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

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Something Better Change

I've hit one of those spells where lethargy and fatigue override enthusiasm. Felt okay on Thursday, spent a bit of time identifying stuff on Friday morning, and then had pretty much two and a half days of laying around doing chuff all and sleeping a lot. I can tell myself it was the chemo, but that's probably only 50% true. Since the weekend, I've been a bit more focussed on work stuff and anyway the weather is still dreadful for April. Whilst we've had some lovely sunny days, in the shade or breeze it is still nippy and there is not as much going on as there should be for late April. As for the nights, clear, cold and mothless.

I'm running out of time to have lots of free time. I expect to be going back to work in a more formal capacity in a couple of weeks, assuming the chemo is halted as I expect. But to be honest I need that; being away from work may sound great, and I'm sure we all dream of having nothing but time to ourselves, but actually I need the structure that working properly gives. It means that time in the evening and weekends become more precious, and there is more impetuous to make hay when conditions are good etc. Being based at home all the time makes leaving something until later or tomorrow too easy. If I was retired things would be different I'm sure, but being off whilst recovering from surgery and doing some work from home in a fairly casual way wears thin.

The lack of activity since my sweeping session down the lane means I've not got a lot to feature photographically, but amongst the numerous square-listing ticks I picked up another three species I'd not seen before including this ....

Stenocranus minutus. The differences between the x3 British Stenocranus spp. are subtle, made slightly easier in VC55 given that S. fuscovittatus is Nationally local and mainly southerly. The two we certainly have, S. major and S. minutus, have differences in the tone and contrast of the longitudinal lines on the front of the face, and the front of the vertex protrudes more in S. minutus but that is very subjective. S. minutus can be slightly smaller too.

Here's the face of S. minutus showing pale brown lines (may even be absent on some individuals):

And here's the face of S. major that I've previously recorded, showing much more contrasty blackish lines (and note the dark tarsal segments which separate from S. fuscovittatus) :

I reckon S. minutus is generally darker than S. major, but I guess that's not sufficiently stable to be considered as a factor. Here are the same two side-on, see the massive difference in the projection of the vertex ....

I should add that both records accepted via iRecord national expertise.

What else is going on? Oh yes, apparently our Government is lead and populated by a shambling bunch of lying self-serving chancers. Who knew? If there is not some sort of Tory coup or at least change through resignations, I think we can fully wave goodbye to any semblance of democracy and scrutiny for decades. Even if BJ gets his comeuppance, we'll still have a shit Tory Government, but there is a chance that the slide to full blown authoritarianism might halt and the blinkered supporters of rank idiocy might wake up.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Just Looking

Yesterday morning I had another chance to add Ring Ouzel to the 5MR list, as Mark Andrews found another at the same area on Aylestone Meadows as the weekend bird. Seeing it was another matter, as just like the first it was quick to scuttle out of view and become lost in the scrub further back. But I did get views, not the best but good enough. You think the record shots from a couple of posts ago were shocking, what about this ....

Look at that full crop grainyness, but at least you can see it's a Blackbird with a white bib! Singing Cetti's and Sedge Warblers were good to pick up whilst there too. Whilst I'm at it, here's a couple of more obliging but less interesting grey birds from the site ....

Shortly afterwards I headed up to Kinchley Lane, Swithland Res to meet up with Adrian Russell and show him a couple of the recent larval finds that he'd not seen as yet. We soon found a few mines of Elachista regificella, and an obligatory wall search produced a few bits ....

Taleporia tubulosa

Luffia lapidella f. ferchaultella

One of the whites. Probably.

It was a bit parky, overcast and didn't look like the sun would break through. We next headed to the site for Infurcitinea argentimaculella, and then on to Charnwood Lodge where we had a damned good but unsuccessful search for Dahlica inconspicuella. Whilst there, I managed to grab a couple of shots of a very active jumping spider, which looks absolutely right and fits the habitat for Pseudeuophrys erratica and gained some confirmatory comments on a British Spiders facebook group ....

Back at home, a couple of vegetative bits of note. We have a large flowering cherry on the front garden, with big blousy pink blossom. It's been here since the house was built before we moved in. It's grown pretty big over the years, and we had to have it cut back a bit in 2019, but I'd never noticed anything odd about the tree before. It throws up a lot of suckers from a couple of big exposed roots, which I usually trim back at some point, but this year something odd has sprouted ....

Here's the pink blossom that is just coming up to it's best all over the tree now ....

And here's a bit of blossom that has appeared from a root sucker ....

It is clearly a cultivated specimen grafted onto some sort of wild cherry root stock, but I honestly can't say that that has ever been evident before. There was no sign of grafting on the young tree, although we moved here in 1994 so it's a long while to think back.

Also, remember back in January when I was convinced that there was no Holly in the square, just before finding a bit. Well I found this sprouting the garden at the weekend!

