Saturday 24 December 2022

Xmas approaches.

 It warmed up and there were Winter Moths, thirteen including a pair in cop.

Female left, male right, pair in cop.



There was also a single Oligolophus hanseni, found as I searched for the Winter Moths by torchlight.

The Opilione Oligolophus hanseni, not especially easy to find in Orkney.

On the birding front the Golden Plover and Lapwing are coming and going on the western, agricultural fields, there are a few Snipe and Curlew and the occasional Woodcock and Sparrowhawk and Hen Harrier are generally apparent. A male Sparrowhawk was disturbed by a Hoodie from its Redwing prey.

A Grey Heron took to standing with the sheep until my approach up the road and the farmer's approach across the fields coincided to encourage it to fly.

Grey Heron and sheep.

Monday 19 December 2022


I've been decorating our other bedroom upstairs. And the snow has been decorating the landscape, white. For a couple of days our road was treacherous, and the main road not much better. Yesterday afternoon getting the pony in was mad as everything had had rain on it and then started to freeze again, fortunately I managed to get him to walk up the verge to a cleared crossing place, but it was a tricky exercise.

From the fields north of the house looking to Hoy.

During the coldest spell the bird feeders were busy with Chaffinch reaching double figures, two Brambling and wee flocks of five or so Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Fieldfare reduced in number and then vanished, Redwing reduced in number and eventually the large flock of Golden Plover left. Once The Shunan froze the ducks left so just flyby Mallard. However, on the one day of thaw, Goldeneye and Teal returned, but briefly. 

During a trip to Kirkwall for decorating supplies etc I had a look at the PDC, lots of gulls but no particularly interesting ones, some posed nicely mainly due to some intense bread feeding (not by me).

Black-headed Gull, 1cy

Black-headed Gull, adult.

Herring Gull, 3cy.

Herring Gull, 1cy.

Herring Gulls, 1cys a 3cy and finally an adult, left to right.

Decorating the bedroom has been a bit of an epic. We'd not dealt with this in 13 years and the carpet was in a bit of a state. The room has largely been used for storage with the occasional guest being squeezed in when necessary. We'd always thought that the floor beneagth was a mess, Louise reported it so but when we actually pulled the carpet and the underlay up, Louise realised she'd thought the underlay was chipboard. There was a floor-boarded floor. It had been treated slightly oddly with wood stained/varnished boards on three sides, the middle to one long edge was untreated though. The staining was not deep stain, so sander in hand, a new one purchased, thus the trip to Kirkwall, I set to, once we'd thrown the carpet and underlay out of the window! I've finally finished the third coat of varnish this evening. There are bits of skirting board I'll have to re-paint and I might put a bit of trim around the skirting, but now it is just waiting for the final coat of varnish to dry.

Anyway, there's a bit of a point to this story as during the decorating I took the cover off the ceiling light. This was fairly new, we'd had it replaced with a decent LED a few years ago, but it had a build up of dead things within. I had a quick look through, Pterostichus melanarius, unsurprisingly, various bits of Brown House Moth and White-shouldered House Moth, various more bits of woodlice species, a surprising Lithobious forficatus, and a live beetle. An interesting thing. I took a proper look at it today, Ptinidae. These can be bad news as some of them are wood munchers, but not this one. My usual method these days with things that look fairly distinctive is to go to Beetle Recording and look at the family illustrations and then go to Beetles UK and look at the various species. Ptinus tectus seemed to fit. It was still alive, so awkward to photograph and view but I'm sure of the ID. This species is an adventive, colloquially, Australian Spider Beetle, and in the UK it is a pest of museum collections where it eats unprotected specimens. There are only 134 UK records, and of the few Scottish records none have been confirmed. It has been found in Orkney previously though, and the records will be good. Indeed, LL informs me she found one, a dead one, in the cutlery drawer of her Stromness house, nearly as good as live in the lampshade! Shows that this is a species worth looking for in hidden corners of the house.

Ptinus tectus, Australian Spider Beetle.

I will kill it and photograph it properly, shouldn't let adventives like this go anyway.

