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

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

This week, I have mainly been listening to ..


I never tire of listening to the mighty Mode. Whatever other styles, genres and artists I've got into over the years - and there are lots - I always go back to DM at some point and damned fine stuff it is too.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Feed the birds .....

Lardy Bird Cake

250g slab of cheap lard (99% fat)
c200g of dried fruit (sultanas, currants, raisins)
c400g of uncooked peanuts
a couple of uneaten cheese sandwiches from the kids pack-up
any suitable left-overs from dinner (pizza, meat, pastry)

Blitz the peanuts, sandwiches (or other stale/surplus bready product) and dinner leftovers.

Gently heat the lard until 50% melted, then take off heat and allow to completely melt.

Stir in the blitzed stuff and ensure all crumbs soaked in melted lard. Add dried fruit (alternatively add a couple of blitzed apples) and stir in.

Turn out into roasting tin or similar and allow to set.

Break into chunks and place on ground by feeding station at dawn.

Feeds 50 - 100.

I reckon I keep our local Co-op in business on the lard front - 40p well spent every time if you ask me. They are also doing a roaring trade in 500g bags of sultanas.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Poorly, Park Life

Woke up feeling particularly rough this morning. No alcohol involved, which made it worse than ever. Felt like I'd been sedated and then had some sadistic bastard running heavy grade sandpaper up and down my throat all night. So I decided that getting up and and out in the extreme sub-zero conditions was not happening for a good few hours and went back to bed with a cuppa like a big jess.

After filling up the feeders (yet again) and putting out more mealworms and sultanas, I eventually I headed out to complete some domestic chores in readiness for Dad's Taxi duties this afternoon/evening ferrying various offspring to different parties. Whilst out, I dropped in to Jubilee Park for an hour.

We had no further snow over night, but it was extremely cold (car dash still read -5.5degC on the driveway when I headed out at 11am, but settled at -2.5degC after 20 minutes of driving). The big pool is frozen solid as expected, so the only wildfowl aside from the hoards of grazing Canada's was on the free-flowing River Soar - 7 pairs of Mallards, a drake Teal and 2 females, and 11 Mute Swans spread out (5 adults, 6 juvs). Also a single Snipe on the river bank (nice) and a Kingfisher flashed past.

The northern third of the park is a big open grassed area, but in the southern areas there are islands of mature trees with big scrubby areas. I don't normally pay too much attention to these, but today they were busy with lots of common passerines actively searching for food amongst the osiers, ash, alders etc and weedy bits.

Nothing extraordinary, but at least 6 Reed Buntings in there was a nice change. Also a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and one Green Woodpecker, and a male Kestrel showing extremely well high up in a tree eating a small rodent - or at least it was until it noticed me watching it and it buggered of with it's meal. Despite the plentiful alders around the site no Siskins or Redpolls sadly.

The garden feeders have remained busy - managed a peak count of 18 Goldfinches at one time though as last year the Greenfinches seem to be dwindling. Aside from the existing sunflower hearts, nut feeder and suet-slab thing, I also picked up a cage feeder with some large fat balls yesterday at the local farm shop. This has been doing well with tits hanging off of them almost constantly - no sign of yesterday's Coal Tit though whilst I've been watching. Avoiding the feeders, but a welcome sight anyway was 4 male Bullfinches together on the embankment.

ps: just got home a few minutes ago (17:35) after transferring Josh from one party to another - car dash reads -7degC already, what's it going to be overnight ........

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Down the lane

Here's a few photos from this morning as mentioned in the last post ...

The view from my patio this morning when the sun was shining on the embankment.

Snow on conifer

At the top of the lane

Looking over the crappy fields

The Tree - again

Car tracks already forming the glistening compressed skid-pan for tonight/tomorrow

Pretty sure these are Rabbit tracks - one going each way

Each Rabbit print looked like the tongue-out emoticon

Ticking Tits and Fighting Finches

Catchy post title eh?

