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

Thursday, 31 December 2020


The sun has well and truly set on 2020. This time last year, I was looking forward to a quiet evening knowing that we were heading out to the north Norfolk coast for some January 1st sea-air and an incidental twitch on the way. The chances of going anywhere further than a local walk tomorrow are slim indeed.

I look forward to spending some 2021 hours in my local square and seeing what I can find. I'm planning on adding a suction sampler to my array of field equipment in time for the spring - let's see what looks I get walking down the lane with that. I'm also hoping that I can get out and about as much as I have done in 2020 - or at least as much as I did before the late autumn. I really should make a bit more effort with some local birding in 2021, and I very much hope that I can get back into some out-of-garden moth trapping in the late spring/summer.

Given that we are absolutely back in the throws of lockdown and pandemic pandemonium, it seems a little twee to wish everyone a 'Happy New Year'. It goes without saying that in the immediate context, 'Happy' means safe, sane and healthy. So, Happy New Year to one and all.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

A Bit Pc

No, I don't mean that I've come over all politically correct. I'm not even sure what 'politically correct' is meant to mean these days anyway - I don't think any Politicians from the main parties are correct on anything, and most of what they spout appears to rile c50% of the population one way or the other. Anyway .... I mean this Pc ....

A ghost mine of the adventive Phyllocnistis citrella, this one on a fruiting lemon tree

We nipped out to the local garden centre this afternoon so I could stock up on another sackful of sunflower hearts. As always whilst there, I checked if they had any citrus plants in stock - they always seem to have them in the winter and early spring. They had a load, but I wasn't taking too much notice of what the plants were until I found mines. Aside from the above I found these on a plant with smaller and darker leaves ....

One of these is tenanted. Somehow, the mined leaves fell off and into my pocket to check out. This plant clearly wasn't the same as the lemon trees, and had no visible fruits like the smaller kumquat plants, so I bothered to look at the label ....

Sweet. Well, kinda sour actually.

I've found mines on plants at this centre before, and also at a local supermarket. This is now the third year in a row that I've recorded it; I'm not that lucky - I guess most people would not bother looking.

We had some snow today as well. A slightly pathetic effort, with some big clumpy flakes in short bursts that were never going to trouble the roads or give small kids anything to get excited about.

Here's something that I like, which I suspect a large number of people would find to be not PC ....

Sunday, 27 December 2020

[Hybrid] Larus hyperboreus

I got Nichola to take me out today so we could enjoy a walk in the still, bright sunshine - a world away from the shite weather overnight. We headed to Watermead Country Park South; I knew it would be busy and we knew there was a risk that the easy footpaths would actually be underwater - but it was fine and we enjoyed a good hour and a half walking around. I was hoping that there would be common waterfowl and gulls to point the lens at, and I was without any other optics on the basis that if it was not close enough to photograph it didn't matter what it was. But I was completely unprepared for any ornithological interest beyond the common stuff.

There is a large car park at this site, and the nearest area of water to it has over the last couple of decades at least become a feeding area. I've moaned about that before, but at least today I could see lots of floating lettuce leaves and grain spilled out all over the place - much better than bags full of loaves of white bread. As I watched the Mallards, Mute Swans, Coots and Black-headed Gulls constantly fighting over the spoils I suddenly noticed this floating about like a lumbering biscuit ....

My immediate thought was juv Glaucous Gull, based on its size (pretty big, Herring Gull sized and perhaps a tad larger), pink basal section of the bill, apparent lack of grey/black tones and brown-centered primaries with white tips. The legs were bubble-gum pink coloured, and in flight the primaries just appeared pale.

This is far from a prime site for large gulls. And I am far from a larophile. Large gulls are not my favourite group of avian beings, and I just don't get excited about the minutiae of identifying them. Still I couldn't ignore it, and I got a good number of shots as it loafed about in between shorts bursts of flight.

I put the news out locally, and an hour or so later whilst waiting in the car whilst Nichola nipped into a supermarket I managed to download a phone app and transfer a representative shot from the camera to my phone. I sent it through to Andy Mackay (ex-county recorder and current custodian of the VC55 bird news services). He immediately commented that it looked a little dark and was, perhaps, a hybrid .... sigh.