The Shunan, Loch of Bosquoy, Loch of Harray hidden by mist.

Loch of Harray, orange.

Looking back to home from the north.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

A tad chilly.

The Long-tailed Duck finally departed, forced off The Shunan with every other duck as it froze, so it failed to make it on to the WeBS count list. However, a surprise that did make the list was the Water Rail I flushed from the burn by our road into the bottom of the hawthorn hedge. The cold has spread the Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds loosely across the lower fields, not in their usual tight travelling flocks but in a settled feeding scatter. It has also brought a large flock of Golden Plover, sometimes more than 340 or so, more than 100 Lapwings, Snipe and Redshank popping up in odd places, a Woodcock and an annoying Dunlin sized wader which flew into the distance with a gang of Golden Plover.

Goldies in front of The Shunan.

More Goldies.

Today, as well as a real freeze we got some snow, not a lot but enough if the wind gets up to be annoying. However, the ice and snow this morning revealed some of the pedestrians using our road.

Otter, human and feral cat tracks on the road.

Otter tracks.

The hybrid gull appears to be agreed as just that, a hybrid. However, in Pete Grant's gull book there is an image of a 3cy Glaucous with similar markings, perhaps that's an ID error? The age of the gull might be ammended though as following up the suggestion it is a 2cy I did a little research and agree that is more likely.

Mooching about in the conservatory I did find an Angle Shades.

Angle Shades.

Otherwise, with nice light, I have been taking a few photos.


Ruined steading.


Blizzard coming.

Thursday 8 December 2022

Two coats again.

Winter is official now as I am habitually wearing two coats. 

Yesterday I went to the Brough car park for a brief walk and a short seawatch with the hope of white-winged gulls and/or Little Auks, neither obliged*. The hound enjoyed the trot up towards the Whale Bone and I didn't enjoy the hail blowing in on the fresh northerly.

(*I did take a few photos of the mass of gulls off the car park, I'd thought I'd been pretty thorough looking through these, apparently not as thorough as I thought, as there in the photos is a 1cy Glaucous Gull.) (Or maybe not, could this be a hybrid? More pix added below.)

Hybrid Herring x Glaucous Gull 1cy.

Possible hybrid Herring x Glaucous Gull, 1 cy, Pt of Buckquoy, 07/12/2022.


Extra pic.

I've now had a good look through the other photos, but there is no lurking Ivory Gull.

I had to go to Kirkwall today, the fish cages at Hatston were swarming with Herring Gulls but I failed to pick anything of more interest out of the bunch (there might have been a Little Gull, but it was a glimpse that was not repeated) There has been a small influx of Little Gulls here recently but apart from that glimpse none have crossed my path. The PDC and Scapa were equally disappointing, other than, as I was driving away, there was a Carrion Crow, or very dark hybrid, but a vehicle was close behind me, so tricky to stop.

Barwit and Turnstone, Scapa.

Meanwhile the many Redwings and Fieldfares seen the other day up on the in-bye, just below the hill behind the house, the Kame of Corrigall, have descended to the fields of the patch.

Always good to have Fieldfares around the place.

Unfortunately, before most arrived in these fields a single Fieldfare was present which was clearly unwell, I suspect bird flu. Blackbird numbers continue to be above the usual with obvious migrants amongst the other thrushes.

The Rough-legged Buzzard I found has been edging closer to the patch, seen just over the hill.

Louise came for a walk, via the Grey Phalarope. Not expecting to be much excited by the wee manic beast she was suitably impressed at its mad rate of feeding and activity. Whilst there a sub-adult male Hen Harrier came a-hunting, interesting tactic, in across the wet meadows then around the edge of the bay and out across the Choin, it flushed 230+ Snipe, most impressive. Sunset at the Choin was suitably scenic.

The Choin, Marwick.

