Friday, 21 April 2017

Passing 500

I rather carelessly wrote this post for another site entirely, published it and then realised what I'd done.  I've clearly far too many websites on Blogger! This post should have been published on the 1000 Species in a 1ksq Challenge so follow the link and see what we're up to. Here you go, it's a bit shorter than my usual waffle, probably no bad thing...

Well I finally managed it, the 500th species in NG3963 fell yesterday afternoon. I had a day off work and decided I wasn't coming back until 500 had been achieved. First addition at number 498 was this

Nettle Clustercup Rust Puccinia urticata  on Common Nettle
This was followed by the common moss Mnium hornum which I've just overlooked. And the 500th? Bit of a bolt from the blue and not at all expected, a Grey Seal spyhopping in the bay! I'd heard that a bull sometimes follows the fishing boats into the pier (outside my square) but boom! There he was across this side just lazing around. No pics, too far away to be worth pointing my clickamatic at him. 

Also in the bay was a lone Greenshank picking through the debris at the water's edge, they breed on Skye so I expect this individual won't be the last one I see. 

I managed to find not one but two Arion ater beneath stones, black colouration and fringe lines running into the pale sole clinching ID for me

Arion ater - where have they been hiding until now?
The remaining four additions were all microfungi, with two of them being lifers for me. Here's the first one

Puccinia primulae on Primrose leaf. Apparently common but new for me
Uromyces ficariae was found in quantity on a patch of Lesser Celandines

Uromyces ficariae - spores checked just to be sure
The next lifer was parasitising Marsh Marigolds growing in a tiny freshwater seepage in grasses at the top of the beach. I'm more used to seeing these plants in woodland habitats, not in the middle of an open field. 

Ramularia calthae on Marsh Marigold - the spores are very thin and elongated (and difficult to photograph!)
Additions since last update as follows:

486 - Trombidium holosericeum Red Velvet Mite (arachnid) - Lifer
487 - Butterbur (plant)
488 - Ommatoiulus sabulosus Striped Millipede (myriapod)
489 - Wild Thyme (plant)
490 - Eisenia foetida Brandling Worm (annelid)
491 - Agonopterix heracliana (moth)
492 - Common Sandpiper (bird)
493 - Swallow (bird)
494 - Blackcap (bird)
495 - Common Dog Violet (plant)
496 - Fringecups (plant)
497 - Campaea margaritaria Light Emerald (moth)
498 - Mnium hornum (moss)
499 - Puccinia urticata (microfungus) - Lifer
500 - Grey Seal (mammal)
501 - Ramularia calthae (microfungus) - Lifer
502 - Greenshank (bird)
503 - Arion ater (mollusc)
504 - Puccinia primulae (microfungus) - Lifer
505 - Trochila craterium (microfungus)
506 - Uromyces ficariae (microfungus)

Still waiting for that mass-emergence of inverts and flowering plants. The Fringecups was new for the hectad and only the 5th record for Skye. Even better, the carpet of Ground-ivy I found some weeks back is the first record in Uig for decades and just the 6th post-2000 record for entire vice county! I think the BSBI recorder is quite pleased thus far. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Mostly Birds and Mysteries

Had a whole day off work today and what happened? It turned rather cold and rained. Not heavily, but combined with the low temperature (7 degrees but felt like 2) it meant that I'd be wasting my time looking for the likes of butterflies or diptera. I just wasn't in the mood for turning stones and boulders for mites, not after last time. Luckily I had the birds to fall back on. 

The gull flock produced no new surprises, Lesser Black-back Gulls are continuing to make their presence known. There were seven today, down from yesterday's high of ten although there's a constant coming and going as the tide changes, who knows how many there really are in the area. (Oh I forgot to say, I nipped down to the beach yesterday afternoon for 30 minutes. Ten LBBGs as mentioned plus six Sand Martins hawking along the edge of the trees at Cuil Road, low enough to almost clip the top of my head, just brilliant!)

Walking along the shoreline I could see a Great Northern Diver amongst the buoys and my first Swallow of the year came hurtling purposefully along the edge of the beach - heading south again, bless it! You have to wonder what these insectivorous birds think when they arrive and the food is absent. Wish they'd stopped at Spain, probably! I always salute my first Swallow of the year - can't recall when that started but they deserve respect after a migration like that - and indeed this one received its salute from me. Still on the beach I spotted a decidedly unspotted sandpiper walking through the boulders right at the edge of the sea, Common Sandpiper and another first of the year. It flushed a short distance but then decided I wasn't too scary after all and let me wander up and down the beach a few times without it flying off again. The dead Puffin was still there in the same place. I guess the beach doesn't attract too many foxes. A female Wheatear was bouncing around on rocks at the top of the beach, I thought she looked pretty large and upright, possibly a Greenland bird, but then she was gone before I could capture any images. Only a few Meadow Pipits today plus a handful of Pied Wagtails. No Whites amongst them this time. A pair of Starlings were on a rooftop, just the 2nd and 3rd records from my square this year. Be nice if they breed here. Last bird of note at the beach was a stunning male Merlin that flashed almost overhead, then across the water towards Uig village. It followed the shoreline to the slipway then I lost it behind low bushes. That's two Merlin sightings in a week, I could get used to this!

