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

Sunday, 28 February 2021


End of the month, how are the various lists going ....

Today should have been a golden opportunity to add a few bits, if I'd gone out. I was working this morning, watching LCFC capitulate in worrying fashion from midday to early afternoon, and then sat around waiting for the district nurse to turn up and flush and dress my PICC line. I should be optimistic and wait to see if I can add something late this afternoon / early evening, but actually I've got stuff to do.

In between waiting and wailing, I had a play with the TG-6 using a solitary Common Quaker that I'd forgotten was in the fridge since Thursday morning. I've realised a couple of basic things: the camera was set to 'normal' compression, which in the great scheme of things is more noisy than the 'superfine' setting which I've now got it set to. Image file size has more than doubled, as the sensor is gathering more data. I also found that the auto white balance had an additional 'keep warm colours' setting, which I've turned off for indoor use with the daylight lamps. Finally, I found how to force the ISO to lower numbers (which is fine if subject sat still and camera on tripod) - so I forced to 100. All in all that gave me a much cleaner and better colour-balanced starting image than the last moth I tried. Perhaps not perfect, but getting better. Tripod and daylight lamps used as normal, and no more photoshop tweakery than I'd normal apply ....

Later, after chucking this out to fly off, I realised more about the TG-6 that I knew I was missing. Basic stuff that I couldn't see how to set/change from the menus. Essentially pressing 'OK' at any time brings up a series of icons on the right hand side of the screen that are then selectable and options can be changed without having to go through the menus. Including switching between AF/MF, changing white balance and ISO. I also found from that method how to select a RAW and JPEG file. I don't use RAW normally, but until I am happy with a repeatable and reliable set-up it might be worth having the option to tweak a completely uncompressed image. Anyway enough of that for now.

February saw me spend the better part of two weeks not doing anything whilst it was cold/snowy and/or I felt a bit crap. I've not got out into the square as much as I did in early January, and I've not been out with my bins as much either. Still, the lists have steadily crept up.

The SP5595ish square list stands at 222 species (+5 aggregates). It was 159 at the end of Jan, so +63 species. During the 2013 effort the list at the end of Feb was a paltry 158 species. I haven't bothered to analyse the comparison any further than that, perhaps something for the end of April when variance in conditions etc may have equalled out.

As things progress I'll include a separate breakdown of insects (eg splitting out hoverflies, sawflies, moths etc).

The birding lists have also grown, though not substantially. You'll remember that within the overall 5MR list there are various sub-lists: Garden List, SP5595ish square list excluding garden, patch list, and birds within the 5MR outside of the square and patch. The overall total was 51 at the end of January, and is only 58 now. Additions were Raven, Teal, Little Grebe, Coot, Tufted Duck, Skylark and Green Woodpecker. Out of those, only Skylark was added from the square; finally a couple of birds singing over the fields on Thursday, no idea where they disappeared to in the weeks before the snow and subsequent thaw. I am still missing a few obvious common birds including Rook, and so far only 20 species on all four sub-lists. March should see the first returning breeders etc.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing ....

 .... or not! I've had a couple of moments of doubt in the last 24hrs.

Firstly, a Carabid that I found lurking under a pile of stones in a damp copse with loads of leaf litter. It immediately looked Calathus-ish, and I keyed it through to Calathus fuscipes which I'd not seen before. But when checking on-line images for this species, I wondered if I'd missed something or gone wrong. Whilst everything seemed to fit the main characters, there was one nagging doubt. Every key I checked referred to strongly punctured pronotal fovae, and I wasn't entirely convinced that mine was that obviously or strongly punctured. I gave up any hope of getting photos of it alive and set about carding it and getting some better efforts with it permanently still. A quick check with Graham Finch via e-mail, and an open question on Facebook, and consensus is that I was right all along.

The other moment came about with the Norellia spinipes that I'd pinned and keyed using a Scathophagidae key that I found online (Ball, 2014 v4.1). It keyed too easily, and I wondered if it was actually to early for this species. Maybe I'd jumped in at Scathophagidae incorrectly. Another Facebook question was quickly answered - ID correct, apparently they overwinter as adults and can appear at any time when daffs are in bloom.

