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

Monday, 30 March 2020

Close to Success

It's been a mixed day ..

The moth trap was out last night, and it was poor (Hebrew Character x2, Early Grey x1, Common Quaker x1). And it's been another overall dull day, albeit a bit less breezy and slightly warmer.

As is now the norm, whilst stuck indoors working from home, every now and then I manage to stare out of the windows for a while and watch birdless skies. But today a couple of bits of luck came when least expected. This morning, whilst on the phone to colleagues I was stood at the upstairs window of the 'study' looking out whilst engaged in the conversation. And bugger me, a garden tick Red Kite drifted into view from directly over the house, and annoyingly it was leisurely and low enough that had I been ready with the camera I might have got a shot. As it was I was in the middle of a several-party discussion and not really in position to sack them all off to grab the optics. I feel the need to mark the occasion though, so here is the actual view with an artistic impression of the raptor ...

Yeah, maybe not quite right but you get the gist - Kite heading roughly NW

This brought a question to mind for Steve Gale's 'lockdown listing competition' that I'm not officially entering; every species seen increases the %age 'completion' for a garden list, but if the bird is actually a garden tick, does that mean that both the list and total go up by one which kind of penalises garden ticks!? So I checked, and apparently everyone is using the 'historical' list which I'll take to be whatever it was at the start of the lockdown.

Late yesterday afternoon, and again late this afternoon, I headed down the lane for a quick walk. No bins, pots or camera, just my phone and yesterday I took and deployed the cam trap. I set it up in a small woodland copse, more in hope than expectation. I have no idea how you are meant to deploy these really, so went for a low position sort of pointing in the direction of a 'ride'.

Cam trap low on right of picture, red arrow showing rough direction of view.

So this afternoon I collected it and found that I had caught something after all. Albeit badly. The footage shows just how dark it must be in that copse, very grainy, and the position clearly wasn't great. But again you get the gist and can make out a lumbering Badger early this morning. After sun-up, the camera also caught a pathetically brief and partial female Pheasant and a quick bounding Rabbit.

Literally as I got home from the afternoon walk, the second slice of luck as a Mallard careered over the house heading west.

I'm hoping the weather picks up again soon; the garden invert action has dropped off completely since Saturday and I'd like to see more moths! The lane is going to get walked a lot - it's the gateway to most of the sites that are half interesting within a reasonable walking distance. Though perhaps when the weather picks up the old bike will come out of the shed - I could use the exercise as the gin and wine is getting a hammering .....

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Annual Race

There is an annual, undeclared and undocumented contest in our household. It goes like this: I notice the shoots and early life-signs of a wildflower, which I am hopelessly unable to identify. I hope to nurture it to a flowering stage to give me a chance. But, if Nichola spots it before that point there is every liklihood that it will be declared a weed and be unceremoniously pulled. However this year it's all a bit odd. Late in the autumn, we literally cut every shrub and bush down to bare shoots - a very hard prune indeed. And this was with a purpose, as we fully expected by now to be in the midst of giving the garden a full structural reworking, possibly including a soak-away, probably including a new lawn, definitely including new fence panels and patio and absolutely including a load of new planting. And then the winter and early spring was so wet that our garden was heavily waterlogged (hence the need for a soak-away). And now it's just started to dry up enough we've been locked down for who knows how long.

So there are lots of bare patches of disturbed soil and the weeds wildflowers have got a massive head start on Nichola. Not that it helps my chances, but there are some I know or can guess at already*.

Wood Avens


Procumbent Yellow-sorrel


This self-set seedling in a pot looks very Hawthorn-like.

Red Dead-nettle - having been blasted by pressure-washed patio debris in the week

* I claim all credit for any correctly identified plant-life, and deny all knowledge of any that are incorrectly identified.

Saturday, 28 March 2020


Last night I had the moth trap and the camera trap out again, but I was in no rush to get up and check them this morning. In fact I had a very leisurely lie in ... no point in burning myself out.

When I did get up, I saw that it was a dull, windy and chilly day. Exactly as forecast. The moth trap was quiet with nothing new. The cam trap was quiet, with nothing nocturnal. The borders were quiet, with nothing flitting about. The feeders were busy, with the usual crew. The cam trap had caught some mammalian action, just not the improved spikey blob footage I was hoping for. I wasted some time fannying about with software to add a suitable backing track to a clip. I imagine the YouTube police will be after me for copyright infringement before long.

Is it really less than a week since this lockdown started ....

Friday, 27 March 2020

Shifting Through the Lens

Meh, I'm just not feeling it today. Whilst the sun was out there was a right nippy wind blowing through. Consequently not as much happening with no new insects showing themselves. The moth trap last night was pants too.

In fact the only bit of interest came during darkness without me knowing about it until this morning. I noticed what appeared to be fairly fresh droppings in the garden yesterday, and decided I'd lay some bait and try to make use of the camera trap I bought a while ago (on a whim, it's hardly been used). It worked, but I'd forgotten that the camera needs to be set a bit further back than I had left it so all the clips are a bit out of focus. Here's a brief one ....

