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

Sunday, 30 August 2020

Wild Turkey

I mentioned that I was going to go and look at a tree. This one.

This is a large mature Turkey Oak in a hedgerow alongside a layby near to Sapcote. But with the grey skies, wind and height of the lowest boughs, getting anything resembling a nice photos of bits of the tree was futile. Worse, I was hoping to look at and get some shots of the acorns on this tree - but I could not see a single one. However the verge and roadway immediately below it were littered with the distinctive 'Medusa haired' cups and a few separated acorns, maybe having been battered by the winds. But the cups did not look fresh like they'd just fallen, so perhaps this species drops them earlier anyway.

Meanwhile, I have enjoyed a drop of this in the past. If you like a smooth peaty malt, this is nothing like it. It's a bit rough and makes your toenails curl. Like Turkey Oak acorn cups.

The Measham Rose

I had a few things to do on Saturday morning, but I was aware that a Rose-coloured Starling was knocking about in Measham over in the north-east of Leics. I've seen a number of these over the years and I think they've all been adults as this was, including one in August 2002 at Medbourne in Leics. Still, by mid-afternoon with no other plans I headed over to have a look and poke my lens at it. The only flaw in this plan was that the early morning clear skies were now decidedly gloomy.

I had no updated news since 8:30am, but just headed to the general area it had been knocking about in - a cluster of streets named after poets. As I slowly crawled around in the car, I somehow managed to miss the group of birders that were bunched together and instead found a lone photographer pointing up at the lone bird on a TV ariel ....

I managed a couple of quick shots, and then it scooted off. It was only then when trying to relocate it that I found the masses a couple of streets away, and evidently the starling had re-joined it's more vulgar congeners. It was just as well I'd come to the right place at the right time by all accounts, as some had been looking for it for a while and whilst talking to Rhys Dandy it was his fourth (very local) excursion to see it but the first that he had done. I managed a few shots, I was going to say of variable quality but actually they are all a bit duff - poor light and telegraph poles and wires don't make for the best angles.

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Missing, Lost, Found

I've had a bit of a listing revelation when I inadvertently discovered that there were a few omissions from my list. Nothing mind-blowing, just big things - like trees. It started when I mused to myself that all of the oaks I'd looked at whilst at Swithland Wood were English or Red, no Sessile. I also couldn't remember how to differentiate Turkey Oak. And then realised that I could not actually ever recall seeing it. Sure enough, it's not listed, so one I have already hatched a plan to see. I had a quick look at a few other trees, and realised I'd not listed White Poplar either which I was sure I had seen.

My tree list was put together right at the start of drawing up my PSL list, and I only included trees that I absolutely definitely had seen at that time, or indeed had made the effort to see in the few months between thinking about a PSL list and actually submitting one. And in all honesty I don't think I've given trees and woody shrubs much of a second thought since then, other than looking at them for other things. For example, I've featured Bucculatrix bechsteinella leaf-mines on this blog from Pear - and yet I haven't listed the Pear itself. I've also photographed Spindle fruits because I thought they were quirky, and haven't listed Spindle.

Like tiny pink pumpkins - Whetstone 2013

So I had a thorough trawl through and I've ended up with a list of trees to look for in VC55. There are quite a few conifers that I think I've seen but will leave unlisted until I've seen them again. The same goes for a few woody shrubs. But, Spindle, Pear, Yew and Lilac are definite. And then there's the White Poplar ....

Yesterday evening I headed over to Watermead CP South, a site where I was sure a bit of looking at rather than on trees might clinch it. For a change, and to avoid the later evening masses throwing bread at geese, ducks and gulls, I parked up in Birstall and accessed the site from across the River Soar which at this section is almost like a canal including locks.

It didn't take long to find White Poplar. However the visions I had of getting up close and searching for leafmines were scuppered by the fact the both the spindly sapling and the large tree I found - close together - were completely boxed in by bramble and scrub. And I had shorts, ankle socks and light trainers on.

The trunk is leaning over to the left, not the photographer leaning to the right

After finding the poplar, I couldn't help but notice another tree with many white leaves. Leaves that should have been green.

This Field Maple was strikingly afflicted, looking like half the leaves had been deliberately sprayed with Christmas frosting. It's a powdery mildew, Sawadaea bicornis.

