Thursday, 15 June 2017

When the System Works

I found a psyllid on Rosebay Willowherb last week, I've already mentioned it in passing a couple of posts back. Quite an easy one to identify and I happily nailed it as Craspedolepta nebulosa. My photo's were all crap, so please have a look at this British Bugs page to see what it looks like. The clouded areas (whence nebulosa) running along the veins near the wingtips are distinctive. 

Anyway, according to the NBN maps it was the first record for Scotland. Happy with the identity, I emailed Murdo - records collator for the Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG). He in turn chatted with the local hemiptera expert (a professional bugger, I guess) who said that the maps were out of date and that the psyllid was widespread up here in The Highlands. Murdo's actual words were

This shows how we work up here, though.  You find something, I go and look here, find it, tell others, etc.  Works wonders!

Coupla days later and Murdo advised me to check out the HBRG's Announcements Page. Cor look, there's my name up in writing. Haha - fame, fortune and glory! 

This morning I received another email from Murdo

This is the consequence of your tip-off, Seth.  The current map of records from me and Stephen Moran. Basically, find RbWh, spend 5s looking, check with the lens, move on to the next square!  So much for ‘scarce in the north’.

Last week there were no dots at all!

I reckon my Skye dot looks a bit kinda lost and lonely out there in the west all by itself. I shall ask a couple of local naturalists if they can keep an eye out for Craspedolepta nebulosa whilst roaming Skye and the Small Isles.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Big Day - Species Round Up

It's taken me until now, Tuesday morning, to figure out why my Big Day totals didn't add up when cross-referencing the scribble in my notebook with the MasterList whereby everything is broken down into different taxonomic groups. In a nutshell I'd missed off seven species...repeatedly. Everything tallies up now, the grand total for the number of species identified on the day stands at 456. Then there's the backlog of stuff in pots/on pins still to be tackled.

Note the jump from 240 straight to 247...donut!
Alright - the numbers part, as Ali would say. I've broken the species list into the various taxonomic categories as used on the PSL website

Algae (seaweeds, terrestrial and freshwater) - 8 seaweeds, 0 terrestrial, 0 freshwater
Lichens (terrestrial and marine) - 38 terrestrial, 3 marine
Fungi - 28
Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) - 21 mosses, 12 liverworts
Vascular Plants - 179
Cnidarians (anemones, jellyfish, corals, hydra, hydroids etc) - 1 anemone, 1 jellyfish
Molluscs (terrestrial, freshwater & marine) - 18 terrestrial, 1 freshwater, 5 marine
Bryozoans (freshwater and marine) - 1 marine
Annelids (terrestrial and marine worms) - 1 terrestrial, 1 marine
Platyhelminths (terrestrial flatworms, freshwater flatworms) - 1 terrestrial, 2 freshwater
Arachnids (spiders, mites, harvestmen etc) - 5 spiders, 4 mites, 2 harvestmen
Myriapods (centipedes and millipedes) - 2 centipedes, 5 millipedes
Crustaceans (woodlice, hoppers, crabs, barnacles etc) - 2 woodlice, 1 hopper, 1 crab, 1 barnacle
Springtails (terrestrial and marine) - 2 terrestrial, 0 marine
Bristletails - 1
Orthopteroids (grasshoppers, crickets, earwigs, sticks etc) - 1 earwig
Hemiptera (bugs, aphids, whiteflies, thrips etc) - 3 bugs, 1 adelgid
Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, sawflies, ants) - 2 bees, 1 wasp, 2 sawflies
Coleoptera (beetles) - 9
Diptera (flies) - 12
Butterflies - 1
Moths - 18
Fish (freshwater and marine) - 1 freshwater, 3 marine
Birds - 51
Mammals - 4

Breaking it down like that it's easy to see where large improvements can be made. Insects and seashore stuff! In July I think I'll also need to spend more time turning over rocks and stones, the inverts I usually find were fairly poorly represented on my Big Day. Plus I completely fkkd up the seashore stuff by completely missing the low tide (not that it was particularly low on 10th anyway). By coinciding my next Big Day with the lowest tide of the month (late July) I can massively improve on the 1 crab, 1 barnacle, 1 anemone, handful of molluscs and the 8 seaweeds that pretty much sums up what I managed last time. And warmth will bring out the insects. Warmth and dry conditions. Yeah, I think July's attempt will easily smash the 500 barrier. Especially if I get a proper bulb for my home-made moth trap.

This is the kind of weather I'll need for next time!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

24-hour Blitzing the Square!!!

