Tuesday 27 April 2021


I don't very often go to see other folks' birds but this was essential. When we were in the process of moving up here Louise came up on her own to look at our present house after our previous selection had fallen through. A certain well known birder here (and darned rascal in my view) encouraged Louise to twitch the Great White Egret that was here at the time. And blow me she did. At that point I had not seen GWE in the UK (I have seen them elsewhere in the world) and was a tad miffed. There have been a few GWEs here in the time we've lived here (nearly 12 years) but they've either been on outer islands, or a bit of a drive and there has always been a degree of elusiveness about them. For quite a large white bird that has always somewhat surprised me.

So, at the weekend a GWE was reported not too far away, but it flew off. There was then a report of a Spoonbill flying over NRon and to my shame I put 2 + 2 together and came up with 6. Tangentally, I had a thing last footie season of not wearing my replica Bobby Moore T-shirt on match days, we always seemed to lose when I did (actually, in those days we just usually lost..). I've stuck to that this season, and then made the error of crowing about beating Leicester the other week, two losses since then, bye-bye Europe. Anyway, I needed a boost this morning, tricky stuff at work, on with the Bobby. Midday I glanced at WhatsApp, GWE just 5 minutes up the road! It's tricky for me to bale at work, being the boss, but I managed a 16:40 exit. There had been more positive news mid-afternoon. And a Crane a further two minutes by as well.

Cutting an overlong story short.

Cropped Crane, distant.

With the GWE there was a Greenshank, 55 Sand Martins and my first Swallows of the year 10 of them. 

In some ways better was to come. When I got home I took a look at The Shunan which was rather empty and then at the feeders. Caught a glimpse of a redpoll with a very white rump. It came and went a few times, being chased of by a male Lesser Redpoll. It did have a very bright, rump. Eventually, patience was rewarded and it showed well. I even managed some photos with the door open. I think it is Mealy but there is still a nagging doubt it could be Coue's. 

Acanthis flammea I think.

It has got a large, fairly clean white rump, just a few short black streaks, very noticeable in flight. Overall it looks very cold in the photos, in life I thought it looked a bit warmer. It has got quite a bull neck but the bill looks more like Mealy to my eye. There is contrast in the face and the undertail coverts have more than a single black streak, pointing to Mealy. However, I know that there is an area with these things where they are not clear cut. Martin Garner suggests that the pink in the face and breast would rule out Coue's C. hornemanni exilipes, however, I've seen photos where they do show pink. Martin also suggested that some are not identifiable for sure. Suggestions and opinions very welcome.

...and the work thing was sorted ok I think, so next match day, ah, it'll jinx it to say. 

I've had the moth trap out a bit as well. A few nice things, especially pleased with Red Chestnut and Dark Sword-grass. A Tipula rufina was cool to get as well. 

Slug identification is going well and even the botany is beginning to work out.

Dark Sword-grass.

Tipula rufina.

Hebrew Character.

Clouded Drab.

Red Chestnut.

Aphodius (Melinopterus) sphacelatus.

Cynomya mortuorum. It popped out of the dead hare's eye socket, nice! 

I have been listening to Moses Boyd and very much enjoying Floating Points, Promises with Pharoh Sanders and the LSO -

Click the pic for the link.

Saturday 24 April 2021


The first attempt included some basic errors: volume too low, pointed microphone south. So, a lot of Greylag, Curlew and Coot noises from The Shunan.

Second attempt: pointed the microphone north out the back of the house, increased the recording volume. So a lot of Curlew and Oystercatcher, quite a few Rooks and a fair bit of the cattle banging about in their shed.

However, I can get decent recordings. I think there may be a fair use in monitoring The Shunan and Bosquoy for interesting aquatic breeding birds, and Corncrake. Not much point in trying to get overhead migrants until the Oystercatchers and Curlew stop displaying.

We had a walk out to Breck Ness from the cemetery at Warbeth. 

Breck Ness House.

