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

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Seating Arrangements

I was hoping to get out for another bout of square-bashing this evening, but given that I didn't get home from work until well after dark - and in any case it was pissing it down - that was not possible. I have scoured a few squares on the map and identified a couple of likely spots to try out in the next week or so though. Looking at the map, and the associated villages - some of which I do know - I was reminded that big chunks of southern Leicestershire are fairly affluent rural areas. Typical of the type of people that blindly and steadfastly vote in the party that is most likely to promote 'rural affairs' at the expense of environmental and ecological sense. The type that might well want to head out on horseback with, you know, a pack of baying dogs. It's quite depressing really. The Parliamentary seat is now South Leicestershire, previously it was Blaby, and prior to that is was South Leicestershire .... Whatever it is/was called, and whatever the precise boundaries, it has been one of the safest Tory seats for decades (perhaps centuries if I had the will to look). Whetstone where I live is a large suburban area pretty much on the northern edge of the seat. It feels nothing like a model village, most of the time. Until there is some 'national celebration' like when the bunting was out in May. I know at every election that my vote is pretty much irrelevant. I just hope that the growing suburban areas eventually have enough unblinkered people to outweigh the 'rural' population in the seat. But I'm not holding my breath.

The lyrics to this quite excellent track feel relevant. Incidentally the whole album - Ultra Mono - is cracking.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Simple Mines

This evening when I left work the sun was shining and it had warmed up a fair bit. I've had a lazy few days for one reason or another and wanted to get out, but knew that there would be very little time for much. As it happens I was copied on an e-mail earlier in the day from our CMR, Adrian Russell, with ideas for a bit of square-bashing for leaf mining moths based on squares that are devoid of records of one of our commonest leaf miners - Parornix anglicella. The (very reasonable) theory being that tetrads with no records of this species have probably never been covered for any leaf mining species. I quickly checked the nearest empty square - SP6086 a bit south-east of home near to the village Walton ....

There are two roads that run through the square, so likely it would be possible to park up and have a mooch along a hedgerow. I'd never knowingly been into this square, and certainly there is nothing in it that would normally warrant any interest. A closer look on satellite view did nothing to change that view. Lots of fields, not lots of woodland or copses and not much in the way of access.

In both of the above maps, there is a point marked 'recording'. This was in no way a pre-planned spot - it is simply where I stopped once on the right road and checked that I was in the square before parking up and getting out.

If I had pre-planned it, I would be very smug at the fact that right here was a decent range of hedgerow trees and shrubs plus some non-natives planted there I imagine many years ago. As I didn't pre-plan it I just feel lucky. Within 20 meters or so either side of where I pulled into a field entry were: oak, ash, rowan, lime, elm sp, 'cherry' prunus sp., hawthorn, blackthorn, bittersweet, bramble, rosa sp., bindweed, willowherbs and other low-growing vegetation. Plenty to look through in the c40 mins I had left of daylight.

I've ended up with a bagful of mines, most common and readily identifiable with one or two to check further. One I have sorted though is this new for me tenanted mine of Ectoedemia atricollis on hawthorn ....

Egg on underside, gallery running around leaf edge leading to blotch, larva with dark head

I lose interest in hawthorn very quickly when I do look for leaf mines, so I doubt I would have come across this one if I'd not been actively looking to create a few records for a blank square.

Whilst pulling low branches of lime looking for mines, without success I should add, I inadvertently knocked this off from its roost ....

Southern Hawker

This one has been a major earworm of mine over the last week - I like the odd way it just starts like you're in the middle of the song.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

A Saw Point

I've found and ignored a number of sawfly larvae over the course of this year, mainly ones that were swept up by chance from grasses and low vegetation so not possible to accurately pin to a particular foodplant. I also find them difficult to identify compared to lepidopteran larvae. I can usually assign most moth caterpillars to family and often species quite readily, whereas with sawfly larvae I have no clue as to what family it may belong to. Recently I've found a couple that I thought may be identifiable, but as yet I've not been able to figure them out.

Firstly a relatively small larva - actually two of them - found on Rosa sp. down the lane.

What was additionally notable was that both larvae had a small black 'foreign body' apparently attached to the back of the head capsule. I posted these on the sawflies facebook group, and the most plausible explanation was an egg case from a parasitic wasp. Certainly the two larvae were acting lethargic and not feeding - any chance of rearing through pretty much extinct so these remain unidentified.

More recently I found this larva on Sessile Oak, sitting coiled up on the underside of a leaf ....

