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

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Down the Lane - Big OFFH Bonus

It's been yet another busy weekend with no time for any birding. I had intended amongst other things to conduct the RSPB Big Garden Watch this morning, but that went by the wayside as I stared out of the windows onto birdless gardens for 15 minutes and lost interest. No idea what was going on - it just seemed unnaturally quiet this morning with very few garden birds seen all day. Even the feeders were largely ignored. However I did notice during the day a couple of Blackbirds, a Robin and the regular Song Thrush rooted to songposts, a House Sparrow disappear into a ridge tile crack and two Starlings prospecting under eaves - maybe they've all sensed an early breeding opportunity coming up?

Anyway, after more weekend working today I eventually decided to head down the lane later this afternoon. I had two simple objectives - a bit of fresh air and to pick up an overdue 2011 OFFH Little Owl. Almost as soon as I was on the lane, a large mixed flock of Redwings and Fieldfare headed out of the fields and gathered at the top of a big Ash Tree - certainly more of both species around here this year than usual. Whilst watching these, a completely unexpected Green Woodpecker yaffled it's way onto the list - nice.

I carried on down to the regular Little Owl tree. I say regular - seems that every time I drive past (including twice this year already) they are sat out in full view but when I walk down they are nowhere to be seen. This is regardless of how stealthy or careful I am, and of course I know where they are but they can't anticipate me turning up all the time. It's uncanny. Of course today they were - absent.

Whilst pondering how long to wait, given that it was another 40 minutes or so before it would be too dark to use bins and it was cold, I heard a familiar nasally call from further down the hedgerow. Surely not. I carefully walked down, getting closer to the calls before three brown blobs darted out and moved further down. I got the bins onto one of them quickly enough to make sure that the visual image matched the one I had based on the calls - and it did. Tree Sparrow - superb! It's getting on for 12 years since I last saw Tree Sparrow down the lane. No idea where they have suddenly popped up from and I have no expectations that they'll hang around but I'll have another look later in the week.

No idea how the Leicestershire Owl-man manages to pick up so many Little Owls all over the place - even when you know they are there it is not a given that they'll show. I loitered around until it was pretty dusky and eventualy patience paid off when one briefly popped out, had a stretch and a preen and fecked off across the field. No calling, no partner and no hanging about but on the list all the same.

I'm driving up to Carlisle in the morning for a couple of days on business - highly unlikely that I'll get any chance to see anything other than a factory, hotel room, bar and restaurant .....

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Golden shot in the dark

The lack of recent posts is down to being both busy and away from home with work committments. Haven't had a chance to do anything remotely interesting bird or moth wise. Last weekend was mostly spent at work on Saturday before going out for a great meal on Saturday night, and then filling up with yet more beer at the rugby on Sunday. Then I was away until last night. Sadly it will be more of the same next week ......

Every now and then when I've got nothing new, I have a random browse through old blog postings and invariably find photos and snippets of nonsense that I'd forgotten about. Occasionally I'll also do a bit of 'blind clicking' on the big list of labels over there on the right hand side underneath all of the other links and stuff.

Just been clicking away and found this photo ...

Golden Plusia, Whetstone, 30/06/2008

Roll on the proper mothing season!

Saturday, 22 January 2011


One of my favourite films was on the box during the week (again). Maybe hasn't dated as well as others from the mid 80s, but at the time I thought Highlander was superb. I also thought that all of the sequels and TV spin-offs were absolute shite.

Aside from anything else, some of the scenes filmed on Skye are superb - not least as I've stood on some of the same bits of rock where Connor MacLeod swung his sword about around the Quirang. The Eilean Donan castle also features.

Anyway, the film also reminded me of this aptly-titled superb brief and brash bit of 'music' by Death Breath - Heading for Decapitation. Turn it up and run for cover .....

I guess you can't think of this film either without remembering the great soundtrack by Queen, including this prophetic ballad ....

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Not Quiet on The Western [Park] Front

Glorious sunshine today, but back to the colder side of chilly with yet another frosty start.

I nipped to a bit of good old parkland at lunchtime, literally a few 100 yards down the road from where I work and within the City boundary. Western Park is one of those places that on the face of it should be very good birdwise - big open grassed areas, loads of bushy spinneys and a good mix of big mature broadleaf and coniferous trees with plenty of smaller saplings around aswell. But of course it is bordered by busy roads and housing ....

