Sunday 24 April 2022

Pygmy Shrew and other mammals.

I failed to photograph the Pygmy Shrew, I'm not quick on the draw. Indeed the cameras are usually in the rucksack on my back. Anyway, it ran across the track yesterday just in front of me which was fortuitous. I rarely see live ones, sometimes hear them.

Orkney Vole, tunnels everywhere in the garden. Saw a huge adult at Yesnaby, Borwick, the other day, what a brilliant animal. If you want to know more about them Tim Dean has published a nice wee book (with my photo on the front).

Available from here:

Brown Hare, they're always here, I see several everyday around the house, in the garden.

Brown Hare.

Adding a new mammal to my list this year will be a challenge. In Orkney, a bat would be a possibility but a cetacean is likely the best bet.

At the moment identifying beetles seems to be my way of keeping up with the new species a day. Sometimes the identification process takes rather a while. Bisnius fimetarius probably took the best part of three hours, closer to three and a half if including the photography process. Identified by the shape of the male aedegus.

Bisnius fimetarius, that notch on the ventral surface of the aedegus is diagnostic.

But I found a spider and a cranefly today. Currently have three beetles awaiting my attentions.

Pachygnatha clerki, thanks LJ, I nearly got there...

I thought the cranefly would be easy, its common and distinctive looking but it took a while to run it down.

Tipula lateralis.

Not much change on the bird front but I don't often get a photo opportunity with these.

Short-eared Owl.

I've created a Flickr collection to keep track of the species I've added this year, I've slightly ammended the rules and am having it run from 01/01/2022 to the end of 2022. I've got the collection up-to-date for January at the moment but now I've learned how to manage it shouldn't take too long to add February to date. It's here anyway -

Thursday 21 April 2022

Well, I have seen a Wheatear or 7.

There isn't much evidence of seasonal change on the bird front at the moment, well it's subtle. Two Brambling are hanging on in the garden, but the redpolls and the Goldfinch are now ensconced, stuffing their wee faces with Niger seed, at great expense I should add. I don't know why it's called Niger, other than it is black seed, apparently the seed of Guizotia abyssinica. Anyway, it's in the feeders for the Goldfinch and redpolls, crossbills quite like it, Greenfinch too, and Siskin. I put it on the ground for Brambling, a species which never goes to the Niger feeder, and I've only once, here, seen on the seed feeder.


Brambling, male.

So far I've failed to attract a Hawfinch this spring, they tend to go for the bigger seeds. And I haven't been graced with Great Tit (ever) of which there have been several sightings across the county in the last few weeks. 

In the rookery I can hear that the Rooks have fledglings, they've had them for about a week now. Hoodies are sitting in two territories and I'm guessing the other two pairs are thinking about it. The Pied Wags barely arrived and were straight into nesting. They're in one of the stone dykes near the house.

Pied Wagtail, male.

Out on the coast my most "exciting" bird find was an oddly confiding Carrion Crow. 

Carrion Crow, not a hybrid I would judge.

The grey feathering that can be seen on the Carrion Crow above is not a sign that it is a hybrid, to my eye that's underfeathers, not sure of the technical term, but Carrions do have grey in the "base" layer. We have a crow passage through the isles at this time of year, most noticeably on North Ronaldsay, easier to record there. But quite often evident elsewhere in the county. Hoodies predominate but there are also, sometimes, quite substantial numbers of Carrions, and some hybrids with them. Not sure where they're going, perhaps younger birds dispersing northwards.

Also on the beach at Birsay there were still nine Snow Buntings, they should be gone fairly soon.

Snow Buntings.

Spring was evidenced by Meadow Pipits all over the beach, and Pied Wagtails, with seven Wheatear and the regular build up of Mute Swans on the sea, 31 to be precise. A single Whooper lingered with them. Probably an ill or injured bird, in the past such individuals have summered.


