Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Day I Found TWO Moth Species New for Inner Hebrides

I spent a truly amazing day on Raasay with the Skye Nature Group today. I know bloggers tend to use words like 'amazing', 'incredible' and 'awesome' willy-nilly all the time, but it really was amazing, and for several good reasons. The weather was mercilessly hot and breathless, we were all sweating buckets within minutes. It was then that Stephen decided we needed to head uphill, bless his hiking socks.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's up a hill we go...
Stephen lives on Raasay and over the years has developed an intimate knowledge of the plants and local geology across his island. We were off to explore a limestone dominated area, an unusual feature in this part of the world. Our theory was that the plants growing here would be different to those growing over much of Skye and hence the associated invert assemblage could also be different. Who knew what we might find. Who knew indeed...

I think this was the very first moth that I netted, talk about off to a flying start!

Pyrausta ostrinalis
I recognised this as one of the Pyrausta straight away, but I wasn't sure which one. It went into a pot and was passed around for all to admire before I let it go again. I'm exceptionally glad that the image above shows a good portion of the hindwing because that pale patch above the two pale bars, combined with the blackish suffusion around the edges of the big golden bar across the forewings, clinches the identity of this moth as Pyrausta ostrinalis - completely new to the Inner Hebrides!!!!!

I waved this pic across the Skye Moths FB page where it was confirmed by moth guru Nigel Richards as well as vice county moth recorder Keith Sadler. It still needs to be sent off to Mark Young for official acceptance, but there shouldn't be any issues with as distinctive a moth as this. Sweet, it's not every day you get to add a moth to the Skye List (even though we were on Raasay...) 

A few sweep/miss/swish/got-its of the net later and I bagged this fine fella

Merrifieldia leucodactyla aka the Thyme Plume - and a lifer for me! 
So, a 'new' for Inner Hebs followed by a 'new' for me. Could the moths possibly get any better, I wonder? Yes, yes they really could.

"It's an Udea, not sure which one though. Maybe lutealis" was what I said at the time.
Well it turns out that it was an Udea after all, but not lutealis. This is Udea decrepitalis, new for me AND new for Inner Hebrides too!!!!!!!! According to UK Moths - A rare and local species, believed to be restricted to the Scottish Highlands, although one was recorded in South Wales in 1978. Again, I waved the pic across the Skye Moths FB Group and Nigel came back with "looks correct to me" (and if it's good enough for Nigel then it's good enough for me) so that's TWO 'new' for Inner Hebrides moths in the space of twenty minutes - Raasay is fast becoming my favourite part of Skye, haha! 

We wandered along the clifftop path enjoying the superb scenery and mirror-like calm of the sea far below. I casually asked if there were any endemic Sorbus on Raasay and Stephen surprised me by stating that there was a rare Sorbus just ahead, growing both above and below the path we were on. And sure enough, within another ten minutes or so, he pointed across a hillside and there stood my first ever Rock Whitebeam Sorbus rupicola. It was several hundred metres away yet I knew I had to get a record shot of it. This was a significant day for several reasons, not least because my PSL stood at 4997 species plus whatever I added whilst on Raasay. I knew the plume was 'new' for me, I didn't think the Udea was (though it certainly was) which meant that my 5000th British species was this magnificent beast

Sorbus rupicola - the mighty Rock Whitebeam
Happily, Stephen has been out to this tree to confirm the identity and it really is a Rock Whitebeam. I learned that beam is the old word for tree. I questioned whether it was the same word as used in, for example, roof beam. Colin chipped in that builders sometimes use the phrase ceiling tree when describing a ceiling beam, so I guess that answers that. My 5000th British species, a white ceiling beam...coolness.

Next we clambered up a very steep slope, admiring a profusion of flowering Early Purple Orchids (euphemism for catching our breath) and finding Yellow Saxifrage and lots of Alchemilla. A bit of impromptu scrutinising of the Alchemilla revealed a hairy stem (so definitely not glabra), leaves were sparsely covered in long hairs along the tops of the leaf folds and edges on the upperside and quite hairy on the underside too. I found a flowering head which had very hairy capitula

Hairy capitulum = Alchemilla filicaulis ssp vestita (Hairy Lady's Mantle)
To my mind this was my 5000th species, though the Udea moth later proved me wrong. Stephen was on a mission to drag us into a specific geological feature, though he couldn't recall the correct name. "Like a crack in the rock" he announced. I cleverly suggested gryke, seeing as we were on limestone. Too small, apparently. Ok, so then I suggested 'canyon'. Too large, by all accounts. Sheesh, but this guy was fussy. Oh, and it started with the letter F. Luckily for everyone, Rob immediately sussed it and suggested 'fissure', which was the correct term. The great news was that it was uphill some more.

