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

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The BFG ...

..... that's Brünnich's Fecking Guillemot!

"My name is Mark Skevington, and I am a twitcher." Like anyone trying to come clean following an addiction, there will be times when the resolve weakens and you relapse. Between 1993 - 2002 I was a twitcher, albeit to varying levels at different times of the year or depending on how seriously I was taking committments to family or work. My heart really wasn't in it during 2002 though, and I pretty much packed up birding altogether for a few years until starting this blog late in 2007 and getting back in touch with a few mates woke me up a bit.

Since 2002, excluding armchair ticks, I had added the sum total of seven species to my British list until yesterday when I headed down to Portland with John Hague in tow to twitch Brünnich's Guillemot. The species I'd added since 2002 were mainly ones that I felt compelled to see due to it being a species that was high on my 'wants' list when I was more active. Here they are, and for a bit of reference I've listed all the species I twitched/ticked since Jan 2000 (again excluding armchair ticks):

Species Date Location
Brünnich's Guillemot 29/12/2013 Portland Harbour
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper 24/11/2011 Chew Valley Lake
Rufous Turtle Dove 20/02/2011 Chipping Norton
Brown Shrike 14/10/2009 Staines Moor, Surrey
Collared Flycatcher 02/05/2009 Southwell, Portland
White-crowned Sparrow 13/01/2008 Cley
White-billed Diver 17/11/2007 Selsey Bill, Sussex
American Robin 06/01/2004 Grimsby, Lincs.
Glossy Ibis 22/10/2002 Bowling Green Marsh, Devon
Solitary Sandpiper 14/09/2002 Rye Meads, Herts.
Pallid Harrier 11/08/2002 Elmlea, Kent
Least Sandpiper 24/05/2002 Drayton Bassett, Staffs.
Ross's Gull 30/01/2002 Plym Estuary, Devon
Snowy Owl 17/11/2001 Felixstowe, Suffolk
Snowy Egret 10/11/2001 Seil Island, Argyll
Paddyfield Warbler 13/10/2001 St Mary's, Scillies
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 13/10/2001 St Mary's, Scillies
Green Heron 25/09/2001 Messingham GP, Lincs.
Red-necked Stint 21/09/2001 Somersham GP, Cambs.
Marmora's Warbler 29/05/2001 Sizewell, Suffolk
Little Swift 26/05/2001 Netherfield, Notts.
Steller's Eider 18/11/2000 Hopeman Harbour, Moray
Cliff Swallow 30/09/2000 The Verne, Portland, Dorset
Isabelline Shrike 08/09/2000 Whittlesey, Cambs.
Fan-tailed Warbler 28/05/2000 Hengistbury Head, Dorset
Asian Desert Warbler 10/05/2000 Sammy's Point, Spurn, Humberside
Bonaparte's Gull 27/04/2000 Teign Estuary, Devon
Marsh Sandpiper 13/04/2000 Stanpit Marsh, Dorset
Great Spotted Cuckoo 13/04/2000 Pennington Marsh, Hampshire
Franklin's Gull 18/03/2000 Cheddar Reservoir, Somerset
Sora 24/01/2000 Stover CP, Devon

There's been loads of accessible species that I could have gone for, but generally I just can't be arsed and honestly haven't lost any sleep over them. But 2013 has produced a steady stream of ridiculously rare megas and you can only ignore so many before the bug starts to bite back. Brünnich's Guillemot ticks various boxes: exceptionally rare, difficult to twitch, evocative (boxes it doesn't tick are spanking to look at, colourful and passerine, but you can't have it all). So when one is poncing around a very accessible marina like a plastic floater, it was too good an opportunity to miss.

We arrived on-site very shortly after first light (having stopped for a bite in Weymouth on the way) and there was already a crowd gathered but no collective sense of purpose which clearly indicated that the blasted thing wasn't quite as nailed on as we'd hoped. After a good while of scanning and searching the sheltered marina, we broadened our search to the more open bay (four Great Northern Divers, several RB Mergs and a Black Guillemot duly picked up whilst searching). I briefly picked up a guillemot just as it dived and I was trying to convince myself that it was the target, but with such a brief glimpse I needed to see it more fully before shouting up. Then nothing. I spent a good 15 minutes searching the same general area without seeing anything guillemot-like at all. Then a shout went up and the masses breathed in collective relief - the Brünnich's Guillemot was a bit closer in-shore from where I'd earlier seen what I'm now sure was it. It soon became clear just how active and unpredictable it was - every dive took it a good distance and it would pop up pretty much anywhere in a large radius every time. Once we'd got some scope views, we made our way over to get closer to the bird and try for some shots, although it had chosen the darkest unlit corner of the harbour for its morning feeding. There are loads of great shots on the web, here are some that are not.

