Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Talisker Set

I know, I know, you're all desperate to hear about The Adventures of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as happened last weekend when Ali, Pete and Tim arrived for intense PSLing action. But you'll just have to wait (no really, you'll just have to!) because I'm all abuzz with today's excitement and no longer suffering from sleep deprivation. 

Today, Skye Nature Group were off to Talisker Bay in search of moths and butterflies, plus whatever else we could find. I was completely blown away with the scenery, more reminiscent of wading through The Everglades or Coto Donana than of being in north-west Scotland!

Wow - is this really Skye???
We watched an adult Golden Eagle soaring low over this crag whilst its hidden youngster called incessantly
We were wading through the iris beds on a narrow strip of land sandwiched between a low-lying rushy area to our left and a burn filled with Brown Trout to our right. We encountered a family of Spotted Flycatchers and then had great views of a family of noisy Sedge Warblers in the trees we were following. 

Neil contemplating crossing the ditch....
Bill and Deirdre Peppe were our guides and, despite their telling us not to, we somehow ended up following Neil across a mucky yet shallow ditch. Signs on the other side were good, a clear trail to follow! Unfortunately we soon found ourselves cut off by the river to one side whilst the shallow ditch we had crossed had by now become a reed-choked, manky-arsed, despair-filled thing of unknown depth. Neil boldly tested the Ditch of Doom and promptly sank, receiving wellies full of water for his efforts. With a deep sigh I figured what the heck, took my boots and socks off, rolled my trousers way up above my knees and went for it. Success! Bill and Colin waded through in their hiking boots, Deirdre fell in, Neil was already soaked anyway. My feet, covered in muck and debris, dried within minutes and I calmly put my dry socks and boots back on once more. Who's a clever little smug bastard then... 

We followed the river down to the beach, where it formed a small lagoon - cut off from the sea by a wall of shingle. I spied several puddles of wriggliness at the water's edge. A closer look revealed thousands of toadlets/tadpoles

A solid writhing mass, some were taking their first tentative steps onto dry land, others had a way to go yet. 
Skye isn't exactly renowned for sandy beaches, so the Talisker Bay beach kinda took my breath away

A small yacht sat moored just offshore, the slightest of breezes helped cool our sweating brows, the sand felt divine beneath my feet. Absolutely bloody glorious, Skye just keeps on getting better and better and better!!!

But we had a certain set of targets to find, so we set off towards a known area for a couple of very desirable moths. 

Some time later we arrived in The Zone.

Within just a few minutes Colin pointed at a burnet, I swung my net and missed. Another burnet careened closer, I missed that one too. Eventually though, I had a burnet in the net from whence it was swiftly transferred into a tube for perusal. 

BOOM! Talisker Burnet! High fives everybody!!!!
Talisker Burnet is actually a subspecies of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, one that only occurs on Skye (and then at only a handful of sites). It's actually a Red Data Book Species, as such it is protected by law. We noted the five red spots on each forewing and quickly let it go again. Over the next couple of hours we saw several more, including this fine individual on a Marsh Thistle

Pretty glaring in the super-strong sunlight, but note the five spots on the forewing
I could hear grasshopper noise coming from just upslope. A bit of sweep netting and I bagged a male and female Common Green Grasshopper for folks to view

Female Common Green Grasshopper with gently incurved pronotal keels and full wings
But it was the moths that we were here to see

Six-spot Burnet, second of The Talisker Set to fall. Note the six (partly conjoined) red spots on the forewing
And a short while later....

Transparent Burnet - note the very thin wing membrane and large red patches rather than spots on the forewing
So that's three species of burnets in one small area. What else is up here, I wonder...

DEW MOTH! Hell yeah, that's the Talisker Set completed!!!!
I was stunned to learn quite how small Dew Moths are, I thought they were the size of a White Ermine. Nope, not at all, more like a big Tort than an ermine! Deirdre snared the first Dew Moth of the day straight out of the air with her net, top skills. Unfortunately she kind of fumbled the potting process, luckily we saw at least a dozen more whilst in The Zone. Phew, I admit that I harboured doubts that we'd connect. As it turned out we connected again and again and again. Sweet. 

We also saw lots of butterflies, a single Painted Lady that briefly settled on unopened Hemp Agrimony heads before shooting almost vertically up and over a cliff! Several Red Admirals and numerous Common Blues brightened up the air. A pair of Graylings whooshed up and down the slope, one deigning to settle on a lichen-clad rock but quickly zoomed off before we could attempt to capture an image. 

Peacock larvae - there were probably over 150 caterpillars in this one large nest in a nettlebed
Also of interest were a handful of plumes fluttering through the sward. I caught a couple, they both proved to be Thyme Plume Merrifieldia leucodactyla, I suspect that's what they all were

Thyme Plume flitting over and through the cushions of Thyme present at this site
Lots of these huge beasties just hanging about between the large boulders

Araneus diadematus - talk about a web with a view! 
I missed witnessing this, but apparently a cleg flew straight into a web, was rapidly bound up in silk and sucked dry there and then. 'Oh dear, what a pity, never mind' was the phrase that immediately popped into my head... I potted one of the clegs that I swatted, turned out to be the seemingly ubiquitous Haematopota pluvialis, of course. 

Scaeva pyrastri - a rather smartly marked hoverfly with hairy eyes
We headed back inland across sheep pastures rather than brave the Ditch of Despair once more. Not very productive from a wildlife point of view, but fantastic views of the lazy beds that dominate the slopes in this part of the world. Life, it would seem, was hard work in years gone by. 

These things breed here. I think they were expecting handouts, the way they were menacing me! 
Tomorrow I'm off to Soay with the Skye Botany Group. I was full of high hopes of seeing the eponymous sheep, but a quick bit of Googling revealed that there are two islands named Soay, one has the sheep and the other I'm due to visit tomorrow. Bugger.

As an aside, we watched an adult White-tailed Eagle wheeling high over a cliff as we departed Talisker. Sorry Pete, honest it wasn't deliberate. 

I couldn't actually finish watching this next song, but it's pretty funny for about the first 30 seconds. Mountain Dew (Moth) coming your way, dear reader. Buckle up....

Can't say I don't try to expand your listening experiences, haha! 


  1. I think I need to retire so we can just live on Skye for the summer :D I netted a grasshopper yesterday then some bloke who was passing would not shut up talking to me until it escaped. Not impressed!

  2. Yes Skye just looks better and better. Great range of Burnets and looks like a great day out. Eagles, the word Typical springs to mind.

  3. I wonder if any coleopterists or dipterists have ever worked The Zone?

    1. It'll still be there next summer. Y'know, if you were in the area...