Sunday, 8 November 2015

Francesco Cetti (1726-1778).....What's in a Name?

Francesco Cetti was born in Mannheim, Germany (although his parents were natives of Como, Italy), educated in Lombardy and at the age of sixteen entered the Jesuit College at Monza.  Cetti became highly regarded as a mathematician, philosopher and theologian. 

When the King of Sardinia invited the Jesuits to help improve education on the island, Cetti was one of a number of distinguished men sent there in 1765.  The following year he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Sassari on the island and he remained in this position until his death more than twenty years later.

Whenever he could Cetti would escape the confines of the town and make journeys along the coast and into the mountains where he constantly made new discoveries which he collated into his great work, Natural History of Sardinia.  Volumes of this work were published in 1774, 1776 and 1777.  The first dealt with quadrupeds and the second was devoted to ornithology and covered most of Sardinia’s birds, including a rusty coloured warbler which Marmora later dedicated to Cetti.  Two later volumes dealt with Icthyology and insects and fossils.  Cetti died as the last volume was nearing completion.

Forty years after Cetti’s death, Alberto della Marmora travelled extensively to Sardinia and whilst there collected both Eleanora’s Falcon and Cetti’s Warbler.  Marmora named the warbler Sylvia Cetti in1820 in honour of the Jesuit priest, however Temminck is credited as the first to fully describe the species as his description was published slightly earlier in the same year.  The English name was given soon afterwards in 1823, by John Latham.

At the time the breeding range of Cetti’s Warbler was limited to the Mediterranean area, but by the beginning of the twentieth century it began a gradual progression northwards through France.  The first reliable record of the species in Britain occurred in 1961 and numbers have now increased rapidly.

Marmora (who was aided in his studies by Franco Bonelli, Professor of Zoology at Turin University) benefitted greatly fro Cetti’s previous studies in Sardinia.  As well as rediscovering Cetti’s warbler he also found a new species which he named Sylvia sarda, now known in English as Marmora’s Warbler.  Once again Temminck’s description appeared months before Marmora had his description published, so it is Temminck who receives credit as the first describer!

6th Nov.  Samuel Hood and I were very pleased to be invited to give our presentation, A Focus on Great Crested Grebes to the Alnwick and District Natural History Society.  It’s always a pleasure to make this presentation as we (Samuel in particular) have spent so much time over several years watching these birds on the lake.  It has led us to take a deeper interest in the other eighteen species of grebe (some seriously threatened) around the world.  Of course three species of grebe have already been lost to extinction in fairly recent years, these being the Columbian Grebe (that some might argue was a sub species of Black-necked Grebe), Atitlan Grebe of Guatemala and the Alaotra Grebe of Madagascar. 

Sadly 2015 was the first time in a number of years that the Great Crested Grebes failed to produce young at Killingworth Lake despite several attempts.  It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with so much development going on in the area and plans being discussed to alter the water levels in the lake.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Let There be Light and Short Eared Owls

29th Oct.  The heavens opened just as Sam and I left Killingworth, but by the time that we reached Brier Dene the rain had stopped although the cloud remained thick and threatening and there was still mist over the sea.  Surprisingly we only found a single Redwing in the dene, although the calls of others were heard faintly in the distance.  Blackbirds were everywhere and an occasional Song Thrush was seen.  Bullfinches were attracted to easy feeding and a Willow Tit was picked out from among parties of tits..  The star bird whilst we were in the dene was what appeared by its behaviour, a newly arrived Short Eared Owl flying overhead and westwards whilst being harassed by corvids.  The owl appeared to be seeking a suitable landing area, but the corvids ensured that it kept on flying westwards until out of sight.

Having checked the bushes and willows where the burn meets the coast and finding only Greenfinches (so few around these days), Goldfinches, Robins, Wren, more Blackbirds and an unidentified warbler, possibly Willow Warbler, we made off towards St Mary’s Island catching sight of newly arriving Fieldfares lifting off the cliff edge and flying west.  As the afternoon moved on the cloud began to break, the sun shone for periods and the mist departed which seemed to encourage a movement of birds.

