Friday 31 December 2021

Shells, Leps and Ringing.

After Christmas we went out to Evie again to look for shells. I have a bit more idea of what I'm looking for now, and a slowly developing understanding of the difficulty of identification. There are some great resources out there. Some exceptionally high quality information can be found here - scroll down to the marine animals, the photos are pretty amazing and the information is reliable, accurate and very well researched I would judge.

With a visit to Brough of Birsay I've added another eight species plus two tricky species pairs which are resolveable but I'll need to find fresh animals, and alive for one species pair. The high tides in early spring would seem to be the best opportunity. In the meantime there are plenty of common shells for me to still find. Thanks especially to IS for essential help and much encouragement and advice.


Team effort on Evie Beach.

Dosina exoleta (Rayed Artemis) - thanks YS.

Donex vittatus (Banded Wedge Shell). Reidentified by ST as Gari fervensis (Faroe Sunset Shell).

Developing a photo technique for the shells has been a bit of a challenge. Best is using the conservatory and placing the shells on slate, in shadow. 

Littorina obtusata/fabialis agg (Flat Periwinkle), very hard to separate, live animals required.

A selection from Brough of Birsay including a Spotted Cowrie, Grey Top Shells, Blue -rayed Limpets, a Dog Whelk and various bits of sea urchin.

After Xmas tidying found this fluttering around the other upstairs bedroom.

The unseasonal warmth has taken me out in the dark searching for moths. All Winter Moth records have been obliterated with 83 including the Wee Wood today.

Winter Moth, female.

Winter Moth, male.

Winter Moth, pair in cop.

Winter Moth, male, wings unfurling.

AL has been keen to try to ring our Bramblings. Unfortunately they can be fickle and the first attempt led to a zero return as they decided to feed half a mile away in the stubble. A bit of cold weather over Xmas tho' and things changed. Thirty or so birds were present and come 27th they were still here. 

Clap net in position and Brambling in the trap zone.

Two fires captured 31, 30 new and a control which was one of AL's birds caught in his Finstown garden.

Team in action, although elder daughter rather lowered the tone by saying "Bitch!" to a 3 female when it gave her a sharp nip.

3 female.

3 male.

4 male.

4 male tail.

Louise scribing.

Thanks to AL, we're all hoping for interesting recoveries.

Total new species since Xmas Eve (eight days) - 13.

Sunday 26 December 2021

Sea shells and Christmas.

My thought to record 365 species new to me  over the next year have led me to briefly investigate different Classes. What would be possible? A quick look at sea shells show that there is a huge potential there, but identification is a challenge. Fortunately, thanks to the excellent folk at British Marine Mollusca FB Group help is to hand. 

We went for a walk along Evie Beach on Xmas Eve. It was a lovely day. There were many shells on the beach, so I started picking them up.

A razor shell or, locally, a spoot. However, there are a few species.

Ensis siliqua. Ensis magnus (was arcuatus), thanks ST, these are very, very tricky to ID correctly.

There is an excellent resource for identification here: - - see the side panel. And I was led to purchase the NHM published British Bivalve Shells by Norman Trebble (1966). Sadly, there were no prior owner notes in this book which was a tad more than the £1 jacket price! Well worth the £22 tho'.  

This next one caused a bit of debate.

Lutraria lutraria, Common Otter-shell.

I'd been confident this was Mya arenaria, the differences are fairly subtle. There are other Lutraria species that occur here and so a considerable degree of caution in ID is required.

Cerastoderma edule, Common Cockle. Even this common species needs careful ID.

Chamelea striatulla, Striped Venus. In recent years there have been changes to the taxonomy so need to check the Museum of Wales site for the latest name and the history of naming.

Mya truncata, Common Gaper. I managed to ID this correctly with no aid!

Venerupis corrugata.

In mind of the work to identify all these I've decided to take Xmas Eve as the starting point! I think this will be a bit of a challenge, and will likely require a trip or two south, even to England. I'm expecting beetles to come to my rescue to some extent, I have a basic knowledge and know there are lots of species locally that with a bit of an effort I can find and identify. Plants will be another opportunity to add species, especially if I go over to Hoy a few times.

Over Xmas there was a cold snap and the Bramblings returned in force with 36 under the feeders.


A few trips to the coast and Loch of Skaill offered a few photographic opportunities. (Three dead Puffin on The Links beach tho.)

Hoodie Crow.


Whooper Swan family.

The local Whooper Swans have raised two chicks but incoming birds from Iceland don't appear to have had a good breeding season with this the first juv I've seen.

On 23 December, Loch of Bosquoy was super. A Goosander, 5 Blackwits, 445 Lapwing, 72 Golden Plover, a Hen Harrier, 98 Skylark and a record 35 Shoveler were the highlights.

Shoveler, Goosander and a Coot.

445 lapwing and some of the Golden Plover.

48 of the Skylark.

On Christmas night there was a heavy overnight frost. Christmas Day was sunny, still and very cold. The beach at Skaill was frozen, the hound managed to fall over. Frosted seaweed is an unusual and photographically interesting subject.

As the days lengthen, yes really, signs of spring. Green leaves of Lesser Celandine breaking through, if frosted.

Lesser Celandine.

A new mammal for my Orkney list, looked to be tethered tho.

Giraffe, near Skaill.

New species 6.

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Not Knot maybe?

I'm trying to sort out all the bird records for The Shunan patch since August 2009. That really shouldn't be too hard, even though Birdtrack use was a bit patchy 2009 to 2012, it is indeed a good bit better than I thought. However, the one record of Knot in Birdtrack for 12/09/2010 didn't ring a memory bell. I checked this blog, nothing on here, that makes me a tad suspicious. A rummage in the cupboard amongst many notebooks. Eventually I unearthered the one; nothing for Knot on that date, just four Red Admiral. Record to be deleted; I suspect I added a Knot when it should have been a Ruff (next row down).

My memory was jogged re the Temminck's Stint which I had entirely forgotten. But I can remember the day well, as I had been to Auskerry and got the message as we returned on the boat. Couldn't find it at first but whilst I was cooking tea AL did find it and message received I leapt into the car, nearly lost it on the bend, saw the stint. To add to Birdtrack, it wasn't in there. No pix it was at the far end.

Here's a Knot that doesn't look like a Knot (instead of the Knot that didn't exist).

Saturday 18 December 2021

Moths in December.

 It is really quite warm. Yesterday it was sunny all day, clear at night, no frost. But it had been warm for three or four days and then the wind dropped away. Time for some night-time wandering with the headtorch and camera.

Wednesday evening produced one each of Winter Moth, Blastobasis lacticolella, a rather confusing dark one for which I needed some ID assistance (thanks BS and SS), and finally a superb female Mottled Umber.

Returned to where I found it.

An educational Blastobasis lacticolella.

Thursday night, eight Winter Moths, a male Mottled Umber and another, but more straightforward Blastobasis lacticolella.

Last night, there were 20 Winter Moths, including a pair in cop and a freshly emerged male and three male Mottled Umber.

Male Winter Moth, just emerged.

Same moth, an hour later.

Winter Moth, pair in cop.

The first male Mottled Umber was in flight, no net but it eventually settled briefly to confirm the ID. But last night three seemed exceptional.

Mottled Umber on the end of a twig, I've seen them perch like this previously once or twice.

A lovely dark male Mottled Umber.

Another day, another Glaucous Gull. A walk at Northside produced a 1cy west. Rubbish photos...

Glaucous Gull 1cy, heading westwards.

The beautiful clear day and evening yesterday came to a colourful conclusion.