Sunday, 31 March 2013

Aston End

At last a hint of warmth in the sunshine.
Walked around a
Aston End and up the river Beane (reasonable flow for the time of year so maybe the water table is recovering).
Not a great deal to report. Little signs of spring with virtually no flowers out, and few trees and bushes have any sign of leaves breaking. Even the willow catkins are still in bud.
Two separate pairs of Grey Partridge made a change as it's normally red Legs around here now. Five Buzzards displaying over High Wood and New Wood, and the pair of Red Kites are still present. Heard the Little Owl a bit north of the paddocks but could not locate it. From the ford, up the river to the plantation by Long Lane I counted five Chiffchaffs.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Rye and Tewin

Just as cold as yesterday! Siskin still around coming down to the feeder.
Went down to Rye meads in the morning, largely because they had plenty of hides to keep out of the wind. Arrived moments after the gate opened so sat in the car park hide for a bit. A Grey Wagtail flew over and  a Chiffchaff was lurking in the bushes.
A few Shelduck are on the reserve, with one sleeping on the Draper scrape. No waders, but plenty of gulls and a few Shoveller and Teal. The lagoons were pretty much the same.

Spent some time in the Kingfisher Hide. Chiffchaff singing outside occasionally. Male Kingfisher arrived and sat outside the nest hole for a long time, with another appearing briefly. Both Kestrels active in the nest box.

 Left at 1130 and went home via Tewinbury. The reserve has had a lot of work since my last visit a few years ago and looks quite good. A couple pointed me in the direction of a suspect Snipe, but this proved to be a Common. However, behind it and largely obscured was a Jack Snipe. It remained on view all the time I was present, but never really came out into the open. Also it was rather too far away for the camera.


Friday, 29 March 2013


Fed the birds this morning, breaking the ice on the bird bath and it felt quite nice in the sunshine, still a bit cold but much better than it has been, so I decided to get down to Amwell.
Felt very nice getting out of the car, and debated wether I ought to take a layer off. Glad I did not, as the wind at the watchpoint was vicious. Bill was present, so we had a chat. A few raptors came up in the sunshine-five Buzzards, a Kite and one or two Sparrowhawks and Kestrels. A Chiffchaff was calling from the reeds in front of us, as well as a Cetti's. Few waders present, a few Snipe and Lapwing, though I later heard a Redshank. Seems like the Oystercatchers have not settled down, and the presence of large numbers of Black Headed Gulls may be a factor.
Went down to Hollycross, encountering a female Bullfinch in Cherry Plum by the bridge and she was soon joined by a male. For a few moments a Chiffchaff started to sing but soon shut up as the sun went in. Nothing much else, i thought I heard a Treecreeper but could not pin it down.There are still a reasonable number of Siskins present and around ten Goldeneye remain, but it looks like most of the winter ducks are leaving-the last Wigeon seems to have gone and there are only one or two Teal left.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Snow Again

Getting fed up with the continuing cold weather and snow. Should be getting the first Wheatears at Norton, and Chiffchaffs singing in the woods, not to mention butterflies in the spring sunshine.
Maybe because it is cold again, the Siskins are back-one male and female so presumably the same birds as previously.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Comet Pan-Starrs

It was pretty clear for a time late afternoon so shortly after dinner I popped out with the camera in the hope of picking up the comet which would be well placed low in the west around 1900.
Cloud was building up as I drove out east of Stevenage  to try and find a suitable vantage point, and it gradually got worse. The one remaining sucker hole  in the west gradually vanished, and I even lost sight of the Moon.
Returned home around 1920 with nothing to show and yet again an evening drive failed to pick up any owls.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


Have not exactly done much in the way of birding this month-the weather has been dreadful. The only decent spring days are when I am working.
The Siskins have not been in the garden this weekend, I presume they have moved on. The local pair of Chaffinches are coming down regularly at the moment. Their behaviour is a bit strange in that we get occasional visits all through the year but it is only in Spring that they seem to visit on a daily basis. Nothing much else is happening-the Dunnocks are still present, the Robins are very territorial and there are perhaps two pairs of Blackbirds visiting.
Despite the poor weather I decided to go down to Amwell this morning. Not much chance of a singing Chiffchaff, and though Sand Martins have been seen I was not holding out much hope. Barry and Bill left shortly after I arrived which was not a good sign but I met up with Tony and Jay. Four Red Crested Pochards were present at the south end-three fine drakes, and there were also three Redshanks on the main island. One Wigeon seems to be lingering and there are still a few Goldeneye and Teal around. Raptors did not show really, one Kestrel, one Buzzard and a distant Sparrowhawk.
There are a few thrushes around still, mainly Fieldfare with a few Redwing, and the resident Mistle, Song and Blackbirds are very vocal (as are Water Rail and Cetti's Warblers). Still a few Siskins in the Alders.