I'm sure it gets busy at weekends, and I know first hand that the County schools operate cross-country racing there, but today it was quiet with just a couple of dog walkers and one or two others. There is a good roadway that enters the park on the southern side.

As soon as I entered the park, I could hear a couple of City yearticks calling and singing from the large conifers - both Goldcrest and Coal Tit eventually seen well in the canopy. A great start as these were 2 of the 3 targets I had in mind for this site. As I walked on, a couple of Fieldfare flew over calling - a good bonus as somehow I'd missed them within the City boundary so far. I could hear an agitated Great Spot, and eventually picked it up as it moved between trees. No sign of what was bothering it, but as I watched it I heard and then saw a Nuthatch in the next tree - the third target and fourth City yeartick within 15 minutes and 200 meters of arriving! It was only going to be a short visit, but the last thing I expected was the next bird I clapped my bins on - a superb City-tick Jay sitting low in a big oak before dropping down to forage briefly and then flying off deeper into the park. Superb. A very fruitful and enjoyable lunchtime I must say.

Western Park

Western Park

Western Park

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The annual Psychidae fix

Nipped over to Swithland Res at lunch time. Scoping from the dam I eventually picked up the White-fronted Goose that's latched onto the Greylags - it was about as far away as it could possibly be on the southern side viewing from the causeway. Aside from a few Shovelers (which were nice) and the usual ducky suspects, nothing exciting.

I therefore resorted to looking at the wall and finding the ever-present Psychidae. Actually, although it was cold the sun shone brightly and the small larvae-filled cases on the causeway wall were actively moving about - usually they are motionless when I look. Used this as an opportinuty to challenge the macro on the Lumix - it is nowhere near as good as my usual Nikon CoolPix 4500 for this sort of stuff, but I want to maximise the one camera in the field approach so I can keep posting all manner of rubbish on here.

Luffia ferchaultella (or Luffia lappidella f. ferchaultella, depending on which taxonomist you talk to). More practice required with the macro function but better than nothing by a long way.

In fact, I also tried a bit of macro-video. Maybe not so successfully, but you get the gist ...

I then nipped over to the dam side, but with the bright sun and distant birds I really couldn't be arsed to look for Smew. Again resorted to the Psychidae. L. ferchaultella present in much smaller numbers (though not sure I remember seeing it on this side), but more pertinently were the various Dahlica spp. cases - both triquetrella and lichenella present.

Not enough time to look for Psyche casta, Taleporia tubulosa and Narycia duplicella - another day, probably when Orange Underwings are flying unless something birdwise turns up. With the garden five, the Martinshaw Chestnuts and Swithland Psychidae, the moth yearlist is up to 9 species .....

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Macro Five

This January is unprecedented for me / my garden! Last night I had another couple of moths to lit windows - one was another Winter Moth, the other was this ....

Early Moth

I've never had five species in January - let alone five macros. To cap it all I've had another Early Moth on a window this evening.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Goosander Porn

I was awoken this morning by a sound I hadn't heard for a while. That obviously excludes a number of possibilities, like shouting kids, phone alarm and snoring wife. The sound continued until I walked out of the door to leave - and there he was, full blast from his usual position at the top of the neighbours Alder. Great to hear the first ranting Song Thrush of the year. As I stood and enjoyed it for a few moments, I became aware of an approaching and altogether much less melodic bird sound. The relative peace was shatted by a honking mass of Canadas heading over. I was about to mentally berate them just as I remembered that they were an OFFH yeartick. Hurrah.

Later in the day I had to leave work a little early for something, and decided to capitalise with a late afternoon visit to Watermead CP South. I'd already picked up a City yeartick with a Buzzard perched on the fenceline between the Red Hill Circle and Birstall Meadows - just within the boundary. After negotiating the usual bread-guzzling wildfowl and bread-bearing wankers at the car park entrance, I had just donned wellies and grabbed bins and camera when Dave Teaboy Gray appeared in the car park. In truth, it was Dave's message yesterday of a Yellow-legged Gull that provided the impetus to visit - though I had no expectations.

We had a good natter and walk around, but aside from masses of Black-headed Gulls, a good number of Common Gulls and a few Lesser Black-backeds, there were no interesting gulls today.

