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

Skev Who?

I started this blog on 7th November 2007, when a few birding mates started blogging around the same time and it seemed a vaguely good idea. The first thing I posted was a welcome and introduction, and the following is pretty much a cut and paste job with some embelishment and updating. Within the text, there are a few links to pertinent blog posts from the past. There are also some dodgy photos lifted from other peoples Facebook pages etc.

b1968 in Leicester. I have lived in Leicestershire all of my life; I lived in the Highfields area until I was 4, and then grew up and went to school in the Humberstone/Netherhall area. After a false start in a flat and then a short-lived house with my then girlfriend, I finally left home for good in 1990 around a year after meeting Nichola. After a short tenure in a flat on Humberstone Road, we lived in a flat above the Beaumont Leys Shopping Centre for 3 years before moving to Whetstone in 1994 where we still live. Although we met in 1989, we didn't bother getting married until 1999. We have three children - Isabelle (b1995), Joshua (b2001) & Alexander (b2002). They all share a common dis-interest in my interests.

I have been in full-time employment in manufacturing industries since leaving school at 16. Having completely avoided the A level / University route I gained vocational and technical training and qualifications through apprenticeship, and gained increasing responsibility through role and job changes. I've worked in defence electronics and radar, commercial white goods, aerospace and industrial turbines, and now metal food packaging. I don't write about work on this blog, other than the occasional reference to escaping it or being constrained by it!

I am quite a bit too short for my weight these days, often have longer stubble than hair and spend far too little time doing anything healthy. I have a bike which comes out occasionally in the summer, some golf clubs that just take up space in the shed and a couple of squash racquets that have inadequate string tension. I am unable to eat grapefruit if there is a full English alternative, and I prefer chocolate and beer to the five-a-day principle. As I get older, I find the fashion and culture of youth more and more unfathomable. Jeans half way down your arse-crack - WTF is that all about?! I also find I am becoming worryingly more moderate in my outlook on life as I get older - though often I still fall more to the left than New Labour managed.

Aside from (and at times in the past in spite of) family and work, the main interests in my life so far have been:

I attended many gigs in my formative years (right from early teens, going to the old De Montford Hall to see Madness, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears etc). I was too young to properly appreciate punk, so the first musical movement I got into was the late 70s 2-Tone Ska revival, quickly followed by the early 80s 'New Romantic' / Synth development, the hip-hop / electro-funk movement and then by the mid to late 80's my tastes had opened up to obscure Industrial stuff and guitar-based indie type stuff. From the early 90s I also started listening to more club-based stuff (acid, house, trance, ambient, drum and bass). I now listen to lots of varied stuff from across the decades, and try to keep up with decent current releases. Apart from Country music which is shite.

Whilst still at school I joined up with like-minded souls and we formed Leicester based all-electronic bands The Red Branch and iNDUSTRiE (actually the same band with and without a permanent vocalist, and changing style over the years). We spent a lot of time practising, writing and recording demos, and even more time becoming drink-addled in a pseudo rock-star stylie. The music developed from synth-pop (heavily influenced by Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, ABC and Human League) to a harder edged industrial-techno sound (once we'd heard the likes of Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy, Front 242 and Front Line Assembly). We wore lots of black, and my hair was quite quiffy in a kind of Smiths/Psychobilly way.

 (I'm not the one with ginger or spikey hair, or faded denim jacket)

We played numerous gigs between 1985 - 1994 (at places like the infamous Princess Charlotte and the Magazine), but were losing interest and faded into oblivion by c1996, just as the equipment that had always been prohibitively expensive was starting to become cheaper and easier to use with full blown workstations and direct-to-disc recording. The kids today can knock out a dance track with very little effort and nothing more than a PC; not quite as rewarding as spending a couple of months twiddling knobs on analogue synths, programming drum machines and sequencers, tuning guitars and getting the feedback just right and bounce-recording on 4-track, but a damn site more prolific and lucrative!

Since a very young age I've been fascinated by natural history and have always enjoyed watching Attenborough et al, but with no influence or interest from family or friends I never had either opportunity or impetus to expand my interest from books and TV to the real world. It wasn't until I was 21 that I actually started making the effort to go out into the field after I'd seen Buzzards in North Devon. Actually I'd just seen some large brown birds and wanted to check out what they were, so I bought a field guide (two in fact - on offer in WH Smiths). Flicking through I identified the Buzzards, but more pertinently I realised just how many British birds there were that I'd never heard of, let alone seen, and felt compelled to go out and see some of them.

I bought some cheap bins and started going out to local reserves to identify them for myself. I spent a good 3 years progressing from hopeless dude to reasonably confident and capable birder, albeit alone and quite possible involving self-delusional string on occasion. I joined the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society in 1991 though initially I never made contact with anyone or went to indoor meetings. I did later become more involved and joined the committee in 1999 at the same time as I started writing for and editing the annual bird report (editing the 1998 - 2000 Reports).

