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

Monday, 28 December 2009

Taw Estuary

Nipped out for a very pleasant walk around the Isley Marsh reserve on the Taw Estuary this morning. This reserve is immediately opposite Lower Yelland Farm where there were five Cattle Egrets yesterday. Today, there were precisely zero Cattle Egrets around the area (or at least I didn't see any). The massive sandy/muddy expanse that is the Taw Estuary (click for a bigger expanse). The tide was out, so all of the waders and wildfowl were out of decent photographic range. I can't remember the last time I visited this site and didn't see Spoonbills, and today was no exception. There were initially three feeding out in the middle of the estuary, later the group had grown to four roosting on the edge of the saltmarsh. Four distant sleeping Spoonbills - honestly. Waders included 100s of Curlews, 1000s of Lapwings, loads of Oystercatchers and Turnstones, a few Redshank and a couple of Grey Plovers. There were also plenty of Shelduck, Teal and Wigeon, and a couple of Black-necked Grebes. At least five Little Egrets were knocking about, and a smart Kingfisher, flyover Raven, foraging Rock Pipits and a couple of Stonechats were nice to see. This Sonechat was out of frame a millisecond later.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Garden Game

Even though we are not too far from farmland, living in a suburban Close with little in the way of mature trees and decent habitat around the estate, you have modest expectations of what will turn up in your garden. Gamebirds were not high on the 'what will be the next new species' list. A couple of months ago though, I was not impressed when a pair of Red-legged Partridges ran down the street just past our Close as I drove off - I was only a few yards away from adding them to the list. Just in time for Christmas, today when I got home from work I was amazed to see a stupid fat garden tick Pheasant rise up from under my feeders and flap unceremoniously onto the neighbours garage roof. It soon came back to carry on feeding, so I grabbed a few shots. It was tempting to find something to catch it with for an alternative Christmas dinner ... Prime birding habitat. I have a collection of feeders on our front cherry tree - easier to fill and watch than the rear garden. This year, the Goldfinches are almost constantly present with much fewer Greenfinches than usual. I like Goldfinches, but they are messy buggers with the sunflower hearts - dropping as many as they eat which no doubt suited the Pheasant. I've also seen Chaffinches actually using the feeders this year - they are usually too crap and just flit half-arsedly near it for a couple of seconds before strutting around on the floor again. Merry Christmas to everyone - I'll be thinking of your peaceful day whilst contending with excited children, conflicting TV preferences and stuffing a bird .... After the excesses, we'll be heading down to Devon for a few days so hopefully some coastal birding to write about early next week.

Monday, 21 December 2009

X-Factor Killed In Name of Facebook

In a move that has been claimed as "a victory for the independent thinker", American rock act Rage Against The Machine have soared to the top of the UK charts following a campaign on a social networking site, demoting the rightful owner of the coveted Christmas spot to Number Two.

Rage Against The Machine are notorious for their hard-hitting political lyrics and ethos, and their aggressive cross-over rock/rap style with liberal use of expletives. Never ones to tow the corporate line, they first started releasing their vitriolic message through the Epic label (part of CBS Recordings, which in turn became part of the huge billion-dollar Sony Music Corporation) in 1992. Meanwhile their bitter chart-topping rival, Joe McElderry, who was not born when Rage first hit the scene, is a nice boy from South Shields with white teeth.

The campaign on Facebook, a multi-million dollar private internet company, was designed to prevent the X-Factor Winning Song from inevitably achieving the Christmas high-light.

Brian Washed, from Middlesex, speaking on behalf of the 500000 people who downloaded 'Killing In The Name' in support of the campaign, said "This is serious stuff! Me and everyone else who downloaded it from i-Tunes have sent a very clear message to that smug high-waisted twat that we will not pander to the whim of others and just buy stuff that we are told to like. We are free-thinking people who refuse to comply and act like sheep. To be honest the Rage song is a bit shit and not really my taste at all, I prefer lushy ballads and stuff by George Micheal, but I am an individual and refuse to pander to the corporate bastards at Sony".

