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Thursday 28 February 2013

Dracula's Landing - mid February, 2013

Whitby, in North Yorkshire, is where Bram Stoker arranged for Dracula to land in Britain, following his journey from Transylvania. This seemed like an appropriate place to take my wife for a winter's break, including Valentine's Day!

Breaking our journey for lunch at the superb Deli-Café in Boston Spa (we always manage to stop here on our way north, and on the way back!), we arrived in Whitby shortly after 15:00. We'd rented a self-catering apartment in a place called The Metropole Towers. It used to be a hotel, but was then converted into apartments. On arrival, we were a bit concerned as the building and access looked a bit rough. However, what was described as a 'luxury appartment' was everything it should have been and more! It was beautifully furnished (if a bit 'Yorkshire'!) and decorated to a very high standard, and extremely well equipped. Both bedrooms and the lounge had huge televisions with all the latest gismos, and the beds all had electrically operated back and foot adjustment, with massagers built in! To cap it all we were told, on arrival, to help ourselves to the bar - it was well-stocked with champagne and spirits! It also had a balcony with table and chairs overlooking the West Beach. The actor Ian Carmichael, who some of the older ones among us will remember, used to live in the apartment.

I'm not going to go into full descriptions of our holiday, but our waking time was divided roughly equally between eating well, walking on the beach (even when it was snowing), strolling round Whitby, and runs out onto the North Yorkshire Moors. In summary, it was the most un-birdy holiday we've had in many years, but we had a good time.

The steep descent to Staithes, and a walk along the foreshore, had us viewing Fulmar at relatively close quarters. There were constantly falling rocks (because of the cold wet weather) which kept disturbing the Fulmars and also served as a reminder to keep our distance from the cliffs where they were.

Fulmar - Staithes
A trip to Scaling Dam Reservoir turned out to be a dead loss for birds. Three local birders in the hide were bemoaning the lack of anything remotely interesting, other than a Water Rail over the other side of the reservoir, vaguely visible through a 'scope. The only photos I took were of a Dunnock!

Dunnock - Scaling Dam Reservoir
I looked out of the kitchen window early one morning to see a group of 15 Oystercatchers on the grass round a boating pool that had been drained for the winter (just a little water in the bottom). There were also a few Redshank around. The following morning, when there was still some snow on the ground, I went out before breakfast to try and get some photos. These turned out to be very timid birds, and approaching them over the roughly mown grass was nigh-on impossible.

Redshank - Whitby (west)
Oystercatcher - Whitby (west)
Our forays onto the moors yielded only Red Grouse, and an unidentified raptor which flashed past us with the sun in our eyes (the only sun we saw all holiday).

Red Grouse (male)  - Danby Low Moor

Red Grouse (female)  - Egton High Moor
Those of you that are only interested in the birds can leave now! 

Whilst walking the beaches we found fossils at Staithes, Runswick Bay, and Whitby. Against the cliffs is the best place to look, but we kept our distance due to falling rocks. I know very little about fossils, but here are some we found. Any help with more information, or corrections with identification would be appreciated. Yes, I know that these are pretty poor specimens, and I could buy much better for only a few pounds, but for me there's some satisfaction in them being self-collected.

These first two were from Runswick Bay and are, I believe, Brachiopods (basically from shells) of two very different types.The one on the left was found lying loose. The one on the right has a nice gold metallic sheen and was cracked out of a rock.

Brachiopod fossils - Runswick Bay
These next ones are mainly from Whitby, and are (in loose terms) Belemnites. These tooth like fossils are from the hard protective tail-end casing of squid-like creatures. there seemed to be two sorts here - fairly hefty ones, and longer much thinner ones (on the right hand side of the second image below) which were very weak in structure.

Belemnites - Whitby
Although I found other fossils elsewhere, the last images are of what are generally referred to as Ammonites from Whitby. The first ones are relatively robust, and I think are probably a Dactylioceras commune species. The ones I found by Whitby all seemed to have their centres missing. The leftmost two fossils in the second image are extremely thin and very fragile (but with centres). I'm not sure what has happened here, but they are still 'double sided'. Are these a different species, or have they just suffered a different fate?

Ammonites - Whitby
The Ammonites found at Runswick Bay were of a different species, with fine, very closely spaced, ribs.

It's sobering to think that (as far as I can make out) these are the fossils of creatures that were alive over 80 million years ago in the case of the Belemnites, and getting on for 180 million years ago in the case of the Ammonites.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Home Is Where The Birds Are!! - mid-February, 2013

I'm having great difficulty in dragging myself away from my study window these days, as the garden is coming up with some splendid bird sightings, even if the weather is either too dull or too bright for good photography (half my feeders are outside my window, and don't get any sun at this time of year, but the sun shines brightly behind them, making for very difficult photography) for most of the time.

In my last post on my garden birds, I said that the winter visitors were thinning out a bit, with the Redpolls not seen for a while (one appeared the following day!). I also commented that I was sure I'd seen a Nuthatch this year but had not recorded it (one arrived less than an hour after I published that post!). On the optimistic side, I said that I was hoping for the year's first Siskin soon (one appeared the following day!).

The birds must have heard me!

I didn't get any photos of the Nuthatch that day, but it returned two days later, and I did manage one shot.

Nuthatch - our Garden
The Redpolls have been back on a virtually daily basis. We're not seeing many males, but yesterday we peaked at an amazing eight Redpolls at one time. I only managed to get five in the lens (the other three were up in the dogwood behind), but I'm including that shot as a record of the event.