We've never grown any Holly in the garden and none of the neighbours have any that I can see. This is right under the line where a bird could sit on the fence and drop a dump of undigested seed.

This evening I've been out for a walk along the lane wielding my sweep net. I had two particular species in mind, Brassica Shieldbug which I missed and Woundwort Shieldbug which I found. Eventually, after sweeping loads of White Dead-nettle. Pied Shieldbugs were much more numerous!

I've also ended up with a good range of Hemiptera and Coleoptera in pots to have a good look at and increase the square list a bit more.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021


About that bout of suction sampling on Sunday at Croft Pastures. Turned out to be productive again for new things! Asides from a few small beetles, none of which were new or exciting, and another plethora of collembola, I picked out a couple of small bugs and an even smaller wasp. Both bugs were new for me, and one appears to be new for VC55. The wasp is also new for me and likely to be new for VC55 too - though getting it verified seems unlikely - all records on iRecord are sitting there unverified so it seems there is no-one operating through the BWARs team who have enough knowledge or experience on these at the moment.

Cardiastethus fasciiventris - a small (c2mm) Anthocorid, separated from similar but far less likely species by antennal length and colouration, and length of rostrum (reaching front coxae). Sucked out of grasses/tussocks on what is usually damp pasture. Appears to be new for VC55.

Acalypta parvula, one of the Tingidae lacebugs and even smaller at c1.5mm - sucked from grasses and moss

Callitula pyrrhogaster - thanks to PSL wonderkid Finley Hutchinson. One of the Pteromalidae, the brachypterous wings and colouration of gaster separate from C. bicolor in a key that Finley sent me (Graham, 1969).

Bless my cotton socks, so far this suction sampling malarkey has proven rewarding. With not much effort and just a few sucks, I've now had five new species (x2 bugs, x1 weevil, x1 springtail & x1 wasp). If I actually pooted/potted everything and had a go those numbers would be much higher!

Before heading out there, I'd had a heads up from Graham Calow that a plant I'd photographed at Croft Pastures last week might be incorrect - ie my Common Mouse-ear was likely to be Sticky Mouse-ear. I had another look and agree, post corrected. The Upright Chickweed was still not quite in flower, and I realised there was even more of it about that I'd originally thought. There were also other tiny plants starting to flower, like Changing Forget-me-Not. I will go again and try to get some more flowery shots including the Annual Knawel that was all but over last time I saw it.

A couple of bits of larval life news. First up a butterfly larva from Croft Pastures last week that I didn't post here previously. It looks like half a Rosy Apple sweet, but it's actually a Small Copper.

And back in early Sept 2020, I managed to sweep a geometrid larva from Traveller's-Joy at Ketton Quarry. I retained to rear through, and luckily it had emerged - just a shame it is a bit early. Anyway it confirms my thoughts that it was a Fern rather than Small Waved Umber.

Last night I ran the garden trap for the first time in a couple of weeks. It was forecast to be cold again, though the temps holding up slightly better through to c1am. As expected numbers were not great, but the trap did pull in a nice Streamer - always a rewarding treat.

It's been warm again today, but the clouds moved in mid-afternoon and appear to be lingering so perhaps the trap will at last pick up tonight.

Monday, 19 April 2021

Sunshine Birds

Okay, a couple of days late for one reason or another.

Saturday was bright sunshine with warmth right from the off. I decided to head down the lane with bins and camera - maybe something new in the hedgerows or skies.

There was, albeit brief and silent - a Whitethroat skulking in the hedgerow and quite likely fresh in and a bit knackered. Yellowhammers and Skylarks were more evident though ....

Also along the lane, this intensively reared chicken was unphased by an approaching human or passing cars.

Whilst out, I picked up a Tweet from Neil Hagley - a proper birder who lives on the same estate but further over with better all-round aerial views from his garden and slightly less motorway noise. He is far more likely to be out and about earlier in the morning than me, and he'd picked up both Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail. I mis-read the Tweet though and thought he meant he'd had them along the lane, which seemed unlikely for Wheatear at least given the fields are all sprouting with Autumn-sown crops - no nice bare ploughed fields or short grassy/weedy pasture. I checked in with Neil, turns out he meant he'd walked down the lane and carried on across the main A426 onto Whetstone Gorse Lane and past the PYO. Which was good, as it meant my birding skills were not completely rubbish. By the time I had that bit of news I'd already enjoyed Ravens flying over, along with several Buzzards and Red Kite filling the sky and a pair of Swallows milling about around the farm, and I'd headed back home.

But the enjoyable walk kind of made my mind up for what I might do for the rest of the day - which was get back out with bins and avoid that televised funeral! I grabbed something to eat, made up a coffee to take out and a couple of bits of fruit. First off I headed back down to the PYO - I expected the Wheatear to still be present, doubted the wagtail would be. I was right.

