Sunday, 22 May 2022

Burray and other stories.

An excursion to Burray proved both enjoyable and profitable (in terms of 365 species). On the way there, I popped in to see the Little Terns and had some decent views of full summer plumage Great Northern Divers. 

We kicked off with a very civilised lunch (thanks LH), before heading out into the field. I was keen to get onto the foreshore, a sizeable chunk of BH's garden is tidal or littoral, it did not disappoint. Armed with the trusty pooter and spending a considerable amount of time crawling around on my knees we turned up a couple of Xantholomus tricolor, new for Orkney and not common nationally, Cercyon depressus, NFM, and a couple of other uncommon beetles for the county at least, Omalium laeviusculum and Lathrobium geminum. Again both these later two were new for me, although considerable help and assistance was required to get them to species (thanks MT and MF in particular).

Cercyon depressus, just look at that pronotum angling up basally!

Lathrobium geminum, identification involved me blundering around a bit...

Omalium laeviusculum, I'm gradually getting the hang of these.

Probably beetle of the day, Xantholinus tricolor, the darkening of the pronotum towards the base is the ID feature.

In identifying the Omalium I had to look up the meaning of shagreen. It was used in the key. A word I think I've heard of before but I didn't really know what it meant. It used to be used by entomologists in the 19th century, to describe a leathery texture with a green tint.

None of these beetles had been recorded more than a very few times in the county previously and the Xantholinus and Lathrobium are both new for the county.

There were a couple of other things in the pooter though, minute but interesting looking. The first was a Collembola, I can't seem to find the photo, anyway expert opinion is that it is of interest and I need to go back and find some more. The other we thought was a tiny ant.

Under the microscope back at base it looked like a tiny ant.

Not an ant.

I took this image quickly with the TG4 down the microscope. Good job I did. Setting up the proper gear to get decent images I managed to have a disaster and lose the specimen. Aaaagggghh! The units are 1mm BTW.

There is probably only one species of ant in Orkney, the common red ant Myrmica ruginodis, there is a single record of the other red Myrmica but personally I'm a bit dubious.

Anyway, I contacted an ant person who was unsure what it was but she contacted a colleague who suggested a chalcid wasp, and that seemed possible. I then had to own up I'd lost the specimen... But, anyway, I posted the image on the Hymenoptera FB group more in hope than expectation, and got a definite identification to species, amazing! So the above is a wingless Diapriinae which is parasitic on the seaweed fly Orygma luctuosum (it might also be parasitic on the Ceolopa species), Platymischus dilatus. Many thanks to DN for the ID. There are just seven records of this beast on the NBN, although DN suggested to me that it is likely common enough everywhere there is seaweed accumulation on the beach and the associated seaweed flies. It is just very, very tiny and like most Hymenoptera, tricky to identify unless you happen to know. Another species new for the county anyway.

Back to Burray. LH found us a weevil, which BH had seen before, but I hadn't Barynotes squamosus.

Barynotes squamosus.

BH baulked at my examining a long dead Pink-foot that I found half buried on the shore. It was full of beetle larvae, I glimpsed Nicrophorus humator. It certainly was seriously smelly, rancid even. Had I been at home that might be hanging over a bucket right now. 

We then had a wizz around the garden for lichens and mosses.  BH is a bit of an expert. I was quickly overwhelmed, but I took some photos and I will be able, with help I suspect, to sort out some of them.

Too soon it was time for a final cuppa and for me to head off back west. Super afternoon though.

The Burray trip relegated a much wanted Shunan tick to the back pages, so to speak. It has taken long enough, but just such a cracking quacker.

Green-winged Teal, on the right. It hung around, showing off, for a few days.

I've seen them before on nearby Loch of Bosquoy but not in the 1 km square, nice one.

Further unsuccessful attempts to get a decent hen Harrier picture, at least they were sharp this time. Gardening yesterday and one hunted briefly a few metres from me in the garden.

Botanical excursions have produced one or two new things, but getting things to species is quite a challenge.

Sea Mouse-ear. 

I've run the moth traps once, Dark Sword-grass was nice but it's still a bit cold and very slow.

Barynotus moerens turned up in the moth trap, oddly.

Somewhat more expected, Dark Sword-grass, a good migrant.

This morning I wandered down to the Wee Wood and took a few pics.

Cheilosia illustrata, a common hoverfly.

Green-veined White.

Well chuffed, I suspected this might be Parasyrphus nigritarsis and the hover scheme confirmed it, thanks CS. A nationally quite uncommon hover and the sixth Orkney record.

We've been gardening. It's not easy here, cold, windy and a plague of these....

Rabbit, the cat does his best but one a day is just nowhere near enough.

And lastly.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Caddis conundrum.

