Friday 28 June 2013

Festival Stargazing

I'm watching the BBC coverage of the GLastonbury Festival 2013 on various outlets, and heavens, is it making me envious.

It's not making me wish I was at Glastonbury per se, it's a very Channel T4 line up that has featured on the early BBC3 coverage, but it is sure as hell making me wish I was at a festival of some kind, buried in a tent with my e-reader, before venturing out to take in music, literature, and...astronomy!

I wonder if anyone knows if any UK festivals have organised (or disorganised) little stargazing sessions in quiet corners? I had a little dream the other day - ok so it was a daydream - about my own self taking a little, very basic, stargazing session with various trippy kids and interesting folk, as I drink a beer and cider and talking about Clash of the Titans as Perseus, Andromeda and Pegasus rise in the Eastern sky.

And then back to my tent to listen to 6 music all night...

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Nature at the library, and farndon 25.06.13

Tree bumblebee on library garden flower
Garden bumblebee
Honey bee busy pollinating
I used to think they were young ringlets. Willow holt pastures full of them
Another pseudo ringlet - some sort of day flying moth???
As the rape dies the poppies thrive, Farndon river stretch
The wind has blocked my run!
Tree bumblebee on clover, Willow Holt pasture

Saturday 22 June 2013

Parkrun - A Fine Use of Open Space

Regular readers of this blog, and my twitter feed, will know that one of the things that pleases me most is seeing public open space being used in a constructive manner. Spending time in Brighton, where the seafront lawns are used by folk doing fitness classes, or playing basketball or volleyball, having barbecues by their beach huts, or just sitting and reading, made me very envious.

It made me wonder why we don't have anything like this seemingly happened in the various open spaces we have around Newark.

Well now we do.

I have just taken part in my first Parkrun, a movement that seems to have been going in the UK for two or three years, but has only just found its way out to backwoods of my home town. It is free, well organised, and takes no more that 5 minutes to register for. You turn up with - in my case - a well sat on printed barcode and run.

So there was no time to take in Devon Pasture, with its attractive water irises in the meadow by the river, as I hurtled past nursing an unaccountable hangover and slightly achey tummy. I was taking it seriously, as I am a competitive fellow by nature, but other folk were just out for the walk, or taking their children round the course. There's no apparent conflict between runners and casual park users, and there's a nice little cafe for afterwards. Which I was too shattered to use, actual competitive running takes so much more out of you than running around the lanes looking at stuff, as I normally do.

But as I keep saying, especially in the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics, it shouldn't be just about sport. I wish folk could be out there running painting classes, or nature photography, or perhaps organising little star parties to have at night - I've vaguely tried to have a go at this - or perhaps just having folk sitting out talking about books, or heaven knows, playing boules while drinking pastis!

There's so much we can do, that needn't cost a thing.

Friday 21 June 2013

Garden and Barnby photobombing

Watch out for Witham pike, Mr Swan
Witham bridge, Barnby
Campunella climbing up garden birch tree
Water iris
Yummy pollen
Tree bumblebee takes flight
Marmalade hoverfly (I think)
Tree bumblebee in the garden
Mr hedgehog by night

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Observing Oystercatchers at RSPB Langford Lowfields

After yesterday's pictorial report of what was going on within photography range of my mobile phone camera - about 12 inches in other words - I shall fill in the long distance blanks!

I cycled out via Langford viallage on the main road, enjoying the sight of swallows sat of various wires watching the very humid air going past, perhaps to enervated to bother with energy sapping activities like catching insects.

As I turned back onto the N64, the first of many chiff chaffs was heard singing away, if you can call that endless laser beam two note motif singing, and the sun came out. A comma was still on the wing near the reserve entrance, and as I trundled through the wood and down the path, through the sound of yet more chiff chaff calls, a very late flying brimstone was on the wing. Odd that brimstones should still be about while the orange tips appear to be over already, but then, it has been a strange strange spring.

Before I got the binoculars out, I busied myself with trying to photograph the various lovely common blue and blue tailed damselflies that were around the hide, as well as some of what I always refer to as "baby ringlets". Thankfully none of the dreaded deer flies were out for my blood, and I was able to scan the phase one reed bed without too many bites.