A cursory look at White Willow for leafmines etc yielded some weird looking bunches of leaves in rosettes at the end of stalks. I assumed a gall ....

.... and it is. Dipteran, Rabdophaga rosaria

I also noticed lots of Hop around the site, as I have done many times before, and suddenly doubted if I'd listed that (but I had).

I was there for maybe an hour at the most. This site is a lot busier generally than some others; people there who are exercising, cycling, picnicking or fattening the wildfowl are generally used to and tolerant of weirdos walking around watching and photographing birds on the lakes, but weirdos poking around bushes and looking at leaves get more quizzical looks.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

The Gall Guides

That's gall guides, not the Christian-based adventure scouting for girls outfit.

It seems that just lately my book of choice has been a slim and relatively cheap photographic guide to Britain's Plant Galls. This one ....
I've had this for a fair while, and seem to have dipped into it sporadically over that time. I think it's had more use this autumn than at any time previously. It does not pretend to be anything other than a basic guide to the commonest and most recognisable plant galls that any keen general naturalist might encounter. And I like it all the more for that. I can't recall ever finding anything that was not covered by the guide, but then .... if it's not covered, how would I know about it to look for it?

There is another guide, with a helpfully similar title ....

This is illustrated, rather than photographic, and is around twice the cost. But I imagine it would be another step up, with keys and - perhaps - detail on a wider range of species. I think I'll check this one out, and also see if there is anything else. Galls are fascinating in many respects, so knowing more about more of them can only be a good thing.

I was going to post a link to something by Scouting For Girls as a nice twist. But all their songs are shite.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

A Bit of This and That

Some time after posting last night, when it was very dark , relatively calm, still and dry, I had a quick potter in the garden. I wondered if the mystery hatchlings would be more evident after dark. They weren't, but I reckon I stumbled on a likely culprit by default. Hanging on the underside of a leaf, actively laying eggs in a similar clustered pattern, was a Large Yellow Underwing. Getting any kind of shot with a phone pointing up from underneath the moth in the pitch black was very hit and miss, this is the best effort ....

It then struck me that this was odd. Whilst Large Yellow Underwing is polyphagous, I only ever find them on the ground feeding on low-growing vegetation - not beaten from high up in shrubs or trees. Many moth larvae eat their eggs first before venturing off, so I wonder if the lack of any evidence of tiny larvae is due them either working their way down the branches and trunk to get to the ground, or perhaps simply dropping down. I'm going to keep my eye on this batch and see if it similarly disappears.

Otherwise today has been far too windy and wet to think about doing anything this evening, so here's a few galls and bits from Swithland Wood at the weekend.

This Beech leaf shows the rolled-edge gall created by the mite Acalitus stenaspis. The first Beech I looked at had this on a very high percentage of visible leaves, and then every other Beech I looked at had none or very few

This gall on Beech is caused by a dipteran larva, Hartigiola annulipes. Again, lots of these on the first Beech, fewer on others.

This one is on lime, and notably each gall is precisely located at the junction between veins. It's another gall-causing mite, Aceria exilis.

Amongst the 1000s of silk button galls on oak caused by the wasp Neuroterus numismalis (visible here) and spangle galls caused by the wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, I found a few of these 'kidney bean' galls caused by another wasp, Trigonaspis megaptera.

Not sure why, but I potted up a couple of 'red ants' to look at. They turned out to be Myrmica ruginodis, showing the two thoracic spines that are as long as they are wide apart, and a gently curved basal section to the antennae.

A quick poke around under loose bark on a rotting trunk revealed a load of these chunky and slow-moving Collembola which looks right for Neanura muscorum.

In advertently captured on one of the lime leaves I collected was this Eucallipterus tiliae aphid nymph. This is a bit of a bonus; I have seen and photographed this species as an adult before but for some reason I'd not added it to the list.

A bit of proper larval life to round this off, a Grey Dagger.

Monday, 24 August 2020


In our garden (currently at least) was have a small English Oak sapling. We grew it from acorns collected when the boys were little, so c14 years ago now. It is in a large plant pot, and I regularly prune off some of the growth to keep it small. For some reason I never fathomed, questioned or was consulted about, Nichola decided a few years ago to sink the plant pot containing the said sapling into the garden border. I fully expect that the roots have long since broken out, and therefore when we finally get the garden ripped apart in about a month it is likely that the oak will be no more.