Leaving the beach I headed up into Uig Woods. A Woodpigeon was performing display flights high over the treetops, still a frighteningly scarce bird here. A male Blackcap was in full song at the entrance into Shore Woods, yet another first for the year, whilst at least two Willow Warblers were also heard singing. No Chiffies yet though. 

The rain swept in again, annoying mizzle rather than anything heavy. I took shelter beneath the trees and took the opportunity to scan through the sheepfields for Twite or chats. No luck there, though I found a small flock of pipits working furtively through the grass. I like going through pipit flocks, never really found much to be fair but good fun anyway. Settling my elbows on the wall I soon found a strikingly grey head with a bold supercillium creeping amongst the brown heads. The all black bill told me Rock or Water, it looked grey enough for a spring Water Pipit but after a while I could see fairly heavy chest and flank streakings, too heavy for Water Pipit. This was a very smartly plumaged Scandinavian Rock Pipit subspecies littoralis. I've seen a few before, but only on concrete banks of London reservoirs and once in a short-cropped water meadow, never in long grass. Annoyingly I never got to see the outer tail feathers or legs and had to make do with mostly head-and-shoulders views. Here are the best three images I managed (there were a lot of bad images!) 

Note unstreaked grey nape into mantle, huge pale supercillium, darkish malar and black bill
Note breast streaking, way too heavy for Water Pipit and grey nape colour
Note greyish mantle colour and the huge super. Moved more sedately than the Meadow Pipits did.
I watched this bird for maybe five minutes until the flock flew off further up the field beyond a small rise. Notifying the local bird recorder that evening he advised me that this is a description species (well, of this subspecies anyway) for the Highlands Region so I shall have to fill in a form at some point. None of these images have been manipulated in any way whatsoever apart from being heavily cropped. Colours and tones are exactly as they were.

The rain had passed by now so I ventured across the road into Uig Woods for a quick exploration. Just inside the gateway is a small brook and I spied a clump of unfamiliar plants growing there

The hairy basal leaves at the bottom....
...and the freaky weird flowers at the top end
By sheer serendipity I was messaging Stephen Bungard, local BSBI Plant Recorder, this evening and cheekily threw these two pics under his nose. I couldn't work out what this mystery plant was. He came straight back with "Tellima grandiflora Fringe cups. Got a grid ref?" Well that was easy! Apparently it's a new 10km square record so we're both rather pleased with it. I've seen Fringe cups before, though not very often and not for a few years. The flowers turn red as they mature, I would have recognised it straight away, but I've not seen it as immature as this before. Looks quite different.

Now then, how's this for a seriously impressive bit of camouflage?

Can you see it yet?
Now can you see it?
This caterpillar is doing its level-headed best to blend into the twig. It even has a skirt of hairs to disrupt the body outline and merge it into the bark! This is just mind-bogglingly good. It's one of the Geometer moths, but I don't know which one. I'll try and suss it out though, if all else fails I can rear it through and see what emerges. EDIT: This is a Light Emerald - Campaea margaritaria.

Sticking with moffs, yesterday I spotted this little fella on the wall outside my room. I potted it up for a closer look after which it made a bid for freedom and ended up on the window ledge. This is Agonopterix heracliana, a common micro across much of the country

Note the single darker line in the exposed hindwing cilia - good feature!
A lucky gust of wind buffeted its wings, exposing the hindwing as seen above. The long hairs around the margin, the cilia as they are correctly termed, show a thin dark line near their base. This is a great feature that helps to distinguish from Agonopterix ciliella, a very similar looking species but which exhibits several darker lines in the cilia.

Jumping back to today once more, I found a bunch of orchids up at the edge of Uig Woods where the trees end and grazed pasture begins. Unfortunately the sheep have ravaged everything to within an inch of its life so I can't tell what they are. Possibly Small White Orchids? Possibly something entirely different? Who knows, have to hope I find some more before the sheep do. Or build some sort of mesh cage around these ones? Hmmm...I think I have some mesh in the garage. Cool, that's that sorted. Those damn poxy sheep have a whole hillside to ruin, these orchids are getting a helping hand from now on! Here's the best few individuals I found. What's left of them

EDIT: As suggested by Stephen Bungard, these are indeed nothing more than chewed upon Bluebells and I am indeed losing my marbles (he didn't say that last part). He ain't the local BSBI Recorder for nothing that fella!


