoyment of "The Chase" on ITV. Or whatever crucial televisual feast it is that requires bird free concentration at 530pm.

As Spinal Tap would say, I'd be devastated if I wasn't under such heavy sedation.