Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Nicely Bodged, Gibster!

Much to my surprise, Leica have been utterly quiet today. Not a single email, not a single call, nothing. I'm very much doubting I'll be receiving the replacement parts for my microscope anytime this week. That's assuming I can even afford whatever they quote! So I had a think and came up with a temporary solution - gaffer tape! The way I see it, if it's good enough for NASA it's good enough for me. I just happened to have a roll laying around, so this 'fix' has cost me nothing.

First of all I reassembled my microscope, there was a small degree of faff involved when it came to sitting the housing for the focussing mechanism back onto the focussing rack, but with a bit of jiggery pokery it went back together again. As soon as I fitted the microscope to the arm that connects to the focussing rack it began to slowly slide downwards all by itself. What I needed was something to pack it out, add a bit more tension. A single layer of gaffer tape later and...

Well that was ridiculously easy

Note where the teeth on the drive unit have compressed the gaffer tape against the focussing rack

Magically, this worked perfectly! However, the whole assembly now has a little bit of front-to-back movement on the focussing rack, the result being that I now have to steady the microscope with my hand when focussing, just to stop the image falling out of focus. But that is something I can live with until Leica decide to get back to me and send me the new parts. The important thing is that The Telferscope lives to fight another day and I can crack on with identifying the specimens I collected at the weekend. This lot for starters - these are just the specimens in alcohol.

Arachnids, millipedes, springtails, wingless wasps, 3 beetles, a fly and apparently a woodlouse too

So all in all I'm really rather relieved. Good ol' gaffer tape haha! Being employed as the maintenance man here, I've picked up lots of useful tips and learned a few tricks that have come in handy from time to time. Allow me to share with you this useful flowchart, admittedly it is a little bit complicated and technical but stick with it because it's worth taking the time to learn it all the same. 

You're welcome  

Final couple of images of The Telferscope. And yes, I tidied my desk just for this photoshoot - usually there's all sorts of crap and debris and wine glasses strewn across it. 

Note the missing wheel on the left side...

Ready for action - this makes me very happy :) 

Monday, 22 February 2021


Today was pretty decent, weather-wise at least. I took myself down to the pier and noticed a small cushion of English Stonecrop which I must have walked past innumerable times. This proved to be entirely new to the tetrad, nicely filling a 'hole' in its distribution along this part of the Skye coastline. I would have taken a better pic if I'd known that at the time.

No idea how I could have missed such a huge patch beforehand...

The only reason I spotted it in the first place was due to the fact that I'd clambered down some rocks and was papping 'seaweed' for a little challenge that's happening on the local nature group's Facebook page (we're to take a pic of a bird, a moss, a lichen, a seaweed etc etc). Nobody had put anything up on the 'seaweed' category so I put this one up. Three species for the price of one here

This shows Egg Wrack that is liberally festooned with the epiphytic Vertebrata lanosa (Polysiphonia lanosa in old money) with a hint of Bladder Wrack in the top left corner. Anyway, the stonecrop was a decent reward for my efforts. 

I've had my sieve and tray pugged away in the woods, untouched for the best part of a fortnight. Today I went back to them and spent some time sieving leaf litter and tussocks in search of flies and spiders. I actually had the best session so far this year, even pootering up some wingless wasps that may, or may not, prove to be Gelis (my wingless wasp knowledge is rather limited!) I reckon I had about 20 or 30 of them running around the rim of my tray, though only 3 went into the alcohol. Hope I can do something with them, they're pretty cool looking things. Other things in the tray included this lot

Sorry about the background noise in this clip, there was a large waterfall just a couple of hundred feet behind me.

Top is a Notiophilus, probably biguttatus. In the middle are dipteran larvae of a Lonchoptera and a Fannia. At the bottom is what I'm presuming is Neobisium carcinoides. You're probably wondering why I'm being vague with the IDs. Just keep reading.

Here's a short video clip of a huge (5mm) sphaerocerid having a clean up. I've noticed that lots of flies go into 'clean up' mode once they've settled down in the tube. I guess that for most flies, having a nice clean wing membrane free from dust and debris really is quite important. 

I also sieved four of these rather nice harvestmen. This is Rilaena (Platybunus) triangularis. Nobody really seems to know of a good reason why this has been moved from Platybunus to Rilaena, I don't think it's been massively well accepted in Britain or Europe. 

This was the largest invert I found today, believe it or not! 

