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

Monday, 13 June 2022

Mini-pond +

Wow, time flies and all that. I've been keeping myself busy, though it doesn't feel like I've ever got near to being ahead on work, chores and tasks. So having not posted for a couple of weeks or so, and seeing as I'll be heading back on Wednesday to see if that surgery gets done this time, here's a mix of stuff.

First up, although these photos are from back on 29/05/2022, you may recall I mentioned making a mini-pond using a raised planter. It's a c64x54mm rectangular box, and I've got the water at c20mm deep. It is far from an ideal pond, and of course I have no intention of it being anything other than (hopefully) a habitat for small inverts. I washed some stones and laid them on the bottom, filled it up and left it for a couple of days before adding some oxygenating weeds and then another couple of days or so before adding some potted marginal plants. Other than these plants, I'll not be deliberating adding anything .... but it was inevitable that the plants would have brought something.


The plants are a Water Forget-me-not, Water Mint with a bonus Monkeyflower that has appeared in the same pot, and a couple of irises. As expected, it seemed to develop a load of algae quite quickly, and then almost as quickly it cleared and I started to notice things. I was certain that the first things to turn up would be fly larvae, and sure enough a load appeared. So whilst it felt completely wrong, I decided to take the plunge as it were and shove the TG-6 below the surface. It survived .... despite me forgetting that I was supposed to remove the light guide.


Lots of mosquito and chironomid larvae making light work of the algae. Whilst these probably arrived naturally, I also noted that there were actually loads of snails that certainly arrived with the plants. I also noted some water boatmen nymphs which again I assume arrived with the plants ....


Whilst I was messing about trying to get shots of these, I noticed a completely unexpected 'newtpole'. In fact I've since seen at least five at the same time. I will have to ensure they get out once they're ready, but the whole point of this being raised was to ensure it doesn't attract frogs or newts!


So the scene is set, and I'll enjoy staring into the nooks and crannies etc waiting for the odd beetle that will hopefully turn up in due course.

Talking of beetles, I saw this one scuttling about in the garden on 07/06/2022 and luckily had a pot to hand. I could see that it was a small Carabid, but that was it until I got a couple of shots and then it was quite simple to sort out ....

It keys through to Asaphidion curtum, a new one for me.

Over the completely ridiculous nonsense that was the Jubilee bank holiday and weekend, we nipped down to Devon. The weather wasn't great, but I'd decided to take a light trap and was intent on using it regardless. I managed to set it up under the overhang of the garden summerhouse, so the trap stayed dry despite a bit of heavy rain in the early hours. The catch wasn't massive, but there was a good mix and a couple of new moths plus a couple I've only seen away from Leics. before. The two ticks were ....

Toadflax Pug

Double Line - sadly a bit knackered!

And a couple of nice species I don't see here ....

Small Seraphim

Sharp-angled Peacock

There were few micros, but there was this Grapholita sp. that I've retained for gen det ...


It may well be Grapholita funebrana, and this one from the garden on 02/06/2022 probably is too ....


Whilst I'm posting tortrixes, here a couple more from the garden ....

Grapholita janthinana - one of five flying about in the garden today

Gypsonoma oppressana from the trap last night

Clearwing lures in the garden have so far brought both Currant and Red-belted - so good to confirm that last years purple patch with the garden lures was not a fluke. I've also managed to see a few new species whilst out and about including Solomon's Seal Sawfly, Broad-leaved Helleborine and Stigmella floslactella.

Otherwise, here's some larval life from Watermead CP North on Saturday ....

Mullein

Willow Ermine

We went to see The Wonder Stuff on Saturday night, and they were absolutely brilliant - it was just like stepping back 31 years to when we last saw them. We were also meant to see Manic Street Preachers at Peterborough but that got cancelled at the last minute due to James Dean Bradfield having Covid!

For a musical interlude though, I've been listening to loads of the ridiculously massive works of Klaus Schulze. c50years of electronic ambient stuff. Another one that is gone this year along with Vangelis.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Liquorice

On Friday we headed down to that there London, not just any old bit of London either - the swanky expensive more money than sense bit. We travelled down in bright sunshine, parked up at Stanmore and jumped on a tube straight to Sloane Square station, and then tootled into the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. We had a great day; I've fancied going there for some time and we absolutely struck lucky with it being such a glorious day too. I could share loads of photos, but really it's kind of 'you had to be there' to properly appreciate it. And anyway, if you're interested you'll seen Monty present it all last week.

I'd already planned to head to Ketton Quarry on Saturday to look for a load of Wild Liquorice and check it out for Grapholita pallifrontana - no previous VC55 records. It's one that I'd looked for before about a decade ago on a small plant at Croft Hill, but I'd not realised the plant was now well established at Ketton until last week. Sadly I was beaten to it, albeit the recorder on Friday failed to get any photos or a specimen so I still needed to head over and have a look anyway. I got details for the area and soon realised that I must have walked past his substantial clump on many occasions previously and not noticed - it's not the most attractive plant when not in flower.

