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Thursday 31 January 2019

Impossible to put out too much food!

With sudden cold weather like we are currently experiencing, we've found that the number and variety of birds visiting our feeders (and lawn!) dramatically increases. Every day we put out dozens of apples, suet, seeds and nuts and keep the splash-pools and bird-baths topped up: as a result the 'customers' include Redwings, Fieldfares, Great Spotted Woodies, Jays, Partridges and many other terrific visitors. We've also finally had our owl nestbox fastened to the sycamore tree: fingers crossed!

More stargazing!

For the next few days the ISS is making passes over the UK just after sunset: tonight's are at 5.11 (17.11) and 6.47 (18.47) Well worth looking out for if you've never seen the International Space Station: it's very bright and impossible to miss as it travels overhead.

It was very foggy here in the Yare Valley this morning, so I couldn't look at the conjunction of Venus, the Moon and Jupiter (with Saturn close by!) Here's a photo my stepdaughter sent from Coventry: pretty impressive!

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Snowy day in the Brecks: Hawfinches and Siskins, but no Goshawks!

As usual, Brian, Norman and I enjoyed our day out together, starting at Lynford Arboretum, before visiting Santon Downham and a couple of usually reliable sites for Goshawk. In the event the best birds of the day were the woodland species: Hawfinch, Siskin, Brambling and Nuthatch, with some terrific Buzzards in a mind-boggling variety of plumages.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

A chance find takes me back 61 years...

Recently, while browsing in a charity shop, I came across the magazine illustrated below: instantly I was transported back to my childhood in East London and a strange observation that was to change my entire life! What's written below is my account of this event that has appeared in print a few times and a simulation I produced to illustrate a talk I gave a few years ago.

1957: what a year! Two great comets visited the inner solar system and awoke many a young mind to an interest in the music of the spheres! And I was one of them! Ever since those long-distant days I have spent more time looking up to the stars than down into the gutter!

I was, at the time, in my second year at North Street Primary School. In those lost, halcyon times it was safe for a child (even one living in the East End of London!) to walk unaccompanied to school with a reasonable chance of a safe arrival!
My mother had developed the charming tradition of walking much of the way with me, pausing at a parade of shops to buy me a cake and a comic or magazine to keep me amused during my one-hour sojourn in the school playground.

On this particular morning, I found myself (as usual) alone, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my playmates. I gazed upwards into the post-dawn skies: immediately I found my gaze drawn towards a most extraordinary object. Directly above, travelling slowly West to East across the duck-egg blue firmament, was an intensely bright silver disc. Behind it trailed what I can only describe as a plume of fire-flecked grey smoke. I watched fascinated as the amazing object scintillated in the cold, early morning sunlight, for as well as its linear motion from horizon to horizon, the strange object also rocked like a slowly-falling leaf!
Eventually the silent visitor disappeared into the distance, leaving me perplexed and a little disturbed. My solitary reverie was broken by the arrival of Miss Church, the spinster Headmistress of the  School. Naturally, I could not wait to tell her my tale. Somewhat disconcertingly, she smiled!
"Come to my office, child, and tell me more!" she said.
 I dutifully followed. Even more bizarrely, she then invited me to sit upon her bony lap while I told my tale! Following my denouement, she unfolded a paper to reveal the cover photograph of what I now know to have been the comet Arend Roland. She spoke again:

" Astronomy has long been a passion of mine, child! How wonderful to find a kindred spirit in one so young!"
I did not have the heart to disabuse the old woman, for even as young as I was, I knew I had not been looking at a comet! Still, she was right: the events of that long-gone, innocent day have stayed with me my whole life. I too count Astronomy as a passion, and an element of my subsequent University studies! And, of course, I have made a life-long study of the UFO phenomenon!

A day or two later I somehow managed to persuade my mother to buy me a 'grown up' magazine instead of my regular 'Eagle': you've guessed it: it was the one I recently found in the charity shop.

Monday 28 January 2019


There are just a few things that compensate for being quite ancient: one is that (if you started birding early enough) you might have built up a decent list including species that could be unrepeatable. You may well have watched Clapton, The Stones and similar legends in their pomp. One of the most satisfying aspects of being 68, though, is seeing theories that were widely ignored (or even ridiculed) when you originally published them being generally accepted by the wider Scientific community.

