Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Start as you mean to go on

Happy New Year everyone! 

Right, down to business. I excitedly bundled my way into the hotel grounds a little after midnight and began my Challenge 2019 in true style by almost falling down a flight of concrete steps. Luckily I only suffered a cut thumb and not a broken leg, daft bugger. I decided I needed more illumination so quickly headed across the lawn towards the laundry shed, which has interior and exterior lights that are almost always switched on. Good move, after duly saying hello to the hordes of Amaurobius similis that live there, I noticed a small beetle sitting on the ceiling. I stared at it for a few moments, figured I had no idea what it was, took a pic and popped it into a pot. 

It's not exactly National Geographic standards, I know...
Anyway, turns out this is a female Ptinus fur which is a lifer for me and seemingly new to the Inner Hebrides. My very first beetle of the year and it's a nice double whammy - result!

Later on (i.e. during daylight hours) I headed out for an amble towards Uig Wood. First off, I wanted to see if the Barn Owl was back at its roost.

Yep! See the wingtip poking out from beneath the Luzula hangs?
I texted the local bird recorder that it was back in place and he asked if I could show it to him tomorrow morning (I think he's probably Skye yearlisting again). Fair play to him, fingers crossed it's still there when he arrives. I also booted up four Woodcock, two of which burst up within about 8ft of me - which is probably the closest I've ever been to one. Just wish I'd have been scanning ahead before they flushed. 

But 2019 is all about Beetles, Flies and Bugs. It was really difficult for me to essentially ignore all the other stuff I found whilst searching for my quarry. The 1st of January is traditionally A Big Day whereby I slam around trying to amass a huge great tally for my newborn PSL yearlist. But not this year. Man, it feels weird. I glanced at some vegetative plants, the identity of which was eluding me, then just walked away rather than attempt to figure out what they were. I unearthed lots of small millipedes and a few centipedes but didn't check a single one under the handlens. I deliberately left my binoculars indoors and I haven't even seen or heard a Robin today!

*Impromptu rambling warning, folks*

I have a small worry that I'll have forgotten my plants, lichens, seashore stuff, birds (ok, maybe not birds), myriapods, etc by the time this year is over. But I really do feel I'm at a stage where I need to focus down somewhere in my PSLing. It's an ugly truth that a fair proportion of my PSL comprises of species that were shown to me by somebody else and I'd struggle to recognise another one if shown it again. This is something that has been quietly but incessantly bothering me for years, probably ever since I started hanging out with other pan-species listers instead of wall to wall finding and identifying stuff by myself. 

It's great to have a huge species tally, but does that automatically imply that you're a good naturalist? 'Pan-species tourism' is a phrase I've read a couple of times. It's easy to draw comparisons with bird twitching whereby you don't need any finely honed skills or talent to amass a huge life-list, you just need spare time and enough money to keep the car running. Binoculars are almost an optional extra and fieldcraft basically went out the window decades ago. So am I a charlatan poncing ticks off other people's expertise, or am I a naturalist? How good a naturalist? How finely honed are my skills? Well, I hope for them to be improved by the end of this year. Obviously, just how far improved is entirely up to me.

OK, well I didn't foresee that little confession happening, but it's off my chest now. Moving along....

Beetles, flies and bugs - that's what I'm after this year. Numerically I did see quite a few flies this afternoon, small things whirring up and down in sheltered spots, a few tiny ones scurrying around the underside of overturned logs, one larger gnat (small cranefly?) clinging to moss on the edge of a waterfall. But none of them were identified, or even attempted in fact. 

However, I did manage to identify one dipteran to species level

Empty mine of Chromatomyia primulae on a Primrose leaf

With puparium down near the base of the petiole! 
I was pretty stoked when I spotted the puparium, I can't recall seeing this before for this species. It's not easily discernible, but there are two long black spiracles projecting through the leaf tissue. I've brought it home in an attempt to rear it through. Be a pleasant change for me to submit an adult agromyzid to The National Agromyzidae Recording Scheme rather than just larvae in mines. 

I found a mystery hopper nymph beneath a log. I usually find them beneath deeply embedded rocks, and they normally have a curly tuft of whitish hairs on their bum. Anyway, this is the one I found today, sans hairy bum

No idea, I took the pic and rolled the log over again
There's this book that deals with hopper nymphs. It's quite ridiculously expensive, but I have a sneaky suspicion that I'll eventually succumb and order it anyway. Probably late at night after a couple of beers too many. But if anybody out there can do them from poor pics like this, please do let me know!

Other than that it was a rather quiet walk. The only other beetle seen was Silpha atrata, one overwintering in a fallen log that I was teasing apart. 

Edit - seemingly this beetle is now named Phosphuga atrata. Gotta love those taxonomists...

Silpha atrata - four raised lines on each elytron and a rounded pronotum. Easy

Oh, and I found the perfect moss-covered, waterfall-splashed rockface for Dianous coerulescens hunting later in the year. Must remember to wear my wellies next time though!

My plan for tonight is to card the Ptinus fur. It's by far the smallest insect I've ever attempted to card, so the results should be a giggle...


  1. Great start to the year, hope your run of firsts for Skye continues.

    1. Cheers Pete, I hope so too! You made a start on your squares yet? I shall be following with interest.