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

Monday, 28 April 2008

Garden birds - Lesser Whitethroat 28/04/2008

The embankment adjacent to our garden has hosted a territorial male Lesser Whitethroat since 2000 (presumably not the same bird). Right on cue, one has been singing most of this evening though it has remained typically elusive. I expect it'll show itself before long but I doubt I'll get a photographic opporunity.


Fecking typical. Only a couple of weeks after getting shot of the Peugeot and today a young girl drove into the back of the Galaxy whilst Nichola was on her way to work. Luckily Nichola was not hurt, but the car is pretty badly damaged at the back though nothing compared to the Ford Ka involved which was a complete write-off (the gearbox on the road was a clue). The girl driving must have been doing close to 30 when she hit as all her air-bags went off - she and her passenger ended up being checked over in hospital. Anyway, the Galaxy has a severely pushed in bumper and the tailgate is creased. The chassis sub-frame protruding through the bumper is not a good sign, and I think the shell has been shoved out of alignment so I wouldn't be surprised if it's also a write-off. We were thinking of getting rid as it costs a lot to run with the crappy 4-speed auto gearbox on a 2.3l petrol engine, but the decision has probably been made for us.

The impact even knocked the numbers and letters off of the plate.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

This week, I have mostly been listening to

Another i-pod full of early 80s synth pop and suchlike, must be a mid-life crisis or something but I keep going back to my earliest musical memories. The tracks include some excellent early stuff by Ultravox long before Midge Urine became best pals with Sir Bob: These early 80s videos are the definition of pretentious, but this track in particular is great with that throbbing analogue bassline. Also on the playlist is Vince 'I can't stand the fame' Clarke with Alison 'should have done opera' Moyett, or Yazoo if you prefer: A band that I thoroughly liked for a long while, before they released the likes of 'Alive and Kicking' and 'Waterfront', was Simple Minds. I like the very early stuff, but the later New Gold Dream album was a favourite then and now: In fact, the whole listening experience has been so enjoyable I'm leaving it on for another week or so.

Life in the garden - 27/04/2008

This weekend has seen some excellent warm weather, and not surprisingly a few more things have started to appear:

Noticed the first wasps of the year this weekend, presume they are Common Wasp. This one is feeding on spurge pollen.

Our cherry blossom tree is, well, blossoming. To be honest, I personally don't like the pale pink blossom on our tree and would prefer a white-blossoming plum or apple. However, this tree has hosted a fair few breeding moths so I definitely like the tree itself.

The moth trap attracts all manner of invertebrates, which I generally ignore. This weekend brought the first proper crane-flies in. I hate these leggy twats - only good thing about them is that the larvae make excellent Starling and Rook food!

The fine weather was brought to an abrupt halt late this afternoon though when the skies darkened and a monsoon-like spell of torrential rain commenced. Our garden has poor drainage at the best of times, and is often boggy to say the least in the winter, but tonight we have a new pond.

No personalised flood warnings from the Environment Agency, bastards!

As usual around this time of year, heavy rain sparks a mass exodus of frogs from the neighbouring garden pond into our garden and beyond. They make a mad dash across the lawn and seem to disappear for a few weeks, then gradually start returning to sit by the moth trap all night getting fat.

From the garden trap - 26/04/2008

Total catch 32 of 15sp.
(125W MV 10 of 7sp., 80W actinic 22 of 13sp.)

One of those nights when the actinic almost 100% beats the MV on both numbers and species. Once the total catch is getting up to say 25+ species I'll just give summaries and highlights.

Caloptilia elongella 1
Phyllonorycter blancardella 1
Semioscopis steinkellneriana 1
Agonopterix heracliana 1
Scrobipalpa acuminatella 1
Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) 4
Emmelina monodactyla 2
Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata) 1
Oak-tree Pug (Eupithecia dodoneata) 2
Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) 5
Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) 1
Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) 1
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 1
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 7
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 3

Caloptilia elongella - I like this quirky group of micros

Semioscopis steinkellneriana - if ever a moth needed a vernacular name ...

