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

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Dipper done properly

Remember that Black-bellied Dipper a couple of weeks ago? 'Course you do. Here is what it really looked like, and a great example of what patience, photographic skill and a really decent camera/lens set-up can do for you! This is a great photographic blog that I'll be adding to my links along with a few others later this week.


It's the middle of the night, 00:56, I'm in bed with Nichola and the bed is rattling. This was of course due to an earthquake and not sexual relations :-( We were both awakened by the sudden and very noticeable movement of the whole house and I was immediately sure that it was an earthquake. I was most surprised this morning though to find that the epicentre was in Market Rasen, Lincs. - some 75miles away from our house. With the intensity I thought it was going to be closer, maybe another Melton Mowbray incident. In the immediate aftermath, after we calmed down Isabelle who'd also woken up, it was clear that a few of the neighbours were out in the cul-de-sac trying to work out what had gone on. Not sure what they were expecting to see! A strange but somehow pleasing experience - although I'm sure that those a lot nearer with chimneys coming down etc would have found the experience more frightening. I was at home with Nichola when there was a quake centred in Dudley a few years ago, but I was actually in the shower when it hit and didn't notice anything, so I felt a bit like I'd missed out.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Six Nations

While I'm at it - the other good thing about rubgy is the six nations which gives us all an annual opportunity to enjoy a bit of light hearted nationalistic jingoism. So it was with great joy that I slumped into the settee to watch England defeat our filthy gallic friends from across the channel. I work in an office with four French nationals so Monday will be a good day.
Only downside is that it now looks increasingly likely that the sheep shaggers could take the grand slam.

Another Wilkinson drop-goal. Image robbed blatantly from BBC News website.

Tigers v Sharks 23/02/2008

When I were a lad at school in Leicester, we really only played football. It was a reputable inner-city comprehensive (reputable as in having a reputation, not necessarily a good one) with a staunch working class population - rugby union was largely considered to be a toffs game which involved men chasing men, grabbing their legs and sticking their heads up each others arses. Rugby League was simply something that northerners played. Little wonder then that I never really took any great interest in either code.
In more recent years I have come to realise that this perception of the game as a whole was misguided. I still find most of the rules incomprehensible and the stuttering nature of some of the play a bit boring, but there are two things that make attending a rugby fixture more enjoyable these days than going to a Premiership or Championship football match: drinking in the stadium is not only allowed, it is almost encouraged, and there is still a standing terrace. Great.
All the better then when I am treated to corporate hospitality involving a three course meal, free beer/drink and the match ticket. Like today when Leicester Tigers were at home to Sale Sharks. During the course of the 'six pints & two large glasses of red' afternoon we watched what turned out to be the dullest game of rugby imaginable, and sadly Tigers lost out to a last minute try by that French neanderthal Chabal. For a more detailed and accurate match report see here.
Seeing as the famous Welford Road stadium is scheduled to undergo a major transformation over the next couple of years I also took a small digital compact to get a few shots for the memories and of the game - click for bigger versions.

Looking down the ground from the Alliance and Leicester stand on Welford Road. The Next Stand is on the right.

The Crumbie Stand with the terracing. The new stadium will retain a standing terrace.

Corry and the boys warm-up. Notice that most appear to have thigh injuries requiring bandaging.

Before the start, Andy Goode practises his ball-handling skills and hopes that the c17000 crowd isn't watching.

Sam Vesty decides to spend the game leaning on the post.

Goode points out to the touchline judge that his tight red undershorts match his shirt, and would he like to join the team bath later on. Probably.

Sale win this lineout.

Heads up arses. Note that Vesty has hardly moved, lazy bastard.

Mark Cunto seems to be distracted. You'd think he'd notice his name was spelt wrong on his shirt.

Caveman Chabal and Cunto watch Goode prepare to miss a conversion.

Sale celebrate the final whistle. Tigers 11 - Sale 14.

