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

Saturday, 15 January 2022


Our loft is in serious need of a bloody good clear out before something comes crashing through the ceiling (most likely me whilst trying to navigate the tiny remaining accessible space). We've got stuff up there that has pretty much been there since we first moved in. Plus a raft of Lego and other kids toys; our kids schoolwork memorabilia; loads of CDs, tapes and videos; computer gaming stuff; a box full of various old mobile phones; masses of photos and books etc etc. Not to mention a drum kit, guitars and keyboard. Oh, and furniture and cushions that we don't need, will never use but Nichola insisted we hang on to. There is far too much to even attempt to do in one weekend. In fact it might take many efforts over several months, but little by little it will be sorted and has to be massively diminished.

Today I shifted down four likely boxes (plus those old mobiles that are going to Fonebank in support of Water Aid): some old videos, a couple of boxes of books, some Playmobil and a box full of computer disks and old PC games. I've pretty much done my bit: videos gone, a selection of books and Birding World volumes sorted and offered on various internet platforms for free collection, and the PC stuff is being sorted this evening before shredding the discs. The Playmobil is being played with by Nichola and our youngest (who is 19) - this could take even longer than I anticipated.

Anyway, amongst the bits I found this ....

I'm sure that many who stumble here will recognise this: the Audubon Bird Call. Or bird squeaker as a lot of birders will have called it. It was always brilliant for Firecrests on the Scillies, and getting the odd warbler interested, but not much use beyond that. I must have bought this c30yrs ago, and they seemed to be attached to every binocular strap back then; I had no idea though how long these had been available, or that they still were! A quick internet search brought this up.

Mine still squeaks: a quick blast confirmed no Firecrests or Yellow-browed Warblers wintering in the house.

Meanwhile, like millions of others regardless of class, creed or political leaning, I am astounded that this callous rabble (that some call the Government) continue to apologise for, defend, shield and generally make excuses for the incompetency, hypocrisy and utter bare-faced lying of the PM. Quite how he is still (currently) the PM is beyond belief. They all need to go. Boris resigning or being shoved out (and criminally charged!) will not be enough to stem the freefall into full-blown autocracy. All of his sycophants and truth-twisting money-syphoning parasites need to go with him (Raab, Sunak, Truss, Patel, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Dorries, Shapps etc etc). The Twitter account for Cold War Steve is excellent, and the parody accounts for various political figures are funny enough, but how far into the realms of utter lunacy do we have to sink before satire is no longer feasible. It's getting to the point that we expect yet another insider to squeak and expose more failings every day.

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Moths / Books

We had a couple of days of very mild weather around the turn of the year - so mild that I put out the moth trap on New Years Eve and was massively surprised and disappointed to find it empty in the morning. It soon turned cold with overnight frosts, but has now swung back to damp and mild again. But until last night the outdoor light fitting with a 20W actinic light, and general lit windows at the back (the usual spots for the first moths of the year) were blank. Last night though there was the familiar sight of a knackered Winter Moth.

I always look forward to recording the first moth of the year at home; in many ways of course it is completely meaningless as the change from Dec 31st to Jan 1st is completely arbitrary in the context of the flight season of the moths that are likely to be around. It does seem to go one of two ways though: either the weather turns so cold that moths flying earlier in December have had their lot and sometimes it is late January before anything shows up, or the weather holds and so the first moths in January are the same as the last moths in the December. This year, here at least, is somewhere in the middle but a knackered Winter Moth is not quite as fulfilling as a fresh Early Moth, Pale Brindled Beauty or Dotted Border.

On Sunday I nipped over to Swithland Res in the mid-afternoon; I had intended for that to be a quiet and leisurely look at wildfowl and stuff, but it was actually a bit of a waste of time. Not sure if there was a particular steam engine of interest on the Great Central Railway but there were a lot of people loitering around on the causeway with big lenses (and they were certainly not there for the masses of Mute Swans or Coots on the water), and also more people than I've seen for a long while along Kinchley Lane and at the dam including a family flying a drone along the dam wall and yoots in a car with massive exhausts and no silencers. I ditched the bins after watching a handful of Goldeneye and had a quick half-arsed look along the walls before sacking the whole thing off.

Infurcitinea argentimaculella - larval tube on granular lichen (honestly)

Taleporia tubulosa - larval case

Elachista regificella - early tenanted mine on Great Wood-rush

And fresh in today, a trio of new books for the ever growing reference library:

The first volume was excellent, trust this one will be too and seems so on first flick through.

One of these days I need to have a proper crack at rockpooling - this will certainly come in handy when I do, and looking through is a great motivator.