When asked for his views, Joe said "Well, I canna complain like cos being a Number Two is still good and me Mam is dead proud an that, and anyways that Cheryl is a great shag and I'm just soo happy an over the moon an that". When asked for his view on being Number One in the UK Popular Music charts, guitarist Tom Morrello said "F*** off you fu**ing fu*ker!"


An early shot of Rage Aganist The Machine at a 'Stop Racism and Bigotry' festival.


Simon Cowell (left) shows which thumb put the big smile on Joe's face (right)


Cheryl Cole with a typical corporate lap-dog

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Fox eats Owl

Good to get back to winning ways after back-to-back defeats. Couldn't have picked a better team to bounce back against (sure the Drunkbirder won't agree ...) Despite the defeats, City are still in the top six. Wednesday are now in the bottom 3. Shame.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

Given that I was only 9 when it was released, it was some time afterwards that I heard it through (though I had been aware of the nonsense surrounding the band from the news and had heard the singles). It is surely the most directly relevant album title ever, and the only way to listen to it is to put the hype and bollocks (and Bill Grundy incident) aside and pretend you have no idea who they were. Just accept it for what it is - a superb aural assault. Best played with the volume at ear-bleeding levels. My favourite track is this (with the classic lyric at 1:58):

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Garden Moth Stats 2009

I've been ridiculously busy at work over the last couple of weeks, including both Saturdays, and otherwise it's been either dark or shitty weather. Consequently nothing ventured and nothing seen! Today I could have got out, but a very welcome late lie-in and generally doing nothing much seemed preferable. One thing I did do was mess about with my garden moth records on MapMate. Aside from a few Winter Moths, I'm unlikely to record anything else here this year so I did some provisional basic analysis. You'll need to click on the tables to be able to read them! 2009 Total as at 29/11/2009 is 9763 individuals/344 species, versus 9764 individuals/343 species in 2008. I kid you not - I couldn't have contrived a closer comparison. There were 68 species recorded in 2008 that I have not seen here in 2009. Of these, the 25 'commonest' with 10 or more records over the years are: In 2009, I have added 13 species (9 micros, 4 macros) to the garden list: Comparison of the top 20 macros and micros to last year shows a few gainers and losers. For the macros, the biggest positive change was for Gold Spot - 29 records/117 individuals versus 10 records/19 individuals in 2008. The biggest drop was for Green Carpet - 31 records/64 individuals versus 41 records/139 individuals in 2008. For the micros, the biggest positive change was for Crambus pascuella - 20 records/60 individuals versus 7 records/8 individuals in 2008. The biggest drop was for Epinotia nisella - 17 records/30 individuals versus 27 records/116 individuals in 2008. So - what does this all mean? Actually - nothing. Comparison of any year to the previous one always shows changes one way or another. I now have ten years of garden trapping data though so I will be doing some proper analysis of certain species at some point during the winter.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Out of Here!


As the reality show based in the jungle wilds of Parliament draws toward the final stages, one of the main contestants starts to crack and faces eviction. Gordon Brown (aka GB, Gordy, Browny, Browny Gordy, Twat) has riled fellow contestants with offensive hand gestures:


"You're a wanker Cameron"

It had all started so well, with GB seeing off one of his main rivals in an early episode:

The Bush-Fucker Trial

More recently though, things have been getting harder to swallow for Gordy:

Talking bollocks is easier than eating them.


Browny explains just how big, round and squidgy the bollocks were.

As the end nears, Browny Gordy has taken to seeking advice from more enlightened fellows:

Tell me how taxation works again Mr (Leicester) Lama?