Actually, there was an Agonopterix that flitted out of the tray, body-wise that may have been larger. I also had a couple of Nemastoma bimaculatum in the tray and found a Megabunus diadema on a fence post, that's the most species of harvestmen I've had in a day so far this year, things are warming up at last. There were also quite a few spiders and I'm fairly confident one is a Neriene montana or peltata

Utterly gratuitous Lobaria virens images

This patch was more like a rug it was so large! I don't think I've ever seen Lobaria virens create such an extensive mass before, it must have been a metre top to bottom and a couple of feet wide - quite incredible really! 

Carlsberg don't do lichens, but if they did....

I finally remembered to check an Ash for the associated micro-fungi that usually plaster the keys. First keys I checked had both fungi present and correct. I took a crappy pic, just to remind me to add it to the yearlist that I'm definitely not keeping once back indoors. 

The small black dots at the base of the key, on the seed part in fact, are Diaporthe samaricola. The minute black dots on the central part of the wing area are Neosetophoma samarorum. I've seen both of these loads of times before, though I think this is the first time I've specifically looked for them in Uig Wood. A quick squizz at my PSL revealed a distinct lack of Neosetophoma - I'd never added it in! So that's a daft addition, puts me on 6202 species now. Wonder how many others I've missed off over the years. 

I cut across the sheep pastures and found some interesting habitat, might be worth visiting again in the not too distant future

I checked both ends just in case. It's definitely dead.

Back indoors, I set up the microscope to quickly check a couple of flies before giving them the ethyl acetate treatment. CLUNK. Err, what?? I sat back and watched the microscope slowly lower itself on the focussing rail. Holy shit! I wound it back into position and watched it lower itself again. Then I realised the left focussing wheel had lost all tension, it was just spinning in my hand. Shit. 

The spindle has completely sheared off. No idea how or why.

So I'm now in the middle of trying to find someone who can tig weld it back together for me. It's too fine a job for the guys who I initially contacted, they just use heavy duty mag weld for car and boat repairs. My beloved Telferscope has now been reduced to a pile of parts. It's fine, I can easily put it back together again, but not until the spindle is fixed/replaced. I've contacted Leica's parts department in Milton Keynes but no reply yet - I guess they don't work on Sunday afternoons. Holy shite, I need to get this sorted as soon as possible, I use it almost daily! 


Only one track for a situation like this

NEXT DAY UPDATE - so it appears there's nobody local to here that is willing to attempt a weld on something so small. If it was my car, or even better my boat (I don't have a boat...), I now have names and numbers for several chaps who'd be more than happy to help out. But not for a microscope.

However, Leica have been pinging me lovely emails all day (one email per department. They have a lot of departments) and can supply me with the necessary part. I did mention that my existing spindle is solidly glued into both focussing wheels, so I'd need two replacement wheels too - and not to fit them together before posting! The final email was from a friendly chap who informed me I'd be receiving the spindle already in place within the housing and already attached to the wheels, all of which would be attached to the entire focussing rack - oh right! Sadly it seems everyone went home for the evening so I never did get a response regards the quote for all that. All I wanted was a little spindle.... 

BUT...things are moving and I fully expect further emails from Leica tomorrow. Fingers crossed it won't be too outlandishly expensive, I really do need my microscope back in action.  

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Flea Treatment

Back at the start of the year I found a bunch of fleas whilst sieving a grass tussock. Technically they were in the mouse/vole run beneath the tussock, but that's not the point. I collected seven fleas and it was clear to see there were two species present. The five small ones were all Ctenophthalmus nobilis but the two larger ones had lost their front legs, rendering them un-keyable beyond family level. I know they are Ceratophyllidae, but I really do need some features on those front legs to narrow down the options. I put them to one side, not really knowing what to do with them.

Happily, Simon Horsnall has offered to have a go with them anyway. He's pretty clued up on his flea identification and he does proper genitalia slides of them too. All I have to do is pop them in the post and wait to see whether he can ID them or not. 

My fleas are in a very small glass tube filled with alcohol. Just the sort of thing that's likely to get smashed to pieces between here and Simon's house down in Derbyshire. Luckily I have a homemade container for precisely this sort of occasion. There was a thread on Facebook a few weeks back about how best to send inverts in alcohol through the post, so I'll just quickly run through the process of how I go about it.

First up, I use a lot of nu-poly strips when pinning flies. Once the plastic box is empty I put it to use elsewhere. This is how Watkins & Doncaster package their nu-poly strips


Once I have an empty nu-poly box, I cut a piece of plastazote to size and place it in the bottom of the box, like so

Then I add walls along the sides

And here's the tube of alcohol with the two mystery fleas enclosed

Obviously the proper data (locality, site name, grid ref, date, my name) is on the other side of the label. Then I pop it into the box

Next I wedge in a piece of plastazote to stop the tube from rolling around inside the box

If there were several tubes, I would bind them together with something like masking tape or even sellotape, just to keep them bound together. Bubblewrap or tissue would work well too. But I'd still pack them out with a bit of plastazote to stop them from moving around. Final stage is to add a layer of plastazote on top and put the lid in place.

