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! 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Waspish Behaviour

This worker Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris  was busily battering itself against the inside of my patio door yesterday. Then it caught itself in a spider's web before landing in an undignified heap on the carpet. All this despite the fact that it's a double patio door and the other door, two feet to the right, was wide open. Clearly there's no helping some insects...but help it I did. I gently potted it up and released it on the decking. I say "released", more a case of flicking it out the end of the pot to land, once again, in an undignified heap. It then spent some time cleaning itself

Two points strike me. Firstly it seems that all of our social wasps have a yellow patch on the side of the body, just below and ahead of the wing bases. Yet this one doesn't. Perhaps it's actually an MI5 micro-drone, in which case they clearly they need more professional hymenopterists working for them. Or maybe it's a Terminator Wasp sent back from the future, in which case you'd think they'd know about how patio doors work.

Secondly, this is clearly a fastidious insect and is fully intent on cleansing itself from whatever muck it has recently been through. As I see it, the antennae and eyes are the main sensory organs, hence need to be kept in good condition, So WHY does it repeatedly drag its legs across the hairy mesoscutum (fancy terminology for its back)? Surely the mesoscutum itself doesn't need preening, does it? So, my assumption is that the long hairs across the mesoscutum are used to brush clean the tarsal segments of the forelegs, which are in turn used to do the real cleaning. 

To be completely honest, I'm just pleased with myself for not running over the horizon, screaming like a girl at the sight of a wasp. I've come a long way this past ten years or so, so I have...

In other news, I found this small moth in the woods today. Rubbish pics, of course, but I'm thinking it may be Mompha locupletella, which I think would be new for Skye Edit: now confirmed as M.locupletella, still waiting to hear if it's a first for Skye.

I've whacked the pics up on the Skye Moths FB Group, they've still yet to be 'seen' by the two moth expert heavyweights (Keith the CMR and Nigel the Moth Guru) but I feel hopeful that I've got it right. Which would make it my FOURTH new for Skye moth this year.

Last bit of big news is that Pete, Tim and Ali are all arriving here in Uig this Friday. Which is three more days' time! I'm SO madly excited. I had John Martin pop into my square for maybe 20 mins last year, though he had a dozen or so Wildflower Society bods with him at the time, and I had Tony come up in March for a whole week, but other than that I've been without any PSL buddies whatsoever. I've had contact with Pete, Tim and Ali via Faceslap and emails, but I've never actually met any of them before. Hence I'm really looking forward to Friday and introductions. Then it's straight down to the nitty gritty of showing them shitloads of new stuff for their lists! Hopefully Nick Hodgetts will join us for an hour or two, I know that Ali in particular is keen to get to grips with a few more bryophytes. 

Through no fault of my own, tonight's music swings back to WASP, even though you had them only a couple of weeks back, sometimes life sucks - get over it, but for fate it could be you stuck on the wrong side of a patio door. 

Also, whilst we're deep in 90s power ballads, this one is for the wee 6ft 2" waitress at work who just got dumped by her first true love, may he rot in rancid sheep dip for all eternity...

Roll on Friday, NG3963 won't know what's hit it!

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Biggest Day

On 10th June last year I took part in a 24-hour PSL Bioblitz Challenge, midnight to midnight with the object of recording as many wild species as humanly possible before time ran out. There were several teams across the country, but I was the only participant going solo and the only one to restrict themselves to a single 1km square. I like to be different, y'see...

Anyway, on last year's attempt it was cold, windy and it rained for 16 or 17 of the 24 hours. This year it rained the lightest drizzle for a short while before dawn, then cleared and ended up a relatively cool morning into the middle part of the day before turning decidedly warm by late afternoon/early evening. Personally speaking, I start to flag in the heat so these conditions suited me well. Unfortunately, I neglected to go to bed the previous night, so my energy levels relied on a steady stream of Red Bull, Relentless, chocolate bars and coffee. I sugar rushed my way through to about 2pm then hit a wall. At 5pm I returned to the hotel for staff dinner, had a shower, changed into fresh clothes and hit the square feeling a whole lot fresher. At about 9pm I retired to my room to tackle a few mystery specimens in pots and to go through the many images I'd taken with my camera. I collapsed into sleep around 1am, some 42 hours after waking up. By heck, it sure was a great feeling peeling off my socks and boots after 21 hours in the field.

