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

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Here Comes The Flood (again)

Today I had to drop into the GP surgery in Blaby, so I took the opportunity to grab a change of scene and have a look at a couple of former haunts within my Soar Valley South patch - and therefore well within my newly acquired 5MR area. I only intended for a short walk from parking up on a roadside, and was not equipped for anything other than tarmac .....

On this aerial view, there is a pathway that runs between the yellow and red dots - known as part of the Guthlaxton Trail. This is a shortcut to get from Blaby to the canal. Except when standing at the yellow dot and the pathway looks like this ....

Even if I'd had my boots and Sealskinz on, this path was not passable - proper wellies required. Immediately to the left is a scruffy hedgerow that offers partial views across what is often a dry grassland, sometimes a deep floodplain and very very occasionally a good place to scrutinise for Snipe and a few ducks. Here is the general view from the one dry spot I had at the start of the path ....

You can probably just about see that there appears to be lots of water visible through the barrage of twigs. It actually looks like in a couple of days time when the waters have receded a little, this could be a great spot to have a good look over. Today, I could see something through the mess of woody interruption, but getting anything useable with the camera was folly. See ....

A majestic drake Goosander ....

My initial plan was to walk through and onto the canal tow path, in the hope that Goosander would be present on the canal as I have seen before. I also had one fly over so likely to be a few around here - it's just getting somewhere to enjoy them properly that is a problem whilst we are knee-deep in river water. I nipped around to the other side and parked up; here's a view looking south-westish from the red dot showing the River Sence over-spilling its banks ....

Just north of here is access down to the Grand Union canal path (via No.99 Whetstone Lane Bridge). I only walked a short stretch between the two cyan dots on the aerial view - mainly as the path was a bit slippy with inappropriate footwear, and because every bridge harboured a dodgy looking bloke nearby with a fishing rod, thereby rendering any hope of good Goosander views null and void.

This Grey Wagtail only gave distant views before dancing off a bit further every few steps.

Several pairs of Moorhens along the overhang on the far bank.

Before heading home, I took a very small detour and parked up at Jubilee Park - another old haunt on the patch that I should spend more time at this year. There is usually a small pool just about visible from the park, with the River Soar and River Sence converging close to it. Today the pool was huge with no sign of the rivers as such ....

I'm always wary of this area when it's flooded, and despite the view there was a bloke jogging around the shallower edge. Trouble is that you can't see where the flood starts and the River bank is. It's not that long ago that David Noakes, a local birder and nice bloke that I met a few times who was a regular at the park, sadly drowned here when the area was flooded.

Just viewable from the safety of the roadside pavement was a mass of Canada Geese, and I could hear and eventually saw a couple of Wigeon tucked in amongst them. Again, once the main waters recede there should be a better chance of getting views of what's out there.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

5MR Birding 2021

I've seen that many fellow bloggers have declared, or at least looked at, an area with a five-mile radius (5MR) from their home as a basis for some lockdown listing and beyond. Whilst my overarching self-interest for 2021 is my home 1k square, I do of course need a bit more to sustain year-round interest. I've already said that I could do with getting back into a bit of general birding, and so I've duly looked at what a 5MR area from my postcode looks like. Could this be enough to generate some birding interest ....

Remember this is Leicestershire: we have no coast, precious little woodland and even less heathland. The mainstays of birding interest in such a land-locked County are reservoirs, landfill sites and ex-gravel extraction sites. A quick scout around my 5MR area reveals zero reservoirs, zero woodland, zero landfill sites and zero ex-gravel extraction sites. But all is not lost: the entirety of my old 'Soar Valley South' patch falls within this, as does the whole of Aylestone Meadows along the wider Soar Valley floodplain, Croft Hill/Huncote Embankment and a number of big parks. Patently it also includes the 3km Foot-it area that was declared for January birding challenges in the past. I also noted that close to the north-north-eastern edge of the area, just shy of the City, is the mighty KP stadium.