This then goes into a jiffy bag and is posted off, hopefully to arrive with everything intact. I've used this nu-poly box to send pinned flies too. I add partitions between the four outer walls, just to keep the flies separate from each other, pin the stages into the side walls and close it all up again. I sent four pipunculids to the scheme recorder earlier this year, a family of flies well-known for having their exceptionally large heads drop off for no good reason. Amazingly all four specimens made it from here to Bristol (and back again!) with all heads and legs still intact, so it's a proven design. I think it's only fair to enclose a stamp for return postage. 

Well there you go, not a very exciting post, but possibly useful to somebody out there. In other news, the Big Freeze ended a few days back - though we've just been bombarded with the most ludicrously large hailstones accompanied by a bit of thunder and lightning too, resulting in what looked like two inches of snow within the space of less than ten minutes. I happened to be outside when it hit, and boy it really did sting. I don't usually scurry indoors to hide from the weather, but I certainly did this time! Even the two bulls across the road took shelter behind the tower and those beasts are absolutely hard as nails.

I was about to link to Flea exhibiting some pretty hot slap bass technique, but then this caught my eye just quietly sitting there as an alternative suggestion - cue rapid change of plan! I have to say, this is the best cover of this track that I've ever heard. Hope you enjoy! PS it's the full version, so if you're of a delicate disposition probably best to just skip it... 

Friday, 12 February 2021

How Pan is Your List?

There's been quite a bit of chitchat on the Pan-species Listing Facebook Group this week. One popular topic of debate was prompted by the Mighty Mark Skevington who posted the following yesterday: 

As soon as I finished reading that I became a man enthused! I do consider myself an all-round naturalist and, being a competitive so-and-so, I immediately wanted to know how I stacked up against everyone else. I already knew I had 'numbers' against all 37 of the 37 groups (Sea Spiders was the last group to fall). I also knew I was inside the Top 50 highest ranked listers in every single one of those groups apart from Hymenoptera, which I dropped out of just last week. But I didn't know how many of them held 50 or more species for me. Some groups don't even have fifty species on the British List (bristletails, reptiles, amphibians, sea spiders plus a few more) so it's not possible to have recorded 50+ species in all 37 groups. I had a check, turns out I have seen fifty or more species in 19 of the 37 groups. 

Now would probably be a good time to introduce you to the 37 groups as defined on the Pan-species Listing website. Here's a screenshot of part of the Group Rankings Page

You can click on each group heading and it will take you to another page with the Top 50 Ranked listers shown, alongside their tallies for that particular group. I know what you're thinking, what the heck is a proturan, what are the remaining small orders? It's fine, if you join up and start working out your own list, the categories are explained more fully. Like this (a screenshot from my own page - lots of screenshots so far!)

If you're unsure of which category your species belongs to, this should help sort you out where to place it. Ok, so far so good and I even appear to be "more Pan" than some of the folks with a larger list than my own. But what happens when, like Skev, I subtract my top three categories to derive a remainder percentage?

My top three categories are Plants (1363 species), Moths (1132 species) and Beetles (556 species). That accounts for  a whopping 3051 species! Wow, that's a huge 49.2% of the 6201 species on my PSL with just 50.8% being other stuff, that's a huge surprise for me, I had no clue. In a nutshell, half of everything I've ever seen is a plant, moth or beetle. Wow.

I feel a bit disappointed with that, particularly when I break those three groups down into shown/self-found categories. I used to do a lot of moth trapping some 25 years ago, entirely self-found and identified. Then I got caught up in square-bashing for microleps for a forthcoming Surrey Invertebrate Atlas and, thanks to spending hundreds of hours in the field with Jim Porter and Graham Collins, I was shown many species. Shown, not self-found. However, I did go on to self-find a lot of what I was initially shown, so I don't feel too awful about that now. 

Up until about five or six years back, I'd also self-found the vast majority of the plants on my PSL. Then I started hanging out with Tony Davis in Hampshire before moving to Skye and meeting the local BSBI Recorder. Both of these guys have shown me A LOT of plants! I'm not sure how many, I could work it out by scrolling through my spreadsheet, but I expect that somewhere in the region of 200 plant species have been shown to me by various folks over the years, many of which I've never self-found since.