Okay, I will be honest and say I bought this on a whim. I don't really 'need' a bird guide as pretty much everything I encounter I've seen many times before or I know what it is anyway. Except immature gulls, which don't count. But, I realised, the main guide I have (Collins) is well outdated on systematics and doesn't include a lot of species that now 'exist'. My copy is from 1999 and I've not bought any general bird guide since then. This is the 2020 second edition with photo plates, and actually looks a very neat and useful guide for reference and it includes pretty much all recent rarities as well.

Here's a banging tune for you to sit back and soak up with your volume on loud ....

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Anser plasticus

Back in November, the BOURC decreed that Ross's Goose was now accepted fully onto the British List. This was on the basis of re-revaluating historical records and concluding that one in Lancs. over three consecutive winters between 1970 and 1974 was coincident with a rapid population expansion for this species in the Nearctic, and that there is clear precedent for Nearctic wildfowl trans-Atlantic vagrancy.

Clearly this generated a lot of excitement in the birding community on Twitter - an armchair tick loomed, and for a good many of those the expectation was that a first-winter bird at Wighton in Norfolk in November 2001 would subsequently make the grade when re-assessed by the BBRC. Here's a screenshot from this webpage on Birdguides (from 2004 as far as I can see) which includes a photo of the said bird:

I saw that bird too, but as with many such sightings of 'untickable' species it isn't in my records. I needed to dig about in the loft, find my old notebooks and check the date. I also don't really remember much from around that time due to life events that happened a couple of months before and a month afterwards: I was working in aerospace engineering when the Twin Towers were destroyed, with an immediate impact on work contracts and exports, and then two days before Christmas my Dad was killed in a car crash. 2001 started so brightly with my eldest son Josh being born and ended up a complete shitstorm (with the Foot and Mouth disaster thrown in).

Anyway, I finally got around to digging out the old notebooks tonight and indeed found the detail I was hoping for.

Around the same time as the Goose turned up, there was an oiled first-winter Snowy Owl dossing about Felixstowe docks. I'd already been over to try and see that on a weekday evening but failed, so on Sat 17/11/2001 I headed back over there with John Hague in tow. We duly saw the bird, which was unmemorable but far from the majestic beast that you regularly see delivering post to Harry Potter on the telly. From there we headed across East Anglia to Wighton and watched the skanky-looking dwarf snow goose feeding with Pink-footed Geese. Then on to Titchwell to round off the day, where amongst a decent list of waders, wildfowl and raptors we also saw a first-winter Gull-billed Tern. Basically it was a day of unsustainable road usage looking at first-winter birds that should be more white than they were, most of which I'd completely forgotten about until reading my barely legible childish scribble.

I saw this bird just over twenty years before the species was added to the British List; I'll hold fire on adding it to mine until the 2001 Norfolk individual has been declared 'good'. In the meantime, I fully expect that the only other Ross's Goose that I've seen will continue to be declared a plastic bag of ....

Clearly sporting a wedding band rather than a Nearctic 'band'

The same bird in March 2012 looking more regal and acceptable due to lack of visibility of its legs ....

Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Dune Duck

A quick update on that red-nosed duck from yesterday ....

I got a response late yesterday evening from the Portuguese scheme organiser. Red BE was ringed as a juvenile male on 11/11/2016 at a site on the west coast of Portugal - the Sao Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve. On Google Maps it looks like a marshy wetland site just inland of coastal dunes:

And for context, as the juvenile Tufted Duck flies, that is c1453km / 903miles from Watermead CP in Leics.

Having been ringed and saddled, it remained in the same area until 22/12/2016. Amazingly, all subsequent sightings have been from just two sites - Watermead CP and Draycote Water in neighbouring Warks:

30/12/2017 Watermead CP
09/09/2018 Watermead CP
04/10/2018 Draycote Water
09/10/2018 Draycote Water
08/03/2020 Watermead CP
23/08/2020 Watermead CP
20/09/2020 Watermead CP
01/10/2020 Draycote Water
06/10/2020 Draycote Water
25/07/2021 Watermead CP
16/09/2021 Draycote Water
03/01/2022 Watermead CP

Where was it in 2019? Wonder where it goes during the spring/early summer? Does it just go to Draycote Water to moult?

What is clear is that it has carried that plastic nasal saddle around with it for just over five years, so they can't make that much difference. It also has a weird preference for inland lakes in the English midlands versus the coastal dunes of Portugal.

Monday, 3 January 2022

Saddle Up

Today in a bit of role reversal, Nichola was working this morning whilst I enjoyed a day off of work before going back tomorrow. We'd planned to de-clutter the house of the Christmas trimmings in the afternoon when Nichola had finished, so before that I decided to head out and enjoy some fresh air and the hazy sunshine, and look at some common birds. I headed to Watermead CP South as I often do early in the year when a have a bit of birding enthusiasm.