Friday, 22 February 2008

On this day - 22/02/1996

I've already indicated that Feb '96 was a good month, and this was the icing on the cake. Ever since taking up birding I was looking forward to the chance to see Waxwings and the second half of the '95/'96 winter proved to be one of the best influxes for years. I'd already seen Waxwings in January, but knowing that there had been some in Leicester I rang birdling midlands on 21/02 to see if there was any news. There was, but not quite what I'd expected! In Nottingham city centre there was a relatively huge flock of Waxwings (seem to think that there was >600) and amongst them was a Cedar Waxwing. Needless to say hasty arrangements were made to get there and on the morning of 22nd myself, Dave Gray and John Hackett were soon enjoying stunning close views of this first winter nearctic vagrant amongst c120 Waxwings. Superb bird - at the time it was the first for Britain but an earlier record from Shetland in June 1985 (that had been initially dismissed as an escape) was subsequently accepted. Over the course of the morning we saw 300+ Waxwings and also enjoyed an overwintering Ring Ouzel in a city centre church yard.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Art ..

.. or bollocks. Depends on your view. There are endless debates as to what constitutes art, what art is good etc. Personally I think that a sheep cut in half and suspended in formaldehyde is actually a waste of dinner and chemicals, and toilets are for plumbing in and using rather than displaying as an intellectual discussion piece. But what do I know.
What I do know, is that when I was at school 'art' generally referred to painting, drawing, modelling with clay and making collages, rather than some of the contemporary nonsense that wins the Turner Prize every so often. And frankly I was completely rubbish at it, and still am. I cannot draw or sketch anything, and my kids could all outdoodle me by the age of three.
Luckily for me, with a camera and Photoshop it is possible to produce images that could be considered artistic. Or bollocks - depends on your view.

Artistically manipulated Canada Goose images. Or Bollocks. Click for full size art gallery versions. Recommend me to Brian Sewell. Limited prints available for £35000.99 each.

Monday, 18 February 2008

More garden birds

A couple of shots from the garden - a better Bullfinch (although probably the same bird) and Collared Doves.



Also something that I wasn't sure of. The generally black plumage, brown-reddish legs and slightly decurved yellow-orange bill seemed distinctive enough. Luckily I got a shot showing it in it's preferred habitat and this was the clincher as confirmed by the BB Club down the road.

Leicestershire's first Alpine Chough.


Both Groby Pool and the southern half of Swithland Reservoir were still frozen over late this morning. The sight of a Carrion Crow walking around in the middle of the latter was a clue.

You know it's cold when birds of differing species simultaneously loose a leg and Mute Swans try to use themselves as scarves.

Nothing of interest at Groby Pool, other than another definite candiate for the avian genocide that I'm planning for all hybrids, ferals and escapes.
Definite vermin.

The only other observation at Groby Pool was the extremely rare Trainer Duck Anas rebokensis.

What the ? How? I didn't bother to check if the owner was under the ice with the other shoe.

After a brief diversion into Swithland Wood, where Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Jay and Great Spot were all seen well but not photographable, I moved on to Swithland Reservoir. Best bird here was a redhead Smew (I didn't pick up either of the drakes reported over the past few days) amongst the many Goldeneye, Tufteds, Pochard and GC Grebes. Also a very confiding Grey Wagtail (super birds). All very relaxing - just the ticket after the shite early morning debacle.

Super bird.

Crows are ballsy birds. Evidently.


I won't talk about work on here normally, but today's blood-boiling experience was all about not working so I guess it's fair game. I was supposed to be flying into Lyon, France, for a short meeting with a customer before flying straight back. Fine. Only problem was that the only direct flights that fit were from London Heathrow. Bugger. 04:30 and I'm driving down with plenty of time to park up, get frisked and await the 07:55 flight that I'm already checked-in for. I'm taking it easy - an uncharacteristic 65 on cruise - no point in driving like a fucking loony in light traffic, in the dark, in sub-zero temps with plenty of time. I only got as far as junction 15 on the M1 before it all went pear shaped. A car and lorry had aquainted themselves a bit too closely causing the M1 southbound to be closed. The diversion was already backed up to crawling pace and before long all of my contingency time was blown. To cap it all, the M1 closure turned out to be the first of several including various stretches of the M40, the M11 and part of the M25 car-park and other London bound routes. Suffice to say I missed the flight. I can imagine the French customer giving a gallic shrug & c'est la vie - but I was fucking livid! From the traffic news reports through the morning I expect that there were many thousands of thoroughly pissed off motorists. The infrastructure over here is fucking woeful - better, reliable and cheaper railways would eliminate half the shite we have to put up with. Privatisation of British Rail - a living testiment to the failure of the Major-lead government. Even evil-bitch Thatcher left the rail network largely intact - although she was probably too busy dissolving everything else and never got around to it. It was also the first failing of Blair and his cronies as they oversaw the completion of the final aspects of privatisation. The return route was slightly less fraught as the M40 northbound was peaceful in the main - still stationary on the other carriageway. My temper was further moderated by 3 Red Kites flying over and several close Buzzards sitting on roadside posts. On returning to Leicester I was in need of some relief (not that sort), so I headed to Groby Pool and Swithland Res. for an hour (more on that later) before spending the rest of the day working from home tired and with a thumping headache. Glad I don't commute anymore or drive for a living.