I've been out and about today sorting a couple of bits for my Mum, so not in the square or looking at anything in particular. Which is a bit of shame as today has been gloriously sunny and warm .... and tonight is predictably clear and cold with a big bright moon.

Full Moon 1 - Moth Trap 0 ?

It's just a full moon - no wanky nickname required depending on the month etc.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Mixed Bag

Some quick snaps from the last couple of days, none that I'm especially happy with. The TG-6 seems a bit low on image quality and not as sharp as I'd like when using out in the field, hand-held in stacking mode. There has to be something I'm missing in the settings ....

Heterogaster urtica

Bruchus rufimanus - found loads of these under bark, keyed

Pine Ladybird

Common Malachite Beetle larva - under bark on same tree as I found one in 2013

I've decided these certainly are Pammene regiana cocoons - collected to rear

Lecanora muralis

Common Earwig

Dead Moll's Fingers [Xylaria longipes]

I've also got a Norellia spinipes pinned (keyed, swept off daffs, early?), and a new beetle - Calathus fuscipes - to try and photograph alive if possible. First Small Tortoiseshell of the year today as well on a short walk this morning.

This afternoon I headed to the hospital. To have a tourniquet strapped on my arm, have my arm sliced open a little and have a thin tube of plastic inserted in a major artery and fed up, across and down to just above the heart under x-ray .... not as dramatic as it sounds, and in the great scheme of things not the most uncomfortable procedure I've had to endure in the last couple of years. My chemo got deferred by a week so I could have this PICC line in, starts again Monday and hopefully will be easier to deal with.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021


I've had a great couple of hours or so out in my square this afternoon. It was very mild, and I expected to be attempting to pot or net flies, but the wind was still strong and I saw not a single true fly. But, I did find lots of stuff, though I'm just going to focus on two beetles that are new for me ....

Traveller's Joy is not exactly abundant in my square; there are a handful of long-standing shrubs in one area, with no more within at least a mile or so. The shrubs in my square are right alongside the main A426, so standing around staring at stems is not something that can be done without drawing attention from passing motorists. I had a look today though, with Martin's recent finds in mind, although I hadn't planned for it and was not equipped. I had no zip-lock bags, no penknife and no secateurs - I was after all hoping to be netting flies. After scrutinising stems of all sizes for barely five minutes, I suddenly noticed a number of small holes in a relatively thin stem. I snapped a length off, barely a foot, and bent it over enough to squash into a 75mm long glass tube I happened to have in my bag. Far from ideal, but I figured if anything was in the stems they'd be tiny enough that I'd be unlucky to inadvertently squash it.

As soon as I got home, I emptied the stem onto a sheet of A4 paper and spread out a little. I'd hardly finished tipping out before I noticed a small dark speck wandering off across the sheet.

See it there, top-right?

I photographed a hole, and started stripping the stem down into small bits. It soon became apparent that there were several of these beetles ....

There are six of them in this shot, them being Xylocleptes bispinus. I carried on searching but no sign of the predator that I was also hoping to see (Leptophloeus clematidis). Here's a couple of shots of these tiny stem-borers closer up:



I only noticed after the event that there were some hangers-on (as in the mites on the pronotum and rear end). I checked up and realised that there were no modern records for VC55. Even better, Graham Finch is dismissive of the historical records due to considerable doubt about the recorder mixing up specimens from in and out of county, and considers this to be VC55 First (as will be Leptophloeus clematidis if I or anyone else finds it). I popped a couple into a small vial to post to Graham, along with a couple of very small bits of twig. A bit later when actually sorting out the vial to post, there were four beetles in there .... these really must be abundant! I decided to have another look through the fragments and found another couple, so at least ten in total.

