Sunday 29 January 2023


A lovely calm and sunny day on Thursday so I got the bike out and had a good tour around the patch. Main targets were Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser but as so often happens in birding the target species were elusive. However, many ducks showed well and I had a good sort through various flocks of Tufted, Teal and Wigeon hoping for the usual suspects. I didn't find those, but a pair of Gadwall were welcome. Pied Wags can be quite tricky to see here in winter, but one was on the filter beds of the waterworks at Howaback, good start. However, the attentions of a Hen Harrier and then a Grey Heron meant that the regular Moorhens (this is a green list and I'd seen them but when using the car) were hiding. I ended up at the south-easterly extremity of the patch sorting through a large flock of Wigeon to no avail, however, there were five Redshank in amongst the Curlew and Lapwings. Then scanning further out on Loch of Harray there were three unexpected Red-throated Divers and finally a distant drake Red-breasted Merganser.


The calm evening made a visit to the harrier and crow roost a plan. I used the car for this trip as I had other jobs enroute. The roost is difficult as looking west into moorland isn't ideal for seeing harriers coming to roost. I managed three Hen Harriers, including an adult male, there were two Shorties, and the usual Water Rail was heard. Rather good was a calling Red Grouse, not an easy bird to get. During this roost watch crows were heading south at regular intervals and I eventually sussed out where they were gathering. At the end of last year the crows were very elusive and hard to see because of the topography, however, on this occasion they sat out nicely. 256 was a really good count, unfortunately the light wasn't good enough to pick out Carrions or hybrids so all were counted as presumed Hoodies.

Friday was another calm day so another go for Moorhen and Slav Grebe was called for. On this occasion the Moorhens were undisturbed and a single Slavonian Grebe showed distantly off the waterworks.

A mooch about for some insects on Friday produced a couple of beasts under a favourite stone in the birdcrop field.

The tiny (1.9mm) Chrysomelid, a flea beetle, Longitarsus luridus, the dark form.

A mirid, at least I got that right, but help was required to get to Stenodema holsata, a common beast elsewhere in the UK but I've only found it once before here, although I might have ignored it to be honest. In summer they are more green.

I've been collecting samples for some tardigrade research in Poland. I've never seen a tardigrade, it should be possible with my microscope but I need to find out how to extract them from the mosses and lichens they tend to live in. In one of my lichen samples there were plenty of heteroptera, more identification challenges coming up.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Toilet trouble.

We went south for a few days and stayed cheaply in a very nice hotel; there are bargains to be had at this time of year in the north of Scotland. We'd been a bit skinflint and not upgraded the room which you can do for rather little money, bit of a mistake. Anyway, in the morning the toilet broke quite spectacularly with large amounts of water leaking, and me, behind a locked door, trying to prevent a major flood. Fortunately I managed to open the door and Louise helped to stem the flow whilst I called reception who helpfully arrived promptly with a table knife, which was used to turn the water off. We subsequently got upgraded to a very, very nice room for no charge. And it was a bit of a tale to tell.

The hotel was housing quite a number of Eastern European refugees, from Ukraine and Hungary.  Whilst they were being put up comfortably their situation was pretty fraught. Some had a bit of work in the hotel, all were polite and friendly. You have to feel for their circumstances. On Monday morning at breakfast we watched as a mum took her child out for the school bus; that will be tough, for the child, mum and school (which doubtless will have no staff trained to teach children who have limited English language skills).

South there were birds I rarely or never see here, like Red Kite, Tree Creeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Blue, Long-tailed and Great Tits.

Before I went away I had a bit of a look around on the West Mainland for things like the Greenland Whitefronts at The Loons, there were 65 and various other bits and bats. I had a good tramp around the 3km patch down to Loch of Harray, and failed to find either Red-breasted Merganser or Slavonian Grebe which was a tad disappointing. As far as Patchwork Challenge goes the 10km from home list stands at 70 species for 83 points (not green) and the 3km patch (green) is at 52 species for 58 points, with Woodcock added today.

Greenland White-fronted Geese.

The day of a big tramp around the patch.

Wednesday 18 January 2023


Friday evening I wandered outside with the dog and noticed the sky was very bright in the north. Alerted Louise and then faffed around sorting out a camera before venturing out. Usually the "merry dancers" as they are termed here are a bit of a disappointment but this time there was colour and movement visible to the naked eye. The new cable release came in handy and the pix are ok. However, I did learn that the sensor on that camera is mucky, hence various blue and red spots on the images. I'm guessing this is because I quite often change the lens on this camera body, whilst the other body has the 75-300mm lens attached pretty much permanently. The cleaning kit arrived today, I've just got to decide which is the most dust free room in the house.