Despite the setbacks, Twat looks set to stay in the jungle to the bitter end, seeing of fellow contestants on the way:

Cheerio Bone-on

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Tits, Nuts & Painted Lady

There - that post title should attract a few inadvertent hits. Mostly today I have moping about the house feeling sorry for myself with a massive banging headache. I wouldn't mind if alcohol had been involved, but it wasn't. So instead of driving off somewhere to enjoy the wildlife like I should have done, I had to make do with watching the locals on my various feeders. However I managed to miss the best bird of the day with the camera - a superb male Great Spotted Woodpecker (garden rarity) briefly landed in our tree and had a look at the nuts before heading off. Oriental Laughing Collared Dove Greenfinches Goldfinch Great Tit Tit on my seed Tit on my nuts Tit on the neighbour's plums Aside from the nice tit action, I was most surprised to see this nectaring on cultivated heather: Painted Lady Pretty sure I've never seen one this late in the year before.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Surprise

Right at the end of October, I found a fairly unimpressive green caterpillar after dark feeding on what remained of our lavender. Other than it obviously being a noctuid, I had no idea what species it was and boxed it for a closer look the next day. Next day came and it had abandoned the food plant and spun-up in the kitchen roll, so I thought no more about it. Tonight I happened to notice that a moth had already emerged - that's just less than two weeks, and I can't be certain it didn't emerge earlier in the week. Anyway, it was a Silver Y - a completely unexpected addition to the garden breeding lepidoptera list that I haven't compiled. Reading Porter, it does indicate that the its normal 8-week egg to adult life-cycle can be dramatically compressed when confined indoors. The phone rang, and the lady of the house answered - "Hello, is that Mrs Smith?" "Yes, Mrs Smith speaking, who's calling?" "Mrs Smith, this is Dr Jones from the hospital. I'm afraid I'm calling with some terrible news from your husband's recent exploratory checks" "On no - what's wrong?" "Well, the trouble is Mrs Smith that we have two sets of results for a Mr Smith and we cannot be sure which results are your husband's - but it's not good either way" "Well - what is the news?" "Your husband either has chronic Alzheimer's or Syphilis" "Oh my God - what do we do now?" "We suggest you drive your husband into town this evening and leave him there. If he finds his way home, don't ever sleep with him again!"

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

A rather obscure but brilliant 1990 collaboration between Anne Dudley (Art of Noise etc) and Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke etc). I bought this on impulse years ago whilst looking for something else back in the day when you still visited record shops regularly and 'downloading' was simply a euphemism for taking a shit. It is, I think, a superb piece of work - essentially an Arabic / Middle-Eastern instrumental with both classic orchestral and regional instruments along with synths and electronics. For a change, I thought I'd shamelessly abuse You Tube by uploading a slideshow of some of my photos set to a track from this great work. If the photos are crap, or the slide animation is jumpy/doesn't work, just close your eyes and turn the volume up - the main thing is the music. The track is called Habebe.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Stuffing Springboks

I am not a particularly big follower of Rugby, either code - football is my main sporting interest. However I do like to watch the RU Six Nations Championships and World Cup, and like to see the local Leicester Tigers doing well. Through work, I often go to home games at Welford Road with the mandatory hospitality including excessive free alcohol intake, a great meal and of course the game. Last night was one such occasion - with the difference being that it wasn't a league or cup game, this was Leicester Tigers v South Africa ..... and we won! It was an immense game with a sell-out 24K crowd. Amorosino's first half try was stunning, and Tigers put in a truly fantastic performance. The six pre and a few more post match pints of Guinness helped to mark the occasion, and this morning I have just about lost my voice whilst having a massive headache.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

On this day, 05/11/1993

Sixteen years ago today - how time flies! A very early start saw me and John Hackett heading down to the Swanage area in Dorset. It was only my third twitch, but I was fully aware of the significance of the enigmatic bird we were hoping to see. By 08:00 we were on site at Winspit with a sizeable crowd despite the bird having been found on 30th October. Before long, there it was ..... Red-flanked Bluetail. See here for photos. At the time this was a massive rarity with virtually all of the previous records being in the northern Isles (like one trapped on Fair Isle on 16/09/1993). It was certainly the first widely twitchable bird, and prior to 1993 there had only been 11 records and I believe this was the first year that two were recorded in the same year. Of course in time it turned out to be a forerunner of many more accessible birds in subsequent years, rather than being the superb blocker we thought it would be. In fact I saw another one in Norfolk in 1994. Nevertheless, I can still visualise the scene when my first Bluetail popped into view - absolutely fecking awesome!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

