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

Sunday, 31 January 2021


End of the month (perhaps a little premature, though unlikely to add anything else this evening). Only addition today was an (un)welcome Varied Carpet Beetle in the house. I'm not sure whereabouts they live here, as most of the house has wooden or tile flooring, but they pop up randomly throughout the year. As long as they don't get in my specimen storage box I'm not too bothered!

So as of this evening the 1Km square list stands at 159 species. Here's the breakdown:

A reminder that in 2013 the list at the end of Jan was 100 species. A quick cross-check shows 33 species recorded then that I've not yet seen this year - mainly due to complete lack of proper effort on molluscs and other inverts. 

The birding lists as of this evening are as follows:

51 species seen so far in total, with a few glaring omissions like Rook, Skylark and Green Woodpecker. Of the 51, only 15 have been seen in all of the differing sub-sets of the 5MR. 24 species in the garden includes two not yet seen within the 1Km square excluding the garden (Sparrowhawk and Mistle Thrush) - hence the difference between 37 species in this chart and 39 in the overall square list. Highlight so far has to be the county-tick Ring-necked Parakeet ....

Talking of numbers, Martin Gore (chief songwriter for the mighty Mode) has a new solo EP out now called The Third Chimpanzee. No idea why it's called that, as all the tracks are named after types of monkeys. A bit stark, repetitive and minimalist, I like it!

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Carry On Intruders

Today has been damned miserable from a weather perspective; damp with either light drizzle or snow through most of the day and a bit nippy - certainly not the sort of weather that makes you want to jump out of bed and get out and about. Which was probably just as well, as I wanted to catch up with a few work bits anyway. I'm finding that working from home again, general Covid restrictions and the Premier League and cup fixture lists being strung throughout from Monday to Sunday with everything televised seems to mean that the lines between week and weekend are blurred to the point of being irrelevant. I can take time out in the week when I want, and work at the weekend if I need to - it really doesn't matter!

I have unexpectedly added a species to the 1km list though, thanks to a very quick squint outside last night with a torch. On the same uPVC window ledge where I found the small spider Nigma walckenaeri on Thursday, I saw a tiny blob trundling around water drops which looked decidedly Collembola-like to the naked eye. I grabbed the camera and tried for a few shots, of which a couple came out well enough to name it ....

You can just about make out the change in antennal colouration and the multi-barred pattern on the rear of the abdomen to confirm Dicyrtomina saundersi. I might expect to find globular springtails if sieving leaf-litter in the garden I suppose, but living on a white plastic window-ledge is taking Collembola synanthropy to a new (off the ground) level.

I also pointed the camera at the Early Moth from Thursday night, though I'm not sure why I bothered as it's not the smartest individual. I seem to feel a sort of obligation to photograph just about every moth species that turns up in the garden through the year, a feeling which always fizzles out by April when the numbers increase and I then pick and choose what looks nice / is scarce etc. I'm always amazed to find that there are numerous common species that fly later in the year that I've hardly ever photographed, and then promptly forget the next year.

My copy of the latest useful bit of coleopteran literature landed on my doormat today.

A high number of the species in these families can be found in carrion; the uninvited undertakers of the natural world intruding on the corpses. Some also come to light, and a number of the Silphidae are regular moth trap intruders. A quick flick through shows some brilliant features such as surveying tips and I like the habitat tables. The species accounts are very detailed, and the illustrated keys look excellent. All I need now is some dead animals in the square, and I can also think about how best to deploy anything our blasted git of a cat brings home.

Meanwhile, how great is this new track from Gary ....

Friday, 29 January 2021

Circles Over Land

I've not actively been out walking/birding today, mainly I've been working at home. I have added Early Moth to the list which might hit the camera sensor tomorrow, and also a superb female Sparrowhawk flew through the garden just as I was opening the back doors to go and top up the feeders - a fantastic but brief encounter. I've seen a good number of them through, around and over the garden over the years but not one has ever attacked and taken anything from the feeders. The only other addition today, to the 5MR list, was Little Egret. A group of five were feeding in a horse paddock between Whetstone and Littlethorpe, which were only seen as I drove the long way around to get home after another GP Surgery appointment. I'd gone that way to see what the fields around the River Soar were looking like - the answer being heavily flooded again after a couple of nights of continual rain.