The only reason I was keen to try and nurture and maintain a small oak in the garden was to provide some handy foodplant for rearing the occasional larvae that would not take lilac or cherry leaves from the garden (my general go to leaves of choice for any polyphagous spp.), and to perhaps create a chance for some natural diversity. It has certainly been useful over the years, but I have to say that the number of larvae I've actually found on it naturally is very few and far between (unlike on the aforementioned lilac and cherry!).

Late on Saturday evening whilst sorting out the moth trap, I happened to notice a couple of batches of eggs clustered on a leaf of the oak. They almost shone out as they were quite white in the late evening gloom. I wasn't sure if they were lepidopteran or something else, but I did think it was a bad decision by whatever laid them to have them all clustered together on the upperside of a leaf on the outer side of the oak. Clear to see, easy to parasitize. I then promptly forgot about them until yesterday evening, when it was not quite so gloomy but even so the egg batches were nowhere near as bright ....

I grabbed a quick phone snap, and as I stood back and looked at the tree more closely I noticed quite a few leaves that had clearly been devoured by something ....

So something had laid a batch of eggs, and something has been gobbling up the leaves undetected - despite me looking over the tree for galls and such like recently. I then noticed a couple of hairy-edged part-eaten leaves ....

I didn't need to turn the leaf to know what they were, but I did need to look to see how many there were ....

How the chuff does a brood of at least 30 Buff-tip larvae manage to hide on an oak sapling that is barely 8ft tall. It's not the first time I've had Buff-tip breeding on one of the garden trees though. I decided that the sapling was not really suitable for sustaining all of these larvae where they will be very obvious, so I immediately transferred c20 of them onto the cherry tree on the front (where they bred before) to give them all a better chance.

This evening when I got home from work, the few larvae left on the oak were still clustered together in the same place. However the bigger batch I moved to the cherry, that were still evident this morning, have moved and I can't locate them. I'm sure their presence will become clear before long though. So whilst browsing the oak, I thought I'd look at how the egg-batch that started all of this was doing. Now, where was it ....

I spent a good few minutes looking and scratching my head. It's not a big tree, how on earth can it be possible that I can't see them. I resorted to checking the photo on my phone and tracking down the leaf. Yep - where I thought, where there is absolutely zero evidence of any eggs ....

There's not even the husks! I reasoned that whatever was in them has hatched this morning, gobbled up the shells and then moved off - but I'm buggered if I can find anything. Here's the two photos side-by-side so you can see for yourself that this is the same leaf (or assure me I've gone mad) ....

I hope all will be revealed in due course!

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Come With Me, Into The Trees

Yesterday afternoon, though it was still blustery and prone to showers, I decided a change of scene was in order and headed off to Swithland Wood.

This is one of the largest areas of ancient semi-natural woodland Leicsestershire, a remnant of the original Charnwood Forest. Within the wood are two large deep pools, though they are fenced off, which were the sites of slate quarrying going back centuries.

I ended up spending a very pleasant three hours or so just wandering around the northern section minding my own business. There are large open pathways and rides through the wood, and large car-parks at either end. It is well used by Leicestershire folk generally and certainly by locals for dog-walking, however it is another site where it is very easy indeed to slip off the main tracks and find abundant space and solitude. Just what I needed to clear my head a bit.

This is predominantly a deciduous woodland, dominated by oaks and birch but there are plenty of limes, alder and beech. There is a decent understory, with ample hazel, elder, holly and of course honeysuckle, ivy, bracken and brambles. Within the wood there are a couple of more open areas, and on the north-eastern perimeter the wood encloses a grazing pasture.

Although the outlook was showery, I enjoyed some spells of sunshine as I ambled about. But the scene was distinctly autumnal; leaves starting to turn, and with the high winds from Friday in particular there was a general crunch under foot from twigs and acorns ripped from the branches ahead of their time.

Whilst I carried no nets, I had a handful of pots and some ziplock bags. I periodically stopped to browse through foliage, searching out mines or galls, and gazed at every flowering umbelifer I came across along the rides. I photographed a few bits and brought home some samples which can wait for another post another day. The main thing I brought home was a rested mind.

"Come with me, into the trees"