More SEO Action

I went back to Cossington late this afternoon for another Short-eared Owl fix. Along with Alan Rayfield and a couple of others, we had to wait until quite late before they appeared although it was clearer and brighter than on Friday with a full moon rising. The first to appear was the paler of the two, which very nicely perched up on a very close post and could be clearly heard calling. I was glad I took the scope to get excellent views of the perched bird. After a few minutes it flew across the track and perched up right at the top of a bare spindly tree where it was very briefly mobbed by a Kestrel. From nowhere a darker individual appeared and the two were then both flying around together for a few minutes, again calling. The darker bird gave us superb close views and flew directly over us at one point. Superb stuff. Otherwise a single Barn Owl put in a very brief appearance, being constantly mobbed by Magpies as it tried to hunt, and up to 8 Grey Herons were knocking about the meadow and in surrounding trees.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Lunchtime Chat

Nipped over to Cossington Meadows around lunch time, with the intention of trying to get a couple of snaps of the Stonechats. I only had about half an hour so it was always going to be a quick grab or complete failure. Immediately as I headed down the main track, a male Kestrel was hovering over the verge and suddenly dropped down before re-emerging a few seconds later complete with small mammal in talons (presumably a vole). Further down the track, after a cursory glance over Swan Meadow (cows, ponies, herons, no owls) I bumped into a very pleasing mixed selection in the hedgerow. In the same hawthorn was a male and two female Reed Buntings, male Bullfinch, five Goldfinches, four Greenfinches, two Redwings, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin and - the pair of Stonechats. Every time I edged closer the Stonechats fecked off further up the hedgerow. I need a much bigger lens! Eventually got a couple of grab shots of the female perched on a twiggy stem on the edge of the verge. This perch is uncomfortable. Shit - look at the spassy angle my feet are at! Before I left, some amazing Kestrel action. One male was happily minding its own business hovering over Swan Meadow when it noticed another male zooming in from The Moor at low level. It stopped scanning for voles and made an immediate bee-line for the incoming rival. They both crashed down into the long grass with talons pretty much locked before they both decided it wasn't worth it headed off in different directions. With the owls still present, and more Kestrels in one area than I've seen for a while, it must have been a bloody good vole year. Even the herons seem to be targeting them.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Super Strigiformes & Heron Bomb

Yesterday afternoon after work, I nipped over to Cossington Meadows to enjoy the owls that have taken up residence and been seen hunting over Swan Meadow in the last few days. Quite a few others had the same idea! After watching a smart pair of Stonechats on the edge of The Moor, I carried on along the track to the northern end of Swan Meadow. I got chatting to a couple of like-minded souls whilst we waited, one of whom was Paul Riddle - he's been doggedly surveying breeding Little Owls in the 10Km square I live in (SP59) and seems they are doing very well here. He knew about the pair down the lane - I thought they'd gone after the winter but they successfully reared a family this year. Before long we were enjoying the first active owl - a superb Barn Owl gracefully hunting over the meadow. Eventually we were also enjoying a superb Short-eared Owl which perched up on fence posts a couple of times in between sweeps over the meadow in the fading light. A call alerted us to Little Owl - and I managed to pick up first one and then another as silhouettes in a distant tree. By now there appeared to be two Barn Owls and two Short-eared Owls - though not all seen at the same time they kept re-appearing in a completely different place to where last seen. Before I headed off a brief distant Tawny Owl calling completed the scene perfectly. This morning I headed out onto the Soar Valley South (Route 1). After a couple of hours and plenty of walking, I had nothing more exciting to show for the effort than a male Sparrowhawk scaring the Starlings witless, several groups of up to 20 Redwings tseeping about all over the place, a couple (literally two) flyover Fieldfares and a few Goldfinches. The area is far from birdless - I saw 100s of birds. Trouble is that mainly comprises of 100s of Starlings, 100s of Woodpigeons, 100s of Canada Geese, 100s of various corvids and lots of Black-headed Gulls. I did notice what could only be described as the latest advancement in avian warfare, and solved a no doubt long-standing avian puzzle. A Grey Heron came lumbering over so I thought I'd try and get shot despite the crappy light. I was just clicking away and thinking I wish it was closer and the light was better when it happened: Ardea excretia A whirling vortex of shite falling down like the worst acid rain nightmare you could imagine. Of course it is also now explicitly clear why herons have long legs and fly with them trailing. Nothing exciting on the moth front other than the latest Blood-vein I've ever recorded when one came to a lit window on Thursday night. The previous latest was 15th October 2006, the only other year I've recorded it in October (usual last date each year is late August - mid September).

