Monday 28 November 2022

Dip. Twitch. Find. (And very bad photographs.)

Info re Orcas yesterday morning. They seemed to be heading for Ness Point, Stromness. To cut a long story short, watching the watchers I realised that they were not still in view either from Ness Point or from Graemsay, or at least they weren't close in. I went to Warebeth which would have been fine a couple of hours or so later, but they went the other way into the Flow first. Anyway it seems no one got any good pictures, which was the intention and I had a seaside walk in lovely light.

No Orca, no picture.

Dentist this morning, not my favourite. Anyway, got home and after late lunch checked the What'sApp group. Grey Phal less than 15 minutes away by car, last seen 11:00. It was now nearly 2.45. On an accessible pool. It is many years since I've seen one on the deck, a few fly-bys from seawatches but not a nice swimming one. So another twitch, fortunately a more successful one. A bonus 2cy Iceland Gull flew off the pool as I arrived.

Grey Phalarope with Snipe.

Grey Phalarope with Wigeon.

By the time I'd had my fill of the phalarope it was time to head for the crow/harrier roost. I scooted off and got to the spot just about in time. The light was not the best with a bright sky in the west making the hill difficult to find detail, let alone a distant harrier. 

Five minutes and I heard a corvid type noise behind me, looked around and up, Rough-legged Buzzard being harrassed by a Hoodie. It was feet over my head, and the camera was still in the car. The buzzard headed off north-west, stopping to hover three times before disappearing. Excellent, a find that has always eluded me. I took some very rubbish photos.

Rough-legged Buzzard, a 1cy I think.

Rough-legged Buzzard, end of hover, showing tail bar.

Also present three Hen Harriers, a Short-eared Owl and a couple of Water Rails.

I'm currently extracting some leaf litter from under Wych Elm. I pretty much failed with Ivy litter the other day. So far two species of Collembola and three or maybe four beetle species. The beetles are very small, 1 - 3mm, they are going to be "fun" to ID.

One of the Collembola is I think Dicyrtomina saundersi.

Dicyrtomina saundersi, probably.

The larger of the beetles at around 3.5mm. I'm thinking this is probably a Catops.

Catops sp maybe - under the microscope tomorrow.

Near the roost site.

Friday 25 November 2022

Talk, Diver, Blackbirds, Crow stuff.

Tricky thing, giving a talk. I know I've made a pig's ear of it sometimes. I'm best when I just chat to folk and don't over-prepare. I'm never really sure whether what I do is much good, but I get asked back so it must be okish, I guess. I've been to three recently, all online. One was a stinker, indeed beyond bad, it wasn't even that thing when it's so bad it's funny. It wasn't funny, it was just grim, and embarrassing - so Resurgence a rethink required. We've paid for two more in the series, hopefully they'll be better, surely they can't be as bad. Supposedly about plants, actually about a load of tosh. The second one, was ok but lacked focus, it was rather like watching some holiday snaps of someone you don't know; for quite a long time. So it goes; as I said it's not an easy thing. However, the third was a gem. I don't usually go to Scottish Ornithologists' Club events, the ones I have been to the speakers have been top, so I don't know why really. Anyway we had to go to this one as Louise once worked with Tim Birkhead, as a student, and has a paper published with him. This is how to "do" a Zoom talk. It was managed as a conversation, so rather like a podcast (no pix or PowerPoint) and the other participant, whose name I don't recall, was very good at steering the conversation. This was really a book promotion for Tim's new book, Birds and Us, if the book is half as good as the talk well worth a few quid outlay I would suggest. I think the talk will be put online shortly, I'll post the URL if it is.

Any reader, might be aware that I'm partial to a tune or two and also blog about music. Click over to my Many Days blog. I came across the Moderat album MORE D4TA recently and have been playing it a bit. Some good stuff, although I don't like the male vocals much. The two best tracks have a diver song/call sequence Drum Roll and Neon Rats but I'm not sure of the species of diver. I think it's Great Northern (G. immer) but I may be wrong, could it be White-billed (G. adamsii)? If anyone can put me out of my misery comment is welcome, below. There's some excellent music using bird song and calls, Kate Bush (Woodpigeon, and others), Virginia Astley (Tawny Owl and others), Beta Band (many), Orb (Swifts), Dr Rubberfunk (Skylark), an idea for a new music blog series, maybe.

