Saturday, 5 August 2017

Babies

A few weeks ago I found myself chatting to a local chap who's somewhat into nature. He happened to mention that the local postman had photo's of a stork he saw in a field last year, a field where there are often herons standing out in the open. So I didn't precisely rush to follow it up. 

Yesterday I was chatting with the postman and asked if he was certain it was a stork and not a heron he'd seen. "Well I don't really know myself, it looked different so I took a few pictures and then Andy thought it was a stork. Let me get my camera and find the picture for you..." Several minutes later he showed me the set of images. Boom! Today he handed me a hardcopy of one of the images, he'd printed it out and written a few details on the back. Top man!


This is by no means the best shot that he took of the bird, in some pics it's almost full-frame. But he felt this image gave a good idea of the behaviour he witnessed. The farmer is Willie, he's ploughing in potatoes and the stork is on the look out for exposed food items. On the Continent this could be frogs, mice, lizards or grasshoppers. Here in Uig it was probably leatherjackets and worms. Each time the tractor created a furrow the stork would walk in and investigate, then walk back into the field as the tractor passed by, before returning once more to the disturbed earth. Nice sighting. Amazing, actually. Great that he had his camera with him in the van!

Now that I was happy with the identification, I needed to notify the local and regional bird recorders, White Stork is a proper Skye Mega! According to Bob McMillan's Skye Birds book there is only one previous record for Skye, one at Broadford on 21st April 1977. The Uig bird was seen on 22nd April 2016, exactly 39 years and a day after the first! 

I emailed Bob (Skye bird recorder), who brought in Peter Stronach (Highland Region bird recorder) who advised that despite this not being my record, I still need to fill in the description form. The photo's are conclusive, the time of year is perfect for a spring overshooting migrant. Job's a goodun, they just need a record to be submitted. I've never submitted someone else's bird before. Seems a bit weird, but Bob says it's fine. 

In other news, the local Buzzards fledged one youngster which has been pulling some crazy aerobatic antics in the evening sun. They nested just across the road from the hotel, much to the annoyance of the local Hooded Crows, so I see them daily. Tonight I watched the parent birds and the youngster engaging in mock battles, all necessary skills for a youngster to learn and master. Here he is right outside my window


Kids, with their perfect, undamaged flight feathers. The poor parent birds are looking a bit worse for wear, tatty secondaries and nicked primaries, one is missing part of its tail. 

Anyway, here's a toon for the masses. Holy crapsters, this song is 23 years old, HOW did that happen??? Please, enjoy



Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Potty about Montbretia

Last week, whilst gate-crashing the Wild Flower Society field meeting, I learnt of the existence of a plant called Potts' Montbretia  (Crocosmia pottsii) which apparently grows wild on Skye. Ian Green, BSBI recorder for Moray and our glorious leader on the day, had found a clump the night before (in/near Portree, I think) and had brought a plant with him to exhibit to the rest of us. Happily it appears that I actually took in the relevent details, for this evening I spotted a large clump of a suspicious-looking 'montbretia' growing along the verge at the top of Cuil Road. I've seen it before but had always assumed it was bog standard Montbretia. I grabbed a plant and brought it home with me. 


This, I believe, is Potts' Montbretia. Note the short flowerheads which are held in a more upright position and are of a deeper reddish-orange colour than the usual Montbretia.

Note also that the stem between the flowerheads is far straighter than the zig-zag effect of Montbretia


And finally, unlike Montbretia, the leaves are very upright and spear-like, not at all floppy or droopy. Also note that it is now August and I am wearing a thick jumper. The weather up here is a fickle ol' thing. All I know is that the midges were positively teeming this morning and again this evening. Maybe one day I'll be able to identify them to species level.

I'm off plant-bothering with the Skye Botany Group tomorrow. I shall be bringing my Potts' Montbretia with me, see if between us we can't put a few more dots on the map for it. I'll also finally be meeting Steve Terry, a Broadford based naturalist who seems to know his stuff. Let's hope it stays dry...

