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

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Let's face it - photographing moths is a piece of piss. You just bung them in a pot in the fridge for a bit, collect a few leaves, branch or rock as a background, tip the chilled insect out and snap away. Right?

If only! Whilst it is sometimes as simple as that, there are plenty of exceptions (including virtually all micros). Anyone who thinks photographing moths must be easy all the time needs to have a go and share in the endless hours I've wasted over the years trying to get some inconsiderate six-legged bugger to comply. There are certain species which are almost always a pain in the arse, and White-marked is one of them - hence having to leave it yesterday and have another go this morning. At last it sat still for a few seconds so I got one shot without blurry wings.

Inconsiderate bugger - but a smart one

I was hoping to get a shot of the species-pair White-marked and Red Chestnut together - but I think that's going to be nigh on impossible.

Moth Trapping 28/03/2010

Last night was much better in the garden, with two garden firsts for the year. The improvement was no doubt due to the mild and fairly still conditions with cloud cover until the early hours when the forecast rain eventually arrived. The total catch was 45 of 7sp. (125W MV 26 of 6sp., 80W actinic 19 of 7sp.).

Diurnea fagella 1 [first for year]
Agonopterix heracliana 2
Emmelina monodactyla 2
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 17
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) 13
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 8
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 2 [first for year]

Whilst an improvement, there was no comparison to the results from taking traps into decent woodland. The total list (629 of 24sp.) from Pickworth Great Wood last night was:

Ypsolopha ustella 1
Diurnea fagella 2
Agonopterix ocellana 1
Tortricodes alternella 2
Acleris ferrugana/notana 3
Yellow Horned (Achlya flavicornis galbanus) 8
March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) 14
Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) 37
Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) 1
Small Brindled Beauty (Apocheima hispidaria) 2
Oak Beauty (Biston strataria) 12
Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) 2
Engrailed (Ectropis bistortata) 61
Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa) 4
White-marked (Cerastis leucographa) 4
Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda) 96
Lead-coloured Drab (Orthosia populeti) 1
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 147
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) 101
Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda) 39
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 67
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 11
Satellite (Eupsilia transversa) 7
Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) 6

Agonopterix ocellana


Lead-coloured Drab - sadly a slightly worn individual

Twin-spotted Quaker

Small Quaker

Red Chestnut

Sadly, I ran out of time/patience to get a White-marked shot - I'll try again in the morning.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Mega Mothing

Not long back home from a short mothing session at one of the best sites in VC55 - Pickworth Great Wood right over in the north-east on the border with Lincs. I decided very late this afternoon that I'd go, loaded up the car and headed off picking up Adrian Russell on the way.

I ran 1 x 125W MV light over a sheet, and 3 x 125W MV traps from 20:00 - 22:45. 9°C - 7°C, mainly cloudy, mainly still and dry. The forecast rain moving in did not appear.

Suffice to say there were more moths than I am likely to get in the garden! The total catch was 629 individuals of 24 sp. Full details and photos to follow, hopefully tomorrow night though I am out tomorrow evening so it will be late.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


Ran both garden traps last night in less than ideal cool, breezy and mainly clear conditions. A whopping total of 17 of 4sp. (125W MV 11 of 3sp., 80W actinic 6 of 4sp.).

Common Quaker 9
Hebrew Character 4
Clouded Drab 3
Emmelina monodactyla 1

The quakers, as usual, showed large variation in both the background colouration and the intensity of the markings.

So far this March, I've recorded just 7 species over 6 nights when I've run the garden traps. I checked back through my MapMate records for the last ten years to see just how poor this was, and was surprised to find that in two years (2000 & 2001) I only recorded 8 species despite more trapping effort.

Prior to 2010, I have recorded 31 species during March in the garden through light trapping. With four nights still to go, there is every chance that I will pick up at least 3 species (Early Grey, Shoulder Stripe and Diurnea fagella).

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Fowl and Toad

Like the other two CenterParcs we've been to, all of the accomodation at the Sherwood Forest site is surrounded by mixed woodland and lakes, ponds and streams. They are not managed like reserves solely for the benefit of species diversity and conservation, but they certainly do a good job of keeping a healthy balance between their main business of tourism and creating a wildlife rich habitat. I guess for a lot of their visitors it's as near to nature as they get!

Sadly this time the car was just too loaded with useless crap like food and clothes to fit a moth trap in. I had to resort to checking our villa windows and various lit signs and maps around the complex. Tungsten lighting just doesn't attract moths like a decent UV rich light source and I only saw two species during the week - Yellow Horned and Engrailed.

Grey Squirrels and Rabbits were both extremely common on the complex - virtually impossible to walk/cycle anywhere without seeing several. No deer this time though - we have had both Roe and Muntjac on previous visits to Elvedon and Longleat.

