Monday, 17 September 2018

Not seawatching, not really...

Leach's Petrel is a lovely bird that I don't see very often but one flew quite close past Northside on Sunday afternoon. I sat in a sheltered spot on the cliff, just west of the buildings at Whitaloo Pt photographing anything that came close. Scanning occassionally.

My favourite photo of this session was of a 1cy Common Gull.

 Common Gull

 Great Black-backed Gull

This is my favourite I think.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Evening sunshine

Pretty good evening around the garden and with a wander down the hill. Enjoying a beer and scoping across the lochs when an interesting looking chat popped up so I temporarily abandonned the Hopopotamus and wandered down the hill. The chat turned out to be a Wheatear but the goose scarer went off and flushed the last two of the 22 Blackwits and a Green Sand that I had missed earlier. Good views and pix were then obtained of the two juv Goldeneye that had been feeding on The Shunan all day. Quite pleased with myself the dog and I returned to the beer. Picking out a Ruff amongst the Lapwing on Loch of Bosquoy and seeing the wagtail roost of about 40 birds scoping again from the garden an Osprey flew in to view and proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes or so fishing Loch of Bosquoy and the northern shore of Loch of Harray.

Plus a Red Admiral and Nebria brevicollis.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Marwick Head

Brilliant afternoon at Marwick Head with loads of insects up near the monument on Spear Thistle, thanks to AL for the heads up. Moths - Hummingbird Hawk, 2; Silver Y, 20; Agriphila straminiella, lots; Twin-spot Carpet, 2; White Ermine (cat) 1. Butterflies - Peacock, 1; Red Admiral, 2; Painted Lady, 12; Common Blue, 1. Bees - Great Yellow Bumblebee, huge number! Common Carder, and various black, white and yellow beasts which I might try to identify later (Bombus lucorum agg photo below).

Hummingbird Hawk was a county tick and only the second Peacock I've seen since we've been here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Wild raspberries

We've been on holiday, I'll maybe post some pictures later. We didn't travel all that far, just over the Pentland Firth and then west to a few miles beyond Durness. For the first time we left the offspring at home, left them in charge of the house, scary! (But they managed well and we returned to an orderly home, well done girls!)

 Foinavon, I decided we should walk up this from the cottage, mmmm, ambitious. We didn't quite make it to the top but a wonderful walk none-the-less.

From the lower slopes of Foinavon, with Arkle on the left and Ben Stack on the right, Quinag in the far distance. We went up Stack later in the week, the hill Robin Cook died on (hard to believe that was 13 years ago, almost to the day). I thought of Robin and his principled politics as we went up the Stack. I don't believe that so many opportunities would have been missed if Cookie had been in charge rather than B&B. Let alone the mess that is today. Half that walk was a compass and map job as the upper half was clagged in, and it's quite narrow on the top ridge. Ptarmigan family near the top.

Today has been a tad of a stress as it was SQA results day with one awaiting National 5s and the other an additional Higher and a couple of Advanced Highers. Our postie does not arrive until mid-afternoon so there was considerable fretting and pacing for much of the day, a good bit of which I cunningly evaded by taking the dog for a walk and hiding in the garden (always a reasonable ruse). Sitting in the garden it is possible to spot the postie some distance away as he delivers along the Russland Road and then makes his way back to us, the advanced warning created more commotion, eventually official looking envelopes arrived and certificates were examined and... the tears were of joy, phew!

I cooked a favourite meal, flat breads with refried beans and loads of salad, a fair bit of it now sourced from the garden - spring onions, beetroot, cucumber.

The dog needed another walk. Pudding was eaten enroute.

Very much tastier than the shop bought ones.

I've recently found Geum urbanum, Wood Avens, on this walk, not a common plant here, but there are a few plants behind our outside kitchen seat. It's odd how you can walk past something a hundred times or more and not see it, only recently did I realise it grew just up the track.

There were cattle in the field  blocking my route, so along the road and up a trackway, where we found Emperor Moth in the spring. A glance down and loads of Twayblade, took me back to Kent and orchid hunting.

Then a tramp on, head down, collecting seeds for the "meadow", Yellow Rattle and various compositae and grasses. I'm trying to change the species composition by introducing a new cutting regime and dispersing seeds. Cattle going a bit mad next to us.

Common Gulls

Loads of Udea lutealis on the way, with the occasional Twin-spot Carpet and still a few Agriphila straminella.