Beetles are just as embarrassing, if not more so. Mark Telfer alone has probably shown me half the species on my list! Well ok, maybe that's a slight over-exaggeration, but he's shown me a hell of a lot! Without a doubt, there are many beetles on my list that I would not have managed to identify for myself, and they come so thick and fast when you're out with Mark that it really does become a bit of a name-writing activity, followed by struggling to match beetle with name afterwards... 

For several years now I've been meaning to split my PSL into some sort of self-found/self-identified/shown-only categories. It will be a big undertaking, but I think it's something I need to do, if only to appease my own conscience. Plus I quite like the idea of having an all time PSL and a self-found PSL. The higher the percentage of self-founds in the all time PSL, the better a naturalist it will show me to be? The big grey area being the "shown but have since self-found and identified" category. I think it's fine to be shown stuff by other naturalists and to then go and find the species again for yourself at a later date. Within reason obviously - returning to 'self-find' a tree that you were shown the previous year would be cheating! 

The utterly brilliant BUBO Listing already have a Self-found category for your bird lists. Here's a screenshot (yes, another screenshot!) of part of my lists.You can see I have an overall total for various places/countries plus self-found totals for some of them too. 

I don't think the PSL website will see many new features added anytime soon, not due to a lack of interest, it's more from a lack of funding than anything else. So if we guys and gals on the PSL Facebook group want to do this, we're going to have to do it for ourselves. Which means complicated stuff, like adding in algorithms and clever formulae to equal out comparisons between numerically speciose groups (plants, diptera, fungi for example) with species poor groups (comb-jellies, platyhelminthes, odonata etc). Is the most pan person the one who has seen the highest percentage of all groups, or the one who has self-found the highest percentage of all groups? Or something else entirely? And how do we go about levelling the field to make it fair to all?

Alternatively, is there even a need to do this at all? 

For me, I'd like to be able to prove to myself that I'm a proper naturalist with an interest in everything, and not someone who obsessively scribbles down the names of what's being shown to them because they're more interested in seeing a big number next to their name rather than seeing the species that make that number. Actually, I don't need to prove that to myself at all, I already know I'm not the name scribbler! 

Somewhere between those two lies the 'pan-species tourist', a phrase generally bandied about as a mild slur. Personally, I think all naturalists are 'pan-species tourists' at some point in their life. As an example, you're a birder and another birder points at and then identifies a butterfly that goes by, or a moth sat on a fence panel, or an orchid by your feet. You see it but you may not care, you're a birder not a botanist! Or you may show a little interest, maybe try to remember the name of that orchid or moth, maybe even make a note of it in your notebook. You're not a botanist or an entomologist, but you're kind of interested enough to maybe look it up online that evening. Dabbling, just dabbling, not the real deal. Bit like a tourist... It's where you take it afterwards that matters. 

Ok, well this post certainly meandered somewhat off topic! I didn't have anything in particular to share with you, I just wanted to tap out a few thoughts about my desire to tidy up my PSL into self-found and shown-only categories in order to prove to myself that I'm a competent naturalist in my own right and not just sponging lifers off of better naturalists. And I also want to see where I stand amongst my fellow PSLers on the website. Of course, that relies on all of us going through the same processes to figure out the various percentages required to make sense of it all. 

Will it happen? I dunno, I hope so. I'm going to attempt to clean up my own PSL regardless. Ideally well before the invert season kicks off and I'm too busy again. 

For now I shall leave you with the first non-screenshot of the post. This is possibly one of the greatest rock songs of all time. I think it's meant to be set in ancient Egypt, or maybe just somewhere completely fictitious. Hope you enjoy it, this truly is a monster track!

In fact, I think a second monster track is required. The video is one person's take on the lyrics, it has nothing to do with Black Sabbath and in fact was produced several decades after the song was written, though it certainly is a very poignant piece of work in it's own right.

Sod it, may as well try for the hat-trick. Monster track number three is....

Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple? You lucky, lucky bastards (they only hung me the right way up yesterday...)

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Different day, different eagle

Another stupendously gorgeous day out there today. Feeling a bit warmer too, now that the wind has finally dropped a little. The weather station just up the road is currently telling me it's zero degrees and feeling like minus five in the wind, but I have to say it didn't seem anywhere near as Baltic as it has done the past few days. Maybe I'm just getting used to it. Feeling in a birding kinda mood, I headed northwards (and upwards) into my 5MR in search of Red Grouse along the Quiraing road. 

The Quiraing road...