This morning I awoke early with the intention of walking down the lane and getting some arty shots of frosty scenes. That went for a wotsit when the expected frost was hidden by snow. Not exactly a deluge, in fact it was just right with c1.5" - not enough to avoid driving, but enough to light up the kids faces and get out for some snowball fighting and sledging without being badgered to make a snowman. Before we went out to the park though, I watched the comings and goings at the feeders and also crammed in a quick walk down the lane. I'll post some photos of that later.

You may recall that last weekend I mentioned seeing a Coal Tit at Narborough Bog, and that it was the closest I'd seen one to home. We've lived here for 16 years and I've had feeders out in all that time - though obviously I can't and don't watch them every minute of every day. This morning inbetween videoing some of the regulars, I was well pleased to see a smart Coal Tit flit in, grab a sunflower seen and dash back to the embankment. It did so another 3 times, always too quick for me to grab a shot. I'll keep a look out and try another day.

I'm having to fill up the sunflower hearts regularly to sate the ravenous hoards of Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. Plenty of mealworms and sultanas going down aswell which is keeping the Starlings, Robins, Blackbirds and Dunnocks happy.

I really like Goldfinches with their red face masks, then again I also like Greenfinches with their greeny/yellow plumage tones - but which one is best .... there's only one way to find out .... FIGHT!

Note that the feeders are below the level of the top ports

All a bit calmer once refilled - again

Common, smart

Chaffinches a bit jumpy this morning ...

... and the Starlings

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Really, who gives a flying ......

Up and down the country, thousands upon thousands are no doubt making their plans for 29/04/2011. Travel to London, what hat to wear, what colour, bla bla bla. Well I'm making my plans now - a full day's birding with an overnight mothing session in some remote woodland with no fucking telly. I don't care what the weather is like - I'm not sitting around watching that wedding.

I really don't see what all the fuss about Katie is anyway - it's not like she's new to it.

Her marriage to Peter Andre collapsed due to conflicting opinions on which fake tan product was best.
Of him, they said "lock up your hair products"

More recently she's been stuck like velcro to hairy knob Russell Brand
Of him, they said "lock up your daughters, mothers, grandmothers and goats"

Seen on a secret date out with Big Willie
Of him, they said "lock up your military aircraft and raptors"

Monday, 22 November 2010

3 Cocks at Broad Hill

Finalising a few bits of Annual Report writing this week. It's always interesting and occasionally amusing how some of the detail and commentry that comes with common bird records doesn't quite look right in the cold light of day. Seems that especially since we've allowed computerised record submission, some of the detail is a little sparse. This Great Tit record amused my juvenile brain anyway - not sure if it was a comment on the gender of the birds or just what the recorder was thinking of at the time. I've removed some salient details from the view for obvious reasons!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

TTV & Listening to ..

Amongst the options I considered this morning were staying in bed, more reedbed watching or heading over to Rutland Water for another Lesser Yellowlegs. I decided that a lie-in would be nice but utilmately a waste of time, I can't face another reedbed session just yet, and Rutland Water would be busier than ever. So I shunned all three of these and went to do more local tetrad work instead.

The main habitat was the endless sterile farmland that is predominant in south Leicestershire, with the only redeeming features being a long abandoned and overgrown railway cutting and a few rough fields running either side of a brook. Consequently nothing too exciting, with by far the best birds (in a local context) being a Marsh Tit, 8 Siskins and a Jay. Good to be out counting though, but I was then constrained for the rest of the day by an obligatory family meal.

This week, I have mainly been listening to some classy stuff from ex Depeche Mode member Alan Wilder, working under the guise of Recoil. Great stuff this ....

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Civilised Birding

Yesterday's fog had cleared a little this morning, at least locally. So, after a few necessary tasks revolving around food (fill up seed feeders, scatter mealworms, fed the fish, feed the offspring ...) I headed over to Narborough Bog. Surely with all these Bearded Tits around there would be some in the reedbed there.

