Sunday, 23 July 2017

Time Flies Like An Arrow

"Time flies like an arrow...

...and fruit flies like a banana"

And here's the living proof -

Hung up at 2pm, still nice and fresh
Starting to turn by 9pm, and yep the fruit flies have arrived!
Why, you may ask yourselves, am I hanging bananas from a tree? Well you can thank Skev for this. He's a keen moth-er and has recently revived his brilliant blog. It's well worth a look just for the stunning images, anyway the bit about "banana-ing" is here. I hope it works, seems a more natural way to record moffs than light-trapping (the fact that I don't have a light trap has absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever...) My Czech housemate caught me in the act of hanging them up, he seemed genuinely thrilled that we now have a banana tree in the garden. I'm sure he things I'm completely bonkers and is just humouring me.

Had a bit of an avian happening today, well several in fact. First up was a stunning low-level Bonxie flying right over my house. Wow, that really was utterly unexpected! Next concerned a text message from my boss telling me there was a Corncrake calling just down the hill. I dashed off, it turned out to be a Sedge Warbler making funny noises but worth checking nonetheless. Whilst by the beach I scanned the sea and found a flock of Greylag Geese swimming along, patch tick! A roosting flock of nine Curlew is easily the highest count of the season, return migration is definitely well underway. Then I heard a diver singing from out in the bay! A bit of scanning into the sunlit waters revealed a lone Red-throated Diver, first I've seen here for some while. 

It'll be dark in about 90mins time, or as dark as it gets up here at the moment. I'll take a torch to the bananas, see if any moffs have arrived yet. Fingers crossed this actually does work!

Saturday, 22 July 2017

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

Well the BIG NEWS is that I'm pregnant. Haha, no - I jest. The real BIG NEWS is that I hired a van and took myself off to Southampton earlier this week whereupon I collected the remainder of my worldly possessions and carted them back up to Skye. So, a mere eight months after arriving, I'm now reunited with my precious natural history books, my storeboxes full of bodies, my ento equipment, my keys, my paintings and a bunch of clothes I forgot I even owned. Quite a lot of them went into the firepit, I have to say. I also had no idea how many sets of kingsize bedding I own. Bit pointless now that I'm in a single bed, but I'll keep them anyway. 

My man cave is coming along quite nicely. Here's the 'natural history corner' complete with wizards, dragons and other odds n sods. And obligatory bottle of red next to the microscope...

This makes for a Happy Seth :) 
The tall, narrow bookcase to the right comprises my Vascular Plant books. Next to that is the Bird bookcase. The corner bookcase contains my storeboxes, the Surrey Invertebrate Atlases and a few overspill Bird books. The small dark bookcase is invertebrates, seashore, freshwater, bryophytes and lichens. The big bookcase next to my desk holds my FSC/RES/other keys collection along the top row, some of the MOBGBI series and various large bird books at the bottom. I still need to source a 6ft bookcase for the other side of the room, this will house my novels which are currently languishing in assorted cardboard boxes. I used to have a fridge magnet that said, "A room without books is like a body without a soul". Not sure I have one of those, but the sentiment is apt. The small picture is a hummingbird which has been painted onto a feather. I picked this up in Nicaragua, the detail is just incredible - though you'll just have to take my word for that...

Anyway, I have my stuff back which has to be a good thing. It's been too long since I've properly unpacked, the eight months I've been here is fast approaching a recent longevity record in terms of my settling anywhere for a decent length of time. 

Last night I was hit in the face by an unknown moth. It looked pretty large and dark. Black Rustic? Too early, hell I dunno. I chased it from ceiling spotlight to ceiling spotlight with a pot before giving up and reaching for my butterfly net. It's probably bad luck to open a butterfly net indoors, but fkkit this thing wasn't settling down. One well-timed swipe and I had it. Into a pot, into the fridge and I'll check you out when you've cooled off a bit, ya bad boy ya. 

Cool off it duly did, I popped it onto a rock outside and papped a few pics. This is it...whatever it is...