Of course, I wasn't just birding on the beach. Much to the hound's annoyance I spent a lot of time turning stones, generally rather static. The stone turning didn't produce anything new, or at least nothing I wanted to take up the challenge of identification with, I ignored various small Diptera, spiders, mites and crustacea, although I recognise I may need to take some of these on in the future. Instead I was mostly beetling. 

A couple of Cafius xantholoma, a nice Creophilus maxillosus which I don't find often in Orkney.

Cafius xantholoma, you can see the diagnostic yellow on the edge of the pronotum in this shot, unfortunately, this otherwise all black individual was not 100% recognisable in the field, so I took the specimen.

Creophilus maxillosus, easily recognisable in the field, I always think they look quite bee like, not at all like a Staphy.

However, I did end up with a number of things in the pooter.  Collembola and Staphys mostly. They may take a bit of doing with regard to ID but there were a good few of this small beetle which I didn't immediately recognise.

Cercyon littoralis.

I should have seen this before, but I hadn't. I also should have realised what is was before I did, especially as I've recently keyed Cercyon melanocephalus, just for the hell of it, they're quite distinctive. So off I toodled through Unwin, going wrong, getting to Leodidae, trying to key through that before realising that I was hopelessly lost. However, my previous, recent Cercyon keying experience then came to my rescue as a vague memory of a mention at the beginning of the Cercyon key of seaweed/seashore inhabiting species tingled a ganglion or something. I dug out the Hydrophilidae key again, got successfully to Cercyon and... job done. In this last image you can see the distinctive pattern of the hind tarsi, No 1 (top) is long. So a water beetle on the shore, as is its previously mentioned congener a water beetle in the poo. Swimming through rotting kelp, or old cow dung, what a life!

In the pooter were more beetle key torture, well, I quite enjoy it, honest.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

I went in the garden today, without a coat on...

Yes, it's finally warming up. It must have been 7, or even 10 degrees today. I walked hunting for creatures with no coat and didn't feel cold. Just one jumper.

Monday 11 April 2022

Glossy Ibis, beetles, other stuff.

A message on What'sApp mentioned a Glossy Ibis as "still present" a few minutes away, I'd not heard of it before. Anyway, Sunday morning I went to check it out.

Glossy Ibis and friends.

I think I've seen a couple here in the past, but I'm not complaining. They are closer to the patch on each occasion, next one in the garden please.

After the ibis I walked at Skaill, along the beach, the hound rolled on the sand and went in the rock pools. 

We found this which I think is a headless Porpoise skeleton.

We then headed over to the Collembola place and armed with a pooter hoovered up a few to send off, replacing the specimens I lost last week. This mite was under a stone as was this tiny spider and its egg nest, I presume.

Trombididae I think.

We'd gone to Brodgar on Saturday and I got distracted on the shores of Loch of Stenness. I've always thought that this saline loch ought to have some good things in the littoral areas. I managed to pull out three beetles. The Staphy disappointingly turned out to be Anotylus rugosus which I'd found elsewhere recently. 

Quite pleased with this image of the head though showing the rather plain area above the mouth parts.

The two Carabids looked a bit more exciting. The larger Pterostichus I should have known straight off that it was one of a species pair, but I'd forgotten, a while since I've seen one. I painstakingly keyed it out, not an especially easy route either, and got to the annoying P. nigrita/rhaeticus pair. Annoying because males cannot reliably be identified from physical characteristics, the genitalia are not necessarily definitive, although I have felt that ones I've seen in the past have been more nigrita than rhaeticus. However, I had a female so I did dissect it, it came out as nigrita to my eye. I ought to post it and get another opinion.

Female bits, Pterostichus nigrita.

The third beetle was a Bembidion. I've always really liked these, although they can be a bit tricky to identify. They are very much littoral beasts and a long time ago I spent a fair bit of time in Derbyshire hunting them along riversides. Anyway, this was from saline Loch of Stenness and it wasn't too tricky as it has a very distinctive pronotum.

Bembidion aeneum.

Pretty sure I haven't found Bembidion aeneum before, the only one with this shape of pronotum and mostly dark legs and antennae. Two, maybe three previous Orkney records.

