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

Friday, 31 December 2010

Gloomy garrulus

Waxwings have been turning up in numbers in Leics. over the last few weeks, including some relatively big flocks in Loughborough, Hinckley, Coalville and over the last few days in Leicester. I had managed to avoid either bumping into any or specifically going to look for them, but you can only put it off for so long. Last night I planned to take the opportunity of a brief gap in the days proceedings this morning and to go and look for the large 200+ flock that had been knocking about near the Pork Pie island (no- none of us really know why it's locally known as that either, other than the round shape of the old library that overlooks the roundabout).

When this morning actually arrived, I wasn't sure whether to bother. It was the gloomiest grey morning imagineable. To call the light appalling would suggest that there was some. I set off anyway and tried to avoid other cars whilst I grilled every tree top near the island. Eventually, I spied a group of motley fat looking birds at the top of a bare tree. I pulled over further down the road, got the bins out and confirmed the suspicions - c80 Waxwings high up doing nothing. I put the bins back in the car, grabbed the camera to get a pathetic record shot and as I turned back the whole lot fecked right off. Bloody typical - not even the chance of a pants photo. A quick drive around was fruitless - as were most of the trees in the area. Sadly, the rest of the morning and early afternoon was already booked up with family stuff so no chance to have another look - although the light has not dramatically improved all day.

I briefly considered putting the garden trap out tonight - but decided it was highly likely to be a complete waste of time. Anything likely to be flying around here tonight is as likely to come to lit windows as anything else.

And so to tomorrow, and a New Year. One thing I haven't really bothered with for a very long while indeed is actively chasing a bird yearlist. Seems to me that to keep a yearlist with any sustained interest you need two things - a realistic challenge and a bit of friendly rivalry or a target to hit. I have no residual aspirations to tear around the country twitching regularly, let alone chasing British List yearticks. Yearlisting at a County level would require numerous visits to Rutland Water and Eyebrook to have any hope of reaching a good total - which immediately renders it unrealistic for me. I have an area that I consider as my local patch (Soar Valley South) but the range of potential species is limited to say the least - no sustained interest. John Drunkbirder Hague kept a Soar Valley (North) list for 2010 and muted the possibility of keeping a City Boundary list for 2011. This seems a reasonable challenge to me, giving the incentive to visit a few long-ignored or forgotten sites along the way. It will not be manic or all-encompassing. I'll be out sometime tomorrow to put a score on the Bubo door - look out for the updates through the year.

Have good night whatever you're doing - and here's to doing it all again but bigger and better in 2011.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Vid Clips

Well, everyone is doing some round up of the year type stuff. Aside from the annual moth summary that I've already published, I can't be arsed. It's all in the posts that you either read at the time or ignored cause you weren't bothered then (so why now?).

Here's a few clips from yesterday ..

Little Egret having a preen - Northam Burrows

Hungry Rook - Northam Burrows

Busy Curlew - Westward Ho!

Clockwork Redshank - Barnstaple

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Drizzly Devon

Today was grey and claggy, with persistent drizzle through the morning and early afternoon. I headed out regardless determined to get some birding in, but to be honest it was more of a field test of my gear. My feet were warm and dry thanks to the continued great performance of SealSkinz socks combined with wellies, the waterproof bins stayed clear and useable, and even the foppish built-in pack-a-mac on the camera case did a good job (and I thought it was a completely unnecessary adournment on an otherwise good case when I bought it). Even the now aging CragHoppers aquadry coat held up. The only failure was the exposed denim between the bottom of my coat and the top of my wellies .....

Firstly I headed to a place I'd been to years ago - Velator Quay near to Braunton Marsh & Burrows. I was looking for the reserve that I'd seen mentioned on the Devon News blog but I think it's on the other side of the river and couldn't see how to get across. I could see the still partly frozen Wrafton Lake (or at least I presume that's what it was). Plenty of Wigeon and Canada Geese about, but aside from a few pipits and wagtails nothing to get excited about. I enjoyed the walk along the river bank though - but everything external was soaked by the time I got back to the car.