It had a very odd diving action, almost appearing to struggle to get under the water. But after every dive it would come up and stay on the surface for just a few seconds before going down again, I therefore got lots of shots showing the clean white flanks.

After we'd watched it for a while, we headed off for a brief Glossy Ibis interlude and some Med Gulls at Radipole. The resident plastic floater at Radipole didn't appear, but the Ibis was another ridiculously tame bird feeding in a small kids park near to the swings.

We were constrained for time as John needed to be home in the afternoon, but we headed back to the harbour to see if the BFG was more ameniable just as it decided to head into the sheltered, shallow and well lit marina. And I don't mean on the far side of the pontoon in this shot.

We got absolutely stonking views, though it was still restless and spent more time under the water than on it. Great photo opportunities for those with proper DSLR rigs, didn't really add anything for me with my bridge and shutter lag! I did manage a very short vid clip though.

A brilliant bird that I never thought would grace my pathetic British list, and well worth the relapse. Whether I head back into twitching rehab or gradually slide back into full scale addiction is uncertain ...........

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Pecker, Tit, Fat Balls

This Great Spotted Woodpecker has been appearing daily over the last week, always going for the fat balls.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

LED Light

This year I've pretty much abandoned my previously much-trusted macro photography tool of choice. Indeed I just about completely stopped using it 2012 other than for a few moth shots. I bought it in 2002 and over the following years I've had sterling service from it. In particular, it was great for indoor use when coupled with the CoolLight SL-1. It looks exactly like this only more beaten up.

I can think of at least two naturalists still using their 4500s in the field with success, and I'm sure many have gone as far as acquiring a second-hand back-up off of e-bay or similar. The only real weakness with this camera is the shutter-lag, though for compliant subjects that doesn't matter. I suppose the relatively small 4.5megapixel sensor is also a handicap for anything but web use, and the old compact flash memory card style is also a pain compared to SD cards (my PC has a built-in SD card reader but I have to use a USB reader for the compact flash). Nothing lasts forever though, and mine is pretty much knackered. There are numerous dead pixels, and I can't use it outdoors as the batteries only last a few shots. I've also found that the viewing screen now seems absolutely tiny.

The Lumix FZ45 + Raynox 250 macro converter has definitely taken over for everything now, and coupled with the general versitility of a bridge then it's hard to beat. I'm not completely happy with the Lumix though, the sensor is noisy versus the CoolPix, though it's okay if restricted to low ISO. But there has been one definite downside to the Lumix, which is that I generally have to use the built-in flash and if working indoors it's not great - especially for moths which end up looking a bit shiny. That's why so many of my moth photos these days are lazy 'in the trap' shots where there flash works a bit better outdoors even in early morning gloom.

I've tried diffusing the flash etc, but not with any great success. I felt I was missing the boost that the CoolLight used to give. So I was very interested when a bit of Facebook banter on the PSL group highlighted a LED ring that is intended to be used with a microscope. Like this ....

I checked it out on e-bay, and was delighted to note that the clamping mechanism and internal aperture would be compatible with the Raynox 250 outer case - so I thought I should be able use it with the Raynox on my Lumix. I bought one immediately. When it arrived a few days later I was pleased to try it for size and it certainly did fit. It also looked pretty bright, but it has a 'volume knob' to dim the LEDs to suit.

The only problem has been a lack of subjects to try it on, but this morning I tried it out on a Winter Moth. This was hand held indoors in very poor light and I took a comparative shot using the flash. Definitely an improvement I think, the moth is more evenly lit with less 'shiny bits' and I'm sure with a bit of refinement and using a tripod and self-timer (like I should for indoor stuff) it will reap benefits. Certainly looking forward to getting back to some proper moth photography in 2014.

Winter Moth - Click for big
LED light on left, flash on right, minimal post-processing. Interesting to note the tonal differences, and the flash has created a sharper image thanks to a faster shutter speed (which would be negated if not hand held).

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Not Overdue - December Moth

December Moth is one of those species that I'm sure does occur around here, though I expect at fairly low density and as a late-season flyer I probably miss it most years just because I don't trap often enough. I first recorded it in the garden on 28th November 2000 - the individual featured below.

I then took three different individuals in November 2001, and then .... nothing. Not a single one in the garden since. Thanks to the 1000 in 1km square and Garden Moth challenges, I was determined to get the traps out a bit more than I usually would at this time of year and hopefully pick up a few of the late-season flyers that have eluded me in most years. All best intentions etc, but in reality I've missed a good few nights where trapping could have yielded something since the clocks changed - been getting home late from work and losing enthusiasm.

I decided to put the traps out tonight though as it seemed (relatively) mild, dry and still. Also with some early frost in the week and a cold-snap forecast for next week, a mild night could be good. Just checked the Synergetic and found this clinging to the vanes ....

