Wednesday 26 July 2023

Some moth business.

As I mentioned last post I've been re-reading and perusing Ian Lorimer's two small books. Ian was the Orkney County Moth Recorder before his death. At that point Sydney Gauld, who by all accounts began his own moth journey due to Ian, became the recorder. Sydney moved away from Orkney in the last year and unsurprisingly recently resigned as the CMR (actually the CLR as he did the butterflies as well).  There's no obvious successor to the crown, and so it will be Moth Team Orkney. A group of local moth enthusiasts have been corralled to support Helen Aiton, the new Orkney Lepidoptera Recorder. Orkney moth and butterfly records should now be sent to - please request a recording sheet, it makes the data management a bit easier. Butterfly Conservation were very supportive of a moth team, rather than one individual taking on the whole responsibility, that seems not only sensible, but entirely practical as even in a small county the job is quite a bit of work.

I've been having a bit more of a go at dissections. It is the only way I'm going to see a Lesser Common Rustic, Mesapamea didyma, but also it's much more satisfying to identify things under my own steam. So far I've confirmed a couple or three Mesapamea secalis (Common Rustic) and I managed to successfully dissect a male and a female Cnephasia, rather small micros. The male turned out to be the expected Cnephasia asseclana but the female might just be, C. stephensiana, might be.

Mesapamea secalis

I had hopes for this one, quite small, dark, with well marked stigmata. And at first I thought it might be ok, the clavi didn't seem very sclerotised, however the vesica was still hidden in the aedegus.

Clavi are the pair of bits either side of that open V at the front.

Aedegus, but the vesica is not everted, so the shape can't be seen.

This afternoon I dissected the vesica out of the aedegus.

Unfortunately this is exactly right for Mesapamea secalis, back to the drawing board.

At least the dissection of the male Cnephasia asseclana proved that species beyond all doubt. Female criteria are apparently still a little unclear, it's a harder dissection as well.

Cnephasia sp.

Male bits with the long, drooped at the end sacculus.

Female dissection, the piece just above the signum looks as if it could be notched on the top edge, a bit inconclusive.

I could do with a better method for taking the pictures possibly. A dedicated camera for the third tube of the microscope would be best. At the moment I hold the EM5 with the 30mm lens to an eyepiece of the stereo microscope. I just don't know how much money to spend to get the results I want. I need some advice.

Today was a field day. I'd got an invitation for BH and I to visit Berstane, many thanks to the owner NC. We arrived in time to go through the two traps with NC. Follows the highlights.

Eudonia lacustrata.

Green Arches, NFM.

Light Arches, NFM.

Straw Dot, I might have seen once before in the county.

Yponomeuta rorrella

BH and I then went for a wander about. Further treats were in store.

Myathropa florea, NFM, not common in the county.

Scaeva selenitica, I'd seen my first only a few days previously.

Volucella pellucens.

There were plenty of the common species of hoverfly as well.

NC had told us to look on the Alder trees for a tiny micro moth Argyresthia goedartella. I was very keen to see this, and it took a bit of searching for, but when we did find them there were quite a few.

Argyresthia goedartella, a bit of a gem.

Various other things were found and collected, I even got a liverwort tick, thanks BH.

It's been while since my last report on birds on the patch. The Pintail still has her nine chicks, the Red-throated Diver chick is big, a good few Tufted Duck broods and a Shoveller with nine or ten quite small chicks. The Bosquoy Arctic Terns probably got their young off before the rain flooded the nest site. Hundreds of Jackdaws are coming in to the roost each evening, around 300+. So all in all quite positive, with Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Wrens all proven to breed in the garden and likely Dunnock, Greenfinch and Goldfinch here or nearby.

Tuesday 11 July 2023


I'd never tried yoga until yesterday. But, seeing as younger daughter is now a qualified instructor and at home, and finding that putting my socks on can be difficult, painful, or at least a bit of an effort, I gave it a try. I found out interesting things about myself, that my right arm is a lot less flexible than my left, for example. Younger daughter guarantees better flexibility and balance if I persevere, perhaps 30 minutes,  three times a week will be enough to achieve and maintain that. It would be very nice to be able to put my socks on with ease. And no, there isn't a photo and there won't be one either.

