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

Friday, 16 April 2021

Vac Sampling

As I mentioned in the last post, yesterday I gave the vac sampler a quick blast (or suck) - albeit just down the lane on a rough verge with grasses, docks, nettles a few thistles and other low-growing vegetation. Given the location I wasn't expecting too much, but I ended up filling pots pretty quickly. Here's a snap of the first sample dumped into a shallow white tray ....

Anyone with a keen eye, or the patience to click for bigger, will note a host of tiny insects and collembola. It doesn't look much, but honestly this was alive with tiny life. I only took four samples in all, but each tray took a fair few minutes to observe and try to wrangle the odd specimen into pots.

I learnt a couple of things that I need to consider on the next go with this. Firstly, with such tiny stuff and associated dust particles and seeds etc, it only takes a very slight breeze to blow everything around or even out of the tray. Even leaning in with the eyeglass and breathing out was enough to shift what you're about to look at. I need to see if I can knock up some sort of wind-shield to sit around the tray whilst staring at it. Also, given that sitting the tray on the floor is easiest, I really need to look at ensuring I'm kneeling on soft ground or get some knee pads (how old does that make me sound!). Thirdly, wrangling tiny weevils and beetles into pots is hard enough, but for Collembola and anything that jumps I may well have to resort to using the pooter that I have and have barely ever used.

So, in four short blasts in unpromising habitat, what did I get? Or I should say what did I retain and identify instead of ignore and leaving for another day:

Five springtail species, including three new for the square yearlist: Orchesella villosa, Pogonognathellus longicornis and (new for me) Entomobrya nicoleti.

Entomobrya nicoleti

A couple of Orchesella villosa alongside one of several species I ignored.

Seven beetle species, including five new for the square yearlist: Hypera rumicis, Cartodere bifasciata, Cartodere nodifer, Perapion violaceum and (new for me) Perapion hydrolapathi.

Cartodere bifasciata

Cartodere nodifer

Perapion violaceum (left) & Perapion hydrolapathi (right)

A bug and a leafhopper new for the square yearlist: European Cinchbug and Eupteryx florida.

European Cinchbug (macropterous)

Oh, and an immature mollusc ....

Kentish Snail

I reckon the bits I identified only account for maybe 50% of the species actually hoovered up. I didn't really check the time, but in all these four samples and poking about in the tray only took c40mins or so. Of the species added, I reckon that all of the springtails and both of the Cartodere spp. would never have been picked up through sweeping. Having said that, the Hypera rumicis is one I've never seen in the square and I can't recall seeing European Cinchbug down here either.

I certainly looking forward to giving this more effort in the square.

Here's a track that is absolutely packed with small unidentifiable samples - like my tray:

Thursday, 15 April 2021

In Bloom

Somehow I've ended up with a few different things to blog about through one day's activity. But it's late so for now I'll just go with some simple shots of various white flowers - all but one from today.

I'll start with a couple from the garden ....

Common Chickweed - new for the garden

Wavy Bitter-cress
Three from the square ....

Garlic Mustard

Danish Scurvygrass

Field Pansy

This one is also from the square, but not yet in flower so I took a shot of the relevant bit ....

Three-nerved Sandwort

And this one is from Croft Pasture on Tuesday ....

Common Mouse-ear

And sticking with white flowers, but on a different scale, I realised today that I'd missed Bird Cherry off of the square list. I also found a Rowan today that I'd forgotten was on the A426 verge but it's now in leaf and starting to flower.

Bird Cherry

Stuff for separate posts: I gave the suction sampler it's debut today and within a short while had pots full of bits and bobs which I've sorted through, adding a decent 11 species to the square list - some of which that would almost certainly have gone unnoticed otherwise. I've also had some larval success of late.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind killer.

If you don't recognise the quote, it's likely you've never bothered to watch the epic and weird 1984 film Dune, directed by the equally weird and epic David Lynch. Based on the novel by Frank Herbert, it tells the story of a dystopian future where universal power and control is afforded to whoever controls the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) and the mining for the drug Melange (also known as spice) that is necessary for space travel and is therefore the most valuable commodity in the universe.

As seems to happen to a lot these days it has had a remake. The new film version was meant to be released last year but as with many new films got deferred thanks to Covid. It's now scheduled for an autumn 2021 release. And like a lot of fans of the original film, I am eager to see it but with a sense of fear. The original was a more than decent attempt to fit a massive novel into one film, albeit with effects and visuals that are clearly of their time and look a bit lame now. The new film is meant to be the first of two - director Denis Villeneuve would only agree to a deal on that basis to do the novel justice. If he's done as good a job as he did with Bladerunner 2049 then Dune should be stunning.

I look forward to seeing the sandworms, weirding modules and the Baron Harkonnen on a big screen.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Get Up(right)

Today has been gloriously sunny, and I managed to make time to get out this afternoon for a while. I headed over to Croft Pastures, a site that I haven't visited too often but have been meaning to get to in early spring for a few years and haven't for one reason or another. It was on the list for last year before the lockdown scuppered those plans, and the year before I was recovering from my first surgery. Otherwise I've either been too early or too late for my target - today I was perhaps a few days too early but not far off.

See that small hump on the right in the above shot - that one small mound hosts a good number of scarce/rare plants for VC55, many of which are very small. The one I was looking for today was even smaller than I expected, and it was one of those eureka moments as once spotted it was clearly all over one side of the mound. Here it is in all it's tiny glory ....