Quite possibly the worst Wheatear record shot I've ever taken - distance wasn't the problem, it was the heat-haze rising up from the bare soil. It was turning out to be quite a sun blast out there. Sadly this one is not in the square, but of course is in the 5MR.

I then headed out to Barlestone, outside of the 5MR, but home to a trio of Ring Ouzels for a couple of days. I've seen several Ring Ouzels in the county over the years, and none have been particularly photographic when I've seen them. These were no different - loitering right on the edge of a sheep field, and watchable from the next sheep field only.

The two red arrows mark the rough position and range of two birds fairly close together on the left, and a single bird on the right. When they first turned up, they were on the almost adjacent football pitch giving some cracking views. Apparently! This time distance and the heat really did make for some shocking record shots. All appeared to be male, but I can't rule out a well-marked female for the out-of-range more distance one (bins only, can't be arsed lugging a scope around these days).

Other thrushes in the field were more obliging.

After that I headed back towards home and checked in to the balancing pool at Grove Park and a quick walk around Jubilee Park on the patch. But nothing new or exciting at either. The pool at Jubilee Park seems to be dropping in volume very quickly. Still a handful of Wigeon loitering there but not a lot else. Seeing how low the river is now and walking around the once flooded but now parched grassy areas reminded me that it really it a fair while now since we had any rain. We've had mild and sometimes warm sunny days, very clear cold nights, but it's been bone dry.

In other bird news from Saturday, we were awoken by an almighty clucking from a pair of Blackbirds loudly proclaiming their agitation. Had no idea what was going on, but when I was home after the first walk down the lane, we realised there was a pathetic fledgling in the garden which was barely able to get more than a couple of feet off of the ground. It was almost like it had fledged too early; usually the first fledglings I see in the garden have full tails and are almost bigger (certainly fatter) than the parents - this was slightly smaller than the adults and lacking much of a tail. It can't have flown into the garden, and I surmised that it had launched itself from the nearest bramble on the embankment onto the neighbours shed roof, and from there either flopped into our garden or over to our shed roof before dropping in.

It wasn't happy, but at least the parents were feeding it regularly. But I knew that it would not survive - if not from ours or another local cat (it may as well have had a Nestle Purina logo on its crown) it was going to be another cold night. Later in the afternoon I decided enough was enough and it needed some sort of rescue plan, but it wouldn't let me get anywhere near it to give it a hand up. Eventually it was sat on the edge of a plant pot at the back of the shed, and with some other junk I've got behind there including a pallet, I tried to make a series of steps that it might be able to get up high enough to get back onto the shed roof and jump back into cover. I had no expectations that it would, but after leaving it for half an hour I noticed the parents were not coming onto our fence anymore. A quick check and there was no sign of the fledgling; either my half-baked plan had worked or perhaps it had just hopped through the hedgehog hole at the bottom of the fence line. I checked again after an hour and, amazingly, quite close to the neighbours shed sat a very familiar looking brown blob on the edge of the bramble. A happy ending perhaps ....

Except that yesterday there was very little noise coming from the embankment, not as much calling and squeaking as you might expect. Cut to this morning, and just whilst I made a cuppa the adult pair were making the same raucous agitated racket again. I nipped into the garden just in time to see a Magpie fly out of the scrub with a brown feathery blob dangling from its beak. I knew they would predate nests, but I always assumed it was much younger naked chicks that they'd be after. It must have taken some effort to fly off with this sized breakfast. I'm assuming that on Saturday it raided the nest causing the remaining chicks that were not quite ready to fledge to scatter. Likely that the Magpie has been coming back and searching them out ever since. Still that's life (or death) but at least it's early enough for another brood in perhaps a better nest location.

Sunday was a little more overcast though still with some good sunny spells. But it was a day of sport for me, with the F1 and FA Cup sandwiching a return trip to Croft Pasture with the suction sampler - which I'll cover separately.

Today was, perhaps, my last chemo session - the drug I have on IV is very neurotoxic and some of the side-effects are now lingering beyond the cycle so it is likely to be knocked on the head after this one. They'd already dropped the dose to 75% . Overall since the dose dropped, the side-effects are less intense and more bearable, but they shouldn't be lasting like they are. I can feel my finger tips tingling as I type and there is a chance this will be long-lasting or even permanent.

I was determined to get out though whilst I feel okay as it was an absolutely lovely warm early evening with clear skies and more sun. Whilst I was either preoccupied yesterday or incapacitated this morning, there had been another Ring Ouzel but this one was at a regular but difficult to watch area generally referred to as King's Lock Paddocks on Aylestone Meadows - just outside the patch boundary but within the 5MR. Despite giving the scrubby field and adjacent fields a good grilling for a couple of hours I had no joy - but given that Ring Ouzels generally migrate at night, and it was there this morning, it is possibly that it was still around and just elusive with the extensive scrub and viewing from across the canal. Still, it was very refreshing to be out - even if the inside of my nostrils did start to tingle thanks to the chemo.

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: