Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Big Year WP Birders

I've been keenly following the exploits of three Swedish birders who, possibly for the first time ever, are going for a properly organised Western Palearctic Big Year. They began the year in Kuwait and have trotted across to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Western Sahara, they even turned up here in Britain for a bit of impromptu twitching! Plus they've birded Sweden whilst back home between trips. They've just embarked on a long trip (over 100 days duration) scooping up what they can where they can. They can be followed on their page at Big Year WP 2017

So why am I blethering on about these lads on my 1ksq blog? Well because their total for the W.Pal and my total for NG3963 are very similar. They're just about to hit a huge glut of returning summer migrants, I'm hoping for a modest glut of invert activity. I still haven't seen a bee here yet.

As of today the Swedes are on 408 species of bird this year and I'm on 413 species of everything. If you'd like to see how the bunch of us attempting our own 1000 species in a 1ksq are coming along you can check it out here. There's a new numero uno on the scoreboard and County Durham has now joined the action too.

Come 31st December who knows what the figures will say? Will they (or will I) burn out and chuck it all in before then? Will events dictate that we scrap our plans? Or will we both come home in a blaze of glory, new records having been set, that'd be nice. Maybe I'll find that Glaucous-winged Gull in late December and they'll come across for me to show it to them...haha!

No pics I'm afraid but I have a day off tomorrow and (wonder of wonders) it's actually meant to be dry and sunny, though only 5 degrees. I'll take that thank you very much, I was spreading salt last night!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Duckin' and a Divin'

The weather has been pretty awful here lately, ridiculously sudden and devastating hailstorms, briefly blue skies and then more sudden, violent hail. Changeable, I think you could call it. The wind hasn't eased up for days, been a sustained 35-40mph WSW gusting to well over 50mph. But today that changed. I woke up and the wind had gone (took me a moment or two to figure out what was different) and a light drizzle had replaced the sideways hail. I have outdoor painting to do, but not in drizzle, so I quickly switched my days off, donned the wet weather gear and headed down to the beach to see what had been blown in. 

A whole shedload of seaweed is what has been blown in, great piles of the stuff forming distinct strandlines along the beach. I picked through it (one new sheep carcass...) and found lots of a large brown seaweed that I have seen before but couldn't name. It must be a relatively deep water species for I only ever see it after storms. Here it is 

Pretty distinctive huh? Big too.
The frond was very slimy and slippery, even the midrib felt kind of buttery to the touch though it was pretty tough. It was also very flattened, wide but low like an elongated rectangle in cross-section. The stipe itself had small nubs along each edge. Back indoors I quickly figured it as being Dabberlocks Alaria esculenta and amazed myself by discovering that it was a lifer. Really? I'm pretty certain I've seen this before, guess it's slipped through the gaps until now. On a nearby washed up Cuvie stipe was another marine alga that I've been looking out for, please excuse the truly terrible pic! I should do better with this species as the season progresses and it becomes much more noticeable

Truly atrocious microscope pic of Melobesia membranacea, an epibiont red alga
So this is the mighty Melobesia membranacea (and my 60th species of alga!) From what I hear it is likely to prove very noticeable as the summer progresses. It generally smothers various stipes, fronds and blades of larger seaweeds, I've undoubtedly seen it before but not realised what it was. But what was that word used in the caption: 'epibiont'. What's one of those then? An epibiont, I recently learnt, is the term used to describe a living something growing on top of a living something else (in this context, named the basibiont). Epibionts cause no harm to the basibiont, hence are not parasitic. In this instance it is a red alga that is growing on the surface of a Cuvie stipe. But doesn't that make it an epiphyte, I hear you ask? Well yes, sorta. As far as I can ascertain epiphytes are plants growing on other plants, clearly seaweeds are not plants as such. At least not the reds. Or is it the browns? So are the greens classed as plants, can they be epiphytic? No, coz they're all alga not plants. Though I guess alga are in fact primitive plants...hmmm. You know what, I think I'm gonna just leave this topic and start a new paragraph, pretend it never happened. Who'd like to hear about some birds that I saw? Good. Birds are easy. Bloody seaweeds ffs...

In the three and a half months I've been here I've seen just one diver in the bay, a solitary Great Northern. Today I improved upon that with not one, not even two or three, but four Great Northern Divers in the bay! Only one of these was actually in NG3963 (ie inside 'my' square) but after days of strong winds and choppy waters these birds had come inshore to feed. Divers hunt by sight, if the water is murky and turbid (and believe me after 3 days of strong WSW winds it really is...) they simply can't see the fish to catch them. So they come into shallow waters to catch crabs, which they can locate by touch. Currently it's a very bad time to be a crab. But along with the Great Northern Divers I also found a pair of Black-throated Divers and a single Red-throated Diver. Superb! With a gang of Eider, a Black Guillemot, several Red-breasted Mergansers plus a pair of Goosander that I carelessly flushed from the mouth of the River Conon, it was pretty busy out in the bay today. Everyone busily feeding on fish and crabs. Much further out I spied a bunch of Gannets plunge-diving through a raft of gulls. Cormorants and Shags were seen flying low over the water towards the feeding mêlée. It was all easily a mile and a half away but I watched through my binoculars for a long while, just praying for that breach of a Humpback, even a Minke would suffice. But alas it was not to be. Not today anyway. Here's a completely pants shot of the Black-throated Divers. They pair up again in the wintering grounds (maybe France, maybe Cornwall) and migrate north towards the breeding grounds together. Who knows how they locate each other on the wintering grounds. Not me.

I know, awesome shot isn't it. Clearly we can rule out Pacific Diver - just look at that clean throat and crown shape!
Back to kicking through the wrackline, I found a few bryozoans on stipes and kelp blades. Mostly they were the usual Electra pilosa and Membranipora membranacea but I found a few others too. Back indoors I checked them out through the microscope. Some I could do but others were beyond me. Ideally I need the FSC Keys to help me with the bryozoans I encounter,  but there are several books in the set and with prices like this I think I may just skip it and continue to be baffled. Despite this, I managed to identify two new ones for me - Callopora lineata (photos are too shockingly poor to share here) and Disporella hispida as seen here

Disporella hispida alongside the three-ridged tube of Janua pagenstecheri
Very noticeable were the receptacles of Egg Wrack. This is one of the more dominant seaweeds her at Uig, barely a patch of midshore beach is without a whacking great patch. But it was the receptacles that caught my eye - just look at these! (In fact if you look really closely you may even see a few tiny black dots that are the marine fungus Stigmidium ascophylli)

It's almost that time of year again!
Egg Wrack is a long-lived species, many clumps are believed to be several decades old. Sexual maturity is at 4 or 5 years of age. I could blether on at length about what is happening here, but why not have a quick read of Jessica's blog page instead. She goes into all the nitty-gritty in a way that surpasses my blundering abilities. Of interest (to me at least) was a ball of Common Whelk Buccinum undatum eggs, all empty and hence uncountable for my 1000 species Challenge, but nice to find regardless.

Whelk egg case. The few that hatched will have eaten the remainder as their first meal. Lovely...
I headed inland next, through the woods to see what I could find. First up were these small fungi, only a millimetre or so across and scattered across a tree trunk. I have no idea what these are despite a bit of detective work. I initially thought they may be related to the Cannonball Fungus Sphaerobolus but I don't think so now. Do you recognise what they are? You wanna let me know?

There were hundreds of these across a couple of tree trunks. Ideas?
Finally, I've been a bit slack with my microfungus IDs. There are several species that cause reddish leaf spots on Rumex (docks) and until recently I had presumed they were all Ramularia rubella. Lazy. Today I collected an infected leaf and grilled it properly. This is what I found

Macro shot of the infected area. Note the concentric rings of black fruit bodies - I can ID them via those!
I did a microscope squash of the fruit bodies, here you can see the spore-filled asci (200x mag)
The individual spores - still can't believe I now have the kit to see these!!! Amazing :)
Looking through my copy of Ellis and Ellis it was an easy process to narrow my leafspots down to the very common Venturia rumicis. Very common but still a lifer for me, my fifth of the day!