Album by Moderat.

 I've been counting Blackbirds. As I mentioned in an earlier post I've broken the number record for the  1km sq patch. 37 were counted the other week when there was an influx.

Blackbird by the Hawthorn Hedge.

It's now very hard to tell what's going on with Blackbirds here, except that there are a lot of them about. Today there were 36 on the patch, at least, plus another 13 or more just a few metres to the north of the boundary, 49 in total and there's one area inside the patch I didn't visit. I suspect that the birds that arrived the other week have recruited a few more migrants and are now wintering here, there's lots of food. They congregate in loose flocks of up to twenty in field corners, in the stubble, the sheep field by The Shunan, the field behind the gardens and the horse fields north, up by the gorse, where I'm thinking many roost.

Amongst them are Redwings, Fieldfares and the occasional Song Thrush. A Mistle Thrush or late Ring Ouzel would be nice. A Black-throated Thrush even nicer.

Meanwhile in crow world the Ravens are getting playful and the Hoodies have settled to eyeing up territories.

Raven playing with Common Buzzard.


Hoodie in the Hawthorn.

Thursday 17 November 2022

365 and Diachrysia dilemas.

I've arrived at the time to count up how many new species for me, lifers, NFM (new for me, moffers shorthand) that I've seen this year. A bit early to stop now you might say, there are still several weeks of the year left, but, actually I stopped a month or so back as I decided it was all too much like working, and anyway it had served it's purpose. I have found out what I like doing and what is a bit of a chore. The concept itself is a bit of a chore, indeed.

I guess I'll have a go at identifying most things but some are a bit frustrating to work on. As well as birds and mammals, it's moths and beetles that I really like and am most interested in. I think that's where next year's efforts are likely to be focused. I want to continue to improve my botanical skills, slowly but surely. I'm sure I'll continue to dabble at other things, and as I continue to be county hoverfly recorder I ought to make a bit more effort with them, although I have added one species to the county list this year.

Philonthus politus, male and his aedegus.

Of botany, quite a few things flowering at the moment, I found Ragged Robin and Marsh-marigold to be the most surprising.


Ragged Robin.

These were both at nearby Loch of Bosquoy in the wonderful hay meadows, well, wonderful until they changed hands after the 20 year scheme had ended and the new owner went in with the herbicide. So 20 years of public money and a very effective result thrown away for private profit (I'm not even going to mention the climate crisis in this regard, honest). There are remnants of their past glory, but I suspect if it shows too much the herbicide will be reapplied. I informed NatureScot at the time, and that was a waste of my time, nothing they can do even if they had the staff and resources. I don't actually blame the farmers, they're just doing their job, doing what they do, it's the system that's completely useless. Not fit for purpose. If the Scottish Government are going to finance schemes like this it needs to be forever, otherwise it's a waste of everyones' time and money.

Today was Blackbird day, they were everywhere in numbers. In the end I counted 37 on the 1km patch but that's surely an under-count as I think they were moving through. At one point there were 13 on the front grass. 37 is a record count with only 20th November 2011 coming close with 35 counted; lots of counts of 20 or so in the past but otherwise 27 was the third highest total. 161 Redwing and a likely Jack Snipe were the other highlights. There was a tagged Buzzard, I couldn't read the wing-tags as it did it's flappy thing past the kitchen window, the Long-tailed Duck is still enjoying her new home, and the 1cy Hen Harrier was hunting the Hawthron hedge and meadows again.

Blackbird (archive image, light was a bit rubbish today).

Very interesting paper in the latest Atropos about Fused (Cryptic) Burnished Brass and whether it is a good species and whether it occurs in the UK. It's probably not identifiable except using barcoding, but there are apparently subtle genitalia differences. If the gap between the brown colouration is more than 3mm, that's a good guide, apparently. It is suggested the species is also slightly smaller. Interestingly, I caught this one in the garden in June 2020.

Fused (Cryptic) Burnished Brass Diachrysia stenochrysis, maybe...

