Monday 29 November 2021

Finches, snails and Zoom.

First there was the hooley, it wasn't so bad here, and it coming from the north the house was sheltered. Taking the pony into the field I struggled to make progress though, two steps forward and one back. Then there was the snow; Saturday night. So yesterday, before various trips to the airport - plane takes off, plane breaks, plane goes back to Glasgow, flight cancelled, replacement bus service to Edinburgh, flight from Edinburgh in the evening.... I walked the hound at Marwick. I was hoping for WW gulls but there weren't any. Indeed there were relatively few gulls of any description. There was snow on the beach though, which I kind of like, photographically. 

More pix at shortly.
Between trips to Kirkwall, of course I'd set off before learning the flight had turned around, I went to Scapa. I was hoping for a Little Auk at least and a Brunnich's Guillemot would have been tasty. However, when I arrived, unusually, someone was zooming about on one of those jet ski things. Bloody noisy, shitty things. No birds. Well, there was a hybrid crow on the beach, a confidingish Herring Gull and a juv Shag outside the harbour but close in. (I had glimpsed a northward heading likely Little Auk at Marwick.)

Hybrid Hooded/Carrion Crow somewhere in the mid-dark - dark crow categories -

Adult Herring Gull.

Juv Shag.

At home I'd looked out on a flurry of finches under the feeders, some 60 Chaffinch, 15 or so Brambling and the usual Greenfinches and Goldfinches in attendance. I didn't have time to check the birdcrop with all the toing and froing. However, a Woodcock under the trees was just the second of the autumn.

Not the best images but you get the idea.

There was a post on another blog I follow about the lack of Greenfinch at feeders of late. This prompted me to have a play with Birdtrack and download some graphs. If you keep consistent data from a site Birdtrack is a very useful tool, although I have a suggestion or two about different graphs that would be useful to generate. So slightly clumsily here is some comparitive data from my main recording area.

The scales are slightly different, so caution, but the pattern is obvious, I could fill in the gaps with all the years, but it makes it harder to see, trust me, they just reinforce this pattern of decline.

Greenfinch, peak count per week 2013.

Greenfinch 2021 so far.

This late autumn peak is a consistent feature, however, the numbers for the rest of the year for the last three years have been low. I need to make a clever line graph, unfortunately Birdtrack doesn't generate that automatically from the menus.


During the week I had a wander in Binscarth Wood. I was after the larva of the hoverfly Dasysyrphus albostriatus which was found as a larva a week or so ago, so, yes, another hoverfly twitch.

The larva can be found amongst the lichens on tree trunks. In the unsuccessful search for this species I came across a snail I'd not found before.

I identified this as Clausilia bidentata, common enough in the UK but restricted to a few sites here in Orkney, although, following up by looking at a Field Club paper from the 2013 Bulletin common enough in Binscarth. I should have found this before. Many thanks to TC and IS for confirming the ID. I'd remembered the Field Club paper and this prompted me to go through some back issues. There is lots of good stuff in the Bulletin. Plenty of clues for species to target in 2022 (more of that at a later date).

During the week I've attended two Zoom meetings one on the identification of adult caddis which was useful.

Here are some images I took this week of Stenophylax permistus from here and from Yorkshire, genitalia images to prove the ID.

Female Stenophylax permistus from Yorkshire, October.

Male Stenophylax permistus from Orkney, August.

The other Zoom meeting was from the Orkney Field Club, personal observations of Common Carder Bees nesting in a garden wildlife lawn. This was truly excellent and was followed by a very interesting discussion about species northward migrations due to climate change, and parasite and host relationships, amongst other things. Those were the bits that really interested me, anyway.

One of the bloggers I follow was musing on their loss of expertise with birding because they've branched out to look at other Classes in recent years. My personal view is that the branching out has given me a fuller and more holistic understanding of the natural world, but I do agree that new knowledge does come at the expense of old as the brain discards what is no longer used, or at least puts it on the "external" harddrive.

Sunday 21 November 2021

Ash Trees, Chaffinches and new(ish) kit.

Wandering around the web the other day I checked out the Orkney Field Club pages and came across an Ash Tree survey that I had somehow missed There are two Ash on our neighbour's property so I nipped round to photograph and measure them. Funny how you see something very frequently but don't really notice it. Neither of these trees had appeared to be very large or very old and I mostly notice the one that overhangs our garden when I'm out with the beating tray. However, on closer examination it would seem that these are perhaps quite elderly neighbours.  Hard to measure the circumference at the base of the trunk but sitting Golden Retriever x3 seemed about right, a bit over 3 metres circumference.

The front garden Ash, quite a substantial tree.

This is the tree at the back, the main bough is not far off 11 metres long. It goes sideways and not upwards though. Ash Die-back is present in Orkney, but I've not noticed it on these two trees. I don't recall them ever setting seed. I suspect these trees are at least 200 years old.