Brindled Pug

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Saturday, 26 April 2008

From the garden trap - 25/04/2008

Total catch 15 of 6sp.
(125W MV 6 of 4sp., 80W Actinic 9 of 4sp.)

Phyllonorycter blancardella 1
Emmelina monodactyla 1
Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) 2
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 1
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 8
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 2

Phyllonorycter blancardella - about 3.5mm long

From the garden trap - 23/04/2008

Total catch 20 of 9sp.
(125W MV 9 of 5sp., 80W Actinic 11 of 7sp.)

Agonopterix heracliana 1
Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana) 1
Emmelina monodactyla 4
Shoulder Stripe (Anticlea badiata) 1
Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) 3
Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis) 2
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 5
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 2
Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix) 1

Powdered Quaker - of the regular Orthosias, this is my favourite

Herald - smart!

From the garden trap - 22/04/2008

Ran the traps again for the first time in about 3 weeks. Nothing too exciting; Amblyptilia acanthadactyla now recorded for third consecutive year.

Total catch 21 of 9sp.
(125W MV 12 of 8sp., 80W Actinic 9 of 4 sp.)

Epermenia chaerophyllella 1
White-shouldered House Moth (Endrosis sarcitrella) 1
Amblyptilia acanthadactyla 1
Emmelina monodactyla 2
Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) 1
Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata) 2
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 4
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 8
Early Grey (Xylocampa areola) 1

Garden Carpet

Garden Birds - Blackbird 20/04/2008 - 26/04/2008

We have a pair of Blackbirds nesting in the garden at the moment. They have chosen a low scrubby conifer, and the nest is only about 4 ft off the ground and 1ft from the fence. The conifer is shrouded by a straggly honeysuckle. Blackbirds have tried to nest in the same bush before. Trouble is that the nest is very close to the guinea pig hutch and the rotary washing line, so if they are particularly jumpy then they'll be disturbed.
I noticed the pair casing out the bush a couple of weeks ago, but only noted definite activity last Sunday when the female was regularly visiting with nesting material with the male looking on.

Female with gobfull of twigs in amongst the honeysuckle.

Like all domestic chores, nest-building is a spectator sport for males.

The nest was complete by Thursday evening, and last evening there was a single egg. This morning there are two eggs, but I don't think the clutch is complete. The female keeps leaving for fairly long periods - presumably still feeding up and not yet brooding the eggs.

Impending family.

Casual moth sightings

After failing to see the Cossington Bittern, I was a little surprised to find a Grey Pine Carpet sitting on the side of the car as I was leaving.

Grey Pine Carpet. Yes, I know it is brown.

The weather picked up fairly dramatically on Tuesday with glorious sunshine and a bit of warmth. I've seen very few butterflies so far this year but on Tuesday I noted Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Peacock from the office window. Also at the office (Braunstone, Leics) I found a couple of micros basking in the sunshine on the inside of an open window. I potted up both (always prepared, pots in desk drawer). One was Acrolepia autumnitella - very few previous records, one from my garden on 15/07/2003 was only the second for Leics & Rutland. The other was a Phyllonorycter corylifoliella.

Acrolepia autumnitella

Dipping last weekend

Having dipped on the Thornton Res Redstart on the Friday, last Saturday (19th) was entirely taken up by an all-in day out at the Rugby again. Copious volumes of beer and wine made for a very lazy evening and very little chance of getting up and out early on the Sunday. Which was a shame as a Bittern had been seen at Cossington Meadows on the Saturday afternoon, and getting there early on the Sunday would have been a good move. As it was, I eventually got messages that the bird was still present and had been seen well in flight a few times mid-morning. Nichola had gone into town with Isabelle, so I headed off to Cossington with Josh and Alex. Unsurprisingly, given my usual luck with Bittern in the County, it had gone to ground and was not seen again whilst I was there. In fact the only birds of any note were 3 LRPs, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 2 Redshank on Plover meadow and 2 Oystercatchers flying over. Things got worse! Completely unbeknown to me, a Great Skua was picked up at Eyebrook and watched as it appeared to settle to roost. I picked up news from the LROS website and via a late text message from John (who'd also missed it whilst sleeping off a couple of early starts) late in the evening and decided that a stupid-O-clock start on the Monday morning was in order. I arrived at Eyebrook at 05:15 to find John already there. Despite several searches of the whole res we failed to pick up the clearly departed Skua. FUCK! A pair of presumably plastic Ospreys, plastic (but nice) Red Kite, Buzzard and Black-tailed Godwit were scant consolation. Since then, my working week has been so busy that I've not had a chance to do any other lunch-break or post-work birding - so at least I've not dipped anything else!

