Saturday 23 February 2019

Brains and pain

A rather different week or two with the long hoped for surgery appointment for Louise arriving, and all of a sudden us having to figure out how to manage dsughters, pets, pony, my work, travel and distance. One of the things about living on an island, even quite a  large one with lots of mod cons, is that certain situations require  a tad more planning than just a drive  down the road, even a 200 mile drive down the road.

Anyway the weekend was for WeBS which I accomplished. Nice Little Egret on the lovely Loch of Sabiston, a Blackwit on Bosquoy and a pile of ducks to be sifted through to no significant avail.

Distant Little Egret.

Little Egret is still a decent find here, this was the first county record this year.

Of course I was also delving around for smaller critters. Wandering around the fields and extracting from litter, plus a few pitfall traps produced a nice variety of beetles, adding Loricera pilicornis, one of my favourite Carabidae to the year list for the 1000/1000 square.

I'm really enjoying the challenge of tackling the Staphilinidae and Mike Hackston's keys are just brilliant . I do need to purchase the two available Handbooks for the Identification of Bristish Insects but Mike's work has made these animals so much more accessible. The litter extractor (a garden seive and a white washing up bowl plus an application of WD40) is a great source of these animals, as are pitfall traps which I have recently begun to set just a few of in the garden. I can identifiy most of the more frequent Carabidae alive but Staphs I need to get still under the microscope, and in any case finding them without trapping or extracting would be close to impossible.

I think this is a Bledius sp, surely sub family Oxytelinae anyway.

Pretty confident this is Megarthrus depressus. One previous county record.

Both of these found in the garden.

Since aquiring the cranefly key I've only found one species, the winter gnat Trichocera regelationis, it's very common, turning up in pitfall traps, coming to light and just being around. Another challenge I'm looking forward to as the winter turns is identifying these..

And spring is surely approaching, Oystercatcher, Mute Swan, Coot, and now in the last week, Shelduck have all appeared on The Shunan, Tufted Duck are there daily as well.

Hoy Hills from near the garden.

Another project this year is to find as many species as possible in our "Wee Wood". This is the tiny strip of trees 20 metres by 5 metres that we own, half way down the track.

Wee Wood.

The trees are Wych Elm and Elder, far left and then Sycamore. There is a wet ditch between the road and the trees and a stone dyke "wall" on its southern boundary. It contains quite a bit of fallen wood, as well as a bit of rubbish, bits of electrical transmission waste etc which I'm not removing because some of this provides the best, or at least the most accessible to me, beetle habo.

Torchlit visits often produce surprises, the other night the Elder had a good few Tree Slug on it.

Lehmannia marginata.

This slug I find in many locations but is as yet unidentified. It is suggested that it is a juvenile Arion, but I'm not convinced it is juvenile as I never find larger ones.

A very attractive beast whatever it is.

I sorted out the MV trap and ran it for a few hours, until the Moon rose the other (exceptionally warm) evening. Even in Orkney other folk are capturing moths but the best I could manage were winter gnats, slugs and a single Aphodius beetle which I suspect will turn out to be, if my memory serves me correctly, rufus.

Anyway, my short break was completed by a flight to Aberdeen with Louise as we headed for the neurology dept. Completely amazing surgery through a tiny hole drilled in Louise's skull rearranging the trigeminal nerve and insulating it with Teflon, whilst shoving the pesky artery and vein which have been tangling with the nerve out of the way. It was all somewhat traumatic but thanks to the brilliance of the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the rest of the surgical team and the subsequent support and care of a whole team of staff on the ward, there has been a successful outcome. Pain gone. (Pain is a bit of an understatement, you have to try to imagine the very worst pain that could occur, something like razorblades shoved into your mouth and twisted repeatedly.) Years of taking drugs to control epilepsy in increasing quantities and to increasingly reduced effect have hopefully ended. (Toes, fingers, ears, eyes and speech all work, Louise is battered and bruised from the four hour op, and a little fragile but otherwise fine.)


Bob (on the pony).



Burray with Barriers 3 and 4.

Wednesday 13 February 2019

Microscopic stuff

I revisited some of the beetles I had tried to ID last week, having obtained some assistance from folk on the Beetles UK FB pages.

Philonthus laminatus

I'd got confused in the key by the couplet which has the antennal insertion point on the upper part of the head (which I'd thought this was) but I think the photo shows how it is in fact lower down than that. I'm beginning to see that some of these Staphilinidae are possible, time to invest in the keys I think, although where they exist the online ones are pretty good. This beast was 11mm long, quite a large thing then.

Here's a better picture of Tachinus rufipes.

I should have got this right as I've identified it before.

I've been corrected on my woodlouse identification, which shows the perils of thinking you know, another House Sparrow / Redshank moment if you ask me... These are Common Shiny Woodlouse.

Oniscus asellus

And under the same bit of wood, Nebria brevicollis (it is always quite tricky to see the minute hairs on the dorsal surface of the hind tarsi), but the microsculpture of the elytra should be definitive, I really need to make an effort to find salina and compare them in life.

I added Cornu aspersum to the year list and found Ramalina fraxinea in the Wee Wood.

 Ramalina fraxinea - Wee Wood

Cornu aspersum - empty shell but I did find a full one too.

Huge amounts of water fell out of the sky on Saturday night and though Sunday was calm there were serious amounts of water on the land.