So it's now the day after The Big Day. Timeline of my recent nights - 8th stay up until after 3am watching the election results coming through. Wake up after not much sleep and go to work. 9th - work until 4pm, have dinner, try and fail to sleep. 10th - blitz the square for 24 hours, finish at midnight, celebrate with three beers then defy all expectations and can't go to sleep! Still awake at 2am. 11th (today) wake up at eleven and think about apologising to the bosses. Fall asleep again. Wake up at 12:30 and figure they didn't really expect me to be on shift anyway...I'll find out tomorrow. 

The Big Day - without leaving NG3963 I began recording wildlife at midnight and continued through until the following midnight, punctuated twice by meals in the hotel and an extra twice by calling in at the house for ID bashes at the microscope. Quit the field at 9:30 to settle down for microscope work, apart from a last minute wander around the security lights for moths. 

The day began in the usual fashion, at midnight.

The 'simmer dim' whereby it never falls dark over the northern horizon, even at midnight.
My plan was to start in the laundry shed, sat by itself in the hotel grounds. The lights are on all night and the door open, hence it acts as a giant moth trap. Maybe I can get 125W MVLs fitted instead of the bulbs currently in use. Ha, can you imagine! 

As expected, species number one was Amaurobius similis which lives on the ceiling in abundance. Species number two was unexpected - holy shite, that's a Pale-shouldered Brocade on the floor!!!!!

Pale-shouldered Brocade - that's a lifer for me!
Well that was a very sweet start, three minutes into the day and a lifer already. Wandering the various security lights on site added two more Pale-shouldered Brocades amongst the expected Tachypodoiulus niger and Porcellio scaber. Tawny Owls were in brilliant voice, I even heard the extra long quavering call given! A spot of impromptu botanising beneath one light soon had me up to 18 species before I headed back indoors to grab my bag and set off. The garden added a few more including a single Common Earwig nymph on the wall - a rare find up here, I think just my third encounter in over six months. Nice, I'd need this sort of luck in order to rack up a respectable tally.

I wandered down to Uig Woods for a couple of hours before hitting the coast road at Cuil. At 0244hrs I hit 100 species, by 0310hrs it was almost light enough for me to be able to write in my notebook without needing the torch. A Song Thrush burst into song and the dawn chorus began. At 0319hrs I was back on the road and added human to the tally as a woman drove past me. I wondered if she'd ever been ticked before. Nah, probably not.

I had to hustle indoors at 0330hrs due to a rather urgent call of nature (that'll be the incredibly strong coffee I necked just before midnight...) and took the opportunity to sift through the assorted bits n bobs I'd collected thus far. My tally stood at 158 species, not too shabby seeing as it had only just started to get light. One majorly unexpected sight were the four or five Noctules whizzing over the house, I could actually hear the chip chop calls and they were big, so I assume they were Noctules. Checking online it seems there aren't many bat species known from Skye (just 7 in fact) and they're mostly small jobbies like the Pips and Daubenton's. Excellent! I waited for it to get properly light and ventured out towards the cemetery. Here's the view from a little before sunrise

Rainbow rising almost vertically over the hotel. I wonder if anybody else saw this.
Note the gloriously blue skies. Well that sure didn't last. I found my 200th species at 0538hrs (Balea perversa, the Wall Snail) and slowly began my descent across the sheep fields and into Uig Woods. At 0638hrs a Clouded Border flitted up from herbage and became species 250. Despite the liberal dousing of midge spray I was being eaten alive. Luckily I have a trick, here's one of me a couple of days beforehand. Works a treat but crap for trying to identify stuff.

If you see this man DO NOT approach, may talk wildlifey stuff at you for hours!
I decided to just quit the riverbed and head out into the open where the breeze would help clear the little bastards. After an hour of intermittent drizzle and threats, at 0715hrs it started to rain quite heavily and didn't stop. My hoodie isn't waterproof so I scrambled back to the hotel for the second time this morning, managed to grab breakfast early (a proper big solid grill and more coffee, absolutely fkkn ideal!) and retreated indoors to grab more collecting pots and a waterproof coat. 

Pausing long enough to add the naturalised Welsh Poppy and Oregon-grape to the tally at the back of the hotel, I headed back out to the highest point of NG3963 by the cemetery. I spent a while at the perimeter wall checking various lichens interspersed with turning rocks for slugs. This is the only area I've ever found Hedgehog Slug in the square, true to form I found one beneath a rock, cool. At 0907hrs I added Ramalina farinacea to the tally which bumped me up to 300 species for the day. By now I figured I was going to smash the 500 barrier, I still had fifteen hours to find 200 species. Gotta be possible! In the sheep fields I took a little time over a few sedges and somehow life-ticked Common Sedge and Heath Wood-rush amongst Toad Rush, Soft Rush, Field Wood-rush and various grasses which I essentially ignored - they aren't exactly one of my stronger points.

