Saturday, 28 July 2018


We Skye folk experienced summer yesterday (unlike last year when it was on a Wednesday) and I witnessed my first ever flying ant swarms up here. Everything from Chaffinches to Hooded Crows were doing their very best flycatcher impressions, busily taking advantage of the sudden glut. And today we had some afternoon rain followed tonight by hammering rain of near biblical proportion and thunder. Thunder! This may well constitute the first thunder I've heard for two or three years - seriously!!! 

I haven't been out a'nature-bothering at all this week, quite ludicrous really given that invert activity should be almost at a peak. But I've still seen and found stuff...

Dicranopalpus ramosus - 50 metres south of my house and thus not quite the northernmost record in Britain! 
Epichloe typhina - a choke fungus of Cock's-foot Grass
Gold Spot on top of a very grubby thumbnail. Sorry about that...
Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing - such a smart moth! 

Anyway, these mid-July doldrums are about to be shattered into a million billion tiny wee pieces because, as of tomorrow afternoon, I have the marvellous Tony 'Mothman Extraordinaire' Davis staying here for a week! We have plans to run light traps down in the woods, maybe up at the bog too if it ever stops raining/blowing a hoolie. My next blogpost should be jam-packed full of excitement and stunning species. Dutch Rush for starters - hopefully! You'd be crazy to miss it...

My most memorable flying ant swarm happened early evening at Guilfest 2006. It was hot, it was humid, we were shoulder to shoulder in front of Stereo MC's when the first few ants started rising up through the crowd. There were lots more during The Stranglers performance, and then they went mental as Billy Idol came on! I didn't care - I was right up near the front yelling along with my childhood hero, I sang myself almost hoarse during Rebel Yell. My girlfriend wasn't a fan - until he took his t-shirt off, that is!! Anyway, ants - lots of them. I remember folks casually swatting and swiping at them. Then girls squealing as ants clambered through their hair, and then eventually nobody could ignore them any more, ha! The field we were stood upon must have held host to millions of them, because they just didn't stop. Flying ants bloody everywhere. I imagine the noise and vibrations from above probably helped incite them to move regardless of the weather conditions. 

Here's Billy, from that very evening, doing a cover you won't find on his albums

Can't find anything from the Stereo MC's show that night but they were MASSIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The drummer was insane - he had his drums mounted vertically and absolutely sledge-hammered his way through them - just so amazing to watch! I remember driving my truck through Brixton one time and almost crashing it when I realised it was Rob Birch bouncing his way along the pavement! 

Friday, 20 July 2018

Release the Bracken

Generally speaking, Bracken suffers a lot of bad press. I mean, just look at it - massively invasive, often blanketing hillsides and smothering meadows, resistant to all but the most rigorous eradication attempts, full of nasty horrible deer ticks and it even smells weird. Horrible stuff.

Well yeah, fair enough, but it does have plenty of good points too, including being the sole foodplant of assorted wee critters, a few of which I found today. Below are the feeding signs of various fly larvae - most, if not all, of which can probably be found on a Bracken patch near you. 

Leafmine of Chirosia histricina. Spot the larva yet?
Click here to view a page all about Chirosia histricina.

Chirosia grossicauda feeding signs
Underside view of the same frond
And click here to read all about Chirosia grossicauda.

Little Black Pudding Galls (Dasineura filicina)
Click here to be taken to a page about Dasineura filicina.

Whilst checking the Bracken for galls and mines I spotted a great many Broad Buckler-ferns with heavily galled terminal tips, as can be seen in this image

Chirosia betuleti on Broad Buckler-fern
And you can click here if you want to read up on Chirosia betuleti.

A bit later in the year I shall be looking out for various microfungi that grow on Bracken stems, plus there are a couple more species of flies that could occur on the Bracken up here. There's also a species of planthopper that lives solely on Bracken. I've seen it in England but not up here. Yet.

My ol' mate Tony is coming up from Hampshire in just over a week's time from now. He produced a Hitlist of species he wanted to see last time he was here. I'm fully expecting an updated Hitlist for this trip too. This was on his list of targets last time, hopefully it's on the new list too because they're looking bloody marvellous at the moment.