It'll be a few days now until I can grab another free day. Still living in the hope that it'll start to warm up and the inverts will show their faces. And I can impress the locals with my butterfly net skillz....

Thursday, 16 March 2017

400th of the 1000

Rapid blast down to the shop after work (between the preposterously heavy hailstorm showers that have been pulsing through all day) gave me all of five minutes at the shore scanning through the gull flock. And there it was...number 400. Here's the only pic I managed of it, just in the nick of time as it flew off!

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull
400 relates to the number of species out of a hoped for 1000 that I've seen so far this year in my home 1km square of NG3963. The idea is explained on this page and there's plenty of room for anybody who wants to join up and have a go at their own square.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Honey, I Shrunk the Wildlife

Been out and about a couple of times the past few days, no great leaps in the 1000 Species Challenge tally although I'm fast approaching the 400 species barrier. I'll be there before the end of the month is out. First up, who wants to see some really, really tiny creatures? Good, here you go...

This is (probably) the young stage of a Daphnia, called a nauplius. Moves around in great big jerks. Very small.
This is a rotifer, probably from the genus Euchlanis or Lepadella and really very small indeed
This is a diatom, a unicellular alga that slowly motors along all by itself. From the genus Cymbella. Very very small.
This is another diatom (a unicellular alga) possibly from the genus Pinnularia. Ridiculously tiny.
And this is Meridion circulare, the smallest thing on my PSL by a long, long way. Ridiculously teeny-weeny!
All of these were from a single fingertip-sized clod of filamentous algae I pulled out of a shallow roadside ditch. Mostly I enjoy just watching them doing their thing, eyeball glued to the microscope  waiting to see what will swim into view next. I'm so far removed from their tiny microscopic realm that it almost makes me feel as though I'm a god or something! Watching the minute animals and alga interacting with each other (alga that move around all by themselves fer cryin' out), eating and being eaten, acting in bizarre fashions, all utterly unaware of my presence. Guess it appeals to the voyeur in me. (He feels like a god? And he's a peeping tom? Who is this fella whose blog you've been reading? Somebody needs to call the police...)

Meanwhile, back in the real world.... the flowers are coming up now, it's no longer just Daffodils and Lesser Celandines. I found a nice wee patch of Coltsfoot erupting from beneath dead grass. The flowers come up long before the leaves, which is fairly atypical amongst our wildflower flora. Seems to me that a large proportion of early Spring flowers are yellow. There's probably a good reason for this but I'm afraid I don't know it. Maybe an attractant to Diptera seeing as there aren't many other pollinating insects out just yet. I've still to see a bee this year.

Coltsfoot - a firm favourite of mine, host to various microfungi, moths and more.
The woodland here is in places carpeted with Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (yet another early Spring flower with yellow petals, though ridiculously tiny ones at that) and I've been keeping my eyes peeled for two microfungi that grow on its leaves. Finally my luck was in and I found several leaves infected by Puccinia chrysosplenii, a lifer for me. Apologies for the utterly soulless image that follows, I did take a few pics in the field but they were all out of focus. You're looking at the small pale patch, squint hard and maybe you'll see the dark flecks within. That's the fungus in question. Amazingly underwhelming huh? Well I was pleased to find it anyway. The second microfungus on this plant is far less impressive, yeah really!

Puccinia chrysosplenii in all of its staggering glory!
Sticking with microfungi for just a few more seconds, I found this covering many dead stems of Dryopteris ferns. It looks a lot like Bracken Map, but clearly the hostplant is different so the fungus probably will be too. More research required with this one

According to my Microfungi Book (Ellis & Ellis) there are quite a few possibilities. Hmmm....
Ok, so we've done microscopic stuff, we've done microfungi, so how about something big? I think so too. I thought I saw a Phyllonorycter mine in a dead Beech leaf laying squashed into the damp soil. I picked the leaf up (it wasn't a mine) and found this on the underside