Larger than a gryke yet smaller than a canyon....must be a fissure, yay!
Sadly, we failed to find the Holly Fern that once occurred on the fissure walls. We carefully descended, worried about starting a rockfall onto those still below us (at least I did). At the bottom of the geological feature that is larger than a gryke yet smaller than a canyon, Stephen very casually waved his arm at some rocks and muttered "Brittle Bladder-fern" - whaaaat?!?! I've never even seen Brittle Bladder-fern before, it's a lifer! I duly took some pics

Brittle Bladder-fern - quite a distinctive jizz to this plant. Very nice indeed. Awesome, in fact.
We then spied Beech FernHart's-tongueWall RueLemon-scented FernGolden Scaly Male-fernGreen and Black SpleenwortsHard Shield-ferns - I figured I was getting my eye in on fern ID before I completely blew it by pointing out a Lady-fern frond that was actually Bracken - duh! Stephen quite rightly threw a bit of it at my head for being so very dense.

Stephen - oblivious/completely unconcerned about the huge fall beneath him
By far the commonest insect we encountered was Rhagio scolopaceus, the Downlooker Snipefly, I can't ever recall seeing as many as we found today. They seemed perfectly content to land on our arms, rucksacks or hats as we meandered along the paths. I'm just glad they don't bite, I imagine that a non-naturalist could quite easily panic if one landed on their face/arm/shoulder!

Rhagio scolopaceus - Downlooker Snipefly
And then we turned a corner, crested a rise, and saw this

Magical waterfall, spilling straight into the sea! Incredible :) 
I'm not sure I can imagine a more tranquil spot, apart from being hassled by bastard midges that is. 

We walked onwards, down into a wooded ravine, across a shallow stream, up the other side again and came out at the site of an ancient village, long since abandoned. Upslope of the village were several deep ravines. Stephen said that they used to tether the children to stop them falling in (!) whilst Deirdre told us that goats were outlawed on certain crofts because the sheep would follow them onto cliffs and fall off. Harsh! All I know is that I loved it here, even more so when Stephen called us over to admire a solitary plant of Hairy Rock-cress Arabis hirsuta - yet another new one for me

Worst pic ever of Hairy Rock-cress, but at least you can (maybe) see the seedpods
Eventually we turned around to head back once more, we had a ferry to catch. Across the sea, somewhere above Kyleakin, we could distantly see a fire raging across a hillside

This comes hot on the heels of a large fire that rapidly spread across the hills above Sligachan just a couple of days ago, started by two careless tourists having a BBQ outside their campervan. Plus several more fires on other parts of Skye that same day, this heatwave has turned parts of the island "dust dry", as the locals say. Discarded cigarettes and disposable BBQs may seem innocuous enough, but in these conditions.... 

Back at the cars we just about had time for freshly baked pancakes and home made jams at Stephen's home before rushing off to the ferry and homewards once more. 

But not before Stephen showed me a couple of rather tasty invasive alien plants that were both 'new' to me

Spineless Acaena (Acaena inermis) growing in a verge of short grasses - tick! 
American Speedwell (Veronica peregrina) as a persistent weed in the veg plot!
So, from 'new to Inner Hebrides' moths to alien weeds in the cabbage patch, today has been just awesome. Lovely people, truly amazing scenery, moderately severe sunburn and a fat fistful of lifers. What more could a boy ask for in life? 

Hell yeah he has! 


  1. A first-class write up of a truly memorable day Seth. Just one thing - are you sure that you were on the Hebrides and not some Greek Island? The weather looks far too nice...

  2. Congratulations, Seth - a magnificent achievement.

  3. Phenomenal - what a day to go over 5000! Congrats. And nicely written/illustrated. Feels like I was there, except for all the missing ticks that is! Now I need to take just a few more days off end of June (I wish - none left)

  4. I should have a pretty good chance of going over 3000 on Skye. I'll have to keep an eye on that

  5. 5000 up - many congratulations. And again another great read.

  6. Thank you chaps, it's gratifying to see that folks do actually read and enjoy this blog. It's always been my intention to keep posts interesting and enjoyable and to inject a little humour here and there. As an aside, both moths have now been accepted by Mark Young so they're officially on the VC104 list - happy days! :)

  7. And to think that you grumbled that *you* were all over *my* blog!

    1. Haha yeah, I may have to rename this blog as 'Stephen's the Limit' :D

  8. Actually I am delighted that you hit 5000 on Raasay. Also Rock Whitebeam is something of a favourite.

  9. BIG congratulations on reaching the 5000 species, Seth!!

    1. Cheers Steve, the way you've been harrying me this last couple of months I was starting to think you'd get there before I did! I've watched you closing the gap between us, don't think I didn't :D :D

    2. In all honesty I would have felt bad if I'd got to the 5000 before you - it just wouldn't have seemed right!! I hope we get the opportunity to meet up again at some point. :D

  10. Splendid blog Seth, and a splendid achievement getting over 5000. Love that waterfall photo! We spent the 29th in Black Wood of Rannoch and Rothiemurchus Forest - thought about adding Uig to our itinerary but you're still a long way away.

    1. Hiya Mark, thanks buddy. You were in Scotland? You should have said, we could easily have met halfway! Don't be a stranger buddy, I have SO MANY wonderful species nailed down for you up here. Ask Tony (and he came at a stupid time of year...)

  11. Nice one Seth and a great write-up. I'm missing Scotland this summer, but this was almost like being there. Have a great summer youth!

    1. Am doing exactly that, John! You too matey and we'll catch up again one of these days :)