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Mothing Memories, Tresco October 2001

Too dark to do anything useful when I get home from work, and I've left the garden traps off despite the mild conditions as I have no time to do them in the morning this week. So, to fill the gap here are a few old shots of mothing memories. In fact, they are so old that the resolution is pretty crap and I can't make the images much bigger than they appear on this page, so for a change don't even bother clicking on them. White-speck I was never an annual on Scillies - I genuinely felt that going every year would nullify the enjoyment. In 2001 (my last visit) I stayed at Borough Farm on Tresco for a week with Andy Mackay, Rob Fray and Richard Fray. My two previous visits to Scillies before this were in 1996 and 1999 - both awesome years for major rarities. However this year was the first that I was as much, and perhaps more, interested in the moths we might see. Humming-bird Hawk-moth Turned out to be pretty good, with the species taken in the week including a few fairly standard migrants that I was seeing for the first time like Humming-bird Hawk-moth, Four-spotted Footman, Pearly Underwing, Palpita vitrealis, Vestal and The Gem. Also good local species like White-speck, Shore Wainscot, Cypress Pug and Scillies subspecies of Feathered Ranunculus and Shuttle-shaped Dart. Palpita vitrealis The best night though was 12th October, when the catch included the following: Grass Webworm (Herpetogramma licarsisalis) Once the ID had been established (not straightfoward whilst on Scillies seeing as it is not featured in any British reference books) it was confirmed as only the second British record. This species is widespread in the Old World tropics including parts of central Africa and extending to Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Phillipines. It was first recorded in Europe in the Algarve region of Portugal in 1997, and rapidly colonised southern Spain and the rest of Portugal. The first British record was from the Isle of Wight in 1998. There have been a couple since our Tresco individual but still a very rare species here, a presumed immigrant from the adventive European population. Actually, only hours after potting this moth in the early morning I was out and about seeing Rose-breasted Grosbeak on St Martin's after an infamous boat-swap somwhere between Tresco and St Mary's, and then later a Paddyfield Warbler on St Mary's - what a major day! The rest of the week was less intense, though a drunken golf buggy joy-riding incident still makes me smile ....

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Arse!

Nice one to all who twitched the South Shields Eastern Crowned Warbler. I knew about it on Thursday night but no chance of doing anything about it. I've been away on a very nice and very relaxing 10th wedding anniversary break whilst my Mum has the kids. I've been incommunicado and blissfully unaware that the Warbler was still there on the Friday and again today until I got home a couple of hours ago. No chance of going tomorrow either as my brother is visiting. The most annoying twist to this is that my brother actually lives in - fecking South Shields!!! He lives about a two-minute walk from the bird. I can't even use the excuse of going to visit him. Oh well - in the unlikely event that it sticks for a while I may get a chance.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tuesday 20th - Reprieve