Before I entered the reserve, a small mixed tit flock caught my attention as they worked along the treeline and across to the allotments. I casually put the bins up to see if anything interesting tagging along and was pleased to find a Coal Tit amongst them - first I've seen here and the closest to home that I've ever seen one.

Once in the reserve, I walked around to the reedbed and watched, waited, listened. A sizeable group of Goldfinches went over, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker noisily called, but nothing from the reeds. Maybe they are the wrong type of reeds ...

No. 3 in the Titless Reedbed series ...

The wrong reeds ...

I carried on around the reserve, noting a couple of smart Bullfinches, but it was generally quiet aside from common species. I noticed some fungi and went off-piste to have a look. Turned out to be a great slice of luck as once again on this reserve I inadvertently put up a Woodcock.

Trametes hirsuta?


Lots of these flowering in the damp woodland ...

Is it normal for Red Campion to flower in mid-November?

I decided to head up to Cossington again, but almost as soon as hitting the motorway the fog was building again. I changed my plan and headed to Groby Pool instead. Still foggy but nowhere near as poor as yesterday's weather.

As ever, manky hybrid ducks and tame feral geese were cluttering the steps and pathway on the southern shore. There was a single drake Pochard that seemed to have drifted too far away from the rest of the ducks whilst sleeping, though he soon woke up and drifted off once I started to point the camera.

I headed on to the reedbed and bumped into Ben Croxtall and Andy Forryan. Before I had a chance to engage in any conversation we were all watching another small tit flock. A few Goldcrests were tagging along, and there was also the unusual sight of a tail-less Long-tailed Tit. A Kingfisher flashed past a couple of times whilst we waited in vain.

We all headed around to the public footpath to get a better view of the reedbed, stopping on the way to watch the comings and goings of a range of species coming to some seed laid out on a large flat stone. Overall we saw three Marsh Tits, a Nuthatch, two Great-spotted Woodpeckers, a Coal Tit along with a few Blue and Great Tits, Chaffinches, Robins and Dunnocks.

Another Kingfisher, a smart Jay and a flyover Siskin were noted, but the reedbed though remained resolutely quiet ..

No. 4 in the Titless Reedbed series ...

Before heading back onto the main path I noted this impressive looking bracket fungus. No idea what it is.

After a bit of a natter, I headed back to the car. The conditions seemed to be deteriorating so I called it a day and headed home after checking through the various ducks and gulls on the water (nothing exciting).

All in all a great morning out in the field, enjoying both a bit of solitude and peace at the first site and some amiable conversation with like-minded souls at the second. Civilised birding, just like it should be.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Mist, Heard

They say that 'actions speak louder than words'. They also say that 'a picture paints a thousand words'. Seems that what I should be doing with this post is simply uploading a few photos and letting you decipher the whole thing for yourself, however as I conciously opted to go out 'naked' today without any photographic means (apart from the shite camera phone on my works Nokia that I wouldn't consider using) you'll have to read all this wordy stuff instead.

This morning, I awoke to the kind of fog that generally means that everyone else becomes incapable of driving at anything above 'overly cautious' and without bright red lights shining into the face of the driver a hundred clearly visible meters behind. I hastily emptied the moth trap (easily done as no moths actually in it!) and slowly headed in to work.

I had planned to leave work early in the afternoon for another attempt at the irruptive moustached babblers that have so far eluded me in the county. The fog though was lingering and I wondered if we'd ever see the sky during the day. By early afternoon it started to clear, and by 14:40 I could see clear skies and there was even sunshine. I packed up for the day and was just leaving site as a text came though of yet more Panurus in the county - this time at Groby Pool. I quickly weighed up the options and decided to stick with my original plan and head over to Cossington Meadows again. I reasoned that in such a nicely developing afternoon there would be a good chance of owls showing after cleaning up the tits. It was all looking good - the deliberate ploy of leaving the camera behind would surely mean that the Bearded Tits would be dangling off of the reeds within touching distance.

