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

Thursday, 13 May 2021

The Cutter

I headed out down the late yesterday afternoon, with butterfly net in hand, a bag full of pots and camera, and a happy disposition. Occasional sun, light breeze, Skylarks a-singing etc. I'd barely got more than a few meters onto the actual lane when I could hear something mechanical approaching - and my fears turned into reality minutes later as a tractor came past and then a couple of minutes afterwards had turned around and headed back down the lane ....

What is it with the owners/custodians of rural lanes and highways, why do they have to cut and mow at all let alone just as flowering plants are starting to provide for increasing insect life and in turn the nesting birds. And aside from that, why mow it just as I was heading down with my net ....

In the end, to be fair, the destruction was not quite as bad as it could have been. Whoever it was driving that tractor-mower (and I don't think it was the farmer as he carried on around other lanes in the square, so likely arranged by the County Council as some unnecessary road-safety bollocks) they did not cut the full width of the verge and they stepped the mowing from one side to the other.

Despite this activity, I managed a decent haul of c30 additions for the square yearlist including a handful of plants, 22 insects and a couple of mines/galls. I also said hello to some recently introduced tenants in one of the fields - potentially bringing in a few more insects later in the year.

Immediately in front of the gates holding back this raging hoard of shite-covered menaces was a couple of plants close together that I was pleased to see ....

One significantly bigger and better established than the other ....

Greater Celandine

Green Alkanet

Nearby, I found galls on hawthorn caused by aphids. There seems to be some difference in opinion on this one: some sources are listing it as a group of species and aggregating them, others are clearly indicating that it is a group of sub-species that differ in the secondary plant after leaving the hawthorn galls.

Dysaphis cataegi

Further down the lane I was more intent on netting stuff from umbelifers and suchlike and ended up with a decent range of species. Later in the evening I set about pinning the some of the Diptera and a few other bits. I clearly need to take more care and time over this as I made a bit of a hash of one or two of them with pins coming out under the scutellum. I should have got the microscope out to see properly what I was doing but I was rushing. Anyway, it was sufficient to get them identified ....

This shows the diptera I (badly) pinned, clockwise from top right: Empis opaca, Melangyna lasiopthalma, Melanostoma mellinum, Platycheirus albimanus, Eumerus funestralis and - best of all - Phania funesta, a new fly for me.

That small Tachinid was only netted by chance, when I saw it saw on a Garlic Mustard leaf it was sat with wings held out a bit like a Sepsis sp. It was only when I peered into the glass tube with my eyeglass that I could see the distinctive back-end bristles sticking out like a porcupine.

Otherwise I didn't point the camera at much whilst out, though this Cardinal Beetle was still enough to invite an effort.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Speeding Well

Not had much chance to do anything during the week for one reason or another, and today it's turned properly wet (which is not a bad thing really). I have mooched about in the garden on occasion though and found a couple of tiny speedwells growing in the unkempt lawn.

First up this which is new for the garden (at least in the sense of me noticing it!).

Numerous flowering spikes of Thyme-leaved Speedwell barely poking above the level of the grass and clover leaves.

The other is not new, and is growing in the same area that I've seen it before but it is very easy to completely overlook and I've not noticed it for a long while. Most of the flowers were a bit faded and past their best, but there are others to come.

Wall Speedwell

Finding both of these reminded me that I'd photographed a larger Field-speedwell in the garden in April that I'd forgotten to check out.

The flowers seemed a bit paler and less blue than I usually see, but checking the plant again this week the seed pods seem to confirm that it is just Common Field-speedwell (which is also new for the garden).

Seeing as I was pointing the camera at small plants in the garden, I thought I'd see if one of the smallest on the front driveway was flowering. It was.

