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Tuesday 31 December 2019

Last birds of the decade: Pink-footed Geese, Whitefronts, a possible Bean Goose and bonus Water Rails

Since it was such a lovely morning, I thought I'd pop down to Buckenham to look at the wildfowl. There were hundreds of Wigeon grazing by the path, but more unexpected, two Water Rails trotted ahead of me as I walked towards the river.

Skeins of Pink-feet wiffled in to join those already on the marshes, while a scan with the binoculars revealed the presence of probably nearly a hundred White-fronted Geese. From the old mill I could pick out perhaps three larger, dark-headed geese by the 'pipes'. Another birder with a scope allowed me to confirm that they were Taiga Beans: as I was watching them a microlight flew across, putting everything up: my cue to leave!

Only sour note: as I was approaching the hide I slipped and fell heavily into the mud, apparently to the amusement of three young types with scopes and expensive binoculars. They made no effort to help or asked if I were OK: amazingly, as I walked past them, scraping mud from my camera and clothes, they asked if I knew where the Bean Geese were!

Having arrived home, showered (for the second time today) I sat at my desk stripping down my lens and camera for cleaning. Just in time I noticed the big female Sparrowhawk perched in the Sycamore and managed a few (foggy) shots!

The International Space Station treads the dawn skies!

Honestly: if you've never seen the ISS pass overhead, you  really should try and make the effort! It's an impressive testament to what mankind can achieve when everyone pulls together - fifteen nations contributed to its construction. This morning it passed over twice, the second (and brightest) transit being behind a thin layer of pink cloud. I didn't get the focus quite right, but it was still a beautiful thing to see!

Monday 30 December 2019

Beautiful sunset sky with planets!

A beautiful crescent Moon hung in the sky just south of the planet Venus tonight: absolutely stunning! And don't forget: two very bright passes by the International Space Station just before dawn tomorrow: 05.20 and 06.53.


Neil Innes, 1944 - 2019

When I was a young teacher (at Hellesdon High School near Norwich) I enjoyed the company of the delightful Head of SEN, Ann Kerr. Her husband Bob was the leader of an ensemble called 'Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band'  that preceded the 'Bonzo Dog Band' but didn't achieve quite their level of success. Nevertheless, like the 'Alberts' and 'Temperance Seven', they ploughed the zany furrow that made it possible for groups such as the 'Pythons' and 'Goodies' to break through into show business.

At one of Ann and Bob's parties in their lovely country house, I was fortunate enough to meet Neil Innes: I was instantly in awe of his intelligence, sense of fun and musical genius. I had (and still have!) everything the Bonzos released and am particularly fond of 'Mr Apollo' and 'In the Canyons of your Mind'. Later on I marvelled at Mr Innes' ability to produce pastiche versions of other people's musical output: the album 'Let's Make up and be Friendly' displays this talent to the full, while the Rutles film and album still rank among the best pop mocumentaries ever made.

RIP Neil: you were a unique talent...

A sunny day brings the birds to the garden!

In between taking down the Christmas decorations (well: most of them!) tidying out the storeroom and buying a new bed I've managed to see some terrific birds: the garden has been full of Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Collared Doves. There's also been lots of Pheasants and a pair of Red-legged Partridges, while the few berries left on the cotoneaster are still attracting Redwings in some numbers. Highlights were this morning's Sparrowhawk and a Red Kite that drifted over the Brick Kilns as we drove home from Norwich.

Beautiful female Sparrowhawk!

A delightful (and beefy!) female Sparrowhawk has been perched in our sycamore tree for the past ten minutes, before speeding off after a Collared Dove. Great to have a pair of these around the garden!

Sunday 29 December 2019

Moon rock enigma!

As regular readers may recall, as a result of spending time with the majority of the twelve Apollo Moonwalkers, I gradually came to the conclusion that some, at least, were part of an extraordinary disinformation program. (I've written two books and made numerous broadcasts and public lectures on this subject)

One of the most common objections to the idea that the Moon landings may not have taken place as reported, centres around the 382kg of rocks that the Astronauts reportedly brought back to Earth. Curiously, much of this has never been released for analysis, being locked away in the Lunar Sample Lab. at the Johnson Space Centre. A recent audit revealed that 516 of the samples have unaccountably been 'lost'! Even stranger is the fact that three that were released for study elsewhere have been discovered to be of terrestrial origin! The most recent of these has been one of the samples collected by Shepard and Mitchell during their alleged lunar  EVAs on the Apollo 14 mission. Examination of one of these rocks (see photos below) at the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Curtin University, Western Australia have revealed that it is a piece of terrestrial granite, containing quartz and zircon that can only have formed on Earth.

The 'Apollo apologists' are struggling to explain this by suggesting it is a piece of earth-rock that arrived on the Moon as a meteorite (projected into space by a vast cometary or asteroidal impact on Earth) This seems feasible at first: after all, I have plenty of pieces of the Moon in my inventory that arrived here in the same way!

But hang on! What are the chances that at least one of the 382kg of fragments should be an extraordinarily rare 'Earth Meteorite'? No other meteorites of any sort are represented in the Apollo samples. Another point: the mass of lunar meteorites found on the Earth (the majority during the past 30 years) is nearly double that of the Apollo rocks: shouldn't terrestrial meteorites be far more abundant on the Moon than is the case?

Apollo 14 'terrestrial meteorite'

Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard at the LRL

A nice chunk of lunar meteorite

Dr Edgar Mitchell and I enjoying a chat...

Friday 27 December 2019

Blue-headed Eastern Yellow Wagtail!

Linda and I made an early start and arrived at Sedgeford just as it was getting light: this meant we had no trouble parking and were soon joining a good-natured group of perhaps a dozen birders. It's not often that Linda and I add to our life-lists these days, but this pretty little bird was number 432 for both of us. It was far too gloomy for decent photos, but I managed a few that were acceptable before we headed off to Wells so that Linda could catch up with the long-staying Rough-legged Buzzard. (On the way we paused at Choseley to scan the largest flock of Pink-footed Geese I think I've ever seen: there were at least a couple of Tundra Beans in among them)

The Rough-leg showed well - if somewhat distantly - before we decided to head home for lunch: a great little snatched session.

Thursday 26 December 2019

Boxing Day run out!

Linda's son Simon joined us for the day: since he's a keen (and very skilful) wildlife photographer, we decided to take a run around the Broads to see what we could find to point a lens at! First stop was Strumpshaw, but the recently-present Waxwing was nowhere to be seen. Moving on to Acle, we located two very distant Cranes, so we carried on to Ludham Airfield. Absolutely no wild swans, but there was a decent flock of Golden Plover. We continued westward to Ludham: the fields between Cold Harbour and St Benets held just a few Bewick's and Whoopers, but none near enough for photography. It was getting near lunchtime, so we returned home, stopping briefly at Acle, where this time there were eight or more Cranes just a little closer.