Unbelievable - less than a mile from work and I ran into properly thick fog. I decided to continue - surely it was just patchy and a good chance of it being clear again further on. I arrived at Cossington just after 15:00 - I think. It took a few seconds to be sure that I was at the right place as the fog seemed even thicker. Arse.

Togged up in wellies and coat with my bins at the ready, I headed along the misty track in the vain hope of seeing anything in the reedbed with visibility down to c15M. A hulking Grey Heron suddenly drifted into view and over and made me wonder how the hell it knew where it was going. A distant Green Woodpecker yaffling let me know that there was other life around. I was within what should have been sight of the left turn onto The Moor pathway when a figure loomed out of the greyness - it was Jez Robson who confirmed the continued presence of the hoped-for Beardies, though calling only as he'd not had any sight of them.

I carried on with a mixture of optimism (birds still here) and resignation (what the fuck am I doing here on this pointless venture in the fog). Three dog walkers and a female Pheasant three meters off the ground in a hawthorn later and I was in position.

I was immediately aware of Reed Buntings appearing from out of the gloom and dropping into the reeds. Then after only a couple of minutes, it happened. The all too familiar and unmistakeable twangy 'ping' that I was after. I tried to follow the calls, but they seemed to be coming from two different positions. I caught a fleeting glimpse of something small, long-tailed and whirry pop out of the reeds and back in again - too quick to get my bins up. More calls, and then nothing. I resisted the temptation to i-Pish them. A couple of quick questions and the corresponding answers came to mind:

1. Can I confidently submit a record for Bearded Tit in the county - Yes.
2. Have I seen a Bearded Tit in the county - err .. maybe ... probably ... but not absolutely 100%

So, to paraphrase A Tribe Called Quest - Can I Tick It? Don't bother answering - look at the Bubo box on the right. As far as I'm concerned if I can hand on heart record something by call/song I will do with the exception of an out and out British lifer. This is especially so with a species that I've seen and heard hundreds of over the years. I'm sure there are countless birders up and down the country who happily county tick Nightjar, Cetti's, Quail and flyover blobs that sound like Lapland Buntings, Woodlarks or Richard's Pipits. I'll still be out looking for them again though - they are such great birds. With the records we've had so far around the county, there must be other small groups on other reedbeds - I'm planning on looking around Narborough Bog and Huncote Embankment in the morning (weather permitting).

As I pondered the still greyness, a Water Rail squealed behind me, I could hear Lapwings around Tern Pool, and the odd croaking/quacking/wheezing duck. The atmosphere around the reedbed was ethereal. The 'light' was magic, and the sense of being alone with 100s of invisible birds around was somehow just so peaceful. If I'd had the camera with me, it would just not have done the scene any justice whatsoever.

A small group of 13 Starlings just about came into view and started circling around - again I wondered how birds manage to navigate with no visual clues through the mist. I was about to leave when another, larger group of Starlings appeared. I could hear their wings as they banked and started to mass up and break apart. I waited a few minutes as more Starlings started to appear, and before long there was c500 swirling about - coming in and out of view through the fog and creating a superb rustle with their massed wings. By no means the largest Starling flock I've ever seen, and not as visually dramatic as seeing them clearly, but the effect of their movement as a ghostly movement in the fog was just superb. At 16:04 they suddenly descended and disappeared into the reeds - every one gone from view within five seconds. And then near silence, apart from a faint static hum from the telegraph wires crackling in the mist over the reedbed.

What started as a seemingly pointless exercise turned into one of the most satisfying and peaceful birding hours I've ever had.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Tits Out

This is getting silly now. This morning I headed off before first light and arrived at a very blustery Cossington Meadows in yet another ill-advised and fruitless attempt to see Bearded Tits in the county.