So having caught this Hedgehog shifting through the lens, I set it back up later in the morning just to catch a few birds and check the distance whilst I got on with some work. Later on when checking, I had a few clips so downloaded a neat free bit of software to edit a couple of them (VideoPad Video Editor from NCH) seeing as my new PC is Windows 10 and Microsoft have ditched Movie Maker in the process. Nothing exciting, I'm just playing.

Not sure what to do at the weekend, I wouldn't be surprised if the weather was total shite meaning I can't get out anywhere. Oh, wait .....

Thursday, 26 March 2020

More Garden Life

You get the gist, whilst the words and photos will change there will be a bit of a samey theme to posts over the next month(ish).

The garden moth trap was not quite so good, though with frost on the car and shed roof this morning I'm not surprised. You know early on if there is going to be a quiet trap from the lack of small flies and bits. Hebrew Character x12, Clouded Drab x1, Common Quaker x1, Diurnea fagella x1.

Hebrew Character

Diurnea fagella

I didn't managed to grab as much time in the garden today, though the butterflies were a bit more accommodating and seem to like the Grape Hyacinths ...

Small Tortoiseshell


No beetles in a quick poke around under plant pots, but there were a couple of these that I frankly could not be arsed to look at in detail ..

Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus angustus sl)

Whilst mooching about, I noticed a little bit of Field Woodrush growing at the edge of the lawn ...

The only birds added to the list for this week were Jackdaw (over) and Rook (heard only). Nichola is absolutely sure she heard a female Tawny Owl last night, I was asleep. A Chiffchaff was still singing away on the embankment, and briefly came into the garden but was too quick for the camera. Later in the afternoon it was on the embankment in view, albeit at full camera zoom but good enough.



More of the same tomorrow. Probably.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Garden Life

The moth trap went out again, with no higher expection but actually a better return: x5 Hebrew Characters, x3 Common Quakers, x1 Clouded Drab, x1 Twin-spotted Quaker, x1 Early Grey, x1 Double-striped Pug and x2 Diurnea fagella. I made an effort to grab some shots late this afternoon, the first moths I've photographed at home for months. I then remembered that I'd cleared out all of my photographic props, so had to make do with a bit of broken fence panel which worked out okay.

Double-striped Pug

Twin-spotted Quaker ab. immaculata
Really pleased to pick this one up; not annual and never in numbers in my garden, so seeing one this year with the crappy wet early spring was unexpected.

Early Grey
Perhaps the best behaved individual I've ever pointed a camera at.

Common Quaker
What you can't see from this shot is that it was tiny; I actually potted it up thinking it was Small Quaker, and only looked at it properly when preparing the camera.

Today has been another lovely sunny day with a bit of warmth, so I made a point of loitering in the garden for ten mins or so every time I grabbed a coffee and rested my eyes from the PC whilst working. It really did feel like things were stepping up, with more new for year insects including Peacock butterflies, Tree and Buff-tailed Bumblebees, Tawny Mining Bee, and a few of these ..

Dark-edged Bee Fly (Bombylius major)

Eristalis pertinax

I also listened and looked out for any bird activity whilst out there, seeing and/or hearing House Sparrow, Chiffchaff, Wren, Pied Wagtail, Common Crow, Feral Pigeon, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Herring Gull as well as the usual ten or so species I get in the garden. I ought to join in the 'lockdown listing' challenges, but I haven't got literally all day to peer hopefully into the airspace I can see from my house and garden.

My garden itself has nothing attractive to a wide variety of birds other than the feeders. Most of the genuinely interesting birds on my garden list are absolute one-offs, lucky flyovers or heard only - eg Woodcock, Kingfisher, Reed Bunting, Sedge Warbler, Black Redstart ...

Most of the stuff that uses my garden actually nests on the scrubby embankment that runs adjacent to my immediate neighbour's garden, and which partially restricts the open view I have of anything flying through. The neighbour's garden is a thin wedge that doesn't get much sun; we got the much better share of back garden space when the plots were laid out, though they have more land at the side and front.

Looking pretty much due-west over our knackered fence ...

... and looking north-west over our front conifer border

Ours is the red dot: sprawling suburb to north/east, sterile farmland to the south, industrial estate and motorway to the west .... but you see where the embankment turns from larger trees (mainly sycamore) to more scrubby before petering out

I pointed the camera at some Starlings which looked superb in the morning sun, and a pair of the Collared Doves that are still knocking about.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020


From tomorrow, I'll be working from home for the forseeable. I must one of the few people on this planet that is not pleased about that. I know what this is all about. I know that there is a huge crisis ongoing, but that doesn't stop me feeling like I am being incarcerated. I think I am feeling it more than perhaps I would have previously because of the amount of time I missed out last year whilst ill, recovering, being treated etc. I've got no idea where we are actually going with all this, but I absolutely expect that we will lockdown for a month, gradually start getting back to normal and do it all again. And again.