Next I headed back to Northam Burrows and Westward Ho! determined to get a few shots. Still plenty of Curlew about in the grassy enclosure at the entrance to the Golf Course which afforded a few shots, and a few other bits around the burrows but again nothing exciting.

Later this afternoon, after the kids had been bowling, I had a quick walk along the Taw Estuary cycle path between the Pottington Industrial Estate and Barnstaple. The tide was out which was perfect as the exposed mud was alive with waders. A good couple of hundred Dunlin were actively feeding, along with fewer Oystercatchers, Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank and a couple of Grey Plovers and Barwits. Also on the water was 8 Goosanders - 4 drakes and 4 redheads.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Taw Estuary - Isley Marsh

I awoke this morning to the hooting of a Tawny, the croaking of a Raven and the bubbling of a Curlew. This would normally have me jumping out of bed to enjoy three good garden ticks, but instead it reminded me instantly that I was away from home and in another county. We drove down to North Devon yesterday to catch up with family. As we headed south, the skies got greyer and the in-car thermometer crept up. By the time we'd arrived and unloaded, heavy rain set in ensuring that any lingering snow and ice was much pretty gone this morning.

I decided to head out to the estuary for an hour or so. I walked along my usual route along the cycle path to Isley Marsh and then back past Yelland Quay toward Instow. I usually manage to competely mis-time my visits to when the tide is far out, but today it was high and still rising.

Immediately evident in the usual spot were Spoonbills - 7 of them today. Two were sporting coloured rings but the distance and poor light made deciphering them a bit hit and miss. One appeared to have a yellow band with 'FJ9' or 'EJ9'. The other appeared to have blue over yellow flag over blue on the left leg and blue over pink over white on the right. I've since learned from the Devon News blog that these are actually white FJ9 on the former (ringed in Spain in April 2007), and green-yellow flag-green + blue-metal-lime on the latter (ringed in Holland in June 2007).

White blobs are Spoonbills

Can you see the colour bands?

Apart from the expected beaky/leggy birds, the tide line was adourned by various groups of roosting and feeding waders.

60 Oystercatchers
50 Dunlin
30 Turnstone
30 Redshank
20 Grey Plover
20 Curlew

Also 27 Bar-tailed Godwits in one group, and 25 Brents over. Good numbers of Linnets, Goldfinches and chaffinches feeding in the scrubby areas, and a single Rock Pipit which my conscience refused to string into a Water Pipit.

Main area where waders bunched up

Some waders ....

Later in the day I took the boys for a walk along the big boulders and beach alongside Northam Burrows. Here there was a large group of small birds feeding like waders in a large shallow pool in the parking area. I could see them distantly and wondered what waders they were, but a check with bins revealed just a single Sanderling amongst 29 Pied Wagtails!

Next we headed to Westward Ho! for a quick look on the rocky shore. We passed a small grassy enclosure on the way with 28 Curlews happily feeding by the roadside amongst Redwings and I cursed having left my camera back at the house. The rocks eventually gave up a single Purple Sand amongst Oystercatchers and Turnstones. Then Josh slipped into a rocky pool up to his knees and it was time to call it a day ....

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Hit me with your rhythm stick

Down in Devon, the inlaws have owned and run an instrument/music shop in Barnstaple since c1990. It's called Soundpad and is a continuation of the former shop of the same name in Leicester in the 70's/80's. They also had one down in Torquay running alongside the Barnstaple shop for c10 years until recently. [If you live in the south-west and need a guitar, amp, mixer, keyboard, mic etc - go see them!]

One of the benefits of having music-shop owning relatives is access to instruments for the kids, which in the past has included violins, keyboards and acoustic guitars. All good stuff. This year though, they opted for something a bit more physical for the boys Christmas present .....

Earplugs definitely required! It's a tight squeeze in the playroom.

Always fancied playing drums myself, but I have insufficient left-right + hand-foot co-ordination! Hence back in the band days we had various drum machines, though I did build a big pair of pads with built-in transducers to trigger a sampler - but that was more industrial and visual than rhythmic!