Once I got home, I sent a series of photos to Andy, Steve Lister (another ex-county recorder) and Carl Baggot (current county recorder). Carl and Steve certainly have a lot more recent experience with large gull ID. Pretty swift feedback was that this would in all likelihood have been recorded as juv Glaucous on distant/fly-by views, but with the benefit of my photos there were clear anomalies - but it was an interesting gull.

eg: black on the bill appears to extend too far up toward the nostrils, rather than a clear-cut black tip; primary projection appears too long; undertail barring too extensive; tertial pattern too 'Herring Gull' like; looks like it has moulted some mantle feathers, and despite it's size the head-shape and general jizz make it look a bit daintier than might be expected.

I think it's fair to say that when any large gull is 'interesting' it means the ID is far from certain. The consensus is that this is likely to be a Gaucous x Herring hybrid, and quite possibly a second-generation hybrid at that. It's likely that this bird will be back in the area so maybe others can have a look and see if anything more definitive comes out.

In the meantime, here's a much easier to identify duck that refused to come out in the open.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Seasonal Greetings

Wishing peace, goodwill and a very merry festive season to all who stumble on this blog.

An old snap of hoar-frost artified in Photoshop

This year, like many of you, I will be especially thinking of the hard-working frontline NHS staff, carers and other keyworkers that have kept us all going as far as possible through what has been a ridiculously tough year. I'll also be mindful of the many who have become collateral damage through having their places of work shut-down/wound-up, and of course of the many families tragically hit by either the virus itself or as a consequence of our underfunded and undermanned services. I wasn't expecting to be also thinking about hoards of European hauliers stuck stationary on vast strips of tarmac in Kent with no idea about whether they'll see family on Christmas Day - compounded by being treated to the ultimate in shite hospitality thanks to our fuckwitted Government having no structure or facilities in place for the very thing that may well have been fully expected a week or so later.

We are having our main family meal tomorrow on Christmas Eve, as our daughter (a nurse) will be working a shift at the hospital on Christmas Day. We'll be raising a few glasses in our Covid-compliant bubble, and being more thankful than ever that we are able to enjoy such a meal, with company and in comfort. It's been a shite year for all, but for most of us it could have been so much worse.

Friday, 11 December 2020

(not so) Sly Fox

I've managed to retrieve my feeders and bird feed thanks to family assistance. Yesterday afternoon, I managed to get the feeders out and also a mesh-tray on the moth-trapping slab with some peanuts and suet pellets. Whilst the feeders keep the finches, tits, Starlings and the odd Robin busy, I usually put some stuff down low which helps to keep the pigeons and Magpies off the feeders. It also helps to give any Squirrels something to go at without trying to defeat the baffle or leap onto the feeders from the fences. Not much activity yesterday as was to be expected, but today has brought a steady procession of feeding visitors including a decent flock of House Sparrows for a change. What I absolutely wasn't expecting was this ....

I've seen very few Foxes around the estate over the years, and I've only seen a couple at home - always on the front garden. When I first noticed this one, I had no camera and the mesh tray was still at least half full. In the two or three minutes it took me to get upstairs, grab a camera and look back out, it had demolished the nuts and suet and was having a lick at a couple of apple slices. I grabbed a couple of quick shots through the kitchen window.

Once it had decided enough was enough, and looked like it might move off, I nipped across and risked opening the patio door thinking it would probably bolt. It did nothing more than stop to look at me - it wasn't in the least bit bothered, giving a chance for a couple of shots without a window in the way.

It's tempting to assume that this is an old individual with the greyness of the fur, but I've got no idea really. It looks healthy enough though, and not the biggest individual. I suspect it will pop up again sometime. Hopefully not presented at the back door by our git of a cat.


Not more than 30mins after clicking publish, I nipped downstairs and the beast was back. Another upstairs/downstairs jaunt for the camera, and it must have noticed or heard movement as I stood at the patio door ....

I imagine from this that it has certainly got used to being fed by someone around here!

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

2020 Garden Mothing

I've managed to get all of my summer and autumn dictaphone lists transcribed and entered into Mapmate. It wasn't too arduous, which probably tells the story in itself.