Monday, 31 July 2017

The Beast of Boggy Creek

You may recall that last week I discovered a Sphagnum bog in my square. This came as a delightful surprise, a new habitat means a whole new suite of species. And indeed I did add quite a selection of bog-loving plants and a few inverts too. But, being the kind of PSLer who is never happy with what he's got, I needed to get back up there and try for more boggy stuff. I had one near-mythical creature in mind, The Beast...

But before all that, whilst doing the mowing, I managed to see my first Scotch Argus of NG3963 (the lines on the lawn may have gone a bit awry at that moment) followed by a Common Hawker in the hotel grounds, which quite unbelievably represents my first odonata of the year in Uig! No pics of either though. 

After work I headed up the hill in the early evening light and entered the bog in search of The Beast. Due in part to the recent rains, and part because it's a bog anyway, it was just a tad moist underfoot

Makes a fantastic noise though!
Lots of Marsh Cinquefoil, Bogbean and Sphagnums are the giveaway signs to it being somewhat wet underfoot. I went bog-hopping, never standing still for too long (else I began to sink) and aiming for any tussocks where available. Probably be a good idea to bring my wellies next time. 

I stumbled into a fine patch of Lesser Clubmoss including several bearing cones. It's a rather diminutive plant but one that I'm becoming fond of, with its spiky leaves and weird fruitbodies. 

Habitat shot amongst sedges, sundews, heather, tormentil and Sphagnums
Microscope pic showing the cones nestled amongst the spiky leaves
 Another locally dominant plant was this bad boy

Common Cottongrass Eriophorum angustifolium amongst Lesser Spearwort
Suddenly the sedges immediately ahead of me moved as something large and heavy pushed its way forward. I froze, could it be....could it really be...that I had found The Beast of Boggy Creek? I quietly shlurped my way forward through the muck. The sedges moved once more as the hidden creature surged powerfully away from me. Shiiiiiiit, I couldn't lose it now! I ran forward, camera at the ready, desperately keen to record the existence of this elusive creature. My adrenalin levels were racing, my heartbeat was pounding in my head, I began to sway with the tension of it all. The sedges moved once more, my quarry had given itself away for the last time. Like a ninja I leapt, camera thrust forward...and there, in all of it's terrible glory stood The Beast itself! Far larger than I could have ever expected, possibly a giant amongst giants. It fixed it's baleful eye upon my stunned visage and it was all I could do to press the shutter button and hope for the best as it loped off once more into the depths of the bog. Had I captured it's image where so many others have failed? Fkk yeah!!!

The Beast...proof for all you non-believers
I didn't quite know what to do with myself after that. Still shaking with disbelief, I could hear it crashing further and further into the bog, smashing down sedges and shaking the earth as it departed. It's not every day one comes face to face with such a creature. Indeed this was my first encounter in the square this year. Maybe one day, at an unexpected moment, I may encounter The Beast once more. Maybe. 

Quitting in the evening light, I turned around and witnessed something truly special

Behold - the grave of a leprechaun...
 
 This film scared the shite out of me as a child and began my lifelong interest in Sasquatch. I'm gonna watch this tonight for the first time in about 37 years...

Friday, 28 July 2017

Horsetails of the Unexpected

Earlier this week I received a message from me ol' mate John Martin (of birding and botany fame) saying that he was staying at Portree for a few days, did I fancy coming out to play and do some botanising with him and the gang? Hell yeah, that sounded rather awesome to me! Turns out that John is up here as part of an organised Wild Flower Society 3-day field meeting. From their website:

Tuesday 25th – Thursday 27th July 2017 Isle of Skye. Leader: Ian Green

I hope to see most of the interesting species found on Skye including the Arabis alpina (Alpine Rock-cress) and Koenigia islandica (Iceland-purslane). We will be going up several mountains and will climb to at least 700m, although it could be more, so the days will be fairly long. The longest walk I think would be to see the Arabis alpina which is at least a 9km round trip. There will be lots of climbs but nowhere really dangerous, although the going can be hard at times as there will be scree and rocks etc. to climb up/over. Anyone coming would certainly need to be hill fit. 

To cut a long story short, John asked if it was alright for me to gatecrash the final day, in return I could show them the Mitella ovalis. Thankfully Ian agreed, I was pretty much hyped to the max about seeing John again and becoming acquainted with a few good plants!