I reported that record numbers of Chaffinch had been located on the patch, 85 or so, that record has now been beaten with a flock of 170. Many thanks to the female Sproghawk that put them all up and allowed me a good chance to estimate the total number. There continue to be a few Brambling with them or around and about. They've hung out in the garden and down by the Hawthorn hedge mostly, although the bulk of the flock seems to spend its time in or around the Bosquoy stubble field, the Sparrowhawk flushed them across the road and onto the main The Shunan patch.

Greenfinch flock has been counted at 54 but the Goldfinches are down to 10 or fewer. Notable was the unidentified bunting, strongly suspected to be a Lapland, which the dog flushed from the stubble by the house. Unfortunately it didn't call, or at least I didn't hear it, and it flew of high into the easterly distance.

Not Lapland, but Reed Buntings have been obvious around the Hawthorn hedge, this bird was especially confiding.

The new microscope, an Amscope purchased from eBay arrived and has duly been put into service. It is a super piece of kit and in excellent, good as new condition. It came with a ring light and a pair of LED swan-necks, also very useful.

I've also part exchanged the Canon GX3 for another Olympus EM-5 Mk11 body. I'm not photographing through the microscope but using the new macro lens as the quality is far better (unless I spend a lot of money). The Amscope does have a photo tube but I would need the correct connectors etc. It seems just as easy to just move specimens from the microscope, where I sort them out, to the camera set up. I've been having a further go at identifying some of the caddis from Yorkshire, it's slow work.

I'm thinking this one is Drusus annulatus. I've put it on iRecord where I'll learn soon enough if I'm right or wrong.

I'm going through my data for the year, mostly the moths first. Sometimes I put other things on, especially if its mixed photos including Lepidoptera. And the other day I'd added a mixed bag including a few hovers which I clearly hadn't looked at carefully enough as one of my identifications was rejected. I went back to the original photos and was able to re-identify the beast, which turned out to be new for the garden. This time the verifier accepted it. When iRecord works well it is an excellent tool both for compiling and submitting data and also for checking identifications.

We'd walked at Northside yesterday and just by the Whalebone, down on the shore was a dead Porpoise, beheaded. I guess either a prop or an Orca would be responsible. When I'd first seen it I'd hopes it was a tuna of some sort.

 The north wind doth blow so I headed to the sea earlyish this morning and was rewarded with two Little Auks, a large diver sp and another possible Grey Phalarope; I'll nail one eventually. I had to make an airport trip at lunchtime so I popped in to Scapa on the way back. I was hoping there might be a Little Auk or two there to photograph but no bananas. Indeed everything was a bit distant, annoying as the light was good. This Tystie was about all that would play ball.

Another shot at the sea tomorrow morn I think.

Loch of Stenness from Brodgar.

Sunday 14 November 2021

Where did I put my Fieldfares?

The explanation to the absence of the seasonal cacklers is that they took a diversion and avoided me, but I won't take this too personally. There have been very few Fieldfares here. Until today I'd seen just two (and not through lack of effort let me add). South of us there have been thousands. The explanation is that they migrated south by going to the east of us, through Europe, and then they took a right turn and appeared through Yorkshire and all the way south where they pushed west. Today I went outside to do my moth thing. First there was one Fieldfare, then five more and then another forty. A second wave perhaps?

It has been unseasonally warm, as well as very wet, and various things seem to have occurred later than usual. The leaves are only off the trees because of the hooley the other day.

Friday night was warm, still, overcast; moth time.

Mottled Umber, eleven of these.

Acleris hyemana, three of these.

Blastobasis lacticolella, one of these.

It was so good I did it all over again last night.

White-shouldered House Moth, one.

Angle Shades, one.

Mottled Umber, one.

So, not quite so impressive but given the wind getting up not at all bad. Various intruders turned up over the two nights as well. No caddis, they seem to be done for the year but Limonia nubeculosa (a cranefly) is still going strong, Scathophaga stercoraria (Yellow Dung Fly) are present in some numbers, Forficula auricola (earwig) was on the wall, and there were many, many winter gnats, most likely Trichocera regelationis, but I haven't run the specimen I took through the key yet.

Scathophaga stercoraria, killing a Muscidae I think.

Sylvicola punctatus, last of the year maybe.

Likely Trichocera regelationis.

All of a sudden the garden is full of birds and the Greenfinch flock is hovering just under 40. Goldfinch have hit 14 and today there were at least 10 Chaffinch and a smart male Brambling.

First autumn records of Jack Snipe, on Thursday and Friday and Woodcock on Friday.

Today, after finally selling one of our cars, we went to Birsay.

Goodbye, Corsa.

There were the usual suspects, Harbour Seals, lots of Wigeon, Teal and Mallard and a good mixture of waders. Some of the Purple Sands were especially confiding.

Purple Sandpiper.

View from the garden, late afternoon.