The day started badly. First light amongst a hoard of like-minded Little Bittern chasers and we all came away without seeing it. Arse. Then it turned grey and rainy and miserable. Bugger. Then we went to the football to see City play Crystal Palace. The first half was generally poor with another lack-lustre performance from City where they dominated the play and did nothing creative with the ball. Sigh. At half time I was contemplating on what a shite day it had been overall. Thankfully there was a reprieve when City woke up and stuck two goals in with the associated adrenaline rush that always cheers you up. Enough self-pity - here's a classic: One night last week, me and the wife had gone to bed early. I was in the mood for love and started to get passionate when she suddenly said 'I don't feel like it tonight, I just want you to hold me'. I said 'what!?'. She said 'you're just not in touch with my emotional needs as a woman enough for me to satisfy your physical needs as a man'. She responded to my puzzled look by saying 'can't you just love me for who I am and not what I do for you in the bedroom?'. Realising that nothing was going to happen I shrugged it off and went to sleep. The next day, I opted to take the day off of work to spend time with her. We went out for a nice lunch and then went shopping in a big expensive department store. I patiently walked around with her whilst she tried on several different designer-labelled outfits. She couldn't decide which one to buy, so I suggested she take them all. She wanted new shoes aswell, so I said 'let's get a new pair for each new outfit'. We went on to the jewellery section where she picked out a pair of diamond earrings. She was so excited, she must have thought I was one sandwich short of a picnic. I thought she might be testing me when she wanted a new watch aswell, but I just said 'yes, that's nice honey'. By now she was almost reaching a state of climax from all the excitement. Eventually, she said 'I think that's it, let's go to the checkout'. I could hardly contain myself when I blurted 'no honey, I don't feel like it'. 'What?!' she said with a baffled face and dropped jaw. I then said 'honey, I just want you to hold this stuff for a while - you're just not in touch with my financial needs as a man enough for me to satisfy your shopping needs as a woman'. Then just when she looked like she was about to kill me I said 'can't you just love me for who I am and not for the things I buy you?' We've not had sex since ....

Monday, 19 October 2009

GSK, Pec, & Bittern Panic

Not much in the traps this morning, but I still managed a new species for the year:


Grey-shoulder Knot

This is not a regular for my garden, and it's the first time I've taken it here at the start of its flight period, the other 3 individuals all turned up in the spring after hibernation.

Also 3 of these in the traps:


Green-brindled Crescent f. capucina - lacking any metallic green scales

Early afternoon I headed over to Eyebrook Res in the hope (rather than expectation) of picking up Jack Snipe. A quick look along the inflow from the bridge drew a blank. I also checked the inflow for the Pec Sand and there was no sign. Moving round to get better scope views I confirmed that there was really not a lot about at all (not even much water). A car pulled up and out popped Brian Moore (aka The Wearside Whippet) - long time no see. We jointly failed to see anything more exciting than a Red Kite (which was nice all the same) and a handful of Snipe on the far bank. Brian was only stopping briefly after doing RW in the morning, so I moved on a bit but nothing else other than a few Goldeneye fresh in. I then doubled-back to re-check the bridge and the inflow - there back in exactly the same spot as I saw it last week was the Pec. Still no Jack Snipe.

Later this afternoon I noted that the LROS website detailed a Bittern at Cossington Meadows - interesting but a bit late to bother heading over. At precisely 17:59 I got a text alerting me to the fact that the Cossington bird was now confirmed as Little Bittern. WTF! Way too late to get over there before dark from my house. Apart from being a VC55 mega (first since 1954), I haven't seen one in Britain anywhere. Needless to say I will be there at dawn (though tomorrow I am constrained so unless it shows before 09:00 I will have to go back).

Sunday, 18 October 2009

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

.. a bit of general stuff really, recent and current - like: Editors - Papillon Florence and the Machine - Rabbit Heart Arctic Monkeys - Cornerstone Kasabian - Fire

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sheep, Sheep, Sheep Shaggers

Just back from the Walkers Stadium after taking Josh down to the Derby derby. City were all over Derby in the first half, passing, winning and keeping the ball well but ultimately not doing much with it. Meanwhile the sheep shaggers were just fecking rubbish. The second half was a bit more open but neither side really created much, though Derby went close in the last few minutes. Overall a typically cagey derby where 0-0 was always likely. The only consolation is that City maintain their position knocking on play off places whilst Derby are still loitering in the lower half.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Plastic Birds, Dead Ducks, Moths, Jokes