Earlier on the walk, I also spent some time peeling sycamore bark. I found a few bits here (again in full view of passing motorists, including a number of Police cars with sirens blazing). Amongst them were a few Dermestidae larvae. I previously found one during the 2013 square challenge which initially I thought could be Ctesias serra, but the rear-end hairs were not long enough and I had to rear through to eventually confirm it as Megatoma undata. That was in my mind as I watched these scuttle about cobwebs and a number of cocoons of what I assume are one of the Pammene spp. I collected a couple, (along with the cocoons to rear), but looking again when I got home I realised that these actually did have a big rear-end bouffant. I decided these must be Ctesias serra, a view supported via an online query on the British Beetles FB group.

I'm going to try and rear these through anyway on dead insects.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Fungi Goes Viral

Over the years, I have benefitted greatly from seeing what others have found and then gone looking for it myself. This last week has seen the tables turned, and my casual find and bit of quick detective work has lead to a flurry of records. I'm referring to those Ash key fungi that I first found at Watermead CP South on 15/02/2021 and followed up in my home square on 16/02/2021. Of these, there were two previous records for Diaporthe samaricola in VC55, albeit not supported with photos so not featuring in the Naturespot gallery. The other, Neosetophoma samarorum, was apparently unrecorded in VC55 before I noted it. Since then, records have started coming in from all around the VC. The following maps are from iRecord early this afternoon, showing all records for Leics. & Rutland (including one or two only just submitted that are not yet accepted, but will be). Top map is for Neosetophoma samarorum, bottom map is Diaporthe samaricola. The circles with red dots are my two records for each. The map for Diaporthe samaricola also shows the original two records (blue dots) - I guess the recorder was not aware of Neosetophoma samarorum. It's pretty obvious that everyone that has looked over the last week has found both easily, and that both are widespread around VC55 as expected. 

It doesn't stop there though. Although I posted pics etc on here, put the records on Naturespot and declared the two species on my PSL update, I didn't bother posting anything on Twitter or the PSL Facebook. I fully expected that most PSLers would be aware and already have seen these, and it was just me catching up. But others that had picked up the species from Naturespot did post messages and it has prompted some easy ticks for others .... for example ....

I wonder if this is the first time that fungi has spread virally?!

I've had a couple of sedentary days for one reason or another. It's been mild, but tempered massively today by more strong winds. The garden trap has been rubbish, even for mid-Feb, despite the temps. I pointed the TG-6 at the only noctuid to turn up so far, and to be honest I'm not overly happy with the result. The colour balance / white balance was way off so I've had to tweak in photoshop. It's also not quite as sharp as I expected. I'll need to get into the camera settings and see what I can set-up manually (although most setting when in 'microscope' mode are automatic) before trying indoor moth photography again.

Hebrew Character

It seems okay when using it outdoors though; this Emmelina monodactyla is a hand-held stack as it sat on a uPVC window frame ....

 Whilst mooching about the garden, I also found a very early instar larva ....

Old Lady

I also had another look at Lichens in and around the front garden, on the walls and paving ....

Lecidella stigmatea

Lecanora campestris

Lecanora dispersa

I've also pinned a couple of Ophion obscuratus agg. for (hopefully) future reference. Work is ongoing with this group by some proper Entomological scientists, and it seems highly likely that there are several species with different phenology; this is likely to be an as-yet unnamed species that flies in late winter, particularly turning up in light traps in February.

Meanwhile, down under on Tasmania, some local madmen that have been searching for decades reckon they've caught not one but a family of three Thylacines on a cam trap - yes, the extinct and utterly distinctive carnivorous marsupial 'Tasmanian Tiger'. With stripes on the rear end. Whilst the world gulped at the thought, the footage was shared with experts before being released. Current status is that the images probably show a tiny Kangaroo called a Pademelon ..... WTAF!? Can't wait to see these pictures - allegedly to be published on March 1st, maybe should defer to April 1st.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

A Tug and a Rug

Not done much today other than enjoy another LCFC victory, over Villa.