There are Arctic Terns with chicks at Skiba Geo, how long they survive is a question. Just 15 pairs, there used to be many more than that.

Arctic Tern and chick.

Very few Bonxies to bother them, an estimate of maybe 75% loss since pre-bird flu seems about right talking to other local birders and skua studyers. However, there are other predators, Great Black-backed Gulls and Hoodies to name but two.

This Hoodie and it's sibling were having a bathe not far from the tern colony.

Hoodie post bathe.

I've been looking at sawfly larvae a bit, as I keep bumping into them. As well as the millions of Rose Slugs (Endelomyia aethiops) attacking the roses on the front of our house, I've found a possible Cladius crassicornis in Rendall, and new for Orkney was Monsoma pulveratum in South Ronaldsay on Alder, and Dolerus aericeps at Stromness Reservoir, I think second county record - this last three adult females. Also, various unidentified adults of Dolerus and Tenthredo arcuata agg. They're attractive insects and despite its shortcomings (like needing the microscope to look at the illustrations of pinned specimens, they are tiny) the Sawflies of Europe book I received as a retirement present from work is proving very useful.

Endelomyia aethiops

Monsoma pulveratum

Cladius crassicornis

Endelomyia aethiops

The Dolerus aericeps were found during the Orkney Field Club bioblitz at Stromness Reservoir. I stayed near the parking area and did a bit of sweep netting and water trapping.

Saw sheath, the way the hairs are arranged nails the ID.

Dolerus aericeps

Dolerus sp (should have taken the specimen).

Tenthredo arcuata agg (not checked it though), in the garden.

Euura ferruginea, near Stromness Reservoir.

Thanks to JS for confirming IDs and identifying  the ones I couldn't do.

The Stromness bioblitz was fun and produced a few ticks, including Dolerus aericeps. So far I've a new weevil, with another to look at and a new mirid, which weirdly I found again the following day in the garden. I'm working on one Ichneumon, but have a couple of others to look at as well.

Micrelus ericae.

Leptopterna dolabrata.

And here it is in the garden.

Leptopterna dolabrata.

Key identification feature, antenna segment 2 is significantly longer than segments 3+4.

The ID process will take a while.

The other exciting event has been a notable migrant moth arrival. First thing was a posting of an identification question on the local FB Group, one of those spotty Yponomeuta's. I've been told that four of these are pretty much inseperable and only Cherry Ermine Y. evonymella is straightforward doable. A little research and asking questions online and it appears that Y. rorrella is also identifiable. I might make a brief page re this. Anyway, to cut to the chase there's been a large immigration event, 150 caught at Cley on 09/07/2023, six in Shetland, and a few scattered across Orkney, including ten in the garden here. This is a new species for Orkney. Many thanks to many folk for commenting on the pix I put online and giving their opinion, especially to NV.

Yponomeuta rorrella, Willow Ermine.

For various reasons, which I may write about shortly, I've been re-reading Ian Lorimer's The Lepidoptera of the Orkney Islands and the supplement published after Ian's death, Unfinished Business. With a much better understanding of the Lepidopteran fauna of the islands now, than when I first read the books, they have become a fascinating insight into the changes that have occurred since the original publications in 1983 and 1998.

Back cover of Unfinished Business.

Apparently, despite rather debilitating arthritis Ian "continued to work traps in his fairly large garden until the day of his death". (Eric W. Classey - Unfinished Business).

Sunday 2 July 2023

Hiding in the corner of the graveyard...

I made a visit to Kirkwall's St Magnus cathedral yesterday. I've been meaning to go there for a while to see if there was any wildlife of interest. Most graveyards in Orkney are mowed and "tidied" so greatly that there is no room for wildlife. Unlike the fabulously rich kirkyards to be found further south, where wildlife is allowed to flourish, there is an unenlightened, heavy management applied to pretty much every graveyard I've visited here. In Kirkwall there are quite a number of large Sycamores in the graveyard, and surprisingly a few graves that are covered in vegetation. I mooched about a bit. There were some Ichneumonoidea that proved elusive. I did manage to photograph this leaf mine on Snowberry, which might be the dipteran Aulagromyza cornigera (or it might be A. hendeliana, expert opinion suggests I have to rear to adult to find out).