It was a bit overcast with brief sunny spells, and luckily just as I got there the sun was out and I saw a couple of the moths immediately. As soon as the sun went in, the moths disappeared under leaves and over an hour or so I only saw one more and managed to net one with a bit of very light sweeping (the plant is not substantial enough to take a proper sweep!). This really seems to be an easy moth to overlook, as they were completely inactive and hidden away with no sunshine. 


Whilst mooching about and around the Liquorice, I pointed the camera at a few bits - by far the best of the bunch being this ....


The is the second time I've recorded Cryptocephalus bipunctatus at Ketton Quarry, and this is the sixth VC55 record. The fifth was also from Ketton Quarry a little earlier this May. Aside from this, the flowering plants and foliage around the area were busy with the usual suspects for the site - all metallic green ....

Cryptocephalus aureolus

Swollen-thighed Beetle

Ischnomera cyanea

Also flitting about the Liquorice was a trio of beefy-looking hoverflies that I recognised having seen them here before. I netted one for an in-hand shot for the record ....

Crysotoxum cautum

A small moth that I netted in flight turned out to be a male Psyche casta, and to be fair the twig-cloaked larval case is perhaps more visually appealing ....


Amongst the other day-flying moths seen was Burnet Companion, but the lack of sunshine and warmth made it feel generally quiet and there were very few butterflies knocking about.


Keith Tailby rocked up after I'd been there a while, and after a natter and such like I left him to it, and as I headed home the sun came out ....

I felt sure there would be some obscure but listenable track with Liquorice in the title, not that one sprung to mind at all. A quick internet search brought up a few tracks, and I found them all to be a bit shite. And then I found this quirky and pleasant acoustic tune on Youtube which somehow sounds like a perfect accompaniment for searching for inverts in the field in spring ....

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Goodbye Andy, Goodbye Alan

As I am sure long-time visitors to this blog will be aware, for over 40 years I've been listening to and thoroughly enjoying the works of Depeche Mode. During that that time, their line up has been more stable than any other band of similar longevity that I can think of. Vince Clarke left very early on, Alan Wilder replaced him for 13 years and from then on the band has been the three ever-present core of Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher. They've had a consistent touring members Christian Eigner on drums since 1997 and Peter Gordeno on keyboards since 1998. Today, far too young, Andy Fletcher (60) died. Andy was pivotal to the success of the band: not as a songwriter, not as the voice or the face of the band, but he certainly was the glue and the heart of the band keeping things together through inevitable rough patches. Whilst I sincerely hope that this is not the end for Depeche Mode, it will be in many respects.

It was even longer ago that I heard and liked Yes, albeit thanks to my Dad playing them incessantly. I've not listened to them regularly over that time or kept pace with everything they've released, and their line up is far from stable or consistent. But one of their most persistent members was drummer Alan White - ever-present from 1972. Alan (72) also died today.

Here's a few suitably sombre looking moths from the garden last night ....

Clouded Brindle

Flame Shoulder

Vine's Rustic

Marbled Minor sl

Tawny Marbled Minor sl

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Let Me Down

So as some may have picked up from posts on Twitter and Facebook, or my comment on the last post, my planned surgery did not happen. Which was bloody frustrating to say the least, and left me feeling a bit bewildered after having got myself psyched up and ready. I'd spent a couple of hours in the surgery pre-prep area being checked, interrogated and having had a chat with the surgeon - during which he helpfully told me that my pre-op scans had shown that the x3 growths had indeed grown a bit more during the c4wks since the last scans. The op is very high risk, mainly due to excess bleeding, sepsis, possible damage caused by the surgery etc, so they absolutely know I will be in ICU for a couple of days. The op is also a long procedure, at least 8hrs. So to go ahead, the team of surgeons/consultants involved (there are four completing various parts of the surgery within their area of specialism) all need to be available, the theatre needs to be triple-booked for the longer time, and there needs to be a confirmed ICU bed available. They can plan the surgeons and theatre, ICU is completely down to chance and given that the hospital has the only A&E department in Leics. then it is always likely to be busy. So I was left thinking the worst - what if the next date is another six or seven week wait, will that be too late to have the best chance of success ....

Once I'd had something to eat and drink, and pottered in the garden sunshine, I pulled myself together enough to nip out for a brief walk at Croft Hill. Whilst out I remembered that I had a ticket to see Gary Numan that I'd obviously expected to miss and had not been able to pass on. So when I got home I decided to sort myself out, get the moth trap set and bugger off for a beer and some noise. A great gig, and complete contrast to the more sedate and intricate Divine Comedy gig I'd been to the previous weekend.

Anyway, I got a call from the hospital yesterday and have a new date - 15th June. Not as soon as I'd like but at least not as far off as I feared. I'm back to how I was before this debacle and just focussing on the now, including getting back to work after a week out.

The moth trap on Thursday night was fairly busy, but best of the bunch was a not particularly spectacular looking pug ....

Angle-barred Pug (f. fraxinata = Ash Pug)

I nearly overlooked this in the early morning light, but noticed the straight costa, narrow long-winged look and that the weak markings were a bit too uniform to be due to wear. Of course in decent light and with a fully awake mind it's obvious what it is - though I wonder if I've overlooked it in the past. A first for the garden and the first I've seen in VC55, having only seen it previously in Devon.