The thought of going further afield than Rutland Water never really entered my head until a fervent high-listing twitcher started working at the same company as me. My first out of county birding trip, to Norfolk in May 1993, was a major eye opener. Just a week later we were back in Norfolk twitching Oriental Pratincole, and by the end of 1993 I'd also twitched three other rarities: Arctic Warbler in Staffs, Red-flanked Bluetail in Dorset and Black-winged Stilt in Norfolk. I was hooked, and my twitching antics accelerated in 1994 and then continued at varied pace until the end of 2001. During that time I saw some major rarities, many of which were good blockers that had my mates gripped for years though there are few left in that category now (perhaps just Grey-tailed Tattler and Stellar's Eider). I also started suffering from the debilitating 'pageritis', with the annoying grey box bleeping at me all the time and fuzzing my brain into thinking that nothing else mattered. I had a firm smack of reality and my twitching obsession dwindled sharply after 23/12/2001 following my Dad's untimely death in a car crash. Not surprisingly ticking rare birds no longer seemed important. I was still birding occasionally, but my but twitching finally stopped in 2002 (aside from a one-off en route American Robin in January 2004) and then I pretty much stopped birding altogether in favour of moth trapping.

My birding interest was only re-kindled around the time of starting this blog, but now it is more of a side-interest for most of the year and twitching out of county is a very rare thing. I have once again got involved with the LROS Annual Report, as a writing contributor from the 2008 Report, and editing the 2012 - 2014 Reports.

I first got interested in moths after borrowing a heath trap in 1999. I built my own Skinner trap and started regular trapping in the garden in 2000 which continues to the present. The big appeal initially for me was the much greater ID challenge and sheer number of species, that you can build up an ever growing list of species in your own garden, and that the records generated are of much more scientific importance than the vast majority or birds I've ever seen (and all I've twitched).

Since the first Skinner trap, I've acquired enough kit for some serious out-of-garden trapping - currently 3 gennies, 8 traps and a few 100M of cable. Most of my mothing away from the garden has been in Leics. & Rutland, though I have moth trapped at Dungeness, Wicken Fen, Gibraltar Point, and in Northants, Dorset and Devon (but I have no burning inclination to start tearing around all over Britain to target particular species). Nevertheless, from day-one I've focussed on the micros as well as macros and I've managed to record almost 700 species in my garden and over 1100 nationally.

I have never got around to trying to set anything or mastered (moth) genitalia examination. I am also pretty hopeless at leaf-mines though I do have a look occasionally. Rearing larvae is something I do enjoy though, and every year I will find and rear a few different species. I photograph a lot of moths though; Nichola and the kids have got used to finding pots with moths in the fridge.

I do not consider myself in any way to be a photographer as I don't understand the subtleties of all the camera settings and how to get the best from the conditions and kit. Having said that, I've managed to knock out a few good shots over the years. I've had various digital stills cameras since 2001, and have increasingly photographed more varied things after mainly focussing on moths for many years.

I started with a Sony Cybershot DSC-S50, and then replaced this with a Nikon CoolPix 4500 which I used for moth photography until c2015. Although only 4MPixel image, the quality was superb and the macro photography it was capable of was hard to beat. It never died as such (still works now) but increasingly pixels were dropping out and it was taking time to clean up images. I did have a Canon EOS350D DSLR for a while, but I needed to spend more than I could justify on new lenses to improve the results and eventually ditched it in favour of a much more versatile Panasonic Lumix FZ45 which I used for HD video, wide angle scenes, 24x optical telephoto shots and macro shots consecutively without changing any lens or settings. The results were noisier than a DSLR but overall using a bridge was ideal. I'm now using a Nikon Coolpix P600 bridge which has a cleaner sensor than the Lumix, and I use a Raynox 250 macro attachment which I feel gives me great results at a fraction of the cost of a fancy DSLR rig!

Other stuff - in no particular order:
I have read all of the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, including the ones aimed at kids.
I used to be an avid reader of the 2000AD comics - Slaine, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis and ABC Warriors being my favourite story-lines.
I became addicted to on-line Poker a few years ago - I defeated this addiction by buying up some first-person shoot-em-up Playstation games on e-bay.
I then became addicted to first-person shoot-em-up Playstation games ..............
I have pretty much everything that Depeche Mode, Orbital and Kraftwerk have ever released in my hugely varied music collection.
I have no time for religion.
When I play squash I have only one aim - which is not to die from a coronary attack.
Leicester City FC - long before THAT season.
I am not a Royalist.
I had a not very manly looking yellow bike just after leaving school.
I am allergic to DIY.
What is the point of Feral Geese?
I have watched David Lynch's Eraserhead many times and still don't get it.
I have some golf clubs, and occasionally destroy municipal fairways as I hack my way around.
I see no point in well crafted and sophisticated comedy when a bit of gratuitous smut and innuendo will do.
I like Sci-Fi and comic book influenced films much much more than anything with Huge Cant and Colon Mirth.
On the latter point, Richard Curtis (Not The Nine O'Clock News and Blackadder) lost all credibility when he started doing those shite Britcoms.
Scillies, Devon, Norfolk, Skye - all great places that I'd rather live than Leicestershire. But we have better motorway links.
Did I mention that I am not a Royalist or religious.