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

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Heavy Petting

Our household is currently pet-less. Over the last few years we have seen off a rabbit and two guinea pigs. A longer while ago, we used to have two cats: one was a typical stay-away tom until we had his trollies off and then he was a useless timid bag of fur cluttering the settee; the other was a young female that was more active despite having been spade, but neither were much of a threat to the local bird population (as at the time we had virtually no garden birds on the then new estate). We had them re-homed with a willing friend once Isabelle was old enough to chase them around the house and terrorise them by pulling their tails.

Recently the kids have been badgering us for a new pet of some sort. I really don't want a dog, a cat would be daft cause we have a nicer settee and more garden birds now, we've done (to death) rabbits and guinea pigs, I don't want caged birds, Nichola doesn't want any small rodents, none of us can be arsed with keeping reptiles. That pretty much leaves just one option - fish.

Before we moved here, we had a largish fish tank with just coldwater fish. Maybe I'm a bit fishist, but goldfish are a bit lame. I'd really love a decent marine tank, but that would be a lot of expense and I'm not sure we could look after them properly yet. So after looking around various outlets today we've opted for a simple tank which will take a modest selection of typical tropical fish. Even a smallish tank full of water is heavy, so we had to get a stand for it as well.

We went for one of these:

Bi-Orb 30litre, with in built filtration and lighting with an add-on heating element

Obviously nothing in it as yet - we'll leave it to stabilise for a week and gradually introduce fish over the next couple of months. No real thoughts about what sort of fish (other than smallish ones), though ever since I saw the excellent film Rumble Fish I have fancied having a Siamese Fighting Fish.

Saturday, 27 February 2010


What a shite day. Nichola was working, leaving me with the boys on a day when even pseudo-birding was not an option. I then had a call to go into work briefly to resolve an issue, and we had a few mundane things to sort out. By the lack of blog updates over there on the right early this evening, seems everyone had a rubbish day.

The only glimmer of hope was that despite the forecast impending weather doom, the latter part of the afternoon was actually quite still, dry and mild with a good cloud covering. I decided that even if it was only for a few hours, I'd get the actinic out .....

2 x 40W actinic U-tubes - a great trap in the right conditions/location.

Within an hour of darkness, it started raining .......

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Super Snipe

Managed to leave work at a reasonable 16:30ish today and dropped into Jubilee Park for a nose around. The pool was very full again after the snow/thaw/snow/thaw/snow/thaw/rain conditions since last weekend. The River Soar was also in full flow and very high, and a fair swathe of the grassy park was under water.

The Wigeon flock was back up in numbers, and split into two groups with c100 on/around the water and another c60 a couple of hundred meters away on the damp grass. Also 10 Tufteds diving actively (five drakes, 5 females) and c130 Canadian shit-machines. Also really pleased to see the Goosander presence - four drakes and five redheads on the water + three drakes and two redheads over heading north.

Best off all though was the smallest, brownest and most inconspicuous bird around the pool - a patch tick Snipe tucked up against the bank. Very nice too!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Classic Branch Track

Here's a much more synth-poppy track from 1989 that we used to play when the band was called The Red Branch.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Mothing Memories - Getting the Goat

After the photos I uploaded a few days ago, I've been looking for a batch from a follow-up visit to Wicken Fen in May 2003. Finally found them tonight, and in particular one species that literally had us exclaiming expletives. Sitting on the deck next to one of the traps was a massive, unexpected and fecking awesome Goat Moth - superb moth and one that I would love to see again.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Patch Tick at Narborough Bog ..

.. of all places. Just over a week ago, I mentioned how this site should be much better for birds than it actually seems to be. This afternoon, in nice bright sunshine after a couple of days of snow, I decided to go back for another walk around. To be honest, for the vast majority of the two hours I was there it was the same-old birdless wander, aside from a Buzzard overhead, a flyover Stock Dove, a panic-stricken Grey Heron and a few Blue and Great Tits. The only exception was a brief moment when I picked up a very welcome patch tick, but it was a bit of déjà vu after last weeks Jack Snipery.

The damp woodland was exceptionally damp and boggy today. I veered off of the main pathway through the wood and made my way through to an area that is normally inaccessible with nettles etc later in the season. I was intending to get close to the River Soar bank and look across to the opposite field. After a couple of minutes scanning, I turned to head back but took a different route. Then it happened - completely unexpected and previously unseen, I'd inadvertently flushed a bird that rapidly shot off from the deck through the trees with very audible whirring wings. Feck - Woodcock! I was instantly elated and disappointed - yet another good bird being seen only as it departed from virtually underneath my foot. Unsurprisingly, there is no photo!