I like Watermead, despite it being a busy site with people throwing bread, cycling, jogging and dog showing (I'd say walking, but a lot of the dogs seem to be big hulking 'status symbols' - the status generally being wanker). There is still enough space to enjoy a bit of peace, and the birding is generally easy these days. I started birding at this site c30 years ago long before it was as developed and accessible as it is now, when it was barely recovering from being a derelict gravel working site. There was no car park, no big tarmac path and virtually no one else there. There was also a lot less vegetation. Like all such sites, over time things change; new birds arrive, birding scenes change. I often used to see Redshank here in breeding displays, rarely successful but at least they were there along with drumming Snipe. Now I'm far more likely to hear a Cetti's. Like any such site, it occasionally throws up something more notable; past rarities that I've seen there have included Marsh Warbler in 1996 and White-winged Black Tern 1994, but it's been a while now since a proper rarity turned up there.

Anyway, today was no exception - nothing unexpected, but enough to look at if you lift your bins further than the raft of bread-crazed wildfowl and gulls. Today for example, there was an Oystercatcher and a handful of Lapwings on the island far from the crowd. A Grey Wagtail quietly flitted along a quiet stretch of shoreline, and there were Wigeon and Gadwall acting perfectly normally on the quieter 'Nature Lake'. But on the main lake, where masses of people come to feed the duckies, it was chaotic and not just with the usual suspects.

Amongst the Mallards, Mute Swans, Coots, Canada and Greylag Geese, a Pochard was milling about. Not out in the deeper water away from the disturbance. Also a handful of Tufted Ducks and a pair of Red-crested Pochards in amongst this throng.

Despite appearances, all of these ducks (that I zoomed in too much on and lost all sense of perspective) were capable of swimming around in more than one direction.

There were masses of gulls around today too; I looked out for colour rings on the Black-headed Gulls but they were all naked. The only interesting leg I saw on those was one literally hanging by a thread and dangling about as the gull flew over.

This yawning Common Gull was far too tired and laid back to be bothered with chasing after bread.

This Black-headed Gull was far to greedy and oafish to let go of a chunk of bread that was too big to swallow.

Whilst I was watching this lot, Dave Gray popped up. We had a quick chat, and Dave mentioned that there had been a Tufted Duck recently with a nasal saddle. About five minutes later it came around the corner and joined the crowd. I can't remember seeing a nasal saddled duck before; it seemed to be okay though I can't imagine a clip through your nostrils being very comfortable. The saddle looked more red in the shadows, and orange in bright light. I think it is from a Portuguese scheme - details awaited:

Red 'BE'

Just as we parted, Dave thought he could see a colour ringed immature gull over on the island. Neither of us had scopes, but I walked around to be as close a possible (c150 meters away) and grabbed a full zoom shot ....

The bird was preening, but the colour rings on the right leg looked orange and appeared to be 'F=F' - I haven't seen that type of code previously. I wasn't sure of the ID; I'd thought Herring Gull but doubted myself when I couldn't find a scheme that seemed to match - but there was a scheme with similar coding for Lesser Black-backed Gull. Anyway I contacted the scheme organiser and got a very rapid response: female Herring Gull, ringed as a nestling in Gloucester on 29/06/2021 and with one previous sighting at Shawell Lagoons (also in Leicestershire) on 31/12/2021 - probably by our County Recorder Carl Baggott.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

MMXXII Begins - A Retro Tick

HNY to all.

Let's hope 2022 brings better health, peace of mind and happiness in whatever you're doing.

I'm not one for resolutions, but I do need to make one. The last couple of years have been a bit weird with covid restrictions and cancer concerns - to say the least - which meant that for one reason or another I spent a lot more time at home than I would have normally, and more time out and about in my home square but less time out and about away from home. And, crucially, less time focussed on work. I am conscious that my work-life balance has swung way too far to the work end over the last few months since recovering from surgery and seeing covid restrictions relaxed. My job role is not one that I can easily ignore and completely put aside overnight or for the weekend, but I have got to find ways of making time to relax and wind down a bit!

Anyway, nothing current or topical to post about but I have found a retro tick today: a bee that I'd originally mis-identified from Croft Hill on 10/07/2020 and then forgot about. I had a good look at photos today, stumbled through the key and speculatively came to an ID that Steven Falk agreed with.

Sphecodes gibbus

I've still got a bit of tidying up of 2021 records to do, with a few moth gen dets outstanding. I'll try and get that sorted and finalise my aborted home square list for the year over the next couple of weeks. Whilst the square listing fell by the wayside in late summer, I suspect the final numbers will still throw up some observations.