Friday 28 April 2023


 It got very cold, two coats cold, snowing cold.

A few summer migrants braved it and Sand Martin, Swallow, Wheatear, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwit have all put in appearances, mostly brief and transitory. The Canada Goose stayed a couple of days and has been replaced by a Whooper Swan which is happily grazing with the Greylag hordes. Fair numbers of Pinkfeet have been dropping in daily. With the Pinkfeet was a problem goose, distant across the fields and there was a lot of haze so I couldn't get a sharp image. I think it was a Bean Goose, which would have been a patch tick but I was unsure due mostly to the poor visibility. It was intermediate in size between the Pinkfoot and Greylag, much browner than Greylag but lacking that darkened head and neck of Pinkfoot. The bill looked larger than Pinkfoot with obvious orange. No photo was possible due to distance and haze. In the end one to let go I think but I was quite close to claiming it.

Near the feeders, back garden. 

The Orkney Vole project has moved on a step with use of the Olympus TG4 remotely. Basically, I stuck it on a tripod, set it to fire every 7 seconds, set the delay at half an hour, and left the voles some food. 

Orkney Vole on a very frosty morning.

Far too chilly for mothing but on an expedition to Marwick from the Birsay side I took a couple of grass clump samples. Not a whole lot in them, but what was in there was very interesting. Best was a new Ichneumon for the county (and as I've just become Ichneumonoidea recorder, perhaps the least knowledgeable county recorder of their target taxa in the UK!) which I was very pleased with, especially as I was within a cat's whisker of identifying it correctly under my own resources. In the end AC and GO corrected me and confirmed the beast as Ichneumon stramentarius, but a good effort for a beginner I thought. 

Head and antennae, 30 segments I think.

Annoying thread on crucial bit, Ichneumon stramentarius, a female.

That little white dot on T4 is helpful.

The other was also a Parasitica but a Diapriidae. Fortunately the good people on the international Hymenopterists Forum FB Group came to the rescue, put me in the correct family and genus and then DN suggested a species pair. I went to the key and after a bit of a fight, not least because there is a mistake in the key (how do you get to couplet 7? At 5 it should be 6 or 7 not 6 or 9.) I decided on Spilomicrus annulicornis which DN subsequently and kindly confirmed.

Careful viewing of the antenna is key to identification.

Spilomicrus annulicornis, male, just under 5mm.

I found this in the sample because I pulled out two beetle pupal cases, perhaps of Quedius or Philonthus and it emerged from these where it had presumably been sheltering. Spilomicrus, unlike most Diapriidae are parasitoids of beetles and not flies.

Spilomicrus annulicornis and pupal cases.

I'm currently working on another hymenopteran, a sawfly. A combination approach of using the keys and looking at images has got me to Euura vaga, which would also be new to the county. I'm awaiting expert opinion on my rather flaky ID technique.

Putative Euura vaga.

Not too many beetles at the moment, but I did attempt this Atomaria which I think is Atomaria rubida, well it keys there ok. They are very small, 1.6mm, and tricky, but Mike Hackston's key should have done the trick.

Atomaria rubida.

An Otter was hunting eels again in The Shunan, I think a different one, a dog. It looked larger and the geese were frightened of it, unlike last time. I also came across these Otter tracks on Skaill Bay beach.

Otter tracks, see how its tail drags on the sand.

Saturday 22 April 2023

Orkney Vole 2 (and #patchgold).

So the BIG NEWS is Canada Goose on The Shunan yesterday. This is the first record for the 1km patch, although I have had a hybrid with a Greylag in the past. I have one prior record for the larger 3km patch, if I recall correctly, a small flock flew through.

Canada Goose.

Sadly it is a standard, large, plastic one (feral population) and not a more interesting small, trans-Atlantic, migrant one.

More work on Orkney Vole resulted in these stills (not the best) and a very nice video.

Orkney Vole.

The camera trap does not take very hi-res images. I'm wondering about trying the Olympus TG4 on this job and just setting it to take a load of images. The voles are being fed so they keep coming back to the spot. Alternatively I could lie out there with the EM5 (for hours).

However, I was pretty chuffed with this video...

Yesterday was a sad day as we had to have our old, and lovely pony put to sleep. Despite everything that we could do he was losing condition fast and it was just a matter of time before we had some awful crisis. We'd had him more than nine years and he was a family member.

Blue with younger daughter.

On a more cheery note a walk at The Links gave some nice photographic opportunities.



Thursday 20 April 2023

Orkney Vole.