That hugely jagged W-mark looked very familiar. Could this be the darkest Dark Arches I've ever seen? A quick flick through the books and various online resources confirmed that this was indeed a Dark Arches, but of the melanic form aethiops which is more frequent in the north. Hence why I've never seen one before. Smart moff! Very smart, in fact.

I've booted up quite a few Magpie Moths and Mottled Beauties recently, usually by strimming over them. Large Yellow Underwings too. A Common Shrew added itself to the "Death by Strimmer" list this afternoon, hot on the heels of last week's Field Vole. I used to think that strimming through dogshit was as bad as it could get but strimming small mammals is much, much worse.

Me ol' mate Skev has introduced me to a moff attractant that seems to work wonders (and doesn't need a fancy bulb either). Buy a banana. Cut a couple of 'windows' into the peel to expose the banana flesh. Hang it up in a tree. Leave it to rot. Easy! It seems that flies and wasps are attracted first but that moffs move in after a couple of nights. He's had instant success with species such as Copper Underwing, Dark Arches and Old Lady being lured in. And, in his own words, nothing beats having an Old Lady sucking your banana..... Stupidly I forgot to buy bananas today and the shop is shut tomorrow, so that's next week's project sorted out.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Mompha propinquella

It's been a stunningly beautiful day up here today, clear blue skies and some real heat in the sun. So much so that I was tempted to swing a net around in the garden for the first time since moving here. I headed for the massively overgrown area of nettles, woundwort, dock, meadowsweet and willowherb, swooshing away as I went. Quite a few bugs and hoppers, a few tiny spiders, lots of cuckoo spit everywhere. I potted a few bits and bobs including a rather striking-looking micromoth which I couldn't readily put a name to. 

Back indoors I had a flick through the book and stopped at Mompha propinquella. That looked good, and UKMoths looked even better, but the two month old distribution map that we Skye moffers look at showed it to be absent from the area. Hmmm. It's all over the adjacent mainland and even on the Outer Hebs, but no records for Skye. I checked the book and UKMoths, plus a few more websites again. Still looks good for propinquella to me. Eep!

I jumped onto the Skye Moth Facebook Group and added the following two pics of my moth

And the general consensus is that it really is Mompha propinquella, and a new species for the Skye list. Also new for my own list, being my 1057th species of British moth. How cool is that, in my own back garden!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Back on the Sea

Last week, whilst wandering through Uig Woods, I bumped into a local birder called Martin and we got chatting about pelagic birding trips into The Minch. In theory there could be shedloads of goodies waiting to be found out there, certainly Sabine's Gulls have been seen and Leach's Petrels breed somewhat less than a million miles away. Throw in passage skuas, shearwaters and the chance of a cosmic mega (Ascension Frigatebird was photographed just four years back on Islay, plus there was one on Tiree in 1953, clearly they like it up here...) and suddenly we were both very keen to see our chatting turned into a reality. 

Fast forward a couple of days and Martin approached a local skipper called Tom, had a chat, got a rough quote for a day long charter and spread the word to Bob McMillan. Bob, being the epicentre of the Skye birding network, sent an email to a bunch of folks and pretty soon there was enough interest to fill a charter. By sheer serendipity, Tom the skipper was having a beer at the hotel where I work that evening and, after a very useful introduction from my boss, we got to chatting about chartering his boat for the birder's pelagic. 

Anyway, the upshot of all that was that Tom invited me along on one of his daily nature trips and so today I jumped on the 1530 ride for three hours out into the sea loch. Yay, back on the water at last!!! 

NG3963 as I've never seen it before
As you can see, the weather was awful, but we persevered across the bay and were soon goggling at the sight of two White-tailed Eagles soaring overhead. I tried some pics but they didn't really come out too well. I noted 20 Black Guillemots as we steamed across the bay, then I stopped bothering to count them. We saw a Kittiwake city on steep cliffs, many parent birds sitting with half-grown grey chicks. I spotted an adult White-tailed Eagle perched on a nearby clifftop, presumably one of the pair we'd seen earlier. Also seen were plenty of Shags, one solitary Cormorant, a few Guillemots on the sea of which one was a 'bridled' bird and a decent flock of Greylag Geese on a grassy island. Low numbers of Gannets and the odd Arctic Tern were noted as we chundered along to see the Common Seal colony. One individual had a really white head and looked very odd indeed