It was quiet out on the bed, a lot of coots with their attractive, fluffy red headed chicks were about, and the eclipsing mallards were all lazing about on the the sandbanks. A few tufted ducks were on the water, and the sand martins were scooping insects off the water. Sadly, no hobby appeared to feed off the large numbers of damselflies that even through 10x50s I could see were on the water's surface.

I then picked up a pair of oystercatchers on one of the large spits of dry land that slash across the reedbed. Their comings and goings were rather comical - they would probe the sand with their beaks a few feet apart, then it seemed as if that if one of them found a food source, the other would come scuttling over with this amusing hunchbacked style. They kept looking like they were going to trip over their own beaks. Great birds, smarty black and white clad, with their scarlet beaks and legs.

Then, a perfectly concealed small wader suddenly flew up from the sand - I'd never have spotted it if it hadn't moved. It had the classic chubby V shaped wader wings, a paler sand coulour underneath, and was barely the size of a blackbird. As soon as it landed a short way off, I'd lost it again. Perhaps it was a sandpiper, this would be my best guess, but I really don't know a lot about waders.

A pleasant mystery to end a great visit.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Damsels and other pretty things at rspb langford lowfields

Hoverfly on a Dog Rose
Unidentifed purple flowers past their best
Common Blue Damselfly on the Wing
Unidentified hoverfly close up - Poss Crysotoxum Festivum
Common Blue Damselfy
Striking unidentifed insect
Little green caterpillar - found it on the back of my neck

My First Glimpse of a Beautiful Damsel

Yesterday's run, as the photo-record describes, took in a trip to Hawton, Farndon and back to town along the river.

Willow Holt was on good form despite the overcast, humid nature of the day. Russian comfrey and meadow cranesbill are prettily abundant along the river stretch, and the ringlet butterflies are flying about the pastureland when no other butterflies are, due to the heat absorbing properties of their very dark purpley-black colouration. The willow trees in the holt are all shedding seeds, leading to a eerie furry white carpet all over the reserve grounds and further round the river, a sedge warbler was flitting among the waterside plants.

But after looking for one virtually since the snows left the ground, I caught sight of my first damselfly of the year. It was one of these fellows, a beautiful banded demoiselle.

Banded Demoiselle, from wikimedia by Frederick Boerhinger
A lovely name for a lovely species, don't you think?

It was flitting about around the fishing pegs on the river alongside the buttercup meadows. In flight, it never ceases to remind me of a metallic blue x-wing fighter, the large dark spots on the wing creating a very arresting pattern as they beat the air.

They are late this year; typically they emerge from the water in early may, but with the terrible freezing spring, the nymphs have developed later, in common with so much other British wildlife in 2013. For town dwellers, a good place to see them is around the weir and the river island (not the shop!) at Mill Lane bridge by the Navigation pub. Hopefully other damsel species like the common blue and the blue tailed damselfly will be visible soon, followed by the big, beastly dragonflies like the southern and brown hawkers.

I love them, and it is my lifework to get a half decent picture of one on my mobile phone camera! Good luck with that!

Monday 17 June 2013

Todays nature run through willow holt

Fledgeling robin, or perhaps dunnock, by library entrance
Fledgeling again
Willows are shedding their fluffy seeds in Willow Holt
Farndon foals
Blown over long tailed tit nest, by the windmill
Russian comfrey
Willow seeds carpet the floor, willow holt
Young ringlet
Other bit of long tailed tit nest. So soft
Slightly ragged meadow cranesbill

Friday 14 June 2013

Lovely Linnets at Work

A grey blue dawn, and I arrived at work to my one joyful sight of the day. Before I entered a world of sweaty artificial fabrics and reeking workboots, sitting on a greenly metallic fence, was a handsome male linnet.