Picture taken through my 10x handlens. I lied, this is very small too.
I recognised what it was straight away, Argonemertes dendyi. All I desperately needed was for it to not auto-digest/explode/implode/dissolve before I could pop it into alcohol, then to send off for confirmation. I think it may be the first record for the Highland Region, possibly even for Scotland. Back indoors I was pleasantly surprised to find it still very much alive and intact, I even managed a microscope pic to show the eye arrangement

I'm pretty bloody chuffed with this image!
And, before it had an opportunity to self-destruct in some shockingly unpleasant manner, I whacked it into a tube of alcohol. Judging by the fully extruded proboscis it didn't like the taste very much

Death by whisky, it's a regular theme up here on Skye
I didn't get out today but still managed to add Bullfinch to the list of birds I've recorded on Skye. I only heard it passing through, I was in the garage painting a picnic bench at the time. A flock of eight Rooks noisily careened across the sky too, only the second time I've seen them in NG3963. I heard Pied Wagtail several times, possibly the same bird flying around but also just as likely to be passage migrants. Had the first one quite recently, hearing them daily now. Might be able to sneak off for an hour or so tomorrow afternoon, hope the weather plays ball.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Spring!

Wow, what a difference a day makes. Glorious blue skies by late morning and it was almost (almost) warmish at one stage! For the first time this year I could have done with my net, I spied a fair sized bug flying low across a grassy strip, presumably a shieldbug. I followed it with my binoculars but lost it when it jinked into the undergrowth. Haha, the locals have yet to witness me dashing about with my butterfly net! But here's a nice springtime image for us all to enjoy, if you like this sort of thing...

I'm still studiously checking these for Scotland's first ever Norellia spinipes!
There's a lovely thread on this Dipterists Forum page regarding information on the spread of Norellia spinipes (and of it's observers), it's a few years old but makes for great reading. I commonly found the fly in Surrey during the springs of 2014 and 2015. Be a bit of a leap for it to occur on Skye, but entirely possible seeing as the larva are presumed to live within the bulbs. In theory it could be transported just about anywhere I guess. I shall keep on looking, there are plenty of naturalised and garden grown Daffodils in NG3963. It is also recorded from Heather, plenty of that here too.

Anyway that's quite enough about what I didn't see, the tide was out so I had a poke along the shoreline finding a few bits n bobs but nothing very exciting. Low tide is still pretty high at the moment, it will be another couple of weeks before we have the lowest tides of the month. A washed up Cuvie stipe provided a morsel of interest with several Prickly Saddle Oyster Heteranomia squamula attached to part of the holdfast

Heteranomia squamula next to the delightfully named Wart Barnacle Verruca stroemia
The orange colouration through the shell is a puzzle. It seems to resemble egg batches, I brought it home with me for closer inspection, must remember to check! The rest of the flotsam was pretty mundane so I retreated up the beach to just above HWM and started turning boulders. This was more productive than I expected and I encountered numerous small staphylinids that look to belong to the subfamily Aleocharinae. I have no literature for these, plus I think they're a pretty hardcore group to crack. I took a few specimens and this short video. If anyone has any thoughts, ideas or suggestions as to species... 

video

The larger rocks in the foreground were the ones with the beetles and spiders beneath them
Beneath the same large rocks I found a good many spiders. They were pretty docile and none too rapid, often pulling their legs in rather than speeding away for cover. I think they are probably Halorates reprobus, I took 3 back with me to check under the microscope. Unfortunately none were adult male and I couldn't see any trace of an epigyne. I did get a half decent pic of the underside of the chelicerae though, taken whilst sandwiching the spider between two microscope slides! This doesn't seem to harm them, I can release them next time I'm at the beach.

Halorates reprobus? Just check out the 'teeth' on those jaws!
Here's a pic of a pair taken whilst still down on the shore, just moments after capture. They were really chilled, didn't even attempt to escape when the lid was removed. 

Look alright for Halorates reprobus?The third one is just beneath them.
Staying with arachnids for the moment, I found a striking spider hunting through the nooks and crannies of a sunlit wall. I watched it for a while before it presented an opportunity for me to quickly pot it up. I think this has to be Tetrix denticulata

Long spinnerets, abdominal patterning and habit of hunting on a wall all seem good for Tetrix denticulata
Two male Goosanders close inshore was a nice surprise. I've seen a female here before and a male on the river once but that was some weeks back now. Scanning further out I thought I had another but it was just a Red-breasted Merganser, these are seemingly out there all the time. 

