Archive for August, 2013

My first visit to the Tarn for a couple of weeks.


It is good to see that we have avoided the algal bloom that has plagued the Tarn in the last couple of years and the water looks clear. It seemed to be a summer day for basking and it wasn’t only the human visitors who were participating.

Our resident Terrapin on his favourite perch

Our resident Terrapin on his favourite perch

Basking Carp

Basking Carp

Canada Goose [sp] (Branta canadensis)
Mallard [sp] (Anas platyrhynchos)
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)
Grey Heron [sp] (Ardea cinerea)
Common Moorhen [sp] (Gallinula chloropus)
Eurasian Coot [sp] (Fulica atra)
Common Pigeon [sp] (Columba livia)
Common Wood Pigeon [sp] (Columba palumbus)
Rose-ringed Parakeet [sp] (Psittacula krameri)
Eurasian Magpie [sp] (Pica pica)
Carrion Crow [sp] (Corvus corone)
Grey Wagtail [sp] (Motacilla cinerea)

Large White (Pieris brassicae)
Small Tortoiseshell [sp] (Aglais urticae)

The Moorhens and Coots continue to raise their broods and I was interested to see that one Coot was still sitting on a nest although I couldn’t see if she was brooding anything. A Grey Heron was briefly present before flying off and a juvenile Grey Wagtail flew across to the Western Island and was observed perched of a overhanging branch before it flew off down the Tarn.

However perhaps the strangest finding was a Hawkmoth.

Now I am know very little about Moths but I do know that most of the Hawkmoths are night-flyers and are seen in May June and July. Now the Hummingbird Hawkmoth flies during the day and has a later season. However it does not have orange antennae as this one does and it has an orange under-wing which this one does not. The nearest I can get is Lime Hawkmoth which can have orange antennae and can have wing colour and pattern like this one but which is a night flyer and should have been around in May and June!
Eventually it disappeared into the undergrowth but as can be seen in the video it was very active.
Will have to see if I can find a moth expert who can look at the video.

Have been very busy over the last few weeks so little opportunity to get out and about. The garden has been quite as the birds recover from the breeding season and hide away as they moult. They are particularly vulnerable to predators at this time and so there seems like a lot less activity than previously.


However perhaps the tide is changing as we had a flock of 6 Blue Tits passing through the garden today and have had regular sightings of Sparrowhawk around the patch – not sure if this is the same or different birds as I have only seen individuals at one time. Have also had both Great and Blue Tits on the feeders this week.

The garden continues to play host to both Small and Large White butterflies and I had one sighting of a Small Tortoiseshell.

However the best sighting was a female Migrant Hawker dragonfly which spent about 10 minutes in the Garden before moving on.

Migrant Hawker Dragon Fly
Photo by Michael Brace (


Another from the stamp lot I purchased last week. The Grey Wagtail is one of my favourite birds which we see locally on passage in the spring and more frequently in the autumn.



Grey Wagtail - Sutcliffe Park  August 2013

Grey Wagtail – Sutcliffe Park August 2013

There are an estimated 40,000 breeding pairs of this attractive bird in the UK and some of this population stay to winter in England and Wales.

Resident (Green); Summer only (yellow). Winter only (Blue)

Resident (Green); Summer only (yellow). Winter only (Blue) {From RSPB Website}

The Ashmolean Museum in the centre of Oxford has the distinction of being the worlds first University Museum dating back to 1678 when the first building was acquired to display the collection of Elias Ashmole, which he had acquired from other collectors and travelers.

The present building dates to 1845 although it has been redeveloped and refurbished on a number of occasions over the years to provide an airy interior with a modern layout. the most recent of these redevelopments was completed in 2009.



The current Museum collection houses both the universities archaeological collection and its art collection.

It was also the site of a famous art theft. On the evening of 31st December 1999, as the country celebrated the coming of the millennium, thieves broke into the Museum and stole ‘view of Auvers-sur-Ouse’ by Cezanne, a painting valued at £3 million. The picture has never been offered for sale or been recovered, and since it was the only painting taken it is presummed that it was stolen to order.

D4-4-0 number 737 was built at Ashford for the London Chatham and Dover Railway. It entered into service in 1901 and was used on the fast express passenger services between London and Dover. It was withdrawn from service in 1951 and was subsequently restored and is part of the National Railway museum collection.






It is reckoned by some to be one of the most handsome engines ever produced

I came across a job lot of Bird stamps the other day and so bought them out of interest to see what was in them.

The commonest bird represented was the Golden Oriole. Unfortunately now rare in the UK with a population of less than 20 breeding pairs for this colourful summer visitor. I remember the huge outcry when, in less enlightened days, a whole swath of fenland woods was cut down to turn to arable pasture. This wood had been one of the best spots in the UK for seeing Golden Orioles. Thankfully they held on and in part due to the creation of the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath are still present even in small numbers. Despite the bright colouring they are elusive and secretive birds which can be hard to see.





Posted: August 25, 2013 in Astronomy
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M2 (aka NGC7089) is one of the largest and oldest globular clusters known. It can be found in the constellation Aquarius and is 37500 light years from Earth.




The cluster of stars is 17.5 light years in diameter and is estimated to contain 150,000 stars.

The original castle was built in 1071 by Robert D’Oyly, a Norman baron who had come to England with William the Conqueror and who held extensive lands in Oxfordshire. It was a typical Motte and bailey castle of the time with a wooden keep, the mound of which can still be seen today.

The mound of the original Norman keep

The mound of the original Norman keep

In 1141 it was the base of Empress Matilda, who narrowly escaped when besieged by King Stephen who successfully captured the castle. Early in the 13th century the wooden keep was replaced by a stone tower.


In 1236 there is the first record of the castle being used to house ‘rebellious scholars’ from the university.

However the condition of the castle was allowed to deteriate and in 1327 required an expensive refurbishment.

By 1613 the castle had passed into the ownership of Christchurch College Oxford who rented it out to local tenants. During the English civil war Oxford became the Royalist capital and in 1646 the castle, and town, were besieged and captured by the Parliamentarian forces, who strengthened the castles defences.

In 1785 it was purchased from Christchurch by the local justices and redeveloped into a ‘modern’ prison. The stone keep was pulled down and a number of prison wings built. It was also the site for Oxford’s executions, the last of which took place in 1863.

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Castle tower incorporated into prison buildings

Prison Block

Prison Block

Prison block

Prison block

The area around the castle has been redeveloped in recent years to incorporate restaurants and shops and one wing of the old prison has been turned into a luxury hotel.

Wildflowers (3)

Posted: August 23, 2013 in Natural History
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Orion Nebula

Posted: August 22, 2013 in Astronomy
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Photos taken using Harvard NASA telescope

For further information on the Orion Nebula see post of 29/4 (