Monday 15 April 2024

Birding, mega find.

I was in Kirkwall the other day and remembering that the bird food was low, and fancying getting a decent thing in the garden before we leave, I splashed out on some Nyjer (quite expensive to purchase here) and some black sunflower seeds. Target species was Hawfinch as  I haven't had a poser of one in the garden for a while. I was not expecting this though...

Great Tit, Parus major. possibly of the continental race P. m. major. Female.

The bill on this bird looks quite stout, but it is quite yellow on the nape, so maybe of the continental subspecies. I believe this is a bit of a subjective ID usually.

There have been a few around this year, on Shapinsay and one the other day in Toab, it is annual here with two or three records most years, but has proved to be elusive for me, and no hint of one on the patch until today. Certainly this was highest on the wish list for the home patch, with Med Gull running a close second. Oddly, arguably the commonest Parus species in Orkney, Coal Tit is the one that has not occurred on the patch.

I have also had a mega moth in the last few days when I finally proved Agonopterix ciliella. This has been a bit of a mission and I've been dissecting these things for a while. Not every dissection was successful, females are hard to dissect, but arguably easier to determine. Anyway, here's the beast. Trapped on the night of 8th April, when I caught 53 moths of five species (three light traps and one Common Quaker in a pheromone trap to LEEK).

Agonopterix ciliella, male.


The distal processes of the sacculi (the darker sticky-up bits) are clearly twisted on their vertical axis, bingo!

A big effort to get this species, and prove it actually occurs here. I believe the caterpillars are seperable in the field.

While I was at it I dissected this as well:

Orthosia incerta, Clouded Drab

I thought this moth was Clouded Drab, but I was not certain. The dissection proves the id, the aedaegus being distinctive for a start.

As well as the trapping session I went for a wander with tubes and looked in the troughs, mostly re-purposed baths, and turned over a stone or two. This led to a day of peering down the microscope and photographing the bits. Mostly I caught things that I know quite well, or at least had a good idea of. But I'm out of practice with Staphylinids and spent ages on a Xanthrolinus linearis before I went back to basics and keyed it again from the beginning and found the error I was making.

Xanthrolinus linearis note to self, remember to check that the elytra don't overlap... that's an important path division in the key.

The most interesting things I found were a couple more Dolerus sawflies, which I haven't even started on. And this Bibio, which I didn't recognise. The flies wouldn't key out with the simple Highland key, so I downloaded the RES key. It took a while but eventually I was happy that I had three female Bibio johannis, which I have recorded here previously. They are extraordinary looking things.

Bibio johannis, female. Huge hump of a thorax, massive swollen front tibia with enormous spurs, tiny head, very odd.

I'd walked out with the EMP pheromone attached to me in one of those Tesco veg bags, ideal for the purpose. I saw an Emperor Moth as I walked out of the door and then had ten or eleven more sightings of perhaps five or more different moths over the next two hours. No photos of course as they rocketed by and around hunting for the source of the chemical cocktail.

Other birds have included good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits on The Shunan, now perfect for waders since the ditch cleaning out by the farm. Record numbers of Redshank for the same reason. Lots of Pink-feet going through and lingering. A Peregrine has paid a couple of visits, a species that has been scarce here in the last few years. Out on the coast a Wheatear was an expected, but welcome sight. Today, there was a hybrid crow, as well as a smart male Brambling and the Great Tit highlight.

Saturday 6 April 2024

Hymenoptera plus.

I sometimes volunteer to identify various things for other folk. In my slightly laughable role as Ichneumonoidea recorder for the county (laughable because I'm really not very good at identifying them), I feel duty bound if someone finds something interesting. Anyway, back on 09/03/2024 MR found an Ichneumon in his garden which he posted on the FB Group and MS volunteered an ID of Syspasis lineator. This was a suggested ID not a nailed down, definitive identification. I was away at the time but asked MR to save the specimen, which he did. A quick look on NBN suggested there might not be Scottish records of this species, indeed the NBN hold just ten records of this species with the most northerly just SE of York. (This does not necessarily reflect the real distribution of this species but, all the same.)

When I got back from south I picked up the wasp and stuck it in the fridge. I had some other ID jobs in hand. However, yesterday and today have been the time to examine and key. Many thanks to MS and AR for getting me started and pointing me to the correct keys. Follows all my images of the beast:

Syspasis lineator, female.

The unbroken antenna has 37 flagomeres, and the 8th flagomere is partially pale, fully pale are 9, 10, 11 and 12, then the 13th is partially pale. The animal is 12.1mm head to apex of abdomen (excluding antennae). the first flagomere is x3.1 longer than wide measured at the widest point.