As we walked around the back of the wetland a second Short Eared Owl was found hunting over the fields.  This bird eventually stooped to the ground and only its head could be clearly seen from behind the tall grasses.  As we watched over the wetland a few minutes later a Short Eared Owl lifted from the reeds and gave an excellent sighting as it flew north over the trees before disappearing.  We couldn’t be sure that this was a third owl, but we think it was.  At this point and with the air clear and the sun shining numbers of Redwing (and one or two Fieldfare) began to take to flight, but they were far out numbered by the Blackbirds.  Skylark, Linnets, Goldcrest and Reed Bunting were seen.

We walked to the mounds but found very little here although there are still a few Goldcrest and a male Blackcap about, although most Goldcrest have now moved on.  Flocks of Golden Plover called as they flew in clear skies.  A walk back to the wetland brought us more Goldcrest before we made for home as the light dimmed and a large flock of Curlew flew over the sea.  Little can beat the sight of Short Eared Owls.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Autumnal Impressions

Autumn leaves under frozen souls,
Hungry hands turning soft and old,
My hero cried as we stood out there in the cold,
Like these autumn leaves I don't have nothing to hold.
Paulo Nutini Lyrics

I think a little colour is needed during these during these days of damp and mist, so I’ve added some images taken on 27th Oct during a misty and damp walk through Holywell Dene and onward to the sea where visibility was poor to say the least, although Red-throated Divers were seen.  Bird life seen was sparse with Tree Sparrows and three Goldeneye at the pond and a lone Fieldfare, Treecreeper and a  number of Goldcrest in the dene being highlights.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Cygnus cygnus Drops onto Patch

25th Oct.  I received a text and a call informing me that there were four Whooper Swans on the lake.  As the derby match was about to kick off I decided to wait ninety minutes before making my way down there.  Such was the result it might have been better just to have left immediately.  Anyway I met Sam down there later and watched the four Whooper Swans, a family of two adult and two juvenile birds.  I understand that they had been active earlier in the afternoon, but by now they were taking numerous naps.  By their behaviour it was obvious that they had just dropped in for a rest and feed.  By 15:30 they were calling a good deal, wing stretching and head bobbing.  We felt that they might be getting ready to leave and sure enough the four birds took to flight at 15:37.


A very recently dead Canada Goose floated head down on the lake, three Goldeneye were seen and a male Sparrowhawk flew overhead.  The hoped for colourful sunset was not going to materialise and so we left as temperatures began to drop again.

So autumn continues.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Autumn on Patch

 For some years now I have watched the changing colours of the Rowan Tree/Mountain Ash which is opposite my home, as autumn approaches winter, and although it hasn’t as yet reached its peak of beauty it is looking colourful and is laden with its usual crop of berries.  Surprisingly I have seen no Mistle Thrushes approaching for a feast so far.  What has been frequently heard and seen is the Grey Wagtail which for some reason is attracted to the estate.  It could be easily overlooked if it were not for the attention the high pitched call receives.  Another harbinger of autumn was the skein of seventy calling Pink-footed Geese flying south over the patch earlier in the month, another species probably overlooked by the vast majority of residents and yet a fairly regular sight at this time of year.

The patch is certainly looking autumnal, a patch that has always made me stop and think about its past, present and future.  Having just read Common Ground by Rob Cowen, I reckon I’ll be thinking in such terms even more.  This is an excellent read and covers the natural history of the Rob Cowen’s local patch, the edge lands of Harrogate, Yorkshire in a most unusual way.  As well as seeing things through the authors eyes we are presented with things seen through the eyes of wildlife, as well as learning of the history and possible future of the area and individuals with connections to it.  This is all related in a personal, informative and in a funny, poignant and informative manner.  I could relate much of the feeling in the book to my own feelings about my own patch, especially the changing aspects of it all.  I reckoned this book would appeal to Holywell Birder and so made him aware of it and guess what, yes he had just begun to read it and informs me that the author is to give a talk in Newcastle next month.

