Tuesday
Dec072004

Pied Wagtails

This afternoon at 1pm, as I was walking along Station Road from Reading station towards the town centre, I saw a pair of pied wagtails (Motacilla alba yarellii) fly down onto the path in front of me. They then flew up a metre or two and then came down again onto the road.  Fortunately there were no vehicles around.  As it was lunch time, there were lots of people hurrying along the path but the wagtails seemed more interested in each other.  One of the pair was a classic pure black-and-white pied wagtail while the other had a distinctly greyish back.  Maybe the latter was actually a white wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)?

In the past few years I have most often seen pied wagtails on summer mornings in the Frimley Waitrose car park and on its approach road, Hale Way.  Back in the late 1990's I also used to regularly see some at Ascot station as I waited on platform 3 for my connection to Frimley.

Sunday
Dec052004

Strange Duck

Zoe and I have just got back from our Sunday morning walk around the Reading University lakes. There we saw a rather unusual looking duck.  Zoe first noticed it sitting on the lake by itself in the far distance.  When Zoe started throwing bread it sedately swam up close to us so we were able to get a good look.  Its head and neck were white and the rest of its body was black with a greenish sheen.  The boundary between the white and black was not sharp, nor was it smoothly graduated, instead it was spotty.  This lead me to think the duck was a partial albino mallard or else a hybrid of some sort.  However, it was not associating with any of the other mallards on the lake. Also, the upper base of its beak was bright red, its legs were yellow, and its back also seemed rather too broad for a mallard.  Maybe it was a shelduck hybrid?

Sunday
Nov282004

Free as in Freedom - Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software by Sam Williams

A competent biography of the founder of the GNU project, the Free Software Foundation, and creator of GNU Emacs, GCC and the GNU General Public License (GPL).  Stallman comes across as a prickly, awkward man with a mission.  Of his work, the GNU EMACS editor system is now fast fading into antiquity, but the GCC compiler and the GPL are keystones of the GNU/Linux world.  I think that the GPL will probably be what he is remembered for in the long run.

Friday
Nov262004

Kingfishers, etc

This morning as I was walking briskly through the woods near Farnbrough North station I again saw a kingfisher. It flew low over one of the lakes and then, with wings outstretched, landed in the lower branches of a birch tree on a wooded island.

Zoe has now seen a kingfisher for herself.   On two occasions while we were walking past the middle lake in the Reading University grounds she has seen one fly into the bushes on the eastern bank.  However, on neither occasion, was I quick enough to see it for myself. 

Getting back to the woods near Farnbrough North, a couple of mammal stories:

A week or so ago I was walking along the path when I heard a splash from the river.  I looked round and noticed a branch on a overhanging tree shaking.  Then I saw an animal swimming rapidly to the bank.  A rather bedraggled squirrel pulled itself up onto the bank and than scrambled back up the tree, out of which it must have just fallen.

This afternoon as I was hurrying through the woods to catch the 1pm train, I became aware of a deer watching me from about 20 metres into the wood.  Previously when I have seen deer in those woods (about once per year) they have run off as fast as they could.   This one it just stood and stared at me, so I stopped and stared back.  After about 30 seconds, I realized that it must be waiting for me to walk on so it could get to the riverbank to drink.  I have previously seen a deer crossing the path at that point, and the riverbank is the only place it could have been going to.  Having worked that out, I hurried on to catch my train.

Tuesday
Nov232004

Long-Tailed Tits

A week or two ago Zoe and I were in her bedroom when she pointed out a flock of small birds flitting about in the chestnut trees in front of our flats.  I immediately recognised them as long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus). We leant against the window-sill and watched them as they 'leap-frogged' each other round the trees, presumably looking for things to eat.  Just when you think you have seen them all, a straggler swoops in from another tree. Flocks of long-tailed tits remind me of loose clusters of stars like the Hyades where most of the members are travelling as a concentrated ball of stars, but there is also a loose association of outliers that are travelling in the same direction.