I'll run you through the day as it happened, in an abridged form obviously! As is customary, I took a pic of the sky at the stroke of midnight

It never gets completely dark up here at this time of year, even at midnight! 
Quick change of plans, I figured I needed to answer a call of nature before setting off into the wilds. A'hem... But it wasn't wasted time, we hardcore PSLers are always primed and ready for recording, and the best of us can find stuff in the most unlikely of places. Even, as in this particular instance, whilst sitting on a toilet seat...  Species number 1 (White Ermine) attained at 0001hrs

Species No 1: a White Ermine on the bathroom wall
Species No 2: Pholcus phalangioides by the skirting board below the sink
Species No 8: Endrosis sarcitrella in the laundry shed (it stays lit well into the night)
Naturally, I had my light trap running in the back garden. In strict disobedience of last year's Rules I'd turned it on ahead of the start of the 24 hour period. Sod it, I didn't check it until after midnight,  so what's the difference? I had a star moth in the trap, yet I didn't know that at the time and hence only took a single crappy record shot. I wish I'd have posed it nicely, but I didn't realise the significance until later the next day.

Brussel's Lace - just the 3rd record for Skye following two at a Sleat site last year!!! 
Beautiful Golden Y - what a stunner of a moth!
I headed out into the woods with my torch and net, all kitted out and ready for action. Plenty of moths flying around, unfortunately they all seemed to be of just one species, Common Carpet. I tried to ignore the plants everywhere, telling myself that they'd still be there in daylight and that I needed to concentrate on finding inverts. The female Steatoda bipunctata was still in her web in the corner of the shop window, seemingly still the only Skye record for this spider. The track through the woods was absolutely littered with huge great slugs, the vast majority being large Leopard Slugs Limax maximus with a few Black Slugs Arion ater thrown in for good measure. On tree trunks I added several lichens along with plenty of Tree Snails Balea sarsiiTree Slugs Lehmannia marginata, a few Common Earwigs Forficula auricularia plus the lightning-quick predatory fly Tachypeza nubilis Species 100 (Sessile Oak) attained at 0210hrs

Suddenly I realised that I was no longer alone in the woods, I could hear footsteps sneaking about on the gravel track quite close by. I instantly killed the torch and froze, wondering how best to tackle whoever it was trying to creep up on me. I had my net handle, could be a useful weapon. I had my torch, I could suddenly dazzle them in the face and make my move. And then we met, face to face and all alone in the middle of the woods

Species No 119: Holy crap - it's a womble! 
Wild and wary, just wish I could have gotten a bit closer...
I think I must be the only person in Uig who hasn't seen a Hedgehog in the woods at one time or another. I was beginning to think everybody was having a big joke with me. Well, it may have taken me almost 18 months, but I've certainly seen one now!

It was getting lighter all the time, I barely needed my torch by 3am and it wasn't long before Robins and Song Thrushes added themselves to the tally, Tawny OwlsOystercatchers and a noisy Grey Heron being the only birds heard in the darkness.  

I headed back to the hotel, checked a few bits I'd potted up and took another look at the light trap. No more surprises, though a huge male Poplar Hawkmoth was a lovely addition to the tally alongside the first Rivulet I've recorded here

Species No 143: Poplar Hawk - been getting a few of these lately. Or the same one over and over again.
Species No 145: The Rivulet - a lovely wee moth
After a brief indoors interlude, I was straight back out and into the woods once more - this time in daylight. A Cuckoo called from somewhere up on the hillside, they've been a bit sporadic of late and I'd worried about missing them entirely, so it was a relief to hear one so early into The Challenge. As it happens I heard them throughout the day. 

I suddenly realised that the Alder I'd just walked by was covered in bits of white fluff...what??? A closer inspection revealed lots of woolly aphids. An even closer inspection revealed them to be psyllids not aphids. Woolly psyllids? That's a new one on me! 

Species 180: Psylla alni the Alder Woolly Psyllid. Cool stuff!
Staying with psyllids for the moment, a good hard stare into a patch of Rosebay Willowherb soon turned up this wee chappie. 

Species No 204: Craspedolepta nebulosa the Rosebay Willowherb Psyllid
This is the very species that I found new to Scotland last year, the Highland Biologiocal Recording Group (HBRG) now have a whole page dedicated to this beast, which you can check out by clicking here. Species 200 (Oxeye Daisy) attained at 0440hrs.

Also in the same patch of Rosebay Willowherb were six of these

Species 203: Mompha raschkiella, a rather smart moth presumably about to lay eggs on the foodplant
I've recently been granted permission to wander through a meadow. Technically, this being Scotland, I'm free to wander anywhere pretty much willy-nilly anyway (gotta love the Right to Roam Laws up here!) But I feel happier knowing that the landowner says I can wander about, regardless of what the current tenant may think. So saying, what with it being a bit before 5am, I suspect the tenant would still be fast asleep. Anyway, this meadow is just brilliant! I soon added approximately 100 Chimney Sweepers, thirty or so Timothy Tortrix, a handful of Grass Rivulets, a few Greater Butterfly Orchids and the only Rabbit of the day amongst others. 

