Friday, 30 September 2011

Horrible Weather

The late summer heatwave continues. The high over the continent has all but killed any migration and I have just started my holiday-two weeks off.
The Sandhill Crane reappeared yesterday over the Northumberland coast. It slowly flew south and reached Whitby in Yorkshire before heading west. No sign today, and it may be a while before it decides to move again. Hope someone finds it.
Meanwhile the Sun has been pretty active. A superb auroral  display a few days back did not seem to get down to my latitudes, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something may happen soon.
Here is todays sun.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sunny and quiet

I was not able to get up to the Loch of Strathbeg to twitch the Sandhill Crane this weekend, due to various commitments. Hope it stays a while.
The high pressure over the Continent has not been all that great in producing much in the way of good birds, and those that have appeared have not really lingered, so we decided to save a bit of cash. The fine autumnal weather has prompted me to get out locally with the camera and look at landscapes. Have yet to process the results though.
 Yesterday I went out around Aston End and up the (dry) river Beane. In the local conifer plantation, I was surprised to find a pair of Treecreepers-I have walked through these woods since they were planted around 1970 and have never seen Treecreepers here before. I assume they were associating with a fairly mobile tit flock. I also heard a Nuthatch here-a species that has only occasionally encountered here in the last few years.
A pair of Bullfinches near the Crown pub was nice. Most of the nearby fields are or have been ploughed and as usual there were Skylarks moving around and a large flock of Lesser Black Backs, also five Red Legged Partridge near the ford. The hedges seem to have been cut recently so Yellowhammers and finches were rather scarce.
Birds of prey included two Buzzards over Lords farm being mobbed by corvids, and at least six others could be seen to the north and east. A pair of Kestrels were seen several times and appear to have young in one of the trees judging by the noise. Finally another pair of Bullfinches were heard near the radio mast at Chells Manor.
Few butterflies despite the sun, one Small Copper, one Red Admiral and a few Speckled Woods.

Today I drove over to Sandon and then south and east through some of the remoter villages.
Eight Buzzards at Deadmans Hill, along with a Kestrel and a female Sparrowhawk that disturbed a very big flock of Skylarks and Linnets. A couple of Corn Buntings flew through, and there were a few red legged Partridges too.
Not much seen on the drive, apart from soaring Buzzards everywhere, and I 'only' managed to see one Red Kite.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Gulls don't Get Much Better

 After several weeks without much long distance birding, decided to go out for the day. Plenty of good stuff knocking about now, but most of it is in Cornwall and the Scillies-not much good for a gentle Sunday out. Decided to go to Graffham instead where last weekend's ex hurricane had left a few birds.
 Arrived and was worried to see signs for the Graffham Water marathon-marquees, bunting the lot. Luckily we arrived before the crowds and it was still quiet. Walked out to the dam and saw a few birders in the distance, but not much birdlife-a few gulls, plenty of geese and some grebes. Colin looked over the edge, decided he wanted to photograph the Ringed Plover and then we noticed the Grey Phalarope sleeping-I had assumed it would be on the water. Eventually it woke up and performed well-and the returning birders who had walked straight past it had a good time as well.

 No sign of our main bird, the adult Sabine's Gull. We heard it had been seen in one of the north-western bays so drove off and through the village, parking at the end of the lane.
 Met a birder who had not seen it in the reported bay, so eventually headed west and met two others who called me over. Had great views of the bird flying around in conjunction with a Black Headed, but it was quite distant.

 It eventually flew off and was seen to land on one of the beaches so we followed. Got pretty good views from fairly close range looking through the trees but my stake out at a clearing failed as it flew off again.
 Having now been joined by a small crowd, we made our way back, trying to get good views on the ground, but it kept flying off, until it reached what we were told was it's favoured beach, where it really performed at close range-I was getting almost full frame images.


Only once have I ever seen an adult Sabines in breeding plumage-and that was on the Scillonian pelagic in August 1996. To see one inland is incredibly unusual-most of the storm driven birds tend to be younger birds, which also seem to be what we invariably see on decent sea watches.

 We decided to head off to Clacton where the juvenile Pallid Harrier had been reported early morning, but a later message saying no sign since mid morning prompted us to turn round, luckily just a short distance from Langthorns Nursery-I have put a new fence and arbour up so needed a few climbers which I knew they had. Also had a few impulse buys but I think the butterflies would like them.
Incidentally this has been the only place I've been this year where Painted Ladies have been seen in any quantity.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Spent a couple of hours at Amwell this morning with Phil and Bill. Phil had a few moths and some Lesser Earwigs from his moth trap.
Pretty quiet and not much seemed to be happening. Two Common Sandpipers still, and a Green Sand dropped in for a bit. Up to four Hobbies feeding over the woods, the most I've seen this year at one time. After Jay and Simon arrived, things picked up. We had around five Buzzards and a Kite, along with the usual Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and two unidentified distant large raptors.
Hirundines were moving through in small flocks, Sand Martins and Swallows in the main. Rather good were two or three Swift-a bit too early for Pallid unfortunately.
Still a few Common Terns present, but few warblers.
Only butterflies seemed to be lots of Red Admirals, various whites and a Small Tortoiseshell, mostly on the Ivy flowers.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Been a Long Time

As mentioned in my profile, I was for many years active in a wide range of astronomical fields, and one of the areas I specialised in was white light solar imaging-visual observations from 1984 onwards with digital imaging taking place between 2000 and 2006.
With around two years of on-off surgery, the specialised equipment was put in storage, and subsequently the solar cycle  went into a very deep prolonged minimum. Since I saw no point in taking images of blank yellow circles I never got round to dusting the equipment off. I keep an eye on and seeing that there were some interesting sunspot groups decided to have a go.
Had to completely strip the equipment down and ensure every optical surface was clean, and discovered that there were also a few mechanical issues to sort out as well. Still the results were pretty good considering how out of practice I had become.

There is a small amount of cirrus cloud drifting over the disc but the six active groups are visible.

Just to point something out-this was taken with highly specialised equipment designed specifically for solar observations. Please do not try this with ordinary camera equipment, lenses or telescopes as damage to the equipment is a certainty and there is also a very high risk of severe eyesight damage.