Yesterday, after the Shrike twitch, I had a quick look at Staines Reservoir. It was exactly as I remember it - massive with the endless causeway, crap viewing over the south basin and nothing unexpected on the north basin. I did twitch Staines Res once for a Wilson's Phalarope, and I've seen Black Redstart, winter grebes and divers here, but nothing noteworthy yesterday. I then headed the short distance to Virginia Water for some plastic birding and a pleasant walk before hitting the motorways - a bit like calming down in the chillout room during a night out clubbing. There's actually some decent wood around this park if you get away from the dog-walkers and main paths. Jay, Nuthatch, Great Spot, various tits and finches all noted. Plenty of Mandarin about but mostly out of range, though this pair was typically tucked away discretely in an overhanging bough against the near bank. However, the main reason for going there was to get good close views of Ring-necked Parakeets. I really don't care what anyone else thinks about them - I think they're great. Bright green squawking birds that can be really hard to find when they are quiet (which is rarely!). A few years ago I visited a huge winter roost at Esher Rugby Club of up to 2000 - one of the funniest birding spectacles imaginable. I found a load yesterday eating sweet chestnuts. With the crap light though, and them being high up, all I could get was rubbish shots. The sweet chestnuts were raining down from trees all around - felt like I needed a hard-hat. After this interlude, and a quick stop at Staines McDonald's, I hit the M25/M1 return. Five Red Kites seen, only two Common Buzzards. Before going home I thought I'd have a quick look at Swithland Reservoir. Plenty of Gadwall, Shoveler and Tufteds but not a lot else other than the usual gaggle of gulls and geese loitering for hand-outs and a male Peregrine in the usual tree. One of the Mallards on the causeway road didn't seem too interested in the bread being offered by the visiting blue-rinsers. The garden traps last night yielded another superb Merveille du Jour - hopefully this will become an annual species to look forward to. Not too many moths overall, but four new species for the year which were a slightly tatty Brick that I didn't photograph, and these: Juniper Carpet - I usually see this as being the end of the season for garden trapping, but this year I'll keep it going a bit to try and get Figure of Eight, Sprawler and December Moth again. Dark Chestnut Yellow-line Quaker My mobile has been buzzing all week with completely tasteless and unsavoury Stephen Gately jokes that you can't help but laugh at. But I'm not sharing them here! Have a chuckle at these instead. A sensitive young man called Ron wanted to buy a Christmas present for his new girlfriend. They hadn't been seeing each other for very long and she lived a considerable distance away. He consulted with his sister and decided after careful consideration, that a pair of good quality gloves would strike the right note, not too romantic and not too personal. Off he went with his sister to Harrods ladies dept and they selected a dainty pair of fur lined quality leather gloves. His sister bought a pair of knickers for herself at the same time. Harrods had a free gift-wrap offer but the assistant mixed up the two items, so the sister got the gloves and Ron got the knickers… Good old Ron sent off his gift-wrapped present in a parcel with the following letter. Darling, I chose these because I've noticed that you are not wearing any when we go out in the evenings. If it had not been for my sister I would have chosen the long ones with buttons, but she wears shorter ones (which are easier to remove). These are a very delicate shade, but the lady I bought them from showed me the pair she had been wearing for the past three weeks and they were hardly soiled at all. I had her try yours on for me and she looked really smart in them even though they were a little bit tight on her. She also said that they rub against her ring which helps keep it clean. In fact she hasn't needed to wash it since she began wearing them. I wish I was there to put them on for you the first time, as no doubt many other hands will touch them before I have a chance to see you again. When you take them off remember to blow into them a little bit because they will be naturally a little damp from wearing. Just imagine how many times my lips will kiss them during the coming year. I hope you will wear them for me on our next date. All my love, Ron. P.S. My mum tells me that the latest style is to wear them folded down with a little bit of fur showing. A college professor was doing a study testing the senses of first year schoolchildren, using a bowl of flavoured Polos. He gave all the children the same kind of Polo, one at a time, and asked them to identify them by colour and flavour. The children began to call them out: "Red............cherry," "Yellow.........lemon," "Green..........lime," "Orange........orange." Finally the professor gave them all new Honey flavoured Polos. After eating them for a few moments none of the children could identify the taste. "Well," he said "I'll give you all a clue. It's what your mother may sometimes call your father." One little girl looked up in horror, spat hers out and yelled: "Oh My God!!!! They're arse-holes!!"