An example from my personal output is exemplified by NASA's recently-published images of Pluto. Thanks entirely to our American colleagues, Pluto is currently classified as a minor planet or Kuiper Belt Object: to many of us it will always be the mysterious ninth planet. The image (see below) shows that Pluto, like every solid body in the Solar System, is pock-marked with craters of all sizes.

Until very recently it was axiomatic that craters on the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the various asteroids and satellites were the result of asteroid impacts. For years I've been virtually alone in questioning this: to me the absence of any meteoritic material in or near most of the Earth's impact craters suggests that the more likely impactors were comets. A few years back I had a book published that set out the evidence in great detail: it's available all over the net, but if you contact me directly, I'll send you one at a reduced price and even sign it!

Now Pluto orbits the Sun about six billion miles out: way beyond the regions in which asteroids are found. Out there in the Kuiper Belt, however, is an immense population of cometary nuclei: billions of them! For reasons still unclear, these occasionally tumble into the inner Solar System, where they might collide with the major planets. It must be inarguable that Pluto's craters were the result of cometary impacts: we can infer that the same is true of the other eight planets and the various other cratered bodies. To put it succinctly: the images of Pluto suggest very strongly that the dinosaurs, trilobites, megafauna and, nearly, the population of Chernobyl, were wiped out by comets rather than asteroids...

I await my incipient Nobel Prize, knighthood and honorary doctorate!

RSPB Garden Birdwatch: results

Here's a list (in no particular order!) of the birds recorded in or over Hemblington Church yesterday. The numbers and variety are quite impressive, given that the church is on a hill surrounded by arable land: the hedgerows and Poplar trees that surround the churchyard and a small copse of mixed mature deciduous trees immediately to the south are probably contributory reasons. Additionally, the Friends of Hemblington Church maintain ten or so suet. seed and nut feeders around the churchyard: these were visited continually during the two-hour watch.

Somewhat surprising were the low numbers (or absence!) of some usually numerous species such as Wren, Collared Dove, Robin and Blackbird: I assume the hard weather has driven many of these into gardens. When I refilled the suet feeders last week there were lots of Fieldfares in the trees, but none today: no Yellowhammers this year either...

Sunday 27 January 2019

Garden birdwatch at Hemblington Church

Despite the somewhat gloomy weather forecast, a decent crowd turned up at the Church at 11.00am and stayed for two hours to enjoy a surprisingly good variety of birds. These included Buzzards, Marsh Harriers, a Kestrel, lots of Long-tailed Tits and all the expected garden and farmland birds. Without doubt we recorded more birds of more species than ever before!

There were some wonderful soups and cakes available to keep us all warm, and it seemed to me that everyone had a great time. Thanks to all those who turned up and, in particular, to the members of the 'Friends of Hemblington Church' who give up so much of their time to help maintain this very special old building...

Saturday 26 January 2019

Marine tank: looking good...

Although the amount of maintenance needed might well put some people off, the end result can be spectacular.

We started up our small 30L tank in November and have taken it slowly, maturing the filters, skimmer, water and substrate before gradually adding hard and soft corals, shrimps, snails and a single fish (a Yellow Reef Goby)

The tank sits in my office, so I can enjoy it while working: it's a source of great pleasure to Linda and me and well worth the effort (and money!)

Friday 25 January 2019

Garden Birdwatch at Hemblington Church

This annual event comes around again on Sunday! Although I maintain a monthly record of the birds that visit or fly directly over the churchyard, the January tie-in with the RSPB's Garden Birdwatch is always good fun (assuming it's not snowing or pouring with rain!)

Sunday, 27th January - 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Big Churchyard Birdwatch
All Saints Church, Hemblington
Part of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
Help with identification will be on hand!
Warming refreshments available!

Thursday 24 January 2019

The Boys are Back in Town!

As is almost always the case: a sharp frost brought a good flock of Fieldfares to the windfall apples that Linda obtained from a couple of local orchards. If you have a fruit farm nearby, it's worth asking: the winter thrushes will love you for it!

Some of you may have noticed that yesterday's Yellow-legged Gull morphed into a hybrid Herring / LBB: this was the result of my coming across a photo of what is obviously the same bird on Steve Gantlett's excellent Twitter feed and website.