Whilst 2020 has had some excellent periods of hot sunny weather by day, giving good opportunities for invert recording when out and about, there have been relatively few periods of excellent overnight conditions suitable for big moth trap totals. Excessively windy and/or wet weather have scuppered some of the peak periods, and days when the temps are soaring followed by clear nights with a significant temperature drop are not great either. Then with one thing or another, I stopped trapping before some of the autumnal species were out and about. So I already knew that the 2020 species total was going to be on the low side.

I've never bothered to run a trap every night regardless, as some do. Whilst this would indeed be a consistent approach my (usual) work life means that getting up early every morning is too much. I will try and run it consecutively for several nights when conditions (or my enthusiasm and working pattern) make it worthwhile, but more usually I will run for a few nights, miss a couple and start again. There is still enough trapping to make some sort of year to year comparison valid, until - like this year - there are big gaps between trap dates or a late start / early end to the trapping effort.

Before the first national lockdown, we'd had some pretty wet and crappy weather. The garden was waterlogged for most of the time until mid-March, and so aside from a couple of nights trapping didn't really start until the back end of the month. For most of the year I've just run a single trap, alternating between a synergetic/actinic combo and a 125W MV. I knocked up a quick summary of traps dates and type because I have nothing else pressing to do ....

Green blocks are the synergetic/actinic trap (59 nights), blue blocks are the MV trap (16 nights) and black blocks are the seven nights when I ran both together. So trapping results from 82 nights in total, with 89 'trap-nights'. By far the biggest impact on overall numbers recorded are the big gaps between 27th June - 9th July, 18th - 28th July and 15th August - 31st August with little or no trapping. These are primarily due to weather (or weather-related apathy!). No trapping after 21st September will have knocked fewer species from the total.

Aside from trapping, there are a few records of individuals dayflying, attracted to lit windows or an external light fitting, and a couple of larval records. In total, I've recorded 319 species in 2020 - way down on the 425 species in 2013, but actually only around 30 species down on the average of the last ten years. There is a slim chance of one or two more species for the year, I'll update this post if that happens.

There were seven new species in the year, and I managed to point the camera at all but one - an Ypsolopha horridella on 9th August which flew off from the egg box whilst I fumbled for a pot.

Luffia lapidella f. ferchaultella (26/04/2020)
A surprise find on a low wall in the garden

Spuleria flavicaput (21/05/2020)
One I'd not seen anywhere before - and sadly it was knackered!

Gillmeria ochrodactyla (02/06/2020)
Another full British tick

Brown-tail (24/06/2020)
Maybe not a surprise, although this was still a VC55 rarity not that long ago

Cydia fagiglandana (25/06/2020)
I've recorded this not too far away at Narborough Bog in the past, but it's not like we have an abundance of beech around here 

Toadflax Brocade (12/08/2020)
Another British tick, and one I was hoping would turn up after arriving in the VC a couple of years ago

The garden list is up to 705 species. 2021 will definitely see some disruption in the early spring if the garden works go ahead as planned, but I hope we get a better run of trapping between June and late August at least. I also hope that I'll be able to trap in the later autumn again having missed a few species both this and last year.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Grey Winter

We were meant to have the garden ripped up and re-landscaped back in the spring this year - but Covid scuppered that plan. By the time we were able to seriously start looking at it again it was early summer, and by then all potential landscapers/gardeners seemed to be booked out until the autumn. We had one lined up, with an expectation that he'd start in August. He got held up on previous jobs with crap weather, and was now expecting to start in September. I (just about) emptied the garden shed and transferred everything to my Mum's spacious garage. I did this in the expectation that our garden was going to be finally done the following week. But then weeks rolled on, and the landscaper eventually called to say he could start during the week when I was about to have surgery. Of course we mutually agreed that was not a good idea, not least as I was not about to demolish the shed and then have gardeners working at home whilst I was in hospital, and then be left with a lot of work to do whilst I was physically incapable in winter weather. We agreed to put it all of until the spring. I though nothing of this until this week ....

Amongst the copious car-loads of stuff that I carted off to the garage space was a large storage box that houses my bird feeders and feed. I currently have no feeders out and the garden is not attracting anything more exciting than the odd Blackbird grubbing about for worms. The other item that I've now realised I am missing is my box of various moth trap spares and bulbs. Whilst I have no intention of running a trap any day soon (and actually have one available if I was minded to) I do like to run a UV bulb in an old outdoor light fitting on the front of the house in the winter. The 12W blacklight LED that I've been running in there for the last couple of years has failed, so in lieu of my spares I've ordered an actinic CFL which hasn't turned up yet.

