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

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A few more shots

A few more from yesterday, trying out my new Nikon CoolPix P600 bridge camera. One of the things I was keen to check out as soon as possible was that it worked okay with the Raynox macro conversion lens that I've been using with good results on the Lumix. Almost as soon as I started walking along Kinchley Lane alongside Swithland Reservoir (if you came for the Crag Martin all those years ago, it's the lane where you parked and then got blocked in ...) I found a small spider on the stone wall. An excellent subject to try it out, and all the better when I sussed out that it was new for me.

Textrix denticulata

I took this using exactly same technique as I've been using with the Lumix: autofocus set to macro, aperture priority and aperture wound up as high as possible (f7.6 for this shot), flash forced on, WB set to flash at -1, no exposure compensation, ISO fixed at slowest (100 on this camera) and this shot was 1/60 sec. Snap. Images looked okay on back of camera and I'm pleased with this one.

I then found some leafhoppers on oak whilst checking for galls on the underside of the leaves. Again, same technique, and unbelievably another tick. I can't credit the camera for two ticks in quick succession!

Eurhadina concinna

Had to zoom in a bit more for this one which makes holding the focus whilst hand-held a bit more hit and miss, especially out in the field, but this is okay.

So far so good - camera at least comparable to the Lumix with the Raynox in use using usual technique. One of this things that I don't like though is using the flash all the time. Tends to work okay for most inverts, but not good for lots of flowers. So with the cleaner image at higher ISO than I get from the Lumix I am hoping I can ditch the flash more often, especially for flowers and moths. Here's a couple of shots taken using the Raynox with flash off and WB set to cloudy.

Taleporia tubulosa at ISO 400 with 1/60 sec exposure.

Sycamore Tar Spot at ISO 400 with 1/50 sec exposure

A fly at ISO 400 with 1/200 exposure

I think with compliant subjects in the right conditions, there is more scope for useable shots without flash from this camera than I got with the Lumix.

The last thing I wanted to try out was the in-built macro without the Raynox. With the Lumix, this is only really useable with the macro zoom facility with creates a noisy image unless you are photographing something butterfly sized and bigger. I was lucky enough to find a Grey Shoulder-knot settled on the stone wall, albeit in a pretty shaded spot so I would have to use flash. Moth photos are sometimes rubbish with flash; it does depend on the lighting conditions you are in but it's the reflectivity of the scales on some moths that screw it up.

Grey Shoulder-knot

Not the best moth shot I've ever taken but certainly gives confidence that I should be able to get useable macromoth photos using this camera without the Raynox - something that I can't do with the Lumix.

All in all a good testing session, and obviously more time spent using it will improve the techniques and results.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

New Camera

Most photos posted on this blog over the last four years, and virtually everything over the last two, have been courtesy of the Panasonic Lumix FZ45 14 megapixel bridge camera that I bought in August 2010. When I bought it, it was to replace the second-hand Canon EOS 350D I'd been using with a 90-300mm zoom lens, and also my old Nikon CoolPix 4500 that was about dead and only usable indoors for moth shots. The flexibility of the Lumix was soon put to good use, with 24x optical zoom, HD video and anything from macro to panoramic on consecutive shots. I was a little disappointed with the noisy sensor that meant that anything over ISO 200 was not great, and the in-built macro zoom was also a bit noisy. When I got hold of a Raynox DCR-250 macro conversion lens in May 2012, the quality of the macro shots improved dramatically and since then it's been a brilliant tool out in the field. It still works perfectly with no dead pixels, battery life is brilliant and I'm happy with the macro shots. But it's four years old and things move on.

I've been grappling with the idea of going back to a DSLR for a few months, with the main objectives being to get better image quality at higher ISO and to try and get a few more bird shots. Main reason I haven't gone for it was down the same old problem of needing various lenses to do everything I want to do whilst out in the field - and that means ridiculous cost. I very nearly went for it though, with a Canon EOS 70D the likely target. But I then started thinking about other stuff I'd like to try, like underwater photography/video. So I finally decided that rather than spending the best part of £800 on a DSLR and basic lens (for which I'd then have to spend another couple of grand on proper lenses) I would upgrade my bridge camera and also go for something completely different to play with (I'll come back to that).

So for the bridge. My first decision was that it woudn't be Panasonic. The Lumix is great, but I want a cleaner shot at higher ISO for birds. I considered the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS - it has a 50x optical zoom but is only 12.1 megapixels. Looking at a few other options, I decided to go for the Nikon CoolPix P600 - 16.1 megapixels, 60x optical zoom and given the long happy experience I had with the 4500 it felt right going for another Nikon. I bought it this week - £299.00 - significantly cheaper than a DSLR option and cheaper than the Lumix when it was new.