Moving away from the beach I wandered up the hill above Uig Woods and through the sheep fields until I reached the cemetery. I can't help but check the drystone wall for snails and springtails, not too many of either today although this grouping of Balea perversa was nice to see

Balea perversa - facing into the wind for streamlining???
I'm assuming the smaller ones are juvenile Balea perversa, hmmm...we all know what happens when people assume! I think I'd better key them through next time.

From here you can look out across the canopy of Uig Woods in Glen Conon. I backtracked to the trees and soon found a Downy Birch that is infested with Witch's Broom growths, I really can't recall seeing a birch quite as heavily infected as this one

Witch's Broom can be induced in several ways, the fungus Taphrina betulina is likely here
I turned around and caught a tiny glimpse of red. I looked again and it took me a few seconds to realise what it was that had caught my eye

Female Hazel flower amongst the male catkins - tiny but lovely
The male pollen-bearing catkins have been out for some time now, but obviously there needs to be female participation for pollination to be successful, only then can the hazelnuts be formed. Hazel pollen is wind and rain dispersed, just whack a catkin on a warm. still day to see the cloud of pollen it releases. The female flower, being situated so closely to the catkins, is taking no chances of missing out on that precious pollen.Wasted on me though, I'm really not a fan of hazelnuts. But plenty of mice and voles up here that are!


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Running Before I can Walk

I have today and tomorrow as my days off this week, it's actually really nice to finally have two consecutive days off. Unfortunately for me this was the weather outside the window this morning, hence I stayed in until early afternoon (complete and utter fair weather wussbag that I am...)

The rain was sideways and the trees were blowing about, this pic really doesn't do it justice at all
Typical early springtime weather up here, the locals keep blethering on about possible snow at lambing time. I reckon that if I expect the worst then anything less than utterly horrific is a bonus. Until the fearsome midge arrives... 

Eventually rain gave way to grey which in turn gave way to paler grey with occasional blue, good enough for me! I donned rain gear and boldly strode off into the unknown. I headed for the zigzag road opposite the store and soon found myself checking Lesser Celandines for their associated microfungi, they have a bewildering array of Uromyces and Puccinia that infect the leaves at this time of year. I quickly found Uromyces, though I'm still not sure of the species involved

Probably Uromyces dactylidis, though maybe not...
A recent revelation to me was the discovery that the reddish leafspots on various species of  Rumex include Puccinia phragmitis and Venturia rumicis - it's not always Ramularia rubella! Looking around today all I saw was Puccinia phragmitis plus Puccinia acetosae on Common Sorrel leaves, which rather bizarrely appears to be new to me. Overlooked, but made it at last! Here's an especially crappy pic of it growing in a verge. EDIT: the dock leaf is probably Ramularia rubella after all.

Puccinia acetosae - admittedly one of the more underwhelming fungi on my list...
It genuinely saddens me to think I won't be searching for overwintering Small Copper larva on the Common Sorrel leaves up here, nor the eggs or adults in a month's time. Small Copper is absent from the Isle of Skye, probably my fave British butterfly species and it just isn't here.
 
Followed by Puccinia phragmitis in all of its 'glory'...
I spent a bit of time on the hillside above the River Conon, rain came and went and I failed to find much of interest apart from a very small, slender stonefly on a wooden fence post. I haven't grilled it yet, but it'll be a lifer for me whatever it is. 

Moving into the lower woods I made an effort to check for lichenicolous fungi on tree trunks. I soon found a whacking big patch of Pertusaria pertusa that was heavily parasitised. Here are a few pics showing firstly the patch with bleached centre, then a close-up of the fungus and finally an uninfected bit of Pertusaria thallus


I couldn't find anything that matched, so added the images to the British & Irish Lichen Facebook Group in the hope they could help. Jenny Seawright suggested I join the UKLichens Yahoo Group which I did, my membership is pending a moderator's notice but hopefully I'll have the opportunity to  put a name to this beast of a lichenicolous fungus before too much longer. 