Stressed to the max....yawn. Note that the pale individual is winking!
Next port of call was Eilean Creagach where I managed a bit of botanising for the 2020 BSBI Atlas Project. Nothing very exciting, Sea Campion, Thrift, Wild Thyme, Heather, Broad-leaved Dock, Common Sorrel, Bird's-foot Trefoil and Sea Mayweed was all I could identify as we bobbed offshore. I don't think anybody else was botanising at that particular moment seeing as we were receiving fantastic views of around 100 Puffins either flying past, sitting on the sea or standing at the entrances to their nest burrows. I took a few pics through my bins but they were all too awful to share. A summer plumaged Black-headed Gull was an unexpected bonus as was a Lion's Mane Jellyfish that floated beneath the boat, soon followed by a Moon Jellyfish. A Wheatear on the rocks was presumably nesting on the island.

Approaching the Ascrib Islands. Atrocious weather all the way...
As we steamed back across the bay on our homeward leg of the journey, Tom suddenly eased up on the throttle - he'd just seen a whale blow. Despite giving it several more minutes, we never did see it again. Next time, hopefully. 

Back at the pier I thanked Tom for letting me join him on the trip, came away with several questions answered regards chartering the boat for a birder's pelagic and left him with some homework regards routes, travelling times and the feasibility of catering for our mad birdy whims. I'm really hoping it works out, his extended wheelhouse is huge, can seat 10 in comfort and has an electric kettle so you can help yourself to teas and coffees. Juice, biscuits and crisps are also on hand and there's even free beer provided. Now that's my kind of host! 

Reardeck of the Radiant Queen can easily sit a dozen birders. More room in front of the wheelhouse too.
Just to keep it real, here's a coupla bits from NG3963 today, taken before the boat trip and both new for my stuttering 1000 in a 1KSQ tally

Mottled Beauty hiding from the bright sun
Rhagonycha fulva - aka The Bonking Beetle.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Ten Green Bottles

Ok, so I lied. There were twelve green bottles not ten. And they were blue not green. Sue me.

Cor, look at that lot!
I swept these flies from a grassy meadow at the top of the beach. These are calliphorids, Calliphoridae, commonly known as blowflies. Or 'bluebottles' in everyday parlance. There are quite a few species of bluebottles in Britain, spread across several genera. I'd always assumed that they were just too damn difficult to even attempt tackling (for me that still holds true for most flies) but Steven Falk has recently produced a fantastic pdf entitled Test Key to the British Blowflies which covers our 'bottles' in detail. 

Add the fact that the local species record collator is a dipterist (fly fanatic) and has specifically asked me to look out for a seashore-loving bluebottle, one which hasn't yet been recorded from my area, and I simply had to give them a try. I netted twelve individuals which I felt would offer me at least a couple of different species. Calliphora vicina and Calliphora vomitoria are the commonest bluebottles. The 'missing' species that should be here is Calliphora uralensis, it being something of a northern specialist in Britain. 

I popped them into the deep-freeze overnight which is a humane way of despatching flies. On opening the pots I was surprised at the strong odour of shite coming off these flies. Shite or rotting carcasses, I'm not sure. I've dubbed them The Dirty Dozen. Must remember to wash my hands sometime soon...

Anyway, all pinned and ready to be keyed through. Happily they all key to Calliphora so I'm in the right genus at least. Rather annoyingly they all show the orange/yellow beard and back of the head which clearly indicates that every single damn one of them is Calliphora vomitoria. Well, I really didn't expect that, just look at the variation in sizes for starters. Next time I think I'll target the large rocks at the top of the beach itself, which may be more suitable for uralensis and less attractive to vomitoria. Oh well, I tried.

