Monday 27 March 2023

The White Stuff.

 Too much, far too much snow. Stop it!

Garden yesterday.

Ok, it had all gone by lunchtime yesterday and this morning it's gone now. But there's not much point in putting moth or pheremone traps, or even colour traps out in this.

I shouldn't complain, I've been doing ok with the grass clumping. Plenty of new species and lots of interest, I spent most of yesterday identifying and photographing things. 

The technique is: find a suitable grass clump, I'm going for ones that will fit in a dog poo bag. Cut the clump off at the base with a sharp knife. Put in dog poo bag and tie, then put that bag in a second dog poo bag for added security, reduce escapes. Keep cool, so tie to the outside of rucksack and keep in the fridge or somewhere cold until you're ready to sort. When you're ready use a white tray or washing up bowl and have a pooter to hand and some tubes and a paint brush. Warm the clump up indoors in the bags. Then pull apart carefully in the washing up bowl. Poot up everything that moves. You can then put the remains of the clump over a garden sieve, over a bowl to extract what's left if you think there might be more.

I've encountered quite a few new species and made a few good discoveries so far. The now confirmed Ichneumon albiger is still probably the star find, but some other very nice beasts have turned up, including a new Carabid for me which is not an everyday event by any means.

Olisothopus rotundus.

This is not an uncommon species but it had previously eluded me. Found in a grass clump at Yesnaby along with three species of Stenus, two common enough but one surprising one which I need to get checked.

Stenus latifrons, I think but this needs checking.

There is a prior record of this species in Orkney, but this is a rare species in Scotland.

The most interesting beast found from this clump at Yesnaby was though this Chalcid parasitoid.

Callitula pyrrhogaster - thank you PV for confirming the ID. Very tiny at 2.2mm.

There's a paper that's linked to in the side panel about this genus, and includes a key to European species, part of the paper is in French only, the key is in English also though. C. pyrrhogaster is the only one of the five species that is not fully winged and the other four species have not been found in the UK. There are just eleven records on the NBN for this species and just one unconfirmed record for Scotland. However, this is probably a very widely distributed species across the UK. The hosts are Diptera associated with grasses.

In the garden from another grass clump I found a very, very tiny beetle, Stenichnus collaris.

Stenichnus collaris, 1.4mm.

Surprisingly, this species is a Staphylinidae, a member of the sub-family Scydmaenidae, which used to be a family in its own right.

On the bird front, Pied Wags are now just about daily, Mepits have arrived and Skylarks are sinking. A pair of Pintail have graced The Shunan a couple of times, and the Water Rail is still making occasional appearances on the trail cam. 


Saturday 18 March 2023

Ichneumon and other beasts.

I took a small clump of Cocksfoot Dactylis glomerata from the Wee Wood the other day. And then I took another one from by the Loch of Stenness when I went to Brodgar the day after. The clumps were cut off from the base and would just fit in a dog-poo bag. Once home I warmed them up and then started to pull them apart on a white tray. I've tried this before but I attempted much too large clumps of the grass and didn't get to the base of them, most probably, I wasn't too successful in the past anyway.

Conversely this was a very successful exercise. The clump from the Wee Wood produced Barynotus moerens, a couple of Tachyporus chrysomelinus, a Stenus that I haven't done yet, and quite a few Tachinus that look as if they represent at least two different species.

Barynotus moerens, a not uncommon, large weevil. Reidentification, thanks to Mark Gurney, I need to check all of these against the guides - Otiorhynchus singularis, most likely.

Tachyporus chrysomelinus.

The Tachyporus is a slightly tricky ID from T. dispar but they can be split, I believe, on the number of setae on the apical border of each elytra. Mine had four setae, rather than three, so T. chrysomelinus is apparently what they are. The habo fits better for that species as well.

I'm looking forward to tackling the Stenus from that sample, I enjoy doing those. There were of course a pile of Aleocharines and various very tiny 1mm beetles, I'm not so looking forward to all of those.

