Monday, 27 March 2017

Late Blog for Late March

Firstly apologies for the lack of blogging this past week, it's been very busy here and I've been pretty busy exploring the deepest darkest corners of NG3963 when not at work. One good bit of news that I discovered yesterday (whilst chatting to a tree surgeon who was 20ft above me in a large Beech at the time) is that a fair chunk of unexplored land I assumed was an overgrown back garden is, in fact, part of the Uig Woods complex and owned by Woodland Trust. Cool, I'll be mooching my way through there in the very near future! So, as hinted at the end of the last blogpost, the weather has taken a turn for the better, culminating in my wearing just a t-shirt at the beach this afternoon (clearly I was also wearing jeans and boots, the locals are a nice enough crowd but they ain't ready to see my arse hangin' out just yet!) Here's proof that the weather can be absolutely lovely in Scotland

Holy batshit, I actually live here - just look at that view!
Have to say, I still pinch myself sometimes. I'm incredibly lucky to be enjoying myself up here. I have Pixie Girl to thank for this, bless her. I like my job, love the flexi-hour approach, the bosses and staff are proper sound and NG3963 is treating me well. Well, I say that now, let's see what I reckon once the midges get going - "aaarrgghh, get me outta this hell-hole!!!"

Blah blah yeah, but have you seen anything worth mentioning this past week I hear you cry. Patience dear reader, I'm just getting there.

I've been back and forth to the beach at Cuil Road, always checking the gull flock for white-wingers. Still nada but nice to see a couple more Lesser Black-backs in the flock. Pied Wagtails are getting to be more and more noticeable at the top of the beach, acrobatically leaping after flies. Grey Wagtail has also been seen quite regularly here, but no other passerine migrants noted though other than a slight overhead passage of Meadow Pipits, surely it can't be long until there's a Wheatear perched on a rock at the top of the beach or flitting around in a sheep field? And Twite should be here too sometime soon, perched on a wire fence I'd imagine. Fingers crossed. Then Corncrake will be arriving! I've seen Corncrake before but never heard one, I'm almost wetting myself in anticipation of hearing their song. They alone will prove that I'm in a truly wonderful part of the world. Offshore the Black Guillemots have all moulted into full breeding plumage, apart from one individual which is stubbornly holding onto its winter attire. Wigeon are down to just four birds, Red-breasted Mergs down to 5 or 6 birds, usually all trying to court the single female bird still present. Today a female Goosander was just offshore, the first I've seen for over a week. Cormorants seem to have dispersed elsewhere, just a few Shags remaining out in the bay. I'm enjoying watching the turn-over of bird numbers and species here. Remember I've only been on Skye for four months, I have no baseline data of what to expect. But that's fine by me, it's all one big adventure after all. But by hell am I ever impatient for those Corncrakes to arrive!

Just for Christian Owen - a truly awful pic of a Great Northern Diver!
The tides have been positively crap all week, hence I haven't spent much time on the beach itself. But there are several exceedingly low tides in just a few day's time. Tune in later to see what I discover. 

In the woods I continued turning stones in search of slimers. Nothing new or particularly exciting, though a couple more Microplana scharffi were nice to see. Incidentally I sent a batch of flatworms off to a lab a few days back. The lab guy is off to America for a 10-day break but promised to get back to me afterwards. With the warmth come insects, most of which are beyond my abilities to identify. There is a single solitary willow along Cuil Road that is full of catkins. Plenty of small flies but nothing I could realistically hope to name. Bit like the willow itself until the leaves come through.

I keep checking this lone bush for all sorts of amazing Diptera and Hymenoptera. Nothing yet.
But there are bees and flies out there. Here's one very distinctive-looking midge that was quickly worked out to species thanks to a helpful chap on the Dipterists Forum. Incidentally, I've always thought that should be the Dipterist's Forum (note the apostrophe) but who am I to say?  They seem to know their flies better than their grammar

C'mon, admit it - this is the best looking midge you ever did see!
The image above is of a female Macropelopia nebulosa, a gorgeous wee thing. Just check out that stunning wing patterning! Unsurprisingly this was a lifer for me, Diptera Dude that I am. 

I successfully targeted various ferns for their associated Milesina microfungi. On Common Polypody I found Milesina dieteliana, shown here in all of its glory

The tiny white fluffy specks? That's it. Cool stuff huh?
Hart's-tongue Fern and Hard-fern have their own associated Milesina. If I ever get around to sorting out the various Dryopteris ferns present on site I can add at least one more Milesina. It's all about the host with these things. Saw my first ladybird of the year too, not one I expected either

Sunbathing Larch Ladybird (you ready for this?) - Aphidecta obliterata, coolest scientific name ever?
Rather a tenuous addition to the list, seeing as it is situated at the bottom of a garden plot, this is Flowering Currant. It's a pretty abandoned corner, bottom of a steep slope. I expect it is naturalised and definitely not planted whatsoever. Yeah definitely *cough* *it's on my list* *coughs again*

100% good to count Flowering Currant. Deffo. Tag? What tag? 
Back in the woods I scrambled from the River Conon up to the zigzag Glen Conon Road for the second time in my life (and didn't kill myself in the process also for the second time) and I'm glad I persevered because the steep slope - understatement of the decade - faces south and acts as a brilliant suntrap. Lesser Celandines carpet the ground here and I managed to add a good few Golden Dung Fly Scathophaga stercoraria and a single Melangyna lasiopthalma to the tally. Not the most tasteful pic in the world, but here's the Melangyna as seen under the microscope

Coupla confusion species to rule out first - hence the taking of this specimen
Also in the woods I noticed a good number of fallen beechmast and started digging through the leaf litter in search of part-buried mast. Bingo! Came up trumps with this highly distinctive fungus, one that only grows on the husks of fallen beechmast, would you believe? 