As ever, the villa 'garden' attracted a wide range of common woodland species, plus the odd visitor from the lakes and ponds and surrounding farmland, like:



Egyptian Goose (!)

The main lake was populated by several pairs and first-year Mute Swans, loads of Mallards, a few Canada and Greylag Geese and at least one pair of Egyptian. Coots and Moorhens were everywhere - water, woodland and paths. Also a couple of pairs of Tufted Ducks on the quieter lakes.

By far the most noticeable wildlife event of the week though was the mass-emergence and movement of Common Toads that started on the Tuesday evening after rain. They were absolutely everywhere. I helped loads off of the road and pathways near to our villa, but even in a traffic-free zone there were a lot of casualties evident the next day around the complex.

You can't see me, right?


The kids found this pair 'wrestling' in the morning, wedged into one of the slots of the mud-grate just outside the villa door.

'Ask her ref ...'

The next night was also busy. I took the opportunity to check our nearest pond on Thursday and found several pairs clinging onto twigs or below the underhang of tree roots.

It was great to see so many pairs safely in the spawning grounds.

Meanwhile, someone spilt their seed on a pathway which lead to a bit of argy-bargy bewteen a Squirrel and a Woodpigeon .......

Friday, 26 March 2010

Evolution - Survival of the Fattest

Just back tonight from a great mid-week family break at the Sherwood CenterParcs. I won't dwell on the family holiday bit of it, other than to say we had a great time involving relaxation and exersion in equal measures. I'll post a few pertinent non-family photos and comments tomorrow.

In the meantime though, thought I'd share this observation. Late this afternoon the kids were highly amused to see a Grey Squirrel clamber into a bin Racoon-style to retrieve a just-disposed half-eaten ice-cream (how's that for extreme hyphonation). Got me thinking about our native Reds, all cutesy and innocent with their tufty ears, unable to summon up an immuno-defense to squirrel pox and being overrun but the stronger Greys. Load of bollocks - Reds will happily take on Greys when they come face to face. It can only be that they're just too fecking proud to grab an easy meal and simply starve on principle - it's about time they evolved to compete with the shameless yankee tree-rats on equal terms ........

Do you want a flake in that love?

Sunday, 21 March 2010


The rain had stopped by early this morning - at last. Instead, a thick heavy clag had set in. Undeterred, I took the optimistic view that with the light south-westerlies and then the clag, immigrant Wheatears would have been dumped all over the place. I headed over to Huncote Embankment to search for them.

Despite the clag, I could see that the sun was trying its best and after an hour or so visibility was much improved (and as I type it is now a nice sunny morning).

Sadly, no Wheatears - the only avian interest being the massed choir of singing common birds and drumming Great Spot. I also had a quick look around the pond but no sign of any frogspawn (or frogs). It was good though to be out in the peaceful morning.

Afterwards I went to look over a nearby quarry, and soon found my targets - Peregrine and Raven. Good scoped views of the former, and brief flyover calling version of the latter. I came home via the lane and checked the Lapwings from last weekend - still four pairs present though they were all milling about. I also had the regular Little Owls.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Frustrated & Classic Track

I'm so bloody frustrated with the pissy weather that has hit this weekend. After a very busy week at work, giving no chance of doing anything in the few hours between finishing one day and starting the next, the only faint solace I had was that come the weekend I could get out with the traps and enjoy the milder conditions. And then it fecking rains virtually non-stop from Friday afternoon into this evening. Arse.

Whilst I was selfishly moaning about such trivial things as enjoying myself, I was told to get a grip. Got me thinking about another absolute classic track that I'm sure you will agree is completely brilliant ...

Dave Greenfield's legendary keyboard playing is at the fore of this wholly superb track.

So, having moaned like a toddler and then getting a grip - I look forward to a restful activity-filled family holiday in the coming week. I may take a trap if I can fit it in with the bikes etc. Always the chance of some rain-free early morning birding tomorrow and perhaps a garden trap-full tomorrow night before we go away.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


Two of these in the trap last night - sadly both sporting the dark brown with white spots livery rather than the nice orangey-brown with orange spots.

The rest of the trap was almost empty, just a single Hebrew Character making the total 3 individuals of 2 species again.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Obligatory Orthosia spp.

A hike in the moth trap results - this mornings haul was 3 individuals / 2 species, both Orthosia spp. It took me ages to sort that lot out ....

Hebrew Character

Clouded Drab (1 of 2)

Meanwhile, the first frogs I've seen in the garden this year were both hopping about earlier this evening - both small individuals.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Patience ....

.. is a virtue

15/03/2009 - 33 individuals, 5 species
15/03/2010 - 1 individual, 1 species (and that was a bloody Agonopterix heracliana)

I lost all my virtue years ago - where's my moths!