No firm ID, and trawling through all the species reportedly confined to Quercus sp. does not throw up an obvious candidate. It's possible that this is actually a polyphagous species.

Either way, based on the structure and appearance of the two I am unable to put them to a likely family and narrow down. I've seen a comment suggesting that this (Czech, non-English) book carries a good number of excellent images including larvae:

But I think, whilst frustrating, the only way forward with free-roaming (as opposed to leaf-mining) sawfly larvae is to try and rear through - something I've yet to successfully do but clearly worth a shot.

Monday, 21 September 2020

A Bit Rusty

You'd think I'd been nowhere, stuck at home seeing nothing. Well actually I have, I've just not made time been arsed to blog about it. The only day I didn't go anywhere was Saturday when a bout of electrical DIY on some kitchen lighting took longer than I anticipated.

On Thursday I had a walk along another stretch of disused railway line, this one at Crow Mills Way between Countesthorpe and South Wigston ....

On Friday afternoon I had a walk around Beacon Hill over in the Charnwood area ....

And yesterday I had a walk around Fosse Meadows, but I didn't bother with any shots from there as it was a brief visit between chores and televised football lacking soul.

On all three walks I was primarily focussed on leaf mines, and found a decent number of species but (as yet) nothing new identified. I also found a few galls, and a few rusts / micro-fungi that as yet I've either ignored or drawn a blank. I am sure that all of these will be common and should/could be named, but .... I can feel a copy of this coming on ....

Here are a few that are in a pending file ....

On Dogwood

On Ulmus sp.

On Rosa sp.

On Silver Birch

On lime

On bramble

Friday, 18 September 2020

Bumps, Balls and Blisters

 In lieu of anything more exciting, here's some galls from Croft Hill on Monday .....

This is the reddened upperside and distinctly unpleasant looking underside of a pear leaf galled by the fungi Gymnosporangium sabinae, commonly known as Pear Rust. This is one that requires two hosts to complete a cycle: a summer form that mainly affects pear, and a winter form that affects Juniper. There are four Gymnosporangium spp. that require Juniper plus secondary hosts. This one on Pear is quite common in VC55, Gymnosporangium clavariiforme (Tongues of Fire) which uses hawthorn is much less common. This is certainly due to the Juniper involved: G. clavariiforme needs Wild Juniper (Juniperus communis) which is pretty much non-existant in VC55 apart from a couple of sites where it has been planted. G. sabinae used a cultivated Junipers, such as Juniperus sabinae - clearly more of that around.

The next two galls are caused by wasps, and both are on Quercus sp. oaks:

This is a asexual generation gall of Neuroterus albipes. Quite different from the more usual 'spangle' galls caused by other Neuroterus spp. as they are a lot smoother.

And these are the asexual generation galls of Andricus lignicola, generally known as Cola Nut Galls. I'm not sure if this is because they are meant to resemble Kola Nuts, or because they taste like the 'cola' flavour from the nuts. I didn't fancy testing the latter theory, at least not without a dark rum to mix it with.

Galls are cool, uh?

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Autumn Fruit

Whilst out looking for mines, galls and anything else that takes my fancy, I've pointed the phone camera at some fruit. Here's a selection, a marker of the season. I particularly like the pair of Pear bollocks.

** Stop Press ** I'd rashly assumed these crinkly-stemmed phallic shrooms were Shaggy Parasol. They ain't - this is Macrolepiota procera which fits the open grassy area much better.

As everyone knows, fruit is a fine accompaniment to some decent cheese.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020


A busy day of tidying up the shrubbery on the front garden, potting up some bulbs and cuttings and then making a start on clearing the shed and shuttling the stuff over to my Mum's garage. Having cleared some stuff out, I could easily get access to my 13 year old bicycle that has been ignored for a couple of years for various reasons. I decided that seeing as it was a warm evening, and I needed the exercise, I'd do a bit of basic maintenance and get out on it.

Tyres pumped up, brake blocks scuffed, frame wiped over and a cursory look at a dry chain and I was off. I headed down the lane and intended to carry on across the A426 down past the pick your own on Whetstone Gorse Lane. Going right to the end is just shy of 2.5km, so an ideal round ride to reacquaint the legs with peddling. Of course I intended to look for anything of interest whilst out, but other than my phone and a ziplock bag I was bereft of equipment.

Some way down Whetstone Gorse Lane I stopped at a likely looking pull in to have a nose around ....