It's Upright Chickweed, and I'll concede that it's not glorious at all - especially when the flowers are not quite out yet. Only a couple of inches high at the moment, barely rising above the other short plants in the vicinity. Nice white-edged sepals, and once seen it's pretty unmistakeable.

I think I'll go back before the end of the month so as some of the other plants on site should also be more evident by then.

Whilst I was there I tried the pheromone lures around some oaks but no joy - I think Pammene giganteana may well be over now. I also took the wrong net with me; sweeping the grasses and suchlike yielded a few bits that I've potted to check but I think the butterfly net would have been more useful as there were lots of solitary bees and their parasites on site. Again in another couple of weeks there will be more to swish at with any net.

Afterwards I spent a bit of time in the square and again I've got some bits potted to check. I just wish the night-time temps would hold up - the garden trap hasn't been on for well over a week now and the very cold nights look set to continue until at least the weekend.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Pretty Polly

Whilst supping a coffee this morning and casually glancing at the garden feeders, I mused to myself that as two were empty and one was about a third full that I probably should re-fill them one more time (I usually stop feeding during spring). Seconds later I almost spluttered the coffee all over the place as a small finch landed on the feeders. I dashed upstairs to grab the camera, and thankfully it was still there when I got back to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of shots ....

Well, I wasn't expecting a Lesser Redpoll any time soon! Throughout the day, it kept re-appearing and occasionally spent time loafing in a neighbours large shrub that overhangs our garden. I grabbed a few more shots, but all were through the windows.

Eventually I decided it was time to try and sneak down the path from the front garden and see if I could get shots without a window in the way. I was in luck ....

That'll do to mark this unexpected garden tick.

Seeing as the sun was out and I had the camera, a few other birds hit the sensor.

House Sparrows have always been a garden scarcity up until the last year, there is now a pair nesting in the eaves of one of the houses that backs onto our garden. So nice to see and hear them more regularly. Also on the garden bird front, yesterday I noted both Blue and Great Tits gathering mosses for nests, just before the skies darkened and we had a series of hail showers. I'm still awaiting Blackcap in the garden; they're late this year, I normally see and hear one well before Chiffchaff.

Here's another pretty Polly, coincidentally singing about Good Fortune ....

The sun has been out for most of the day, so it felt quite spring-like despite the temps still not being quite up where they should be. I should have been in for chemo today but it was deferred as bloods not right (possibly an effect of my second Covid vaccine dose) so later in the afternoon we walked down to the Dog and Gun for a pint or two. Aside from enjoying a pub pint in sunshine, the walk also provided unexpected square ticks with a Field Pansy on a roadside verge, and some escaped Wood Spurge and Aubretia.

Also some Ivy-leaved Speedwell growing on my front garden again ....

Finally, I've recently set-up an new fish tank to replace the BiOrb I set-up in 2010 as that was a total pain to clean out and I wanted something bigger. The new tank is triple the volume and should be easier to maintain. Once it was settled I transferred the remaining fish from the BiOrb and I'm gradually adding a few new fish every couple of weeks. Tank cleanliness is also assisted by the likes of these Amano Shrimps ....

Before you ask - I didn't stick the TG-6 in the water to get this shot. Cheers!

Sunday, 11 April 2021


Yesterday I followed up on a tip-off from Graham Finch and headed out to look for some larval life that would provide a lepidopteran tick. What I didn't realise until checking afterwards was that I was getting a vascular plant tick in the process. I headed out to Kinchley Lane that runs along the side of Swithland Reservoir, the site that I usually go and look for Psychidae early in the year.

See all that green stuff on the bank around the birch trees and at the base of the wall, well it's not just grass - it's Great Wood-rush. Clearly I have seen this many times whilst on that lane, but I've never taken any notice of it and it wasn't on my list. Here's some shots of the general appearance, hairy-edged wide leaves (for a wood-rush) and flower spike ....

Anyway, what I was looking for on this plant was leaf mines like this one ....

A creased blister causing the leaf to fold in on itself on older mines. I found a few, and collected what I thought was two tenanted mines and one old vacated mine ....
It was then that I noticed that what I thought was an older mine was going in the opposite direction to the others: this one had a frass collection nearer to the tip of the leaf with the mine heading basally. And, despite appearances all three mines were tenanted.

I needed to open the mines to check the larva to be sure on the ID. This larva was clearly not impressed as it constantly shuffled up and down the leaf so I had to whack up the ISO to get a clear enough shot.

So, mines on Great Wood-rush tenanted by a greenish larva with a brown head and prothoracic plate which is darker at the outer margins (as opposed to whitish-grey with black prothoracic plate) confirm this is Elachista regificella (and not Elachista gleichenella which may also mine this plant). Sweet. Highly unlikely that I'll get one reared through but it has to be worth sweeping the plants in late June - mid July. Great Wood-rush seems to be localised in VC55, mainly around the Charnwood area including Swithland Wood.

Whilst I was there I had a quick look for Psychidae. Every year there seem to be fewer cases, or perhaps my eyesight is getting crapper.

A couple of Dahlica sp. above (probably D. lichenella based on size and lack of obvious insect fragments), Narycia duplicella below.

I also found a few Dyseriocrania subpurpurella loafing about including this pair in-cop.

And there were loads of Alder Flies, none of which I bothered collecting to check exactly which one.

It was pretty nippy whilst I was out and certainly not inspiring enough to spend a lot of time looking around. I headed to Ulverscroft to have another look at the Infucitinea argentimaculella colony, and found absolutely loads of tubes. None that I collected last year were successful, so I think his year I'll go and collect a few in late June by which time they'll have pupated.