Using flash gun on the Olympus EM5 has much vexed me. However, I have got it sussed now I think, thanks to Robin Wong,

I'd found via trial and error that flash doesn't work when the camera is set to fire on silent or shock free, only on the standard single shutter release. The wee flash gun that comes with the camera, the FL-LM3, is a decent piece of kit, but fixed to the camera it's not great for fill in with macro. However, Robin suggests that it will act as the command unit and fire a slave flash. I tried this with the Neewer TT560 that I have had no success with, far to ungainly on the camera, and was about to eBay. It works. The Newer came with a handy diffuser. So hold the Neewer at an angle, with diffuser, with left hand; set Neewer to S1 (slave setting); set OM5 to single ordinary shot and flash to Fill-in; hold OM5 with macro lens and FL-EM3 attached in right hand and focus on subject; take picture; both flash guns fire! No wires, no hassle. Scroll through the whole blog post, there are photos showing how Robin does this and all the info on camera settings. My efforts in the dark, below. I need to try in daylight now using the flash as fill-in.

Porcellio spinicornis on the house wall.

Trichocera annulata (most likely) caught in a web on outside of window.

Thursday 1 December 2022

Bittern and beetle.

 No sooner did I see two excellent birds in a day when a third one came along. One of the local birders went out to try and find my Rough-legged Buzzard from the previous day and stumbled upon a Bittern. I'd been out on the hill all morning with the hound. I threw a reluctantish Louise in the car once the What'sApp message had been received and within 15 minutes we were watching a very presentable Bittern, not too far away and showing rather well.

Bittern, Louise was suitably impressed.

The ninth Orkney record, and showing rather a lot better than the one I "saw" at the Loons a few years back. There were six birders present when we left, a real Orkney twitch. The rather funny thing was that one of them happened to be at the spot before us all but hadn't looked at his phone and was oblivious that he'd parked within 100m of the Bittern until he saw us all gawping, as he walked back with his dog, excellent surprise.

The Blackbird spectacle has finally ended with them departing the day before yesterday, the peak was probably 51 within the 1km patch or just a few yards outside it. We were back to a more usual 8 yesterday. Lots of thrushes on the move in the last few days. Surprisingly several hundred Redwing and Fieldfare on the in-by just below the hill yesterday. I now need to edit the Blackbird page of my The Shunan write up -

I'm currently reading this, fascinating. Birds see differently out of each eye, often one for close and one for distant sight, and this is determined by how much light each eye gets during incubation, in other words which way up the egg is, you'd expect that to be genetically determined, but it's not.

I mentioned the talk we attended on line with Tim Birkhead, Louise subsequently emailed him, as she'd worked on a paper with him when she was a zoology student. He replied very promptly and there followed a nice exchange. We knew that the funding for his 40 year project study of Guillemots on Skomer had been cut, Tim is continuing to fundraise for the continuation of this important work, the Just Giving page is here if you feel inclined: Long term studies provide some of our most important biological information, I'm sure you know that.

I continue to delve around in the Wych Elm leaf litter in the extractor (garden seive over a white washing up bowl). I bashed it about a bit and a few more beetles appeared.

Mmmm, an Aleocharine, I think we'll choose to ignore that....

This looks more fun, the tiny 4th tarsal segement and the very reduced final segement of the maxillary palps mean this is a Tachyporus (a Staphylinid beetle).

The wonderful Mike Hackston has written a key for these.

I duly dived in to trying to "do" this 3.2mm long beastie. I emerged with Tachporus pusillus, possible but I wasn't really sure, the key is tricky, and colours of the various anatomical parts are not supposed to be reliable for ID. Anyway, posting on Beetles FB group MT suggested another key, interestingly published in Circaea, the journal of the Association for Environmental Archeology. Apparently archeologists do try to identify beetle remains they find, impressive. The key was published in 1984 but is the most reliable way of confirming the identity of beetles of this genus. The back issues of Circaea are online, and this key relies on the arrangement of setae on the elytra (hairs on the wing cases). In this case the elytra were less than 1mm long. Unfortunately I'd mangled my specimen during my previous ID attempt and managed to lose the elytra, however, my photos proved just about good enough, probably my original ID is correct. I'll see if I can capture another specimen to make sure.

From the key and bottom corner what I can see from my photos of my specimen.