 Udea lutealis on Tufted Vetch.

At the end of the field what to do? Head down the hill, not a route I usually take at this point and, loads of Tansy, that's a surprise.

One of my favourite plants.

In the morning I had run the moth traps. This is not my favourite time of year for mothing here as it is Large Yellow Underwing time, big, flappy, crawly moths. However, Agonopterix umbellana was NFY (if not NFG) and Acleris effractana is NFM (if confirmed) and just a very good find.

Not the best pix....

I've failed here to mention the huge numbers of hoverflies that are currently around in coastal locations. Yesterday, probably 1,000+ Eupeodes corollae at Marwick, and today 500 Episyrphus balteatus at the same site. Impressive.

Eupeodes corollae.

Episyrphus balteatus.

Holodyke as I made for home.

Monday, 23 July 2018


New island for us. We popped over on Saturday, motivated by the forthcoming bioblitz which I won't be able to attend.

The island is about half RSPB reserve, they do seem to be doing a pretty good job with acres of lovely meadow. The island is "famous" for the martyring of St Magnus who rather foolishly had agreed to meet his cousin on the island back in the 12th century. His cousin, Hackan, who was his competitor for the earldom waited until Magnus arrived as agreed with just a few men and then ambushed him with eight ships of troops. Magnus got bashed on the head, and the rest was history. Thus the kirk dedicated to St Magnus and there is a monument on the fateful spot.

Anyway, we had a wander around, just four hours between boats on a Saturday and best not miss it as there isn't another until Monday. The flowers in the meadows and along the verges were very lovely and we found a good few beasts for the bioblitz: six species of moth, Meadow Brown, two species of beetle, Silpha atrata and the whirlygig Gyrinus substriatus. There was an Ophion wasp and a Tenthredo sawfly, things I will have to send away to get an id. A few hoverflies and an Empid, a Great Spider Crab on the beach and a few other bits and bats.

It being an RSPB reserve I didn't bother to record any birds, and there was nothing out of the ordinary.

Tystie with butterfish - Pholis gunnellus

I was interested in recording this butterfish though. 

Also by the sea was this tiny Greater Spider Crab corpse, Hyas araneus.

 The lid is 35mm across, not a large crab.

I had  to take a specimen of the whirlygig beetles, knowing there are twelve UK species but not knowing which one(s) occur here. As it happens only Gyrinus substriatus does occur, although other species are quiet possible, they key out quite nicely except for the final couplet anyway. 

Slight cheat, these were photographed today in Harray, same species.

I had a good go at trying to identify this leaf miner, probably a Phytomyza fly but apparently the devil to id, I think I'll give up on that idea. On Chenopodium glaucum on the beautiful beach.

Leaf mine on Chenopodium glaucum.

Follows some of the more attractive insects we found.

 Episyrphus balteatus

Most likely Moss Carder Bee.

Antler Moth

Platycheirus manicatus

Depressaria radiella (Parsnip Moth)

Transport home..... maybe not

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Yellow Shell, Stonechats, talking beetles, Orcas and some plume moths

A bit grumpy early on (decorating is not my favourite thing) but went off to Brodgar and once on the RSPB fields and path at the Stenness side where there are no people I started to find some moths. Udea lutealis was first for the year, there were a few of those and I've photos of a few things I still need to sort out, including a very pale thing that I think is a leucistic Twin-spot Carpet. Best though was this Yellow Shell what a brilliant little moth.

Yellow Shell

A bit further along and there was a pair of Stonechat, the male was especially smart.

Male Stonechat

I'd intended to go and look for the Large Heaths near Finstown but aborted that idea, too hungry. A beetle related phone call took me to Stromness and once there, chatting beetles and poo over a cuppa (thanks for the beautifully mounted Aphodius specimens LL) the phone went off with a message about nearby Orcas. In a bit of a blur four folk cleared the house and picking up the rather distant vehicle we eventually got to Ness to see quite distant whales. Things looked good for Warbeth so we headed off there for better views. The pod were hunting seals close inshore and amazing views were obtained. The bull Orca was a seriously large beast.

Bull Orca

Will add another video and some more pictures later.

Late on went for an evening stroll and finally managed to net some plume moths, look like Hoary Plume and Brown Plume. Hoary seems to have a golden brown colour when seen on the wing, quite distinctive.

Monday, 9 July 2018

"We are setting up your device...."

