Monday 29 April 2024

Final laps, maybe

This could be the penultimate post, not of the blog, I hasten to add, but of Literate Herring This Way being based in Orkney. Hopefully, we're twelve days from sailing south, permanently. The house is littered with packed and semi-packed boxes and things. Large and important things, like the piano, have been sold. Many trips to charity shops and the tip have been taken. My trailer will be the next to go.

Make me an offer.... Gone..... I'm sad to see it go.

Quite sad to let it go but I won't need it and it will take up parking space unnecessarily. It's a bit knackered, with a bit of the floor broken, but it's not let me down, only jumping off the hitch once, which was a tad scary.

The other week BH and I had another roam around his garden on Burray during which we found two or three species of beetle that were second records for the county, I got at least three lifers, two beetles and a bug. It took a while to sort everything out of course, the usual two hours in the field = ten hours in the "lab" (otherwise known as a kitchen). Many things were photographed so that the records could be proven. My personal highlights were Philonthus decorus, many thanks to AKH for his help with the identification, and Phaedon tumidulus, which BH had previously found just a few weeks earlier. Otiorhynchus porcatus, Cercyon littoralis, Atomaria nitidulus and Leiosoma deflexum were the other beetle species we found that are not ones I see too frequently.

Philonthus decorus, a female, so no genitalia images but a definite ID thanks to AKH.

Phaedon tumidulis

The rough grassland and inter-tidal zone at Westshore seems to be a particularly good place for beetles in Orkney. Quite a few local "rarities" have been found there.

We found quite a few more common things as well, a nice Phosphuga atrata, always welcome; Small Tortoiseshell and there were some slugs photographed which I haven't got around to yet.

Phosphuga atrata, a predator of snails.

Small Tortoiseshell, my first free-flying one of the year; there had been one we found in the garage previously.

We'd wandered around with the EMP lure all morning, but no takers there. I got home, leaving the bag the lure had been in the garage and an Emperor Moth appeared quite promptly. And then another Small Tortoiseshell as well, it was a fine day.

It's been a good time for beetles with a trip to a certain location producing unexpected, due to the early date, plenty, in the form of seven Prasocuris hannoveriana on one plant, six of these were pairs in cop. UK wide this is a very uncommon beetle with a weird distribution. There are possibly three sites in Orkney. I've searched many other places and failed, the food plant is Marsh Marigold.

Prasocuris hannoveriana

Another fine day and Louise and I walked out on to The Brough of Birsay. There were Wheatears and there were Fulmars.

Wheatear, female.


Around The Shunan there have been Swallows a couple of times, and most extraordinarily a White-tailed Eagle, on the deck, which went paddling. The photos are rubbish as it flew and mostly kept it's back to me but an extraordinary record.

White-tailed Eagle, sub-adult.

In the last week there have been Brambling, 3+; Siskin, 3+, Chaffinch, 2+, Chiffchaff, one singing, Swallow, a couple today around the house and garden. Hard to match the excitement of the Great Tit! 

Brambling, male.

Most exciting have been the sawflies I've been finding. So far I've (with considerable help, thanks JS, AG, IA and AM) only identified two of these, and one of these two is somewhat pending, as it has not been confirmed. The specimens will be handed to JS shortly. There are very few records of Dolerus coracinus in the UK (I've previously posted about this one). But then I found two others, one looks to be coming out as Euura clitellatus. Having just found images of this species on the Sawflies UK website, of a male, I'd thought there were only images of the female, I'm considerably more confident about the ID.

8th tergite, post dissection.

8th tergite before dissection.

Penis valve.

Euura clitellatus, a male.

In the garden yesterday I did find Syrphus torvus whilst mowing the grass, it settled on the fuel can.

Although it's a female you can see the eye hairs quite clearly, Syrphus torvus.

Today a stroll around Birsay Links and the cliffs towards Marwick. Disappointingly the cliffs where I sometimes photograph auks were bare. However, the Links beach was a tad more rewarding with four monstrous Broscus cephalotes (and another carabid I need to ID).

Broscus cephalotes.

Also on the beach this head and neck which are I think of Conger Eel. Re-identified, after a bit of research this is a Ling, Molva molva. The head was about 150mm long.

Conger I think. A check and it is Ling Molva molva.

The Brough of Birsay.

Monday 15 April 2024

Birding, mega find.

I was in Kirkwall the other day and remembering that the bird food was low, and fancying getting a decent thing in the garden before we leave, I splashed out on some Nyjer (quite expensive to purchase here) and some black sunflower seeds. Target species was Hawfinch as  I haven't had a poser of one in the garden for a while. I was not expecting this though...

Great Tit, Parus major. possibly of the continental race P. m. major. Female.

The bill on this bird looks quite stout, but it is quite yellow on the nape, so maybe of the continental subspecies. I believe this is a bit of a subjective ID usually.

There have been a few around this year, on Shapinsay and one the other day in Toab, it is annual here with two or three records most years, but has proved to be elusive for me, and no hint of one on the patch until today. Certainly this was highest on the wish list for the home patch, with Med Gull running a close second. Oddly, arguably the commonest Parus species in Orkney, Coal Tit is the one that has not occurred on the patch.

I have also had a mega moth in the last few days when I finally proved Agonopterix ciliella. This has been a bit of a mission and I've been dissecting these things for a while. Not every dissection was successful, females are hard to dissect, but arguably easier to determine. Anyway, here's the beast. Trapped on the night of 8th April, when I caught 53 moths of five species (three light traps and one Common Quaker in a pheromone trap to LEEK).

Agonopterix ciliella, male.


The distal processes of the sacculi (the darker sticky-up bits) are clearly twisted on their vertical axis, bingo!

A big effort to get this species, and prove it actually occurs here. I believe the caterpillars are seperable in the field.

While I was at it I dissected this as well:

Orthosia incerta, Clouded Drab

I thought this moth was Clouded Drab, but I was not certain. The dissection proves the id, the aedaegus being distinctive for a start.

As well as the trapping session I went for a wander with tubes and looked in the troughs, mostly re-purposed baths, and turned over a stone or two. This led to a day of peering down the microscope and photographing the bits. Mostly I caught things that I know quite well, or at least had a good idea of. But I'm out of practice with Staphylinids and spent ages on a Xanthrolinus linearis before I went back to basics and keyed it again from the beginning and found the error I was making.

Xanthrolinus linearis note to self, remember to check that the elytra don't overlap... that's an important path division in the key.

The most interesting things I found were a couple more Dolerus sawflies, which I haven't even started on. And this Bibio, which I didn't recognise. The flies wouldn't key out with the simple Highland key, so I downloaded the RES key. It took a while but eventually I was happy that I had three female Bibio johannis, which I have recorded here previously. They are extraordinary looking things.

Bibio johannis, female. Huge hump of a thorax, massive swollen front tibia with enormous spurs, tiny head, very odd.

I'd walked out with the EMP pheromone attached to me in one of those Tesco veg bags, ideal for the purpose. I saw an Emperor Moth as I walked out of the door and then had ten or eleven more sightings of perhaps five or more different moths over the next two hours. No photos of course as they rocketed by and around hunting for the source of the chemical cocktail.

Other birds have included good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits on The Shunan, now perfect for waders since the ditch cleaning out by the farm. Record numbers of Redshank for the same reason. Lots of Pink-feet going through and lingering. A Peregrine has paid a couple of visits, a species that has been scarce here in the last few years. Out on the coast a Wheatear was an expected, but welcome sight. Today, there was a hybrid crow, as well as a smart male Brambling and the Great Tit highlight.