Rowan Tree
Sam and I were on patch the other day and found the lake still strangely very quiet.  Sam fears if it remains such we might have to start and take an interest in gulls!  There’s an article about gulls in the BBC Wildlife magazine this month with comments about some of the nonsense written in the media recently about these species.  There is a couple of Goldeneye about among the twenty or so Mute Swans and circa eighty Canada Geese.  As we checked the lake out a Kestrel flew overhead.  Now returning to looking at things through the eyes of wildlife I wonder what the Kestrel makes of what is happening locally.

We gave much attention to the tree species and I had never realised just how many Hazel we have in the area.  A Harvestman Spider was found and a number of Speckled Wood Butterflies were on the wing.  We later found two or three Red Admiral Butterflies and more surprisingly a Comma Butterfly.

Comma Butterfly
It was quite windy, so birdlife was not found easily, but once in the are of the village we did pick up tits including Long tailed Tits, Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Bullfinch among other woodland birds.  We also had a good sighting of Grey Squirrel, only my second one on patch, the first being in my garden.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Lindisfarne.....What's in a Name?

Whilst on Lindisfarne on Saturday our talk didn’t get around to the meaning of life but it did focus at times on the meaning of words.  The name Lindisfarne in particular.  We felt this was a wonderfully evocative sounding name but we didn’t know where it had derived from, so I’ve done a little research since.

My research suggests that there is no definite source for the name, but several ideas.  My thanks go to Wikipedia and Magnus Magnusson.

Firstly Wikipedia’s wisdom.  Firstly it notes that Lindisfarne appears under the Old Welsh name Medcaut in the 9th century Historia Brittonum.  It’s suggested that the name derives from Latin Medicata (English = Healing (Island)), owing perhaps to the island’s reputation for medicinal herbs.

Annuls in the AD 793 record the Old English name as Lindisfarena.  The name Lindisfarne has an uncertain origin.  Lindis may refer to people from the Kingdom of Lindsey in modern Lincolnshire, referring to regular visitors or settlers.  Alternatively the name may be Celtic in origin , with Lindis meaning stream or pool.  Could this refer to the nearby river or Lough on the island?  The second element farne probably come from Farran meaning land, but may come from Faran, a traveller.  There is a supposition that the nearby Farne Islands are fern like in shape and the name may have come from there.

My second source which I perhaps place a little more academic reliance upon is from Magnus Magnusson’s 1984 edition of Lindisfarne and is in many ways similar to the above.  Below is a quote from the book.

‘‘Lindisfarne, what a lovely, sensuous name it is.  It reflects a marriage between Old English and Celtic elements, although they cannot now be identified with any certainty.  Some say that Farne is a Celtic word meaning land, and lindis come from some stream associated with the island; others suggest a derivation from Scots-Celtic linn, meaning torrent or cascade.  For myself, I prefer to believe that lindis comes from the old English word lind in its meaning of shield (from the lime trees whose wood was used to make Anglo-Saxon bucklers).  Who can be sure?  I only know Shield-land would be a happily appropriate designation for the Lindisfarne of then and now.’’

Magnusson goes on to remind us that the Normans in the 11th century accorded the island with the official name of Insula Sacra, Holy Island, in honour of the early Celtic saints that lived and worked there.

I was interested to know exactly what bucklers were and found that they are the rounded shields used by the Vikings (and others).  There is a good depiction of bucklers here

Now I have a friend with the surname of Buckle and I was interested to know if his name may have derived from Buckler.  I found that it could have, but perhaps more likely it is derives from a maker or seller of (belt) buckles.  I must tell him when I send the Christmas card.