All these images were taken just beside and behind the house. The camera exagerates the colours anyway but I've enhanced everything a wee bit with a tweak or two in PhotoscapeX. The second image here was on a long exposure, thus the stars appearing as lines.

And here are the last few beetles from my beetle outings. I really must get all of these organised in my Flickr collections.

An aleocharine I think. It was pretty small, around 3mm, but has fairly distinctive depressions in the pronotum, I ought to post it on FB as someone might recognise it.

Anotylus rugosus.

This is a common beast and pretty distinctive, a small thing though, 4mm.

Also at Marwick, on the beach, was this. I knew this was Omaliinae and I should have gone straight to Omalium with those obvious depressions in the pronotum but I went through the key instead and that took me straight down a rabbit hole. I did eventually come to my senses, I'd a memory of this genus and even this species from the last spring. The trouble with keys, they don't always use the most obvious characters first, annoying.

Omalium laeviusculum, a common seashore species.

Monday 16 January 2023


Louise is getting slightly concerned at my interest in penises, beetle penises mind, generally referred to as the aedegus. There are going to be a few penis photos in this post, so warning proffered, no need to read on if that's not your bag.

I decided that rather than go through the tubes in the fridge in search of beetles I should venture out for some looking under stones. A wander around the patch, turning stones and a first live beetle, a Stenus sp. These are strange, bug-eyed little staphylinidae that look a little like small stoneflies at first glance. I'm always pleased to find these as they are generally ok to ID. I managed to do this one without killing it with some studio pix that showed all the features needed.

Stenus clavicornis.

It turned out to be one I've seen before, released, always nice to do but not possible most often if you want an identification.

At the top of the birdcrop field I turned over a stone that has been particularly productive in the past. A rather dozy Cychrus caraboides was a good find. There were two Bembidion tetracolum as well.

Bembidion tetracolum, it stayed nice and still for photos and could be released.

The Bembidion is very common here, the Cychrus, less so, I tend to see 1 - 3 a year. They a snail hunter.

Cychrus caraboides, evolved to hunt snails.

That little expedition wet the appetite for something better. So the next day I was down at Marwick. The area behind the seawall and around the burn has been productive in the past.

Sure enough, a bit of searching through flood litter and under nearby stones along the burn yielded some beetles. Having set off incorrectly down the Philonthus path and wondering why the beast would not key out, a clue there, wrong genus, I realised I should be looking at Quedius, and soon ended up in the Quedius s.s. rabbit hole; a difficult subgenus. With improved photographic techniques (see previous post) and the new key (thanks AKH), and a bit more experience I was determined. The end result was that these two were identified as male Quedius curtipennis, finally proving this species for the county, indeed there are few records in Scotland. And thus the penises; as the only way to be certain of this species is to compare photos of aedeagi.

On this view this is still a tricky ID as the differences are subtle.

The lateral view is what is required. Quedius curtipennis.

Here's the aedegus of Quedius fuliginosus, with thanks to Aslak Kappel Hansen for the image for comparison.

Quedius fuliginosus, aedegus (photo Aslak Kappel Hansen).

Oh yes, the whole beetle...

Quedius by the dorsal series of punctures, three pairs, in the proximal half of the pronotum only, parallel sided abdomen, eyes take up half or more (two thirds in this case) of the side of the head.

Between the coxae of the middle legs there is a tiny keel on the metasternum, indicative of Quedius curtipennis.

Quedius curtipennis, two live images, the animal is about 12mm long.

Many thanks to AKH for pre-publication elements of his key, the photo of Q. fuliginosus aedegus and taking the time to look at my photos and confirm the identification.

But these were not the only beasts I found. A couple of Loricera pilicornis represented the carabid clan. Easy to identify and released.

Loricera pilicornis, long hairs on the antennae and obvious large setiferous punctures on the elytra. (Not a good photo.)

More staphylinids were found. More aedegus examination required.