As for work, I should point out that my factory is well and truly a vital cog in the food industry. All those tinned beans, soup, veg, beer and soft drinks that people are buying up like there is literally no tomorrow only exist if there is packaging to put them in - ie the food and beverage cans that my company makes. Numbers, numbers and more numbers is all I will see. Nothing physical. I'll be looking at the line monitoring software, virtually watching machines run (or not), and checking that the hourly scores and total output is where it should be. Reviewing, sense checking, questioning, and quite probably being a complete pain in the arse to the people still actually there doing.

Away from work, outdoor activities will be limited to the garden and anywhere very local where I can walk for a short while alone for my 'once a day exercise'. Ironically, I reckon there is less chance of finding solitude locally than if I were driving out to the sites I would usually visit. I'll not be taking the piss and carting around sieves/sweepnet etc, though I don't see how walking with a shoulder bag carrying camera and pots is any more risky or selfish than jogging about or going on a bike ride, which I know many will still be doing. I'll keep in mind how fulfilling and generally satisfying the 1k in 1k square thing was back in 2013, and maybe enjoy some more of that approach. The garden moth trap will become vital to generating interest too, and surely that has to pick up soon (a single Hebrew Character last night).

Today brought the first garden butterflies of the year; a couple of Small Tortoiseshell, a Comma and a Brimstone. None of these hit the camera lens. Bird action so far has been predictably dull. Flyover Canada Geese this morning, a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the usual array of c10 species using the feeders. I found a couple of beetles though, which I bunged into a steep-sided ceramic pot with some compost and stones and then chased around for a while with the camera. Harder than you'd think!

Badister bullatus

Loricera pilicornis

I can find other things to keep me busy or entertained too, including working on some new stuff using my DAW (I use FL Studio) and an array of  VST synths, samplers and drum machines. I didn't play with it last year, but I've started up a new track and I can feel a number of SARS-Cov-2 quotes and samples coming on.

It might take hours or months to percolate into something presentable. When I say presentable, I mean that it sounds like a tangible construction - not anywhere near professional in either the structure or mixing. It's not aimed at anyone in particular, and doesn't fit a narrow genre. It's just something else that I can sit back every now and then and think 'I made that'. Ironically, the last couple of tracks I made sound about right for now - 'Captivity' and 'Insane'.

It also struck me today that it is less than 18 months ago when we were enjoying sun and sand in the Caribbean as part of our 50th Birthday celebrations. Spot the difference.

Monday, 23 March 2020


Bright sunshine, relative peace, solitude. Birds singing and going about their business, plants putting all of their stored energy to use and pushing up through the slowly warming soil, insects awakening or starting the next phase in their journey to adulthood. It could be idyllic. And yet these are dark times indeed. It's at times like this that many will turn to their religion for comfort. Each to their own and all that, but as a complete atheist it's at times like this that I know there is no God. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all that awaits my 'soul' at the end of my journey is nothing, whilst my body will (hopefully, if my wishes are fulfilled) become a source of nutrition back in the earth. And I hope that is still a good way off!

I am not a complete philistine though. I find the architecture of buildings of religion impressive. I find the internal structural work, objects and artefacts equally interesting. Any time I am visiting a city where there is a large building of religion I quite often grab a few snaps. If we're on holiday, we will usually make a point of going inside such places. I see no contradiction in this - I feel the same visiting any other historic building.

There is no point to this rambling, it's just something that came to mind whist browsing through past photos with a cuppa after a day sorting out our front conifer hedge.

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur - Monmartre

Hassan II Mosque - Casablanca

Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Annonciation et Saint-Sigisbert - Nancy

Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Lincoln

Catedral de Santa María de la Sede - Sevilla

St. Alban's Church - Copenhagen

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Well Hello, Doli

Lasy night, whilst browsing through some old files for something else, I came across a quite nice shot of a fly that looked like it might be worth trying to get an ID for. I pretty much knew where to start looking from the shape and jizz of it, and fairly quickly found what seemed to be a nailed on contender via NatureSpot. So quickly that it is pretty clear that back when I took it I didn't ever bother looking for an ID. Anyway, here it is - one of the Dolichopodidae ....

Liancalus virens - Croft Pastures 07/03/2015

I posted the photo on a UK Diptera facebook group and got positive vibes so I'll be submitting the record shortly.

Today has been a lovely spring day, sunny, dry and warm. At home. All day. I spent some of the day preparing, roasting, serving and eating a great roast dinner - well it is both Mother's Day and Nichola's Birthday so I figured it was only right.

Later this afternoon I managed a short garden safari, and found another Diptera tick - or at least I am pretty sure it is, let's see how the record flies (no pun intended).

Norellia spinipes - one of two seen, both near but not on daffodils

The warmth also attracted a few larger flies to loaf on the house wall soaking up the heat. None identifiable, and I'm not inclined to start potting up difficult diptera as yet.

Think this is one of the Muscidae

Not much else, but it did at last feel like things could start perking up. Except the garden mothing - as soon the sun dipped it turned very cold and I would expect temps to plummet tonight.

A dull Green Shieldbug still in winter colours

Salticus scenicus. Probably