Saturday, 12 August 2017


As an addendum to the previous blogpost about our wildlife triangle, a keen-eyed Our Lass spotted this today...

which would appear to be a Corn Marigold.

Just the one!

I suspect that it is from seed harvested in MK in 2013, and only sown this year, rather than from the local seed bank.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Earlier in the year, I blogged about one particularly unkempt bit of our generally unkempt garden, the wildlife triangle. Since then, the area has been left to manage its own affairs as Nature sees fit, which isn't the same thing as us planning what happens.

To be fair, after we went all postal on the dochans, there's pleasingly few to be seen, just one or two to provide somewhere for dock-centric wildlife to call home. Due to the disturbance of the soil, Nettles have been a big winner, so too the Mystery Brassica, whilst there's also loads more Fumitory. But mainly it's grass, very long grass, which swamps everything else. Our Lass has written 'Grass' at the top of my 2018 Wildlife Triangle To Do list.

So, what of the stuff we hoped would grow? Well, one or two clumps of wanted 'good for pollinators' flowers have appeared, which is heartening.

Phacelia and Mystery Brassica



A species of Fumitory, a hoverfly and some Phacelia

A Carder bee, I think

Probably a White-tailed Bumble bee
Meanwhile, in another part of the garden, even less managed, but also with very much less in the way of nutrients, some Purple Loosestrife has put in an appearance.

Monday, 7 August 2017

A brief round up

The last month has gone by in a bit of a blur, what with all the dragonfly goings-on. So here's a round up of other happenings from July and the first week of August.

July 10th
Photo: Alan Nelson
Now that she has two new knees, Our Lass fulfilled a long-standing ambition to walk across Hoy to Rackwick Bay.

July 21st

Prior to a trip to Rousay, Alan and I popped into the local Co-op store to stock up on provender for lunch. On leaving, I noticed a moth on one of the automatic doors.

Circled in red for reference
However, as soon as I approached the door to take a photograph with my phone, this happened...

Cue much merriment and giggling.

Alan solved the conundrum by using the zoom function on his camera...

Photo: Alan Nelson
It's some sort of Plume moth, I think.

Same day, on Rousay, different moth...

A Garden Tiger, always a treat to see.

August 2nd

The Royal Navy's new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth paid a brief visit to Orkney to mark the centenary of the first successful landing of an aeroplane on the deck of a ship. Here's a few photos of her entering Scapa Flow early in the morning.

August 5th

During a day of gardening, we had some interesting birdy encounters. Firstly, a very rosy bird perched on a wire fence in the field over the road...

which turned out to be a potato, left there by the allotment folk who have a vegetable plot in the next field.

Then, in the afternoon, whilst I was mowing the lawn, a Swift put in an appearance, for time enough that I had the chance to nip indoors and grab my camera.

August 6th

An afternoon stroll along the clifftops in South Ronaldsay, to look for damselflies in an abandoned quarry, was unsuccessful. However, there were a few distractions.


Common Blue butterflies

An ichneumon of some sort

Larva of a Great Diving Beetle, with lunch
Well, that's us up-to-date, for the time being.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The End of the Show

The ninth and final day of National Dragonfly Week was a leisurely jaunt to an old quarry in West Mainland. No boats, no planes, just a gentle car drive through a rural landscape and by a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Instead of turning right for the archaeological Mecca that is the Ness of Brodgar, we turned left up a single track road and, after a couple of miles, parked at Happy Valley, a small croft with a follied garden.

To be honest, in the run up to Dragonfly Week, I had wondered whether the whole idea of visiting a different island every day was pure folly but, in the end, I was happy to say that it had been a fantastic undertaking. There were folks on each visited island who now knew how to find and ID a dragon or a damsel, which was ample reward in itself. But the extended week had also been a wonderful experience, seeing new sites and many, many odes.

So here was the finale, a pleasant walk up Russadale to look at the pools of the old quarry. With me today were Linda, Barrie, Brian and Alan, plus numerous midges and horse flies. These latter characters provided me with a bit of an ethical dilemma. On a dragonfly walk, searching for odonatalogical gold, is it ever appropriate to wear this... ?

We had a quick look at the relatively new pond which had been created in a meadow adjacent to Happy Valley, but we only managed to find a single Large Red Damselfly. However, a bed of pondweed was beginning to develop in this water body, which bodes well for the future.

Up at the old quarry, in reasonably warm conditions, we searched the pools but only found a few Large Red and Blue-tailed Damselflies. This was a surprise, as I would have expected a greater abundance of these species at this time of year, as well as Common Blue Damselfly and Black Darter Dragonfly.