Keying these to Lathrobium brunnipes was relatively easy, except for the final couplet (Lott and Anderson). Proving it was L. brunnipes and not one of the other similar species was a whole lot more challenging. Although to my eye, looking at photos, it looked reasonably distinctive. I dissected the first animal which unfortunately turned out to be a female, therefore no penis. Theoretically these can be IDed on the female final tergites but I couldn't see the features illustrated. I opened the elytra to reveal the animal was brachypterous, (small or no wings) unfortunately not 100% proof.

Lathrobium brunnipes, female.

At this point I gave up for the evening. However, a bit of correspondence and encouragement from CW and I gave it a further go with the other animal.

I photographed the animal again. I'd thought it was another female but closer examination indicated it might be a male, so I tried another dissection.

Lathrobium brunnipes, aedegus lateral view.

Lathrobium brunnipes ventral view of aedegus.

Success, and identification proven, and a species NFM, so all round success, it only took a few hours...

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Another moth, some beetles and other stuff.

I'm supposed to be sorting out the 2022 beetle list but I was keen to have a go at some of the photographic techniques I've recently picked up from the web, mostly the Beetles FB group, so I had a delve in the fridge and found some specimens from 2021 that I'd not tackled. This proved to be a very worthwhile exercise, finally proving Philonthus concinnus, which I've strongly suspected previously but only had a female specimen to work on, until this one. This species is new for Orkney and really very uncommon in Scotland, with a confirmed record from the Western Isles and then a few unconfirmed from the Borders. Many thanks to HS for taking the time to look at this and confirm my ID.

Philonthus concinnus, male. 26/05/2021, Hyval.

Aedegus of the above and essential for id.

The other beetle I managed to identify was another Staphylinidae, Lesteva longoelytrata. A new genus for me. I've kind of mostly given up with the key approach to get to genus, unless I really have to (I did with the Philonthus though, just to be certain.) Go straight to Beetles UK or UK Beetle Recording websites and look at the high quality images. With this species I knew it was Staphylinidae and suspected Omaliinae because of the ocelli on top of the head. It was then pretty easy to find the genus on Beetles UK. Getting to species was not so easy and required measuring and comparing the pronotum and the elytra, I used the Mike Hackston key. Anyway, I'm reasonably confident I've come to the correct conclusion, Lesteva longoelytrata.

Lesteva longoelytrata, 26/05/2021, Hyval.

The photographic technique involves surrounding the specimen with a cylinder of baking parchment, this softens the light. I tried using both the LED bendy paired lights and the spare circular LED I have. I think the latter works best. 

Set up, just need to lower the camera.

Cylinder around the specimen.

Missing is the cable release which is non-functional currently, I'm not sure why. I've ordered a new (cheap) one, hopefully that will work. However, there is so much light that it's barely necessary. The image of the aedegus was taken down the microscope though, holding the camera to the eyepiece. This works best with the EM5 and 30mm (60mm really) macro but is ok with the TG4, see image below. Again, there's a lot of light, from a similar LED ring but it's just a fiddle getting everything lined up. The TG4 works best on A not on super-macro.

Aedegus, TG4 image, camera held to eyepiece.

Thanks to MF, WJH and others via Beetles of Britain FB Group, for their posts and comments on posts etc.

Birding the patch the other day I glanced casually and found some case bearers, so I took a single inflorescence. There were two cases in it, both quite different in size. Could the smaller one be Coleophora glaucicolella? I had the usual hassle extracting the larvae, and in the end didn't do it very well, however, well enough to find that both larvae were C. alticolella, just different in size. Second moth species of the year.

The larger of the two cases with the larva.

One of the features to prove Coleophora alticolella, see Moths UK website.

The Yellowhammer put in another appearance, and the light was a tad better.

Yellowhammer, 2cy male.

Today, I toodled out to have a look at an interesting Aythya duck on Loch of Harray. It wasn't the easiest to photograph as it was sensitive to any approach closer than the road, although it probably didn't help that the hound was with me. Trying to sneak around with a large, white, barky canine is unlikely to build quaker confidence.

Tufted Duck x a scaup species I think.

The duck has a green gloss to the head and is at least as large as a Tufted Duck, perhaps this points to a Greater Scaup hybrid?

Quite a few year ticks, and 10km Patchwork points with Meadow Pipits, Reed Bunting, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe, Pink-footed Goose, and best of all Ruff and Merlin. Also an inland Rock Pipit, although it was by the saline Loch of Stenness.

Rock Pipit, well inland at Brodgar.

And also in Loch of Stenness.....

Typical view of Otter.