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

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Red Rings and Bread Baskets

Today I ventured manfully back to work properly, despite still feeling the wrong side of well, after fielding e-mails and the odd call from home the last two days. By late afternoon I was feeling a bit crap again and thought some fresh air would help, so I left work and took a detour to Watermead CP South before heading home.

Before I start recounting what I saw, here's a poser in a very Not Quite Scilly-esque style. I should point out that anyone from Leics. & Rutland is excluded by virtue of insider knowledge, and anyone who has read another Leics. birders blogs is also excluded. But the other one of you, click on this for big and what do you see?

Before that, I had a quick look at gulls (even more NQS-esque I know). I even made an effort to look for any coloured adournments on their legs and found this:

Black-headed Gull, Red-on-Left, V028, Denmark - hopefully full details will come through but I am sure this has been recorded here before by the Teaboy.

The only other gull I liked was this nice clean Lesser Black-backed loafing about briefly until I pointed the camera at it.

I also found, whilst searching for what I had actually hoped to see, a pair of Red-crested Pochards and a distant Oystercatcher on the island - neither of which were particularly photographable but that never stopped me before.

Facing the wrong way - both me and the duck

It's one of the black and white blobs, up the bank and far left of the Goosander I hadn't spotted before blowing this up and lightening it a bit.

So back to the opener - did you see anything, or did you just cheat and skip through all the shots?

The aforementioned Teaboy found an immature xyz calendar year sub-adult Whooper Swan earlier in the week and it was still around yesterday so I thought it worth a look. I had hoped that it would be acting at least a little respectably, like the Bewick's Swan at the same site last year. I dilligently searched though all of the swans that were not engaged in frantic bread-eating. I figured that if it was still present, it would be keeping away from the melee and avoiding the larger and bulkier Mutes. Consequently I couldn't find it initially, because the greedy bugger was actually front-of-house and more than holding its own, actually grabbing the Mutes and forcing its way to the masses of yeast-based shite being thrown at it.

Once I'd sussed this, I reeled off loads of shots - many being a bit rubbish as it was either too close or too engaged in bread-eating. However here's a load to bore you with. Skip to the end if you really don't like Whoopers (who doesn't like Whoopers!?).

I doubt it will be leaving soon, in fact I seriously doubt if it will be able to fly! Meanwhile, amongst the Mutes this one was particularly striking with its very stained head ..

I caught some garden moths last night, but that can wait.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Ran the garden Synergetic last night, not quite from dusk as it was still a bit damp but I lit up at around 7pm. Nothing around the trap before I went to bed early with more malt medicine (still feeling shite) and so I had low expectations for the catch this morning. I was right in one respect - just four moths of two species. However, one of the species was this ....

Tortricodes alternella - Garden Tick - now 621 species

I was very pleased with this, as it was one I really didn't expect with no decent woodland nearby. I also mistakenly thought this was an Oak feeder, but seems it is polyphageous on most deciduous trees. Not too many early season specialities missing from the garden list now, Spring Usher and Oak Beauty being the most likely to turn up eventually.

In fact the joy was three-fold ....

Can't remember the last time when a species added itself to the list so emphatically!

Those among you with full powers of deduction and mathematical skill will have worked out that there was just one other moth .. this one ..

Emmelina monodactyla

Also out last night were the first Frogs to wander through the garden on their way to neighbouring ponds ...

And today when I had to nip out briefly, I went via the lane and sure enough there was a small round blob on the usual tree ...

You looking at me?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Vulgar Vernaculars

When it comes to vernacular names for moths, I have come to realise that I am a complete hypocrite.

When I first got interested in moths, and started acquiring literature and seeking on-line references (which were virtually non-existent back in 1999) I quickly realised that the larger moths traditionally classed as 'macros' had long-standing and commonly used vernacular names (i.e. as covered in Skinner's guide: everything after the butterflies from December Moth onward, plus the 'honorary macros' - Swifts, Cossidae, Burnets, Limacodidae and Clearwings). Coming from a birding background, the use of vernacular names didn't register as being anything but normal. I had never thought of Parus caeruleus as being anything but Blue Tit, so why try to learn the scientific names of all the moths when there are perfectly good and easy to learn vernacular names. I also realised that the smaller moths, the 'micros', generally didn't have vernacular names apart from some of the ones that had received more attention over the years (typically Tortrixes, Pyralids and Plumes) and some that had become household or agricultural pests. No matter, if no vernacular existed I could quite easily learn the scientific name – ie the only name in use. This was made all the more straightforward by the fact that available literature, in particular the Bradley 2000 checklist, and the recording software MapMate generally concurred on which moths had which vernaculars, and which moths had none. And so it has been that for well over a decade I have been happily mixing vernaculars and scientific names during conversations, recording, e-mails, blogging etc etc. I will always call a Gold Triangle a Gold Triangle, and a Nematopogon swammerdammella a Nematopogon swammerdammella. Even if it is a mouthful.