Lesser Redpoll (female) - our garden
Lesser Redpoll (5 out of 8) - our garden
The aforementioned Siskin was a female, and at first it was just her that we saw. However, recently a male has been joining her on a 'several times a day' basis, and they are definitely a pair, as you can see from one of the images below. There was excitement today when they were joined by a second female. I find the females to be very attractive birds, and the males to be a bit garish, although there's no ignoring their striking yellow plumage. I also find the males a bit harder to photograph than the females.

Siskin (female) - our garden
 Here's the lovey-dovey pair!

Siskin (pair) - our garden
 And here's the male

Siskin (male) - our garden
The Bramblings are still showing on a daily basis, but not so frequently. Until we went away on holiday it was mainly a male that we were seeing. Now it's mainly a female that visits.

Brambling (male) - our garden

Brambling (female) - our garden
It's very rarely that we are favoured by a visit from a Reed Bunting. This female visited us on 11th and 19th of the month.

Reed Bunting (female) - our garden
The more common species are also very welcome, although I'm not sure about the Sprawk!!

Sparrowhawk (male) - our garden
The Wren, however, is always a delight. When we see it, it's usually skulking at the top of the garden, but occasionally it comes out into the open, as in the first image. However, today it was on the ground outside my study window. Not easy shooting through double glazing at an angle of about 45 degrees, in deep shade (1,000 ISO, 1/60second!).

Wren - our garden
Finally, the cute Coal Tits are an endless source of pleasure.

Coal Tit - our garden
Considering that these images were all taken between 8th and 21st February, and I was away in Yorkshire for best part of a week during that time, I don't think that this is too bad a crop of garden images. Perhaps you can see why I'm finding it a little difficult to tear myself away from the garden!!

Today we matched our previous garden record of 17 species of bird landing in our garden in one day! Oh!, and the Treecreeper was back today (a 'garden lifer' mentioned in the last garden post)!

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Back From The Frozen North! - on 17th February, 2013

It's been a while since my last post as I've been on holiday in the Frozen North - well, North Yorkshire, actually!

First thing I did on my return was to try and feed my hunger to see owls as I'd not seen one for 12 days! A quick trip to my local patch turned up trumps with one sitting out at my Little Owl Site No.02 (no photos taken as I've got loads of an owl in exactly the same spot). A walk over the fields turned up another Little Owl at my recently re-occupied Site No.11. Unfortunately it was sitting a little away from the nest hole, surrounded by twigs, and I couldn't get a clear shot with the camera. Maybe a little judicious pruning is required here at some time when the owls are not around? I also need to visit a little earlier in the day next time, for better light.

Little Owl - my Site No.11
Not sure whether my next post will be about my holiday, or an update on my garden where it seems that the birds have thrived rather well whilst I've been away!

Thursday 7 February 2013

Another Garden Lifer + A Year Tick !! - on 7th February, 2013

2012 was a record year for numbers of bird species visiting our garden, with 32 species putting a foot down. I noted that, by the end of January, 2012, we'd already had 18 of these species. You can, therefore, imagine my satisfaction when I noted that by the end of January 2013 we'd had 26 species visiting us - 44% up on last year! However, looking at the records, I realised that getting up to the 32 mark, to match last year, was going to be a steep hill to climb. Missing from the life list were Chiffchaff (only ever one record from the garden), Carrion Crow (seen daily, but rarely actually landing), Goldcrest (only one record in last four years), Heron (no chance since we filled in the pond!), Nuthatch (now I am sure I've seen one this year whilst I was on the phone to someone, but I'd failed to record it  - so tough luck!), Pheasant (only ever one record from our garden), Siskin (seen most years  - usually February/March, so a fair chance), Song Thrush (seen every year, but usually in January), Willow Tit (only one record in past four years), Pied and Grey Wagtails (not seen since 2010 and not much chance now the pond has gone), and Willow Warbler (seen every year, but always around August/September).

Considering the above, you can imagine my delight when a garden 'lifer' paid us a visit this morning - a Treecreeper! Given that we are not near woodland or even a copse, this was quite exciting! Unfortunately it caught me completely unprepared, and only hung around for 5 or 6 seconds, I did have time to shoot off 6 frames with my camera - which I grabbed from beside me, and was totally inappropriately set up - so I only managed rubbish record shots, but here we are.

Treecreeper - our garden
That was early in the morning. Just as the light was failing this afternoon I was putting the dustbin out for collection, and came back into the back garden via the side gate, frightening off a bird as I did so. My immediate reaction by the way it climbed the tree was "the Treecreeper's back". However, I quickly realised that this was a Nuthatch, so I have also got a year tick on the same day as a 'lifer'.

It's been a while since I posted anything on my garden birds, so here's a bit of a catch up. There was one day when the snows were here which gave us some excitement as we had four Fieldfare and a Redwing visit us.

Fieldfare - our garden

Redwing - our garden
Also during the snows a male Reed Bunting graced us with his presence for a year tick.

Reed Bunting (male) - our garden
We continue to be visited by male Sparrowhawks, but we haven't seen one catch anything for a long while. This particular individual is a little unusual in that it has large white circular patches on its wing feathers! Another rubbish shot I'm afraid!

Sparrowhawk (male with wing marking aberrations) - our garden
The Redpolls are thinning out now, the last one seen being on 2nd February. This is the last image that I took of a Redpoll - on 31st January when we had four of them visit us.

Lesser Redpoll (female) - our garden
The Bramblings are continuing to entertain us. I know, from the variations in dark feathering on the faces, that we have several different males visiting us. Visits from females are not common however. Here are some shots from this week.

Brambling (males) - our garden
I see we're supposed to have some more snow on the way - I wonder if it will bring us some nice surprises!

Incidentally, all these images were taken through the glass of my study window, often handicapped by rain, condensation, or bird lime on the outside. When it's warmer, I'll try using the hide - but the birds probably won't be there!