Saturday, 9 March 2013


Had the day off yesterday to take mum out, and before we left I noticed a female Siskin on the feeders-there are not many spots round here that attract them and so rarely visit the garden.
Today she was back, along with a male, and they have been coming and going all day, along with the regular six Goldfinches. Also had four Blackbirds, a Great Tit, three House Sparrows and a Carrion Crow perched on the feeder.
The light has been very poor all day, drizzly rain and it is getting a lot colder.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Double Cluster

I have had a play with the Perseus image, producing a crop of the Double Cluster which is more pleasing. The main thing is to try and get rid of the orange sky, and do something about the odd colours with some of the stars. The brighter ones in particular have a purple/magenta cast which is dealt with simply by turning the saturation down. All this does is produce a large white or grey star, but it does look a bit better. A minus violet filter would be better in the longer term, or even better a true apochrmatic lens. Some 'stars' are pure red or aqua-these may be hot pixels or random noise. Stacking multiple images and dark frame subtraction would be needed to deal with these. However I am pretty pleased with the results.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Last month I mentioned that I had purchased a small tracking mount at Astrofest-
I had hoped to try it out when we had the recent asteroid DA14 flypast, but we were completely clouded out. As the Moon was high in the sky I then had to wait for a dark period, and last night looked promising. My intention was not to produce pretty images but rather test the various parts of the system, from the mount to camera and lenses. Since I had not actually done any long exposure imaging since 1997 (Hale Bopp) when we were still using slide film and had only undertaken a few quick exposures from the garden with my digital slrs I needed to understand the capabilities of the gear.
We used to go out to a spot near the village of Cromer, and i had found a spot on the map which looked good, but when I got out there at around 1930 I felt it was still a bit too close to Stevenage and drove further east to a spot near Haultwick where i found a nice farm track well away from any lights. Unfortunately due to the mild weather, it was a bit hazy with large areas of patchy cloud drifting slowly over, and I was still close enough to town to see that the sky was still a bit orange. However it would do for the tests.
Setting up was pretty quick, and the IPhone app enabled rapid and accurate polar alignment. I had taken the Zeiss 100mm lens, and based on the garden tests stopped it down to f2.8 to reduce vignetting and blue halos around bright stars. The camera was set to iso 1600 and manual exposures of 30 and 60 seconds. The noise reduction was switched off as I wanted to see what the sensor would deliver, and in order to keep things simple I made no attempt to produce dark frames or flat fields for the same reason.
The only clear area of sky was Perseus low in the west, so I set up to get the Double Cluster and the area around alpha in the same field. A 30 second exposure looked ok suggesting 60 seconds would work, but the stars were not sharp-the tripod had shifted slightly on the soft ground. After getting the polar axis set up again I tried 60 seconds which looked much better.
Cloud was building up so I then concentrated on the Orion region which was now a bit low down. All subsequent exposures were marred by cloud and contrails but I was able to get the Orion Nebula and belt regions in between the gaps, but the haze produced brighter skies and slightly bloated stars.

Subsequent processing has been kept to a minimum. Apart from trying to get levels adjusted to bring out the fainter details all I have done is get the background reasonably neutral ,and there has been no attempt to enhance the images up by sharpening or noise reduction.
All three images are crops. The double cluster is going reasonably deep but faint stars are difficult to distinguish from the noise. The belt crop is interesting as it shows faintly the emission nebula NGC 2024 next to the left hand belt star, and a faint patch to the north is the reflection nebula M78.

So a couple of things have been learnt. The location I found would be pretty good on a clearer night provided the western sky towards Stevenage is avoided. Otherwise I would have to travel a considerable distance further east and north. The mount is more than capable of tracking for many minutes with the 100mm lens and would probably handle substantially larger lenses-the 300mm f2.8 will be tested. The 100mm lens certainly works well at f2.8. Due to noise and dynamic range I would not want to set the camera to more than iso 1000 in future particularly if exposures of several minutes are attempted and it would certainly be beneficial to produce multiple images and stack them, as this will enable me to go a lot deeper. Dark frames and flat fields will also help.
 The drive home was a bit of a let down as I hoped to pick up one or two Barn Owls.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


Went down to Amwell this morning. Expecting a mild late winters day, it was rather cold and cloudy. The pair of Pintail that have been present a few days were a long way off at the back along with most of the snipe. A pair of Wigeon still remained-I assumed many had departed now that Spring is around the corner, but later on around 20 more appeared. Still a few Goldeneye around.
Walked over to the main hide with Mick where we were able to get reasonable images of the drake Pintail-the female had fallen asleep.

 Apart from a calling Cetti's warbler, not much else was happening so we went up to Tumbling Bay where the three Smew could be seen together n the distance. Leaving Mick I walked up and found a suitable spot where i could get some photos. Unfortunately they proved to be a bit flighty and I was not able to get all that close. Two red heads accompanied the drake, but a third remained on it's own and always seemed to avoid the others.

 Still a lot of Siskins around in the alders and Dunnocks, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes are singing.