Sunday, 30 November 2008

I'll stick to management....

Well yet again the weather forecasters have got it wrong. Today, in the South West at least we were meant to be having rain, wind and well maybe a pestilent frog thrown in. It may be cold today, but it's actually very nice.

So a day in the garden. The above chairs, were "donated" to me as being past their best. This was back in June, and Border Reiver had planned to restore them for the garden. It's now the last day in November. So out with the sander, and on with a bit of mahogany slap. At this rate they'll look like Robert Kilroy Silk. They need a second coat before I show you the finished product, my DIY skills are legendary.... legendary bad that is. Which is why I'll stick to management, and my Fathers thoughts, DIY is for Don't Involve Yourself and get someone in.

But I do like gardening, so planted up a couple of Cyclamen / Heather pots. My neighbour popped round as well and I potted up a hanging basket for her. I used to be hopeless at hanging baskets, until I realised pack in the plants, leave no soil uncovered. (unlike that bare patch in the above photo.... dear oh dear, oh dear!!)

Hopefully these will bring in a bit of cheer for the winter. As did these little chaps, who seem to be becoming resident in my garden, always full of fun and activity. Photo is a bit rubbish, as they never stopped moving and caught me on the hop.

The other bit of wildlife from the garden was a Buzzard being mobbed by 3 Carrion crows overhead. I get a lot of Buzzards over the house in the summer, mewing and soaring, less so in the winter. So this was a nice diversion for 5 minutes from the freezing fingers.

Well first day of Advent tomorrow, I have my candle ready, and now if I can get motivated, heading off to Wells Cathedral for an Advent Service. I love Christmas, and think I'm becoming religious in my old age as have just bought this book to read.


Postscript : 7.45pm; Well I'm now back from Wells Cathedral, and I have to say thoroughly set for Christmas, if a little frozen. The Cathedral was put into total darkness, we all had candles, which were then lit from the Advent candle and then from one to another. I like the dark, but it's interesting what a few candles can do to lift the mood on a Sunday evening..... unlike my tone deaf singing.

Friday, 28 November 2008

the antics of a Peregrine Falcon

This is just a bit of Friday fun really.

For those of you who don't know "the Onion" is is a spoof newspaper and has some cracking wildlife stories in there from time to time. Always good for a giggle on a Friday

Peregrine Falcon in the Onion

And while I'm on about links, Radio 4's World on the Move is coming to the end of it's year soon, if you haven't had a chance to listen yet, go on be a devil, Tuesday Mornings, or of course listen again via the web.

World on the Move

Monday, 24 November 2008

Avon Wildlife Trust

Would you trust this man? I wouldn't, he's got shifty eyes and a bad taste in shiny shirts !! However this morning I received notice that I'd been duly elected onto the Board of Trustees for the Avon Wildlife Trust .

Quite an honour to be asked to consider this role and so thank you to the two other Trustees who nominated and seconded me. Even though it's early days and I've not met my fellow Trustees yet, I'm thrilled to be given this opportunity. More on the blog no doubt in the future.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Daffodils in November........

Nature is a funny old thing. As this weekend brought in the first real taste of winter snows to most of Britain, in the balmy South West yesterday afternoon, just before the rugger, I popped out to cut the lawn. Yes I know it is the 22 November, but if you live down here one needs to cut the grass in every month of the year. It's a pain in the neck this time of the year, as the grass is growing but the soil is sodden, consequently the lawn can look like the aftermath of a Glastonbury Festival after it's been cut.

It wasn't until onto some longish grass that I realised in horror my daffs in the lawn are popping up already, and the hover has scalped some of them. Bloomin' Fuchsias, as Gordon Ramsey would say. What are they doing poking through now!!!! Obviously those damaged have had it, but I hope some survive.

As I'm now throwing off my man flu, I had to spend the weekend at home. In the garden, the Sparrowhawk was patrolling which meant of course few birds at the feeders. Actually there's few birds anyway at the feeders at the moment. Combination of my felling a Silver Birch so less cover, the Sparrowhawk and very mild weather. Garden birds were a few Goldfinch, a Wren, House Sparrows, a Robin, a Great Tit and 2 Collard Doves were about it. Overhead a few Redwing and Fieldfare, various gulls, Jackdaw and Carrion Crow and a Buzzard.