Unlike a great many other people, my garden moth trap has so far yielded precisely zero moths. I was especially hopeful of something last night with such mild temps, but soon realised that was unlikely when stepping out during the evening into full-on late October-like blustery wind. My garden trap never does well in strong wind, particularly in the early and late season which perhaps highlights that many of the moths turning up here have at least flown further than the immediate vicinity.

It wasn't all fruitless though; when I stepped out I had a torch, but stupidly no phone/camera. So by the time I'd clocked the Wood Mouse feeding under the bird feeders, it had already clocked me and was not going to hang around whilst I grabbed a photographic implement. I also found a couple of spiders, and a fly that I managed to pot (as I did have one of those with me).

I knew the fly was either Hellinia or Phaonia, and worked out it was the latter after trawling through some of Mike Hackston's keys and on-line images. I pinned it, grabbed a few quick shots and left it for this morning to try and work through. I have to say it wasn't easy, and I'm not going to spend the next hour walking through the whole lot. But I will post some images with coloured bits on that I think are sufficient to confidently name it as a female Phaonia tuguriorum - again a more than expected common fly. They won't include detailed shots of leg bristles cause I haven't taken any.

Darkened cloud around cross-veins, slight bulge along costal edge of wing and slight red-yellow tinge to tip of scutellum.

Pre-alar bristle (cyan dot) clearly longer than second notopleural bristle (yellow dot). Not annotated, but profile of face shows mouth edge not clearly more prominent than frons. Also not annotated, but note all femora and tibia are reddish except for the darkened front femur.

Red arrows: no pre-sutural acrostichal bristles, one pair of post-sutural acrostichal bristles. Cyan dots: 2 pre-sutural and four post-sutural dorsocentral bristles.

Red arrows: eyes hairy and red-yellow tinge to antennal bases. Yellow arrows: subjectively, frons at vertex more than 2/5 of width of head, jowl at base of eye about same as half the height of the eye. Ish. What I can't see/show are the palps which should be red-yellow at basal third.

Yesterday I finished sieving the flood debris I brought home. As expected, the number and range of beetles increased as I got towards the bottom of the bag - albeit mainly the number and range of small Staphs. There were another couple of both Pterostichus vernalis and Bembidion biguttatum, a couple of Badister bullatus and among the small but at least discernible Staphs I noted one that looked to have an oddly shaped pronotum. I worked it through Mike Hackston's keys as far as Rugilus sp. and saw that looked right when checking images. But I couldn't find a key to those in Mike's file. But I did find one by Volker Assing 2012, albeit one that covered all Palearctic and Oriental regions and the first four species that are separated in couplets are non-British. But the beetle matched up to Rugilus orbiculatus which is by far the most likely species anyway.

Note the rear angles of the elytra are yellowish, and the femora are yellowish with darker apices. And the odd shaped pronotum! I will get some more debris in the week, but it's still mainly Carabids that I'm hoping for.

Records for these two will be submitted, hopefully there will be none of this ....

Saturday, 20 February 2021

40 Years of Dreaming (of Me)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Depeche Mode single, Dreaming of Me. A small disc of plastic that I still have in my vinyl collection of pre-CD music.

There will be many such anniversaries from the 80s coming up, but few bands that were incepted in the era of post-punk new wave and synth pop truly survived through the decades that followed.

Of course 40 years ago I had no idea that I would, literally, grow up with Depeche Mode. I was 12 when the single was released, turning 13 a few months later. At that time Dave Gahan, lead singer and youngest member of the band by a year or so, would have been 19. The single was a jingly synth-pop track - nothing special in itself and far from a chart smash. But on the flip side was a track called Ice Machine, darker in mood but no less synthetic.

The first album maintained the mix of pure synth-pop and slightly more melancholy tracks. There were pivotal changes that have shaped the bands output from the second album onwards: Vince Clarke left the band after Speak and Spell, leaving Martin Gore to take up the reins as songwriter for A Broken Frame and beyond. Alan Wilder joined the band and contributed musically before his departure after the 8th album, Songs of Faith and Devotion.

