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

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Brief Silence ....

I'll be away from blogging for a while, at least in the sense of creating and posting anything, entirely as a result of having nothing to blog about whilst I am incapacitated and recovering from major surgery next week. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was having to make a decision that I didn't want to be making, and this was it: life-changing surgery to give the best chance of longevity. It's clear from the most recent scans/checks I've had that the chemradiotherapy and subsequent contact radiotherapy last year was not successful and my cancer is coming back. It is what it is, I've got over the disappointment and I'm resigned to what is coming.

I will be hospitalised for a couple of weeks from Thursday. Whilst away I will be avidly checking out other's blogs, keeping myself entertained with varied music, watching some long-forgotten films on my iPad and following the LCFC European Tour.

2020 has been a bastard of a year for many, but overall I've had one of the most interesting years for a while in terms of new species, photographic opportunities and varied blogging. The early part of lockdown and working from home presented stuff from the garden and locally that would normally have been missed, and I've had some good times out and about looking for and at things that I'd usually overlook.

My surgery will be life-changing, but after recovery it will not be life-limiting. I am very much looking forward to being back to some sort of normality in time for the early spring ento-action well before the clocks spring forward. I will be back to blogging as soon as I am able and have anything to share.

In the meantime peace, good health and positivity to all*

* Except those that believe victimising the most vulnerable and desperate in our society is justifiable; that whittling away our protections and standards behind the scenes is progress; feel that money bunged to private companies to profit from Covid whilst dismantling the NHS is acceptable; that 'them bastards in the EU' are the problem; that destroying ancient woodland and irreplaceable habitat to trim minutes from journeys out of London to anywhere north of the M25 is necessary; think that any kind of 'levelling up' is really going to happen, or thinks that everything this despicable Government is doing is fair. If that fits you, we really have nothing in common.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Justified Ancients

We enjoyed another couple of hours out walking today, over at Bradgate Park. The car parks were all rammed, but I've been here more than enough times to know that you can quickly and easily veer away from the main drag and enjoy huge swathes of open vista with few others around. I'm sure if anyone could watch the park from high up above and create a heat map, the main pathway through the center, the car parks and the toilet/tea buildings would be burning orange, whilst the rest would barely register. There was no agenda other than fresh air and enjoying the massive ancient oaks. When we did head nearer to the ruins and the main path, it was still easy enough to maintain distance.

Some of these huge oaks are barely holding themselves together. Huge hollow centers, barkless and split trunks, and yet they continue to flourish and survive, their ancient status fully justified.

We briefly nipped over to nearby Swithland Reservoir before heading home, mainly so I could enjoy the sound of a Wigeon flock and see a few ducks for a change.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Swithland Fungi

I managed to get out this afternoon with Nichola. We had a great couple of hours wandering around Swithland Wood on our own, and we were lucky with the weather as during our walk the wind dropped, the sun shone a little and it was pretty mild. The only shower was the constant fall of acorns. Almost the moment we got back to the car it started to darken and within five minutes of leaving it was full-on torrential rain all the way home.

Whilst it was very pleasant, it wasn't quite the autumnal spectacular it might have been. Most of the trees still held plenty of green leaves, and the colours otherwise were mainly yellows. The Red Oaks were the exception, but these had gone over to brown already.

Within the wood there are two water-filled slate quarries, with one in the middle being pretty large. Trouble is for as long as I can remember these have been fenced off and are inaccessible - they can only be glimpsed through the fence and trees.

I've got no idea if there is anything in these pits that would properly support wildfowl, though I do remember seeing Little Grebe on here years ago so there must be something in there.

Whilst mooching about looking at any fallen trees, we came across this old log that has been embedded with coins ....

I've never noticed this log before, or seen anything like it. Searching on the web this evening though suggests that this is a 'wish tree', whereby people hammer in a coin and make a wish - probably derived from some mediaeval belief of wishing away ailments.

Once I read about that, I immediately wished that people would stop being such bellends. Notably this log was devoid of fungi, moss or anything else. Perhaps corroding coinage leaches chemicals into the wood?

Happily I did find fungal interest on other trees. One I'd not seen before was this ...

Bulgaria inquinens - Black Bulgar

I also found one of these, only the second I've seen though I'd like to find a fresh one ....

Phallus impudicus - Common Stinkhorn

Others were more expected or less identifiable ....

Pholiota squarrosa - Shaggy Scalycap

Ascocoryne sarcoides - Purple Jellydisc

Xylaria hypoxylon - Candlesnuff

(probably) Hypholoma fasciculare - Sulphur Tuft

Some sort of bonnet ....

Some sort of slime mould ....

I also pointed the camera at this, and realised when I got home that there was a missed opportunity (I wasn't focussing on anything entomological whilst out) ....

Presumably a Rhizophagus sp. ?

Monday, 19 October 2020

Raiding the Archives

For various reasons, including but not limited to shite weather, work, other commitments and a large slice of late autumn blues, I've not been out much lately. I'd quite like to be zipping off to see Rufous Bush-chat, Masked Shrike etc but it's not happening. I didn't even get over to the Lincs/Cambs area to see that blasted vulture which had now properly departed the UK (and good luck to it).