No pinging, no reed-top flitting - feck all. Apart from strong wind.

Titless Reeds

After an hour and a half of watching titless reeds I called it a day and went to have a quick look around Tern Pool before heading home and into work. Good to see a range of duck species - though none in big numbers and nothing unexpected. I do like a good Gadwall though.

Bad photo of a good Gadwall, with company. The Coot is shouting 'low-listing tart' at me.

Only unexpected thing around the pool was a single Dunlin. Which was scant consolation to say the least!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Feast of Pheasants?

Late this afternoon, I decided that a good long walk down the lane and carrying on all the way down to Whetstone Gorse would be a good way to clear my head (see last post). It was pretty cold and gloomy when I set out, and aside from plenty of corvids and a few gulls feeding in a stubble field along Springwell Lane it was fairly quiet until I got onto Whetstone Gorse Lane.

Before I mention the avian highlights, the most pleasing thing I saw was 3 Hares. We get plenty of Rabbits around here, but I don't recall seeing Hares so close to home before.

I noticed a few Red-legged Partridges and Pheasants, more than I usually see, so I started counting them. From one end of the lane to the other, I totalled 49 of the former and a ridiculous 111 of the latter, and I'm sure there were more unseen in scrubby margins. Seems highly likely that there has been a recent release - and by far the most compelling indicator that these were mass-reared was these ...

A crappy cropped image I know, but I saw 14 white Pheasants in all. Having never seen one previously I felt this was odd to say the least. Some, like the one above, were all white males with red head gear, others were just all white, and there was a couple of pale sandy/white individuals.

Other highlights were 72 Fieldfare, 38 Redwings and a Grey Wagtail over, and 2 Buzzards coming in to roost which threw the already assembled Rooks and Jackdaws into an even noisier fit of activity.

Here's some random lichen on a farm building wall, and a nice coloured late afternoon sky ..


Nearly forgot to mention, I ran a trap in the garden last night. But for a single Light Brown Apple Moth it was empty this morning.

Last Light Birding

Yesterday afternoon, with little hope of success, I headed over to Brascote Pits where a Bearded Tit has been knocking about for a couple of days. It had been seen in the morning but no further sign. I'd never been to this site though, so as much as anything I wanted to have a quick nose around. The site is a series of pits formed by sand extraction. The older pits have filled with water, and there is a reasonbly big reed bed and another pool that is like an osier swamp.

No sign of the Bearded Tit, but the reedbed was quite busy with Reed Buntings - although they were mostly departing the reeds and heading off rather than coming in to roost. A couple of Green Woodpeckers were knocking about, but the best birds of the brief visit were three Brambings (of which I managed to get a very poor record shot of two before they flitted off when a dog walker came along).

Here's few site shots, including an arty pylon and an obligatory sunset given the time of day.

Later in the evening, I headed into town with Nichola and met up with John Drunkbirder Hague and Dave Teaboy Gray for a few beers at The Pub backed up by some vintage Ska/Reggae courtesy of twitching DJ Dave Mack. We had a great night - I know this as I have a throbbing headache this morning. After a couple of starters (a 3.9% mild and a 4.9% bitter) I settled on Inferno from Oakham Ales for the other five pints.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Fungal Infection

Another TTV this morning - and again nothing unexpected or extraordinary. Martinshaw Wood is good for mothing, but relatively dull for birds. It is bisected by the M1 motorway, surrounded by housing and as I discovered this morning it is frequented by hoards of early morning dog walkers and ATB cyclists.

All this disturbance probably doesn't make too much difference to wintering birds, but the woodland is predominantly coniferous with little fruit bearing scrub. Anyway, a few very noisy Jays, and small groups of busy Goldcrests and Coal Tits were the most interesting species, along with single Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and a stealth Sparrowhawk.

