Sunday, 29 January 2017

Two Near Misses

Wow, it's been a whole week without a blogpost. Sorry about that, dear readers (both of you...) I've been busily gloss painting indoors the past few days. Mostly my fingers, my hoodie and my hair, plus on the occasional bit of woodwork every once in a while. Gotta love gloss-work. Here's a bit of a long, meandering post covering this week's sightings.

It's been pleasantly mild most evenings this week. We've been doing nightly checks of the security lights/laundry room lights for winter flying moths. In all honesty it's been fairly pants, despite the white walls offering seemingly ideal conditions. Best moth this week (pretty much the only moth this week...) was this Pale Brindled Beauty, the first one I've seen for several years.

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)
This is a male - check out those feathery antennae. These act in a similar fashion to the prongs on a TV aeriel, they offer lots of surface area with which the male moth 'sniffs' the air in search of pheromones being released by the female moth. The other obvious clue are the wings, the female is apterous - which basically means she doesn't have any. She just sits there, usually up a tree trunk or fencepost, wafting her scent into the darkness awaiting a visit from a nearby male. This 'loss of wings' is a familiar energy-saving theme amongst the females of several of our winter-flying moths. I should probably make an effort to search the tree trunks by torchlight one night, see if I can find one.

Yesterday was a nice sunny day and I took myself down to the beach via Uig Woods. A pair of Collared Doves on overhead wires was a long overdue first for the year. Abax parallelepipedus, a common and quite large Carabid, was discovered beneath loose bark. A nearby log was covered in Lophocolea bidentata, an aromatic liverwort which was throwing out sporophytes in profusion.

The long white stalks are called seta. The black tips are spore-laden capsules. The whole is called a sporophyte.
The beach was pretty quiet. Wigeon numbers have halved to just seven birds present, a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers just offshore, still no white-wingers in the gull flock. Aimée had wandered off towards the pier (outside of the square, the girl's gone crazy) and when we later met up again back indoors she broke the bombshell that she'd been watching an Otter frolicking by the old slipway - just a few hundred metres outside my square - ooof that hurts!!! I already knew Otters were on Skye (we watched three playing together near Carbost last November) so I had hoped one might visit the square someday - but I hadn't planned on being gripped off by my own missus! Ouch, eyes peeled from now on. 

I also managed to find some Egg Wrack bladders with fungal spots showing through. These spots belong to a marine lichenicolous fungus called Stigmidium ascophylli (=Mycosphaerella ascophylli) whereby the fungal mycelium is found throughout the seaweed and the fruit bodies show up as tiny black dots on the bladders. So, does this mix of a fungus and an alga mean that Egg Wrack is actually a lichen? There's a great explanation on this page which explains the situation far better than I ever could. My photo was awful, so here's one I took last spring (it's still awful...)

The black dots are the fungus. (Image taken in Cornwall last April)
Today was a beautiful day, it was cold but slowly warmed up and it almost felt as though Spring had arrived. The Snowdrops on the lawn are starting to form white carpets, flies were out basking on sunlit tree trunks, and the woods were full of folk. Darnit. Rarest sighting of the day was another birder, that's a yeartick! I soon got chatting to Martin and his lady, Joy. Turns out he's the fella who found the White-billed Diver and Ivory Gull at Uig Pier. He's seen nine species of gulls on the beach, Med Gull being the only absentee amongst species regularly recorded on Skye. They are just back from 6 weeks in Spain which explains why I haven't bumped into them before now. And they live in Uig too, well within running distance of the square should I find anything decent. Which I will (he says...)

I've been playing a little game with mysef since moving up to Skye. How long can I go without seeing a Woodpigeon? Well today that game came to an abrupt ending, two Woodpigeons burst from the canopy and disappeared up the valley, by my reckoning that's TWO MONTHS to the day since I last saw one. Incredible considering they breed across Skye. Next on the agenda is clapping eyes on an eagle, both species are supposed to occur up here after all. How long would that take?

The woods were looking just glorious, I don't think I've posted any pics of the area of woodland west of the A87 (what I refer to as the Lower Woods) so here's a few for you. I reckon there's got to be some decent birds pass through here at migration time. Probably been the odd Yankee or Sibe in there over the years! Or at least Redstarts, flycatchers, the odd Firecrest etc. Martin reckons not, but I bet there is. Not that I've ever been here at migration time, (or even seen leaves on the trees) but I reckon, yeah. Anyway, here's some pics

As you can see, the woods west of the A87 have some large trees but they are generally well-spaced and the terrain is very flat. Stark contrast to the woods east of the A87 which are dark, ridiculously steep and usually wet. But I like this contrast, offers me two very different habitats to explore with their very different species assembledges. Plus there's the beach, the sea, the scrub, the reedy area, the  rivers, the open hillsides...happy days for a Pan-species Lister! 

There were a few flies basking on tree trunks and it was whilst sneaking up on one such fly that I noticed movement, it was a rather small Megabunus diadema, one gorgeous harvestman if ever there was. 

Aimée was somewhere on the beach ahead of me, trying to refind the Otter and grip me off once more no doubt. I scanned the beach, found her sitting behind rocks and then noticed the very large bird soaring above nearby Idrigill Point. No mistaking what it was, I was staring at my first Golden Eagle since moving here two months ago. Sweet, Aimée was oblivious and too far away for me to shout "Look Up!!!" so I carried on watching the eagle soaring around, seemingly just enjoying the good weather.

In the five minutes it took me to intercept Aimée the eagle didn't disappear, it was still soaring around above the point maybe half a mile away. I'm not sure Aimée was massively impressed (she's seen White-tails before) when suddenly it was almost overhead, and within a ten second glide of entering NG3963 airspace!!! Oooh, now that would be awesome...just head that way a bit more, yeah and a bit more...oh FFS no not that way...and it was gone behind a hilltop, never to be seen again. Dammit, Otter AND Golden Eagle just outside the square. Hmmm...just have to keep my eyes open, they'll both put in further appearances I'm sure. Here's a coupla pics of the eagle, taken by holding my clickamatic up to the eyepiece of my binoculars. Not ideal, but you can see what it is (and no it's not a Rook) 

Golden Frickin Eagle!!!!!!!
Final near miss of the day was the Woodcock that flew along the outside of a hedge, across a field and into cover down by the shore...about 50 metres outside my square. Of course. 

EDIT: I was just about to Publish this page when I heard about this from Birdguides:

Highland, 2 Killer Whales off Neist Point, Skye, late afternoon

Outer Hebrides, 3 Humpback Whales, 2 Minke Whales and 5 Killer Whales off Tuimpan Head, Stornoway, Lewis, this morning. 

Haha, I've had a full day of misses and near misses it would appear!

As a very special delight, here I am throwing together my very first venison casserole. I may or may not accidentally swear once or twice. Sorry 'bout that. Feel free to switch off at any time!

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