It was even quiet at Sand Bay. Shelduck (above) numbers are beginning to rise, estimate 150, about 300 Dunlin, 50+ Oystercatchers, same of Curlew, smattering of Carrion Crow, Black Headed and Herring Gull and on the passerine front, couple of nice Greenfinch, Dunnock, Great and Blue Tit, Winter Thrushes, between 10-20 Magpie and well that was about it.

But at least no snow. Couple of mates of mine were in the Lakes this weekend and invited me to join them, I had to decline, maybe I'm getting soft, much nicer seeing Daffodils in November?!??!


Finally for no reason, other than Yoke has put on some lovely Corvid photos from her home Ireland (and they played well in the Rugger, Ireland that is, not the Crows) a link to a fellow Blogger, Birding on Wheels.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Interesting behaviour

As I'm still suffering this cough (though it seems to be getting better) not much chance to get out and about, haven't the energy really. However a couple of snippets from the week you may be interested in.

Firstly, saw some interesting behaviour. Out for some fresh air towards dusk, on some overhead power lines were amassing about 1-2,000 starlings. Not an unusual sight as Starlings will congregate before heading off to the overnight roost. What was fascinating, a female Sparrowhawk was also perched about 100m along the power line. It was a bit of status quo, if a few Starlings thought to leave, the Sparrowhawk was off too, when they flew back, so did the hunter. This cat and mouse game went on for ages, until at last the Sparrowhawk became bored, frustrated, whatever, and flew off across a field, at which point the Starlings broke out in a chattering chorus and flew off in the opposite direction. I hope they made it.

I've also seen a Hen Harrier this week. Not going to say where it was other than Somerset. I was driving along and saw a Black Headed Gull flock lift rapidly from some wet pasture. Always good to check why flocks lift rapidly, I stopped the car and there it was, 95% sure a juvenile, rather than female. That's 2 I've seen this year, good to see these fab hunters in the South West.

Also, when out and about this winter, if you see a mixed species Finch flock feeding, take some time to really look what's there. One flock of 150+ feeding on spilt grain was made up of, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Redpoll and Siskin as well as House Sparrow hangers on.

Finally took this photo the other day and while I've got time on my hands, messing about with Photoshop. This effect is called "Hot Wax". (Enlarge photo to get effect) I quite like this and I think my artistic juices are coming back. Nice effect, in my mind anyway.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Being a blue sky thinker clouds my thoughts

Apologies for the lack of postings recently, I'm recovering from man-flu. I have been bed ridden for days and near to my maker for weeks.......actually what I have is a blooming awful throat infection, cough, cough, cough. All day and all night, it's driving both myself and my work colleagues to despair. Which is why they sent me packing this afternoon with a "just go home we don't want your germs"

As I drove home I thought maybe a bit of sea air down at Sand Bay would help. It did and it didn't, as I just felt worn out when walking along the beach, presumably as I'm not sleeping, so just sat there, looking at the clouds. And pretty spectacular they were too. The Bristol Channel provides an aerial backdrop for some stunning sunsets. I was once told this is because of the muddy sea, the Channel being an estuary, it provides more red in the sky, so an enhanced sunset. That may or may not be true, but I just like looking at the end result.

In terms of birdlife out there this afternoon, nothing spectacular to report, though good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare about at the moment. I love those winter Thrush's, how they all fly off at once from a hedgerow, wheeling and flying over fields, landing again in another spot. I could watch them for hours.

But being at home this afternoon, allowed me to do something I've been putting off for weeks. Much like watching the sky and the shape clouds make, my dominant personality is to be a blue sky thinker. I am absolutely hopeless at detail. People at work are surprised at this as a lot of my work involves detail. Believe me I can do it, but I find it hard graft and it bores me rigid. Give me a massive problem to resolve quickly and I'm your man, just don't expect me to follow my answers through with actual action, I'll have moved on and become distracted by something else just as interesting before then.