The bit of the key that talks about the 7th stria being absent or very faint isn't the best description for what I had in front of me. Fainter than other stria and fading in terminal half. My keys, especially my ancient copy of Lindroth are covered in wee notes.

I'm currently trying to clear the backlog of material in the fridge. This is the fridge in the garage, I'm not allowed to put things in the kitchen fridge. I've been running out of space. I've had a bit of a go at it and managed to organise the backlog. I need to have a couple of caddis days, lots of them to do. But there are a fair number of beetles too. It's some kind of hell, a cold one, shut the door, quick!

The fridge, mmm....

Last week I was quite excited about this beetle:

I found it moribund whilst looking at plants in Binscarth Wood. I'd thought that it was Kateretes pusillus but I'd mis-keyed a couplet. The antennae are Nitidulidae, not the closely related Kateretidae. Once that was sorted the suggestion made that it was Epuraea melanocephala (thanks MJ) could be followed up and I eventually got there (thanks MF for help along the way). This species is just as unlikely here as the Kateretes, the nearest record is south of Edinburgh and other than that there are three or four from the borders. These are tricky Families and the keys contain some awkward couplets, things hard to see at x45, like teeth at the base of the claw FFS that's hard. I'm going looking for some Amscope x20 eyepieces shortly.

There are a lot of beetles in this post. I'm really enjoying working on them, now I have the tools to do the job I can take them on with a bit more confidence. One more now. I found a Stenus type Staphy in the garden. I've not attempted one of those before. Anyway, it's alive so I thought I'd cool it, take some pix and see if it was possible to key it without taking the specimen. Fortunately, it stayed still for the portrait and it keyed out fairly straightforwardly.

Stenus clavicornis.

And here it is on release.


Stenus clavicornis, on release.

They're a distinctive looking genus but I know they don't all come out as easily as this one, genitalia are usually required to be dissected out. No scale on the image above as I broke my graticule today. I keep turning the wrong key on my tripod to shift the position and of course I did it today and the camera swung down and smashed the graticule. No harm to the camera and two more graticules ordered but they'll take a while to arrive.

Many mornings I start the day mucking out. The pony's an extravagance but we've had him a long time and he's very old. I don't ride but there is something about looking after a large powerful animal that's life enhancing. He's a character, I'm mostly of interest because I provide food.

Fortunately I don't have to do this job too often, poo removal.

Blue in his field, a good spot for invertebrates.

Friday 8 April 2022

Patch tick and a number of lifers.

The recent run of new birds for the home patch continues with the long expected Little Egret finally turning up on The Shunan. Not as I imagined was it wading and feeding in the shallows, instead it was half-way up a bank sheltering from a near-hoolie as winter returned. This is a species that must have been here before as I've seen them often on nearby Loch of Sabiston, but  my connection has failed until now.

A stunning image of the latest addition to the patch bird list.

Other birds this week have included a brief Greenshank, regular Pied Wags, a few Redwing and the last few Brambling hanging on, just two here today, they'll be gone soon. The worst bird news is that yesterday's 24 hours of rain has pushed up the water levels so most of everything on The Shunan has now shoved off and breeders like Redshank and Lapwing have likely had their nests flooded out. Perhaps the Coot built high enough. The next warm day should bring some Sand Martins or a Wheatear I expect. Watching on the coast today I saw my first Bonxie of the year heading northwards.

The lifers are not birds, unsurprisingly. They have included a seaweed, three lichens, two molluscs, an isopod, three Collembola, a fly, two beetles, a liverwort and a flowering plant. I'm still working on the ID of some of these, and in the case of the fly and one of the Collembola other folk are doing the hard graft, or will be once I send the specimens off.