The caddis (Trichoptera) season is starting to warm up, unlike the weather, and they are beginning to appear in some numbers in and around the light traps. Last week's haul reminded me how hard they are as adults and how easy it is to get them wrong. My excuse, early in the season and I've only seen a few fresh ones.

Back in March I had a couple of very early Grammataulius nigropunctatus, one of the relatively easy ones. But then nothing until now.

There was the usual Stenophylax permistus, the confusion species doesn't occur here so they are relatively straightforward.

Stenophylax permistus, a large very distinctive caddis, a strong pale line dorsally.

Then there were a few of these - 

Limnephilus affinus, I don't see too many of these.

And there were three more of these that generally looked like this. 

Limnephilus affinis.

The genetalia were not examined on any of these as they seemed pretty straightforward, I did check out the possibility of L. griseus for the one with the pale dot near the costa.

And then there was this.

Perhaps I should have been alerted by the small size, the same as the various L. affinis. But after a bit of a pause I reckoned it looked like the commonest species I get here, first one for the year, Limnephilus marmoratus. I had posted on Moth Trap Intruders FBG at first asking what it was and then suggesting L. marmoratus.
I can't recall the exact time-line but there were some posts suggesting other species so I took some more photos. It was suggested I take a look at the genitalia site here - which I did have listed in my links but had totally forgotten about. The genetalia illustrations in the RES key (Barnard and Ross) are to my mind often confusing, I don't get on with them very well, anyway. A suggestion was made that this animal was another L. affinis. Now, during the latter part of this conversation I was battling with a seriously recalcitrant laptop. Asking for an update and functioning at a slow crawl, at best. Distracting. After a bit of looking at genitalia and comparing I gave up. I'd put the animal on iRecord as Limnephilus marmoratus anyway.

This morning I had a look in the test copy of a new book that will be published shortly, about identifying adult caddis. Pale L. affinis can look quite a bit like L. marmoratus, ah! And in the meantime one of the correspondents on Moth Trap Intruders had consulted another expert (SF who has helped me with these things a fair bit in the past, and an author of the afore mentioned book). SF determined Limnephilus affinis. 

I then had a look at all the genetalia and produced the image below - my image plus several from which I probably shouldn't reproduce here but I'm hoping they won't mind.

I think the image also confirms the identification as  L.affinis. 

So many thanks to all involved in this wrestle with caddis adults and a useful outcome. I'll now put images in the Flickr collection for future reference, part of the reason for this post is to prevent the same mistake again... but I wouldn't be surprised, too many things to remember. I'll go and identify a beetle now, I think.

On the birding front a Cuckoo over the house yesterday evening and another dead Bonxie (see update to previous post).

On the beetle front, at Yesnaby today, we walked south, turned over a stone and three Otiorhynchus arcticus, very nice.

Bird flu.

I'd never come across a dead Bonxie before, now I've found two in just over a fortnight, well, one wasn't quite dead. I believe there are quite a few dead on Fair Isle. Yesterday, I found the second one, upside down on the cliff top, still alive. There is a small health risk with bird flu so I left it there, but phoned the SSPCA when I got home and had a signal. I also phoned it in to DEFRA. Today on the news there are apparently a lot of dead birds at Loch Fleet. And Twitter from Shetland indicating that bird flu is in the Noss Gannet colony. Update, Saturday, a further dead Bonxie found, at Yesnaby, none seen flying there, they're being hammered by this

Sad to see such a brilliant bird in such a state.

Some good news, that our Kittiwakes seem to be doing swell. Loads of activity, loads of birds, loads of food. Let's hope it continues. We went to the Skiba Geo Arctic Tern colony today, it wasn't occupied but as we left birds arrived; better late than never.

Yesterday, the Razorbills were on their cliff.


They seem ok. However, if they were dying it would be in the sea, corpses would be getting washed up. Worth keeping an eye on the shore for casualties.

And Oystercatchers seem to be having a good year, lots of nesting pairs. Although these ones might have failed.


Wednesday, 11 May 2022


 The week was marked by the support I got from the Beetles of Britain and Ireland Facebook Group when I tried to identify a Staphylinid beetle. This family is often not the easiest and there are quite a few to choose from. I managed after a couple of hours of wrestling with Lott and Anderson to get to the correct genus, and with some confidence. But then I got stuck. Partly out of frustration I made a very incorrect identification, wrong subgenus. However, I was put back on track by HS and there was then a trans-European effort which eventually got the beetle identified. Coleopterists from our own NHM, and from the national natural history museums of Austria and Denmark got involved and to whom I am most grateful (especially, helpful as ever, CW, HS and on this occasion AKH from Copenhagen who finally nailed the ID). A degree of perseverence was required, I think I put about six hours into this. The reward was a new beetle for the county, Quedius fuliginosus.

Quedius fuliginosus.

It was the (not very good) photo of the head that finally nailed the ID, the head shape and antennae being the key features.