Xylaria carpophila Beechmast Candlesnuff. Nice!
I had a good search for Mycena capillaris, the Beech Leaf Bonnet but failed to find any. I suspect that they'd have been wiped out by the numerous hailstorms/sub-zero temperatures we've experienced lately, though it may be too late in the season regardless. That's if they even occur up here. Staying with fungi for a moment longer, I found this growing out of a fallen tree trunk

It's a fungus, right? Umm...well, kind of...
I have to admit I was a little bit over-excited when I stumbled across this fruitbody (safe terminology) growing out of a moss-covered trunk. I recognised it as a basidiolichen, a lichenised Basidiomycota which is a fungus and not a lichen though it grows from a lichen matrix rather than from fungal hyphae. Sort of a halfway thing maybe?  The dark-tinted apex of the stipe is a really strong feature for Lichenomphalia umbellifera, a species I've never knowingly seen before. 

Down by the River Conon the undergrowth is positively bursting into life. Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage remains stubbornly opposite despite the signboard mentioning Alternate-leaved being present. Great Wood-rush is coming into flower and looking particularly fine on the wet woodland floor as well as up rocky crags

Great Wood-rush Luzula sylvatica - as yet unblemished by its associated microfungus Puccinia obscura
The river itself is, of course, chock full of invertebrates. I had several moderately large stoneflies land upon me, they proved to be Protonemura meyeri. Here's one on my finger

The adults have vestigial gills under their neck which look very much like tiny fat fingers!
Rather excitingly I spotted three water crickets on a small backwater. They scattered underneath overhanging vegetation and evaded capture, I'll nail the species soon. Better than that though, I spotted a tiny something battling its way across the water surface. It looked like a tiny pondskater crossed with a springtail (!) and was easy to scoop up into a pot. Whacking it under the microscope my suspicions were confirmed, this was a Microvelia! It quickly keyed through to Microvelia reticulata, my first Minute Water-cricket and a brilliant wee thing to watch as it battled through the meniscus, dried itself out and settled down allowing some fine viewing opportunities. Then I dumped it rather unceremoniously into the's a pic. The whole thing is under 2mm in length!

Microvelia reticulata - a tiny, but perfectly formed, semi-aquatic hemipteran
Clambering (without dying) up the ridiculously steep slope I reached daylight and civilisation (a single track road with passing places...) once more. The weather was just stunning! 

The coconut scented flowers of Common Gorse. I shall have to bash these for inverts soon.
A Raven called overhed, no big deal as they are always calling overhead. But this one was calling an insistent soft 'prukk-prukk, prukk-prukk, prukk-prukk..' which I hadn't heard before. Looking directly upwards I saw the Raven straight away. Above and ahead of it was the target of it's attention - a full adult GOLDEN EAGLE soaring majestically over my head!!!! Fuckaduck! A fkkn Golden Eagle! In my square! Wow! I watched it through my binoculars for however long it took for it to disappear over the crest of hills to the north. I just stood there with a sloppy, smirky grin on my face. Fkkn Golden Eagle hell yeah! Some things in life just make you stand there with a smile on your mush and there could be a lorry beeping at you to get out of the way, or a dog pissing up your leg and you just wouldn't notice or care. It was about then that I noticed the car beeping at me as I stood in the middle of the road...

A different individual from nearby last month (and it definitely is NOT a Rook....)
I clambered the hill from the river to the cemetery a couple of times this week. I still puff a bit at the top but at least I'm unlikely to topple to my death if I stand up too quickly. So saying, I did slip over and slide down a small section on my back. Ha, what a twat! Up at the cemetery I checked under a bunch of stones and potted up a Tachyporus, a very distinctive genus of rove beetle. Everybody with half a brain cell knows that roves are bad news. They're the domain of masochistic coleopterists, general crazies and the desperate. I was the latter. I have 299 species of beetle on my PSL. This was clearly something new, hence number 300 for me. Dammit I would not be denied! I found a long-lost key by Roger Booth who I first met maybe 13 years ago. He's a really sound fella, I like him a lot. Crazy dry sense of humour, and a genius coleopterist. Anyway, using his key I managed to run my beast through to Tachyporus chrysomelinus, except that isn't known from up here. The almost identical T.dispar is though, but that wasn't mentioned in his key. Long story short, dispar is a cryptic species hiding in amongst chrysomelinus. A close look at my specimen showed there to be four (not three) hairs on the anterior edge of the elytra. And that's the difference. Roger split them a few years after writing his key (he the man!) as a beast new to science. The male genitalia is also slightly different between the two species. That tiny fourth seta on my beast's elytra secured Tachyporus dispar as my 300th beetle. Phew!  

Tachyporus dispar - c2mm long!
My ever-so-scientific representation of the elytral setae presence and positioning
Last thing of note was a Ruby Tiger caterpillar that was wandering onto the A87 outside the hotel yesterday. I figured I'd be doing it a favour by relocating it into a wide grassy verge, the open roadway not being the safest place to pupate. I popped this image onto the Skye Moths Facebook page where it generated a fair bit of interest as it is seemingly the first record of Ruby Tiger from the northern half of Skye.

Why did the caterpillar cross the road..?
Somewhat more mundane, though just as welcome to see, was a male Common Quaker to the security lights here one night. I'm surprised I haven't seen more of these so far this month. Must get a trap.

Sure beats the usual 'sitting on an eggbox' shot
Add to that lot a few flies, lichens, a singing Skylark and a handful of newly emerged plants and my yearlist for NG3963 is over 440 species. Not too shabby for March.


  1. Another totally enjoyable and educational post Seth. Lovin' 'em!

  2. Thank you Steve, makes me happy that you're still enjoying 'ze blog' :)