Who? That is what I want to know, just who is it rushing around inside my laptop to fulfill my wishes with regard to this and that? Who are the "we"? There is an implicit dishonesty in this, to give the impression that Microsoft are being helpful, that their folks are on the case. "The software is making the darn thing work, eventually, and if the wind is blowing east, north-east." That would be a more honest statement. To be fair I got my speaker connected within five minutes, but that is not the point. Anyway the Laura Marling album, Alas I cannot swim, which I bought years ago and barely listened to, is a good listen on this holiday Monday morning.

I am supposed not to be writing this, my sadly neglected blog, I have too much to do. But stopping, and not doing things is important. This is a very lovely collection of songs, I should dig out the other albums. Of late I have been listening to Courtney Marie Edwards (wonderful country music with growling guitars), Joni Mitchell (Hissing... is one of my favourite albums of all time), Alasdair Roberts (What news, is excellent if you like traditional type folk music, old songs revived with super vocals), Neko Case (a bit ordinary), Mr Fingers (laid back house, Ibiza style), Jonathan Wilson (not the new album, haven't got that, yet, hippy magic, stunning guitar playing on the first two albums, a favourite) and Sons of Kemet (Your queen is a reptile, politically charged, a celebration of important women who you likely have not heard of, a different sort of jazz, takes its time to get under your skin but well worth an explore).

That was a diversion, the insect world is what I should diary. Here's a recent (slightly edited) FB post on Orkney Insects Open Forum: 

Two amazing nights for moths. Friday/Saturday reminded me of what it was like 40 years ago in Sussex, moths in front of the headlights all the time between Harray and Warbeth, but as I drove through better habo there were so many, I needed a huge net on the front of the car, then I'd still be identifying them now. Three traps that night, with a slightly late start due to some technical issues, 47 species, 225 moths (plus the escapees of course). Last night I just set one trap, my 40w actinic, down by our wee wood (really good habo) so far 37 species, 105 moths, also four species of beetle, quite a lot of Helophorus (likely aequalis), a Nicrophorus investigator and two species that require further attention. Several species of caddis but I just don't have the energy for those,  and rather a lot of diptera, all I could id was a Bibio pomonae, gave up on the rest. Whilst trapping last night I had a wander around with the net, hundreds of Agriphila straminella, the commonest grass moth, many Dark Marbled Carpet, Middle-barred Minor, Silver-ground Carpet, Celypha lacunana, and three plume moths which I just could not catch (I think they were all the same species). Just a few pictures, including what I am pretty sure is Campion, I often find Noctuids hard, I think it is partly because there is an expectation of identifying them, whilst with micros I start from the position that it will be a tricky identification which I may not be able to achieve.

Help already received suggests Campion, a species I don't catch very often whilst Lychnis is daily at the moment.

A female Bee Moth, Aphomia sociella, larger than many macros it is classed as a micro. I was surprised at the size and colour (green tints) of this lovely fresh female, I think I must have just caught males previously. Unfortunately it escaped so egg box images only.

 Eucosma campoliana, a very pretty micro that I catch very occasionally.

I've been catching a few of these this year, never seen them before, they vary in the strength of the markings quite a bit, I'm thinking in the Ancylis area maybe subarcuana/geminana?

The new camera is fab, not used for any of the above it's macro capabilities are limited. And a present of the eye piece viewer (a serious birthday present for a nondescript age) has made it all the better.

Loch of Wasdale


A cheering sight, breeding Arctic Terns. I recently came across a huge colony, maybe 500 pairs, where they have not, to my knowledge, bred in recent years. Last year the Skiba Geo ones all failed, starved to death, but this year there seem to be loads of sandeels. The only disappoinetment is the inland ones near here appear to have failed.

Harbour Seal from the beach, they like to come up and look at the hound.

The Brough of Birsay from the Marwick direction where there are piles of Puffins and Razorbills. On Marwick itself the Guillemots and Kitts seem to be doing ok. I'm even seeing Arctic Skuas regularly.

Our wee pond has proven its worth with 100s of Helophorus aequalis (probably) emerging. The House Sparrows have enjoyed this feast. The water beetles have been in big numbers all over the place on these sunny days, apparently they are denzins of shallow ponds and they have taken flight as these have dried up.

 Keyed out to Helophorus aequalis, the other possibility is grandis (dissection required) but they don't look quite right for that species, to be checked though.