Saturday 28 December 2013

Another Beautiful Winter Run

No idea what these fungi are, but they are very photogenic and they love my folks' garden
Tufted duck flotilla, London Road lake
Cherry blossom in December? In the cemetery
Hawton village weather cat

Wednesday 25 December 2013

A Christmas Stroll

A coot gently paddles in London Road lake
...joined by some handsome mallard drakes
An ugly duckling
Castle Gate is gilded in gold

Saturday 21 December 2013

Treasures of Clay Lane

Clay Lane has memories for me ever since I first moved to this town...

For a long time, "Clay Lane" was just a park where you went to try and play football or cricket on grass that was far too long for the purpose, on awkward slopes. It had a reputation too, as being the sort of place where "rough kids" played. I certainly got a cricket stump across the head there once. Long story.

There was a renowned conker tree called "King Kong" in another field a little further on and a scary, Scooby Doo kind of haunted house up the hill behind the trees. I was barely brave enough to climb the fence that protected it. One time we went onto the lane proper, a bunch of friends and myself, and we were convinced we were going to be chased and killed by Hells Angels - actually a few kids on tinnily buzzing mopeds.

There were skylarks nesting in the long grass, I used to watch them soaring skywards, singing wildly, before plunging back to ground like arrows. I haven't seen one since. A sign of our times.

Nowadays, I run along the actual Clay Lane on a regular basis. In spring and summer, it is a green tunnel of bramble blossom alive with butterflies; orange tips, speckled woods, brimstones and green veined whites. When you reach the farmland at the end of the lane, yellowhammers clatter through the hedgerows, and there might be a buzzard overhead, soaring on the updraft from the slope.

In winter, as it is now, it is a muddy slog past bushes still full of hips and haws, made occasionally wondrous by fogs and hoar frosts dusting everything in white. But it is also the best spot in Newark to see winter thrushes at the moment, and in my experience it has always been the most likely spot to see bullfinches.

Fieldfares and redwing tend not to come into town to ransack berry laden trees until the weather gets really cold and hard. But Clay Lane, right on the edge of a busy urban residential area, has the berries to attract them without the people to disturb them, and my recent runs have found me flushing flocks of 20 or so fieldfare out from the trees as I approach, their pure white bellies flashing in the sun as they fly off. They always seem a little easier to spook than the redwing - which are present on the lane in smaller numbers at the moment - despite the fact that they are a far sturdier looking bird.

There are flocks of goldfinches around too, always a pretty sight twittering in the trees, their bright red faces always reminding me of mini-babybel cheeses.

How odd, that a bird should remind me of cheese.

Copyright Cream Crackered Nature 21.12.13

Saturday 14 December 2013

Observing Geminid Maximum

Well, I gave it a go, posting myself outside at 11.30pm in a collection of various fleeces. I'd felt rather pleased with myself, doing a bit of "outreach" by advertising the best meteor shower of the year to my social contacts, but when I went outside, clouds were rolling in to make me look like a fool. The moon also was making things difficult.

Locally anyway. People further South had better luck.

Myself, I saw 4 meteors in around 20 minutes, mainly through thick haze and in scant gaps between the heavier clouds. As before, all were heading South in the sky, and were observed between the radiant and Orion. The last one I saw was the choice specimen, a magnitude zero or better meteor on a path through Monoceros, the constellation of the unicorn.

There are still meteors to be seen in the next day or two, so here's hoping for clearer skies, and for some miracle to somehow blank the moon out...

Thursday 12 December 2013

First Geminid Meteors of the Season!

Ahead of Friday's Geminid maximum, took advantage of reasonably clear skies and a low half moon to make my first Geminid observations for 2013.

Although the Perseids of August are often talked up as being the best shower of the year, in practice I find the Geminids to be a better observing experience. The radiant is higher in the sky much earlier, winter skies are darker, and the meteors themselves tend to be slower moving and brighter than the Perseids.

The main problem is the cold, and believe me, it was pretty sharp last night!

I observed for half an hour from 1am, and managed to pick up 5 bright meteors in this time, strangely most of them in the low south, streaking through Orion and Canis Major. Thought I would see more in the vast blank patch of sky overhead that was the constellation of Camelopardalis.

If skies clear, I shall make some more observations tonight, and hopefully there will be an increase in visible meteor numbers. I will also take a scaldingly hot cup of coffee outside with me tonight to improve my observational endurance!

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Feathery Fruity Flavours

My wretched strained calf - leg, not bovine - is still bothering me a little, so I nursed it very carefully this morning in a 10km run around the two lakes, Clay Lane and Beacon Hill reserve.

The sky was cloudless, and the low sun was providing a beautiful illumination, making the frosted grass shimmer, and giving the mallards' on the lakes dazzling emerald heads. You can tell the wind has dropped; the black headed gulls on Balderton Lake are less numerous than they are when the weather is bad. There were only about 20 fighting and scrapping upon the water, as opposed to the windy days last week when there were hundreds.