Mothing Memories, Wicken Fen 18/05/2001

Wicken Fen is one of the most famous reserves in Britain, and it is certainly the oldest. Even before the National Trust bought the first parts in 1899, the area was well known to entomologists and had been visited by recorders and collectors since at least the early 19th Century. The reserve is host to a huge range of species, with well over 1000 moth species recorded there. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of visitors have walked and enjoyed the reserve with its diverse habitats and iconic windpump.

My first visit to the reserve with moth traps was back in May 2001, along with Adrian Russell and Ron Follows. We had a great night, and highlights included my first Flame Wainscots and Reed Daggers, along with interesting pyralids like Nascia cilialis and Opsibotys fuscalis. That first visit also brought two species that I've not seen since - maybe another visit in early to mid-May is long overdue ....

Birch Mocha

A superb Small Chocolate-tip found resting on a grass stem by one of the traps.

Aside from the great moths, it was also good to find roosting dragonflies on reed stems in the first light like this one.

Four-spotted Chaser

Incidentally, I tried to post this last night with the post editor set to the 'new improved' version. I eventually gave up trying to get the images and text properly justified, aligned, positioned etc - what is the trick?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

Front Line Assembly - or FLA as they are more usually known. There are only two Canadian bands/artists that I regularly listen to - and this does not include Bryan Adams, Celine Dion or Avril Lavigne ....

FLA were formed by Bill Leeb after he left my other favourite Canadian band Skinny Puppy. They have a big back catalogue since their first 1987 release, right through to 2007 and probably more to come. Bill Leeb has also been involved in numerous side-projects including Intermix, Noise Unit and Delerium.

Whack the volume up - no, louder than that - but don't watch this first video clip if you are epileptic, and any of them if you:
1 have a headache
2 like the vocal track to be clean and shiny like that nice lad Joe McElderry

Saturday, 13 February 2010

TART - Again!

Remember me highlighting that my county list was nearing the point where only scarcer birds were needed? (Leicestershire Low-lister) Today, at long last, I finally got my county nemesis sorted - Jack Snipe. Skulking little blighters they were too. After aimlessly trudging around various bogs over the years, and failing several times to see one feeding openly long the Eyebrook Res inflow, I have been keen to pick up useful news about wintering birds. An initial report from a marshy field just outside Shepshed by the motorway was followed by another a week or so later, so I decided to have a look today. The site is a large open field which intially didn't look great.

Not only that, but the M1 was within earshot, sight and literally touching distance (or at least supporting concrete pillars were).

But a closer look revealed snipe heaven - marshy grassland with plenty of cover.

I started the search full of optimism. I'd even taken the camera as I was sure I'd see one well enough to get a shot as it fed unconcerned in full view. Half an hour later, the optimism was waning and thoughts along the lines of 'where the feck are these bastard snipe' started to cross my mind. Suddenly, from a few meters away, two snipe got up and shot off erratically, calling as they went. Wrong sort. I carried on for another half hour - nothing. In fact, I'd seen plenty of small skulking things - loads of small mammals briefly darting for cover through their runs to avoid Kestrels.

Just after I'd taken this photo - and completely unexpectedly - another snipe got up from within a meter of me. I'd not seen it at all. It shot off silently, and directly. How the feck did I not see it before it flew?!! At last, a Jack Snipe. Buoyed by this I carried on for another half an hour, and put up another couple of Jack Snipe - again without warning and having seen nothing on the ground. Unbefeckinglievable. Also another Common Snipe which went up from c10M.

I was pleased, but somehow dissapointed at the same time. I've seen plenty of Jack Snipe in the past, on Scilly, and really I wanted to see my county first on the deck for a good look like I've seen them before. But these were just impossible - you could have walked through several times easily without seeing feck-all. Still, maybe I'll have more luck with them now.

Aside from the snipe, the only other thing present in abundance was these:
What is the fucking point?!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Egretta garzetta - Patch Tick!

Dropped into Jubilee Park again on the way home this afternoon for another speculative look around with low expectations. Hadn't been there long when I was suddenly aware of a small white heron flying past from behind me - Little Egret on the patch - get in! By the time I'd got the camera up and ready it was at record-shot-only distance, but still ..

For a further example of how to badly photograph white herons in flight see here.

This also gave me another rare opportunity to badly photograph a heron shitting on the patch (see here for previous example) ..

What is it about herons - are they incontinent?

Yet more Goosanders - a drake + redhead flew off south from the pool, and a few minutes later 3 drakes + 1 redhead dropped in for 5 minutes before heading off north.

Nothing else exciting though. I did notice that after the high flood waters the River Soar has deposited rubbish all along the tide-line.

Plastic ducks?

Yesterday late afternoon I dropped into Narborough Bog. This is the only formal nature reserve within my extended patch boundary and is a SSSI. I really like this reserve - it has superb floral diversity (not that I can identify anything), the only substantial peat deposit in Leicestershire, a reedbed, damp mixed woodland and a couple of herb-rich meadows. It also has the River Soar running along one boundary. I moth-trap there and the moth diversity is damned good. Plenty of amphibians, dragonflies and other invertebrates as well. It really should be a great place for birds. But it isn't.