I turned a few more rocks and stones, found a bunch of millipedes and worms plus a couple of Microplana terrestris. I also found a tiny egg sac which I think belongs to a flatworm. Certainly I've seen a similar image online recently. Problem is I do an awful lot of online searching and I can't remember where I saw the relevent image. (EDIT: these are more likely to be nemertean worms eggs, as suggested by Christian Owen).

Taken through my 10x handlens - these were pretty tiny!
Also found beneath rocks were a couple of Arion flagellus with their monstrous tubercules 

Arion flagellus - point blank refused to squirm or rock despite much poking and prodding
On an altogether larger scale I flushed a Woodcock from brambles about 12ft in front of me and also accidentally flushed several of these

C'mon, it's easy! What d'ya mean you still can't see it? *sigh*
I noticed a tiny patch of bright orange fluff growing out of a tree trunk, one of the Trentepohlia. I haven't recorded any of them from NG3963 so stuffed it in a pot and took it home for microscope work. Turns out to be Trentepohlia abietina which is a lifer for me! Sweet. Apparently it often grows in tiny inconspicuous patches on tree trunks, very dissimilar to T.aurea that I'm so used to seeing covering sallow trunks in the south of England. Microscopically one of the features to look out for are the cell walls, T. aurea shows a central thinning of the cell walls where they join, whereas T. abietina has equal thickness across the join. The following image is incredibly pants, but with a bit of squinting you should be able to see the uniform wall thickness between cells, Maybe. 

Trentepohlia abietina, actually a green alga in disguise, at 400x magnification
It was then that I noticed a greyish slug four feet up a tree stump. I didn't recognise it and figured it to be a Tandonia due to the long, pale keel. Then I saw the all white sole and got just a little bit excited! I took a quick barrage of pics and accidentally dropped it into the undergrowth. I don't know where it ended up but I certainly couldn't relocate it. Would my 5 images be enough? I had to contact an expert...here are all five images, unedited apart from a bit of cropping


So. What do you reckon? I had thought it was a weird Tandonia budapestensis until I saw the pure white sole. Holy sh*t, surely this was Tandonia cf cristata???? Wow, how amazing a find was that!?!? I rushed back, uploaded the pics and immediately sent them to Christian Owen, GrandMaster of all things Slugified. Bless him, he let me down gently. I hadn't found Scotland's first Tandonia cf cristata at all, this was the grey form of Lehmannia marginata, the Tree Slug. Which would explain what it was doing four feet up a tree trunk after recent wet weather. DOH! What a dick! To be fair, Lehmannia marginata is a common species here and I've never seen a grey morph before. Though I do see them on trunks every time it rains...

Slug update: There has been a change of ID regards the slug, it appears that this is actually the Ash-Black Slug Limax cinereoniger, which is very exciting for two reasons. Firstly it is the first record for the top half of Skye, not massively surprising given the lack of suitable habitat up here. Glen Conon, through which the Conon River flows and the inland half of Uig Woods is situated, is pretty much the only decent patch of deciduous woodland in the entire northern half of Skye. Limax cinereoniger is an ancient woodland specialist. Much of Skye's native woodland was cleared for sheep farming practice but Glen Conon was too steep to do much with, so it - and the slug - escaped eradication. Uig Woods west of the A87 is planted, this is where I found my specimen. Presumably Limax cinereoniger has expanded out of the remnant original ancient woodland into this secondary woodland. And the second reason it is exciting is that it's yet another lifer for me - yay!

Many thanks to Brian Eversham for casting his mighty eye across this blog, and many thanks to Christian Owen for taking a fresh look at the images this morning and doubting his previous ID. I'm really going to have to pull my socks up what with all these eminent naturalists visiting the blog nowadays!