Friday, 18 April 2008

From the garden trap .. nothing!

I haven't run the garden traps since 04/04/08 - just before the weather turned back to winter. It's either been too cold, windy or wet to bother. Looking at Keith Tailby's garden results I've not been missing much - must be the poorest April for a good few years.

Thornton Reservoir 18/04/2008

Back again - this site is pretty easy to get to quickly from my work. I'm visiting more regularly than the Thornton Mothman! Anyway, a call from John just before I left work lead me to return to look for a Redstart found a little earlier by the Wearside Whippet, Brian Moore. John had seen it but had to leave to collect his car from a service. Shortly after arriving Allen Pocock also turned up, and we spent the next hour failing to see the said Start. John returned but still no sign. Throughout the visit I kept scanning through the Swallows and Sand Martins and I eventually picked up a couple of House Martins amongst them. Aside from these, Yellow Wagtails, the Little Owls and a couple of Sparrowhawks were the only birds of interest. The main field held the ugliest cow I've ever seen. If it had been a lot warmer and brighter I may have taken a photo to illustrate this fact, but frankly I couldn't be arsed. I left Allen and the newly arrived Grayboy to continue the search ....

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Watermead CP South - 17/04/2008

Another brief post-work visit. The female Scaup is still knocking about with Tufteds and hankering after bready-meals.

Resplendent in full breeding plumage ....

Actually a fairly ugly duck.

Amongst the Tufteds was at least one female showing Scaup-like white loral patches, but to be honest you'd have to be a complete f.wit to have to scrutinise the bill pattern to separate from Scaup - they are structurally nothing like!

Nothing like a female Scaup.

When ducks have bad hair days.

I was hoping to pick up a few more warblers and House Martin, but aside from 3 singing Blackcaps I failed on both counts.

I like Blackcaps.

Just before leaving, the Mallards launched into one of their raucous gang-rape episodes. Bloody typical! I'd left the camera on manual focus mode. Rather than missing the whole sordid affair I carried on shooting anyway so not sharp but you get the gist. Started off with 2 drakes, ended with definitely 8 but could have been more involved. You'd think the female would drown but she eventually broke free and flew off with 3 drakes in pursuit.

Heavy pecking.

Shes going down.

Eight up.

Thornton Reservoir & Grove Park - 16/04/2008

Nipped to Thornton Res. after work yesterday. The Little Owls were again on show as can be clearly seen from this pathetic image.

The round knobbly thing on a branch.

The wagtail field was also busy again. Initially I found 3 Yellow Wagtails and 2 White Wagtails amongst the Pieds. Jim Graham turned up and after another search the Yellow Wagtail count was up to 4.They were still a little too far for proper photos, but a bit closer than last week. Unfortunately the White Wagtails were always distant.

Yellow Wagtail on molehill.

Pied Wagtail on pile of shit.

After a walk along the waterside failed to produce anything else of interest, I re-checked the field on the way back and there was now 5 Yellow Wagtails and 3 White Wagtails. The hirundines started to appear as the late afternoon turned to evening, but still no House Martins for me.

On the way home I dropped into Grove Park to have another look at a pair of Little Ringed Plovers that appear to be attempting one last effort before the site is completely built over.