Melancholy Thistle, what a beaut!
During my 'extensive' research regards this blogpost's title, I discovered that the Kraken (mostly of Clash of the Titans fame) has nothing at all to do with Greek mythology. Perseus slayed the cetus, not the kraken. Zeus was obviously having a bad day when he famously announced "Release the Kraken" Whales and dolphins are collectively known as cetaceans, a word derived from cetus. The Kraken is a Norse belief, typically taking the form of an enormous squid, big enough to pull a ship under. Not sure how it worked its way into Clash of the Titans, but somebody fkkd up bigtime.

And if you thought that was impressive....

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Six of the Best

Skye seems to have suffered a distinct lack of microlepidoptera recorders in the past, though perhaps it's pertinent to mention that the recently retired County Moth Recorder was apparently notoriously reluctant to do anything with them. Thankfully, Keith Sadler (the new CMR) is grudgingly happy to adjudicate any micro records thrown in his direction and isn't shy about hassling Mark Young (Scottish National Recorder) with images of any species that are potentially 'firsts' for VC104. I should also make special mention of Nigel Richards who is quite clearly something of an authority on moth ID and spends an inordinate amount of his time correcting or confirming many of the trickier images on the Skye Moths FB page. We'd probably be bungling IDs all over the place but for Nigel.  

I've had a decent run of 'firsts' for VC104, starting with this from the back garden in July 2017

Mompha propinquella swept from an overgrown area at the bottom of the garden - nice!
It's a crappy pic of a very pretty little moth, happily it was just about clear enough for species confirmation. Accepted by Keith Sadler (CMR) as new for Skye, though I think Lysana down in Armadale later submitted a record which pre-dated mine. 

This year I'm on a definite roll. It all began in March when mothman extraordinaire and good friend Tony Davis came to visit. We were splodging our way through a nearby Sphagnum bog when he casually asked if the overwintered Cottongrass seedheads were the work of Glyphipterix haworthana. Doh, talk about over-looking the obvious! We each took several seedheads away with us and sure enough found the fat larvae within. Credit where it's due, this one belongs to Tony. Confirmed and accepted as new to VC104 by Mark Young after Keith had forwarded the images. 

Cottongrass seedhead - the larva binds it together with silk which stops it falling apart over winter
Glyphipterix haworthana larva within the seedhead - new to VC104
April was relatively quiet, no more 'firsts', but things improved in May with a nice double-whammy whist day-tripping Raasay

Pyrausta ostrinalis - pretty much the very first moth I netted on a Skye Nature Group outing to Raasay
Udea decrepitalis - quite common at The Fearns on Raasay
Both of these moths were new to VC104, I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever managed two firsts for county in a single outing! Both were confirmed by Mark Young after Keith Sadler forwarded the images. 

June was also productive with two more 'firsts' being found. First up was Mompha locupletella which I photographed on 19th June as it walked over a leaf in Uig Wood

Mompha locupletella - confirmed by Mark Young just a few days ago - new to VC104
Less than a week later I had this well-marked Tort to the light trap. It was actually sat on the lid, I was lucky it didn't fly away before I could take a pic!

Epinotia tedella - the white palps being one of the features to rule out lookalikes
Epinotia tedella was subsequently confirmed by Mark Young and is officially on the VC104 list. 

So now we're into July and no 'firsts' yet. Though there's this one moth from yesterday's trapping session.....

I figured this was an Eucosma, possibly E.hohenwartiana. I occasionally get E.cana in the trap, but this seems a bit different, darker maybe. I whacked it up on the Skye Moths FB group and Nigel commented that he initially thought E.hohenwartiana too, but then realised that the scales on the wings were abraded and thus he couldn't conclusively rule out the very similar E.cana (main difference is scale colouration in the centre of the wings - which are missing on this specimen). If it IS hohenwartiana it'll be new for VC104. 

Luckily I've retained the specimen, Tony Davis is coming back up in a fortnight's time (and I happen to know that gen detting other folk's moths is his absolute favourite pastime, haha!!!) I may do as Nigel suggested and ask him to have a squint. I have absolutely no idea how Nigel knew that Tony was visiting, maybe he possesses superpowers other than shit hot moth ID skills...

Edit - it transpires that E.hohenwartiana has now been split into two near-identical species, the sole known difference being in the form of the female genitalia. Cripes! 