Whilst I've not started yet, I very much doubt that I've missed anything if I were to start a 5MR Bird List 2021. Some of this area will be easily accessible by bicycle but that is not on the cards for some time yet as I continue to recover from surgery. I guess that the very local birding will have to do for now, but it would be good to take a few longer walks out of the square when the weather perks up and hopefully we'll have some easement before the first flush of spring. I'm not setting a target - lets get back into using the bins more often and take it from there!

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Code in the Script

I managed to nip out for a quick wander in the square today, for the first time in a few days mainly due to shite weather, feeling a bit meh! or having something else to do.

I had no plan other than using my legs a bit. I took a camera, but forgot to take my cheapo spectacles making use of the camera a bit harder than it could have been. I got to the oak on the crossroads that I've mentioned before, and remembered that there was a fern growing at its base that I'd ignored last time I had a mooch around it. I grabbed a couple of snaps but no sporangia visible anyway - one to re-visit. Whilst bent down at the base of the tree, I realised that the lower trunk was liberally covered in lichenous lirellae. I refocussed and was looking at an abundance of one of the script lichens, growing like some lost code on the tree trunk.

I've seen this one before, but nowhere near to home - it live on trees in my in-laws North Devon garden.

Opegrapha atra

I also found a clump of liverwort on the trunk that I'd missed last time, which I am sure is Forked Veilwort although the photo doesn't really show it well.

The only new bird to hit the square list whilst out was a Grey Heron - still no Rook or Skylark.

Tuesday, 12 January 2021


Nothing new added to the square list for a couple of days: on Sunday I opted for chilled day in, and yesterday I was tied up with my first IV chemo session (three weekly cycles over six months, along with chemo tablets). The latter left me with a dead left arm that I thought would preclude anything useful but thankfully it has eased off a lot in 24hrs so I was able to get out for a leisurely stroll around the square with Nichola. I took the big lens hoping to get better shots of Fieldfare and Redwing, but found that the farmer had been out 'tidying up' the hedge on a tractor and nothing was around in the fields at all. He was down by the Holly spots when I walked down the lane, but was back up at the top of the lane later as we walked back through the new estate ...

I took a snap of what used to be my favourite Ash tree in the square. This used to be home to a pair of Little Owls, but they were ousted by Jackdaws and I've not seen one anywhere near this tree for around eight years. Part of this tree also came down from storm damage a few years ago. The other owl I've seen near to this tree was a dead Barn Owl that appeared to have flown into that barbed wire on the gate. 

We had a fair bit of overnight rain, which was most evident looking at Whetstone Brook compared to a few days ago.

06/01/2021 left / 12/01/2021 right - from same bridge but not quite same position/angle

Looking towards the lane from the new estate

I've realised that a lot of planted saplings around the open spaces in the new part of the estate are Alder and Silver Birch which might be handy for square listing leaf mines in future years.

Garden doves

Here's an aural recommendation for when you've got a spare 47mins - streaming from your favourite service provider. Probably. A varied and eclectic mix on one album: 'Do Unto Others' by I Believe In My Mess - here's three quite different tracks, a roots dub vibe, an Irish jig feel with electronics, and an up tempo rock driven ditty ....

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Note to Self

If you've not read my post from yesterday, ignore all the bits about there being no Holly in my square. Frankly I am a blithering idiot.

Today I was constrained, and in any case the weather was much less than inspiring with fog settled in for the whole day making it very grey indeed. I did manage to get out for a walk in the late afternoon though, and I just headed down the lane with my bins.

Once I got to the end of the lane, I turned west-ish and walked towards the farm shop checking the hedgerow along both sides of the road. I'd decided that finding a bit of Holly on just one bit of hedgerow was daft, and probably meant that looking properly on every bit of accessible hedgerow was worthwhile. I'd not looked along this stretch. I found no Holly.

As I walked back I could hear a Yellowhammer down on the last bit of the lane where I'd had the out-of-square Holly yesterday so headed down there. I looked at a couple of dark bits of greenery in the hedge .... doh!

Here's the same map from yesterday with some additional coloured bits .....

The map shows square boundary and the grid ref where I found Holly to far south yesterday. The blue arrow points to an oak tree that is just inside the boundary, the yellow arrow points to an ash tree and the red blob is you know what.