A few others from the trap ...

Oak Hook-tip

Lime Hawk-moth

Flame Carpet

I pointed the camera at a couple of bits up at Croft Hill too. Back on 12th May whilst unsuccessfully dangling lures I found a handful of first instar larvae on small Aspen saplings. I was sure they were Puss Moth, but had no camera and wasn't going to take a couple to rear knowing I'd be away for a while. So I had another look and very quickly found another handful on the same area of Aspen saplings (there are loads), now in what I think is early third instar. This seems very early, but would mean the eggs were laid in late April and over the last five years at least we've been seeing Puss Moth adults to light from c20th April, so a clear shift in phenology.


There were plenty of Cantharids knocking about too, though only Cantharis rustica got snapped ....


The garden trap last night was not so busy, but the diversity is still picking up.

Rustic Shoulder-knot - a particularly dark individual

Brown Rustic

Poplar Grey

Given the move in surgery date, I'll also be able to go and see The Wonder Stuff in June - but I'll still be missing the Isle of Wight Festival.

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Temporary Silence

Today we said farewell to Adrian at a very calm and celebratory ceremony, with wall to wall sunshine outside and a strong attendance. It was good to see a few faces for the first time in a long while thanks to Covid etc, but clearly not in the circumstances we wanted to be meeting.

That should have been the toughest part of the week, but it isn't. I'm not going to lie, whilst I've been putting on a brave face and fronting things for a while now I'm pretty apprehensive about what's coming.

My life has been a rollercoaster since early 2019 when I was suddenly very ill indeed, got diagnosed with rectal cancer and since then I've had three separate operations, two different lots of radiotherapy and two lots of chemo. The last surgery in October 2020 was radical and life-changing - I've not spelled it out before but I'm sure some realise that I have a permanent colostomy with absolutely zero chance of reversal. You'd think by now I'd be over it, but it seems that all of the treatment and surgery so far is not quite enough. My cancer is starting to come back - right in the place where it would have been before having body-parts removed. Thankfully for now at least, there is no sign of any spread; whilst it is a pretty resilient cancer it doesn't seem to be malicious enough to try and finish me off. Not just yet at least. So I have another shot at getting rid of it for good, but this time I am facing even more major radical surgery and at the end of it I'll be pretty empty below my navel - no bladder or prostate, but helpfully I'll have another bag to balance me out ....

I've come through surgery and just about got back to as near a normal life as possible. I've not been as constrained as I may have been, and I've been able to enjoy stuff like festivals, gigs, West End shows, football matches home, away and abroad, beers and curry and - not least - getting out and about to enjoy nature when time and weather allow. I know I will do all that again, even though it will be tough again, but that doesn't clear the nagging doubt in the back of my mind about what if this doesn't work. 

I'm not planning on going anywhere any time soon though, and certainly will not be going without kicking and screaming. But you can expect this blog to be quiet for a while. I go for surgery on Thursday and am likely to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks, and then I am back at the start of the long road to recovery again. Whilst I'll be trying to get back connected to the world asap, I doubt I'll have anything to post for a while. But of course as soon as I can, the garden light and pheromone traps will be out again so you never know.

For now I'll share this one, a beetle that has few VC55 records and was a complete surprise in my garden pheromone trap this afternoon (with FOR lure deployed hoping for Red-tipped Clearwing). This is Triplax russica - new for me, and perhaps just the fifth or sixth for VC55 (four reliable records, a possible fifth, last in 2005). Excuse the moth scales that it has picked up whilst having a jolly time in the pheromone trap.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Cemetery

Yesterday I had to get my car in to the dealership for service and MOT, meaning I had a couple of hours to fill. There is only so much Morrison's coffee and table space you can take, so around a couple of calls and various e-mails I headed off for a walk. For context, here's a map showing the south side of the City ....


The cyan dot is the King Power stadium, yellow dot is the Leicester Tigers stadium, green dot is Leicester Railway station and the red dot is the Toyota dealership. So I opted to have a squint around the green space around the white dot, which happens to be Welford Road Cemetery.

I have never been there, though I was vaguely aware that it was perhaps a little 'wilder' than your typical inner-city municipal cemetery. I was also aware that a distant relative of mine, John Fergus Skevington (my Great Great Great Grandfather no less) was buried here though I had no idea whereabouts.

I was quite surprised at how much it has been allowed to grow, with many of the graves in the more open parts on the north side almost secondary to the meadow-like flowers. Even the more regimented plots were allowed to overgrow with wildflowers. It was also a lot bigger than I realised, and surprisingly peaceful despite the adjacent busy road and railway line, perhaps helped by the wind blowing through the leaves. But I was only there for a quick walk; with proper time and a bit of forward planning rather than a spur of the moment visit it would be good to have a proper look around. Of course then I may actually find the grave; there is a visitor centre that has all of the plots catalogued but as I found it is only open on Fridays and weekends.