Tuesday 28 September 2021

House stuff.

 How I ever had time to go to work I do not know. I think I keep saying that, with good reason. 

Yesterday it pissed it down all day. It had started in the evening and despite various moth trap reorganising I decided not to run traps, probably a mistake. Today is windy, sunny and warmish so maybe tonight if it calms. But, anyway, yesterday was taken up painting the frame of the new conservatory/lean-to. A storm damaged the old one two years ago and ever since we've been trying to decide what to do with it. We've now had a bespoke frame made and it will be installed next week, but before that it needs weather proofing, I'll have a couple more days of this during the week.

Anyway, the moth trapping I have done produced two nice Large Wainscot's a species I didn't see last year and the micro Agonopterix heracliana amongst a reduced cast of other more frequently captured things.

Large Wainscot, the pictures of the Agonopterix are rubbish so I'll not post them.

There are a few likely migrant species around, Angleshades and the dark morph of Silver Y, so perhaps when I can get the traps running there might be something else of interest. Pleased enough with the Large Wainscot anyway.

Having painted the back wall white, then placing a light trap next to it I found 50 or 60 craneflies. I think most were  Rhipidia maculata but amongst those there were some Tipula paludosa, Tipula confusa and Trichocera regelationis as well as Limonia nubeculosa.

Limonia nubeculosa with its distinctive banded legs.

I have a few cranefly specimens to look through when I get a minute.

TD and BR came and checked out the bat(s) they thought it could well be Soprano Pip'. I really haven't used my bat detector much, and I don't read instructions. But the recorded wavelength should be the deepest, something I hadn't understood. Indeed, I tried the following evening and then realised why 55kHz was more likely the reading. So a tick, most likely, but no bats since the wind blew, but maybe they'll reappear.

I've not really been properly birding much but I did find a Little Stint on the beach at Warbeth a week or more back. The day before yesterday I noticed there were huge numbers of duck on Bosquoy so I tootled off down there, especially as the Atlantic winds had been blowing. A rather awkward to see drake Ring-necked Duck was a fair return.

Ring-necked Duck, red line, Scaup, there were 23 of them, green line.

R-nD. The flank patch is quite a distinctive shape I find.

Cross Mute, Bosquoy.

Nothing much else on the birding front, Buzzard and Kestrel have been around a bit, not espcially frequent on the patch of late. A bit of early Pink-foot movement the other day with three flocks through, heading south.

The odd trip to Birsay hasn't turned up much other than a Brent Goose which I failed to photograph, so this Cormorant will have to do instead.


Whilst we were away in Dundee there was a fair bit of whale action off Northside. We managed to catch the tail-end of it with three Minke on the Sunday, not the best views and nothing like the views that folk had had the day before.

I've found this Dipteran again recently, and I couldn't remember what it was called, fortunately it's illustrated in the Brock books so I tracked it down. Then entering the record in iRecord it wouldn't go in as the genus has changed or not been changed or something, always irritating. Anyway there were eight or nine on the fruit/sugar pile.

Dryomyza (Neuroctena) anilis. I rather like the rather threatening looking audience to the mating.

As well as painting I've been mending things, one of our downstairs windows has a bit of rot so I've been sanding and cleaning it up, during the operation I disturbed this huge spider.

Amaurobius similis I think.

And lastly, during one of my checks of The Shunan a Brown Hare finally just stayed still.

Brown Hare.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Bits and bats.

 A bit of mothing, a bit of birding and lovely weather.

Mydaea corni, a Muscidae with a distinctive orange scutellum, an intruder. NFM and maybe new for the county.

Heath Rustic, NFS I think. A bit worn, had a moment when I thought it was just a Flame Shoulder.

I frequently have a wander about at dusk and later, at the moment checking the Buddleja for moths.

Pink-barred Sallow.

Angle Shades.

 I'd been pleased to find Pink-barred Sallow, having a good year this year, and Angle Shades when something much larger swooped past. A bat! I've very rarely seen bats here, anyway scooted in for the bat detector and the recorder. Subsequently "heard" at least two bats really well. 47kHz so probably Common Pipistrelle, although I thought they looked a little large from the brief sightings I had. I'll see if I've got a decent recording later and add it to the post if its worth it.

The barley fields below the house were cut but that was late Friday and they failed to get much of the straw in. It poured overe the weekend so it was soaked. Anyway, a couple of nice days since and the farm have been drying and baling the straw. This has attracted huge numbers of Common Gulls, presumably to feed on all the insects disturbed by these operations. At least 2,500 Common Gulls yesterday. There were 36 or so Black-tailed Godwits following them around. Today there were fewer Common Gulls, so perhaps 1,500 or so but the Blackwit record was smashed with a roost count of 296.