Wandering through Uig Woods I discovered this bad boy growing out of a rockface

Hard Shield-fern and a lifer for me - my 4th of the day!!!
Back on Cuil Road once more (there was to be a great deal of going over the same ground during the course of the 24 hour period) I stumbled into a whole mob of my next lifer, one which I'm happy to say I recognised instantly. There were at least seven or eight of them in one small area, seemingly favouring the large leaves of Marsh Marigold. Brilliant looking flies, all delicate legs, massive big bug eyes and that diagnostic black wing patch. I think these guys were probably my favourite species of the day! 

Black Snipefly Chrysopilus cristatus - such a dainty little stunner!
I like Cuil Road, it's essentially a single track road that runs maybe half a mile with grassy verges, a few houses and runs along the top of the beach. Lots of nice habitats, lots of species. I've already had a good old squint at the plants along this road, I know most of what occurs. Suddenly I stopped at a large sow-thistle. It didn't look right. With sow-thistles it's all about the auricles. I didn't have a plant book with me but I had a camera

Perennial Sow-thistle, rather surprisingly also a lifer for me!!!
I've double-checked, it really does appear to be new for me despite being rather a common plant. Overlooked in the past, I suppose. Nice addition though and my fourth new plant of the day, haha this is getting silly now! 

I spotted some galls on a nearby Salix, they proved to be of the sawfly Pontania bridgmanii, one I've not seen before. Just below them, sat all quietly on a leaf was this little beauty
 
Sallow Kitten caterpillar - I haven't seen one of these for years
At exactly midday I spotted a couple of the tiny microleps Micropterix calthella hiding in a buttercup head. Midday and species number 368, just 68 additions in three hours. Suddenly the expected target of 500 species seemed far beyond my reach. I needed the weather to improve. Massively. It didn't.

At 1406hrs I found a Marsh Thistle which was number 400 for the day. I faffed around on the beach between the rivers Conon and Rha finding a few bits but not much. Low tide at 4:20, plenty of time to amble back to the good end off Cuil Road. So it was with some horror that I realised the tide was already racing in even though it wasn't even 3pm yet. Shit, I hustled back around the bay just in time to find the best area already submerged. Fkkit, this was a serious spanner in the works. I did my best anyway finding scant reward for my efforts. Bollocks, how had I missed the low water?? One large stone saved the day for hiding beneath it were two Shore Rocklings and two Butterfish, one being the largest I've ever seen. Phew, salvaged something of worth. But no sponges, hardly any marine molluscs, nothing dug out of the sands, no starfish and only three Green Shore Crabs in the line of crustaceans. Quitting the sea I headed to the top of the beach and searched out a load of littoral species, next best thing. Within 15 minutes I'd cleared up on the usual suspects, Aepus marinus and Thinobaena vestita amongst the beetles, the centipede Strigamia maritima, the spider Halorates reprobus, the predatory mite Dissoloncha superbus and the hopper Orchestia gammarellus.

A few days back I discovered a psyllid on a patch of Rosebay Willowherb which, according to the NBN maps, was new to Scotland. I notified Murdo who went out and also found it. His hemiptera expert reckons it's now widespread in Scotland, but the maps haven't been updated for ages. He added a link to the HBRG Announcements Page (I'm now oficially famous). Nevertheless I hadn't seen it today so spent a bit of time at the Rosebay patch. No joy with the psyllid but I had a female Mompha raschkiella come down and lay an egg on a leaf right under my nose! 

Did a lot of twirling about, walked back and forth for a few minutes, then laid an egg!
The rain finally began to subside, just in time for me to quit and head back to the hotel for staff dinner and to grab yet more pots after unloading the current full ones into the fridge. I checked the tide times to see where I'd gone wrong. Ah right, 1420hrs low tide not 4:20. That was pretty stupid of me, I missed out a fat fistful of additions because of that. 

Miracle of miracles the sun came out and it grew warm! I sped off once more determined to find some insects in the massively improved conditions. I grabbed a light jumper in case it grew cooler later on and headed into Uig Woods. I had time to see a Red Admiral flit past, the sole butterfly of the day, and had an Episyrphus balteatus arrive on a buttercup flower and a distant Skylark burst into song, then it clouded over and down came the rain. Heavy, hammering rain. I hid beneath a tree with my rucksack over my head and just waited it out. Which took quite some time. Eventually it passed and I was still relatively dry. But that was the end of the good weather. More drizzle and coolness combined with a freshening breeze killed any hopes of adding much in the way of invert activity. 