I've a few things in pots and tubes awaiting identification. Most people have food and drink in their fridge, not me. I have inverts, fungi, seaweeds and bits of plants! The halfway mark is almost upon me, 496 species of the hoped for 1000 in my square. Should be there by the weekend.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Huffin an' Puffin

The hotel was pretty rammoed this afternoon, kids hunting for Easter Eggs and families wandering everywhere. I was messing around splitting/stacking logs and generally trying to keep out of the way. A large Lithobius centipede dashed away from beneath one log and I suddenly realised I was completely without pots. I quickly grabbed a few plus my camera in case anything else of interest was discovered. Best sighting was a Brandling Worm Eisenia foetida which is new for my NG3963 list (new for Skye too if the new NBN is to be trusted) but no further sign of that big Lithobius darnit. Must make sure I always have a few pots about my person from now on.

Eisenia foetida, also known as the Tiger Worm for obvious reasons (ie it growls and can bite)
Eventually I simply had to scoot off adventuring, the sun was shining and there were bees and flies whizzing past. I just had to get out there and immerse myself in some invert action. Unlike yesterday, which was sunny but still quite cool, today it really was warm. I didn't bother with a coat and just headed off to Cuil Road with its flowers and shoreline. Soon afterwards it clouded over and I started to regret not bringing that coat. Ho hum.

A Great Northern Diver was fairly close inshore, halfway through moulting into its breeding splendour. I took a load of pics but they're all crap. I read somewhere that they sometimes sing at this time of year, I thought they only did that on the breeding grounds but apparently you can hear it in northernmost Britain too. That'd be pretty bloody amazing, fingers crossed. One bird that I did get some half decent pics of was this Puffin


And if you're squeamish you should probably look away about...now


This is a real sad sight, the only plus point I guess is that it's too early in the season for a chick to starve to death because it's lost a parent bird. I checked it for rings, then for carrion beetles, but drew a blank on both. Looks like a very fresh kill to me, the eyes hadn't even sunken in yet. Wonder if it was that Gyr that's been on the Outer Hebs this winter? I still need Gyr as a world lifer. Been close to a couple (famously saw a Fulmar at dusk get strung for one once, ha!) and seen a kill at another twitch, but not the beast itself. Not yet. 

I spun a seaweed-covered plank of wood and found myself eyeballing a great heap of mites and a few small shiny black beetles - at least half of them got pootered up rather rapidly! Mites for Matthew Shepherd and beetles for...another day probably. 

I was feeling a bit cold so headed up off the beach and started turning stones in a small quarry area. Realising I was risking mixing up mite samples, I emptied the contents of my pooter into a tube and jammed it into my jeans pocket. No coat, tight pockets. Then I pootered up a load more mites, smug that I now had a decent selection and hadn't mixed up the samples. Best find was my first Striped Millipede up here, though it's already been recorded from elsewhere on Skye. 

 Striped Millipede Ommatoiulus sabulosus (not aka Tiger Millipede coz these obviously can't growl or bite)
Feeling chilly I headed back for dinner, stopping to chat with the boss's son who happened to be walking his dog along the beach. Explaining that I had some inverts in pots, I reached into my pocket to discover that the lid had come off the tube with the mites and beetles inside, dammit!!! First stroke of bad luck. A little further on I accidentally hooked the hose of my pooter around my notebook and it went flying onto the road and, being glass, smashed into pieces - fkksakes! My dear friend the late Ian Menzies helped me make that pooter many years ago, he bent the glass tubes in his workshop for me. I've had that pooter for nearly 20 years. Damnation. At keast it was just the collecting tube that smashed, the rest of it seems to have survived mostly intact. 

Small progress made towards the halfway mark of the 1000 species Challenge. I'm on 490 species now. Christian Owen is blitzing away across the horizon, 513 species already and hoping for 600 by end of April (assuming he gets his moff trap running). I've been well and truly relegated to second position. 

Here's a gem of a classic for you, my good friend Danny the Pirate and I duetted this in front of everybody on my wedding night. We may have been just ever so slightly tipsy. In case you're wondering, check this blogpost's title. Enjoy! 


Soft and Velvety

The sun was out by mid-afternoon and despite the best attempts of a rather fresh breeze, it was almost warm! I shot off down to the beach in search of any inverts that may have emerged in these suddenly pleasant conditions. 