The sample from near Loch of Stenness held a bit more variety, Aleocharines, tiny wee things, but also a carabid, Calathus melanocephalus, another different Stenus - fuliginosus, a tank-like 2mm Micropeplus fulvus and star of the show an Ichneumon.

I had a look at Bioimages and reckoned the Ichneumon was indeed an Ichneumon sp and perhaps albiger. But these are very tricky, I posted a few quick snaps and KL suggested I needed to eliminate gracilentus. I was pretty pleased I'd got the correct genus, let alone that close. But this is a very tricky split. In its favour as albiger, small size, 8.6mm and extracted from a grass tuft. Against, NBN distribution (maybe) and perhaps a little lemony tint to the scutellum. I tried Hilpert's key but it is hard. I posted some more images and KL helped some more. I then went back to Bioimages, examined both species again and looked very critically at T2 and took some more photos. In the end I think it is Ichneumon albiger but it probably needs the specimen examining to be 100%.

Rather a lot of images follow:

Live, female.


Thorax dorsally.

White spots on T6 and T7.

Hind coxa dorsally.

Thorax, T1 and T2 laterally.

Are there any striations between the gastrocoeli at the base of T2?

Looking carefully on Bioimages and comparing with microscope views of the two species I think this is Ichneumon albiger, female, with no striations. In case of either species this will be new for Orkney. (Confirmed from specimen as Ichneumon albiger, many thanks AC).

Much easier from that clump of grass were these:

Stenus fulvicornis.

Calathus melanocephalus.

Micropelpus fulvus, staphylinoides (thanks for help CW, got there in the end!) all of 2mm long. (Note, important with these to check laterally to see if there is a tooth near the dorsal apex of the abdomen.)

Not a very good image but you can see the obvious tooth making this M. staphylinoides, fuscus has no tooth.

Having a moment, I've forgotten what this plant is, likes car parks, and it is very wee. Keyed it out, Common Whitlowgrass Erophila verna.

Drake Scaup and duck Ring-necked Duck from just off the sheep pens at Brodgar. Now, those will be interesting hybrids! The reason I headed out to Brodgar in the first place.

Thursday 16 March 2023

Water Rail.

I set the camera trap hoping for some Otter footage, what I got was quite a surprise, a few videos of Water Rail. 

Previously I had seven patch records of Water Rail, now I have nine.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Gull watching, sheep feeding.

The snow returned overnight after a thaw yesterday. I think this is its last gasp. 

Some serious gull watching is now available from the warmth of the kitchen, or at least it is whenever the sheep are fed. I'm speculating: Ice and Glauc should surely arrive, indeed overdue; I've never had Med Gull on the patch that would be nice; what about something more exotic? My all time, several dips, most wanted gull is Franklin's. Laughing is a tad more likely and would also be a found tick but I'd be cock-a-hoop with almost any new gull to be honest.

So far just Black-headed, Common, Greater Black-backed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Adult Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls.

Lesser Black-backed Gull adult.

2cy Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Also enjoying the extra food along with the sheep and the gulls are various corvids, the Skylark flock, now 18, Redwings and Blackbirds.



The Otter was active overnight down our track.

Otter tracks in the snow.

This morning the Ravens were very agitated when I went round the back. I would think there is a nest but I can't see it.

Agitated Raven.

First Pied Wag or the year today, a surprise in this weather. The Lesser Redpoll and the rest of the gang are still around the feeders. A Song Thrush performed nicely on the back grass.

Song Thrush.

An outing to the crow roost yesterday afternoon produced four Hen Harriers, a Merlin, a Water Rail, a small flock of Fieldfares, rather a lot of gulls, a Snipe and a Woodcock. Possibly the Rough-legged Buzzard was there, glimpsed distantly, and 125 Hoodies (crows anyway) flew to roost but I couldn't find the pre-roost gathering, not in the usual spots anyway.

 A bit of an examination of the Rose in the conservatory found that I have managed to deal with the aphids but that the Red Spider Mite has survived the cold, indeed they are actively reproducing with eggs and some early instars. I used to work on the biological control of these, many years ago, we used the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis on cucumber and tomato crops, but we also used it on plastic tunnel grown strawberries which was innovative at the time. I have tried introducing them onto the rose in the past but the temperatures here get too cold for them, too much variation, even in summer.