Been out today having a quick play with it. I've proven it with the Raynox DCR-250 both with and without flash, checked out the in-built macro and had a play about with various different settings. I've got a few shots of bits to post separately, but the main thing I managed to try out was getting a few bird shots. Helps when there is an obliging subject but first impressions are that I am going to get what I wanted from this camera.

This Grey Heron was knocking about along the dam at Swithland Reservoir. The lighting wasn't great but all of these shots were taken with the ISO set to auto 100 - 400, and all shots are either full width or height crops (resized for the blog).

The next three are all at the full 60x optical zoom (35mm camera equivalent is a 1440mm lens!).

Pretty pleased with these to say the least, far better than I've ever managed with the Lumix or any previous camera I've owned. I shot a few other birds as well .....




Pied Wagtail

This last one is actually a quite heavy crop from a shot at 60x optical zoom.

I mentioned another camera which I am going to get. I'm going for one of the new GoPro Hero 4 cameras, just trying to decide whether to go for the silver version with built-in LCD or the black edition which will have much higher res video options. Main reason I want to get one of these is that they come with a waterproof housing and I can stick it in rivers and rockpools to try and get some nice video of stuff that is off-limits at the moment. Plus they are quite funky little cameras anyway. I'm away on holiday after next week so would be good to have it available for then. I'll have two excellent cameras for different things, at a total cost of less than the DSLR option which wouldn't do half as much.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Croft Hill Bits

I nipped over to Croft Hill for a brief walk around yesterday afternoon. It was good to get out and have a look at a few bits for a change, seems like I've had another busy period where time flies by. Nothing too out of the ordinary, with larval life being the most notable things I pointed the lens at.

Pretty sure this is Diurnea fagella - has those odd enlarged third thoracic legs. Found this feeding in a spun tent on hazel.

This is a hoverfly larva, and probably a Syrphus/Eupoedes sp.

Harlequin Ladybird larva - found loads of these.

Myathropa florea

Mesembrina meridiana

And this spectacular thing is a powdery mildew on oak - Erysiphe alphitoides

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Autumn Mothing

I usually find that garden mothing in September brings a fresh burst of enthusiasm after a typically dull and disappointing period from mid-August. But last year, and so far this year, I feel like I'm missing out on a few things. Still no Sallow, only a couple of Centre-barred Sallows and one Barred Sallow so far. Also missed Pale Eggar this year I think. Still whilst I'm missing out on those, I did get this one last night ...

Orange Sallow - first since 2011

I've also picked up a few of these over the last couple of nights ....

Small Blood-vein

I don't always get any second-brood individuals for this species, and the last one was (coincidentally) in 2011. Usually just the odd one of two when I do get them, apart from 2006 when I had a significant second-brood appearance.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Handy Inverts

Not done much lately, but here's some inverts that I managed to catch by hand whilst out on me bike or in the garden ......

Lesser Earwig (Labia minor) - Whetstone, 05/09/2014

Probable Anoecia corni - Whetstone, 06/09/2014

Southern Hawker - Whetstone, 05/09/2014
This one wasn't exactly caught by hand - it was flapping about on the ground and seemed oblivious to me to start with and then grateful of a hand up to a bramble stem.

This next one wasn't caught by hand either, but one I found by day in the garden and managed to pot up on 28/08/2014. It's an Ochsenheimeria sp., and ID is still to be fuly resolved though I think it's a female O. urella which is very rare in VC55, but it could be an O. taurella which would be a VC first.

Look at the swanky antennae and bifid head hairs on that!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

I know the programme is focussed on the famous, tracking their histories back to common earnest people or back through harrowing family trails. But we all have family histories. I'm lucky enough to have been given a massive head-start should I ever have a proper go at tracing my family, that's because back in 1999 a Mr Phillips in Enderby made a brilliant attempt at tracing his wife's family tree and spreading it out as far as possible. His wife's great-great-grandfather and my dad's great-grandfather were brothers, and he took the time to contact my grandfather and one of his sisters to pass on the information he'd found. Because of the work that he did, I have a very good trace of my paternal family line going back to before the formal registering of births and deaths started in 1837.