 On the way back we investigated a couple of trans-Atlantic pines. One of these was full of shipworm holes. The other was covered in Common Goose Barnacle

Trans-Atlantic tree.

The goose barnacles are the common one Lepas anatifera. But what I omitted to do was to search carefully for small crabs. The next big storm I'll be looking out for more trees. 

Lepas anatifera.

The holes are made by shipworm sp Teredinidae, these are bivalve molluscs and use their shells to bore the holes, impressive.

Also on the way back I noticed quite a few largish Staphylinid beetles on the beech. More careful observation revealed that there were hundreds, if not thousands of these. I grabbed a specimen. Back at the ranch, the usual issues with the Staph keys, which I haven't used for a while. Anyway with a bit of help I finally got there, thanks CW.

Cafius xantholoma.

The yellowish edge to the elytra is hard to see but the other features seem to add up to this species and the two confusion species are not so likely in Orkney.

A few other beetles this week as well. A major effort to sort out the Melinopterus (Aphodius) sphacelatus/prodromus issue, they are not easy. Anyway I collected a few and went back through a few older photos. I ought to dig out the specimens I've been sent (thanks LL) and photograph them with the new kit. I'm generally using the Olympus 5 with the new macro lens and quite often with extension tubes, the quality of image is much improved on the TG4 but there are still issues with keeping the kit rock-steady still.

These are all Melinopterus sphacelatus, honest.

 I managed to get some decent photos in the field today, having rescued one from a water trap, they are hard though (even LL thinks so).

I did find a very nice Aphodius pedellus when I was digging about in the poo to find the sphacs. This was new for the county when I found it a couple of years ago.

Aphodius pedellus, with friend (parasitic mite I think).

Also a bit of a tricky ID, you have to see the wee bumps at the tip of the elytra, not especially easy. In amongst the poo there was an interesting slug, Milax gagates. There were two juvvy ones.

Milax gagates, not an especially easy beast to find, I found one previously in the garden.

Being at Birsay I mooched about a bit more, turned a stone over and this was under it. I thought it was a leech at first but I was put right at Pan-listing, a flat worm. 

Microplana terrestris, thanks SG for the initial ID and everyone else there for their much appreciated help.

The beast created quite a thread on Pan-listing and I messed about with the photos a bit to try and get a definitive ID (if that is possible without the pocket barcoding kit). Anyway, I now have quite a few references on these not well known Platyhelminths. And I filled an ignorance gap. The only flatworm I was familiar with before was the NZ flatworm which is not uncommon in the fields around the house.

On the birding front the Pintail flock is still present if a tad reduced. It is wonderfully noisy late evening out in the garden and always worth a few minutes to soak up the Curlew, Oink, Rook, Lapwing, Wigeon, Teal, Coot chorus, even if that does put paid to the noc-mig for now.

The Rooks have had chicks in the nests since 14 April.

This week I have been listening to Floating Points, but mostly Le Volume Courbe. Much enjoyed Bark Psychosis and GAS as well, oh and some Jon Hopkins.

Recommending, Tim Harford's Cautionary Tales podcast.

Last night we watched Rocks, suggested by elder daughter. Superb performances from the young women who took all the main roles. Click the pic for Mark Kermode's review. Interestingly, according to MK, the film was made using methodology we have been developing at work, anti-heirarchical and collaborative, empowering young people.

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Red and glossy black.

The last two days, no snow. Fortunately it was melting off pretty quickly at the weekend. A bumblebee in the garden today and this sawfly, which I think might be Dolerus sp, by the new favourite cattle trough. I'll probably find some drowned ones shortly.

Dolerus sp, thanks for confirming JS.

The Pintail flock reached a new maximum of 23. Yesterday, three Common Buzzard appeared, high over and I misssed a nearby White-tailed Eagle. Louise saw a Short-eared Owl down by The Shunan.