Whilst the habitat is great, it is bisected by a train line, within earshot and sight of the M1, has a football pitch and allotments on one side and it used daily by local dog walkers (although the ubiquitous dog-shit-bag decorations are mercifully absent). Maybe there is just too much disturbance? The damp woodland should be ideal for Woodcock, but I have never had them roding there when mothing. Both Marsh and Willow Tit should be present - but I've seen neither there so far. Plenty of Great-spotted - but where is the Lesser? I need to visit this area more often and give it a chance.

In the meantime, plenty of Snowdrops on show, the drying reed stems are taller than me, and a fair few fungi to look at - no idea what they are though thanks to Dean for ID.

Jews Ear

Cramp Ball

Thursday, 11 February 2010

iNDUSTRiE - Captivity

Rooting around in a cupboard tonight for something else, I found another box full of tapes of old demos and rough-cuts from my old band iNDUSTRiE. Reminded me that it's been a long while since I last subjected the modern world to an earful of what we used to blast out at gigs back in the day. I played through a few bits of various tapes and stumbled on this track which evolved from something I knocked up (as you do when you've got several synths, samplers, a sequencer, a drum machine and beer at your disposal). It was entitled Captivity, and this version is from c1992. Definitely a good stomping track in the live sets - probably including this gig ...

We tended to play with the bass track very loud and heavy so that the audience could feel the thump whether they liked it or not ....

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Goosander Goings On

Ever heard of the phrase 'death by PowerPoint'? Today I had the dubious pleasure of participating in a 'webinar' which is basically a PowerPoint presentation given remotely over an internet link using Microsoft Live Network. This was in conjunction with a broken English telephone conference call with my counterparts from our plants in the Middle East and Europe. It made for a painfully frustrating hour or so .....

After that excitement I ensured a quicker than usual getaway and headed into Jubilee Park to check out the pool on the way home.

The pool viewed from Jubilee Park across the River Soar

Immediate result in that there were again Goosander on the water, but over the next half hour things went a bit haywire on the comings and goings of this species. When I arrived, there was a drake and a redhead on the water. Shortly afterwards, they both flew off east along with another redhead that must have been tucked against the bank. About ten minutes later, with no sign of them returning, another drake with four redheads flew over heading east. Shortly afterwards, two drakes and one redhead returned to the water. So, a minimum of two drakes and four redheads - but who knows!

This last trio then put on a great display. One of the drakes kept dipping its bill into the water and then flicking its head up with neck out-stretched and bill pointing skywards. Meanwhile, the redhead (clearly an adult female) adopted a 'take me up the cloaca' posture and flattened itself on the water with neck outstretched. In fact it was so flat that a quick scan with bins would have revealed a drake with an unusual bit of driftwood following it about.

Aside from the sawbill action, there were c130 Wigeon, c140 Canada Geese, 5 Tufted Ducks (3 drakes, 2 females), and a smart Grey Wagtail made its way along the River Soar. Surprisingly, there was only a single gull - a Black-headed carcass that was being mantled and pecked at by a Magpie.

Part of the resident gang

The only other avian interest was a mixed corvid roost gathering in the fading light of the late afternoon. I estimated c250 Jackdaws mixed in with c150 Rooks - certainly not the biggest roost you will see but the noise of the collective calls was still impressive.

Encouraging signs of the Spring to come ....

Monday, 8 February 2010

Moth Gallery

Added a few more old photos from 2001 to the gallery tonight: Barred Red, Barred Rivulet, Beautiful Carpet, Blood-vein, Blue-bordered Carpet, Bordered Beauty, Bordered White, Brindled White-spot, Broken-barred Carpet & Chalk Carpet. As you can see, I am working my way through the geometers in alphabetical order at the moment! This gallery is going to take a long while to be fully populated, but it's bringing back a few memories as I trawl through the original image files looking at what is there. Most of these images were on the now defunct Leics & Rutland Moth Group website that I used to run, but rather than just re-uploading I am going back to the original files and reprocessing with updated photoshop techniques to try and get the best out of them.

Sunday, 7 February 2010


One or two may have noticed a lack of recent posts? I'd would like to redress this with a post to detail the really interesting stuff that has kept me busy - maybe a business trip to somewhere exciting with some great birding thrown in ..... However I can't, as last week was basically a really really shite week at work with some stupid hours and not even a chance to get out for a lunch time foray anywhere. Backed onto this I've had a busy but not exciting weekend. In fact the only slice of solice from this birding void was a walk down the lane late this afternoon, where a Little Owl, a couple of Buzzards, a large mixed Redwing & Fieldfare flock and a handful of Red-legs were noted. I intend to make amends one way or another over the coming week!