Birds, Leps, Observations & Generalities - the images and ramblings of Mark Skevington. Sometimes.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Winter Heliotrope

My vascular plant list is, frankly, pathetic. It is also probably a bit skewed; there are a number of scarce/rare plants that I've either made an effort to see or have had shown to me whilst on PSL events whilst there are lots of relatively common species that I may well have seen but have certainly not acknowledged. So today, after a morning at the hospital for routine scans and with the weather having turned dry, cold and sunny, I thought I'd make the effort to see one that I've had a mind for a while - Winter Heliotrope.

We have an excellent county resource for recording and sharing photos - Naturespot. A quick look to see where I may have a chance of seeing my target, and blow me it's in the next village. So I coupled my motivation to see the plant with my desire to get out and work off some pounds and went out for a long walk.

Finding the plant was a doddle, as having looked on Naturespot I knew exactly where it would be. It's a spot I've driven past innumerable times.

There were two clumps, one right on the bank of the brook and one against a boundary. Getting good photos was not so easy though as one clump was in bright sunshine and one in deep shade.

Whilst my plant skills are limited, I am pretty good at recognising something once I've seen it, so I wouldn't be surprised if I start seeing this in various places. I intend to draw up a list of 50 or so relatively common species that I should try and see this year.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Books / Birds

Over the on the right is a link to Steve Gale's excellent 'North Downs & Beyond' blog. He's set himself a target of bringing his moth list up to 1000sp., and he's taking an interest in the early stages of micromoths. Whilst I've always been interested in the early stages of moths (hence the Larval Life label that you'll also find on the right), looking at leafmines is something I've only really done sporadically and without any real systematic approach. And this is generally because I am still relatively weak at working out what I'm looking at when it comes to vascular plants. Including trees! Steve will have the advantage of being more botanically savy, and will no doubt find lots of good stuff.

I really should make a better effort, and it's not like I haven't got some helpful tools. I have the two key books that should be invaluable to anyone intent on looking for micromoth larval life:

Whilst I'm at it, there is a book soon to be published that I anticipate will also be invaluable to me. Porter's book on caterpillars was good, but missed the mark in a few respects by not showing variation and some not so great photography. I hope that this new book will take caterpillar ID to a new level, though no doubt I'll still end up rearing out larvae to be sure in many instances.

This morning it was a bit dull and drizzly to start, and I had a deserved lie-in. By the time I was up and about it had brightened up a bit, so I decided to head out somewhere that I could have a leisurely walk around with my bins and camera. I headed to Thornton Res, and arrived late morning just in time for the weather to return to its earlier gloomy outlook. The camera was under-utilised as there were fewer birds around than I'd hoped, and there were also more people there than I expected so not quite the solitude I was looking for.

Right near the car park was a small collection of bread-crazed gulls and wildfowl, but scanning the open waters revealed very little. All the gulls bar one were Black-headed, and vast majority of the generally few ducks were Mallard. There were a handful of Tufted Ducks, and I saw one drake Pochard. A group of three Little Grebes were about the most exciting birds I saw, and it was oddly quiet on the passerine front too. It's been so long since I actually went anywhere looking for birds that I was disappointed with my choice of site and I wished I'd got out earlier and gone to one of the big reservoirs in the far east of the county. Still, I got some fresh air and used my legs which was the aim.

Black-headed Gull checking its undercarriage in the mirror.

This Lesser Black-backed was the only gull with enough self-respect to ignore bread.

Cormorants are rarely appealing birds.

Don't be fooled, this Tufted Duck was loitering with the bread-addicts.

Just after the above phone shot, the squally drizzle returned and I headed back to the car. Some reading this may well remember my disdain for hybidised and feral wildfowl. Just look at the state of this pair ...

Feral Swan Goose, noisy, ugly, yuck.

Plumage is almost right, but just look at the size of this drake - looks like it's been eating Mallards.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Many Micros

During 2019, a relatively new moth recorder in the north-east of Leics. set out to add lots of dots to the VC55 map. He did an incredibly fantastic job of it, running traps throughout the year spread out across the region, plus checking leaf-mines, adding dots to many previously innaccessible and/or underrecorded tetrads. Inevitably during this process he came across a lot of micros that were not immediately identifiable to him, and some these were collected and labelled for future scrutiny. I say some, but I think there are a good couple of 100 or more. Anyway, I offered to have a go at picking out anything identifiable without gen det, and segregating others for priority gen det. That was right at the end of November, and I knew it would not be something I could pick up immediately. As it happens, with the family break at Centreparcs the start of December, work commitments and Christmas they've been sat on my desk awaiting attention.

The main problem with these is going to be that they've been saved in small paper parcels, and some have more than one specimen inside. And I've got three plastic tubs full of them. I'm going to delve in this weekend and make a start; it will be interesting to see what's in there!