By 2130hrs I was back indoors, microscope, books and laptop being put to good use. At 2245hrs I shot off to the bar, sank a very quick pint with a couple of off-duty kitchen staff, grabbed a coupla bottles for post-midnight celebrations and headed back to the microscope once more. 

At 2345hrs I returned to my tour of the security lights, frightening the shit out of one of the staff who was just heading home. And so at 2354hrs I shared my final species of the day with one very confused bartender as I pointed this beauty out to him

Map-winged Swift in the torchlight. Last species of the day.
I watched the time, midnight arrived and I departed. My Big Day was over. It had been EPIC. Back indoors I cracked the beers, found a sandwich and some chocolate in my rucksack and started to go through the list. Turned out I'd messed up my numbers (misread 240 as 246 and started again at 247. Big question is though, did I manage to smash the 500 species barrier in those dying hours? And the big answer is no. No I didn't, not even close. 

Final count up, after scrubbing off White Campion (it was a white-petalled Red Campion!) and realising that I'd written down Yellow Iris twice, stood at 456 species. Which, to be fair, is more species than I've ever seen in a 24 hour period at anytime in my life. So I'm not glum about not hitting 500. If I hadn't have messed up the tide times I still wouldn't have made it. If I had a moth trap I probably would have though. And if the weather hadn't been crap for most of the time I probably would have too. 

So my plan from here is simple. Get the electrics and bulb for a moth trap, double-check my tide times, pick a day where the weather is favourable AND DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN!!!!!

Stay tuned to find out how I get on when I do this crazy mad thing again next month. I'm not kiddin...

For July I need weather like this, ideally with Corncrakes calling from that meadow

Friday, 9 June 2017

Tonight's the Night

You might recall that I recently blogged about The Big Day that is 10th June 2017. No? Really? FFS why do I even bother... Click here to refresh your memory. 

Ok, so now you know what I'm on about. Cool. Well anyway, that means that at the stroke of midnight tonight I shall begin my 24 hour tickfest marathon. I'm pretty hyped about the whole thing, I even bought myself a brand new notebook for the occasion! I've had a chat with Graeme Lyons, voiced my concerns regards his relying on field identifications and the large risk of misidentifications that will result from that. He reckons everything will be "legit" and that he probably won't even take specimens on the day (!!!!!) Bloke's a nutter.

I shall be starting in the laundry shed, I guess. Should get me a few bits and bobs seeing as the light stays on all night and the doors are always open. Nice population of Amaurobius similis on the ceiling, usually a moth or two in the corners and possibly a Tipula maxima on the wall. It'll be a start anyway. Tachypodoiulus niger should be out and about beneath the security lights on outside walls, mayby a few Porcellio scaber too. Fingers crossed the Tawny Owls will be vocalising. A few of the live-in staff here know what I'm up to, so I might have a bit of company for the first ten or fifteen minutes. 

I have two low tides during the course of the day. The first is at 2am so I expect I'll be wandering along the beach with my torch and a bucket! It's a fairly rubbish low, just 1.12 metres. It drops to 0.58 metres nearer the end of the month, which would be a lot more interesting, but I'll still give it a damn good go. 

Sunrise is at 4:28am though it'll be getting light by not much after 3am. By 6am the weather is meant to start getting a bit rubbish with the winds increasing (helpful for keeping the midges at bay) and rain sweeping in for the rest of the day right through to mid-evening. Oh and it'll be driving rain for much of that time thanks to another increase in wind speeds.....sheesh! This will seriously hamper my eventual total, insects aren't very active in strong winds or rain.

This is what I can expect for tomorrow. Meh.
I shall be returning back to base around 10am for staff breakfast so shall post a comment below giving you my running total of identified species. Likewise I'll be back at 5pm for staff dinner and will post another comment. Please stay tuned, I'm hoping to surpass 400 species but it's entirely weather dependant. Will I just jack it all in and hit my bed? Will I stay the course and keep going until the following midnight? 

Cor, this is almost as riveting as watching the election results come dribbling in - and yeah I was up until gone 3am this morning watching Labour storming ahead of the Tory scum. Hung parliament you say? Should start with that godawful bitch in Downing Street for starters, I can even supply the rope. No charge. I'm so pleased her crafty little scam has backfired in her face and that the Bullshit Broadcasting Company and associated Tory media failed to demonise Corbyn. Has Britain's apathy finally started to run off of the populace? Let's hope so.