Bird = LRP, site = RIP

On this day - 17/04/1999

VC55 - Leicestershire and Rutland, slap bang in the middle of England. No coastline, precious little woodland, even less decent open heathland/moorland. Plenty of reservoirs and gravel pits though. And 100s square miles of dull farmland. Unsurprisingly, we are not exactly on a major migratory flight path and whilst we do get the odd rarity and have some very good birds on the county list, we get very few genuine 'mass-twitch' megas. 17/04/1999 was one of those days though when every keen lister in Britain was trying desperately to get here quickly - to Swithland Reservoir in fact. And the reason for this was that Steve Lister had found a superb and highly sought after Crag Martin. Prior to this bird, there was literally a handful of people in Britain that had seen one on our shores - but now one was within reach and performing amongst its commoner congeners. As it happened, I was sitting at my desk at work on this Saturday morning when the news broke. The mobile rang. A usually calm John Hague is ranting on about have I looked at my pager and can I pick him up on the way. My pager was in the car (I wasn't expecting a door-step mega during the couple of hours I expected to be at work). "What? Crag Martin? Swithland Res!? FUCK!!!" The journey from South Wigston to Swithland Res, via Narborough Road, was swift to say the least. As we arrived, there was already 20 or so local birders and visitors from the closest neighbouring counties were also just arriving. We almost immediately got good views and watched it for while as the ever-growing crowd got bigger and bigger. It wasn't always in view though and disappeared for long periods between sightings. We eventually left by the back road as Kinchley Lane was quickly becoming a car park and it was going to get messy! An estimated 1500 arrived and left during the day. Most of those who got there before early afternoon would have seen it, but after a brief showing at c13:45 it was not seen again although there were a couple of late evening reports which may have been more hopeful than reliable. The next morning the gathered crowd must have been even more pissed when the bird was relocated in West Yorks before disappearing for good. A superb County and British tick, and by far the biggest twitch the county has ever seen.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

This week, I have mostly been listening to ..

.. The Smiths, The Divine Comedy and Pulp - three great bands headed up by three of the greatest lyricists of recent times. The Smiths were fucking awesome in their hey-day, and Morrissey has continued to put out the odd great song over the years. "Park the car by the side of the road, you should know, time's tide will smother you, and I will too." The Divine Comedy are/is brilliant. Only Neil Hannon could write a lyric with a twist like this: "Well the course of true love never ran smooth, They broke my heart and I broke theirs too, And breaking hearts is so very hard to do, But I knew I'd find the one, And sure enough she came along, And not long after than along came you." Pulp - anyone who bears their arse to Michael Jackson is either ironic or genius. Jarvis Cocker is both.

Garden Birds - Starling 13/04/2008

Surely one of the most underrated birds in Britain is the Starling. They are boisterous and gregarious bullies at the feeding stations, but they look great in their breeding plumage, have a vocal repertoire that beats most and their winter pre-roost flights are awesome. And they are good for keeping the cranefly population in check.
I was pleased to grab a few quick shots of one on the garden fence this evening as the light was just right to catch the iridescence and the bird was looking extra glossy after showers.

You'd drive a very long way to see one if it was rare.

On this day - 13/04/2000

A very early start saw me and John Hague at a cold and damp Pennington Marsh in Hampshire. After a two-hour search from dawn, I eventually picked up our quarry - a superb first-summer Great-spotted Cuckoo. We got good views of it perched, in flight and feeding as it was constantly being mobbed by Meadow Pipits and Linnets. Also at this site were two breeding plumaged Slavonian Grebes. We then moved on to Stanpit Marsh in Dorset, where we had crippling views of a Marsh Sandpiper. All in all a great two-tick day out.

Spuggies Nesting

I was at a 40th birthday bash last night, and inevitably/consequently hung-over this morning. Not sure if it was the four pints of 1664 I started on or the half bottle of Amaretto I strangely followed up with. Either way, any thoughts of getting up and out were duly quashed.
Whilst staring out of the window contemplating this I noticed House Sparrows collecting grass - presumably as nesting material unless they have evolved four stomachs.


"I was a Puffin in a former life."