I'm not at all into the football, but it's been the world cup and this afternoon it was the final. I watched a few games (Belgium and Croatia have both really impressed me) but I'm hardly a convert. As it happens I lost a tenner seeing as I'd picked England to win it. The Romanian KP is quids in this evening. He doesn't follow football either, but I notice he seemed quite cheery when he heard that his team had won (spoiler alert - France beat Croatia 4-2, thanks to some great diving, shitty refereeing and bad luck on Croatia's part). Anyway, the opening line of this classic tune seemed appropriate

In truth, the only place to see the footie on big screen was in the pub down at the pier, it wasn't showing here (far too civilised for that..) I had a couple of lads ask me where they could see it, I said the pub, they replied they'd been there but couldn't even get through the door it was so crammed!!! I saw most of the second half, Croatia deserved the win. 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

1000th Species for the Year

After much slowing down on my part, the light trap has delivered the goods - just as I hoped it would. My attempt to see 1350 species in my home 1km square this year crossed the landmark figure of 1000 this morning. Initially I thought I was on 1002 species, but I'd fkkd up a couple of my moth identifications, then realised I'd missed another off the list entirely. However, we learn from our mistakes and I'm now pretty clued up on Gold Spot vs Lempke's Gold Spot ID and can also now recognise the differences between a trashed Beautiful Golden Y and a Plain Golden Y (which, incidentally, doesn't even occur on Skye...) 

Lempke's Gold Spot - such a stunning wee beast! 
This is also a Lemke's Gold Spot (and not Gold Spot I initially thought - duh!)
I'll readily admit that I'm very rusty regards moth identification. I was heavily into field-searching for the microleps some years back, and heavily into light-trapping for the macroleps some years before that, but nothing much of either these past 15+ years, certainly I've undertaken no light trapping. Hence I'm now bit-by-bit relearning what once came easily. 

Here are a few more moths from the trap, all recent additions to the 1km square list

Aethes smeathmanniana - one I've never (knowingly) seen before

Common Footman - three previous records on Skye (Talisker Bay 1993-1999) -  I had FOUR in one night!
Common Wainscot - underside and hindwings were checked just in case! 

Double Lobed - I've never even seen one of these before! 
Grey Arches - first I've seen for.....16 years???
The Snout, an unfortunate name for such a striking moth
Of course, it's not all about the moth trap (after all, lighthouse keepers do not a pan-species lister make). Hell no, PSLers can find stuff anywhere, even in the deepest, darkest wilds.

"deepest, darkest wilds" - which in this instance means on the far verge of the road to the shop.....ahem...
What is that growing in a huge, great clump that I see before me? I crossed the road for a closer look. I looked. I looked some more. Nope, I just did not recognise it. I took a sprig and popped it into my rucksack (then continued to the shop, forgot about the sprig, filled aforementioned rucksack with food and goodies and squashed the sprig. As you do). So here are a few pics of a different sprig

Well, it looked like a knotweed to me. Happily, I happen to have a copy of the BSBI's Docks and Knotweeds in my (rather eclectic) natural history library. It didn't really help much, what with my plant lacking any ripe fruits, but it did allow me to dig deeper into the various possibilities. I came up with Persicaria (Polygonum) campanulatum, that's Lesser Knotweed to we lesser mortals. I pinged a few pics off to plant guru Stephen Bungard who came straight back with a "yep, absolutely!" which was all rather pleasing. Lesser Knotweed is already known from various sites across Skye, but this is the first record from up here on the west side of Trotternish. And a lifer too, good stuff. 

So anyway, I'm 1000 up. In July. In a kilometre square up near the top of Scotland. That's pretty good (and if it wasn't for Ali and Tim, I'd be more chuffed than a chuffing big bag full of chuffingly chuffed things). But Tim has just topped 1500 species for his home 1km square and Ali, though having gone radio silent of late, is still ahead of me. But only just.

At the start of this year I set myself a target a whole third higher than last year's tally. Last year I managed 1001 species, hence my target for 2018 was 1350 species. I then had it pointed out to me that Andy Musgrove's record-setting 2013 score of 1407 species wasn't a whole lot more than 1350. As quickly as that, my target for this year jumped to 1408 species. All of which means that I'm still only just 71% of the way there. I need to pull my finger out of the proverbial between now and September. 

Because I'm heading off in September. 

But more of that later.

Talking of 1000... I just love this whole album! Essentially, jump on YouTube and click on Izzyisstoned or Stoned Meadow of Doom and enjoy. It really is that simple! 