Oak tree (blue arrow), ash tree (yellow arrow)

See that bit of flailing damage to the hedge marked with a red arrow next to the ash tree

See that Holly sprawling through the hedge next to the failing damage ....

No idea how I missed this yesterday, other than having just seen some I probably just walked on without actually looking. Also today I added Field Maple that I must have forgotten on 1st Jan, Shepherd's Purse that was growing in a clump by a lamp post that I've not walked past this week, and Brooklime that I'd seen in the attenuation pond on the new part of the estate yesterday and worked out today.

Seeing as it's just over a week into the year, here's a quick breakdown of the 136 species I've logged so far:

I looked back at the original rules for the 2013 challenge, and remembered that aggregates do not count so the 136 excludes Dandelion, Bramble and Ulmus sp. I also remembered that everyone ticked 'human' so added the first dogwalker I came across for parity. As the year progresses the insects will massively take over. In 2013 they accounted for 69% of the total - I expect it will be a higher percentage this year.

A few notes to self:

Stuff recorded remotely (like on a Cam Trap) does not count, but dead stuff does in the original rules. Badger latrines might help to find a live one, but don't forget to record the inevitable flat one on the A426 (like you did in 2013, along with the dead Mole you found ....).

Stop putting off looking at molluscs ....

Remember that this ash tree (and a few fallen dead trees seen so far) have plenty of exit holes and would be ideal to hang baited intercept traps from ....

And remember to go back and work out what these plants are growing in a clump by a fence and in drainage ditches ....

Friday, 8 January 2021

No Wood, No Holly

Whilst my square has plenty of trees, they stand isolated, or along verges and hedgerows, with the odd small copse. There is no woodland as such. Still I should still see and find a number of common trees and shrubs, but I realised a couple of days ago that one I'd not seen was Holly. I checked back to 2013 and saw that there was a prickly-leaf shaped hole in that list too. So whilst out and about today, I took a couple of small diversions to take in small bits of the square that I'd not covered. This yielded a few bits of interest: hazel, teasel, primrose, some as yet unidentified water-dwelling plants and a realisation that there are a couple of good access points to Whetstone Brook where it looks like kids have beaten a path to it over the last few years. But no sign of any Holly.

The route took me past a place in the square that I am looking forward to patronising when we can ....

The only pub in the square

The Dog and Gun sits on the A426. I carried on down the A426 and stopped at the main crossroads, by far the busiest bit of roadway in the square and particularly busy on a Friday afternoon. Right on the corner of this junction, but set in a dip from the road level, is an interesting looking oak.

It has nice low branches, and the trunk and branches are liberally covered in lichens and mosses. But the location is not exactly conducive to tree-hugging, and around the base there are large snags of bramble. It will be virtually impossible to get close to it at any time other than the depth of winter, though I will no doubt have a go. I cautiously got myself down the bank and had a quick nose around it in fading light and with a constant procession of vehicles going through the junction. I found a couple of year-ticks for the square in the process ....

Hammered Shield Lichen

Diatrypella quercina

I carried on along the A426 and turned onto the bottom part of the lane. I'd not got very far when I noticed a glossy green mass growing in amongst the hedgerow. Well, bugger me ....

I am certain that this would not have been planted in the hedgerow, which along this stretch consists entirely of Ulmus sp. I certainly don't recall seeing this before, but then again when do notice Holly unless you're looking for it. I then had a moment of clarity, and realised that even if I had seen this before I would not have made it onto the 2013 list. You might recall me mentioning in a previous post that the bottom part of this lane (which is one side of a triangular field) is outside the square. Sure enough when checking, I reckon this is c40 meters to far south ....

In all likelihood, there is no Holly in the square.

Otherwise today I had no particular plans. I mentioned thinking about looking at mosses, but today I couldn't motivate myself for this other than obvious common mosses.

Grey-cushioned Grimmia

Wall Screw-moss

Wood Bristle-moss

Seeing as I don't have it in the square, here is some Hollywood.