Species No 206: Aphelia paleana the Timothy Tortrix - a firm favourite of mine
Species 233: Chimney Sweeper Moth, and an immaculate one at that! 
Low tide wasn't until 1227hrs, it was still only just about 6am. Nevertheless I took a quick wander along the water's edge and added a fistful of common seaweeds and watched Green Shore Crabs swimming in the shallow water. I entered Uig Wood again and spent a bit of time lifting stones and boulders in search of molluscs, beetles, crustaceans and flatworms. Unfortunately this was not a very profitable use of my time, after nearly three weeks without rain even the undersides of part-buried rocks were dry. I don't know where the inverts I sought found shelter, but it wasn't beneath the rocks I checked, though I did find a few bits and bobs. I did see quite a few leafmines though including several that I haven't recorded here before. Species 300 (Narrow-fruited Watercress) attained at 0743hrs.

Species No 298: Phytomyza angelicae on Wild Angelica
I headed back to the hotel at about 0900hrs, checked a few more bits in pots and wandered down for staff breakfast at half nine. I'd already asked Ivan the chef to rustle me up an extra large veggie omelette with beans. Bless him, he made me an eight egg omelette. Best chef ever. It was whilst I was breakfasting with the waitresses that my boss wandered through and asked me how I was doing, what number was I on so far, and did I already have the fly on the window? Much merriment ensued as he tried to show us the 'bluebottle' he'd spotted but that had mysteriously vanished into thin air. Poor chap's getting old. Early dementia was our immediate (and highly vocal) evaluation. But then, bless him, he really did spot a fly on the window right next to me. It quickly went into a pot, I could see it was a small soldierfly. Back in the lab I checked it more closely - Microchrysa polita and new to Skye, new in fact to the Inner Hebs and adjacent mainland! My boss was soon telling everyone that he'd found a fly new to Skye and he was SO proud of himself, haha! That was species number 345 and I was soon out the door and in search of more species. 

Species No 368: Black Snipefly Chrysopilus cristatus
Species No 376: Micropterix aruncella, I saw three of these within five minutes
I took myself back down to the shore seeing as the tide was finally heading out. Much turning of boulders added some good littoral stuff including the centipede Strigamia maritima, the staphylinid Thinobaena vestita and a very, very, tiny carabid for species number 400. Species 400 (Aepus marinus) achieved at 1210hrs.

Species No 411: Saltmarsh Rush, a new one for the square! 
I then spent a good long while searching for fish beneath rocks. And by heck I found them too, including two species completely new to the square! Plenty of Butterfish and Shore Rocklings, these being the usual suspects that I find here. Bizarrely I've never had a Blenny here, but that all changed as I heaved one large stone over - yes! Finally! I've never been so excited to see a Blenny, so excited in fact that I forgot to take a pic of it... Happily I managed to catch and pot the next new fish, though I hadn't a clue as to what it was at the time. The hugely long second dorsal had me completely flummoxed, and it was only after zooming in on the photo's afterwards that I noticed and counted the barbels - that's when the penny finally dropped! 

Species No 427: the smallest Five-bearded Rockling I have ever seen. So cute!
I headed up the River Conon and into the Chasm of Doom. The river is running very low at the moment and it didn't take much searching to find several Brown Trout in a deeper pool and a male Three-spined Stickleback holding territory over his nest. Various new plants, bryophytes and aquatic inverts were quickly added including Polycelis felina (a flatworm) and Electrogena lateralis nymphs (a mayfly) plus lots of River Limpets. A flyby Dipper was a real bonus, I hadn't realised they were resident here, presumably breeding just upstream of my square, probably up by the waterfall. 

Possibly my biggest 'miss' of the day was Portevenia maculata, the Ramsons Hoverfly. I found it new to Skye last year, new to the Western Highlands, in fact. Just a few days back I counted over thirty of them in the carpets of Ramsons that cover the valley floor here. Today I noted the Ramsons, I noted the associated fungi Puccinia sessilis and Botryotinia globosa but not a sniff of the fly. I even did a bit of sweep netting. Nada. Truly bizzare. 

I clambered my way up the southern face of the gorge, it's actually quite difficult now that the vegetation has grown up, I almost fell off a couple of times! Once at the top I emerged into blazing sunshine and associated heat (off with the jumper!) and was straight into invert action with various hoverflies sunning on Ivy leaves. I'm amazed that it's taken up until now to see it, but finally Episyrphus balteatus fell for the year, alongside dayticks Syrphus ribesii, Eristalis pertinax, Eristalis horticola, Helophilus pendulus and Calliphora vomitoria (a surprisingly late entry at number 466). Two Rooks high overhead were a good addition, I'd probably have missed them if they hadn't been calling. 