I'm late, I'm late ....

Forgot to mention at the end of yesterday's post - after dropping John off at home me and Dave had a bizzarre Lewis Carroll moment involving a pure white mammal! It took a couple of seconds for it to register - Rat? no. Stoat? no. Polecat?? nearly. Shuffling across the busy A6 between Birstall and Red Hill circle was ... a ferret. Yes - a bloody ferret! Just aswell they are absolutely crap at establishing feral populations.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Dipp(er)ing - 16/02/2008

It's a strange thing I know, but for some reason John Hague has persued a lifetime hobby of dipping Black-bellied Dipper. So with news of one wintering in his homeland, the Republic of Yorkshire, we had the perfect excuse for a days birding and fannying about with cameras. Dave Gray made up the intrepid trio, and we were on our way in sub-zero darkness.
Seeing as were heading north, we decided on an early stop at Clumber Park for Hawfinch. We arrived at just gone 7am and geared ourselves up for the search at -6degC. It was only just light and a heavy frost was clinging to everthing. Very evocative I must say, especially with a freezing fog lingering over the water.

John picked up a singing male Hawfinch perched right at the top of a 50ft conifer. The combination of very low light and distance made this impossible to photograph with anything other than shockingly bad results. Like this:

Singing male Hawfinch. Use your imagination.

Before we left, a half-hearted look for the wintering Great Grey Shrike produced nothing more than a superb Kingfisher grabbing breakfast. The first rays of proper sunlight were now shining through and it was promising to be another cracking day.

We grabbed a superb full English from a greasy-spoon opposite the entrance to the park before heading to our next stop - Potteric Carr. It was my first visit to this reserve, established in 1968 when I was born, and I have to say it is brilliant. Superb access, varied habitats and of course the attraction of wintering Bittern.
We first headed down to Piper Marsh before the crowds arrived. A flyover Woodcock was nice, but sadly the wildfowl was all on the far side of the marsh in the sunlight as the water was frozen over. No sign of Bittern during our time in the hide, although we did spot something similarly coloured nosing through the reed edge. There are four species of duck in the following shot, and the full-size crop of the same photo shows the skulking reed-beast.

Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Shoveler + Coot, Moorhen

Can you see what it is yet?

We made our way round to the Willow Marsh hide to check out the feeders. Like Thornton the other day, there were plenty of Reed Buntings using the facilities along with the usual suspects.

Best bird here though was a brazen Water Rail.

Typical Water Rail view.

Superb Water Rail view.

The walk back the car produced a pair of noisy Willow Tits along with typical woodland birds. We could easily have spent a full day at this excellent reserve - definitely one for another visit.
Next on the agenda was the main target for the day - the Black-bellied Dipper wintering near Watton. I really like Dippers. They are stout fat-bellied little chaps - I guess I empathise with them! On arrival at the site though, it really didn't look promising as the stream was certainly not typical Dipper habitat.

Fast flowing water with perching boulders. Not.

After a fruitless walk along the stream, we eventually got views of the bird on the way back. Although we got good views it was a bit wary of us and wouldn't allow a close enough approach for a decent photo. It was also a bit odd as it didn't call once whilst flying up and down the waterway.

Black-bellied Dipper. Yes, the thing in the bottom right corner.