So unlike many birdwatchers (or men generally apparently) I never keep accurate records of what I've seen. It's all in my head, but never organised (the lists, not my head before you comment). I did though say to myself in January, Andrew, for once in your life, record how many birds you've seen in the UK in 2008. It was the reason for the blog. Keep a record on-line. I never write anything down on paper, but find writing on the pooter very fluid and easy. Other birders say to me "what is your life list". I have absolutely no idea and nor do I want to know. Shocking eh?

And I was doing okay until June, which is good going for me. Then it all went a bit haywire. So tonight I've re-read my blog postings and can without a doubt confirm the number of birds species seen in the UK this year is 157, or 158 if one includes the Eagle Owl in Bristol (which we had a robust discussion about at lunch yesterday, with opposing views, escapee or second generation wild bird) I'll leave it there as more blood will be spilt no doubt over that one. I'll stick to 157.

It could be 158 of course if I could be bothered to drive the 30 miles or so to East Cocker to see the Dark-Eyed Junco, which is entertaining a plethora of twitchers at the moment. But do you know what, I think I'll leave that one for the real birders.

And finally I have a stalker, well a new follower of my Blog.... Birdguides Blog .... which is very nice, mind you now they've read I'm not hoofing it down to East Cocker, I'll be ex-communicated.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Squirrel Video

In the absence of anything fresh to say today, I have just spent my lunch hour reading the weekly digest from Birdguides, it was either that or a walk in the rain.

New research from the RSPB says chilli around bird feeders will deter Grey Squirrels, however the accompanying video is well worth watching, just for a giggle......

View it here

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Northern Delights, whey man it's canny!!

Well it's Saturday 8th November, and it only seems like a few days since I signed off and said see you in three weeks. So I'm back. And so as I listen to the fireworks going off around me, just a brief photo-summation of some of the highlights of the last 3 weeks. Well actually only a record of my week and a bit "up't north. Don't suppose you wish to know about the other stuff, Christmas Shopping, laying a carpet, DIY and the likes..... click on an image to enlarge if the mood takes you.

Lets kick off with this holly tree. Those of you with a keen eye will notice this is a) quite big and b) covered in berries. It's in my parents garden and believe it or not, 3 years ago it was cut down to about half of it's size. Every year it crops berries and every Christmas time my parents give away tons of the stuff for friends.

Speaking of my parents garden, they have inherited a partial leucistic Carrion Crow. It arrived a few weeks back and semi-tame, coming to the feeders and so on. I tried to get closer to it and bring it to me, but it wasn't that keen, who can blame it. But whilst watching the crow, this juv Grey Wagtail flew into the garden, presumably it was passing through to a more suitable area.

While up at Boldon, a visit to Boldon Flats NR produced a single Whooper Swan (which a guy at Rainton Meadows didn't bother looking at thinking it was a Mute - timely lesson in never assume, as assume make as ass out of u and me), also 10 Bean Geese amongst the Greylags) Over at the coast, huge numbers of Eider and Gannet flying north, which I phoned in for the Autumnwatch team on the Farnes 90 miles north but the weather prevented any filming.

Although the weather up there was generally more depressing than my jokes, on the bright days, it was "reet canny". And where better to be on a sunny autumnal day, the Lake District.

These two above are sort on near the Eden Valley, near Kirkoswald, but if you look closely at the hills, actually the Pennines, they snow covered. So didn't drive that way.

Ullswater on the left looking super, and because my mother was had been naughty (these 75 year olds are a handfull I tell you!!), made her get the bus home, mind you not a bad view from the bus stop.

Ullswater again from Glenridding side, and the parentals by my new car purchased 2 days before, I think my father wanted to pinch it!!

Sun setting over the hills near Dockwray, which is where my mother was evacuated in 1940, to this very farm, sadly no one at home but at least we found it...... can you believe it, in those days she walked 3 miles over that hill to school in wooden clogs and back again, come snow or rain. Children would get counselling these days for that.