I've been messing about with my camera trap. An ambition before leaving here was to get footage of Orkney Vole. Unfortunately, as good as it is, my camera trap, a Browning Recon Force (they seem to think crap military type names are good for sales :-( does not focus very close, not close enough to get decent footage of something as small as an Orkney Vole. However, help is at hand - European Journal of Wildlife Research (2021) 67: 12 - and Mammal News Spring 2021, have papers that suggest ways to overcome this problem. By coincidence first through work, and then via mothing I've either spoken to or corresponded with two of the authors who were most encouraging. And I've finally got around to adapting my camera and having a go.

I saw this lens on Amazon and thought it might work. PUSOKEI Wide Angle Universal Conversion Macro Lens 52mm 0.45X Optical glass lens (less than £20). There are various similar ones but by luck this one fits my camera so that the bottom edge rests on a ledge putting the lens centre in line with the camera lens (the key figure being the 52mm diameter for this camera model). I taped it on.

The first efforts were out of focus, and no vole. But the lens had slipped off the plastic ledge, so it was not centred, and I found that if I undid the two parts of the lens a little that got the sharpness.

Next problem, the camera fires a lot when it's windy. Being near the ground and near grass this is pretty much impossible to prevent. I ended up with a lot of video. So going through the output takes time. In the papers they put the camera in a box to avoid this issue but I wanted to get natural looking video. I need to think about ways to at least reduce this, perhaps some baffles.

I spent a long time choosing a site, even though our "garden" 0.5 acres of rough grassland is full of Orkney Vole "roads" it was very difficult to position the camera. However, I eventually found what I thought was a suitable spot. Camera in position, I baited with a little bird food and apple.

I was a bit dubious about the wee solar panel but with batteries at £17 + for ten, and the camera takes eight, I needed to do something. (Rechargeable batteries are not recommended with this model of camera.) It seems to work pretty well.

Followed two days of lots of pictures of grass, a video of a Rabbit too close to the camera and another very brief view of a Starling's back before it flew off. 

However day three worked out a bit better. Yes, the camera could be aimed a little better and I think I can adjust the focus by unscrewing the lenses to get little closer but...


I am dead chuffed with this. Be patient, the star of the show arrives after nearly half a minute.

There were ten or so clips with Orkney Vole. Some were a bit brief, the vole gets to the edge of its run, makes a mad dash for a piece of apple and disappears. But once the apple had all been taken then the vole(s) started showing a bit better.

Today I've repositioned the camera a tad. Next adjustment will be to try to get the focus even closer. But even if neither of those things result in better footage, mission accomplished!

The other stuff today was a site meeting re Species on the Edge, especially Chrysolina latecincta. A sunny two hours spent looking at beetles and talking at Yesnaby. Not many jobs to do in consequence, but I'd better remember to do what I said I'd do....

First Swallow today and three Blackwits on The Shunan again.




It won't last, but while it does trips to Yesnaby to check out the Chrysolina and try to figure out more about its biology.

In this image the differences between males and females are quite clear, males are significantly smaller and the red on the elytra is distinctly brighter. I'm not sure that the size difference is generally as marked as in this pair.

Chrysolina latecincta (intermedia).

From today's outing and discussions on site (thanks NH) a few ideas to note. Generally the beetles are found in discreet groups. I was finding them on Thrift patches and short turf, NH was finding them more on open stoney ground. Are Plantago maritima and Plantago coronopus really the food plants? Where has that information come from? The short sward near the rough ground certainly contains plenty of Plantago coronopus but I'm not finding P. maritima nearby (this might be because my botanical skills are limited). Would proper biological survey methodology and statistical analysis help answer questions about behaviour and food plants?

I'm back there tomorrow morning, I rarely visit in the morning so that might be interesting.

This young? Otter Lutra lutra was hunting small eels Anguilla anguilla, it can be seen in the photo below eating one.

Not the best photo but it proves the point. The Otter was hunting for at least 40 minutes. It then left and went out of the water the same way as we had observed on the previous day. Younger daughter had observed gulls behaving oddly from the breakfast table the previous day, Otter from the kitchen, not bad!

I managed to see two Black-tailed Godwits from the garden today, gets that species on to the green year list for the patch, the one earlier was seen only from the car. In the end there were three Blackwits. A pair of Wheatear were present yesterday, Whimbrel flew over the day before. But the male Brambling is still present.

Various species are establishing territory, there are probably two pairs of Song Thrush.

Song Thrush.

Out on the coast I was especially pleased with this image of Rockit amongst the Scurvy Grass.

Rock Pipit.

 Earlier on the same walk at least ten Sand Martins were already busy at their nest holes. 