Friday, 6 July 2018

Ride the Lightning Trap

I've been very bad lately, spending far too much time outside of my square, gallavanting around the countryside with the Skye Nature Group/Skye Botany Group chaps. Seen some good stuff though, and a handful of lifers too. But none of that is getting me closer to the 1000 mark for NG3963. 

Thankfully I've the trusty ol' light trap doing the hard work for me. Cheating really, I know. But everybody else does it, so...

Burnished Brass (f.tutti) with the lights off...
...and Burnished Brass (f.aurea) with the lights on! 
A maul of Garden Tigers, or whatever the collective noun is for these beasts
Green Carpet - the only one I've seen up here! 
Middle-barred Minor - becoming quite common lately
Small Square-spot - very common for a short while
Spruce Carpet - managed to get the CMR to agree with the ID too, result!
Triple-spotted Clay - commonest moth in the trap at the moment
Antler Moth - one of two that were in the trap this morning
Agriphila straminella - three of these in the trap this morning
Oblique Carpet - a lifer for me! 
Hmmm, I could probably take a little more time and place these moths on a slightly more photogenic background.

Nah, think I prefer the blue and grey egg-boxes! 
Not much else been happening lately. Yearlist for the 1KSQ is up to 984 species, so I should smash the 1000 barrier next time I have a decent day in the field. Rupert Higgins of Bristol managed 1002 species by 15th July in the 2013 Challenge (he held the record as the fastest 1000 before Ali and Tim went berserk this year) so my aim is to beat that. Nineteen new species in just over a week, that should be do-able. Absolutely no use trying to keep up with the big guns this year though, I've already settled for third place on the podium (he says...)

I've been listening to a lot of covers on YouTube lately, but sometimes you just have to revert back to form and listen to the originals. This is one of the best there is, in my opinion. There's probably a banjo cover somewhere, or a bunch of ridiculously talented ten year old kids giving it their all, but here's the original for you to enjoy. If you like this kinda stuff!

Talking of ridiculously talented ten year olds, this just absolutely blows my mind!

Most of those 17.3million views were me, ha! Gotta love the wee fella on the claves, the girl doing the singing is now quite rightly heading a band and the nutter on the drums - he's just extraordinary!!!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Soay Sauce

BSBI Recorder Stephen Bungard had chartered a boat out of Elgol across to the island of Soay and I, along with nine other gung-ho types, were booked on the morning sailing. Firstly I was very excited by the possibility of encountering real live Soay Sheep on their home turf, and secondly we were landing by dinghy - also very exciting! Unfortunately, there are two islands named Soay and it's the other one that has the endemic breed of sheep. Arse.

But first we had to get to Elgol

Traffic was a nightmare...
I'm a firm believer in the use of car bumpers and that 1.5 tonnes of vehicle will soon scatter a flock of sauntering sheep. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this was not my car and I wasn't the one driving. Plus the crofter was watching everything, I'm almost certain he'd take exception to his flock being driven over. Ho-hum, it's a good job we're not in any hurry to catch a boat... 

I love being on the sea and the boat crossing was ace. I leaned forward on the rail looking out towards mysterious Soay, home of no feral sheep, probably in much the same manner as that crazy spaniel we've all seen hanging out of a car window, ears flapping in the wind and tongue lolling crazily. Well, I managed to keep my tongue in my mouth (at least I think I did..) but it was all very exciting anyway, with many Moon Jellyfish and a few Lion's Mane Jellyfish passing beneath us as we sped onwards. No cetaceans seen, though a Common Seal and a few Commic Terns almost made up for it. 

Approaching mysterious Soay!!! 
We were shuttled ashore via dinghy, two at a time. I was in the second crossing
Another two safely arriving - good old James the Skipper!
Nick 'Moss Man Chronicles' Hodgetts immediately set off to the far end of the island in search of bryophytes. We never saw him again until ten minutes before the boat reappeared to shuttle us back again... by which time he was quite hilariously sunburnt and looking somewhat dehydrated and worse for wear. I really ought to have taken a pic.

We began by slowly working our way towards the buildings. There are more houses than residents nowadays, there being just three full time Soay folk increasing to about six in the summertime. There's a tiny, closed-down school building and I imagine that even in it's heyday absences from class would not have gone unnoticed. Poor kids.

Stephen had a Hitlist of plants that had previously been recorded either from Soay itself, or at least from the hectad that Soay sits within. Missing species included such delightful rarities as Sycamore, Groundsel, Cow Parsley, Creeping Thistle, Pineappleweed and Scots Pine. NONE of which we were able to refind. None! 