I'm keeping an eye out for goosander, but for so far only tufted duck and the mean muscovy duck are keeping the mallards company.

Clay Lane was muddy, but not impassable despite a particularly gloopy patch trying to eat my shoe at one point. A flock of what I think were fieldfares took flight at my arrival, heading off to a copse unpolluted by the heavy footsteps of radio 4 listening joggers. I think there were redwing hiding in the trees too, I kept seeing distant glimpses of slender thrush shapes in the branches.

Lots of chaffinch were on the woodland path on Beacon Hill park, white tail bars flashing as they flew from tree to tree, but the prize of the day was found in the nursery area. As I reached the middle of the young trees, admiring the rich crop of berries sported by many of them, a white rump flashed across my path from right to left, before settling in one of the young trees. It was of course a bullfinch, and it gave me a few seconds to admire it before it flew off.

In the sunlight, its pink breast was completely aglow. It was so bright it looked like a strawberry split ice lolly, looking so refreshing the sight of it made me suddenly very thirsty! I'm used to seeing bullfinches along Clay Lane, but it's a rare sight for Beacon Hill, and I was greatly cheered I saw it. Glorious birds.

The main field was empty. All the rabbits were underground telling stories like they do in Watership Down. It was time to head home.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Satellite of Love

I was visiting the library today, when I found this fellow when I was leaving;

This is a satellite moth, so named for the white markings on each wing, clearly shown in the photograph above. They are reckoned to resemble a planet with satellites orbiting it.

It may surprise some people, but there are various species of moth that are autumn and winter fliers, rather than summer ones. The satellite is one, the furry dark december moth another. This specimen was in pretty poor condition, having been partially trod on by library visitors. It was still feebly alive, so I took it outside - cue strange looks - and found a sunny spot to release it in. But I didn't give much for its chances.

Later on, I headed out for a somewhat limping, coughy and sneezy run. Many black headed gulls - in the hundreds - were on Balderton Lake, and a cormorant was making a rare visit to annoy the anglers. On Clay Lane, I had a typical sighting of a bullfinch, a white flash of rump flying across the path, and in the trees above there seemed to be both fieldfares and redwing, although the fading light made it hard to tell. The haw berries would be attracting them.

I eventually returned home to find the robins singing in the baby oak tree, and the blackbirds throwing the dead leaves around in every corner of the garden. The singing of the robins is a particularly cheery sound at present. 

Monday 2 December 2013

Alas Comet ISON, I never knew you

You may well have read my blogs talking about my observations of Comet Lovejoy, but there was always an underlying hint in my writing, I think,  that I was hoping for something bigger and better elsewhere...

My attempts to view ISON were always thwarted. Clear skies at the wrong time, clear skies when I was asleep, a bad horizon from my urban location. I woke up at 5am one day to try and observe it, then probably fell asleep again. A few more days and ISON was much too close to the sun to observe from any Earth based observatories. It was up to the battery of solar observation satellites out in space to try and keep us in the picture.

And it was looking really good, for a just a painfully short time. After some earlier reports suggesting that ISON was already starting to disintegrate, the comet passed through a rough patch, and then brightened rapidly. By the time of perihelion, the comet had reached an estimated magnitude of about 0, and was showing a beautiful pair of tails - a dust tail, and the straighter, narrower ion tail.

ISON just before perihelion 28.11.13, image from NASA SOHO satellite.
ISON then whipped out of view behind the sun for a short time, and observers held their breath. By the time it reached its closest point to the sun, at less than a million miles, ISON was being heated to 4000K and was travelling at 800,000 mph - 0.11% of the speed of light.

ISON was travelling so fast, it was undergoing relativistic effects. Time was running slower for the comet!

Clearly subject to such temperatures and forces, it was never a given that the comet's one mile or so nucleus would survive. Initially, it seemed that nothing had survived, but then this SOHO picture gave hope.

Had Comet ISON (at 11 o'clock) survived?
Something had clearly made it around perihelion, but what?

Hopes were high that some, or perhaps even all, of ISON's nucleus had survived, but then sadly, it became apparent that the image captured above was just a remnant of gas and dust from the comet's tail, with no solid nucleus present. Over the next two days, it gradually smeared out, and disappeared to nothing.

It may be that the comet springs one last surprise on us; the debris around its orbit may give us a new meteor shower when the earth crosses ISON's orbital path early next year. But this is unknown at present.

Comet ISON may be dead, and I may be sad to never have seen it. But the study of this comet, and the interest it generated, was unprecedented, and that is Comet ISON's legacy.

Now get your binoculars out, and look for Comet Lovejoy!

Copyright Cream Crackered Nature 02.12.2013