The geese have been pleased with all this activity too.

Just under 300 Blackwits, fab. They were noisy at dusk.

I've been out to Evie a few times looking for this putative Citrine Wag, and failing to find it. However, as part of these trips we did a reccy for some snorkeling, today we went in.

Wee Cuttlefish, never seen one before.

Seaweed streaming in the sunlight.

Kelp, Sea Lettuce and many seaweeds.

Spot the fish.

Easier to see when swimming, especially against the kelp.

Plaice I think, love the googly, multi-directional eyes.

Shore Crab, there were loads of these, loads of Hermit Crabs too.

I photographed another strange medusa but had the camera on the wrong settings unfortunately, no pix. Louise found a decent sized jellyfish swimming, I searched but could not find it. A great spot for a bit of snorkling and again felt pretty safe but we didn't venture out too far.

Friday 10 September 2021

A lost pig and other tales.

Where on earth would islanders like ourselves choose to go for our second proper holiday in rather a long time? Clue, in July we went to Arran. Yes, of course, another Scottish island!

Having just retired from working in local authority education nearly continuously since 1978 the opportunity to go on holiday in late August and early September, a great time for watching migrating birds, is a real novelty. So we headed for Lewis, staying as near to The Butt as we could. I used to do a lot of seawatching and I have spent time watching at some of the most iconic seawatch sites in the UK and Ireland, Dungeness, Flamborough Head and Blananarragaun, to name three where I have spent many, many hours. Here in Orkney the prime seawatch sites are on outer isles, most notably Papay, Westray and of course, North Ronaldsay. Dennis Head, North Ronaldsay is arguably the best, or in the top three, seawatch sites in the UK. I've watched from all of these but accessibility for regular visits from West Mainland is limited by time and cost. So seawatching has become less of a thing for me and my increasing interest in invertebrates, rather than birds, has also put a constraint on my time staring out to sea in the hope that some rare thing will pass by me.

The Butt of Lewis is an under-watched place, geographically interesting and an ideal height, a perfect seawatch spot. It was Tony Marr's patch for ten years or so, https://www.outerhebridesbirds.org.uk/index.php?threads/end-of-an-era-a-thank-you-to-tony-marr.1021/ and it produced a first for the Western Palearctic, Purple Martin; well worth a visit.

Don't watch from this side, the west (although it did get me a Sparrowhawk perching on offshore rocks).

The lighthouse from the seawatch place.

Gannets passing, there were constant streams in both directions, feeding movements.

The Butt did not disappoint. Fabulous seabird passage and watching, although I'm not as resilient as I used to be and a couple of hours is probably enough for me. However, I was getting out for 07:00 starts, largely, took a bit of doing! 

So, what did I see? The first attempt on 29/08/2021, an hour and a half just after 08:00 included 70 European Storm Petrel, 63 Manx Shearwater and 27 Sooty Shearwater. If I'd got there an hour earlier I think I might have done much better as on 31/08/2021 in two hours starting just after 07:00 I saw 646 European Storm Petrel, 46 Manx Shearwater and 33 Sooty Shearwater, 515 ESPs were in the first hour. That watch also included the best birds of the trip, three Leach's Petrels, birds I see rarely on a seawatch, although thanks to AL I'd held one during a ringing expedition at the beginning of the month. Other good seawatch birds over the week included Arctic Skuas, Great Skuas, Arctic Terns, Common Scoter and good numbers and species variety of auks. Further seawatches contributed more sightings of these species in lower numbers but the potential of something excellent is always there.

I did do a bit of birding around South Dell, the village where we were staying, and during a tramp in the Lewis hills. We had a few encounters with both White-tailed and Golden Eagle, a flock of 70 or so Twite was nice, and Great Northern Divers on the sea.

White-tailed Eagle.

Great Northern Diver.