Anyway, whilst doing that I will be continuing to cause myself hearing damage with more of this type stuff what I have been listening to this week:

Saturday, 4 January 2020

2020 Moth List

We've had a relatively mild spell, but I've not been tempted to go to the effort of putting out the moth trap as yet. For one thing it is still too dark in the mornings to empty before heading off to work, and last night I was out at the local football ground watching the LCFC U23s give Wolves a pasting. Tonight I'm at the KP for some FA Cup action, so I doubt the trap will be out until next weekend at the earliest unless there is a ridiculously tempting mild night.

I have been putting on a 12W Blacklight LED bulb though, operated in an old outdoor light fitting that is still up tucked on the side of our porch out of sight. And I have moths on the 2020 garden list already. x2 Early Moths on 01/01/2020 and this worn Winter Moth last night.

The bottom end of the garden is still a bog, though this morning whilst grabbing a couple of leaves I had a look at the Hart's-tongue Fern and there are definite Psychoides spp. mines. I'll leave them be for a while before trying to work out what they are.

Whilst the garden is damp, one thing I must make some effort on before the spring is checking out the various molluscs around the garden again. There must be a chance that something new has moved in.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020


A couple of weeks or so ago, me and Nichola had to nip down to North Devon on a Santa run. We headed down on the Saturday, and back again on Sunday afternoon. It was such a necessarily brief visit that we didn't even get to see the sea! So on the way home whilst chatting, we tacitly agreed that it would be good to head to the North Norfolk coast for some fresh air on New Year's Day. A beach walk is something we've enjoyed many times when staying in Devon over the festive period, but not something we can do in land-locked Leics. Of course, whilst we were chatting about this, in my head we were heading to Snettisham/Titchwell/Holme - somewhere that I could point my optics at birds. Nichola of course was thinking of nothing more than a bracing walk along a beach, with no hides or scopes involved.

Roll forward to yesterday and it became clear that we didn't have the same idea! Nevertheless, all was not lost as completely independently of our differing plans a small vagrant wagtail had pitched up in Norfolk on a dung pile near Sedgeford. I had no idea where this actually was, until after seeing that it was still around for several days I had a look and bingo - right near Heacham/Hunstanton. I suggested that we could go for the bracing walk, without optics, but just take the very minor detour on the way? And so we set off this morning, nowhere near the crack of dawn - this was not a birding trip remember!

How easy was that - barely a couple of 100 meters to walk down a track, lift bins, bird scuttling around nonchalantly in mud around manky pools with two absolutely massive piles of shit behind it. Lovely. Superb scope-filling views, and despite the poor light anyone with a decent camera set up for bird photography could fill their boots. I of course did not have this equipment, just my trusted point and shoot Nikon Coolpix P600. I got some rubbish grainy shots that I am very pleased to share ....

So, Eastern Yellow Wagtail hits the list. Quite a striking bird, and by the way it was strutting its stuff I doubt it's going anywhere too soon (unless taken by a Sparrowhawk!). After watching it for a good half hour, I had to concede it was time to move on.

We headed to Hunstanton, parked at the northern end of the old town and enjoyed a leisurely and very bracing walk along the cliff top towards the town and then back along the beach for the length of the crumbling red and white cliff. I had no optics, though I did carry the camera which was great for about 10mins before the battery died. Luckily the phone battery fared better .. that only died when we got to the end of the cliff!

No birding as such, but still plenty of bird-life to see. Plenty of Fulmar in pairs on the cliff, cackling away like demented chickens. Loads of Oystercatchers on the beach, with a fair few Turnstone, Curlew and Redshank amongst them.

I kid you not, we got to the end of the cliff, nipped into a cafe for a cuppa and in the half hour interlude the sun disappeared and it had turned ridiculously grey and baltic. We walked a bit more before calling it a day.

A great bracing walk and a great new bird - couldn't have worked out better.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Anus Horribilis

No, I have quite deliberately misspelt annus

In many many ways it has been a year that I would much rather forget; I've spent more time in hospital than in the whole of my previous 50 years, being drained of bloods, being filled up with fluids, being scanned, under general anaesthetic, embarrassed and in undignified situations, uncomfortable in the extreme, being radiated and taking meds etc. It's been a rollercoaster of emotions: bad news good news in swift rotation until my head was spinning.

But that is more than balanced by the fact that I am here, I am (currently) intact and I have a life to look forward to.

C'est la vie eh?

Hah, as I typed that last bit, it reminded me of some (now dated but funny if you are old enough) stuff by Victor Lewis-Smith back in the early 90s.

'I think I'm going to kick the bucket! Still, that's life, eh, that's life'.

Roll on 2020.

All the best to you and yours for the coming year/decade.