Anyway, here's a Classic Track with lent the post title ....

Friday, 24 December 2010

Peace & Goodwill

As I am sure those who know me know, and regular visitors to this BLOG will have established, I have no religeous persuasions at all. My youngest came up with a bizarre bit of self-thought philosophy yesterday - "Jesus is a myth, a bit like a three-headed Tiger". You can't argue with 8 year old logic.

So, Christmas for me is entirely unreligeous. It is mainly time off of work, a time for family, a really great dinner, and perpetuating the retailer-driven vision of how to keep the kids happy. It's also time to take stock, reflect on what has passed and what may be in store.

It's as good a time as any to raise a glass to everyone reading and wish all a merry and peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy bird/moth/beer/whatever* filled New Year.

*delete as appropriate or insert your own persuits and vices

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Going to the flicks

Been to the cinema twice over the last week with the boys.

Firstly, I took them to see the Saturday morning matinee showing of a film we missed first time up. It's a kids film, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A good story, great CGI animation and anatomically correct Owls (well, just about). Well worth a watch.

This afternoon we went to see this:

Another great film, though the 3D element was sparse to say the least. Good storyline, superb special effects, and a great soundtrack by Daft Punk BTW.

Coming up in the next few weeks - I'll be going to see these.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Whetstone Moth Report 2010

I've pulled together a sumptiously illustrated, highly detailed and quite back-slappingly brilliant report of my garden mothing this year. I've published various garden summaries before, but felt it was time to raise the bar. So I copied Stewart.

There are photos, tables, tedious commentry and even charts like this:

and this:

Even when saved as a pdf it's a 14Mb file, so I've uploaded to Google Docs for the time being. Seems to work okay apart from the photos are a bit pixelated in the viewer. It's available at the following:

Whetstone Moth Report 2010

Should anyone want a pdf copy to read properly, e-mail and let me know and I'll split into three e-mailable chunks.

If you spot any glaring errors, please let me know.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Retrospective County First

Way back on 25/06/2009, I enjoyed an excellent night mothing with Adrian Russell and Ron Follows at Clipsham Quarry - see these links to remind yourself:

Summary & Scenery
Moth Photos

In one of my traps (trap 5), there were four small tortricids that didn't look immediately familar. They looked to be one of the Cochylis spp., so I potted one up to check in Razowski. I convinced myself that it was Cochylidia heydeniana, which would be a new species for me and VC55. Hoping for a quick independent confirmation, I posted a photo on the UK Micros forum with details of the wingspan (9mm), site and date but no pointers to my suspected ID.

The plea attracted no response from anyone out of county. Even when I re-posted specifically asking if it could be C. heydeniana, no one was prepared to comment. The specimen was sadly resigned to the gen. det. in the future pile and there it stayed until recently. This evening I've received confirmation from Jon Clifton that it is indeed C. heydeniana. Excellent.

Despite there having been a handful of keen micro recorders in VC55 over the years, it wasn't so long ago that adding new micros to the county list was a relatively frequent incident. They seem to be harder to come by now so very pleased to add another.

Jumping the gun ..

Spoke too soon last night - tonight there have been TWO Winter Moths to lit windows. Here's a shocking shot of one flashed up ...

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Moth, Winter

Surprised to find a Winter Moth clinging to a lit window earlier this evening - surely the last garden moth I'll see this year?

Monday, 13 December 2010


This week, I will mostly be listening to the new release by Deadmau5 - 4 x 4 = 12. Some great stuff that needs plenty of volume - turn it up, now.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

TTV, Yankee Duck and Useless Twats

Headed out earlyish this morning into what promised to be a clear, bright and cold day. At least that was the conditions I set out in , and drove out of Leicestershire in. By the time I was in Rutland it was distinctly greyer. Consequently no photos today - it was either too dull, stuff too far or I couldn't be arsed ..

