Friday 31 January 2014

Like an REM Cover

Enjoyed a walk in the oak woods by Devon Pastures. I had already been all over, feeling the first snow of the winter brushing my face and settling behind my ears, but it was raining by the time I got here - yesterday 30.01.14 is the date.

I was there to look for a treecreeper the excellent warden had reported, but I didn't see it. What I did see was a multitude of great tits, blue tits and long tailed tits doing their callisthenics in the trees, while blackbirds ravaged the leaf litter at ground level. The noise was intense; somewhere a bird made a sound like someone scraping a metal woodwork file, while another, while another went "tweet tweet poooooo-WEEEEEE".

It's a lovely place, and in a dim winter light, it looks like REM's cover for "Murmur".

The River Devon in flood
Blackbird throwing around the leaf litter

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Slowly Starts the Spring

Another walk around the lakes, more life struggles up through the soggy goosander on Balderton Lake yesterday, but the attractive pochard put on a fine display of diving. The trees in the cemetery were busy with great tits,chaffinch and long tailed tits, while blue tits seemed to be engaging in some acrobatic fights in the air, and in the branches.

Are they starting to get ready for breeding season?

It was on London Road Lake where I got my surprise sighting. A solitary goosander was patrolling the far side of the lake there, the first one I'd ever seen on these waters. Through binoculars, the squarish head and sharp, fish catching bill is very apparent, and very obviously different from the other duck species around.

A special word for Leroy the muscovy duck. He has made it into the Newark Advertiser for very sad reasons - apparently children are throwing stones at him because he isn't like all the other ducks. Well, my cousin in Wales kept musocvy ducks, and I know at first hand, they can bite...

More crocus beginning to slowly flower
Another snowdrop photo opp
Winter aconite, seemingly, an ornamental non native species
Hungry blackbird
No, I can never capture the angle right
Leroy the muscovy

Monday 27 January 2014

Unusual Ducks Ahoy!

I'm relishing walking rather than running at the moment, you get to see so much more...but then I feel guilty about not exercising properly, so when I'm on form again, I shall be walking AND running around.

Today was crocus hunt day in the cemtery, and as you can see below, I was rewarded by the sight of a single, rather pathetic specimen poking up dejectedly into the cold, sunless morning. The snowdrops are really coming into their own at the moment, and there is more (I think) cherry blossom on the trees - and more on the ground, where the wild winds have shredded it.

I was also hoping to see something unusual on the Balderton Lake, colder snaps being the best time to see more interesting birds than mallards and canada geese on the waters.

The first thing I noticed initially was that the male great crested grebes have put on their breeding colours - the tan red flashes on their ruffs were very prominent at a distance. The moorhens are getting feisty. But it was some handsome black and white ducks in the distance which really caught my eye. Three male goosander, and a chestnut headed female, were on the water, and that was not the last of it. Further round the lake were some unfamiliar ducks, silver grey and white, with a red-brown head. I had to confirm my suspicions on the net, but they were correct - I was looking at two male pochard, with a much darker female in tow. This is a new species for me to see on the lake, and I was excited to record it.

My walk was happily rounded off by a close up view of some long tailed tits on the pollarded willows at the water's edge on London Road Lake. They really are quite unafraid of humans, and allow quite a close approach to see their featherweight acrobatic antics on the twigs.

It took my mind off the tedious shopping I was about to have to do.

Cemtery blossom
More life and death
Snowdrop close up
Great crested grebe in the distance
Hide and seek with coots and moorhens

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Picture Posts

I understand that on some browsers, the photographs may be extending so far across the screen they obscure some of the "recent posts" links on the right, and make things a little untidy. Well, I post pictures from my mobile phone Blogger app, and have very little control over their size.

In any case a few people have told me, and I agree, that they prefer the large format pictures, and that they have the best possible image quality. I will try and see what I can do to make them fit the Blogger windows better.

In other news, the great tits have been singing tremendously loudly from the trees on my walk into town, but I haven't had a chance to do much today as I've been waiting to pick up my newly repaired bike from the shop - hooray! the gears are no longer clunking about right left and centre, and so trips to Besthorpe and RSPB Langford will be on the cards if the weather isn't too atrocious.

I long to see the winter waterfowl at Langford, but the N64 cycle path in the vicinity is a mudbath this time of year.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

A Winterwatch Kind of Walk

What a cold, bright and beautifully lit morning it was, and with my pulled muscle not going into blinding spasms, I was out early (by my standards) with my little 10x25 field glasses and a lot of warm clothing on.