Excellent! My first garden December Moth for 12 years and number 437 for the 2013 Garden Moth Challenge.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Overdue - Feathered Gothic

Time for another one from the vaults. This one has appeared in the garden traps just once, way back on 3rd September 2002.

Feathered Gothic

At the time I was quite surprised to find this in the trap as I was under the mis-apprehension that it was associated with moorland. I'd only seen it previously at Charnwood Lodge in VC55, which it the closest thing we have to moorland remaining in the county. In fact it is more of a rough grassland species, feeding on various grasses and as I subsequently found that it has been recorded from around the county. However it hasn't turned up in the garden since (and I don't think I've seen it anywhere else since apart from Charnwood Lodge!).

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Square Fungi

Managed a quick foray into my home 1k square on Sunday morning, mainly looking for fungi. I headed straight down to a scrubby track at the back of fields where I knew there was a decent pile of felled tree trunks and branches, and sure enough I scored with some nice additions to the square list.

Small Stagshorn

Brown Cup

Common Eyelash


Also a few that I've already recorded this year, like Jelly Ear, Cramp Balls, Velvet Shank and these:

Crystal Brain

Shaggy Parasol

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Overdue - Sprawler

Here's another one that is long overdue for a re-appearance in my garden ......

Sprawler - 25th October 2001

Three individuals were taken in different nights in late October 2001, but not a single one since. It's a polyphageous species, so again it's obvious why it is so rare here - not. Need to get the traps out over the next week or so but I seem to be working long/late hours and struggling for time in the mornings. Must still be a chance though.

Saturday, 26 October 2013


I had a couple of hours walking around the square today, mainly looking for fungi and leaf-mines. Found a few bits, nothing too exciting, but this butterfly chrysalis was worth pointing the camera at.

Think this is a Green-veined White - wonder if it will survive hanging there for a few months.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Retrospective Tick

Whilst browsing through images last night looking for that Figure of Eight, I found some shots of a micro that I took in the garden MV trap back on 31/10/2002. Not the best shots, taken with the CoolPix 4500 that I'd only acquired a few weeks previously. The photos were actually taken a few days after the trap date, and it obviously got lost in the noise as on 01/11/2002 our youngest son was born. I'd clearly not worked out what it was back in 2002, and my records on MapMate show nothing that could have been a mis-identification for it either. But now I immediately recognised what it was and knew that it was not on the garden list. I checked with Adrian Russell, without any prompting as to what I thought it was, and he immediately came back with the same answer .....

Psychoides filicivora

Not only is this a retrospective garden tick, it is actually a retrospective first for VC55 preceding the previous first by five years. Even now there are few records. Ironically, it's only a few weeks ago that we had some local e-mail dialogue on this species and I affirmed that I'd not recorded it in the garden and thought it didn't wander far from the foodplant. Had no idea just how wrong I was on that!

Overdue - Figure of Eight

My garden moth list is littered with records of species that have only appeared as a single on one date only, or during one year only. Many of these are really overdue for a re-appearance, and I'll occasionally highlight them through the coming weeks.

First up is this one .....

Figure of Eight

This is the only individual I've ever recorded in the garden, way back on 30/09/2002. In fact I think I've only seen one or two others when out and about in the county. The larvae feed on hawthorn, blackthorn and apple, which make it so obvious why I don't see it all over the place every year!

Well overdue - could have done with one this year for the GMC.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Skev who?

Yet again I've been far too busy / lame / preoccupied / distracted etc to post on my own blog. I've posted on other blogs, tweeted and twatted about and occassionally Facebooked, but this here blog has lain dormant for most of the year. Very poor indeed, and something I will have to correct in 2014.

Here's a nice Vestal from my garden - the 22nd new moth for the garden this year, 4th new macro and 647th species overall. Nice.


Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Yesterday we decided to head over to North Norfolk. 'We' means me, Nichola and all three offspring on a family outing, not me and some birding mates off to bash bushes looking for rare warblers and scarce autumn migrants. However it's hard to contemplate going to Norfolk and not lifting the bins at something avian, and so a good compromise site to visit for a couple of hours during the day at least was Titchwell - plenty of birds plus a beach and a nice walk. We'd then move on to a seaside town for some (not necessarily best of) British culture.

Titchwell has a reputation as being very 'dudey'. It is, but I don't care too much about that as I think it's a great reserve with some great birding potential, but I will come back to that bit shortly. I haven't been for c3 yrs so it was good to see the new Parinder Hide, and also new pathways opened up which I'd like to have explored a bit more. The freshwater marsh was alive with waders. Loads of them. One or two were even close enough to point the camera at. Others weren't but I did anyway. Hence here are a load of cropped dodgy shots of waders which there is no point in clicking as they won't go bigger.