I had a TTV to do around the middle (literally) of Rutland Water. Barely no land in this tetrad, aside from the tip of Hambleton Peninsular, the tip of Whitwell creek and part of the southern shoreline around Normanton. I anticipated that the diversity might not be what you'd expect for RW - and I was right. With no houses and only a small spinney in the tetrad, passerines were always going to be limited. There are a few fields and hedgerows though.

I carefully sifted through the wildfowl and picked up reasonable numbers of Tufted Ducks (106), Great Crested Grebes (58) and Gadwall (36) on the water in the immediate vicinity of the Peninsular. Far greater numbers of Canada Geese (479) and Wigeon (564) grazing on various bits of grass. But otherwise it was surprisingly limited - eg only 1 Pochard, 31 Mallard, 14 Goldeneye and a couple of Goosander. Even more surprising was the complete lack of Coot, and the shorelines were free of Moorhens, Teal, Grey Herons and Little Egrets - only 2 Redshank, a Lapwing and a Dunlin were on show. In fact, by far the most interesting thing on the water was a lone female Ruddy Duck. Otherwise, 3 Skylarks, 2 Meadow Pipits, 2 Jays, 1 Bullfinch and 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker were the highlights with 45 species in total.

Before I left the Peninsular, I encountered a couple who upon seeing my scope and bins enquired if there was anything interesting about. I assured them that it was all usual stuff - nothing exciting. They then excitedly told me about a large group of Quails in a field that they'd seen on the way over. Oh dear - I suddenly remembered where I was.

As I drove back down through Hambleton I could see where all the rest of the expected wildfowl was - absolute masses of Coots, Tufteds, Pochards, Mute Swans etc all massed up in the north arm. Two tetrads east, one north.

Time was getting on a bit, and I had intended to head over to Loughborough to gawp at Waxwings, but I decided to drop into the Lyndon reserve first and have a look at the drake American Wigeon. Best laid plans - in all I spent a good two hours at Lyndon and scuppered any chance of getting over to Loughborough today.

First I headed to the Deep Water Hide on the west of the reserve to search. Initially, this was in blissful solitude. There were plenty of ducks on the water, but nothing on the shore. Sanning though I picked up a female Scaup, 3 drake + 1 female Red-crested Pochard, 4 redhead + 1 spanking drake Smew, and 7 redhead + 2 drake Goosander. No sign of the yankee though.

I was joined by others. On them immediately enquiring about the Wigeon, I let them know that I hadn't seen it, didn't know if it was about, and then reeled off what was there. "Not sure I know what a female Scaup looks like" was one response. 'Fucking hell, here we go' I thought. Sure enough, their assistance in looking for the Wigeon was frankly unnecessary. One of them tried to string redhead Smew as drake Ruddy Duck, and couldn't see the Scaup even when I eventually talked him directly onto the bird. When a huge group of feral Greylags dropped in, the same geezer proceed to call two Barnacle amongst them (1 Barnacle, 1 CanadaxGreylag Monstrosity). He then speculated on the parentage of two mainly white geese.

I'd had enough and left the hide. After watching a few Tree Sparrows on the feeders, I fully intended to head home but fortuitously bumped into the newly arrived Bretts in the car park who had a pager update - showing from east of Swan Hide on the east of the reserve. In for a penny, I trudged off with them for another go.

Eventually, the American Wigeon showed itself. Smart bird too - or at least a smart as an American Wigeon can be. It was constantly busy dabbling/feeding amongst a big group of Wigeon and Gadwall on the water - not sure what they were onto but they were like a mass of seabirds around a ball of sardines. Another 3 redhead Smew and 2 possibly 3 more female Scaup in the same area. Good stuff. As I left, the aforementioned group from the hide passed - they'd been in Swan Hide and couldn't see the bird ....

I headed into the now empty Swan Hide and though the viewing was constrained by a big bushy obstruction I immediately picked up the bird again for further views in better light. On leaving, I bumped into John 'media whore' Hague along the track where he'd been watching from - we had independently drawn the same conclusions about the same people as he also commented about what a load of useless fucking morons there seemed to be in the vicinity and had left Swan Hide before they drove him mental.