I could of course just nip over to my Mum's, if I could drive. I could ask my Mum to bring them over, if I could be confident that the boxes I need were easily accessible rather than buried at the bottom of piles of other stuff. And anyway the box with feeders and feed is bloody heavy. I will definitely come up with a plan in the next week or so, but in the meantime my garden entertainment is somewhat limited.

I have managed to point the cameras at a couple of bits though.

We seem to have a couple of pairs of Woodpigeons and a pair of Collared Doves somewhere nearby, They could well be preparing to breed already - I've seen both species locally on nests in the depth of winter.

Suitably grey, a bit like the weather in the last couple of days.

Winter Moth
x2 to a lit window on the front on Weds evening, x3 to the kitchen window at the back last night

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

2021 Focus

Well, time flies when you're incapacitated. It's just a day off five weeks since I had surgery. I'm feeling stronger each week, though I've got a fair way to go and will have to endure some more chemo (probably in the New Year, which I will not find out the details for until mid-December). I can just about sit at the PC for long enough now to do useful stuff to pass some time. In particular I've been pulling through records from Naturespot and iRecord, plus additional records from my own notes/photos/Blog, and updating my personal Mapmate database. I'm also well underway with catching up on transcribing my garden moth records from my digital dictaphone.

Over the last week or so, I have been able to gradually walk a bit further and have starting ambling down the lane with my bins. Getting fresh air and watching a few common birds has been a tonic, with Jay, Sparrowhawk, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer, Fieldfare, Redwing and Great Spotted Woodpecker all adding interest. I've also noticed a number of regular wild plants that are in flower, or only just gone over - perhaps a sign that the November weather overall was not particularly arduous.

Whilst shuffling along minding my own business, I started mulling over what may be possible in 2021. I probably won't be driving much before January, and currently have no idea what the chemo treatment plan will look like and what the impact will be. But I am sure that I will have recovered sufficiently from the surgery itself, and dealing with life-changing adjustments has so far the least troublesome aspect of recovery. I am sure that I should be able to do something at least locally, and aside from general aims (like staying alive, avoiding novel viral infections and still managing to metaphorically put food on the table), I feel that I need to start setting some targets and personal challenges. Like all naturalist bloggers seem to do in December!

My mind wandered back to the inaugural 1000 species in 1k square challenge. I was surprised when I looked back that it was in 2013 - though it does feel like a long while ago now. I managed to build a pretty good total for the year (1139 species), but looking back the garden moth trap enjoyed a particularly good year which helped. Here's a reminder of the species breakdowns:

I started thinking along the lines that I must (or at least should) be better equipped now than I was then: more literature, even more web resources, more on-line groups and - above all that - more experience and hopefully I've learnt a bit. I also remembered that, at the time, it seemed to be pretty much all consuming and that I was adamant I wouldn't be trying again. But .....

I think there is a manageable but still challenging half-way on this. Back in 2013, my botanical skills were even poorer than they are now. I was also only just getting started with some insect groups. So perhaps in 2021, targeting the same square, I could try and beat my 2013 totals for plants (vascular + liverworts & mosses), coleoptera, diptera, hemiptera and hymenoptera. It would mean getting back out into local areas on foot regularly, bashing and sweeping whilst making a note of what I'm bashing and sweeping. It would also perhaps be a measure of whether I really have have improved my field and ID skills over the eight years. Or it might just be a measure of how much weather patterns and habitat change over time affect what is there to be found! I would no doubt see other stuff, but I would not be trying to beat my 2013 total. I will mull over this a bit more before finally making a pledge to myself as to whether to go for it.

Over the next couple of weeks as I finalise my 2020 records, I will re-assess where I am with some of the 2020 personal targets I set and, no doubt, out of that will come a few more challenges. 

Sunset down the lane - 26/11/2020

I've been listening to some varied stuff lately, including some old prog stuff and some late 70s punk/new wave. But my general favouritism for all things electronica means that decent new releases from Inner City, Faithless, Sub Focus and a couple of tracks from Pendulum have been repeatedly played.