We went to an interesting talk tonight, before heading out to The Loons and the coast to see the dusk glow. This was an SOC online talk by Mark Lewis. I think this will be made available via a recording shortly. I'm happy to supply the URL if anyone is interested, it was about scarce birds in Scotland and some of the reasons why some are becoming more scarce and others less so; fascinating stuff.

The moth trap has had a couple of runs out, best so far have been Red Swordgrass and Red Chestnut. Common Quakers have been coming to the LEEK lure but best of all was a NFM Philedonides lunana that came to the FUN lure.

Philedonides lunana.

Red Chestnut.

Red Swordgrass.

It was too dim to take photos at The Loons this evening, but The Brough of Birsay looked good.

Thursday 13 April 2023


There are various reports of Sand Martins and even a Swallow in the last week, but none on the patch as yet. I saw my first Wheatear on 05/04/2023, on the Brough of Birsay. A couple more Wheatears today, at Marwick, by the Choin.

A fresh Wheatear male is a fabulous thing.

The hirundines are quite early for Orkney I think, I need to check, the Wheatear about "on time" but seeing my first hoverfly of the year on Tuesday was a bit of a surprise. It turned out to be Syrphus torvus which is not that common here, and more something I find in the autumn.

Syrphus are a tricky ID but male S. torvus have hairy eyes, you have to look carefully!

Syrphus torvus.

The hoverfly was found on Burray, in the famous Westshore garden, a place with a formidable species list. The willows also contained Bombus terrestris, Bombus lucorum s.l. and a queen wasp which I photographed but wasn't 100% on its ID. A bit of a peruse of eakringbirds website and I decided on Vespula vulgaris rather than the very similar V.germanica.

Vespula vulgaris, queen.

That's pretty early for a social wasp here.

Prior to looking in the willows BH and I had headed down to the bottom of the garden, which leads down to the sea over some tussocky grass; perfect! The first tussock was the best one. A pile of weevils tumbled out. Also in there was something I had never seen before, a pseudo-scorpion. Pseudo-scorpions are arachnids, but they are not scorpions. They do have venom, but in the claws, and they are really very small, 3mm or so. 

Neobisium carcinoides (probably, awaiting key to arrive in the post).

It looks a bit weird here as a collembola is riding around on its head, pseudscorpion version of a take-away.

Anyway, back to those weevils. There was a red one, I'd not seen a red one before but knew that should be fairly easy to ID. It was a larger one and initial photos showed it to be an apion.

Apion frumentarium, note the fungi growing out of the rear of the elytra.

There are a very few prior records, at 4.1mm the ID was fairly straightforward, the actual feature are the pits on its cheeks, behind the eyes.

I hadn't been that interested in the black weevils, but when I got home I took a close look at them and realised that they were not familiar. Weevils are hard to ID, I find, even with the help of Mark Gurney's excellent online guides. Eventually I was convinced that these were Otiorhynchus desertus which is a nationally scarce (B) species, and new for the county.

Otiorhynchus desertus, note the "double tooth" on the front femur.

Searching through the collected specimens at home produced some further treasures. I had no idea what this was...

An ensign scale bug, probably Arctorthezia cataphracta (many thanks to the folk on Pan-listing who helped with this, particularly RC and MT. A special thank you to DC who had the key and was kind enough to send it to me, I haven't fully worked through it yet but I think this ID is correct).

Also in there were piles of Tachyporus nitidulus (NFM) and a few of the now familiar Tachyporus chrysomelinus. A Stenus clavicornis was surprisingly the only Stenus we found. I think I've found Corticaria umbilicata before, there were three.

Corticaria umbilicata.

But a smart Staphy was NFM and a county first.

Metopsia clypeata, nice.

There are still a couple of things to sort out, but all in all a very successful outing. Half a day in the field though led to more than a day of microscope and camera work to get everything identified and photographed.

Today I had the day away from the microscope. I had promised one of the museum staff at Stromness my specimen of Australian Spider Beetle, Ptinus tectus, it's a well known problem in museums munching through the displays and archives. The specimen was wanted for training purposes, good to put it to some use. An interesting chat about all sorts of natural history related museum and recording issues was had, although I'm afraid I rather prolonged everyone's day as they were trying to set up a new exhibit. Anyway, I took one beetle and came away with another and two diptera to identify; help will certainly be required with the diptera. I don't visit our museums enough, they are small but full of interest. If you are in Orkney well worth a visit.

I photographed this Bombus terrestris earlier in the week on our new willows. A few years back this species was a real scarcity across the county. The other day there were at least three in our garden and over in Burray I saw one or two as well. All in all these changes are occurring fast, not a good thing I venture.

Bombus terrestris, a queen, (and passengers).