Anyway, throughout the course of the day we were rained upon, wind dried and rained on again in an almost endless cycle. At Duntulm we were nearly blown away whilst keying through some tiny Euphrasia marshallii and my fingers turned blue whilst checking various Potamogetons in Storr Lochs. Fairly typical late July Skye weather, to be fair. But I had a blast and it was great to be a part of some hardcore 'en masse keying' using both Stace and various BSBI Handbooks. As with most things, it all made a lot more sense when watching experts at work, talking you through the keys, pointing out the features. We had an interesting time with hybrid horsetails, it took me a while to really see some of the critical features, plus I kept being distracted by various beetles, galls and my first Scotch Argus butterflies of the year, but eventually the day's tally of Equisetum consisted of Field Horsetail, Marsh Horsetail, Shady Horsetail, Water Horsetail, Giant Horsetail, hybrid Marsh x Giant Horsetail and hybrid Field x Marsh Horsetail, the latter being the trickiest to find amongst the parent plants. John and I even twitched the Magpie at the beautiful Ellishadder Art Cafe though we failed to see it (Magpie is a mega vagrant to Skye!) That's twice I've been on a twitch with John (first time was for a Veery on Lundy way back in May 1997) and twice I've dipped. At this rate I shall next twitch with John in September 2037 and we shall dip yet again!

Coupla pics just to break up the text...

Potamogeton alpinus, perfoliatus and natans being checked with the BSBI Handbook
Shady Horsetail after being properly keyed through and confirmed
The vigorous hybrid between Marsh and Giant Horsetails running rampant across a roadside slope
This one really was a real deal Euphrasia marshallii
Floating Bur-reed Sparganium angustifolium at Lochan nan Dunan
Chaffweed and Water-purslane also at Lochan nan Dunan
EDIT: Just realised that Water-purslane isn't known from Skye. So what is it???
Grass of Parnassus - what a stunner with its crazy stamens!
2ND EDIT: I emailed the putative Water-purslane pic to the local BSBI Recorder Stephen Bungard, who promptly replied with

That looks very convincing to me.
First for Skye but you do not quite hit the VC jackpot as there two old records, one for Canna  (1950-1969) and one for Muck (30 May 1982).
Congratulations!

Anyway, nothing so far has anything to do with my square. By 4pm the group had gathered together and began saying their goodbyes when I asked if anybody would like to see Mitella ovalis at its only known wild site in Britain. Hell yes they would! So we drove in convoy down to Uig, my suggestion of parking at the shop turned out to be a nightmare - the usually near-empty car park was full. Cue some amazing Whacky Racers style u-turns and 'inventive' parking! A few minutes later and everyone was able to admire this plant in a wild state. Pictures were taken, accounts of my finding the plant were re-told and a jolly time was had by all :)

Possibly the largest number of botanists to ever descend into Uig Woods!
I think there were 12 or 13 of us decided to check the Mitella. No longer is this an exclusive club! The guy in the middle of the image staring straight at the camera is Ian Green, BSBI Recorder for Moray. He was our glorious leader for the duration, I have to say that he really does know his stuff when it comes to horsetails (as well as everything else, but he shone especially bright with his horsetail IDing skillz). He's also surveyed every known Arabis alpina site and discovered a new one in the process, so he's clearly fit as a fiddle too. 

I spotted a chunky caterpillar on a half-eaten Nettle leaf and took it back indoors to ID

Larva of The Spectacle Abrostola tripartita - smart moff whether larva or adult
By the end of the day I'd seen a whole suite of decent and cryptic plant species, a few hybrids, some nice inverts and had been a part of a proper botanical group. Even the less knowledgable members of the group were head and shoulders beyond my botanical capabilities, hence I thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to join in with the fun. Special thanks to John and to Ian, you're a coupla stars. And brilliant botanists. 

Highlights of my day, with lifers in bold - 

The pondweeds Potamogeton alpinus, gramineus, natans, perfoliatus and praelongus along with Floating Bur-reed and Spiked Water Milfoil.

The horsetails Field, Marsh, Water, Giant, Shady, Marsh x Giant and Field x Marsh.