Just a view of Durham Cathedral, as I went to a service there and well it was wonderful. Sadly for this photo, the light was dull and dark so apologies for the white sky. Did meant to photoshop it, but well you know how it is.....

Coming back from Durham, stopped at Rainton Meadows NR, part of the Durham Wildlife Trust Portfolio. by now, it being 2pm, it was almost dark, so this is all I took, a photo of Joe's Pond, the original reserve, started in the 1950's from a Coal Board subsidence pond. Couple of Snipe, some Lapwing and Teal and that was about it of note.

Holy Island - or Lindisfarne if you prefer.

I was sitting watching the rain fall while having breakfast and thought, well there's nothing for it, the weather won't break so just go to Holy Island, pack an overnight bag and just go whatever the weather. So I did and by the time I got to Belford, the sun was out and at Holy Island, not a cloud in the sky. I've been coming here since 6 months old, and it never ever disappoints. Last Tuesday, as I joined the causeway, this flock of what I thought were Brent Geese were flying over the car just long enough for a photo, however while I stood there I thought hang on these are surely Pink Feet as they're flying in a classic V and the noise was deafening. Double checking the photo later, although not exactly clear, they are. A great start to an even better day.

From the vantage point here, I had Bar-Tail Godwit, Grey Plover, Curlew, Redshank, Eider, Oystercatcher, Red Brested Merganser, Brent Geese, to name a few, as well as Grey Seals patrolling the water and hauling out onto some of the far sand bars. Later in the day walking along the Lonnen, I spied 3 Waxwing in a hawthorn. Camera out, they were off before a record shot and flew over 3 "twitchers" with all the gear. I walked up the them and said how long have the Waxwings been here? Not one of my better opening lines as they'be been standing there for half an hour and hadn't seen them, having come to the Island because their pagers had gone off to say they were here. Then they complained I'd not called them out. I felt like pointing out welfare of the birds come first, and maybe if they'd been looking at the berry covered trees behind them it may have been better than across a field. Another classic "assume" as one of the Trio said we saw those bushes were full of birds but thought they'd just be sparrows and Redwing. Never mind eh.

But lets not forget the common birds, is this House Sparrow above not just beautiful? Mind you he was trying to pinch my carrot cake. Also on the Island were Lapland Bunting (apparently!!) and Snow Bunting, which I eventually saw but only from 400 miles away, so could have been sweet wrappers in the wind.

So as the weather was just perfect, I booked myself into the Rose Villa B&B, I'd recommend it, top breakfast, and as the sun set, went for a walk. Above the Castle from the Harbour, and "Shields" or upturned boats used as sheds. Not many left now, but used to be common.

Spiders web in sunshine and of course Eiders (must be British ones, the male is waddling 10 feet behind the female)

Just glorious over to Ross Links and Bamburgh Castle, and with the sea like a mill pond, the sun setting over St Cuthberts Island provided gorgeous reflections.

However I inherited this ES Spaniel, which came up to me, growled, waged it's tail and then proceeded to wade through the water, destroying the mirror like effect..... so I decided to catch his deed on camera. Finally back at the B&B a House Martin flew around for a couple of minutes, very late, and I'd be surprised if it survives it's migration, this late.

Finally, the next day, following a few too many whiskys in The Ship in the evening, and that recommended full English breakfast, another walk along the Lonnen. Sadly the weather was quite frankly awful. But nothing ventured. No sign of the Waxwings today, but a large number of Fieldfare and Redwing, plus 5 maybe 6 Goldcrest.

Anyway I was watching a Reed Bunting when this Short Eared Owl shot past. Someone had said yesterday all 5 species of Owl were on being regularly seen on the Island at the moment which I find astonishing, but one cant beat a shortie, not least as it's daylight (11am to be precise). Cracking views for 15 minutes before hypothermia got the better of me. Sadly though again, as the light was so bad, these were about the best photos. Later flying over the sea, Common Scooter, a Chiffchaff at the Lough, handfull of Stonechats and that was about all really.

But I don't really mind, just being on the Island as the day-trippers leave, and the sea cuts it off from the mainland, is just fabulous. The double whisky chasers helped too.....