Lewis is a fabulous destination for birding in the UK. Have a look here for recent news etc - https://www.outerhebridesbirds.org.uk/index.php There is also an interesting resource which shows the current status of each species across the isles, https://status.outerhebrides-birdreports.org The county recorder is helpful and very interested in your records, put them into Birdtrack https://app.bto.org/birdtrack/login/login.jsp?s=1&gtl=main%2Fdata-home.jsp or email: recorder@outerhebridesbirds.org.uk

During one of our tramps down the croft to the sea and along the shore we bumped into a local crofter. "Have you seen a piglet?" I bought four and they escaped, the dog got three back but one's still missing." We offered to keep an eye out and took a phone number to call if we located the miscreant. But Louise was troubled by the meeting, "I know that man." This would seem unlikely, he was clearly Lewis born and bred, we've never been to Lewis before. Further along the way we bumped into another local.  (This makes the Lewis coast seem a busy place, really you can walk for days and meet not a soul.) "Have you seen the pig?" We replied in the negative, and the questioner also mentioned he'd not seen it. Somehow the conversation came around to Louise recognising the crofter. "That's Sweeny, Donald McSween. You know, from An Lot? BBC Alba!" The penny dropped. Louise does not speak Gaelic, and the language is not spoken in Orkney but Louise rather likes BBC Alba and watches it quite often. An Lot (The Croft) is filmed in north Lewis, Sweeny is star of the show (and now we have his phone number!). Here's a link to a more serious bit of the programme https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09qcy95 but much of it is very light-hearted, entertaining, recommended.

Sweeny on the beach below the croft, no pig to be seen.

I'd taken a Heath trap with me and loaded with an actinic light, it did pretty well. We were fortunate to be staying in a rental cottage next to a well established garden with a variety of species of trees. Whilst I did some mothing before we moved to Orkney, 12 years ago, it was not very consistent and I didn't try too hard to identify things that weren't immediately obvious. So, whilst I know the moths I find in my Orkney garden and nearby I have limited experience of moths elsewhere in the UK. There were some identification struggles on this trip. Many thanks to Steve Duffield, the Western Isles CMR, and to SS for their help with IDs. Not Quite Scilly has written interestingly about identification on a number of occasions and this post, about sometimes getting things wrong, is honest, helpful and reassuring - https://notquitescilly2.blogspot.com/2021/08/identifying-birds.html A similar situation pertains to moth identification which IMHO is a lot more tricky than birds. Sounds as if I'm excusing myself in advance for some clangers, but I'll happily admit to having some struggles with the ID of the diver(s) up the page which I'd assigned to Black-throated at one point.

Clanger No1, Grey Chi (thanks SD). Through lack of care and research I'd gone for Grey Arches which is larger and an altogether less pretty Noctuid. NFM anyway, I caught quite a few of these.

Sallow, possibly NFM, I can't remember, I don't see them in Orkney anyway. Not many records for Lewis, I also saw the other colour form as well. I did manage to ID this one on my own.

Northern Rustic, NFM, I also made a pig's ear of this one.

Cloaked Minor, I did eventually get this right under my own steam but asked and received a bit of reassurance as this is a really good record for Lewis, NFM, thanks SS and SD. Coin for size as I'd mislaid my ruler.

Grey Chi again, what a fabulous beast. And after I'd been told, I could get the ID right (hopefully...).

These I could get in the right region as I've been shown a White-line Dart in Burray in the past. I also knew that Coast Dart is similar, possible, if rare. These were confirmed as the more plentiful White-line Dart, thanks again to SD and SS.

Pig's ear time again with this Neglected Rustic, NFM.

I didn't even attempt this rather worn Northern Deep Brown Dart but "phoned a friend", thanks SS.

Northern Deep Brown Dart, NFM.

Sallow, the other colour form.

The Sallow illustrated this quite well, the problem with identifying moths, the same species can have a variety of colour forms. The Common Rustic s.l. (an aggregate of two species that require dissection to determine their specific - s.s. identity) and Large Yellow Underwing can demonstrate this equally well. The other issue is that like birds there are no dichotomous keys to moths, you basically have to scroll through images until you find a reasonable possibility and then read the text and look at the distribution. Yes, you can get to family reasonably easily through a bit of experience but a family like Noctuidae is large and diverse. Tricky. Dichotomous keys can be a bit of a pain to use, they require time, a methodical approach and a good knowledge of physiology and physiological terms but generally, not always, with little expeience of a group of animals or plants, you can get to a fairly reliable ID under your own steam, and then "phone a friend" for final confirmation. (These days with Facebook and Twitter you may get your record confirmed by a recognised national or international expert.) Sometimes with moths and birds, until you gain quite extensive and broad experience its a case of taking a punt and hoping for the best.

There's loads more to write about Lewis, I haven't broached the moth trap intruders and other things we found and did, the body boarding pensioner, for example, but I'm going to post and continue later...