Grass of Parnassus and its associated microfungus Puccinia caricina, finding and instantly recognising Chaffweed (plus finding Water-purslane...or whatever it actually is..), having Salix x multinerva features explained to me, chasing several Scotch Argus, watching John photographing his first ever Nemastoma bimaculatum for over ten minutes (!), keying several Euphrasia at Duntulm but only managing to hit Euphrasia marshalli once *glad I sat in for that one!* and sharing Mitella ovalis with a bunch of lovely people. Happy days. 








Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I'm a Creep, I'm a Willow...

Made an incredible discovery yesterday, one that I'm really very excited about...the top of the hill in my square is fairly mundane cow-chomped sward with a few undulations and the crofter's house. Fairly uninspiring stuff, though plenty of flowers to be seen. These were both new additions to the tally

Sneezewort - dotted about in the grassy sward
In the words of Thom Yorke, "I'm a Creep, I'm a Willow..."
I decided to venture over one uninspiring undulating slope and came to a shocked halt at the sight of what lay ahead of me...oh boy, oh boy, oh boy....I think I may have grinned somewhat!

Cottongrass, Sphagnum, Bogbean, Bog Asphodel....I have a bog in the square!!!!!!
With a slight 'whoop' I ran down the slope and straight into a brand new habitat, with associated brand new species. Within moments I had recorded Carnation Sedge, Bog Asphodel, Bog Pondweed, Marsh Cinquefoil, Common Cottongrass, Marsh Lousewort, Marsh Speedwell, Star Sedge, Ragged Robin, Marsh Bedstraw, Cross-leaved Heath, Deer-grass and, best of all, Round-leaved Sundews amongst Pale Butterworts with Lesser Clubmoss alongside!!! What an amazing two acres or so, and here's the proof

My fave square foot of the entire square!!!
I have a thing for carnivorous plants and Pale Butterwort eluded me for many a year. You can imagine the glee on my face when I found these beauties! No idea what the Sphagnums are, I'll get back to them some other time. The whole bog is maybe only a couple of acres in extent but it kept me quiet for some time. The leafhopper Cicadella viridis was absolutely abundant and the stunning bumble-bee mimic Volucella bombylans landed on a flowerhead nearby. It zoomed off before I could take a pic, but it really was very, very smart! 

Eventually I quit the boggy hollow and hit Uig Woods. Different habbo, different suite of species. Tree leaves are getting interesting at last with a few micro-lep mines noted

Stigmella floslactella mine on Hazel leaf
Stigmella magdalenae mine on Rowan leaf
Sycamore white Spot Cristulariella depraedans on Sycamore leaf
Also seen in the wooods was this monster!

Pedicia rivosa - one very smart cranefly!
All in all it was quite a successful outing. And, rather surprisingly, one that nudged me over the 800 species mark in my 1000 species in a 1km square Challenge. That bog has raised my hopes that amphibians may actually occur in my square. We shall see...

For all Radiohead fans out there, please enjoy this (and if you aren't a Radiohead fan, what the hell are you doing here, you don't belong here, o-ooh, o-ooh...)



Sunday, 23 July 2017

Time Flies Like An Arrow

"Time flies like an arrow...

...and fruit flies like a banana"

And here's the living proof -

Hung up at 2pm, still nice and fresh
Starting to turn by 9pm, and yep the fruit flies have arrived!
Why, you may ask yourselves, am I hanging bananas from a tree? Well you can thank Skev for this. He's a keen moth-er and has recently revived his brilliant blog. It's well worth a look just for the stunning images, anyway the bit about "banana-ing" is here. I hope it works, seems a more natural way to record moffs than light-trapping (the fact that I don't have a light trap has absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever...) My Czech housemate caught me in the act of hanging them up, he seemed genuinely thrilled that we now have a banana tree in the garden. I'm sure he things I'm completely bonkers and is just humouring me.