Before all that though, there is the matter of my surname. Skevington is a bastardisation of Skeffington (as are Skivington, Skiffington, Skefington and Sheffington). Have a look on the map at Leicester, and follow the A47 east towards Uppingham. About half way between you'll find the Leicestershire village Skeffington which is where my family name derives from. Skeffington is itself derived from anglo-saxon; the village was Sceaftinton, meaning place of the sceaft tribe (and sceaft was likely drived from sceap meaning sheep). Essentially it was a farming village notable for sheep - nothing changes!

There is a Skeffington/Skevington (etc) family shield which features three black bulls on a white background. There is a crest element which is a mermaid holding a mirror and comb when the shield is used in a formal coat of arms. The family motto is 'per angusta ad augusta'.

There are some (in)famous Skeffington's in history - quite probably nothing to do with my direct family line but worth a mention. Sir William Skeffington was MP for Leicestershire appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland under Henry VIII. Essentially he was one of along line of Lords Deputy who were tasked with keeping the Irish under English rule and to quash any rebellion. Certainly not something I'd advocate.

One of his other sons was Sir Leonard Skeffington, who was a Lieutenant of the Tower of London who was credited (!) with inventing an implement of torture - known as the Scavenger's or Skevington's Daughter. Seems it folded you up and compressed the body until blood ran from the nose and ears. Nice.

Both his grandson William and great-grandson Thomas were MPs for Leicestershire. Wonder if that is the Thomas Skeffington who had this built?

There's also a whole load of toffy tory Skeffington's in this lot - seems a bit far removed from sheep farming to me.

Happily, there is someone in my direct line who was a bit more creditable. Here is a very simplified tree showing the paternal line only, from my son's and their cousin back through nine generations. Obviously there are lots of wives and daughters (sorry), uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers etc removed for clarity.

See that bloke back a few generations from me, my great-great-great-great-grandfather born in 1802, John Skevington. He was a notable figure in the Leicestershire Chartist movement, the working-class push for political reform. Seems that he tried to use his influence to keep splintering chartist factions together and to prevent violence, although he was arrested in 1842 and blamed for causing coal strikes. His arrest caused a clash between the police on the one hand and the miners and Chartists on the other. There a several on-line references suggesting that he lived 1801-1850, but the family tree search that I've been passed on gives 1802-1851. Either way he died aged 49, and he is apparently buried in Loughborough so maybe I should go and try to find his gravestone. It's quite likely that his son's middle name Feargus is a nod to a notable Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor.

There are at least 18 people in the same generation as my grandfather, of which 8 were male Skevington's - clearly a lot of scope for tracing the family in a bit more depth when I have spare couple of years!

Friday, 22 August 2014


Here's a few recent butterfly shots - mainly to brighten the mood whist the weather is un-August like and pants.


Small Tortoiseshell

Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Monday, 18 August 2014


Nipped out today over to Watermead CP South for a quick walk around - haven't been there for a fair while. Weather was not great, one of those days when nice warm sunshine gives way to showers very quickly and you don't know which way it will go when you're furthest from the car.

I paid some attention to the flora, mainly looking at the stuff growing in and at the edge of the River Soar. Managed to find some common plants that I've ignored previously .....

Marsh Woundwort

Unbranched Bur-reed, flowering albeit on the far bank.
I also found Branched Bur-reed that had gone over.


I didn't bother with the net as I was trying to concentrate on the plants, but a few inverts were obvious like the Myathropa florea that landed on me, loads of mating Harlequin Ladybirds, good numbers of patroling Brown and Southern Hawkers, a Broad-bodied Chaser and a few Banded Demoiselles and Common Darters.

Spot the Southern Hawker

I also lifted my bins to a few birds for a change, with House Martins and Swallow zooming about all over the place and several bright juv Chiffchaffs. Most of the wildfowl was actually tame but very foul, and there were few gulls to scrutinise. At least two noisy humbugs were poncing about on the water, and a Grey Heron stayed put for the camera for a change (in dense shade ...).

Great Crested Grebe

Grey Heron

Sunday, 10 August 2014

New inverts

Spent most of this morning identifying and photographing various inverts from the yesterday and the mothing trip on Wednesday night. Here's a selection of the highlights:

Enochrus melanocephalus
This one came to MV light at Fosse Meadows on 06/08/2014. Not sure of the VC55 status at the moment.

Curculio rubidus
This one is from Newfield Colliery yesterday, and having seen one at Woodwalton Fen last weekend it was fresh in the mind. Again not sure of VC55 status.

Mogulones geographicus
This is the one swept from Vipers Bugloss at Ketton Quarry, the only VC55 site for it.

Stictopleurus punctatonervosus
Appears this one has been spreading. The shape of that black line on the pronotum is diagnostic.