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

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Antillean Avians

Whilst enjoying some Caribbean sunshine, I did manage to point the camera at a few birds again; not many, and the majority of species seen were the same as I saw in 2018. Still, makes a change from sparrows and starlings ....

Common Ground Dove - Antigua

Zenaida Dove - Barbados

Brown Pelican - Antigua

Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns - Antigua

Bananaquit - Antigua

Grey Kingbird - Guadeloupe

Carib Grackle - Guadeloupe

Shiny Cowbird - Barbados

Both of the following hummingbirds were amongst a handful in the same tree, though getting photos whilst they briefly settled in the canopy with a bit of a breeze was not easy. It is probably not a coincidence that these were in exactly the same tree where last time I saw the third species - Purple-throated Carib.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird - St Lucia. A partially obscured male.

Green-throated Carib - St Lucia

And this one is apparently not a subspecies of Lesser Antillean Bullfinch as I thought previously, but now split ....

Barbados Bullfinch - Barbados

Before we set across the Atlantic though, the only birds I saw around Lanzarote and Gran Canaria were familiar, including sparrows ....

Spanish Sparrow - Lanzarote

I stumbled on a great new album during the week, "Memoirs of Hi-Tech Jazz" by Waajeed. A subtle blend of Detroit techno / Chicago house with jazz-like overtones. It is well worth a listen, but ideally from start to finish to properly appreciate the work in context and especially as a number of tracks run into each other.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Atlantic Big Skies

We got home from our very relaxing cruise on Monday, and despite not being back in work until Wednesday I'm still a bit knackered from the long flight home and the time difference.

I mentioned that we were going on a trans-atlantic cruise: we flew to Malaga on 06/11/2022, got on the ship and headed down past Gibraltar and Morocco and landed up around the Canaries on 09/11/2022 before heading out for six straight days at sea. I knew we'd essentially see nothing from the ship during the six days in terms of land/islands, but actually it was quite a weird feeling of being isolated and brought home the enormity of the planet in a way that you cannot truly sense from film, photos from space or flying a long way. Of course, we were far from alone whilst on the floating hotel but for six days and nights, in all directions, nothing but horizon, sea and skies. During those six days we saw one other ship, one airplane go over and the space station once. I saw a couple of small groups of Cory's Shearwaters and a single Brown Booby the first day, and a single Masked Booby on the last day. I also saw masses of flying fish every day, but zero cetaceans. The Atlantic seemed like a desert; but from the top deck of the ship looking out, the visible horizon is <15miles, and the whole Atlantic is >41 million sq miles ....

Our last view of land before heading off across the Atlantic was the harbour at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on Thursday 10/11/2022 evening.

From sunrise on Friday 11/11/2022 until sunrise on Thursday 17/11/2022, we saw nothing but big skies. Every day from leaving Malaga until flying home from Barbados was littered with long periods of hot sunshine, but whilst out at sea we saw plenty of distant rains and cloudy spells, and we had a couple of small showers - the only properly wet episode came in the early hours of the first night when we passed through a front and experienced pretty rough sea and a massive electrical storm with torrential rains.

In between making good use of the on-board bars, restaurants and casino, I pointed my phone camera at the sea and skies at various times - though generally not when there was nothing but clear blue skies and sea. I make no apologies for piling a load of images here that are, essentially, of nothing. Listen to this piece whilst perusing them after clicking for a bigger view....

Our first sight of land on 17/11/2022 was the distant shapes of Antigua and small surrounding islands - overshadowed by massive rains.

By the time we actually docked in St John's an hour or so later, the sun was fully up, the rains had moved on and the skies were clearing.

This is our ship docked in St John's later in the day - far from the biggest cruise ship but plenty big enough.

Thursday, 3 November 2022

Brief Appearance

Blimey, a whole month or so since posting. I've not felt inclined to bother - not due to having nothing to post, I've just been either busy, distracted or so completely hacked off with the ridiculous and shambolic nature of our government that I couldn't be arsed. I will make no attempt to fully catch up, and in any case the majority of finds and activity have been leafmines. There also won't be any posts in the next couple of weeks or so as we're off on a long overdue holiday for which my post-cancer travel insurance is not far off the cost of a typical summer low-star package holiday. Our last proper holiday was a Caribbean cruise in late 2018 - and life since then has revolved around health and covid restrictions. We're now heading off on a transatlantic cruise to the Caribbean which somehow seems symbolic.

By far the best two moths in the garden were unexpected ....

This fallen leaf from the garden Silver Birch was a chance find on 16/10/2022 - the only one with a 'green island' meriting closer inspection which revealed a tenanted mine. Initially it looked quite short and appeared to be starting to form a blotch after the initial contorted gallery which brough Ectoedemia minimella to mind - though that would be very unlikely. I held onto the leaf and after a couple of days the mine had developed into a gallery with some scalloping along the edge. This is Stigmella luteella - new for me and the garden.

The other highlight was this Caloptilia sp. to light on 03/10/2022 ....

This will need a gen det, but I am pretty sure that this will be confirmed as the first VC55 record of Caloptilia honoratella - needless to say new for me and the garden too. This is one that has fairly quickly established itself into the UK since arriving in 2016 and seems to be spreading - so not entirely unexpected as such, I just thought it would be a few more years before getting this far.

I'll spare you another load of leafmine images showing tenanted mines of new-to-me Stigmella spp. etc.