We also pondered over the meaning of lonnen as we walked along the straight lonnen on the island on Saturday.  What I found suggests that it is a Geordie word for lane or street or a more archaic meaning for an area where cattle are milked (no longer in use).  Now my first association with the word lonnen as a child comes from the term that is often used in Cumbria so I knew it was not just a Geordie word.  Having checked it out on a very interesting blog written by a Cumbrian journalist I found that the word lonnen seems to be spelt as Lonning in Cumbria again in that area it means lane, often hedged and the hedging covering old stone wall, presumably most often dry stone walls.  This latter explanation of the hedging and wall certainly reflects my thought of what a lonnen or lonning is.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ice Cream Birders on Lindisfarne

Seeing the sun as it wants to be seen by ev'ryone
Melting the sky throw a hole in your eye where the magic comes
Turning your heads to the skies with the clouds in your eyes
'cause you never know what you might find
Lyrics from Clear Bright Light/Lindisfarne

Barred Warbler.  Record image of the 'bird of the day' courtesy of Samuel Hood
17th Oct.  With Goosander and Common Buzzard seen on the journey north we crossed to Lindisfarne as the tide ebbed.  The pool filled sands of the vast open area always makes me feel that I’m entering another world, a more peaceful and at times silent world with wonderful atmosphere no matter what the conditions.  On arrival today it was dense cloud with only occasional rays of sunlight breaking through, but these rays gave a wonderful effect over the channel and open sea.  Small areas of brightness standing out from the greyer surroundings.  The horizon behind the Farne Islands was clear cut between sky and sea, the sky falling onto the sea like a theatrical curtain.  The RSPB Group members were quickly of the coach, but not as quickly as Sam and I left them behind and headed through the village.  We like peace on the island and made our way from any crowding.

I recently read some derogatory remarks about Lindisfarne on one of these web-sites that allow comments to be made about areas and places and where the authors of the comments know there can be little in the way of face to face comeback.  This sadly one of the negatives of social media and such like.  The derogatory remarks were made amongst many more positive ones and in the main seem to have come from folk who never left the village or the heavily walked track down to Lindisfarne Castle.  So many people don’t like to move too far from the car-parks and cafes which is a great shame as the island has so much to offer, not least in quiet contemplation and atmosphere.  Although not a shame for us who prefer peace.  For some I know the religious senses are touched on the island, but I can’t say that is what does it for me, although we all have our own God/s and for me it is the power of nature and the island has this in spade loads.  My God is nature and it has helped me through some difficult times and no doubt will do so again.

Once through the village, an interesting enough area, but nothing out of the ordinary Sam and I found our starting point for the walk around the island.  Brent Geese had been seen as we crossed to the island and there was many more close by us now (if there were any dark bellied amongst the pale bellied we didn’t pick them out), along with a large patch on the sands to our right which turned out to be a flock of maybe thousands of Golden Plover.  Bar-tailed Godwits were in hundreds.  Grey Seals were hauled out across the channel although I didn’t hear them calling as on past visits.  Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew were amongst other waders.  The haunting cry of the Curlew heard throughout the day.

After a time we made back into the village and headed for the church grounds, vicar’s garden and the area beside St Cuthbert’s Island.  After chasing around for a Yellow Browed Warbler we did finally hear it, but the bird for me was the Brambling, heard before seen, one of my favourite winter visitors.  Mistle Thrush called from high on the trees and flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare flew overhead, probably newly arrived from off the North Sea and their differing calls were easily picked up.  Skylark was also seen. Finches and Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest  were amongst birds  in the vicars garden.  We met AJ here and we were to bump into him several times through the day.

Looking over and past St Cuthbert’s Island a Slavonian Grebe was clearly seen as were more Brent Geese and a lone Little Egret.

We headed for the harbour now picking up some passerines along the way including of course more Goldcrest.  The harbour itself provided Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Rock Pipits.  I was as usual reminded of David Copperfield as we passed the upturned boats.  Darkening cloud in the west threatened rain but apart from a sprinkle in the air this never materialised although it was still quite cold.  So cold the ice cream seller was almost asleep.  I thought we ought to waken him and support local tradesmen and so we had our ninety-nine as we headed past the Rocket Field where we found Wigeon and Teal.  A Sparrowhawk which seemed to follow us throughout the day flew over our heads as we 
 headed for the lonnen.

