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


  1. Good effort. Feels like 500 was doable

    1. I'm actually wondering if 600 is possible...

  2. Epic indeed and well written up. Next time it will be warm and not raining. And yes the tide table will need to be correctly perused.

    1. Thank you Pete, yeah definitely gonna be warmer, drier and less windy next time. And, as you say, tide times will be carefully checked! Late July seems best for low tides, dark of the moon is 24th July so lowest tides probably 26th? Sorted :)