Whilst on the subject of local nesting birds, I should mention that the satellite dish Collared Doves are still sitting tight - thought the precarious nest would have been blown off by now.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

No More Moth-Mobile

This morning saw a watershed moment in the life of my old Peugeot 106, otherwise known as the moth-mobile. After 8 years and 41K miles of exemplary service it is no longer in my possession. It will soon be enjoying the stiff sea-breeze and salty air in South Shields where my brother lives - he's having it as a cheap run-around (or at least that what he's telling everyone, although I think he'll be using it whilst saving up for another big motorbike at the risk of divorce!).

The moth-mobile.

The car was initially a run-around for Nichola, so it was rarely called upon whilst I was birding when we first got it although it has been on a couple of twitches. I started using it a while after we had Josh and Nichola needed our other car for day-to-day use (which was a pain at first, going from a 2.5V6 fully loaded Vectra to a tin-pot with a lawn-mower engine).

However it was soon leading a double-life - cheap commute to work car by day and moth-mobile by night. This little car has seen far more off-road service than most 4x4s around today, with regular sorties through woodlands, heaths and quarries to deploy traps. The cavernous boot was always full to the brim with cable-reels and other paraphernalia, and with the back seat folded down it was amazing how much stuff you could pile in. The most was five traps, two gennies, sheet kit, catch box and cable reels along with sleeping bag, rucksack, boxes of pots and bits, tripod and net.

Tardis-like boot. I found (dead) Ingrailed Clay, Clouded Silver, Agriphila tristella and various unidentifiable bits when emptying my stuff out.

The back seat in itself was often in use as a bed during over-night mothing sessions. A cramped and bloody uncomfortable bed.

Bed. I won't miss the slightly sickly blue-purple trim.

I will miss the cheap running and the way that the drivers seat sometimes unilaterally slid back when pulling into a roundabout. But now it is gone, off to the sea-side, very apt for the decals that I always hated.

It was a girls car.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Beacon Hill - 10/04/2008

A late morning appointment gave the opportunity to nip over to Beacon Hill to look for the three Ring Ouzels found this morning by Andy Cliff. In the meantime at least two local birders had failed to re-locate the birds, but I thought I'd try anyway. Almost immediately, I picked one up perched right at the top of a large hawthorn tree. Scanning further across I picked up another bird on the deck, but looking back the hawthorn bird was now gone so not sure if one or two birds involved. Whilst watching the bird on the deck Andy Cliff re-appeared. In photographic terms, this bird would best be described as 'prohibitively distant'!

Clearly a spanking Ring Ouzel. Honestly.

Good to see Ouzels in the county again - April 2000 was the last time for me when 3 males and 1 female were on Bardon Hill on 16th. Hopefully these birds today will herald a few more over the coming week.

Also in the same field, apart from the long-horn cattle, was one male and two female Wheatears. Again, they were not close but nice to catch up with these for the year.

Nice male getting the cold shoulder.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Thornton Reservoir - 08/04/2008

Following a texted tip-off, I met up with John after work at Thornton Res. After a quick look at the resident Little Owls, we carried on down the track to look over the cow pastures along with Thornton regular Andy Smith. Unfortunately the threatened showers started at this point, but they soon cleared to nice bright sunshine for a while.
Milling about the molehills and cowpats, apart from loads of Pied Wagtails (guess c25), there was at least one male White Wagtail and a spanking male Yellow Wagtail which is what we were looking for. Really smart bright bird. Sadly it was always a little too distant for anything other than a crap record shot for me, as were the Pieds.

This pants photo doesn't do the bird justice.


There were plenty of Sand Martins and Swallows, but no House Martins. Again, trying to get anything other than a record shot was not possible (too high, too far, too fast, me being too crap etc).

Sand Martin too fast/high.

Swallow too high/me too low.

By now John had left but Grayboy had arrived and almost immediately noted the male Brambling that had been seen last week and by John earlier in the day. Managed to grab a few quick shots before it fecked off again. Not sure what it had in/round its bill.

Smart Brambling.

There were lots of calves in the wagtail field:

"When I grow up I want to be big in fast food outlets."