Procumbent Pearlwort with pathetic tiny flowers

Also new to the garden this week; I was on the phone and staring out of the windows when a Little Egret flew over heading south. A quick check with Neil Hagley confirmed what I expected - he has seen them several times heading over here! I think his home office view is pretty much looking west so he has a better view of anything moving north-south or vice-versa. My office window faces north-east with a big flowering cherry in the middle of the view, so unless I'm actually stood at the window and looking out it is very easy to miss something heading above the line of the embankment. Still, another garden tick that had I been at work would never have been seen (like last years Hobby and the Lesser Redpoll in April this year; Red Kite and Raven would also be included had I not seen them several times since including over weekends).

There have been a few more hoverflies and bees in the garden, but it feels nothing like last year when I was hand-catching inconspicuous ladybirds etc. The heavy rains today and slight warming up over the next few days might make a difference. What won't help is that the verges around parts of the square were mowed yesterday, just when a load of grasses were starting to flower!

My IV chemo treatment has been stopped early to avoid permanent issues with hand and feet neuropathy, so the PICC line is coming out on Monday. The oral chemo will carry on for another three cycles but that's fine, no real side-effects from that. I expect that next week will be my last working from home so I will be trying to make the most of it. I've also got my first big 'test' of being away from home for a longer period next Saturday, as I've successfully acquired a ticket for the FA Cup final at Wembley. Will be very strange going back to a live football match - can't think of a better occasion for it. Hopefully the team will have woken up again by then ....

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Check It Out

Selby won - excellent. I shouldn't get excited, but historically good things have happened to LCFC in the same month that Selby has won the World Championships ....

We've had some rain at last. More than enough last night to dampen the ground and a few more heavy showers today. Not great for getting out and doing anything but we certainly needed it and I think it will kick-start some activity once we get a warmer spell.

Time for to check out the various 2021 lists I'm keeping.

I've done a quick end of April comparison of the 2021 SP5595ish list vs the 2013list. The basic comparison is 368sp. vs 320sp., but going a little deeper: of the 368 species listed so far, 100 were not recorded at all in 2013 and of those 23 are complete ticks for me. That's pretty good going given that I'm doing it in a very ad-hoc way around how I'm feeling physically and the weather, although on the flip-side I was working full time without hinderence in 2013 and had perhaps less time in the field. It also means that in 2013 I'd listed 52 species that I've not as yet seen in 2021, but spring has been faltering here lately.

The 100 not recorded in 2013 breakdown as: Vascular Plants x21, Coleoptera x18, Hemiptera x10, Fungi x9, Lepidoptera x8, Lichens x7, Birds x6, Diptera x6, Arachnids x4, Hymenoptera x3, Mammals x2, Collembola x2, Bryophytes x2, Psocoptera x1 and Algae x1. Given that the actual target for this year was to better my 2013 totals for plants (Vascular + Bryophytes), Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera and Hymenoptera I take this as showing potential though the next three months will be key.

The 23 ticks within that breakdown as: Coleoptera x6, Vascular Plants x4, Hemiptera x4, Fungi x3, Diptera x2, Lichens x2, Collembola x1 and Arachnids x1.

Here's the overall breakdown:

I expect numbers to rocket in May and June - assuming I can get out and make the effort and the moth trap picks up. Flowering grasses will need some effort, as will bashing hawthorn blossom and sweeping flowering umbelifers.

As for the various bird lists, a little more progress in April but not so much in the square/garden. Of the ten species added to the overall 5MR list, only two were in the garden (Blackcap and Lesser Redpoll), and two more in the square but not the garden (Whitethroat, Swallow). Ring Ouzel, Wheatear, Cetti's and Sedge Warblers and Linnet were added to the 5MR, but the patch list has not increased much. It shouldn't take too much to add a handful in May, as migrants have been a bit slow coming in. Only 28 species seen in all areas within the overall 5MR seems very low; the garden is always going to be the lowest list but there are only four more species seen in all areas except the garden (Grey Heron, Cormorant, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Stock Dove) which almost certainly says more about me not putting in much birding effort than anything else.

A reminder that the 49 species in the square list includes all species seen within the square and garden, rather than square or garden as below.