I pulled over and panned the camera around the general area where I've seen grouse before. No luck today, they're always a bit hit and miss at the best of times, but I'll be back up there again regardless; I have my 5MR Invert Surveys to do once the days lengthen and the snow disappears once more. Should bump into some grouse whilst wandering the hillsides.

Apologies for the wind noise in the video clip, I don't have one of those fluffy things to cut out the excess noise. 

A lone Raven, a female Kestrel and a pair of Buzzards summed up bird interest along the road, so I turned around and headed back, regularly stopping to scan the hillsides for those elusive grouse. I was almost back in sight of civilisation when the unmistakable shape of an eagle soared into view above the crest of a low rise. I quickly slammed into a ditch, jumped out and grabbed these few pics

I'm sure you're all completely blown away by the quality of those shots....

Heavily cropped version of the 'best' of the four images above

As per my last post, at least you can hopefully tell it's an eagle and not a pigeon! Except this one is a Golden Eagle, quite possibly the very same individual I spied about twenty minutes ago from my desk where I'm typing this very post. Watching a Golden Eagle soaring over a hilltop from the comfort of my room is one of the multitude of little things that makes Skye so bloody fantastic! I managed a short video clip of it whilst I was up the hill. The building you see is a tiny electrical substation, it's the only building up there and Sod's Law it got in my way. Again, prepare yourself for excessive noise.

Back in Uig, I had a look at the bay for signs of the dead dolphin (the rescue attempt failed, they couldn't find it the next day, presumably it's rolling around on the seabed at the moment and will wash up when the gases bloat the body) noting a Red-throated Diver, a few Black Guillemots, a lone male Eider and a handful of waders/gulls. No white-wingers to be seen, though I did yeartick Common Starfish as it flopped about in the bill of a Herring Gull. I almost yearticked Butterfish in the bill of a Shag, but couldn't conclusively rule out a young rockling species. 

Really hoping this spell of beautiful weather holds, could do with it being just a touch warmer, but I guess it is early February after all. Still, birds do move around when it's cold and I'm constantly living in hope of finding a lost Canada Goose, Coot, Parakeet or Mute Swan, all of which have near mythical status up here. 

Monday, 8 February 2021


You'd hardly know it reading through my posts, but actually my passion for nature began with birds. They don't figure very often in this blog because my photos of them are shite. I have an Olympus Tough, which does me fine for small things up close. But birds at a distance, forget it. 

However, if the bird is big enough and close enough, I can manage the odd passable smudge. Which is exactly what happened yesterday, when I glanced up through the branches and saw this

Straight off the card, uncropped and unaltered

Both images heavily cropped, but at least you can tell it's not a pigeon

Yup, that's a White-tailed Eagle and it was a lot lower than it looks in the photos - I could clearly hear it's wingbeats! I had a sudden thought and flipped the camera to video mode. Probably turn out shaky and shite, but may as well give it a go

I was quite pleased with that, not too shabby at all compared to my usual attempts. Then a second bird appeared, though by this time they were a good few hundred metres away. Once more I pointed the camera and hoped it would pick them up

Pretty poor I know. Most of the White-tailed Eagles I see are singletons, hence I was happy to capture this moment, brief and shaky though it is. Pete, if you're reading this buddy I'm sorry they didn't appear whilst you were up here. All I can say is that they were 'marvellous'!

But eagles are expected up here, not that this detracts from the thrill of seeing them, but the next bird I saw was undoubtedly 'Bird of the Day' and a Skye tick for me too.

Fully zoomed but uncropped. Any ideas yet?


Should at least be able to tell it's a wader by now

It's a pixelated to the max Purple Sandpiper!

Considering the amount of rocky coastline around here, Purps are only infrequently recorded from Skye. There were three of them on these rocks, unfortunately all flushed as I continued around the shoreline beneath the cliff, but what a great bird they are! I still remember my first which was stood on a tiny rock just offshore a couple of miles south of Ayr beach. That was about 1988, I think. Tough little birds, I wish I encountered them more frequently than I do. Guess I need to spend a bit more time rummaging around rocky headlands, they're hardly likely to turn up at the bird table in the garden...

I was bemused to find lots of iced over rockpools. I'm not sure I've ever seen that before

Rockpooling is far less appealing when you have to smash through the ice first

A Woodcock, three Golden Plovers and five separate Common Snipe were flushed as I walked across the moors, all fleeing the hard weather. I bet they really appreciated me bundling through the middle of them. Today I watched a Woodcock flying up the road in full sunshine, there have been quite a few found dead recently. Frozen ground is no fun for birds such as these.

That's a lava dyke jutting into the sea. Skye's geology abounds with such volcanic features