I leave you with a promise of better weather and all things glorious



Sunday, 5 March 2017

Superfly

One of my jobs today was to sort out the mess that is the store shed, it's where things get dumped. About 60 feet beyond the shed is a small, babbling burn (that's a stream to any non-Scots out there). I spent a while moving, chucking and sweeping when I was physically halted in my tracks by a *thing* scurrying across the floor, looking for all the world like a cross between a cricket and a giant earwig but with long trailing cerci. The heck was that then??? I threw down a bit of debris, it scuttled underneath and I ran for my camera and a pot. One whole minute later and I was back, was it still there though...yes it was, phew! I grabbed the camera and tried to grab a half-decent pic as it once again began to charge across the bare floor

Mystery 'thing' (on a beautifully cleanswept floor...)
Safely potted up I had a proper look at the beast. Hmmm...could it be a stonefly, I wondered. The short wings and large size were confusing me. Every stonefly I've ever seen has been a long-winged, rather dainty-looking thing. Not like this bugger at all. 

After work I checked the beast again, grabbed a few freshwater books and jumped on the internet. And I soon found a likely culprit - male Diura bicaudata with it's reduced wings. Except the wing veination didn't look right for that. Reaching for my 1958 (!) copy of the FBA Key to Adults and Nymphs of the British Stoneflies I soon discovered where I was going wrong. Right family, wrong genus. Firstly the tip of the forewing showed an irregular network of cross-veins, as you can kinda see here

So you are looking at the lower right corner of the shorter of the two wings on the right hand side
As you can (hopefully) see there are several small cells all next to each other, almost looking like a small piece of honeycomb, at the end of the forewing (bottom right corner at this orientation). That conclusively rules out Diura bicaudata which lacks these small cells. So what is it? 

Second thing to check are the shape and size of the paraprocts, the little spiky things that hang out of its arse. Despite a quick bit of Googling, I am none the wiser as to what function paraprocts provide. I did learn what the word means: (Greek, para beside; proktos anus) and indeed they are described as being 'paired plate-like appendages either side of the anus in certain insect families, notably dragonflies and damselflies'. Cool, I still don't know what they're for though! So what did this beast's bum spikes look like? They looked like this

The paraprocts are the two little thorn-like spurs at the end of the last abdominal section
In real life the stonefly was constantly flexing, twisting and relaxing these 'prongs', they were moving all the time but only ever so slightly - you'd never notice unless watching through a microscope. Maybe it was clenching it's bum muscles in fear...

Anyway, checking the Stonefly Key couplets - are they 'elongate, each shaped like a half-cylinder and extending beyond the 10th tergum by more than half its length' (Diura bicaudata - er, nope) or are they 'short and triangular, each extending beyond the 10th tergum by less than half its length' - yep, I think I'll go for that one please! 

So, what have I got after all that detective work? Definitely not Diura bicaudata as I first assumed (which flies in Apr-Jun anyway, so a tad early realistically) but Perlodes microcephalus, my first identified stonefly! The larva live in flowing freshwater streams (or burns as we call 'em up here) with stony substrate and fly Mar-July, mainly Mar-May. This individual, with its short wings, is a male. The males apparently emerge a few days ahead of the females and generally loiter with intent on the ground somewhere near the burn...er stream...until the females emerge and then they get all jiggy with it before dying shortly afterwards. This species' status in my 1958 key says it is a common and frequent species. Not sure how relevant that is 60 years down the line, but the water courses here are unpolluted and good enough to drink from (though we filter it anyway here at the hotel) so there's no reason to assume that I won't be encountering Perlodes microcephalus again in the near future. Though probably not on the floor of the store shed. Nice! I released him back outside by the shed, hopefully he'll find his female in the next day or so.

As an aside, older literature names it Perlodes microcephala and more recently it has been called Perlodes mortoni as it apparently differs from European specimens. I have no idea, P.microcephalus seems to be the name in widest usage, I'll stick with that for the moment until I figure out the true picture of British forms versus European forms. It's an über cool beast whichever way you look at it.  

EDIT: Ok, seems as though British specimens are indeed of a different endemic species. All British males have reduced wings (variable length on the Continent) and the microscopic sclerites on the egg anchor differ. Think I'll stick with reduced wing-length as the feature to look out for! There's a nice paper here that explains in some detail why British specimens are Perlodes mortoni. Just need to quickly amend my list...