Diachrysia stenochrysis is an accepted species in Europe and Asia, however, apparently not so in the UK, although NBN lists 33 confirmed records, it would be interesting to know who verified these records and how? The paper has raised a bit of discussion on Twitter, at least. I guess this is an evolving story, just taking a while to evolve. In the meantime where do we send likely contenders? An interesting question raised on Twitter (despite its built in impediment to proper discussion and its completely mad thread structure) is that could individuals with the brown bar joined also possibly be D. stenochrysis? (I thought this was an excellent question.) Interestingly, the GBIF website does illustrate individuals which have a nearly or just joined brown bar as D. stenochrysis, again one wonders how these were determined. I think the Atropos paper does a good job of following up the question that SC raised in his 2012 book Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (a very handy book I find). I'm not sure who the taxonomic determiners are for moths. For birds in the UK it works like this -  (I think a branch of GBIF does this, GBIF Backbone Taxonomy.) I guess a consensus will eventually appear and be agreed, in the meantime I'll keep any of interest I catch, although to be of use for barcoding I believe the analysis needs to take place pretty sharpish. Anyone out there got some dosh and connections to the appropriate university department to sponsor and support a couple of PhDs?

I light trapped on Friday night and drew a blank but Saturday was better and produced an Angleshades and eight Mottled Umber.


Mottled Umber.

Mottled Umber.

Thursday 10 November 2022

Eddie Balfour's ghost.

Late on Tuesday afternoon we drove over the hill to Cottascarth RSPB, the reserve which has a building, more like a small house than a hide. The Eddie Balfour hide, to honour, Eddie, the man responsible for a forty three year study of Hen Harriers in Orkney.

We'd gone to count the roost at the reserve as it was a calm evening and a good opportunity to see a few raptors and whatever else might decide to fly by in the late afternoon light.

We'd been there a while and it had been all action with Common Buzzards and Hen Harriers scooting about and above the hillside when Louise, distracted, took a look back down the path we had tramped to get to the hide. "There's a birder coming along." 

But no one arrived. We continued to watch the raptorial show, but Louise was a tad concerned. I suggested that she might have glimpsed Eddie himself, he died in 1974, so perhaps she had glimpsed a sphectre? 

Eventually, we left the hide and headed back to the car park with Louise continuing to wonder what she had seen. I didn't admit that I was aware that birders often don't use the hide because it's design is such that it is not the best place to observe the moorland roost, it's better for a more panoramic view to sit outside in whatever shelter can be found. We tramped on and even quite close to our car no other vehicle was obvious, due to the lie of the land. Of course I made the most of this! Louise was somewhat relieved when a local birder's car eventually revealed itself.

I've been reading the above book, available still. I have to be honest though, aside from Eddie's own writings some of which are included, and Eric Meek's introduction it's not the best read. Eddie was the RSPB's first employee in Orkney, employed as their "Watcher" for £100 a year in 1953. At the time he was still driving school buses but when that work ended in 1956 the RSPB employed him further for £250 a year (the value of this today is just under £6,000 so Eddie must have had other work as well). I get the impression he was a bit of a law unto himself and managed his activities much as he saw fit. His work on Hen Harriers was ground breaking and he worked out much about their polygamous nesting behaviour, aging and importantly, their feeding strategies and prey. Eddie died in 1974, aged about 66. He'd had a day out with friends and researchers ringing Fulmar chicks on Gairsay, had dropped his ringing pliers and gone back in a rush to fetch them. On returning to Mainland, as everyone was getting into their vehicles, Eddie was chatting with one of his companions, he suddenly collapsed and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. 

Hen Harrier over our neighbour's house, this autumn it seems that this individual (I'm guessing) has hunted here quite frequently. At the moment the trees harbour Redwings and Blackbirds, a welcome snack for a hungry harrier.

The thrush movements here this autumn have been more of a trickle than a rush, a few hundred in a day being the maximum count I've made. 

The Long-tailed Duck remains on The Shunan and the injured Jackdaw that has been regular around the feeders is improving and can now fly over the house.

Drake Wigeon and Long-tailed Duck.


I'm slowly making progress with writing up my birding here. A slow job, but enjoyable. I'll put a link on the blog when I've written few more species.

Yesterday, the Kowas were back home. Viking Optical seem to have done a good job, and it's nice to have them back. Fortunately I still had a couple of pairs of Nikons to fall back on.