So what about this hypocrisy?

On several occasions over the years I have come across individuals, some being well know individuals in the mothing world, who insist on using scientific names for all moths including those which have long-standing vernaculars. These people always struck me as being elitist wankers. Don’t talk to me about catching your first cerasi of the year, but I'm all ears about your Common Quakers. Of course, just like in birding there will be occasional reference in conversation about species groups, like Phylloscs and Orthosia, but that's different (isn't it?). These people often cite the universality of the scientific name as justification for its preferential use. Bollocks. Blue Tit is still Blue Tit, but it is now Cyanistes caeruleus. This is largely due to the unfortunate continued existence of meddling taxonomists. And yet, when it comes to the micros without vernaculars I find myself being similarly annoyed about the burgeoning preferential use of 'new' vernaculars instead of the long-standing and widely used scientific names. In this scenario I find myself pitying the individuals who are unable to get their head around using roman characters in a string to form a word which they can't remember or pronounce. I fully realise that this is hypocritical, and quite possibly makes me an elitist wanker.

Porter's 2002 checklist of vernaculars for micros is not new, and to some extent tries to revive earlier failed attempts at the same thing. If widely adopted, there are loads of new epithets to learn: Pygmys (or Pigmys where misspelled on some websites), Ermels, Bent-wings, Smudges, Groundlings, Conches, Bells, Nebs, Twists, Shades, Slenders, Buttons, Drills, Knot-horns ……

But there is a more relevant point. The only reason I learnt the scientific names for micros in the first place was due to there being no wide-spread vernaculars in use or adopted in publications. The latest Butterfly Conservation publication on the status of micros does not use the 'new' vernaculars, the popular publication Atropos does not use them, and MapMate is still generally in balance with the Bradley 2000 Checklist (with a few exceptions like the annoying Garden Grass-veneer for Chrysoteuchia culmella). If everyone starts referring on their blogs, lists and records to Cock's-head Bell, New Oak Slender and Reed Smudge without also using the more familiar scientific names (Zeiraphera isertana, Caloptilia robustella and Orthotelia sparganella respectively) then quite frankly they may as well not bother as the majority of readers/recorders won't know what they are on about.

The watershed moment will be the publication of the new BWP Guide (hopefully out soon). I fear that there is every chance that this will follow the precedent of 'dumbing down' as set by the Waring/Townsend guide to macros, where apparently people were incapable of learning what the reniform stigma, costa, and median fascia are (etc). If the new guide incorporates the 'new' vernaculars then I suspect we will all have some learning to do whether we like it or not. If the vernaculars are not incorporated, then I see no reason for any individuals or websites to continue to advocate them.

Sunday, 26 February 2012


A while ago I was lucky enough to obtain some Short-eared Owl pellets from Paul Riddle, with the intention of poking about like I did with Barn Owl pellets last year. I did go through them, and promptly forgot to post anything about it. I only remembered to summarise the results following a bit of e-mail with Paul yesterday about the Whetstone Little Owls. So - what did I expect and what did I find?

First of all it's worth noting that the pellets were actually smaller than I expected - in fact most were smaller than the Barn Owl pellets from last year. The general shape and consistency was pretty similar though, as would be expected given that they made up of are virtually the same small rodent remains. The only other expectation was that the results would show a predominance of Field Vole in the diet.

I dissected ten pellets in total, with the remains of 25 small rodents found and no birds or amphibians. Six pellets had two rodents, three had three, and one had four. As expected Field Vole was the commonest prey with 22 found, and just two Common Shrews and one Wood Mouse. Here's a pseudo-scientific SEO Pie Chart.

I didn't bother photographing anything as there was nothing different to the shots from last year.

Today I mainly moped about feeling sorry for myself, coughing and sneezing at irregular intervals.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Farely Chuffed

Yesterday I felt a bit crap, today I feel positively shite. I thought a bit of fresh air would be a good move to clear my aching head. It wasn't, and now I sound like I've had a bastard file rubbed over me tonsils.