Time was now pressing, so we headed back south to Blacktoft Sands for the raptor roost. On the way to the hides there was plenty of Tree Sparrows calling and hanging about a feeding station, along with other typical bird-feeder visitors:

Hasn't quite got the knack of hanging feeders yet.

The best hide for the roost was closed for the late afternoon to cater for a guided tour. Bollocks. So we had to use the next nearest hide. It was busy but we soon settled in. There was a small group of Shoveler immediately in front of the hide, which was nice, and a lone Whooper Swan was just about visible on the next pool.

Nice Shoveler.

As would be expected when a group of blokes are gathered together in a bird hide, the talk turned to bush. No, not the beared clam variety. In amongst the reeds there are a couple of landmark bushes used when calling incoming raptors. These are:

The round bush. It's round. It's on its own.

The Merlin bush. A straggly, pissy little bush. The red arrow is not there in real life. That's a Crow, not a Merlin!

There was a very entertaining couple in the hide, regulars by all accounts. The entertainment was in the form of the inane conversation between the very aged bloke with poor eyesight (failing to identify the round bush, let alone any birds) and his [presumed] daughter (complete with moustache and beard). You had to be there, but it was pants-wettingly funny.
Anyway, back to the birds - the roost attracted a minimum of four Barn Owls, anything up to eight Marsh Harriers and two superb Short-eared Owls. Sadly we missed a ring-tail Hen Harrier as that was not viewable from our hide. The downer for me was that someone called Bittern but failed to give adequate directions before it dropped back into the reeds. Amazingly, it wasn't Dave.

A Marsh Harrier flying majestically over the reeds at dusk. Honest.

All in all, an excellent day out.

Thursday, 14 February 2008


The doctor said, "Joe, the good news is I can cure your headaches. The bad news is that it will require castration. You have a very rare condition which causes your testicles to press on your spine, and the pressure creates one hell of a headache. The only way to relieve the pressure is to remove the testicles." Joe was shocked and depressed. He wondered if he had anything to live for. He had no choice but to go under the knife. When he left the hospital, he was without a headache for the first time in 20 years, but he felt like he was missing an important part of himself. As he walked down the street, he realized that he felt like a different person. He could make a new beginning and live a new life. He saw a men's clothing store and thought, "That's what I need... a new suit."He entered the shop and told the tailor, "I'd like a new suit." The elderly tailor eyed him briefly and said, "Let's see...size 44 long." Joe laughed, "That's right, how did you know?" "Been in the business 60 years!" the tailor said. Joe tried on the suit; it was a perfect fit. As Joe admired himself in the mirror, the tailor asked, "How about a new shirt?" Joe thought for a moment and then said, "Sure." The tailor eyed Joe and said, "Let's see, 34 sleeves and 16-1/2 neck." Joe was surprised, "That's right, how did you know?" "Been in the business 60 years." Joe tried on the shirt, and again it was a perfect fit. Joe walked comfortably around the shop, and the tailor asked, "How about some new underwear?" Joe thought for a moment and said, "Sure." The tailor said, "Let's see...size 36." Joe laughed, "Ah ha! I got you, I've worn a size 34 since I was 18 years old." The tailor shook his head, "You can't wear a 34. A size 34 would press your balls up against your spine and give you a hell of a headache."

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Thornton Res. 13/02/2008

Another fantastic sunny day, so I nipped out of work over lunch to play with the camera at Thornton Res. I've never seen the place so busy - sadly this was with people (and in particular kids on half-term days out in the sun) rather than interesting birds. Nevertheless, I managed to grab a few shots. A bird table near the angling hut was busy, with the best birds on show being up to 5 Reed Buntings. A Nuthatch was knocking about there but never came close enough, and a Willow Tit flitted in and out too quickly. Alarm calling Crows overhead alerted me to the Buzzard they were mobbing, and a Kestrel briefly settled in a tree for a distant shot. Otherwise, the water was quiet apart from the greedy bastard feed-me birds at the car park.

Reed Buntings

Dunnock (or Hedge Accentor if you insist)


Common Buzzard & Carrion Crow

Black-headed Gull


Mute Swan


Tufted Duck