The Ribautiana sp. leafhopper I found yesterday; I am convinced that it was indeed a female Ribautiana debilis (found immediately adjacent to a big old ivy bush, no elm for a fair distance) but I need to find another one and show the small size cf Ribautiana ulmi. I've had a quick look today but just a few more Empoasca vitis. I'm sure I will find one in due course so I can get it confirmed.

In the meantime with no other images to share, I thought I'd add some context and information on my five mile radius (5MR) area using this roughly marked up map ....

First of all, there are two circles: the smaller inner circle is the 3km radius that I used for 'on foot from home' listing a few years ago, and the large circle is the 5 mile radius. Right in the middle is a black dot marking my home position. The red square shows the 1km square that I am working again this year (not entirely accurate, but you get the gist) and the odd almost harp shaped area that straddles the 3km boundary is my Soar Valley South patch. It seems obvious that whilst I've set a 5MR area, the vast majority of my birding time will be spent within my square and patch.

There are sites within the 5MR though that will be worthwhile visiting (and a couple I already have). Whilst we're in any form of lockdown, travelling to sites for exercise (which regardless of what the Essex Police think, I think can reasonably include walking in isolation with bins and camera) can only be justified if done in conjunction with other legitimate activities. I've marked on a few pointers of places where I am likely to have a need to visit for one reason or another, which may then be tied in with visiting sites for exercise.

First up, within my 5MR, the cyan dot in Blaby is my GP Surgery which I'm currently going to two or three times a week to see the nurse. Parts of my patch are literally a couple of minutes at most from here. The cluster of three cyan dots just to the north of my patch is the Fosse Park shopping area including three supermarkets - fuel and food! Again, parts of my patch easily accessed from here. Outside of my 5MR, the two red dots are the Leicester Royal Infirmary in the City and the General Hospital to the east. I'm going to the LRI every three weeks for blood tests, oncology reviews and chemo, and have occasional review appointments with my surgeon and scans at the General. The pink dot is where my Mum lives (alone, we are her support bubble). Finally - and probably least likely to be relevant for a while yet, the blue dot is where my workplace is (which as a food packaging factory is permitted essential business).

The main sites within my 5MR but outside of my patch and square that will/could be useful for birding through the year are marked with black dots. Most of these are to the north-north east and are clustered near to or on the main route to places that I have a need to visit.

Working anti-clockwise from 3 o'clock:
  • close to Oadby is a small nature reserve, Brock's Hill CP - should be good for a variety of woodland birds and breeding warblers
  • Knighton Park - visited last week
  • the two main areas within the Aylestone Meadows complex - probably the best site overall in the 5MR
  • Braunstone Park - a large open park but it does have a couple of small pools
Further round to the west, there are three sites that I will visit, but probably not until we're out of lockdown:
  • Croft Quarry - a site I visit regularly during the year, including Croft Hill and Huncote Embankment
  • Stoney Cove - a really deep pool used for diving, but has attracted interesting birds over the years
  • Frolesworth Manor Lake - a site I've not been to for c20 years, no idea what it's like now
Virtually everything between due east and south-west is open farmland - I'm sure there will be stuff there, but visits to this quadrant will be incidental.

I am effectively maintaining five separate bird yearlists in conjunction with all this: first and foremost the 1Km square list, and also my garden yearlist as a subset of this; a patch list; a list for birds seen outside the square and patch, and of course the overall 5MR list.

I quite like this VNV Nation cover of Circling Overland; the original by Front 242 back in the late 80s was a slower tempo.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

A Few Degrees

The forecast for last night was rain, lots of it, albeit with better temperatures. Early in the evening though, when I nipped out to the bin, there was no sign of any rain and it really did feel mild. I grabbed a torch, had a quick mooch around and found quite a few bits of interest: woodlice, spiders, worms, springtails and molluscs ....

Yellow Slug (going by the yellow line running from the tail beyond the keel)

I also found an Agonopterix heracliana and this ...

Angle Shades

I wasn't going to put the trap on as I was sure that the rain would come (and indeed it did!), but I did put on an actinic bulb in the old light fitting I've left tucked away at the front of the house. A couple of hours later, the first adult macro moth of the year ....

Dotted Border

Whilst grabbing those leaves this morning for the photo, I noticed a ladybird so had a quick and very productive potter around the garden walls and fence with the camera.

7-Spot Ladybird

I found a couple of these, which I am sure must be the egg sacks for one of the Ero sp. spiders - which I've never knowingly seen before so one to look out for.