I nipped over to Watermead CP South with absolutely nothing in mind. As I ambled about, I noticed a Fieldfare along the edge of some scrub and hopefully made toward it with the camera. All fieldcraft went to shit when there was a sudden loud blast of Rockit by Herbie Hancock - I really should change my ring-tone. It was a call from work, and all though the five minutes of work-related importance I kept my eye on the Fieldfare which, miraculously, was still knocking about and was now perched on a dead-log at ground level sunning its back. Phone call done and I edged close enough to fire off a couple of shots - not the best Fieldfare shots you'll ever see but certainly the best I've ever taken ....

Otherwise nothing interesting there bird-wise, but I noted a couple of things that stood out from the browns and greens.


Winter Aconite

The only other interesting bird noted today was down the lane as I drove back from dropping Isabelle off in Lutterworth. A Little Owl was prominently sat out on the previously regular tree. Hopefully it's one of the pair that was resident for a long while until evicted by Jackdaws last year, though I guess it could be a completely new bird moving into an uncontested territory. Owl-man Paul Riddle will no doubt work it out.

After posting the photos yesterday from the brief Ulverscroft mothing session, I forgot to mention my garden records for the same night (Thursday) when I ran both the Synergetic and an MV. That's probably because the catch was so instantly forgettable. Compelete rubbish considering the conditions, with just 2 of 2sp. - both in the Synergetic (the MV blanked).

0688 Agonopterix heracliana 1
1663 March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) 1

Last night I ran no traps and scored just as many moths at lit windows:

0688 Agonopterix heracliana 1
1934 Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) 1

I also forgot to mention that Ulverscroft was alive with Tawny Owls - I reckon at least 3 pairs within earshot including one very vocal and close pair to where we based ourselves. I also photographed some other stuff on tree trunks whilst we were there, which I think are:

Common Shiny Woodlouse

Lehmannia marginata

Time for some medicinal malt with ginger and a hot spicy curry from the local take-away - that should sort out my aching body and rasping throat!!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Some Moth Photos

Here is a bunch of shots from the garden on Wednesday night ....

Pale Brindled Beauty


Dark Chestnut

... and from Ulverscroft NR last night ...

Laguna Abuse

Faultless Gennie purrs

I find that the promise of being up late and a McFlurry on the way home is the best way to bribe the offspring into coming out mothing.

Spring Usher

Dotted Border

Pale Brindled Beauty f. monacharia

March Moth



Ypsolopha ustella

Tortricodes alternella

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Mothing Season Begins

Despite others having some success up to now, I'd not had either the chance or inclination to run the garden traps during February until last night (22nd). I just put out the Synergetic combo, but whilst it was mild it was also a bit blowy and so I had low expectations. I was quite pleased therefore to find my first three garden macros for the year this morning .......

22W/18W Synergetic/CFL combo trap
3 of 3sp.

1926 Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) 1
2256 Satellite (Eupsilia transversa) 1
2259 Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula) 1

Today was almost too good to be true - warm sunshine in the afternoon then promising to cloud over at dusk. It would have been criminal to pass up the opportunity and I'd already decided to make a break from work, sort out some traps and head over to Charnwood Lodge. It was still a little breezy but the woodland part of the reserve is quite sheltered.

Part one of the plan was executed almost perfectly - I got home, got some gear out of the shed and, most importantly, gave one of the cheapo 2-strokes a look over. My gennies live in a shed. Best practice is to ensure that they are stored without any fuel. I opened the cap and, as expected, there was still some fuel in - that's because I never drain them and find abusing them to be much easier than looking after them. A quick effort with a socket set and I whipped out the spark plug, gave the contacts a quick rub, and shoved it back in. Fuel line on, choke on, switch on, pull cord a couple of times and it spluttered into action - faultless. All the traps worked and I loaded the car. A bit of dinner, and badgering Josh to hurry up as he wanted to come along (Alex wasn't bothered), and we were off albeit a little later than I'd hoped.

Part two of the plan was a total failure. We arrived at Charnwood Lodge just after dusk but still in plenty of time to get a few hours running. Coded padlock on the gate - I'm sure the very same one that has been there for years. Enter the code - nothing happened. Try again - locked. ARSE. Try brute force - failure. Check with Adrian - right code, no info on any change. I really must remember to add a couple of items to the mothing equipment list - WD40 and bolt-croppers.

Rather than just head home, I decided to try another nearby site - Ulverscroft NR. We arrived and the coded lock worked properly. At least we were into a secure site, though it was not ideal. This site is less sheltered and was a degree cooler. It was also pretty damp underfoot. We ran a 125W MV over a sheet, 2 x 125W MV traps and an 80W/20W actinic/CFL combo trap. The results were not quite as good as I'd hoped, though we just about got everything that may be expected this early in the season and it was good to be out catching and counting moths again.