Sunday, 2 May 2021


Another belated missive; I should've posted this on Friday evening or yesterday but I've been distracted by televised snooker. How and why I've been distracted by televised snooker is a mystery to me as much as anyone else. I suppose a little bit of Leicester pride comes into it with willing Mark Selby into the final. Anyway this TV post is not really about television ....

On Friday afternoon I finally managed to drag myself back out. I had no plan other than to have a lengthy wander around the square looking at emergent vegetation and anything that has come into flower. Crucially, I had no nets or bins. Unlike many accomplished recorders and professional ecological consultants, I can't be doing with carrying around a range of nets, trays, sieves, beating sticks and possibly even vac blower. I can manage one net, or tray/sieve, or vac blower. I also find that once I'm armed with something, even bins, that becomes the primary focus of my attention and I quite probably miss stuff flying overhead or flowering down below. So wandering around 'naked' every now and then is actually quite productive in some ways, and certainly more relaxing. The only exception is that I do try and carry a camera of some sorts - always something to point it at whatever I'm doing.

As I walked around I did indeed find a number of plants that I'd either previously missed or could now identify, including Lilac, Elder, Winter-cress, Hedge Mustard, Silverweed, Meadowsweet and hybrid Bluebells. There are plenty of grasses not far off flowering, and I will certainly have to give them a go in May.

I could post photos of flowers or plants, but instead I'll post photos of a bonus tick leaf rust, Uromyces muscari (Bluebell Rust) - one I'd been alerted to earlier in the year by Graham Calow.

Of course there were a few inverts too, including another new one for me - the TV referenced in the post title. And for a fly it is one hell of a size, albeit a bit leggy and incorrectly structured for a proper fly ....

Tipula vittata - I found a number of these loafing on Red Currant leaves and a bridge wall immediately next to Whetstone Brook. I've quite probably seen this before and either ignored it or forgotten to list.

I managed to snap another weirdly structured fly in flight with the TG-6 - luck!

Baccha elongata

I also snapped a very compliant Orange-tip settled on a daffodil, a 10-Spot Ladybird nestled in oak buds and a Red-green Carpet roosting on a sycamore ....

I need to enter some records from the walk and update my square list for another post.

Yesterday was a bit cooler, and by later afternoon it was cloudy with the odd spot of rain. Not that we've had much - barely enough to make anything damp let alone the soaking we need. I found a very lethargic queen Common Wasp in the shed ....

When I said this post wasn't really about television, I lied as blatantly as a serving Prime Minister. My walks around the square inevitably reveal litter and fly tipped waste, because in a modern society being a selfish wanker is normal. I don't usually find tipped and trashed electrical goods though ....

I've probably posted this track before, but you know it fits and I like it so I'll be a selfish wanker. Sue me.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Something Better Change

I've hit one of those spells where lethargy and fatigue override enthusiasm. Felt okay on Thursday, spent a bit of time identifying stuff on Friday morning, and then had pretty much two and a half days of laying around doing chuff all and sleeping a lot. I can tell myself it was the chemo, but that's probably only 50% true. Since the weekend, I've been a bit more focussed on work stuff and anyway the weather is still dreadful for April. Whilst we've had some lovely sunny days, in the shade or breeze it is still nippy and there is not as much going on as there should be for late April. As for the nights, clear, cold and mothless.

I'm running out of time to have lots of free time. I expect to be going back to work in a more formal capacity in a couple of weeks, assuming the chemo is halted as I expect. But to be honest I need that; being away from work may sound great, and I'm sure we all dream of having nothing but time to ourselves, but actually I need the structure that working properly gives. It means that time in the evening and weekends become more precious, and there is more impetuous to make hay when conditions are good etc. Being based at home all the time makes leaving something until later or tomorrow too easy. If I was retired things would be different I'm sure, but being off whilst recovering from surgery and doing some work from home in a fairly casual way wears thin.

The lack of activity since my sweeping session down the lane means I've not got a lot to feature photographically, but amongst the numerous square-listing ticks I picked up another three species I'd not seen before including this ....