First off, the fly is a Chironomid. Aaaarrrrggggghhhh, impossible, surely. Well, maybe and maybe not. The seashore books I use quite a bit are Hatcher and Trewella. Both books include some odds and ends, especially in the insect sections, and as I'm currently exploring the inter-tidal zone I've made a mental note of a few things, sometimes inadvertently. I went out last week, on a sunny, calm day, to look for the beetle Chrysolina latecincta, north of its known range. This involved a fair old tramp on two bits of coastline, and to no avail. On the way back from the second outing I wandered down onto the shore following the retreating tide. I mooched around and managed to identify a common seaweed that was new but didn't see much else until I noticed some flies scampering over the algae on the vertical faces of rocks well down the shore. 

Telmatogeton sp, possibly T. japonicus, a marine splash midge.

A look in the books when I got home and I found that the likliest candidate was Telmatogeton japonicus. This is an invasive species that originates from Japan. It lays it's eggs on the lower shore where the larvae develop, however, it will also lay its eggs on suitable man-made structures, like ships. First found in Europe in 1962 it appears its distribution has been expanding rapidly, especially since the 1980s. There are very few records on the NBN partly because of the difficulty of identifying it to species. There is a confusion species T. murrayi, and also a species from another genus. I made a few enquiries and today a specimen has been posted off to an expert, hopefully they will manage an ID. Or I might have to go and find, and collect some more. 

During the same expedition I photographed a Collembola from under stones on the beach. 

Orchesella villosa, or maybe not.

I thought I knew what this was, however, after posting online the national expert on these got back to me and asked for specimens. Apparently, there is a possibility of a new species, a split, for the seashore version of this springtail. I headed out today, managed to catch a couple, took new photographs and was about to bottle them up when I managed to drop the tube. As these things are just a few millimetres long I wasn't going to find them again, so I'll have to go back and catch some more.

Orchesella villosa, maybe, the lost specimen.

 It's not far from home, just about the nearest seashore, so no hardship to go back again. I try to avoid taking specimens so annoying to have lost what I had.

The cold has meant the pitfall traps have been quiet, and I've certainly not attempted any mothing. However, I have been twitching, a plant. This is not unprecedented, in my youth there was quite a fad for birders to twitch orchids and I did twitch the Lady's Slipper many, many years ago. This twitch was not quite at that level of rarity. Indeed, to put it in birding terms, it was like twitching a Greenshank. Anyway, the gen was received and off I went to Binscarth Woods.

Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage.

The paired leaves are not cordate, ID feature.

Within a few centimetres of the plants I was photographing I found a liverwort I didn't know and a small beetle which was unfamiliar.

Now these should be identifiable surely? But actually the liverwort is a bit tricky and I'm going to need to phone a friend... BH! I think I know what it is but...

The beetle is even more awkward. The answer I've come to would make it the second Scottish record in the NBN. And the other record is hundreds of miles south. But it seems to key out correctly, I'm currently obtaining assistance (thanks MF). If it does turn out to be a second Scottish record I expect I'll need to send it to someone.

Keteretes pusillus I think. Antennal segements 1 & 2 are an interesting shape and the claws don't have a basal hook. As the beast is 2.5mm long it can be appreciated that these details are somewhat challenging to see and evidence.

If it does turn out to be the Keteretes I'll be well chuffed.

I had to get the car checked for a slow puncture in Stromness. I lacked enthusiasm for searching for Danish Scurvy-grass, the only Orkney location, saved for another day, instead I went to Yesnaby. No sign of Chrysolina latecincta trundling around. So, I started turning stones over.

Ligia oceanica.

I don't recall ever seeing this species before. There were plenty of Common Rough Woodlouse, hundreds. But then I found a sheltering Chrysolina latecincta.

Chrysolina latecincta intermedia, sheltering from the cold.

Next, and most pleasingly I found this weevil.

Otiorhynchus arcticus.

This weevil has fewer than 50 Scottish records in the NBN. There are a few from our west coast, however. Not a common beastie.

Otiorhynchus arcticus.

I was well pleased to find this beastie, about the size of Chrysolina, so not a tiny weevil.

I might add the photos of the lichens etc to the end of this post later, running out of puff for now.