The gull flock was pretty distant today - still no white wingers.
Marine algae are starting to become much more noticeable on the beach, the same view just six weeks ago would have shown empty, barren looking black sands.  I'm hoping the sea creatures are also going to become much more obvious as the summer progresses, it's hard work finding much diversity on that beach.

A quick bit of scrabbling around in loose rocks revealed this beauty, Trombidium holosericeum a Red Velvet Mite and a new one for me

Note the hugely broad 'shoulders' and covering of dense red hairs
I brought this mite back indoors with me for a closer inspection, they really are bizarre things up close. At the advice of Matthew Shepherd (one of Britain's leading mite experts) I treated myself to a big bag of 1.5ml microcentrifuge tubes and have started a collection of mites stored in alcohol. When I have a decent enough sample size I shall send them off to him for identification and entering onto the Recording Scheme. Mites are a specialist subject, though I think I have the identity of this one nailed. Matthew will soon put me right if not.

Six quid for a bag of 500. All I gotta do now is fill 'em!
As an aside, whilst researching Trombidium mites I discovered that the red mite often found on Marbled White and Meadow Brown butterflies is Trombidium breei, so that's an easy retrospective tick in the bag!

On a sunlit fencepost was a stonefly. I potted it up and keyed it through - yet another Protonemura meyeri, but a male this time with highly distinctive genitalia. Plus those weird vestigial gills hanging like ET's fingers from its neck

Protonemura meyeri - the commonest stonefly around here it would seem
In the undergrowth I suddenly spied a couple of spikes of Butterbur, a new addition to the NG3963 List. I found a patch last week but close examination of the map showed that I was a good 10 metres outside the square, so it's nice to have clawed it back

There's a moff associated with this, I think. Probably microfungi too
There's also a big patch of what appears to be Rhubarb sprouting up along Cuil Road, I've seen some others dotted around too. It's either Rhubard or Monk's Rhubarb, I shall have to check it out more closely, see if I can suss which it is. Monk's Rhubarb shouldn't be in this part of Scotland, but then again I wouldn't really expect to see Rhubarb scattered about either. 

 

In total I added just a few additions to the  tally. Approaching the halfway mark in the 1000 species Challenge, I'll be there by the end of the month for sure. Especially if the temperatures bump up a notch. Unbelievably I still haven't seen a butterfly yet!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Definite Signs of Life

I've been slacking haven't I? My first blogpost in two weeks, disgraceful. What can I say, I've been watching sasquatch documentaries almost back to back. I'm now an expert, ask me anything! Two things that grip me; sasquatch and werewolves. I don't want to become a werewolf believer, they kinda terrify me enough already. But sasquatch, hell yeah it's a real thing. If you're a non-believer it's just because you haven't looked into it deeply enough. Metal music and sasquatch documentaries, this is why YouTube was invented! Anyway, what have I been finding on my wee jaunts of late?

Well the weather hasn't been great for invert activity. Wet, cool and usually windy pretty much sums up the past couple of weeks. It's now mid April and I've yet to see a single butterfly! I've seen maybe half a dozen bumblebees, white-arsed jobbies and hence presumably Bombus cryptarum which research suggests is the early season white-arse bee around here. I did manage to coincide a walk along Cuil Road with a splash of warm sunshine on the 5th. Insects! Just like that they emerged all around. I potted up a couple of Bibio flies, no good I need the RES key to nail them. I managed to narrow it down to six species but that's that. They're currently pinned awaiting later determination. A grassy verge was suddenly full of large Drinker larva with a couple of half-grown Garden Tiger larva present too, all busily catching rays

Drinker Moth larva on an unknown grass covered in an unknown microfungus. PSL is harsh.
If you're the type of person who hurls on roller coaster rides or suffers with seasickness then it may be a good idea to skip this short video. My smooth panning technique is in need of slight refinement. Put it down to excitement. Otherwise, just hold on tight and enjoy the ride

video

Garden Tiger larva - thanks to the Skye Moths FB Group for confirming ID.
Trees are putting out flowers at last, I realised with a jolt that I've been merrily walking past a large Wild Cherry tree and several Rowans every time I head down Cuil Road. To be fair I'm usually concentrating on the gull flock not tree trunks, but cherry is an easy one. Bit remiss, to put it mildly.

Wild Cherry or Gean. Also known as Geen, Guin and Guean up here. Nice big obvious blossom...
Blackthorn. Bit more delicate than the cherry blossom
Sycamore - also getting in on the act
Fuchsia magellanica - just about ready to open up in the more sheltered spots
Ferns are currently erupting all over the place, mostly Dryopteris by the look of them. I need to take a bit of time over these, several will be lifers for me. I've already found Hard-fern and Hart's-tongue new to the tetrad (the latter is common, no idea how it's been overlooked thus far) so who knows what else is patiently awaiting discovery.