Stenocranus minutus. The differences between the x3 British Stenocranus spp. are subtle, made slightly easier in VC55 given that S. fuscovittatus is Nationally local and mainly southerly. The two we certainly have, S. major and S. minutus, have differences in the tone and contrast of the longitudinal lines on the front of the face, and the front of the vertex protrudes more in S. minutus but that is very subjective. S. minutus can be slightly smaller too.

Here's the face of S. minutus showing pale brown lines (may even be absent on some individuals):

And here's the face of S. major that I've previously recorded, showing much more contrasty blackish lines (and note the dark tarsal segments which separate from S. fuscovittatus) :

I reckon S. minutus is generally darker than S. major, but I guess that's not sufficiently stable to be considered as a factor. Here are the same two side-on, see the massive difference in the projection of the vertex ....

I should add that both records accepted via iRecord national expertise.

What else is going on? Oh yes, apparently our Government is lead and populated by a shambling bunch of lying self-serving chancers. Who knew? If there is not some sort of Tory coup or at least change through resignations, I think we can fully wave goodbye to any semblance of democracy and scrutiny for decades. Even if BJ gets his comeuppance, we'll still have a shit Tory Government, but there is a chance that the slide to full blown authoritarianism might halt and the blinkered supporters of rank idiocy might wake up.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Just Looking

Yesterday morning I had another chance to add Ring Ouzel to the 5MR list, as Mark Andrews found another at the same area on Aylestone Meadows as the weekend bird. Seeing it was another matter, as just like the first it was quick to scuttle out of view and become lost in the scrub further back. But I did get views, not the best but good enough. You think the record shots from a couple of posts ago were shocking, what about this ....

Look at that full crop grainyness, but at least you can see it's a Blackbird with a white bib! Singing Cetti's and Sedge Warblers were good to pick up whilst there too. Whilst I'm at it, here's a couple of more obliging but less interesting grey birds from the site ....

Shortly afterwards I headed up to Kinchley Lane, Swithland Res to meet up with Adrian Russell and show him a couple of the recent larval finds that he'd not seen as yet. We soon found a few mines of Elachista regificella, and an obligatory wall search produced a few bits ....

Taleporia tubulosa

Luffia lapidella f. ferchaultella

One of the whites. Probably.

It was a bit parky, overcast and didn't look like the sun would break through. We next headed to the site for Infurcitinea argentimaculella, and then on to Charnwood Lodge where we had a damned good but unsuccessful search for Dahlica inconspicuella. Whilst there, I managed to grab a couple of shots of a very active jumping spider, which looks absolutely right and fits the habitat for Pseudeuophrys erratica and gained some confirmatory comments on a British Spiders facebook group ....

Back at home, a couple of vegetative bits of note. We have a large flowering cherry on the front garden, with big blousy pink blossom. It's been here since the house was built before we moved in. It's grown pretty big over the years, and we had to have it cut back a bit in 2019, but I'd never noticed anything odd about the tree before. It throws up a lot of suckers from a couple of big exposed roots, which I usually trim back at some point, but this year something odd has sprouted ....

Here's the pink blossom that is just coming up to it's best all over the tree now ....

And here's a bit of blossom that has appeared from a root sucker ....

It is clearly a cultivated specimen grafted onto some sort of wild cherry root stock, but I honestly can't say that that has ever been evident before. There was no sign of grafting on the young tree, although we moved here in 1994 so it's a long while to think back.

Also, remember back in January when I was convinced that there was no Holly in the square, just before finding a bit. Well I found this sprouting the garden at the weekend!

We've never grown any Holly in the garden and none of the neighbours have any that I can see. This is right under the line where a bird could sit on the fence and drop a dump of undigested seed.

This evening I've been out for a walk along the lane wielding my sweep net. I had two particular species in mind, Brassica Shieldbug which I missed and Woundwort Shieldbug which I found. Eventually, after sweeping loads of White Dead-nettle. Pied Shieldbugs were much more numerous!

I've also ended up with a good range of Hemiptera and Coleoptera in pots to have a good look at and increase the square list a bit more.