Russadale pool. Photo: Alan Nelson

Russadale pool. Photo: Alan Nelson

Russadale pool. Photo: Alan Neslon
The day was saved when Alan discovered an ovipositing Common Hawker, and the whole group was able to have great views of her as she laid eggs into moss at the water's edge.

Common Hawker female ovipositing. Photo: Alan Neslon
Big dragons are always impressive and, with evidence of breeding behaviour, this was the perfect way to end the week. I must say a big Thank You to all the folks who helped out with the isles' tour, whether hosting or ferrying us about, and to all the people who came along to learn about dragonflies, often in very inclement weather. And an especially huge Thank You to Alan, Buckinghamshire dragonfly recorder, who spent a week of his Orkney holiday following me about, taking photographs and making copious notes, so that I didn't have to. It really wouldn't have gone half so well without his dedication and enthusiasm.

Hmmm, what to do for 2018?

Dragon Central

As National Dragonfly Week entered its second weekend and its eighth day, it was time to visit the island of Hoy. I often refer to Hoy as Dragon Central, and with good reason. All eight of the breeding species in Orkney can be found there, and some in good numbers. OK, 'good numbers' is a bit imprecise, but let's just say that the abundance is good for Orkney. The weather, too, was very Orkney, cloudy and dull for the morning, but with brightening prospects for the afternoon. Hey, after some of the days we'd had, I was happy with that!

The group (Alan, Jenny, Brian and myself) met at Houton pier in Orphir, to catch the ferry across to Lyness in Hoy. As the planned walk was up a hill very near Lyness, we didn't need to take a vehicle across and, once on Hoy, we were joined by islander Trish.

Heading up the rough track that leads to Wee Fea, we passed a derelict military building, before making our way to a set of shallow pools on the southern flank of the hill. As with most of the week's trips, due to the logistics involved I had been unable to recce any of the walks, but for some unfathomable reason on this day I was particularly apprehensive. Perhaps it was the thought that Hoy is the shining light for Odonata in Orkney and I was feeling some pressure to deliver wonderful, yet unpredictable, wildlife moments? The contours of the hillside meant that the pools could not be seen until the last few yards of our approach. With the low cloud adding a sombre dimension to the occasion, we crested a rise and could finally see our destination. Phew, the pools were still there, not flooded out, not dried up, and looking good for odes. I allowed myself a happy thought of relief, but was aware that the rest of the group were wearing expressions of concern. Perhaps it was a case of "Is this it?" Or maybe "There're no signs of any insects at all!" So, without further ado, I set about looking for damsels and dragons in the soft rushes that bordered the pools.

Acidic pool habitat, Wee Fea. Photo: Alan Nelson

For some reason, there always seems to be a period of 'getting your eye in' when looking for odes in sub-optimal conditions. For species that are brightly coloured and strikingly marked, you would think that they would be easy to see. Eventually, a Large Red Damselfly was found, clinging to a plant stem, then a few Common Blue Damselflies tucked away amongst the soft rushes. As we progressed along the pool edge, we hit a sweet spot, with maybe a dozen Black Darter dragonflies nestled in the vegetation, along with more Common Blues. With the reassurance and confidence that these sightings gave, we also began finding some Emerald Damselflies and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies. This was more like it!

The sun was still struggling to burn through the low cloud, but the temperature was slowly rising. At the point where even us humans could feel the warmth on the backs of our necks, it must have hit a critical point for the dragonflies. Suddenly, all the Black Darters were lifting into the air and jostling amongst themselves. Common Blue Damselfly males were out over the water, scouting for mates and chasing competitors. It was a magical, if brief, moment. Then the cloud covered the sun again and all became calm once more.

Black Darter dragonfly. Photo: Alan Nelson

Checking the ID guide for differences between genders. Photo: Alan Nelson

A recently-emerged Black Darter with exuvia

A Large Red Damselfly makes short work of a moth

Large Reds ovipositing. Photo: Alan Nelson
As well as clear evidence of breeding by the Black Darters, Large Reds, Blue-tails, Emeralds and Common Blues were all busy mating or egg-laying.

A sudden shout by Alan alerted the group to a Common Hawker dragonfly, which was flying along the water's edge, either looking for lunch or love. Alan even managed a flight shot in the tricky conditions.

A Common Hawker dragonfly. Photo: Alan Nelson
After a picnic lunch, we made our way back down the hill, stopping at another pool in some rough pasture, as the sun put in an extended appearance. Here, again, we saw six of the eight Orkney species, the highlights being several Common Hawkers, a pair of mating Black Darters and a host of Emeralds in love.