Monday, 15 March 2010

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

The superb 1995 debut release from Leftfield - Leftism. Fecking superb album - 'member, me no talk foolishness me talk truth ...

Release The Pressure (go watch it at YouTube, embedding disabled)

Meanwhile - remember this Fast Show classic?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Grove Park (yesterday!)

Thanks to the general crapness of my archaic PC, and the ridiculously long time it takes to process anything, this is a day late.

Yesterday morning I needed to get some stuff and refuel the car, so I took the opportunity to nip into the most north-westerly part of my extended Soar Valley South patch - Grove Park. Before it was built up and became Grove Park, this area used to be a good site for the odd passage migrant and breeding LRPs. The latter are more than likely gone for good now, but still a good chance of the odd Wheatear like the one I had there in October.

I drive past this area every work day, and yet driving into it and stopping to look around is a right pain in the arse during the working week as the roads all around it are major traffic routes. On the face of it, and looking at it from the very busy adjacent roads, it is the most unlikely site you could imagine to walk around with bins and scope. Key outlying features that make it seem a bad idea are the M1/M69 J21 interchange (3) and the huge out of town shopping complex Fosse Park (4) with a big Sainsbury's just across the road to the west of it, and the Everard's Brewery just south.

Nevertheless, surrounded by industrial units and modern office units, there remains a large rough marshy 'scrape' which has so far survived (1) - though it is a bit smaller than this satellite photo now as a new obviously vital strip of empty tarmac car park has been built on the northern edge. Pretty much as expected, no immigrants in the area, but the scrape held 5 Lapwings and - amazingly - 26 roosting Snipe. I would have loved to wade through the area to check for Jacks but even on a Saturday there were people about that would frown on the trespassing.

The other part worthy of mention (just) is the large balancing lake (2) which holds small numbers of common wildfowl and usually a few loafing gulls.

Apart from these geese, the water held four pairs of Mallards, a few Tufteds, the odd Coot and Moorhen, c50 Black-headed Gulls, and a few Pochard roosting on the island. No Great Crested Grebes though - usually a pair at least. This lake is the most likely site on my whole patch where any interesting ducks or gulls will appear - not much chance then. This is also where I expect my first on-patch hirundines and Swifts.

The goosey equivalent of having spinach stuck in your teeth?

Quite a few Rabbit kittens about - good news for the local Buzzards

Later in the day, during a family bike ride down the lane and beyond, I was pleased to see Lapwings in full blown breeding flight display - superb aerobatics and I love to hear their calls. Looked to be four pairs in the same field - will check on them again soon.

Aside from 3 Agonopterix heracliana the moth trap was empty this morning, and I've been otherwise engaged for most of the day so nothing else of note.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Today at work, one of the blokes who lives near me passed on some wholly unexpected news - a Barn Owl was down the lane at almost the exact same place that the pair of Little Owls reside. Apart from the Little Owls, I have seen Tawny down there before but never a Barn Owl. In fact whilst Barn Owls have increased pretty heathily in VC55 over the last decade or so, I have yet to see one to the south or west of the city.

I got the news just before lunch so headed out to look for myself. I immediately located it, exactly as described ....

Showing, but not well

Barn Owls are such graceful and superb birds to watch, it makes seeing one in this state all the more saddening.

From the position and posture of the corpse, it seems almost certain that it has collided with either the barbed wire loosely wrapped around the fence or perhaps the electrified single-wire running about 1m behind to keep cattle in during the summer (though whether it is live at the moment I wouldn't know). The bird is unringed, and I can't be sure but I suspect it is a male as the underparts are a very clean white with few dark flecks. I have picked it up and brought it home with the intention of sending it to the PBMS.

Evening visits to the lane over the next week or so will hopefully identify whether this unfortunate individual was a recent solo arrival to the area, or part of a pair.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Otterly Disappointing

Today was one of those superbly bright sunny days that make it really feel like spring - whilst you are indoors. Stepping outside confirmed that the bright sun was only giving the illusion of warmth - it was fecking cold!

I'd have loved to have got out and about early, but we had things to do and I also wanted to give my two gennies their annual service. The totality of the service, which for me has worked 100% every year so far, is: remove them from inadequate winter storage in the garden shed, take out and look at the spark plugs, leave the gennies outside to warm through, put the plug back in, yank the pullcord a few times and smile smugly as the two-stroke noise and blue exhaust gasses permeate the garden. None of this proper maintenance that the four-stroke gennies need lest they become expensive write-offs.