Perhaps I'll get out a bit during this week or at the weekend, but if I do it will be strictly local and socially distanced. I've got plenty to do, it's just that not much of it is blog-worthy. This evening though whilst carrying on organising a few more batches of old photos, I found a couple of garden bugs that I've not posted here previously.

The first is one that I am very pleased to have re-found. I had this species in the garden in 2013 during the 1000 in 1km challenge, and as far as I know that was the first record for VC55. I knew I'd had another in the garden since, and that I'd probably pointed the camera at it, but it wasn't on my MapMate and half-hearted attempts to find anything in the 1000s of uncatalogued photos in my archives were futile. It's certainly not a great photo, but thanks to the digital data I know when it is from and can submit a record for it at last.

Pseudoloxops coccineus 24/07/2014

The other is not special or scarce, but as it happens I can see from the digital data that it has also escaped my garden records on MapMate. So this is one that, if and when I create it, can be added to the garden Hemiptera list.

Heterogaster urticae 20/09/2015

One useful pointer from this is that it's worth checking and (re)setting the date and time on your camera - the files are all date and time stamped which is always handy!

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Are You Mine?

I found a load of birch leaves with some very obvious feeding damage. I reckon this has to be a sawfly, and the damage is not too dissimilar to the Zig-zag Sawfly on Elm - except being within the leaf rather than from the edge. It's not really a mine as such. You'd think that this would be straightforward to identify the culprit, but so far I have no idea. No larvae on any of these though, so it's one I will have to make a point of looking out for a bit earlier in the year next year if I remember ....

One that certainly is a mine was this gallery leading to a blotch typical of a dipteran miner, this one on bramble ....

This fits Agromyza idaeiana. The above phone snap was taken when I found it, what I hadn't noticed until now was that the photo I took at home of the larva in the mine, just over 24hrs later, shows that the blotch had developed substantially in that time. In the photo above, use the obvious dark spot just to the left of the the blotch as a reference; in the photo below you can see that it is a load of frass which is now much lower down the leaf than the top of the blotch which is now doubled in size.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


It's not that long ago that, somehow, I'd never seen Fly Agaric. Whilst at Charnwood Lodge I found loads of fruiting bodies underneath the canopy of otherwise exposed trees ....

I also found an earthball in moss at the edge of a wooded area, which from the large diameter (c10mm) must be Scleroderma citrinum [Common Earthball].

I've had another play with some squeezed moss soup. I've managed to get some text and measurements from the camera software to merge onto the image, here's another testate amoeba with a 100micron line for scale.

I can't get the measurement data to transfer to the video clips yet though, so will probably need to dimension snaps to accompany them. Here's a rotifer of some sort (I think!) - look at the extent of the disturbance it's causing whilst 'hoovering' .... this is all happening within a merest veneer of soup under a cover-slip - it's ridiculous really.

Meanwhile, I have absolutely no idea what this weird thing is propelling itself around using cilia of some sort.

Believe it or not though, that's far from the strangest thing I've seen all day ...

I do like Isabella Rossellini, and I'm not at all surprised that sado-maschism excites her. There's a whole load of these on the 'Green Porno' Youtube channel, all equally weird yet informative.

Monday, 5 October 2020

Soup Dragons

Yesterday afternoon when I arrived at Charnwood Lodge, it was looking decidedly dodgy on the weather front. We'd had constant rain on Saturday so it was always going to be wet underfoot, and there was light drizzle when I left home so I expected to get properly wet.

As it happened, I ended up having a nice long walk across the moorland, around the small Colony Reservoir and around the base of Timberland Hill with no rain at all.

Timberland Hill is the area where Leicestershire's one and only Cream Coloured Courser was shot on 15th October 1827 - the fourth British record and well documented at the time, the specimen is still in the local museum. As you can see it is prime CCC habitat, with the moss and heather and bilberry and oak. There was no sign of the second for VC55 whilst I was there ....

As I wondered around these areas I collected leaves, bags of moss and poked my phone camera at a few fungi. I then headed into the wooded area known as Gisborne's Gorse and almost like flicking a switch the sun started to come out.

More leaves bagged, and I stopped around the old house where I found loads of the Rhododendron Leafhoppers featured yesterday.

The stroll back to the car was very pleasant, and I was thankful that I'd left a flask of hot coffee in the car. During the whole time wandering around I saw one person - Margaret McLoughlin as she departed just as I arrived. I also managed to avoid the free-roaming longhorn bovines which is always a bonus.

I've had a brief play with the microscope, squeezing some peaty water out from mosses. I have no idea what I'm looking at - it really is another world. Sadly I've not found anything that looks remotely like a Desmid as yet, but lots of 'testate' amoeba type things and possibly a 'naked' ameoba. Also some nematode type things wiggling about and lots of even smaller round green blobs zipping through the field of view. It is absolutely like looking back to the beginnings of life. It is a start, I've got a lot of practice before anything properly presentable comes out of it but here's a few early snaps and and vid-clip ....

A testate ameoba

A tiny banana

Another testate ameoba

Perhaps a 'naked' ameoba?

Same beast as above, except slightly out of focus ....