I found a load of fungi that as ever I can't identify. This interest in finding fungi is getting infectious - but as someone that can barely identify all but the commonest trees, plants and flowers I am coming to realise that I am bloody useless at working out fungi ID. I think that these are all the same species at different stages of growth, and I have confidently narrowed them down to being fungi that grow out of the ground rather than on tree trunks. Any help beyond that would be appreciated!

(post-script - I now think these are various states/ages of Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis)

The last two images are the same two fungi shown from both sides. These were big, 5" - 6" across.

Whilst having a cuppa before I set off, I had an opportunity to balance my life karma - whatever that means. A Dunnock flew straight into our living room window. Not the first bird to hit it, and probably not the last, but this one hit it with a real hard smack. I went out to find said Dunnock flat out on the path below the window - eyes open and panting heavily. I anticipated that it would croak any minute, but I carefully picked it up and was pleased to see that its head didn't flop pathetically to one side and that its wings appeared intact. [Holding small birds in the hand always seems to be a privilage - hard to believe that anything so small and fragile can be so tough and hardy.] It was still very likely that it would have suffered some damage, but apart from obvious shock nothing I could see so I carefully put it into a safe place away from any prowling cats etc. It was still there before I left the house, and appeared to be more settled with more relaxed breathing. I guessed it would either survive and go or fall over and cease to exist. Gladly it was not there when I got home, and I'd like to think that it has managed to fly off to fight another day (and I refuse to consider any other possiblility).

Before I go and do something more useful, here is a Winter Moth that came to a lit window early last night. This is usually the last species I see each year - hopefully not this year though.

Winter Moth

Monday, 8 November 2010

This week, I have mainly been listening to ..

.. some downright dirty sleezy brilliance.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Things what I did this weekend

Firstly, I'll start off with a couple of things that I didn't do ...

1) I was unable to generate an opportunity to get time off of work in the week, and I was constrained yesterday as Nichola was working. So - I could have driven all the way to Cornwall today in a solo attempt to see the American Bittern but I quickly decided that would be completely stupid in many ways and opted to do something else. Just aswell as it appears to have fucked off last night ahead of the impending weather doom.

2) Aside from having charge of the family with Nichola working yesterday, my brother had managed to offload his two with my Mum for the weekend, and she suggested in a way that I couldn't refuse that we should all meet up for the afternoon at Bradgate Park. Fecking Snow Bunting pops up at Rutland Water and I can't get there.

So, today rather than worrying about what are essentially petty things like mega rarities and catching up a couple of County Ticks (Bearded Tits still at Rutland Water aswell), I spent a couple of hours this morning bashing a local tetrad for the BTO Atlas and then I cleaned out the fish tank (which is doing very well now - recently added Clown Loach and 3 Odessa Barbs looking very smart). Both being very relaxing and worthwhile.

Here's a variety from Bradgate Park and a couple from this morning.

Black-headed Gull
Black-headed Gull

Mute Swan

Red Deer

Fallow Deer

Horse Chestnut


I really can't get to grips with fungi, but I think this could be Hypholoma sublateritium (aka Brick-red Hypholoma) I've been advised that this is Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare - quite a few clumps under a very big oak.

The most exciting aspects of the tetrad recording this morning were not avian. I walked along a disused railway track near to Cosby that I've not been along before. I was very pleased to find a bit of Aspen along there, and also lots of Traveller's Joy - definitely worth a speculative moth-trapping effort next season.

Traveller's Joy

Otherwise, nothing unexpected in poor arable farmland in between suburban estates. Grey Wagtail was nice, and I picked up a handful of Goldcrests tagging along with a tit flock. Only the wrong sort of partridges were noted.

Red-legged Partridge

A late bit of mothing news - Thursday night's effort was much poorer than the temperatures promised but with the extreme wind it was not surprising.

Light Brown Apple Moth 3
Acleris sparsana 1
Rush Veneer 1
Blair's Shoulder-knot 1
Brick 1

I ran a trap last night as well - clear and cold and bugger all this morning.