Had a bit of an avian happening today, well several in fact. First up was a stunning low-level Bonxie flying right over my house. Wow, that really was utterly unexpected! Next concerned a text message from my boss telling me there was a Corncrake calling just down the hill. I dashed off, it turned out to be a Sedge Warbler making funny noises but worth checking nonetheless. Whilst by the beach I scanned the sea and found a flock of Greylag Geese swimming along, patch tick! A roosting flock of nine Curlew is easily the highest count of the season, return migration is definitely well underway. Then I heard a diver singing from out in the bay! A bit of scanning into the sunlit waters revealed a lone Red-throated Diver, first I've seen here for some while. 

It'll be dark in about 90mins time, or as dark as it gets up here at the moment. I'll take a torch to the bananas, see if any moffs have arrived yet. Fingers crossed this actually does work!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

Well the BIG NEWS is that I'm pregnant. Haha, no - I jest. The real BIG NEWS is that I hired a van and took myself off to Southampton earlier this week whereupon I collected the remainder of my worldly possessions and carted them back up to Skye. So, a mere eight months after arriving, I'm now reunited with my precious natural history books, my storeboxes full of bodies, my ento equipment, my keys, my paintings and a bunch of clothes I forgot I even owned. Quite a lot of them went into the firepit, I have to say. I also had no idea how many sets of kingsize bedding I own. Bit pointless now that I'm in a single bed, but I'll keep them anyway. 

My man cave is coming along quite nicely. Here's the 'natural history corner' complete with wizards, dragons and other odds n sods. And obligatory bottle of red next to the microscope...

This makes for a Happy Seth :) 
The tall, narrow bookcase to the right comprises my Vascular Plant books. Next to that is the Bird bookcase. The corner bookcase contains my storeboxes, the Surrey Invertebrate Atlases and a few overspill Bird books. The small dark bookcase is invertebrates, seashore, freshwater, bryophytes and lichens. The big bookcase next to my desk holds my FSC/RES/other keys collection along the top row, some of the MOBGBI series and various large bird books at the bottom. I still need to source a 6ft bookcase for the other side of the room, this will house my novels which are currently languishing in assorted cardboard boxes. I used to have a fridge magnet that said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul". Not sure I have one of those, but the sentiment is apt. The small picture is a hummingbird which has been painted onto a feather. I picked this up in Nicaragua, the detail is just incredible - though you'll just have to take my word for that...

Anyway, I have my stuff back which has to be a good thing. It's been too long since I've properly unpacked, the eight months I've been here is fast approaching a recent longevity record in terms of my settling anywhere for a decent length of time. 

Last night I was hit in the face by an unknown moth. It looked pretty large and dark. Black Rustic? Too early, hell I dunno. I chased it from ceiling spotlight to ceiling spotlight with a pot before giving up and reaching for my butterfly net. It's probably bad luck to open a butterfly net indoors, but fkkit this thing wasn't settling down. One well-timed swipe and I had it. Into a pot, into the fridge and I'll check you out when you've cooled off a bit, ya bad boy ya. 

Cool off it duly did, I popped it onto a rock outside and papped a few pics. This is it...whatever it is...

Hmmm...interesting...
That hugely jagged W-mark looked very familiar. Could this be the darkest Dark Arches I've ever seen? A quick flick through the books and various online resources confirmed that this was indeed a Dark Arches, but of the melanic form aethiops which is more frequent in the north. Hence why I've never seen one before. Smart moff! Very smart, in fact.

I've booted up quite a few Magpie Moths and Mottled Beauties recently, usually by strimming over them. Large Yellow Underwings too. A Common Shrew added itself to the "Death by Strimmer" list this afternoon, hot on the heels of last week's Field Vole. I used to think that strimming through dogshit was as bad as it could get but strimming small mammals is much, much worse.

Me ol' mate Skev has introduced me to a moff attractant that seems to work wonders (and doesn't need a fancy bulb either). Buy a banana. Cut a couple of 'windows' into the peel to expose the banana flesh. Hang it up in a tree. Leave it to rot. Easy! It seems that flies and wasps are attracted first but that moffs move in after a couple of nights. He's had instant success with species such as Copper Underwing, Dark Arches and Old Lady being lured in. And, in his own words, nothing beats having an Old Lady sucking your banana..... Stupidly I forgot to buy bananas today and the shop is shut tomorrow, so that's next week's project sorted out.