Track looking south with Hawthorn Hedge in the background.

Here's the Tough 4 with the flash diffuser fitted, that makes the macro work a bit easier.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Beetling along

Snow and general unpleasentness on the weather front led me to look at the litter extractor and see what I've caught. Once bottled then identify, with Staphilinidae that's much easier said than done and with two of the specimens I made a mess of the ID, more embarrassing because I'd got one of the same species out a few weeks back. I need to make a Flickr collection for these, so I can remember what I've recorded. However, I'm reasonably confident about the Oxytelus laqueatus.

Oxytelus laqueatus - just one county record previously I think.

Looking at the record centre database there are records for two other Oxytelus both of which seem a tad unlikely, the NBN is out of date but I don't think it is likely to be that wrong, Oxytelus piceus, no certain records north of the Wash and Oxytelus sculptus no certain records north of the Humber.

Genus Quedius I'm informed and that looks right, checking here:

I really should have got these right, I thought they looked familiar. Rubbish photo, I must retake this.

Tachinus, probably rufipes.

Post to be continued, need to go and clean out the boiler....

Boiler cleaned, complaint to BBC continued (another story).

I did go out and find some things. In the snow on Saturday I found this snail, it is really rather small at 2mm, there was a little clusterof empty shells under a stone, at first I thought they were seeds of some sort.

 Columella edentula I think

If this is a correct ID this is a new, but likely, addition to the Orkney fauna. The NBN has this occurring in Caithness.

Tremella mesanterica

This small but colourful fungus was on a piece of dead gorse nearby, Yellow Brain Fungus.

Having struggled with Staphs I decided I'd better go and find something in the Wee Wood that I could identify. I've found Pterostichus strenuus there before, unfortunately I needed to take a specimen as this species does have some subtly different cogeners. 

I also found some Lithobius centipedes. I used to identify these years ago, but they are tricky, sometimes depending on seeing particular leg spines. The new FCS key is an improvement, with a nice comparison chart, but for this species pair it is still necessary to see the presence or absence of a particular hard-to-see spine on the 15th pair of legs. The species with the spine is Lithobius borealis. On this occasion I decided the leg spine was absent, so the identification is Lithobius melanops. L.borealis is a less likely species in Orkney, not previously found and the nearest records are over 100 miles south whilst L.melanops has been found in the county previously.

Lithobius melanops
I should get this checked though.

Some mammal sightings, an ermine Stoat on the track, but this time north of the Wee Wood, the closest to the house and garden I have yet seen one. Additionally, walking home off the hill on Sunday the hound and I disturbed five Brown Hares in one field.

I had heard mice again and this morning there were three House Mouse in the garage traps. But optimistically Spring is nearly here with Oystercatchers on The Shunan.

Follows gratuitous snow landscape pix.

The Shunan, frozen

 Hoy Hills from the garden Saturday morning.

Snow melting on the window - playing with the new flash diffuser for the Olympus Tough

 Looking east on the trackway

And looking west.

Looking south to Hoy from the northern track

Saturday 2 February 2019

A bit late

I'm writing this on a Saturday, a bit late, my intention is to post once a week but sometimes that can be tricky. As I get older work gets to be a tad more exhausting and I quite often just don't really feel like doing much when I get home during the week. This week though I have made a poster for a Field Club event later in the year. I've started a hoverfly piece as well, also for the Field Club.

Although it's snowy and cold, it's still and the rooks have been investigating the rookery for the first time this year, and investigating the bird food just outside the kitchen window.

I've just read The Guardian obituary for Jeremy Hardy, written by Miles Jupp. One of the funniest people I've heard was Jeremy. When he got into gear he could rant in a way that fitted with my world view but make it very, very funny. Sharp observation and a wonderful turn of phrase. Friday evenings and The News Quiz will never be the same again.

Last weekend I identified a few things, having looked under a large stone in the Wee Wood. A snail, a harvestman species, and a very tiny woodlouse. I also went back to some beetles that I wasn't happy with last weekend and got a much better result, including another new species for the county (if confirmed).

Aegopinella nitidula

Nemastoma bimaculatum, there were three of these under the stone.

Trichoniscoides pusillus sensu stricto (as this may be an aggregate of several species), the tiny red one, the big ones are Oniscus ascellus (corrected).

A view of the Wee Wood, my bioblitz site for this year, the wood is about 20m long and 5m wide.

Pterostichus melanarius, found under a different rock.

The reidentified beasts were from some shore-line litter I took from Loch of Bosquoy a week earlier and put through the extractor. These species are all new for me, Helophorus brevipalpis, a Laccobius which ought to be minutus but has one or two characters associated with biguttatus (very unlikely though) and best of all and new for the county (CR endorsement awaiting) Ochthebius bicolon, a very, very tiny thing.

2mm long, and beheaded+ Octhebius bicolon

On Sunday the wind blew NNE, time to go seawatching. That shift from NW to N changes the pattern of movement from everything coming west and then the gulls going south to everything coming north and then the gulls turning the corner and going east. Four Glaucous Gulls, three 2cy and an adult were the stars.


Geeb and argentatus Herring Gull (larger than the Geeb, a brute).

The Brough, the corner, pelagic things just keep heading out, to the right, north in this case (Fulmar in particular) but gulls take the bend and coast.