Blaming everyone in the hospitals
Blaming everyone at the bottom of the English Channel
Blaming everyone who doesn't look like a fried animal

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Bagging a Midget

I'm not referring to some below average height Monarch. Last Friday evening a local recorder Hazel Graves posted some leaf mines on our VC55 Facebook group that she believed to be Phyllonorycter pastorella. I confirmed that these did indeed look right, that there were no previous VC55 records and that this was a species only added to the British List in 2014. The post did not give any details for the record at that point. Given that it was a likely VC55 first I suggested posting to the British Leafminers group for confirmation, whilst also asking for the details.

By early afternoon on Saturday, I'd not seen a response and so decided to go out and have a nosey around at a likely site. I figured the Soar Valley was as good a place to check as any, but I was short on time so needed somewhere I could park up and check out quickly. Narborough Bog and Everard's Meadows are closer to home but would need a bit of a walk before hitting likely prime habitat, whereas Aylestone Meadows is a little further but I could be searching within a couple of minutes of parking up. So off I headed, and literally five minutes after parking I found mines on a big hybrid crack willow of some sort. I carried on searching and within half an hour or so I'd found it at three spots alongside the canal, all in the same tetrad and all on long-leaved crack willow type trees. Whilst I was out, Hazel posted some details: actually found the previous weekend at - Aylestone Meadows, albeit further north closer to the King Power stadium but within the same tetrad as those I found. Confirmed by Rob Edmunds.

I collected a handful of mines in the hope I'd find one tenanted. I ended up with a couple tenanted with fresh pupae intact, and a couple vacated. Here's an example showing the relatively large mine with a single crease and feeding marks on the upper surface:

When backlit, the pupa is visible in the mine laying pretty much parallel to the crease, with all the frass piled up at the other end.

I was confident that one would emerge fairly soon, and have been checking them every morning, late afternoon and again before going to bed. Last night, I found one had emerged at some point during the evening ....

Phyllonorycter pastorella - needless to say a new moth for me

Not a typical shiny Phyllonorycter with white streaks and strigulae, but quite smart all the same. I mentioned this being added to the British List in 2014 - that was when mines were found in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Hence the daft (unused) vernacular Royal Midget. Since the weekend, after alerting other leaf mine recorders, it's been found near to Burbage which is much further south and well away from the first site. I suspect this will turn out to be fairly well spread and established within a year or two.

I also found some mines on Ash at last after having had a blind spot for them for a long while, and then found more on Sunday during a bit more square-bashing.

Cone and vacated cocoon within of Caloptilia cuculipennella at Aylestone Meadows

Early-stage leaf mine of Caloptilia cuculipennella at Stapleton

Blotch mines of Gracillaria syringella at Stapleton

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Square bashing

There are a handful of leaf-mining species that are so ubiquitous that any square with no records of these is likely (though not 100% certainly) to have no records of any leaf-miners. So the following was shared with recorders, showing all VC55 tetrads with leaf mine records of Parornix anglicella, Stigmella aurella and Lyonetia clerkella combined:

On Monday I headed out for a couple of hours or so in the middle of the day to respectfully avoid the box shuffling and do a bit of square bashing. My plan was to find something in the two blank squares in SP58, and then head across to SP39 and at least cover off the squares that were fully or mostly in VC55 (alongside the Warks border). I wasn't going to traipse all over pathways and farmland - this was going to be a quick hit by stopping on roadways and verges, a quick 15 minutes or so survey and move on.

A squint at the map suggested that one of the two squares in SP58 would be a bit sparse with only one roadway through a corner, but the other looked a fair bet. This turned out to be as expected, with 13 species found in SP5684 but only 3 in SP5884. Amongst these were nothing unexpected or notable. 

I then headed along the A5 to SP39 with good intent, only to find that the further west I went the greyer and eventually wetter it became. I'd not bothered at all to check the weather forecast. I turned off the A5 into SP3296 and pulled up just outside of Witherley. By then the drizzle had turned to rain and then stopped again. A quick look around yielded 10 species quite easily, before a light drizzle started again. Back in the car, and I headed into SP3098 where I noted an amusingly named King Dick's Hole. I stopped near a junction just west of Ratcliffe Bridge and found a slightly different mix of species, 11 in all including Bedellia somnulentella and Chrysoesthia drurella. After a couple of sarnies in the car, in another shower, I headed east along the road through Ratcliffe Culey across to Upton in SP3698. From there I intended to head south-west towards Atterton and then south to Fenny Drayton - hence covering the five main squares. The weather though had other ideas and within five minutes of getting out of the car at Upton (during which I picked up 6 species) the rain properly set in and I lost enthusiasm. 

Overall I added records to five previously blank tetrads, with 48 records of 23 species in total. Had I managed to find any tenanted mines on oak it could have been more, and if there been any birch, beech or apple. I'll head back over to some of these squares again at some point for a better look.

View north at SP57148422

View north-north-east at SP31919979

View north-north-east at SP36399970

Chrysoesthia drurella

Bedellia somnulentella
I also found quite a few Stigmella mines on Alder at Witherley - sadly though all vacated so indeterminable. Certainly one I'll be looking out for in the next few weeks.

Earlier in the morning, I'd emptied the garden trap and grabbed a few snaps. The catch included another garden tick that I've been expecting after recent colonisation and spread - a Cypress Pug sitting on the egg boxes propped up against the outside of the trap. I thought that would be the only highlight, but on lifting out the funnel there sat a spanking Vestal - only the second for the garden (first was in 2013).

Cypress Pug



Whilst grabbing some foliage from the front garden border to plonk the Cypress Pug on, I stumbled on this larva which I'm going to try and rear far enough to ID ....

"I've been a long-term disappointment to myself, but it hits like a hammer when I'm that to someone else. And the circle doesn't fit its little square, it bulges with opportunity. Bulges"