It was a wonderful walk, birdsong blipping out from every tree and hedgerow - the repetitive "deeeee-doooooo" of great tits being particularly noticeable; and there was a spot in the ditch next to the cycle path between the two lakes that a number of chaffinch, blackbirds and dunnock were using as a communal spa. As can be seen below, signs of spring were present despite the cold, and a juvenile blackbird was making a very scratchy and off key attempt to sing from a tree top before it was chased off by an adult male no doubt fed up with having to put its wings over its ears.

A final treat - on the park near my home, a small flock of redwing took up residence for the afternoon, brought into town by the cold.

Frozen lichen
Captivating light
The author and the sprouting crocuses
Life and death
Balderton lake aglow
Great crested grebe in the distance
Canada goose and the skeksis like muscovy duck
Gorse in flower - goldfinches were loving it!
Redwing in the tree

Monday 20 January 2014

Blossom Dearie

Running out to Hawton and Farndon in a low sun revealed flocks of chaffinch in the ash trees by the bypass, while the inevitable black headed gulls sailed the air above the swampy looking paddocks in the vicinity.

The light was sunset gold again, and a ten metre shadow was following me wherever I went, looking rather stiff as its owner was running with a sore back.

I figured the riverside route would be too boggy to pursue, so I just headed straight along Farndon Road back into town. And as I ran, along the backs of some Farndon houses, I noticed that there was blossom growing from smallish shrub trees in the verge.

Early blossom decorates the roadside

 It's the second set of early blossom I've seen this year, after the cherry trees in the cemtery. I have no idea what it is, but it certainly brightened up the mud soaked ground no end. 

As a further bonus, approaching the Devon bridge, I heard a tremendous cacophany coming from a thickset tree above me, and looked up to see not just an exciteable flock of goldfinches clattering about with exciteable calls, but also a flock of pretty in pink long tailed tits, their quieter "seeeps" still audible amidst the general avian chatter.

I'm paying for the run today with a fair bit of stiffness, but it always makes it worthwhile when you notice something news.

Monday 13 January 2014

A Tentative Spring

I headed out on a run today to look out for signs of spring; signs that a more vigorous form of life is emerging from the winter lethargy, that it has energy left over to breed and grow after a period of merely surviving.

The blackbirds in my garden have been getting a little feistier, and I thought this morning that there was perhaps some blackbird song mixed in with the constant calling of the local robins. The local cemetery has been sporting a little cherry blossom, and it was to there that I headed, to see if there was anything new on the ground.

This is what I found.

Snowdrops in the cemetery
Newly flowering snowdrops around the cemetery chapel. The crocuses are not far behind them, they are starting to sprout although they aren't ready to flower yet.

Further along my run, the mallards on the River Devon are starting to get aggressive too, there was a fair amount of territorial quacking going on, and one individual bird chased his rival clean off the water. 

Of course, it was bitterly cold, and didn't feel springlike at all. But it is a sign of hope for times to come; a time when I can have a cup of tea outside without shivering, and go for a run without getting covered in mud.

Saturday 11 January 2014

The Fieldfares up the Hill

My first day off shift, and I slept in far too late to do Parkrun.

This is not a good thing. It means I have to do a longer run to make up for it, and so after enjoying the sight of chaffinches and blue tits in the trees outside my front door, I set off to run to Coddington and back.

It was a bright as anything day, the blue sky seeming to reach to the edge of the universe, and seagulls making the most of a reasonable breeze. Along Barnby Lane, blackbirds were munching berries in the hedges, but I haven't seen the kestrel on the flyover for a while. It used to be perched in the trees, presumably in between spells of hunting for food along the A1 verges.

After a hard run up  the back of Beacon Hill, I approached the field next to the converted windmill on the left and saw it was absolutely full of birds. A flock of at least 50, and perhaps over 100 fieldfares (with possibly the odd redwing thrown in) strutting brashly about the ground, and not at all fazed by my presence, unlike the ones on Clay Lane in the trees.

It's the biggest flock of these sturdy, attractive thrushes I've seen since they savaged the ornamental berry trees on Beacon Hill estate, in the harsh snows of two years ago. It takes bad weather to shift the winter thrushes into town, and so far this winter, it hasn't been cold enough.

On one hand this is a pity, because they are really striking birds to introduce to the general population out there. But on the other, if they are in town, it means my cycle rides to work are going to be a frozen, slippery nightmare!

Sunday 5 January 2014

The Quadrantid Fireball

The Quadrantids have been a bit of a disappointment.

After seeing a bright meteor the night before maximum, hopes were high that the night of maximum itself would be better. Well, it wasn't. The skies were good, if not frosty clear, and I settled outside for what I was hoping would a be a jolly old evening of meteor spotting.

I saw one in 40 minutes.