Emerald Damselflies in tandem. Photo: Alan Nelson
All too soon, it was time to return to Lyness to catch the ferry back to mainland, but the trip had been a resounding success. In five hours on Hoy, we had seen as many odes as we had seen all week on all the the other islands. Dragon Central, indeed.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Rousay-ing success

Apologies for the spoiler in the post title! I thought, perhaps, it would dispel any gloom from the Egilsay trip. So, yes, Day 7 of National Dragonfly Week saw the OroOdo tour visit the island of Rousay. Again we were hosted by Christine from the RSPB, again we were on the wee ferry out of Tingwall, but the difference from the previous day was the visibility.

There were six of us in the group, with local experts on many taxa, including trees, birds, flowers, beetles, bees and, of course, dragonflies. With all this heavyweight knowledge on tap, perhaps it was no surprise that the first water body we visited was in a wood planted next to the island school.

Photo: Alan Nelson
Sadly, as it was the school holidays, the Odonata seemed to have gone on vacation too.

The next port of call was the Loch of Scockness, at the eastern end of Rousay, and we had our first damselfly sighting along the track leading to the loch, a male Common Blue damsel.

Photo: Alan Nelson
As we navigated our way through the marginal vegetation towards the water's edge, we began to spot many more damselflies, including more Common Blues, as well as Blue-tailed damsels.

We sat down by the loch for a picnic lunch and, during the break, it occurred to me to check the species list for Rousay. It didn't include Blue-tailed! Wowser, an island first. Yay!

Photo: Alan Nelson
During the afternoon, we checked a garden pond, a big loch and a small lochan, but managed only a Common Blue at the latter. As we headed back towards the pier for the return ferry, Brian, who was our driver for the day, mentioned a field pond that he'd never checked. Parking by the roadside, we could see the pond, dug into a gentle hillside in a field below us. I went off to knock on the nearest door to see if we could have permission to investigate. The owner was more than happy for us to survey the pond, so we duly trooped into the field to have a look.

Photo: Alan Nelson
It turned out to be Blue-tailed Damselfly central, with dozens of these damselflies all very active in the late afternoon sunshine. There were males searching for females, males and females busy mating, and several females ovipositing.

Photo: Alan Nelson
And, yes, I couldn't help but notice that virtually every time Alan took a photo of the group, I was doing my Mr Pointy impersonation.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The saintliness of dragon hunting

Day 6 of National Dragonfly Week saw the team headed to Egilsay for a walk around likely habitat, in the care of RSPB warden, Christine. Egilsay is one of the smaller islands in the Orkney archipelago, where the farming regime is less intensive and, therefore, more conducive to wildlife. The RSPB owns just over half the island, and has recently received funding to further develop its own farm, which will allow more habitat to be created for Corncrake, Great Yellow Bumblebee, Curlew and Lapwing. These species need all the help they can get, as breeding numbers are in freefall across much of their range in the UK. At the same time, the RSPB wants to demonstrate that wildlife-friendly farming is economically viable, and can produce a positive result for both farmers and Nature. The charity has several farms of this kind throughout the UK, and I have visited the one in Cambridgeshire a couple of times. It's not rocket science, and it does work.

As well as Christine and myself, the day's hardy band consisted of Helen, Brian and Alan. I say 'hardy' because the forecast was for rain and it wasn't wrong. I could've titled this post "The Famous Five Get Drookit"... had we been famous. Several of the group had not visited the island before, so enthusiasm was high, despite the conditions.

We boarded the ferry from Tingwall on Mainland, which called at the islands of Rousay and Wyre before making landfall on Egilsay.

Christine arranged for us to drop some of our gear in the Community Hall and then we pottered across the island from west to east, taking in some pools on the way.

Brian had come prepared for a challenging day of odo-ing. In the photo above, he is wielding his trusty sieve, with which to pond dip for larvae. Whilst he found several aquatic species, including a Stickleback, there were no signs of damsel or dragon larvae.

After lunch, we made our way towards the south of the island, where we found the most likely spot for odes. There weren't any on the day, but Christine had seen a Blue-tailed Damselfly at the site, earlier in the week. We all agreed it was a lovely bit of habitat, and could only be lovelier with a generous helping of blue sky.

Then it was back to the Community Hall for some respite from the weather, with my Orkney Dragonfly presentation. Not everyone fell asleep.

Egilsay is also the place where, 900 years ago, St Magnus was murdered. An event which led to the founding of a cathedral in his honour in Kirkwall, capital of Orkney. It was remarked that, in some small way, we too were martyrs for the day, trying to find odes in persistent precipitation.

There will be a return visit to the island, for it has a peace and tranquility worth savouring, as well as abundant wild flower pasture. Perhaps on a sunnier day, there will be damselflies, too.