No sign of the Ruff, but the Pintail was still knocking about - albeit now on Birstall Meadows. A Little Grebe on the southern lake was another City yeartick, but by far the best moment came as a superb and unexpected Peregrine flashed over purposefully heading east-ish and then a few minutes later again heading south.

Good numbers of Goosanders about aswell (lost count with a few coming and going). The light was fading fast as I noticed a pair giving a bit of subdued courtship display. I say subdued - actually the drake looked like he really couldn't be arsed with it all whilst the female was wantonly begging to be taken up the cloaca. Have a look for yourself ...

She's game, but he's acting like she's a five-pinter and it's still early in the evening ......

Watermead CP South

Sunday, 16 January 2011

What next?

The Mottled Umber on Thursday night brought the garden macro list up to 296, whilst the micros are just behind on 293. So - will 2011 see the garden moth list top 600, and if so will this be 300+ macros, 300+ micros or maybe both? I find predicting the next most likely moth species to turn up is a complete lottery. Whilst some relatively common species resolutely avoid reaching the garden, something entirely unexpected pops up. In fact the Mottled Umber is one that is both common and to some extent unexpected - there is no decent woodland close by, and for the main part of its flight period the conditions are not favourable for a wanderer.

I've considered what's not currently on the list, and in no order of precedence here are 25 micro and 25 macro species that should/could/may turn up. Some of these (like Coronet) are currently undergoing a population and distribution shift in VC55 so whilst they would have been unthinkable 5 years ago, it is now perhaps just a matter of time.

Before listing the species though - it's fair to say that I would be completely unsurprised if the next garden tick is not actually included in these lists ....

Eucalybites auroguttella
Argyresthia bonnetella
Zelleria hepariella
Pseudoswammerdamia combinella
Ypsolopha ustella
Agonopterix ocellana
Mompha propinquella
Phtheochroa rugosana
Cochylis roseana
Cochylis dubitana
Archips crataegana
Variegated Golden Tortrix
Eulia ministrana
Tortricodes alternella
Epinotia ramella
Eucosma hohenwartiana
Cydia ulicetana
Dichrorampha petiverella
Dichrorampha alpinana
Scoparia subfusca
Beautiful China-mark
Small China-mark
Trachycera suavella
Amblyptilia punctidactyla
Platyptilia pallidactyla

Six-spot Burnet
Emperor Moth
Yellow Horned
Flame Carpet
Dark Marbled Carpet
Sloe Pug
September Thorn
Oak Beauty
Spring Usher
Convolvulus Hawk-moth
Privet Hawk-moth
Puss Moth
Orange Footman
Green Arches
Antler Moth
Southern Wainscot
Alder Moth
Double Lobed
Brown-veined Wainscot
Small Rufous
Small Mottled Willow
Pinion-streaked Snout

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Chestnuts & Coal Tit

Nipped out for some optimistic mothing with Adrian Russell last night. We set up along a track in Martinshaw Wood, but in truth it was never going to be a massive success. Despite the continued mild conditions during the day, it had cooled off a fair bit and was clear and breezy. A sheet and 2 traps operated for a couple of hours produced nothing. All was not completely in vain though as we found a handful of moths on tree trunks - albeit just 4 Chestnuts and 1 Winter Moth. Still far better than a winter mothing effort a few years ago when we were snowed off after an hour with nothing to show for it!



Today has been very windy and grey. Perhaps just aswell as I had a few things to do. Only bit of interest came when I was washing-up (our dishwasher died in December - must get another sorted soon!). The Coal Tit appeared again but on the peanut feeder round the back. I'm presuming it's the same individual each time. The active bird, strong wind and dull light made photography a challenge to say the least - managed a few grainy shots that at least show it is a Coal Tit!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Winter Mothing!

It had already been dark for well over an hour when I got home, however the car dash was telling me that it was still 11degC at that point! Probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that that is higher than the cumulative temperature through December .....

Anyway, in a fit of enthusiasm I headed straight for the shed and pulled out the actinic/tungsten combo trap. I anticipated that it would remain empty, but was at least hopeful that an Early Moth would appear. A little later I had to nip out on Dad's Taxi duties, so I decided to leave out half an hour earlier and see what was flying down the local lanes. I envisaged having to use the wipers to remove the hoards of unseasonally abundant geometrids but was quickly deflated when I found virtually nothing - the only saving grace being a single Winter Moth.