That, to say the least, was unexpected. I know this shower has a narrow maximum, but still...

So as I left my flat last night to go and meet a friend, I barely even bothered to look up at the sky for any meteors. And then, as I turned my key in the door, a flash lit up my face, and made me jump out of my skin.

I looked up at neck-cricking speeds, and saw an orange-yellow Quadrantid leaving a marked smoke trail as it passed through Taurus, heading South-East. I thought it was magnitude -4 or so at the time, but this was more based on the flash lighting up my face. The meteor itself was as bright, or brighter, than Jupiter, so perhaps mag. -2 - -3 would be nearer the mark.

Still, it was an impressive sight, and the night got better as I walked through town, as I saw, foraging for food by The Fox and Crown.

As friends told me; it must surely be a good omen.

Friday 3 January 2014

The Goosander Have Returned

Todays run, after a brutal and muddy ten mile effort yesterday, was a gentle trip round the two lakes, to see what I might see.

The answer was - plenty!

As soon as I arrived at Balderton Lake, I noticed a large black and white duck crusing serenely despite the strong wind. Even at a distance, I could see the sharp looking red beak and black head indicating a male goosander. It is the first time I have spotted this diving, fish eating duck this winter, and a magnificent, handsome duck it is.

Running further around the lake, taking photographs that strained my little mobile phone camera to the limit, I came across comically panicking moorhens, honking geese, and another far off diving duck but with a chestnut red head this time. I figured this for the female goosander, although as will be seen, my photographs were not clear. To say the least.

Leaving the lake behind, I ran down the N64 and looked around Clay Lane for a while. Immediately, a flash of red and brown crossed my path, a redwing flushed by my approach, always looking like they are bleeding from the flank. And then the hedges along the path across Clay Lane park were busy with fieldfare - a flock of around 20-30 birds feeding off a rich crop of berries.

And by the railway line, less shy blackbirds gorged themselves on haws, and gazed at me with a cheeky eye, as the rain started to fall.

Balderton Lake moorhen
Tufted ducks in the wind
Canada goose and greylag/farmyard hybrid
Male goosander, obviously
Female goosander. I think and hope.

Quadrantid Hunting

The first major meteor shower of the year is on us already, and noticing clearing skies at 2am last night, I wasn't about to miss the opportunity to try and spot a few meteors.

Although the maximum is not actually until, well, now, as I write this - 8pm, 03.01.14 - I figured it was worth seeing if there were any meteors about.

However, unlike the Gemnids, or the Perseids, which have a lot of activity over several days, the Quadrantids have a very sharp maximum which means although the number of meteors can reach the same as with  those two major showers, it is for a far shorter window of time.

Ergo, as I stood outside with a makeshift Pina Colada, I saw exactly one meteor in about 45 minutes, a bright, magnitude -1 specimen that sliced through the head of the celestial snake Hydra.

So, I shall try again tonight, and if you have clear skies, so should you. The Quadrantids, named after a constellation called Quadrans Muralis that was purged after the powers that be decided there was no point in it existing as a separate constellation, are probably best seen after midnight, as the radiant, near the handle of the big dipper, is very low until that time.

Here's hoping for clear skies!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

The Sun, the Celestial Painter

Sun gilds the land and sky, Coddington
Gold and cobalt river

The Last Signs and Sounds of 2013

December 31st. A day of relaxing, of preparing oneself for the rigours of the night ahead.

I may not be any kind of expert in bird calls, but I've become quite attuned to knowing when a sound in the garden isn't normal. I had such a moment yesterday, when as I lay on the sofa reading, I heard an unfamiliar double whistle coming from the bare sycamore tree outside.

I looked out, and the brilliant pink breast of a bullfinch was perched on a windswept branch. Bullfinches are not regular visitors to the garden, and I was pretty darn chuffed to see it; the neighbours have just started putting out their winter feeders and I suppose this is probably what tempted it into quite a cat strewn locality for a shy bird.

But the bullfinch wasn't the only visitor I had. When I went outside, there was my endlessly singing local robin, a wren, a squadron of long tailed tits making their way through the trees hunting for spiders, and up above my head another unusual visitor; the soft grey belly and black head of a blackcap.

A little later, I was out running, the back way up the hill to Coddington, and as I made my way to the top of the hill, the setting sun burst out as a weather front went over, and illuminated everything with yet another glorious golden glow, a light I have been fortunate enough to witness many times this winter. And in it, redwings were to be seen in the hedges along the Sleaford Road back to Beacon Hill.

I still haven't decided which is the more attractive bird, the redwing or the fieldfare. For now, I will call it an honourable draw.

Copyright Cream Crackered Nature 01.01.14