Spotted Redshank - even moulting birds are spanking


Black-tailed Godwit


Although not apparent from these few shots, most of these species were present as both moulting adults and as juves. Also seen were Ringed P., Curlew, Snipe, Greenshank, Avocet, Lapwing, Green Sand, Common Sand and Turnstone. Best though were a number of Curlew Sands and a Little Stint. And that's when it really hit me about the birding clientele at Titchwell, and some of the visitors there yesterday.

Nobody can be immediate experts on bird ID, and let's face it waders can be difficult sometimes, especially at distance in a big group. However what I can't understand is why people can't look at birds (that are close enough to identify through naked eyes) through their optics and correlate features they are seeing to a field guide and work it out themselves. That's the only way to learn how to recognise key features and subtle differences between species. But no, much easier to sit in the hide and constantly ask 'oh what's this little one down here' 'oh really, how marvellous, I've not seen that one before' etc. I've always been prepared to offer an ID, get someone onto a nice bird etc in hides, but you just feel sometimes that it's worthless with some people who patently have no idea what they are looking at. Even worse, whilst I was trying to grab a few poxy shots with my bridge camera, there were several people with big huge DSLR/lens rigs that were no doubt getting some great shots. Just that they had no idea what they were photographing. One particular couple were happily photographing the above Dunlin, which were part of a larger group with a couple of juv Ringed Plovers, whilst wittering about trying get the Curlew Sandpiper in the same shot (ie hadn't realised there were both moulting adult and juv Dunlin knocking about). Meanwhile in the hide another couple were photographing a Little Stint and Curlew Sand together before asking what they were.

Mind you if this was the only view you got it wouldn't be easy.

Aside from the waders, not too much else of note apart from a group of ten Spoonbills, nine of which are just about recogniseable in this distant grainy effort (which you can click for a bigger grainier effort).

Friday, 23 August 2013

Larval Life / Butterfly Bush

Blogging on here has been sporadic at best this year. Oh, you noticed? It's not that I've done nothing or have nothing to say, more that I've been more active on other forums (Facebook since a PSL group was set-up), and Twitter as that was the forum of choice for the Foot-it challenge in January). I've also been posting updates and photos on the 1000k and Garden Moth Challenge blogs. I haven't been uploading anything to my Flickr photostream, though that's just down to time.

I don't want this blog to continue to fester in the background though, and gradually as the 2013 challenges start to wane I'll be posting on here more frequently. Probably not much point trying to catch up anything, though I do now have a lot of stuff for rainy days etc.

So recent topical stuff seems appropriate, and I'll start with some larval life. Over the years I've found and reared a fair number of moth species, some with ease and success and a few with bad outcomes (anything that needs to be overwintered is usually a bad idea in particular). I'm always pleased then when I find a larva that I've not seen before, and often they'll be common species. I found this one earlier in the week ..

It was openly resting on bramble, and the head capsule looked a bit odd so I presume it was dormant pending an instar change. It wasn't familiar at all, so I brought it home to ID and rear through to final instar. I eventually sussed out that it was a Peach Blossom, probably c3rd instar. After a day or so it did change and ID was certain.

Peach Blossom

Another species I'm seeing a lot at the moment is Grey Dagger, like this final instar that I found on 9th August. This is one that I instantly recognise in later instars.

Grey Dagger

I found a very small 1st instar larva on my garden Silver Birch at the start of August and bought in to rear. It must be the slowest growing larva I've ever kept, and it is still very small. I wasn't sure what it was initially but I am now increasingly sure it is also destined to be a Grey Dagger.

Almost certainly Grey Dagger

The final larva is one that I do recognise in all instars, and again I found it as an early instar on my garden birch. It's another ubiquitous species that is commonly found in the larval stage.


The last couple of weeks has brought a big increase in the numbers of butterflies locally, and later broods of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell in particular seem to be abundan. Also a fair few Commas, and still plenty of Large Whites knocking about.

Garden buddleias are massively attractive to butterflies as everyone knows. We have a huge buddleia in our garden ..... actually, it is not in our garden but just fully overhangs and the trunk is next door. No idea what type of buddleia this is though; the flower spikes are yellow and the florets are in sort of balls. Whatever it is, it is very busy at the moment on warm sunny days with butterflies, bees and hoverflies.

We also have a more standard buddleia in our garden, but it is completely crap. I don't know why but it remains stunted and has no vigor, and yet this plant seems to be able to grow and flourish on the most bleak and infertile wasteland without any problem. The few flowers it does have are still effective though.

Given the upturn in numbers, and the presence of buddleia, I am surprised that both Painted Lady and Red Admiral have not turned up yet ths year. Also no Gatekeeper as yet. The only surprise was this Common Blue on my crappy plant, though sadly too brief to get a good photo in the breeze as it scarpered almost immediately after I grabbed this pants photo.