When I got home, I became even more pessimistic about the garden trap potential when it started to piss it down. As if that wasn't bad enough, whilst looking out I heard a distinct pop as the garden suddenly dimmed - the tungsten bulb had blown leaving the 80W actinics to maintain guard.

Imagine then the beaming smile on my face when I checked about an hour ago and found 3 moths of 3 species! One of these was a sadly bedraggled Pale Brindled Beauty, but the other two were sheltered - photographed under the wrong indoor lighting but you get the gist ...

Red-green Carpet

Dotted Border?? Actually I'm starting to doubt my initial ID of this one .... could it actually be a garden tick
Mottled Umber!!

Needless to say the trap is staying out! I may even be tempted out for some proper mothing tomorrow night if it stays mild and a bit dryer.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Listening to / Classic Tracks

Some great classic tracks coming up. Unless you don't like them cause you have no soul. Or taste. etc.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Yesterday morning was spent conducting a local TTV - nothing too exciting, but as I opted to go entirely on foot I managed to add a couple of OFFH yeaticks in the process. 18 Linnets were a local rarity, and there was still one Goldcrest knocking about with a small tit flock near Cosby. From one vantage point I picked up 2 Buzzards, 2 Sparrowhawks and a Kestrel within a couple of minutes - great stuff. Any optimistic birding plans for the afternoon though were soon sidelined with family and household duties.

At lunchtime today I decided to nip over to Watermead CP South for a quick look. The only real objective was to assure Great Crested Grebe for the city yearlist - achieved within a couple of minutes of arriving after negotiating the obligatory arseholes emptying carrier bags full of bread.

I got talking to a bloke called Chris (sorry - don't know surname) - a fellow FZ45 user. He confirmed that the Ruff had been knocking about before the bread-dumping shenanighans but it was absent during my brief stop. Whilst talking I noticed a Pintail of all things milling about with the tame Mallards and Tufties and we both starting firing off a few shots. Aside from the completely out-of-character behaviour, I thought that something was not quite right with the bird but I couldn't put my finger on it. A later review of the shots appeared to show nothing obviously wrong, and having shared one with the Llama he suggested that it may well be a first-winter. Looking at other shots, this seems to be borne out by very clear scalloping to the breast, pale flecks in the head and the tail looks a tad short which is the main thing that looked a bit odd. I also thought that the white nape streak wasn't quite right - maybe due to some brownish feathering within it. Smart bird either way - especially a close range.







Lots of gulls knocking about, though nothing exciting noted during brief scans. Also relatively few ducks about - and amazingly still some ice evident on the northern lake.

Common Gull

Tufted Duck

Saturday, 8 January 2011


Here's a few Starling shots as mentioned in the first post this evening. You really can't knock Starlings - ubiquitous and much maligned but undeniably stunning in good light.

Home and Away

With Nichola working today, I was constrained for the morning and early afternoon so no birding - though I managed yet more Waxwings on the way into town. Otherwise there were a few bits from the garden during a very entertaining half hour or so. We had some bright sunshine and blue skies, and whilst venting some frustration by whacking the kids new drums (rhythmically) I noticed a couple of Long-tailed Tits drop onto my fat balls. I grabbed the camera to try and get a few shots and vid ...

.. however whilst doing this I noticed that a single Coal Tit was milling about. Remember how this was a garden tick a few weeks ago - well this was the first sighting since. I moved my attention to it and grabbed some stunning video - a full one second of it ....

The Long-taileds showed again in better light a few minutes later.

Not long after the Coal Tit departed, a Great Spotted Woodpecker dropped into the tree but it flatly refused to show well or come to the feeder. You can clearly see it in this shot .....

Otherwise it was standard garden fare, though a couple of Bullfinches on the embankment and Goldfinches on the feeders joined the Coal Tit as additions to the OFFH year list. A few smartly lit Starlings were constantly around - I'll post a series of shots separately.

Wall Accentor


Later this afternoon, I headed to Aylestone Meadows again. I'd picked up news of a Short-eared Owl earlier in the week and decided to have a look - more in hope than expectation.

You could imagine a Shortie knocking about in this rough grassland - more surprising that this habitat is within Leicester City. Despite giving a good hour and a half until it was more dark than dusk, no sign of any owls. Not sure exactly where it was seen on Thursday, or whether it was hunting or just passing through. The visit was not entirely fruitless though, as I added Kestrel, Pheasant and Green Woodpecker to the City yearlist. Also five flyover Goosanders - seem to be almost obligatory along the soar in winter.