Eventually I descended back down to the hotel for dinner, a shower, a change of clothes and duly departed with a much needed burst of renewed energy. I'd been avoiding the Sphagnum bog area until now, I fully anticipated a fresh suite of additions to the tally. What I wasn't expecting were the clouds of hungry horseflies that descended on me as soon as I set foot into the grazing lands that surround the bog. It transpires that the cattle have been moved elsewhere leaving an entire swarm of Notch-horned Clegs Haematopota pluvialis in a desperate search of blood. Oh lucky, lucky me... Species 500 (Marsh Cinquefoil) attained at 1807hrs.

However, the bog is a very good habitat (even if it is looking decidedly dry at the moment) and I was soon racking up new species including these beauties. 

Species No 502: Round-leaved Sundew
Which were soon eclipsed by these bigger beauties

Species 510: Great Sundew - entirely new to the square and absolute stunners! 
I had at least four horseflies on me when I took this pic, which is why it's somewhat squiffy and out of focus. I even managed to hit myself in the head with my own net several times whilst using it as a giant fly swatter. Horsefly bites don't actually hurt, it's just a small sharp jabby feeling (though technically they saw through your skin rather than jab with a proboscis) but I just don't like them. I could have let them take their fill, but through sheer numbers they could have bled me dry. So I swatted and swiped and repeatedly hit myself in the face and eventually scampered off in a quite undignified manner. Today I learned that the lady down the shop lives in the house that overlooks the bog. She was watching me seemingly catching all sorts of flying insects with my awesome net skillz. Nope, I was just swatting at clouds of horseflies, but thanks...

Just above the bog is a natural outcropping of stone amogst the grazing pasture. It has Field Gentian (couldn't see any though - probably too early) and a few other nice plants, so I gave it a bit of time. I found these

Species No 492 - a Swedish Whitebeam seedling!
The parent trees a good 100ft away
I've still to key these through properly, but they look like Swedish Whitebeams to me. One for another day. 

Species No 495: Heath Fragrant-orchid
Finally I saw a butterfly, just one mind you, a Green-veined White. It was soon followed by a Four-spotted Chaser and a few Large Red Damselflies. Still no grasshoppers though, which I find mightily strange. I had intended to grab a water sample from the ditch, but it was dried up. In fact, I manged to walk across what is ordinarily quite a deep water-filled ditch. No idea if the tadpoles managed to make it to froglet stage before their home dried out. I didn't see any. 

After donating a substantial amount of blood to the horseflies I quit and headed for the safety of the woods once more. I'd yet to work my way up the Glen Conon road, I had a particular species in mind which I've never seen anywhere else in my square. Bloody hell, but I was putting in some serious legwork today! 

Once up the Glen Conon zigzags I bunked over the crash barrier and descended into the wooded area above the river, north face of the gorge this time. I soon found my target species - European Larch and covered in Woolly Adelgids Adelges laricis. Nothing else worthwhile though, until I spotted a thick Alder limb covered in Hazel Woodwart...umm??? 

Hypoxylon fuscoides - very few records for this in Britain and new for me too - huzzah! 
By now I was proper whacked. Too many hills, too many Red Bulls, not enough real fluids and not enough sleep. I ambled and bumbled for an extra hour or so but in the end found myself heading back up the hill to the hotel where I grabbed a fistful of beers from the bar and retired into my room to try and make sense of what I'd collected in pots and on my memory card. 

My final tally is of 546 species, I've never seen that many species in a single day before. Success! 

As an aside, I was meant to be doing this today. Thankfully I have been keeping abreast of the weather forecast and knew today was going to be wet n' wild. Here's a very short clip of the trees outside my house this morning. I'm so glad I held my Biggest Day early!

Taken at midnight at the end of my Biggest Day. 

I'll compile a breakdown of the species seen in the next post. For now, it's almost 1am and I think I still have some outstanding sleep to catch up with. Night y'all....

Thursday, 7 June 2018


Several of us managed to secure places on The Radiant Queen this evening, a happy gathering on a sad occasion - this was the very last fishing trip being run on this boat. The fish weren't biting, they haven't been all season, and numbers of paying guests have been falling. All in all it was just a matter of time. I feel privileged to have been on the final trip in cracking company and the craic was great. 

Puffins are pretty much guaranteed, we saw a few hundred or so
Lion's Mane Jelly with Moon Jelly - lots of each seen tonight
Massively cropped pic of Neoturris pileata
Rosy Featherstar Antedon bifida  hauled up from the depths
But it's not all about the wildlife, the company was excellent. Love these guys (well, some of them...)

Callum with the only fish of the trip - a huge Pollack...ahem...
Big Lee - one absolutely amazing fella, with his stolen glasses...
Our very own homegrown soon-to-be professional footballers. Maybe.
How do you better a sunset like this?
Of course, you add a (kinda) Titanic moment! Lacklustre Lachlan, haha!
This from a couple of days back, I just happened to look up and this is what I saw

22 degree halo around the sun. Coolness!
Day off tomorrow, need a big push towards the 800 mark I reckon.