Friday, 28 October 2016

Goodbye, old friend....

Yes: I know it was only a van, but my old LDV Cub and I had shared so many adventures: birding trips to France, the West Country, the North East... Then there were all the Astronaut Encounters and Airshows - Duxford, Waddington, Biggin Hill and so on. The van was our workhorse for ten years, transporting thousands of pounds-worth of meteorites and space memorabilia up and down the motorways of the UK and taking me to give lectures in Devon, Cambridge, Essex, London....

I've jumped out of the van to twitch some fabulous birds: Gallenule, Spectacled Warbler, Northern Marsh Hawk, Ross's Gull and four rare Wheatears to name but a few.

Today it failed its MOT - it needed £500-worth of welding - so it was time to say goodbye: I drove it on its last journey to a recycler in Norwich.

The replacement is a nippy little S/H Nissan Almera: let's hope it proves as dependable and lucky as my old Cub.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Garden tick!

Long overdue, given that Blofield Heath seems to be on a flyway from the Yare to the Bure Valleys: this morning a Curlew flew north-east across the house calling!

Earlier, at around 5.30,  a lovely waning crescent Moon hung in the western sky. The Mare Humorum ('Sea of Moistures') shows well at 'six o' clock', as does the large crater Gassendi on its edge. This was considered as a landing site for Apollo 17 in 1972...

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Isabelline Wheatear at Burnham Overy.

An early morning pick-up by Brian and Norman saw the three of us enjoying a large flock of Brambling (100+) at Felbrigg Hall car park. The other two had hoped to take some autumnal shots of the avenues of trees, but they hadn't turned colour yet!

We carried on along the coast to Burnham Overy Staithe, where a brisk walk along the mist-shrouded seawall took us to the beach behind the houseboats. There were only a couple of birders in sight, none of whom seemed to have seen the Isabelline. We split up and, surprisingly quickly, I relocated this charming little waif feeding on the strandline. Joined by Brian and Norman, I watched the bird for around twenty minutes, before carrying on round the point to the houseboats, where a Desert Wheatear had recently been seen. Despite taking a lengthy (and cold!) lunchbreak, huddled in the dunes, we didn't add this bird to our daylists.

The walk back gave us distant views of the returning Black Brant hybrid, a cute little Earth Star fungus and a few Stonechats, but little else. We drove to Cley for coffee and scones, where we were told of a Long-tailed Duck in front of the new Babcock Hide. After a brief - and fruitless - session in Bishop's Hide, we drove east, parked and were soon enjoying somewhat distant views of this delightful little female. And so home! A great day out for the 'Summer Wine Crew'!

Bramblings by Brian Tubby

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Aurora, Orionids, Satellites and a spot of star gazing!

At around 6.30, I received an e-mail from 'Aurora Watch' predicting a display visible all over the UK. Accordingly, Linda and I wrapped up warmly and headed to the top of the Heath, armed with my trusty Pentax and new tripod.

In the event we did manage to see and photograph a somewhat wishy-washy green aurora, but the best photo was of one of the several Orionid meteors we saw. The Orionids are debris from Halley's Comet, believe it or not, so it's always a bit special to see some bright ones!

The sky was clear and dark, so I photographed a few of the best-known constellations, as well as the fuzzy patch that is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy and a few of the seven satellites we watched passing over.

Aurora with helicopter!

Orionid meteor

Cygnus and Vega

Ursa Major (Great Bear or Plough


Andromeda Galaxy, M31

Colourful star cluster in the Milky Way

Jack Snipe, Kingfishers and Bearded Tits: Strumpshaw Fen at its best!

Having heard that Ben L had seen or heard Waxwings at the Fen yesterday, Linda and I made an early start, arriving at the Sandy Path by 8.00am. No Waxwings, but it seemed a terrific morning for Bearded Tits. In fact, we had quite a long wait of over two hours before two smallish flocks appeared. In total, perhaps twenty birds posed for frame-filling shots (apart from poor Dinah, who departed two minutes before they arrived!) Lots of female / juvenile Reed Buntings fed among them: what delicious little birds these are!

Saying our goodbyes to Brian T and the others, Linda and I left for home, but decided on a brief peep from Fen Hide: good call! We quickly found a close Jack Snipe (although we couldn't persuade some of the others in the hide that the i/d was solid, despite back-of-camera guidance!) as well as 20+ Common Snipe. These flew around a few times before settling on the 'spit'. A kingfisher put in a brief appearance before we finally left to do some work in the garden!

Monday, 24 October 2016

The joys of feeding, and some posters of dubious educational value !

As some of you may remember, Linda spends over £30 a week on bird food for the garden: niger seeds, fat balls, mealworms and suet are no problem. However, we also put out lots of mixed flaked peas and cereal for ground-feeding birds such as pigeons, doves, partridges and pheasants.

All these species are somewhat fussy feeders: they flick seed all over the place, which encourages rats, wastes money and produced a lawn which was 20% oats! To limit this, I built a low brick wall around the feeding station, into which we slotted a commercial game-bird feeder, which we found at a carboot for £15. This has worked superbly: the number of pheasants and partridges in particular has increased considerably! Plus, of course, the food stays dry and wholesome!

Just a little niggle, here: if the RSPB have placed the signs below around one of their Norfolk reserves as part of their education programme, as a teacher / lecturer with over 40 years experience of the National Curriculum, I have to say they've missed the mark by some distance. IMHO the signs should reflect some of the true history and importance of our native trees, rather than a bunch of new-age 'mind, body and spirit' mumbo jumbo. For example, they could have mentioned how important oak was in the construction of timber building frames, roof trusses, the warships of King Alfred's navy and vessels of exploration, or that cricket stumps are made of Ash, for example. Just a thought...