Throughout the 40 years that have followed Dreaming of Me, through 14 studio albums, 8 live albums, 50+ singles and no idea how many compilations, imports, live films and remix sets, there is as much continuity as there is radical change. I love all of it; the music, themes and composition have matured in sync with me. I am sure I am not alone, there will be many 1000s of people up and down the UK who were around the same age at the same time and, like me, started buying every new release and have continued to.

I cannot hand on heart say which songs or albums I prefer; they are all excellent in different ways, and my view of them is obviously biased by what I was doing, and with who, when they were released. The tracks I've linked in this post (aside from Ice Machine) are arbitrary - I could have spent all day looking for clips and linking 100s.

Depeche Mode are certainly not a universally loved band, but whether you have listened to them properly or not, like them or not, you cannot deny the influential effect they've had on many bands, across genres, that have followed.

Who knows how long they will continue to work and release new material as a band: both Dave Gahan and Martin Gore have worked with other artists and released solo material. The last album was released in 2017, and there have been 4 year gaps between the last few albums but I haven't seen or heard anything to suggest there is another one on the way. If and when it comes, I am sure that I will be listening to it. And if it doesn't, I will continue listening to all of their back catalogue.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Debris / Garbage

A few days ago, I posted a couple of shots from Jubilee Park and Seth suggested I should be sieving what appeared to be prime flood debris. Yesterday I nipped back there with a couple of large 6 litre ziplock bags; I'm not quite up to spending time constantly crouching/bending as yet but I figured that with a bit of effort I could get something bagged up to sieve at height at home.

Here's the photo that Seth mentioned with some arrows on it ....

The red arrow is pointing at what may appear to be a good place to start looking for some debris to bag up, but actually this is virtually all mud with a few bits of laying reed. The blue arrows pointing to the edges of shrubs and bushes further 'inland' from the river are actually still short of the where the flood line was, but the bushes act as a dam and catch all sorts of natural debris and man-made garbage. I searched out a couple of different types and got some bagged up .....

The first lot looks like wood chippings, but it's a pile of reed fragments and twigs. I dug below the top layer and bagged a load of wet mulch.

The second area was longer/larger fragments of reed held together by a load of mud and not so easy to bag up, but I grabbed some anyway ....

Whilst grabbing these, there was a bit of drizzle and it felt a bit nippy. I had a quick look around with bins but nothing unexpected - Little Egrets still lording it up around the place, and that drake Tufted still alone on the pit.

This afternoon I had a quick go at sieving some of the looser mulch. I've only done about a quarter of what I collected. As expected, there were some tiny collembola and some tiny Staphs. I've ignored these, I just haven't got the time and patience for tiny stuff at the moment. There were also lots of common Tachyporus / Tachinus spp. - none of which looked remotely interesting. What I was hoping for were Carabids, and although a modest result so far I got two - both of which are common, typical of this habitat and species I've not seen before.

I (just about) carded the larger beetle, Pterostichus vernalis. No scutellar striae, pitted single pronotal fovae and a furrow along the top of the tarsi. c6.5mm long

The smaller beetle was Bembidion biguttatum, which came out of the ethyl acetate fumes with it's legs wrapped up beneath it. Seven elytral striae, rounded pronotum sinuate at the base, pale elytral sub-apical spots, pale basal antennal segment and red/brown legs. Some of which you can just about discern from this rubbish shot.

I'll keep going through the bags and see what else pops up.

This evening, despite some potential for rain the temps looked great and I thought I'd get the trap out. although it was already dark by that point. But, on opening the door the mild temps are being moderated by a strong wind so I've not bothered, I'm unlikely to be missing anything that won't turn up on a better night in the next week or so. I did have a look along the fence with a torch though and found a couple of Walnut Orb Weavers, the first I've seen this year. So I grabbed the TG-6 and though I'd see what a hand-held stack with no other illumination than the LED light guide attached. Not too shabby considering. It's not been brightened or anything like that in editing.

Here's some more good garbage ....