Cheapo chinese 650W continuous model (available in a variety of brand names). This gennie is superb value (cost <£90 inc VAT when I bought it six years ago). Runs 5 x 125W MV traps & cables or equivalent without issue. I have run it unattended for 9hrs+. It's heavy and noisy, but the cost makes it a no-brainer for leaving chained up to a tree with no worries about it being stolen (vs the £600+ you'd pay for a Honda EX-10i).

Technically not mine, though I've had it on permanent loan for so long it may aswell be. This small gennie is superb for carrying deeper into woodland, and will run 2 x 125W MV traps on the higher setting - only problem is it needs topping up more regularly.

Having sorted oursleves out, and assured myself that both gennies are at least available (and should survive another full season), I got on with my other main plan for the day - a late afternoon trip to Rutland Water. My first stop was an obligatory look at the main feeders by the visitors centre. Within 5 minutes I'd picked up 12 or so species, including Tree Sparrow although there were only a couple - maybe the rest were getting on with more important things. I was just thinking how annoying it was that the only sparrow I could get in the view-finder was House, when this suddenly appeared ..


Makes Chaffinches look dull

Always nice to see Bramblings, and not sure there have been that many in Leics & Rutland this winter. I then headed straight over to sit and wait for my main target for the day - Otter.

Otters appear to be doing well in VC55, or at least they have a very wide overall distribution from recent reports. Seeing one is of course another matter, and I've never seen one anywhere. This is largely down to me never having made much of an effort to see one, but I have spent enough time in Devon over the last 20 years (Nichola's family live there) that a chance sighting would not have been unexpected.

On hearing earlier in the week about one having been seen on consecutive evenings emerging from the reeds and climbing up to scent mark a tern raft, I though it was worth having a go to see it. I'd also seen John Wright's superb sketches and photos on his blog.

Whilst waiting patiently, I was entertained by a singing Cetti's Warbler, a redhead Smew, a great pair of Curlews that dropped in to roost for half an hour, a pair of flythrough Oystercatchers and a superb Barn Owl. Plenty of commoner wildfowl on the water as well, notably displaying Goldeneyes and Great Crested Grebes.

The patient wait was starting to wear a bit thin as the sun descended and the coldness got colder. By 18:00 I was coming to terms with failure and thinking about heading off. A few others had joined the search though so I decided to stick it out. Suddenly, the shout Otter! went up and there it was clambering on to the tern raft. It then disappeared for a couple of minutes before launching itself back into the water and zooming off across the lagoon. All of this in very low light and at scope-only distance. What a fecking disappointment! I saw an Otter, badly. I am now more determined than ever to see one properly, preferably feeding on a shoreline in Scotland.

In fact, the only mammals I enjoyed seeing today were the lambs - is there any more iconic image of the British Spring than a suckling lamb in the sunshine?

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Classic Track

Not posted one of these for a while. For those who can't remember, I started posting the occasional track that I, and I reckon a large number of other 40-somethings who enjoy music will remember fondly for one reason or another. These tracks are therefore from the late 70's / early 80's and are a variety of styles.

The following is, surely, a classic track ....

What do you reckon?


Enjoyed a very tasty curry and a couple of Kingfishers at Swatlands last night with fellow VC55 mothers Adrian Russell, Andy Mackay, Keith Tailby and Graham Finch. A really good evening with plenty of discussion and banter, some of it even related to moth recording ......

Before heading out to the curry house, I'd put the 80W actinic out again - surely something would turn up in the balmy 6°C with cloud cover? As I left the curry house and drove home, I saw the in-car thermometer had dropped to 3.5°C and my expectations had dropped. Nevertheless, at least some success when going through far more egg trays than are necessary at this time of year - a massive 2 moths of 2 species!

Chestnut - slightly knackered, but then it did overwinter

Agonopterix heracliana - even by the standard within this group, this is a dull moth!

Despite carefully checking several specimens each year, I have yet to see the almost identical Agonopterix ciliella.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Nothing Like

There is nothing like the feeling you get when you go out in the first light to eagerly go through the moth trap and see what has come in during the hours of darkness. It's a great feeling of anticipation and excitement, and one that even seasoned mothers feel - at least for the first few nights of the season, or when mothing away from home.

This morning though I had mothing like that feeling. Almost as soon as it got dark last night the temperatures plummeted again and I was pretty sure the trap would be empty of everything except egg boxes. At least on that front I was not disappointed - I was absolutely spot on!

I can't believe how crap the early season has been - either way too cold or too wet to bother. By this time last year I'd recorded 19 species between the garden and a single visit to a decent VC55 wood. Just two moths of one species in the garden so far in 2010 (Agonopterix heracliana).

Monday, 1 March 2010

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

Orbital & The Future Sound of London

Both awesome artists. Crank it up and enjoy.

Didn't like it? You have no soul!