The hedges along the lonnen were fairly quite, but provided more Goldcrest.  I did catch sight of a Short Eared Owl which immediately dropped behind a wall and hillock.  As we walked towards the sand dunes we had some of the best birding of the day with at least one more Short Eared Owl, Long Eared Owl and repeat sightings of Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Merlin.  The Merlin provided one of the highlights of the day when Sam and I retraced our steps to get a closer sighting.  The Merlin left its perch on the stone wall and began to hunt, birds lifting as it swooped up and down, eventually taking a pipit which was taken off to be plucked.

Having had our fill of raptors and owls we headed for the dunes passing ten Roe Deer in their usual position in the fields.  Although this area is farmland, it has a feeling of wildness.

Once in the dunes we climbed to the top of what must be one of the highest natural points on the island.  We took in the views across the areas we had walked through and also watched eastwards over the sea and the Farne Islands and southwards to Ross Bank Sands and Bamburgh Castle.  There were few birds about, but we watched Gannets flying along the coastline.  Our walk eventually took us to the new bird hide at the Lough just as flocks of Teal flew in.  We had the hide to ourselves for a time and took lunch here.  Shoveller and Wigeon were amongst birds on the Lough.  After a time we headed back towards the village with plenty of time to look again in the vicinity of the church and vicars garden.  That turned out to be a very wise decision!  On the way we admired the changing light patterns across the Lough and over the dunes.  I was more than a little warm by now.  There were many more Goldcrests along the way.

Once back in the village we explored the church yard again and also inside the church.  As I mentioned earlier I’m not a religious person in the conventional sense but I do like religious buildings and stained glass windows in particular.  Once outside again we met Ian Kerr who probably knows the island and its wildlife as well as anyone.  He told us that there was a Barred Warbler in the vicars garden so it didn’t take us long to get down there were we found numbers of folk waiting for an appearance of from the bird which had not been seen for sometime.

I was aware that we couldn’t wait around for long as the coach would be leaving before the tide cut the island off once again.  The hedges and trees held far more activity than during our morning visit with the Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs` and Goldcrests showing well, as a Brambling called.  As we waited the sun came out and lit a passing skein of Brent Geese as they flew down the channel and past St Cuthbert’s Island.  This was another highlight of the day, a wonderful sight that could well have come from a Peter Scott oil painting.  Would the Barred Warbler appear?

As if timed to perfection the Barred Warbler did make an appearance just before it was time for us to leave, and it eventually showed really well in the open, it’s size being very notable having watched the other warblers and Goldcrest.  My bird of the day and another lifer for Sam.  I have to say that the Brent Geese in the sun provided the sighting of the day.

Well, our hours on Lindisfarne could not have ended in any better way.  We eventually made of towards Budle Bay where the light was very poor now.  Our short stop provided sightings of Pink-footed and Greylag Geese, many Shelduck and other waterfowl and two more Little Egrets.  Our final stop was at Bamburgh where some of us enjoyed a brisk walk to Stag Rock. It was very quite here although we enjoyed watching the juvenile Gannets diving into what must have been very shallow water very close to the shore.  We’d heard that there had been a White-rumped Sandpiper on the shore but that it had flown.  I can’t honestly say we lost any sleep over that fact.  As we headed back we watched a flock of Linnets in the fields.

So a very rewarding and all round great day.  I arrived home cream crackered wondering why anyone can not appreciate Lindisfarne.  At least seventy-two species of bird seen today plus one Red Admiral out in the cold.

18th Oct.  A much more leisurely day today with Sam and I walking along the sands from Blyth Harbour to Seaton Sluice.  Highlights included a skein of fourteen Barnacle Geese flying north, a party of forty-three Sanderling, feeding as only Sanderling do, a hunting Kestrel and the usual excellent chatter.  I was home in time to watch four of the six Magpie goals go into the back of the net.  Have faith!

Addendum.  I had planned some scenic images of Lindisfarne but lighting conditions were not at their best plus the mind was elsewhere to be honest, so only the odd image was taken.