This Ichneumon parasitises Magpie Moth Abraxas grossulariata, a moth that has become established in Orkney relatively recently, indeed the first record was as recent as 22 July 1981 and by the end of 1991 it was still considered to be a rare migrant, there were just seven records and no larvae had been found. Currently the species is one of the commonest moths we catch, in some years, hundreds can come to a light trap in a single night. An interesting example of the parasitoid following its host.

The other hymenopteran of particular interest is a sawfly that I found in the drinking troughs (old baths and a tub) by the Burn of Layane below Kingshouse, on 31 March, very early for Orkney. With some help I got to Dolerus but that's when the fun started. Again help was enlisted online and AM, JS, IA and AG all gave advice. Eventually, it keyed out to Dolerus coracinus which is certainly new for Orkney and quite likely new for Scotland as well.

Dolerus coracinus.

I've been busy with other stuff as well, including finally deciding that I had to prove which species of bristletail are so common in the garden. These are not a particularly easy ID, although I strongly suspected Petrobius maritimus I'd never taken the time to nail this.

Photos were taken, specimens were taken and microscopic examination eventually proved the point, thanks to RC for pointing me to the key.

Petrobius maritimus.

You need a male to do these, annoyingly the key doesn't show the difference between males and females (a not unusual, but very annoying feature of many keys). And to make matters worse the feature that separates P. maritimus from P. brevistylis looks the same on the female of P.maritimus as on the male of P. brevistylis, doh!

Moths have been caught, it's early. Clearing out the shed produced a lot of Depressaria radiella and a Agonopterix that turned out to be a female heracliana, quelle supris! However, an Agonopterix found in a puddle this week got me going as a possibe A. ciliella, but I'm pretty sure it is just another heracliana. Quite a few Common Quaker, a few Clouded Drab and a Hebrew Character came to light. Louise saw two Emperor Moths in the garden and I caught a Common Quaker to LEEK pheromone. 

Clouded Drab

Common Quaker, male

Depressaria radiella

Female gendet, Agonopterix heracliana.

Washed out Agonopterix found alive in a pool.

Aedaegus; A. heracliana, I think.

I think this photo nails it as A. heracliana, male, as the cuiller, distal process of the sacculus, is not twisted. Females are harder to dissect successfully, but easier to determine once dissected.

There's a pile of other stuff, particularly beetles, including a couple of interesting ones found today. And on the bird front, Curlew have dispersed to territory, Snipe are singing and Black-tailed Godwits moving through, but more of that in the next post maybe.

Saturday 23 March 2024

Normal service interupted

Three weeks without a post, life getting in the way more.

We've been away, a fortnight south looking for somewhere to live. More on that in a future post, hopefully, not wishing to jump the gun. Even in Scotland house buying and selling; or in our case selling and buying can be tricky. Fingers are crossed that this is a plan that works in an uncomplicated kind of a way. The logistics of this are fairly formidable as we are going quite a way south and of course there is the Pentland Firth to consider.

Anyway, we met the girls and roamed around, Perthshire mostly. We had a couple of B&B nights in Aviemore, a lodge for a few days near Aberfeldy, pretty much in sight of the recent murder location, and then went a bit further west.

We bumped into the busy Bs handywork on three occasions.

Eurasian Beaver felled trees.

I made a few nocturnal sorties out to try and see them but it was a bit early in the year, they are easier to see in the summer apparently.

However, I was successful photographing Roe Deer which I don't think I've got photos off in the past.


Doe Roe Deer.

The best new species during the week were the moth Rhopobota ustomaculana, which mines the leaves of Cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea. I found this species by reading the Micro-moth Field Tips books, and searching for Cowberry when we went to the Birks of Aberfeldy. Having found the plant, I searched and found the leaves glued with silk and within there was a caterpillar (which I failed to photograph). 

Rhopobota ustomaculana

 The original target species was Phyllonorycter junoniella but I didn't find that.

This rather nice shieldbug was on the outside of the lodge at night.

Bronze Shieldbug Troilus luridus.

Also on the outside of the lodge were a few moths. Depressaria radiella, Chestnut and three Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella, of which on dissection one proved to be A. heracliana, and the other two were most probably that species.

I played around with Obsidentify trying, fairly successfully, to identify various fungi, ferns and mosses and we went to see the Fortingall Yew, probably the oldest tree in Europe estimated to be around 5,000 years old. Sadly, it is a shadow of its former self having been vandalised, mostly in the 19th century by souvenir collectors.