Aulagromyza sp, at least, maybe A.cornigera.

 Apparentlly this can't be confirmed, except by rearing from the mine. There is a mine or two in the garden, I might give it a go.

Anyway, whilst in the graveyard I bumped into John Rae, or at least I found his grave. John Rae is a bit of an Orkney hero. Born in Clestrain House, we can see Clestrain Sound from our home, he was a doctor but with almost mythical survival powers out in the Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic, for a non-Inuit anyway. John Rae learned from the Inuit, spoke their language and it is said had much respect for their way of life and their skills of living in the inhospitable (to us) land. John Rae discovered the North-West Passage. In finding the remnants of the Franklin expedition, and finding evidence that the sailors had resorted to cannibalism Rae upset the English aristocracy. Charles Dickens wrote against Rae, supporting Franklin's widow, Lady Jane, in saying that British sailors would never resort to cannibalism and that the Inuit must have been responsible for such behaviour. An age old story of class and racism. In recent times Rae has been vindicated, his truth accepted, and a plaque placed in Westminster Abbey commemorating him and (I believe) his achievements. He's worth a google.


The grave of John Rae in the graveyard of Kirkwall cathedral.

Nearby, there's this shed.

When was this last used? What is inside? Why did someone stop using it?

Perhaps there are some bits of a John Rae boat and his snow shoes.... More likely a broken lawnmower. I'm always interested in when a person stopped using something and just left it - see Aground, on Flickr. I've begun a new photographic project, Broken, it's at an early stage, but this shed is a contender.

It has been the best year for Pintail breeding in Orkney since 2008 and a first breeding whilst I've lived here for The Shunan, the duck still has her nine chicks. She can be seen in the background of the photo below. There was a surprise arrival of Blackwits to The Shunan the other afternoon with at least 59 dropping in. This is not such good news really as I expect all of these were failed breeders from further north.

Black-tailed Godwits with Pintail and brood in the background.

Other good news with breeding birds is that the Whooper Swans I monitor have three chicks. 

Whooper Swans with their chicks.

I have another Whooper site I should check out as well, a job for later today maybe.

At this time of year Curlews sitting on posts is a good sign. 

Curlew bothered by Ephemeroptera, there were millions of them.

Another Curlew another fence strainer to use as a lookout.

Curlew are a rare breeding bird these days in places where they used to be common, not sure what's happening in my old stomping ground of West Yorkshire? However, their status here in Orkney is reasonably stable I believe, and there are plenty of them still.

Last post I asked for help accessing a couple of papers, I didn't really expect success as this blog has a small readership, but I should have thought more positively. Reader PM responded immediately with an email attaching the most useful of the two papers I'd requested (big thank you), next I must use the paper to try to identify to species the Alysia sp I'd been wrestling with. That effort has been delayed by my trying to tackle the ID of a large Ichneumon I found on the kitchen window a couple of weeks back. Using Broad I got it to Ichneumonini but then got stuck. However, the Ichneumon community on FB is always helpful and I enlisted help from AC who tagged GO who very kindly identified the beast as Hepiopelmus melanogaster. A quick look on NBN suggested this might be of considerable interest as the most northerly records were around Rotherham in South Yorkshire. The Broad checklist though suggests this species has occurred in Scotland. I'm currently investigating further. Bearing in mind this is a big animal at 15.4mm and a forewing of 11.5mm and it is pretty distinctive looking it might have been expected this was a more straightforward ID but GO suggested that with the Perkins key it would be a struggle to get to genus and he mentioned a couple of other similar species; not an easy one. The species is certainly new to Orkney.

Images of Hepiopelmus melanogaster. Some images using Zuiko 30mm macro directly and camera internal focus stacking, and some using that lens held to microscope eyepiece (no stacking, open aperture), all with Olympus EM-5 Mk11 body.

When PM sent me the Alysia paper he also mentioned a source of science papers, Sci-Hub which I'd not heard of previously. This website makes scientific papers freely available (perhaps not very legally!) but shouldn't this sort of knowledge be free? The site is currently located at: but it might not be there tomorrow I understand, a mobile site.