Male Linnet - picture from wiki by Joe Pell

A member of the finch family, the linnet is a bird of history; written about by Wordsworth and Tennyson, featuring in a song in Sweeney Todd, and in darker days a bird much kept in cages for its song. It is widespread, found on heathland, scrubby ground, hedgerows and even parks and gardens. However its numbers have declined steeply in recent years, for all the usual suspect habitat destruction reasons.

I've never had a definite sighting anywhere else other than that little fence; I saw one there a few weeks ago at the same sort of time. It really is a beautiful bird, with its crimson breast like some kind of Lady Gaga costume accessory; an even more intense colour than the breast of a robin. It also has a sort of double breasted appearance, making them look like some saucy prankster has drawn them on the bird with a lipstick.

It wasn't just the male taking in the morning air though. A few metres further on, was a female, a much dowdier bird, with a mere pink tint to her striated chest rather than a brazen blush. Perhaps this was the mate, I have no idea. I was just excited to see them.

I've been waiting to write about them all day.

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Ringlets Are Up!!!

Was running out through Willow Holt in Farndin today, the pretty Notts Wildlife Trust that sits between the village and the river.

After running over from Farndon, spotting a linnet (I think) on a telegraph wire, and noting how quickly the barley is growing in the field - but that the swallows are not maruauding along the tractor lanes for food yet - I arrived in Wyke Lane to be choked with dust being thrown up by a road sweeper. Consequently I entered the reserve by jumping over a gate.

As I ran through this long grass meadow, annoyed by thistles, paranoid of tick bites, I saw a couple of small whites fluttering about. But as the field opened out, suddenly I scared up large numbers of small, newly metamorphosed Ringlet butterflies. They were less than half the size of a full grown adult, and had the lovely, newly emerged purple black colouration they will lose as the summer goes on.

Along the river, I was disappointed to still not see any damselflies - maybe it was a touch cold today. But, another first for the year was recorded, and as ever, I just love running along listening to Radio 4!

Pictures from coddington and beacon hill run

Pink flowers growing out of lock wall
Trapped at the Branby Road level crossing
Coddington Windmill
Ox eye daisies at Beacon Hill Park
This was an 8 mile or so run to Coddington the back way, before heading back down the Beacon Hill road and through the reserve, before running along the river. Lovely for running. Any help with the pink flowers appreciated!

Monday 10 June 2013

Showing off the International Space Station

Last night, got to do a little bit of long hoped for "astronomy outreach" when I went to the Prince Rupert pub last night. The sky was holding clear, despite the threatening presence of purpley grey clouds in the west as I walked down.

So, in the beer garden, fine pint of Reverend James in hand, I warmed up the crowd - of two - with a discussion about George Adamski, and the Warminster Thing flap of 1964 - 65;

We concluded that it was natural for even the most sceptical sort of folk such as ourselves to be interested in such phenomena, representing as they do a particularly interesting part of folk-culture, and that the changing nature of visitors from space from benign nordic types preaching at us to stop nuclear weapons development; to empathyless grey entities wishing nothing more of us than an endless supply of cavities to violate, shows the nature of our changing relationship with space, and the subconscious collective fears of humankind in the first world.

It was two pint pub talk basically, although I'd only had a half by this point.

Then came the main event. The ISS appeared over the pergola, and made its way over the pub proper, watched by several people as I explained what it was - a space station the size of a football pitch, 200 miles or more above us. These people had never seen it before, and couldn't quite believe the idea it was permanently occupied. A few minutes later, the ATV4 Albert Einstein supply ship followed it, fainter but faster, and I explained the importance of this vessel, an Ariane launched European effort.

Someone insisted it was a helicopter, no matter what I said.

Then it was gone, and the conversation had moved onto the nature of alien life. My job done, I headed back inside for more lovely beer, and a think.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Pic journal of two lakes beacon hill reserve run

The nursery at Beacon Hill Conservation Park
Clay Lane
Bird's Foot Trefoil Beaccon Hill Park
Wood Anemone Newark Cemetery
Mummy moorhen and chick
Canada Goslings
Speedwell, Beacon Hill Park
The Sand Martin section of The Trent
Butterfly Park on Beacon Hill Park
Mallard Chicks
Unknown waterside plant, London Road Lake
The Castle