Seems that throwing rocks at sleeping snakes is a bad idea, who knew?
Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage - it's a very sexy plant
A ridiculously stunted Common Scurvygrass successfully doing it's thing on the exposed upper beach
Whitlowgrass - I'm happy that this is verna, though glabrescens is commonest up here apparently.
Slender Speedwell growing at the edge of a garden lawn
Rather fortuitously I've found a second bush of Flowering Currant in the monad, this one is growing in Uig Woods well away from any gardens. I'm certain the bush in the Cuil Road garden is absolutely fine to count, but this one conclusively clinches it's place on the NG3963 list.
Flowering Currant (note how you can't see the garden centre tag from this angle...)
Obviously, wherever there are plants there's a chance of finding their associated microfungi. I've found a few this month that are new to me. Despite my methodically checking Tutsan all over the place, I finally found it's associated rust, Melampsora hypericorum, whilst jet-washing a wall at the back of the hotel! That's one major advantage of being a PSLer, you really don't have to travel far to find lifers. In my bad ol' blinkered twitching days I once travelled from Surrey to Shetland and back again to tick a BrĂ¼nnich's Guillemot. A three day round trip which cost a small fortune. Now I get ticks without leaving the hotel where I work and live. And in case you were wondering, I dipped the BrĂ¼nnich's.

Daffodil Leaf Scorch Peyronellaea curtisii. The Daffs may be plastic dross but the fungus is good to tick!
Pignut Rust Puccinia tumida - found on the very first plant I checked!
Of other bits n bobs, Larinoides cornutus was an addition to the NG3963 list, very successfully trapping the mystery Bibio flies in it's web. I only managed poor shots, luckily it's a particualrly well-patterned individual so I'm happy with the ID despite not taking it back for microwork

Larinoides cornutus on a Raspberry cane. Raspberry is a very common plant here
On a somewhat larger scale was this beauty, seen today whilst scanning a field for Twite (not yet...) It flew in and perched in a tree for maybe two minutes, affording great views, before shooting off low eastwards across a hilltop and out of sight. Simply a case of being in the right spot at the right time

Merlin Falco hardasnailsii - the absolute epitome of a 'Record Shot'
Apparently falcons are now nothing more than carnivorous parrots. This sits uneasily with me. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some pretty damn awesome parrots in my time. You can't spend time in Nicaragua, Australia, New Zealand and Bushy Park without experiencing parrots. But falcons aren't parrots. Please. I'm gonna stick my fingers in my ears and sing "na na naah na naaaah" and just pretend it never happened.

I spied a White-tailed Eagle soaring over a distant headland, at least a mile (and some) south of my square but pretty fkkn obvious all the same. It was being mobbed by several gnats. Herring Gnats I think, possibly Great Black-backed Gnats. It was A.W.E.S.O.M.E. Even at extreme range I almost wet my pants! But it gets better. After an age it landed in a tree. The Tree, in fact. I think it may be a nest tree. My boss tells me that there's a pair nest in that general direction, I think I've nailed it. Time will tell. It's only taken me four and a half months to see the bugger but I'll be keeping an eye on that Faraway Tree from now on.

Thanks to the recent weather, the river is running just a tad high. Here's a short clip of the lower stretch. Ordinarily it's unusual to see white water this side of the bridge

video

And here's a short clip of the upper section. You'll notice that I zoom in on a white mass caught up in a fallen tree. That's the body of a drowned sheep. They descend off the hills in bad weather, presumably uncontrollably slip/slide their way down the ridiculously steep gorge sides and end up in the river. Throw in the odd broken bone (body goes into shock) or a nasty head strike (body falls unconscious) and it's easy to see how sheep keep on dying in this river, they usually end washed up on the shore. I think I've found at least six freshly dead ones in the bay since moving here.

Anyway, that sheep carcass was a good four feet above water level last week. I was about to chance my luck and work my way across to it in search of carrion beetles, no chance of that at the moment. It'd be a human corpse snagged in low branches if I tried. 

video

Talking of death, here's the opposite miracle that happens every springtime. This wee fella was gallavanting around without a care in the world. Yoof of today, they've never had it so good...

Cute at this age, I agree. And they taste great too
So that's the first half of April addressed. If this weather ever pulls it's socks up and starts acting like a proper springtime I'll hopefully have loads of invert action for you. Or maybe this is proper springtime weather up here, Skye is an unusual place.

Sas-scotch!