We did, however, manage to refind Oval Sedge, Small-fruited Yellow-sedge and Common Couch as well as finding Red Currant, Long-bracted Sedge and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster entirely new for the tetrad. There was also a puzzling rose bush with adjacent rose hips exhibiting glandular hairs and no hairs at it smelled of apple! Weird, presumably a downy rose hybrid of sorts. I think Stephen is seeking outside help regards the ID of this plant. 

Cor, check out the bracts on that!
By now it was approaching easily 50 degrees C in the shade and life as we know it was getting difficult. I swiped a damselfly with my net but the heat was making me dizzy and I failed to focus the camera properly. Either that or the lens had melted 

Note the shape of the upper black mark on the abdomen - making this a Common Blue Damselfly
We saw quite a few of these, plus a handful of Large Red Damselflies, a few Common Blue-tailed Damselflies, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly and several Common Darters. I say 'Common Darter', but there's a bit more to it than that. 

Common Darter is an extremely widespread species across Europe, parts of North Africa and extending throughout Asia all the way to Japan. In Britain it has been split into two subspecies: Sympetrum striolatum striolatum throughout England, Wales and the southern/interior/eastern areas of Scotland and Sympetrum striolatum nigrescens along the Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland as well as on the Isle of Man (and Norway). S.s.nigrescens also appears not to migrate, contrary to the nominate race. 

S.s.nigrescens has, in the past, been split into a different species from the nominate race, it being colloquially known as the Highland Darter Sympetrum nigrescens. Physical differences are that the black on the bodyparts is more extensive, the black on the frons extends further down the side of the eye, the sides of the thorax are far more black than in nominate and typically enclose several small, discrete pale patches and the black on the abdomen is also far more extensive. There are subtle yet distinct differences in the genitalia of both the male and the female. It's quite possibly a good species, I don't know the latest thoughts but DNA analysis should end any debate. Anyway, here's a pic that shows the hugely extensive darkening of the thorax and slightly more extensive black on the frons. Note also that the femurs appear to be entirely black and lack the yellow stripe of the nominate race. 

'Highland Darter' - I mean c'mon, just look at the black on that! 
I really wilt in the heat. I had the chance to move to Nicaragua some years back, but the heat (as well as the godawful music) soon changed my mind. Amazing place though, if I ever overcome the overheating issue I'd love to go back someday. I still need that damned quetzel, for starters. 

So yeah, I was definitely wilting and very thankful that I'd brought a whole 2.5litres of water and a bottle of Lucozade with me. I'd probably have just sat in the shade and sank into a stupor if it wasn't for one thing. Well, lots of one thing - horseflies! Horseflies like you've never seen before. Horseflies in clouds that darkened the skies. Horseflies that swarmed around us in an unrelenting quest for our blood. Horseflies that landed on our arms, our shoulders, our legs, our hats, our bags, horseflies flippin' everywhere! But then came a deadlier, delta-winged, green-eyed monster. I felt fear, my friends. Fear! For I had met this abhorrent beast once before, this was Chrysops relictus the Twin-lobed Deerfly from Hell. Chrysops typically work in pairs or threes, one to distract and dismay whilst the other circles your head and lands to attack. Chrysops are pure evil. They bite harder than horseflies and they are utterly, utterly single-minded in their determination to settle and bite. On the other hand, they are quite incredibly pretty. Here's a pic of one that I swatted as it sank it's fangs into my lower jaw, bastard pretty wee thing

You can see the black 'twin lobes' on the uppermost abdominal segment
Just as pretty, if rather less fierce, were the pair of Large Emeralds that we found in the woods, just resting on rushes next to the path

Large Emerald (female) - simple antennae and a short, fat arse
Large Emerald (male) - slim hips and fancy pants antennae
This chap was too cute not to pick up and terrorise

Soay Toad, presumably endemic now that Soay is an island?
By the time the boat came chugging into view I was spent. I lay sprawled across the hard cobbles and almost fell asleep. I think I actually did briefly drop off as we were heading back towards Elgol. Me and heat, not a great mix. I suspect Stephen was a little disappointed with the small number of additions/refinds we managed on Soay. But at least we all now have a working knowledge of what a Chrysops looks (and feels) like. In case you were wondering about the title of this blog, the answer is Human Blood.

  All posts should end with a bit of Slayer!