I wrote elsewhere: - A very wonderful thing about FB and the internet in general is how we can communicate across the world and cooperate. In identifying the beetle in the previous post, which has been determined as Quedius fuliginosus, experts from London and elsewhere in the UK, Copenhagen and Vienna all gave their opinion, shared their current research and offered help and advice. Fabulous. But that all humankind could cooperate so...

The other good beetle stuff was finding Hydrothassa hannoveriana again. I searched the Hoy site to no avail, drainage work has taken place. But a trip to Brodgar produced three. A fab wee Chrysomelidae and actually, in a Scotland perspective, Orkney is even more important for this species than for C. intermedia. There are very few UK records.

Hydrothassa hannoveriana

The birds have been good too. A Little Egret for a day doing what Little Egrets should do, wade around and catch things. And yesterday, a lovely pair of Garganey.

Little Egret on The Shunan.

I nearly managed a great photo of a male Hen Harrier. If I used an EM-5 Mk111 and not a Mk11 or an EM-1 Mk11 or (ha-ha) the new OM1 (just check the price!) I would have likely nailed it because of the focussing system they employ. Hack and hope with the faithful EM-5 Mk11 didn't quite do the job.

A not quite sharp enough male Hen Harrier - next time.

Dandelions are in full bloom, in places there are fields thick with them, wonderful

Monday, 2 May 2022

I put my coat back on.

Yes, situation normal, a day or two of heating off and sitting in the garden and then the wind returns. Anyway in the meantime we had a lovely day on Rousay where I failed to find Chrysolina latecincta (that's a result, negative as useful as positive) but did find six of these.

Otiorhynchus arcticus, a nationally rare beetle, a new site and a new island for it.

We also found a freshly dead one of these, a few live ones flew by too.

Bonxie RIP. It didn't seem to have any signs of violence, perhaps it just had a heart attack, does that happen to birds? Bird flu is a likely cause, see below in the comments (thanks MF).

The cliffs held Kittiwakes, Shags and Guillemots and are spectacular.

I found a few other beetles including these two.

Gastrophysa viridula, Green Dock Beetle.

Ocypus olens, Devil's Coach-horse.

The Ocypus gives me a small problem with regard to the 365 project (finding 365 species new to me in the year). Can I count it? I'm sure I've seen them in the past, but, like Common Limpet, not understanding the complexities of identification I hadn't really recorded it. So, yes, it's on the list. Identified by size and the matt black head, pronotum and elytra, confusion species are more shiny.

The previous weekend I'd spent Sunday birding, mostly; unusually. I'd offered to take a birder from Shetland around Orkney. In the end, apart from a slight easterly encroachment we stayed on West Mainland. We failed to find a Short-eared Owl, but had plenty of harriers, including a surprising Marsh Harrier. Other things were lots of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs in Finstown, all three common hirundines at the PDC in Kirkwall, and a single Swallow at Loch of Bosquoy. In the end we headed to Yesnaby where there were as many Chrysolina as I've ever seen there, all hiding in the grass in the cold breeze, we found O. arcticus and cliff-top Ligia oceanica and I took them for a plant tick of Primula scotica, just about to flower. I was rewarded by our guest finding a fairly freshly dead Chysolina latecincta which has allowed me to prove that they are fully winged. They have not been recorded to fly to my knowledge, apparently, whilst they have the wings they are physiologically unable to use them. There's a paper somewhere that says this, I need to track it down.

Primula scotica.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, this fabulous Common Redpoll graced the feeders.

Common Redpoll.

Following the warm weather I did a bit of moth trapping. I have some micros to sort out, and there was a micro in the house last night that escaped me but looked unfamiliar, frustrating. Plenty of Hebrew Character, some Common Quaker, Depressaria radiella, Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella and a couple of Clouded Drab, first for the year.

Clouded Drab. No, see comments below, Red Chestnut (thanks SS).

Last Friday I went on a bat outing to  Finstown with the local bat recorder and a group, not usually my thing; seems I'm being quite sociable at the moment! We scored a couple of Pip 45s. I came home and as the light traps were out wandered around with the bat detector, result, Pip 45. I tried again last night and there were at least two of them, very active.

Lastly a bit of plant hunting.  I've got the first one right I'm sure.

Luzula campestris, Field Wood-rush.

But I'm struggling with this, I think it's one of the sheep's fescues but then it doesn't really fit the descriptions in the vegetative key, the leaves are quite broad and I can see the ligules. It does look like the plants in Plants and Habitats (Ben Averis) though. Confused!

Festuca ovina, maybe? Or in that area? Sweet Vernal. Strangely a grass I can confidently identify, but a little later in the season, this caught me out.

I'll finish with a bit of colour, some violas.

Wild Pansy, Viola tricolor.

Primroses and Marsh Marigold along the road (track) to our house.