I also saw this on the outside window ledge, except all I actually saw was what appeared to be a tiny spider that was perhaps greenish. I grabbed this quick and out of focus shot, looked at the result and immediately realised what it was and that I'd not seen one before. I then stupidly gave it a gentle poke trying to get it to sit better for a photo - at which point it effectively scarpered and jumped off the ledge never to be seen again .... 

Nigma walckenaeri

There were also a few leafhoppers on the fence and wall ....

Empoasca vitis - several of these

When I looked at this one this evening I realised it was something a bit different to the usual garden species here and one I probably should have potted. However there seems to be enough showing to support it being Ribautiana debilis: two black spots on vertex/front of head, black spot at start of pronotum, generally weak forewing markings. I've posted it on UK Hemiptera to see what response it gets. One I've not seen before either way.

All in all I added 14 species to the 1K list - amazing what a few degrees difference makes. Tonight is due to be even milder but wet again - perhaps more moths and inverts will pop up.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

New Trichs

On Friday last week, I nonchalantly took a swipe at a number of 'winter gnats' dancing above my front garden conifer border. I've always ignored then, although I knew what I expected them to be. I potted a couple and a quick look at a male with a hand lens seemed to confirm my thoughts. Then, you know that thing where you pot a flimsy fly but then forget about it until it's way past its best? Yes, that. By the time I did remember it had long since thrown a seven and, unhelpfully, managed to hold its wings at a jaunty angle whilst the abdomen had shrivelled somewhat.

Completely pointless trying to pin it and almost impossible to look at properly with the microscope, but I saw enough to convince myself that it was indeed Trichocera regelationis as expected. I detached a wing to try and show the two key characters on that at least ....

Vein 2A short and strongly curved, vein r-m very slightly curved with a distinct cloud over it.

This is a ridiculously common species, so not surprising that I'm able to find one with virtually no effort at all.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Canal Side

Another day, another place, another walk. This morning though I had no real constraints, so I fancied heading out for a longer walk than I've been doing. It was a frosty start with remnants of Sunday's snow still lying, but the forecast was for a dull day with rain from mid-morning so I opted to head out early. I needed to fill up the fuel tank and sort my tyre pressures out anyway so headed to Sainsbury's at Fosse Park (where I usually fill up as it has pay at pump) and then parked up at the newly-established Everards Meadows site on the other side of the big junction. This site is within my pre-defined Soar Valley South patch, but back then it was not opened up and accessible like it is now though some of the area beyond it along the Soar and Grand Union Canal was accessible from the other side. On the aerial map, the area is a swathe of green sandwiched between urban areas.

The red dot is the car park for Everards Meadows; the blue dot is where I joined the canal tow path after crossing the River Soar on a newly constructed bridge; the cyan dot is where the canal and river pass underneath the Soar Valley Way (which is the northern boundary of my patch) and marks the southern boundary of Aylestone Meadows; the yellow dot is Kings Lock; the magenta dot marks the point where the River Soar and Grand Union Canal converge, and the orange dot is as far as I walked before heading back.

Right from the start it looked like it was going to be dark all day, with a hazy sun rapidly disappearing behind cloud. 

This frozen over area is not a pond, it's where a patch of osier and rush has been flooded. There was a handful of pipits and wagtails pottering about over the ice, but nothing other than Meadow and Pied.

Meadow Pipit about to try for a triple-salchow

The river was flowing okay, perhaps flowing a bit faster and deeper then usual after the floods and thaw, but the canal was frozen over. Hopes of a Kingfisher faded quickly.

I picked up a few nice binocular views along the way, including a small group of Bullfinches, Reed Buntings, and a couple of Goldcrests actively working the under-hang of a lichen encrusted hawthorn. A couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers were partially obscured by twiggery during the walk but I gave it a go.

The shot below is looking north-ish towards the Soar Valley Way roadway, the patch boundary. Immediately the other side of this marks the start of Aylestone Meadows, but along this stretch at least the habitat is the same. 

The following are both looking west-ish from the canal tow path, the first south of the Soar Valley Way and the other across the southern end of Aylestone Meadows.

Pylons are worth looking at along here for Peregrine - but today the only bird perched on these structures was a Cormorant.

Redwing and Fieldfare always seem more relaxed in smaller groups, more flighty in big flocks.