Coming home, as I pulled into my Close I saw a Fox milling about in a neighbours front garden. I got out of the car with the camera - fully expecting the Fox to scarper - however it carried on its business. As I approached, taking a few poor shots on the way, it tried to hide by lying flat on a front lawn before ambling off to another garden. Another couple of shots and it seemed to head off - however as I walked up my driveway I saw it was c3 meters away from me on my front garden staring right at me ....

Not once did it bite my leg off or enter the house to terrorise the kids. I even got Josh and Alex out of the house to noisily have a look and it was not bothered. After a few minutes it did head off up the embankment. This is only the second one I've seen in the Close/garden.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Listening to ..

.. some relatively recent stuff that basically leans heavily on old electro funk / hip-hop influences.

Like this great track from Justice (creative video aswell) ..

And a bit of Daft Punk ..

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


Back to work today. The company opposite my office (Thales) has a large lawned area where they erect arials and test radar type stuff. Most of the time though it's just a big open bit of grass where on a daily basis a handful of gulls gather to charm up worms by jogging feet on the spot. Today, along with a pair of Lesser Black-backeds, a Common Gull and a few Black-headeds were two Herring Gulls. As my workplace is within the City Boundary, this was a City yeartick.

The chances of getting many yearticks at work are few and far between to say the least, though in 1995 when I worked in the same area for a different company we had Nightingale and Sedge Warbler in the srub at the back of the factory bordering the railway line and carpark. No such chance these days as sadly our big warehouse is built over my old place and the scrubby bit ....

I had to nip into the City center at lunch time for some very old fashioned banking where people are involved - this was a bit alien to me as I have been internet banking for years. The route from work into town is directly past where I've been seeing the Waxwings, and sure enough there was a gathering there again today. The light was slightly better, but the birds remained mainly high up. Whenever they came down it was brief and agitated with the Mistle Thrushes in attendance.

I counted 154 on one photo (not this one - but click for big and have a count yourself) but I am sure there were one or two more out of shot. Spot the Redwing in this shot whilst you're at it.

Get orf my berries

Here's some arty bollox.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Waxwings and bits

Today is/was the last non-working day for me - back to the grind tomorrow ...

I was up and out early with the intention of seeking a few more City yearticks before the return to work. I headed to Aylestone Meadows - a site that I have rarely visited, and certainly no been to for many years. Mainly due to excessive dog walking in the morning and evening, the risk of car theft later in the day, and other car park 'activity' later in the evening! Today, as expected, there were many dog walkers but the site is certainly worth the effort. Some of the habitat here is excellent - almost hard to believe you are within sight and walking distance of the city center.

Before the highlights, I found several of these around the site:

Dead lantern - on which the former owners thoughtfully wrote all over before lighting and releasing

Call be a miserable old bastard, but why the fuck is it legal to sell these? Imagine if this had landed in the same spot in the height of summer - or worse in the middle of moorland. We had at least a hundred of these floating over our house on New Years Eve. Won't be long before everyone starts using them for mid-summer birthdays and weddings - of course they'll be alright as the incendiary device will be floating away from them. Moan over.

An hour or so produced a few yearticks - a superb Sparrowhawk lazily drifting across below the tree line, two Kingfishers peeping their way along the river, a couple of Stock Doves over, Goldfinches and last but not least an unexpected Treecreeper feeding on low stumps by the river. I tried to grab a vid clip but it chose that moment to feck off ..

Blink and you'll miss it

Also around was another Bullfinch eating ash keys (as yesterday's at Knighton Park), and 8 Goosanders - none of which wanted to pose for a good shot in continued crappy light.

Before heading home to do a few jobs and tasks, I had a quick drive around to see if any Waxwings were still about. The light was terrible, and they were high up, but at least today when I found the flock it stayed put for a while. Initially there was c70, but then more joined and eventually there was c130. There are loads of great Waxwing shots about this year, so here's some shocking ones ....

I grabbed some grainy clips aswell. Despite their numbers, the whole flock was being initimidated by a pair of vociferous Mistle Thrushes defending the berries and a few Redwings were also knocking about.

Thinking about it

Grabbing and going