Apologies to anyone hoping to see ten green bottles hanging on the wall. Best I can come up with at such short notice is this

"4 Green Bottles sittin' on me desk..."
These were fresh into the hotel today, it's the first time I've seen Stella for sale here. I much prefer pints, or even cans, of Wife Beater instead of these poncy wee bottles, but I was overcome with excitement at the sight of my fave beer unexpectedly sitting there in front of my eyes. Probably a good thing it isn't on tap, the locals would probably lose their shit very rapidly (as happened on Scillies when it first arrived on tap - before being rather quickly taken back off again!) They aren't used to a good ol' pint of chemicals in these parts!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

I'm Batman...

Yep I'm still alive, though the blogging bug has kinda fallen by the wayside of late. I think I'm going slightly stir crazy traipsing around the confines of NG3963. Even my 1000 in a 1KSQ thing has all but stagnated. I did sneak away on a botanical blitz expedition with a bunch of botanists a few days back though. We hit a tetrad with NO vascular plant records (!) and came away with just shy of 200 species, plus 119 species of bryophytes. I didn't contribute very much but I did come away with a fat fistful of new grasses and sedges. Next one is in early August, no venue yet but it'll be another under-recorded tetrad. This is all in aid of the forthcoming 2020 BSBI Atlas Project. Here we are in action

Skye Botany Group members in action!
Transparent Burnet - one of several at the clifftop
Lesser Clubmoss - the first of seventeen new vascular plants that day!
Northern Marsh-orchid, always a treat
Physocephala nigra - this is the first record for Skye!
But none of that is relevent to this blog seeing as it was down at Tusdale near Eynort. Back to good ol' NG3963...

This morning started with a nice surprise when I realised I was not alone in the bathroom

Hanging out with my bestie
Kind of face only a mother could love...
So now I had a small predicament on my hands. The bat didn't appear injured or in immediate danger and I don't have a bat handler's license. By law I mustn't touch it. But at the same time we're having work done in the house and the chippie/sparkie/decorator might be back and forth into the bathroom which would clearly distress the bat, seeing as it was clinging to the door. I took the law into my own hands and broke it (the law, not the door!) Grabbing an empty toilet roll insert I carefully placed it over the bat which immediately shuffled inside. Then I took it to the open window, carefully ripped open the cardboard insert and tried to tempt the bat onto the wall below. 

Look at that lovely crawlspace under the flashing. Go on then, off you go...
It seemed reluctant to leave the nice cosy toilet roll insert but eventually it gave a surprisingly loud squeak and flew off out of sight. Yay - I saved a bat! 

My housemate is from Czech Republic, I met him in the hotel kitchen half an hour later and asked him if he'd noticed the bat in our bathroom. "What ees bat?" he asked. I showed him the pics on my camera. "Oh dat thing. It was in bath so I picked up and threw out window." Haha, I guess they do things differently in Czech! But wait, so did it come straight back in again or were there two of them in the bathroom this morning? I suspect the latter, my housemate isn't exactly the most observant fella in the world, especially not in the mornings.

After breakfast I horrified one of the female members of staff by showing her this beast. "Get that fkkn spider the fkk away from me!" she warned, which gave me the perfect opportunity to teach everyone present the main differences between harvestmen and spiders. 

Leiobunum rotundum - a female and 'new' for NG3963
The bat is one of the pipistrelles, I'm not sure which one though. I'll have to do a bit of research and compare my pics with what's online and get back to you on that one. I'm heading back down to Southampton at some point in the next couple of weeks, finally going to collect the rest of my possessions! I think I have a bat detector amongst my mountain of belongings, that will tell me which pips I have here.

EDIT: After a bit of internet trawling it appears that the pips that occur on the north coast of Skye are Common (Bandit) Pipistrelles as opposed to the Soprano Pipistrelle. I massively brightened the images and it does indeed look darker furred across the eyes (the so-called bandit mask effect). Add to this the habitat around the hotel (Brown/Soprano Pips tend to forage over water, Common/Bandit Pips forage generally pretty much anywhere else) and the fact that I regularly see four or five bats wheeling over the tree/rooftops here and I'm happy they are Pipistrellus pipistrellus as opposed to Pipistrellus pygmaeus. NBN Scotland shows Bandit Pips across the lower half of Skye, Soprano Pip has a single dot near the bridge across to mainland, and pipistrelle (agg) pretty much all over.