The following is looking south at Kings Lock Cottage and the frozen lock.

This is bridge allows access across the western side of Aylestone Meadows, an area I'll have a good look around later in the year. The bridge goes over the River Soar, which then joins the Grand Union Canal. It was amazing how the canal was frozen over to the south of this point and rapidly changed to free-flowing after the convergence.

A bit further on was a very confiding drake Goosander, which was very nice but also helps to show how shocking the light was - a cracking subtle bird made to look monochrome ....

By the time I got back to the car I'd been walking for c3hrs. It's not a massive distance walked, but it's the furthest I've done so far and I was feeling it where I'm still healing up. Not a drop of rain all the time I was out, but just a few minutes after arriving home the first drops came although that soon stopped and we've just had a drab day with occasional drizzle.

Nothing like the drizzle at the end of this quirky vid ....

Monday, 25 January 2021


As expected, today dawned bright and clear without a cloud in sight. It was cold enough overnight that the snow was going nowhere, but by mid-morning with full sun and temperatures rising to single digits above zero, the thaw was in full swing. Aside from working from home quite productively for a couple of hours early this morning, I had to make a trip into Blaby to sort out a prescription with the GP surgery and the pharmacy. As seems reasonable to me, I tied this in with a short foray into somewhere different for a change of scene.

In the aerial shot below, the three red dots are my GP surgery, carry on north to the pharmacy, and then take a different route back so I could stop at Bouskell Park.

Bouskell Park is not within my Soar Valley South patch boundary, but it is within the 3km on foot from home area that I set a few years ago. I only visited it a couple of times then, and don't think I've been there since 2013. It's not a massive park, but there are some decent mature oaks and - although I'd forgotten - there is a small pond (cyan dot) which sits immediately behind a listed Victorian ice house that I can't show you as it was boarded up for some restoration work. The accessible parkland is about half of the area that is tied in with Blaby Hall. Leading out from the park (yellow dot) there is a pathway through a conifer plantation that turns c90 degrees south.

There were plenty of people in the middle of the park with small kids on mini sledges sliding down the most pathetic hill you can imagine, and overall the park looked like it must have been awash with kids yesterday making snowmen (or in one case rolling a huge ball of what was clearly more mud than snow). As ever I avoided the people present by walking around the edges, avoiding main paths etc. Where passing at a particular passing point is unavoidable (like the bridge over a small stream from the car park into the park) I make a point of standing aside. So far since we learnt to live under pandemic conditions, I roughly estimate (in a biased and non-scientific way) that 50% of people are courteous and appreciative of such a move [and 80% of those appear younger than me], whilst 50% are ignorant cunts [and 80% of those appear older than me].

I was impressed by the Mallards gathered on the very small bit of water in the otherwise icy pond - at least six pairs, not a single one made a move to come toward me for bread. I had nice views of a perched Buzzard, but unfortunately it was mobbed by Crows as I got the camera fired up. Plenty of tits, but nothing following them around, and again no sight or sound of Nuthatch or any woodpeckers.

This Dunnock was virtually hopping around my feet, and every time the shutter opened it had moved. This was the best shot of the bird, but it is completely wrongly framed hence the shoddy cropping.

The pond I'd forgotten about - almost completely frozen over, which of course was the whole point of it being next to an ice house.

A small group of Black-headed Gulls were raucously making their presence known but only one bothered to land on the ice.

I was surprised to see a nailed on Fairy Tern though ....

Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Black-headed Gull perched in a tree - I can't recall seeing one!

The thaw was particularly evident underneath the branches and canopy of every tree. I was planning to walk the whole length of the conifer plantation, but although you can't really see it here it was like walking in heavy rain so I sacked it off.

Later in the day, I had to go back to the surgery again for a late afternoon appointment with the nurse. I came home via the lane, and stopped to take a snap ....

About 30 seconds after this photo, a Great Spotted Woodpecker silently bounced out of the obvious tree in the middle of the shot and across the lane ....

I'm now on a week off of chemo tablets and I'm feeling a bit perkier than I was last week; weather permitting I'll try and get out and about doing something useful (like actually making an effort to find invertebrates).