Sunday went out to Birsay Links and spent a happy hour searching through cow poo, as you do. No photos yet but a few Aphodius to look at. Recent discussion with LL and on Beetles FB group should finally get me to be confident about the A. sphacelatus/prodromus problem. I did find a likely Aphodius pedellus, need microscopy to confirm that, they're tricky, althought the confusion species has never been found here I think. Also a couple of interesting slugs which I need to work through a bit more thoroughly.

Yesterday was a lovely sunny afternoon so I headed for Yesnaby, Mission Chrysolina latecincta. Other folk have been reporting them recently and I wanted to get some quality photos. I found 14 in an hour or so, just one larger group of 6, the rest were all individuals. Mostly they seem to like these eroded edges, couple of habo shots, about 50m or so from the sea cliff edge. They either seem to bumble about or be still by stones or just under vegetation. When I disturbed one of the still ones it extended its legs and reared up (see pix). I should create a blog page for this species, certainly one of my favourite things here. I'd like to go to the Loch Etive site and see them there, apparently they inhabit salt marsh there. This strikes me as rather odd, surely these are two different species?

Chrysolina latecincta habitat at Yesnaby.

Chrysolina latecincta (intermedia).

I went and searched north of Skaill Beach later in the afternoon. There are small patches of suitable habitat but it's very disjointed. I'm now on the look out for the correct habo elsewhere in the county. Perhaps somewhere on Hoy maybe?

Digging the garden this morning turned up the usual suspects, several Pterostichus melanarius and two niger, Lithobius forficatus x2 and various slugs which I photographed and need to figure out but included another Tandonia budapestensis.

Tandonia budapestensis.

I've reinstated the Canon G3X, it's such a useful camera for bird photos and  not much trouble to carry around. I like to keep the macro lens on the Olympus 5 and the Pen is not so handy to use with a long lens. Fortunately I had the Canon nearby this afternoon when after a walk around I was trying to figure out pension stuff in the kitchen. There is a Brown Hare which often comes in the garden, usually it stays down by the rough grass (Orkney Vole reserve) but today it decided to come right up to the kitchen window.


Brown Hare.

You only really appreciate what large animals they are when they are very close by.

We watched The Rider, quite excellent.

This week I have been listening to: Steely Dan (Aja), Gia Margaret, Oliver Coates and a treat, a new Hannah Peel album (Fir Wave) and a new Hiatus album. The Don's Sade programme was much enjoyed.

I won't mention beating Leicester and being fourth, of course I won't.

Oh, and I must mention a series of podcasts from The Guardian's Science Weekly, some interesting stuff on taxonomy, look here - https://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2021/mar/30/why-is-it-hard-to-get-our-head-around-fungi-part-one-podcast, there are three programmes in the series. (You have to get past the rather middle class stuff to get to the nub of it (but equally charming in its way), but well worth the effort.)

Monday 5 April 2021

Holiday weather.

 The blog was neglected in the rush towards some time off. I'll do a catch up shortly. 

Weather has been nice on the whole, but we could see the storm coming. Gusts of 50 to 60mph are not good news, snow at this time of year, most unwelcome. The house is sheltered from the north, so it has not been as cold inside as it might have been, but still needing the heating cranked up, chilly and not so much fun when the boiler blew out this morning.

It was snowing early evening and by this morning there was a fair covering with the wind making everything hard to do outside. Back to three pairs of trousers, two coats, two hats and a hood etc. Looking out, it's snowing again now. The cold and the wind combined to rip into the garden, a good job we've not done much.

Daffodils and snow.

The Rooks were mighty hungry, and surprisingly cautious, perhaps the wind limiting their escape options making them so.

Rooks, photographed through the kitchen window.


Hopefully the nests will survive the wind.

This week I have been listening to: Bicep (again); Pihka is My Name; Natalie Prass (1st album); James Yorkston and the Secondhand Orchestra, The Wide, Wide River (new album, magic); Gia Margaret.

 We watched Faces Places last night. Brilliant; anyone interested in photography and in the cinema shouldn't miss this gem.