Tetranychus urticae.

Sunday 12 March 2023

Reverse, backward.

 A pile of snow, cold and more cold, and more snow. Winter's back.

... but it does look rather lovely.

Got back last night from another London visit, more painting and decorating and helping elder daughter with her flat. I didn't take a "real" camera, just the TG4 so I failed to photograph the Fox that just kept doing its thing a few metres from us one afternoon, or the piles of Ring-necked Parakeets. I did find a Harlequin Ladybird in the flat though.

Harlequin Ladybird.

Got home via Dundee, a visit to younger daughter to say a rather brief hello. From the boat there seemed to be a bit of a northward movement of Razorbills with a 100 or so seen in flocks scurrying northwards. Nothing else of note in my hour watch to dusk as we left Aberdeen.

At home the next day, and out in the field. I tried to sneak up on this Hen Harrier, but she was off anyway, another distant shot.

Ringtail, Hen Harrier.

And nearby there was this crow. Given the chance I will usually photograph a Hoodie, and sometimes that results in a bit of a surprise. This bird looked very much like a pure Hoodie but it is actually a hybrid crow, you can see black feathers in the undertail coverts and streaking on the lower breast that is rather too strong.

Hybrid Carrion x Hooded Crow, it could also be a back cross to Hoodie of course.

The great majority of crows here are pure(ish) Hoodies. There's a small resident population of hybrids and perhaps one or two pure Carrion. In the spring there is a sizeable movement of crows northwards, it is well documented but hard to explain, other than some sort of dispersal movement after the winter. On North Ronaldsay it can be very obvious but even here in the West Mainland it can be observed. Suddenly, there will be more crows and in amongst them will be a few hybrids and one or two Carrion Crows. I'm reminded that a trip to the crow roost in Durkadale should be undertaken shortly.

Shortly before the crow and harrier moments I had a dramatic Otter encounter. Hanging around the end of the Hawthorn hedge counting The Shunan I was standing on the "bridge" over the tiny burn that runs alongside out track. The bridge is just a big pipe filled over the top to allow access by tractor to the fields. Suddenly, there was a large amount of splashing below me and looking down there was a huge dog Otter in panic mode heading for the cover of the pipe. Clearly he'd been heading down the burn and I'd not noticed him and he'd not noticed me until he was nearly upon me. There have been Otter tracks regularly on the track recently, before the snow and subsequently, I must sort out the camera trap and see if I can get some video.

Otter trail, out of the burn, up the track and off towards The Shunan.

This turned into a fairly eventful outing as Louise joined me shortly after these encounters and we headed over the fields and to the eastern boundary of the patch to inspect the Alder and check what had happened to the frog spawn. Heading back I noticed four geese on their way towards us and as they approached I realised two were quite small, much smaller than the other two. Bins first, not camera, the smaller ones were dark below with obvious black streaks and blobs on their bellies, wow! A patch tick, White-fronted Goose. Despite the Greenland sub-species regularly wintering about 15 minutes drive away never previously recorded here. They might have been two of those, but I suspect more likely, that they were the two "Russian" White-fronts reported from not so distant Loch of Boardhouse on Thursday.

White-fronted Geese, 2, with Greylags, 2. White-fronts are the top two. Possibly "Russian" sub-species albifrons.

The other new species for the year was Lesser Redpoll which was on the feeders and Louise reported had been present at least the day before my return.

Lesser Redpoll.

Numbers of Greenfinch continue to be low compared to the regular 50 or so we used to count at the feeders. Currently around 6 at a time are the maximum.

Greenfinch, male.

The farm have some sheep in the stubble and have been feeding them grain (I presume), the gulls like this very much and this has led to at least 35 Lesser Black-backs hanging around The Shunan and the fields plus about 40 Herring Gulls and good numbers of Common and Black headed Gulls. The sheep are fed from the quad bike which drops grain off down the field in a line.

Sheep and gulls.

Skylarks joining in, there were 15.