Ulverscroft NR, Fox Covert
Lights operated 19:00 - 21:00
Partial cloud, breezy, 9°C constant
97 of 9sp.

0461 Ypsolopha ustella 3
1025 Tortricodes alternella 8
1044x Acleris ferrugana/notana 3
1663 March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) 22
1926 Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) 42
1932 Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia) 6
1934 Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) 3
2256 Satellite (Eupsilia transversa) 5
2258 Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) 5

Pots in the fridge and hopefully I'll get a chance to photograph some moths tomorrow afternoon after work.

The above catch was put into context when I got home. I'm running both the Synergetic and an MV, it is 10°C and not so breezy. I can't find a single moth yet.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Rail Takes Off

Back in Blighty after another work trip to Kosice in Slovakia. This time I flew with Austrian Airlines from Heathrow to Kosice via Vienna. Never been to Austria before, but I have now spent a total of 1 hour in Vienna airport and it was a dreadful experience. Pardon my xenophobia, but what is the point of Austria - it's like Germany but without any of the functional precision. Eventually got home at around 1am on Saturday morning (without baggage - that's still stuck somewhere in Vienna airport) after a delayed flight, a botched transfer and having to come back via Brussles. Kosice Airport meanwhile was marvellous; I landed on a snow-covered runway on Wednesday without any problem (yet here we can't operate if there is a hint of white stuff), and left on Friday during a snow flurry after the 'wing-man' had liberally doused the plane with anti-freeze.

A Czech Airlines plane gets the antifreeze treatment before our plane arrived.

Snow - pah, shovel it out the way and get on with the flights.

Yesterday was therefore a partial wash-out - I was knackered and in any case the weather was crappy until late in the day. Today was better, and I managed to nip over to Watermead CP North around lunch-time with the main aim to year-tick Water Rail. They are usually knocking about the feeding station and today was no exception as I scored as soon as I sat down in the hide.

Water Rail

I grabbed a brief bit of video as it strutted around in very typical Water Rail style, and just as I did so it did a very atypical Water Rail thing ....

Have you ever seen a Water Rail use it's wings to get off the ground? I haven't, and it took me a moment to work out what it had done.

One of the other typical bird feeder attendants

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Cronk, Sky, Grey

Another constrained weekend passes; this weekend the constraints were kids karate, football training, the Whetstone Youth Drama group production of Aladdin, and a football match this afternoon. Yesterday was particularly galling as all the time whilst I couldn't do anything it was bright, sunny and sub-zero - perfect weather for pointing the camera at things. This morning was the only chance I had for a couple of hours out, but the weather was a bit crappy - dull and cold and starting to feel a bit damp. I ventured out briefly anyway with no great expectations.

I headed over to Huncote Embankment for a change. Before too long I picked up a nice yeartick as a superb Raven headed over, shortly followed by a Skylark. Plenty of vocal tits around, plus Redwings actively feeding in the undergrowth. I had a good long relaxing walk, though it would have been more peaceful and relaxing if more dogwalkers had decided to go somewhere else. At one point I heard a vaguely familiar call, but it took a while to register as I haven't heard it for years. Eventually I sussed out what it was and picked up the responsible birds a couple of fields further on - Grey Partridge. Conditions were too pants to even attempt any bird photography, so I stuck to something easier and pointed the camera at lichens (yes, once again I soon gave up on birds and looked for something else).

Hammered Shield Lichen

Lecanora muralis

Lecidella stigmatea

On Friday I got confirmation about the last 2011 ID I was waiting for. Sadly, it wasn't a VC55 Acleris logiana after all, but an Acleris kochiella. Still a rare moth in the county, and good garden first all the same. I'll have to update the 2011 Mothing Report some time.

Slovakia again later this week, via Austria. Never been to Austria - does a couple of hours in Vienna airport count?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Rearing Snakes

Found some old photos from 2005 that I'd forgotten about, some larvae that were donated for rearing .... big larvae ....

In case you don't recognise them, they turn into this after pupation ....

Death's-head Hawk-moth

I have to say that it was good fun rearing these, but a lot harder work than your average tub of moth larvae. They needed a much bigger box for a start, and the privet was being replenished in large bunches daily. The kids were amazed by them, and of course they had to be taken to school for show and tell.

At the same time I had this to rear ...

Which duly turned into this stunner ....

Oleander Hawk-moth

I also had this Convolvulous Hawk, but I can't find any photos of the resulting adult ....

Whilst the Death's-heads were great, it wasn't my first time seeing the adult as earlier in 2005 this was found in a local Garden Centre - obviously an adventive individual ....

These really are impressive moths, and it's very hard to resist giving them a good poke to make them squeak!