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.


  1. I liked heracliana so much I recorded it twice. Birds here have been brutal so far, though I don't really have any holding area for stopovers and I've been lazy at getting out of bed for passage birds in the morning

  2. I didn't like to say anything, but I seem to recall your tally mysteriously jumped by 20 or 30 species. And now you're counting stuff twice?!?!? Just what kind of a charlatan are you, mister? Are you even over 100 species yet??? ;)