Before finally heading home, I headed over to Eyebrook for a quick look but it was still quite frozen so I gave it nothing but a cursory glance. Two Red Kites soaring over the fields by Holyoaks Farm were a nice end to the day.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Great birding ...

... does not feature in this short post. Instead, my last 36 hours have been spent:

1) at work
2) offloading kids with my Mum
3) attending works Christmas do
4) eating a nice meal
5) drinking too much free Stella (cause the inept barman at the swanky hotel couldn't keep track of what he was serving/charging)
6) steadfastly avoiding embarassing dad-dancing
7) enjoying the kid-free freedom at home before
8) facing up to some Christmas shopping
9) selling stuff on e-bay
10) looking for my next car

Infact the only avian highlights in the last few days have been a GS Woodpecker on my fat balls (highlight for the family at least - I was at work) and the slightly bizarre sight of a Lapwing roosting last night on a grassy verge under the light of a streetlamp. At least I am pretty sure that's what it was - I had Stella goggles on but I don't think that even in my wildest drunken moments have I hallucinated roosting waders .....

Tomorrow - a-birding I will go!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Listening to / Classic Tracks

Been a fair while since I last posted a Classic Track, but this week I have mostly been listening to an album full of them. Back in late 1978, when I was 10, my Dad brought home a superb new bit of vinyl - the cover looked just like this ...

My Dad always had a habit of playing any new albums at a decent volume - which was sometimes a bonus and sometimes torture (like when it was Wishbone Ash ....). Track 1 burst into life, and from the first few seconds this came to be one of my all time favourite albums. We turned the volume up further and listened through a few times. Here's a few highlights from it - no apologies for starting with track 1.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

Nipped into Jubilee Park at lunchtime to get a few shots of the amazing hoar frosts that we've had. Overnight freezing fog and very low temps, clearing early morning to bright sunshine but temps still sub-zero. These were all taken around 13:00 - many of the trees and bushes had been in direct sunshine for at least 3 hours.

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Jubilee Park

Precious little to see bird-wise though. Whilst the River Soar was free-flowing, the pool is still thick with ice and the whole place just seemed to be deserted save for a handful of Blackbirds, Robins and Goldfinches lingering in the trees and bushes closest to the houses.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Frozen Lunch

Nipped out for some crisp fresh air at lunchtime today. The partial thaw of yesterday was in rapid reverse with the sub-zero temps lingering through the day. It was clear and sunny but fecking cold. I knew that the water would be frozen over, but a walk down the public footpath on the northern side was the plan. Nothing too exciting to see, a couple of March Tits and Nuthatches were best but it was good to be out after a crap last week and a constrained weekend.

Friday, 3 December 2010

My Large Fat Balls

This week in our household has mainly revolved around illness. I had my turn at the start of the week and bravely worked through it, Nichola has been fighting it for two days, and this morning Josh complained of 'feeling poorly'. Nichola had to work today on a specific activity that could not be avoided, so I opted to work from home - at least whenever my VPN connection was working.

In between bouts of e-mails, phone calls, making tea and dithering, I spent some time looking to the skies. Everyone else was marvelling yesterday about the harsh-weather movements visibly taking place over their houses, and I wanted to share the experience. So, whenever I gazed into the clear sunny skies I made a note of what flew over. 5 Mute Swans, 4 Black-headed Gulls, 3 Redwings, 2 Carrion Crows, and a fecking Partridge in a pear tree. Despite the sunshine, it remained damned cold - cold enough to make my face sting whilst on the walk to and from school to collect Alex.

I'm considering re-mortgaging the house to keep the sunflower heart feeders stocked up. The hoards of Goldfinches and fewer Greenfinches continue to come, and today there was an increase in Chaffinches aswell (up to 7 at once). Having said that, as last year the Goldfinches in particular are getting very messy - I reckon for every seed they eat 2 or 3 hit the deck. Also, it never ceases to amaze me how bloody stupid Robins and Blackbirds are at feeding stations in cold weather - they spend more time and energy chasing their rivals away than actually eating.

Anyway, my large fat balls continue to be attractive .....