I'd barely got off my bike and taken this snap when my phone bleeped with a message that necessitated a lengthy phone call. Whilst talking, I started peering at the hedgerow which down here is predominantly Ulmus sp. - I guess at some point the farmers around here got grants for planting elm.

As I was full flow I suddenly noticed a very distinctive pattern and managed to restrain my excitement and kerb expletives whilst concluding the call. This is exactly the leaf that I saw ....

As soon as I could, I started looking for more leaves with this pattern and found loads. It took a while for me to notice though that some of these were not just feeding patterns - tiny larvae were present within the zig-zags on many leaves. Getting decent shots of that was only possible when I got some leaves home later.

Zig-zag Sawfly

Having found a load of nibbled leaves, I carried on to the end of the lane and decided that on the way back I'd check at several spots on the way home. It was quite late in the evening by now though so I needed to be quick.

This last shot is looking back along the lane, and the whole hedgerow along here is Ulmus sp. I started here and immediately found more nibbled leaves. The following map shows that I luckily stopped at enough spots to create records in several monads.

The first leaves I found were at SP566938, second from the bottom. The southern five points are on Whetstone Gorse Lane, the upper two are on Springwell Lane - including the last spot that is at the start of the lane just off the estate. The reason I went to this trouble (it was no effort!) was because as far as I am aware these will be the first records for VC55.

At the last spot, I found a leaf with multiple tenants ....

I'm well chuffed with this: it was on my radar but I didn't expect to find it so close to home.

"Day in day out I've asked many questions,
Only to find the truth it never changes,
If you don't deal with it it keeps killing you a little by little,
Call me selfish if you will my life I alone can live"

Monday, 14 September 2020

Emerald Ivy

I've had a bit of a weird day; a couple of slots of targeted searching for inverted life after an ultimatum that I've been fearing and expecting in equal measure. I won't go into details now; I've got to spend some time getting my head around the options, impacts, risks, for and against. I am actually off work this week, I'd booked it off a while ago and I will need to spend some time clearing the shed etc but - as today - hope to get out for a bit which will at least help me clear my head.

The first trip late this morning was out to Eyebrook Reservoir, with Nichola coming along for the ride. I had no intention of searching around the water for bird life, I just needed to stand at this bridge and stare intently ....

As you can see, there is a large willow overhanging the relatively still inflow to the reservoir. You can probably guess from that what I was looking for, but seeing them with bins was a lot easier than getting photos - there was just enough heat and sun to keep them active and just enough wind that whenever they settled they were moving anyway. Still, I got shots that are at least good enough to show the key diagnostic feature ....

Willow Emerald Damselfly - showing pale yellow pterostigma

This was first recorded in VC55 last year, at the same site and also somewhere around the Watermead complex. It's become clear this year that it has spread a little further, but not having seen them at all I wanted to go to a known site and get my eye in. They barely strayed from the willow, although I did see one on bank-side vegetation on the other side of the bridge. I saw two pairs in-cop and three singles during the half an hour that we were there.

After a nice lunch at our local farm shop cafe (nice that it is back open), I headed over to Croft Quarry with another target in mind. This site is excellent for solitary bees, their cleptoparasites and predatory wasps. So, I figured, this could be as good a site as any to look for Ivy Bee - as long as there was some decent stands of ivy around the hill which I could not recall seeing. I had a good walk around the perimeter of the hill but no ivy noted. Of course I took the opportunity instead to look for leaf mines and galls which will have to wait for another day. I knew there would be ivy along the roadside path and so headed along there in the hope that any foraging bees might venture that far.

Every bit of flowering ivy was busy along here in the full sun. Lots of yellowy-black insects, as expected ....

After noting plenty of Vespa spp. wasps, Honey-bees and various Syrphidae, I eventually reached a gateway the leads back out onto the road. Literally. The walls on either side of the gateway were smothered with more ivy than I'd seen anywhere else around the site.

As you can see, I've  taken these shots from the pavement on the opposite side of the road. To be able to look at this ivy required standing in the roadway between two blind corners in the path of oncoming traffic. This is not an major A road or anything like it, but busy enough!

Look left, look right. As it happened, whilst putting myself in the path of various sized and speed vehicles, I saw a number of these ....

Ivy Bee

This is another species that is only recently arrived in VC55 and is starting to spread, first seen in 2017.

Meanwhile, that decision won't make itself but I've got a few days to think. One more day won't hurt, and the tone of this suits my mood perfectly ....