We had to have our last cat put down last week. Lots of birders don't like cats, and I have some issues with them myself, but living in the countryside they do help keep rats and mice out of the house. Ours rarely seemed to kill birds, but did kill quite a lot of Orkney Voles. However, the population of voles around the house and garden didn't appear to suffer, and we compensated by putting a larger part of the garden to suitable vole habitat. In recent years rabbit has been the main prey species and as we are inundated with the vegetable garden destroyers that seemed ok.

Our two cats came from North Yorkshire but had an Orkney connection as we got them from Giles and Mary Heron, our close neighbours there. Giles was Patrick Heron's twin brother, Patrick being one of the St Ives artists and there are two paintings of his in the permanent collection of the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, which Giles and Patrick's niece was involved in designing. Ok, that's a bit obtuse... Anyway, Flame was 16, his sister, Socks, was 15 when we had the same decision to make last year. They miaowed all the way here when I brought them up in the Fiesta in October 2009, with two goldfish and a hamster.


Saturday 5 November 2022


It's been a wee bit damp here, the fields are sodden, and the lochs larger than usual. The hound and I had a very damp walk down to Loch of Bosquoy today. It was beautiful earlier on and then we watched the cloud bank approach. The hound managed to kill a Brown Rat in the barley stubble (not really stubble as such as due to the rain they've never managed to collect the straw), she also got herself in a bit of a muddy, wet state.

At Bosquoy a Glaucous Gull flew through, new for that site. When I was home I scanned the loch from the garden, pot of tea and my lemon drizzle cake I made yesterday, and there was a Barnacle Goose, also new for that site I think. Also, from home I could see huge numbers of Aythya ducks on Loch of Harray, but I lacked the energy to drive down there to check them out, they were on the far side so it would have not necessarily been very easy anyway. The most notable feature of the excursion were the numbers of Snipe, I bet there were 300 - 400 although I put just 120 in Birdtrack.

There were small numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing all over the place today, Brambling and Chaffinch in the garden, and the Waxwings are getting closer, in Finstown today. Louise had what was likely a Jack Snipe as she drove up the track in the dark, late afternoon.

I've finally got around to trying to identify the weevil that was in my yellow tray on 24/10/2022, not easy. Hopefully, MG will put me out of my misery as I'm struggling with the beast.

Ceutorhynchus sp, possibly C. picitarsis but I'm not convinced. (Well, I should have been, as MG has confirmed as this species. I would have got nowhere near without MG's guides which are on the Beetle Recording site.)

The above is pretty exciting as it is new for Scotland I think.

I had success with a couple of Staphylinids I was asked to identify (by the CR, chuffed to be asked). A Philonthus politis, which I've found myself at least once and, more interestingly, a Quedius semiaeneus, which I think is new for the county.

Quedius semiaeneus, thanks to CW for confirming the ID.

On a trip to Kirkwall I did stop at the PDC, which I shamefully do not always check. The Hoodies were wonderfully cooperative.

Hooded Crow.

On the crow front we currently have a not very well Jackdaw in the garden. If they come to the feeders it's usually because they are dying but this adult appears to have wing strain, it can fly, not very well.


Hopefully he/she will recover soon enough, I'm not that hopeful unfortunately.

My other distraction has been looking for leaf mines etc. Following the Coleophora success an inspection of the Ash that hangs over our garden revealed a folded leaf and cats of Gracillaria syringella, I was much pleased.

Gracillaria syringella, folded leaf and cat. Thanks to BS for confirming.

Not much on the moth front from light trapping, Angleshades and a late Rosy Rustic. The last migrants were two Rush Veneer on 27/10/2022.

However, I did finally get around to identifying the tiny beetle that appeared to wander out of the trap and on to my notebook on 26/10/2022. It turned out to be Micrambe ulicis (vini) which is associated with Gorse. Hard to tell if it really came out of the trap or was just on my clothing. Anyway, a new species for me just the same.

Micrambe ulicis, thanks to DA and LL for commenting on ID.

I'm currently working on a few things, but particularly writing up the birds of this 1km sq, everything that I've recorded and the increases and decreases over the last thirteen years. I'll put a URL in the side panel when I've done a few more species, I'm just writing species randomly as take my fancy at the moment.

Looking back to Birsay from Northside earlier this week.

The Hoy hills from Loch of Bosquoy as the cloud crept in today.