Here, blast this out loud and gurn nostalgically. You're welcome.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Pre-snow Park

Wind back to Friday, cause for one reason or another I've not been arsed to sit at the PC to sort out some pics and post. For the first time in a fair while, I was forced to be up and out relatively early. It was bloody cold and frosty, requiring a good window scraping before I could get going. I was heading out to get my first Covid vaccine dose - yes, I can't believe it happened either and I'll put it down to the efficiency of my GP Surgery and local NHS Trust rather than anything to do with the shower in Parliament. I'm not the first in our household to have it, as Isabelle got hers the week before as a frontline Nurse. She had the 'Pfizer should be three-week interval between doses but being strung out to twelve' vaccine and I've had the 'AstraZeneca derived from adenovirus extracted from Chimpanzee shite' vaccine. There was no choice in the matter. My arm does ache like buggery, whilst when I had the flu vaccine I felt nowt. However I have not grown excess hair or started craving PG Tips tea.

Anyway, I had to go to a vaccination hub that has been set up in a large event hire type place called The Kube that is right next to Oadby racecourse. On the aerial shot below, it is the right-hand red dot. The other red dot denotes the car park for Knighton Park, which as you can see appears to have something resembling woodland. It also happens to be just within the 5MR boundary, and the roadway between the two is the main road to head back home ....

After the jab I nipped over to see my Mum, just a bit further north on the edge of the City boundary, and then on the way home I decided to drop into the park for a mooch about. By then it was c10:00, crisp and bright. But it was late enough that there were plenty of dog-walkers trawling the main path and also mums with tots starting to gather around the play areas. As ever, it's easy enough to walk away from the madding crowd and enjoy some space, and as usual I've managed to grab a few snaps that make the place look a whole lot emptier than it actually was. I couldn't erase the noise of screaming kids though.

Knighton Park is long established, and has big areas with planted trees, some formal gardens, kids play area and butts onto some big open sports fields. It is exactly the sort of place within my 5MR that is likely to be a good bet for some species that might otherwise be found in woodland. I had bins, and enjoyed the quick walk around, but sadly did not see or hear what I was hoping for, ie: Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Siskin. I suspect a proper look around earlier in the morning and perhaps a couple of weeks or so later will be much more productive. I did find a small group of Goldcrests in the conifers in the above shot though.

I could only give it c45mins as I had another GP Surgery appointment to get to. Later in the afternoon, I had a walk out into the square and a bit beyond, heading down the lane, onto the meadows area and then walked Whetstone Gorse Lane. Still no Skylark - where are they? Another Red Kite drifted over, and I found a big mixed flock of Fieldfare (c150) Redwing (c80) and Starlings feeding in a flooded stretch of the meadows. The whole flock was very flighty so I couldn't get anywhere near for closer shots and left them to it quickly.

Whilst walking back toward home along Whetstone Gorse Lane, I took this photo on my phone which preceded the most bizarre birding experience I've had for a while ....

Just as the phone hit my pocket, an unmistakeable raucous squawk hit my earholes and I lifted the bins to see a Ring-necked Parakeet flying directly above and following the line of the trees you can see on the left in the above shot. This is the middle of sterile farmland in Leics. - not Surrey. We have had numerous sightings over the years in Leics. and Rutland of odd individuals that the former County Recorder always dismissed. However in the last decade, and particularly in the last three or four years there has been an increase in sightings and it has been added to the County list. We now appear to have two resident and growing populations - one in Evington and one in Braunstone. Neither of which I've ever made an effort to see, so this bizarre flyover was a County Tick! And it's not even my first VC55 parrot - years ago I was bemused to find a Budgie at Ketton Quarry.

All of this preceded the snow that we've had since. It snowed a little on Friday night, but that didn't last much beyond Saturday late morning. It started again last night which has just continued on and off through the day. I've been watching the garden feeders expecting something to drop in but no - just the same regular crowd. No Great Spotted Woodpecker so far this year, and no Bullfinch either. We've been getting up to 15 or so Goldfinches at a time for weeks, but today we had a flock of c40 battling for feeder space. Also one or two Greenfinches at a time but only briefly and generally once or twice a day. This is completely the other way around to how our garden feeders were a couple of decades a go when Greenfinches always markedly outnumbered Goldfinches. We've also had a couple of brief Chaffinches today - again they used to turn up here much more regularly.

The snow is still lying now, and has already just about recovered footsteps around the feeders. It's not exactly deep, but the kids around the estate have made the most of the day. I doubt it'll last too long though, back to floods next week I expect.

Here's some charmingly witty jingoistic 70s/80s television advertising ....