Monday, 15 January 2018

Beating the blues with some blue, reds, greens... and more blues

With gale force winds all of Saturday and Sunday, it wasn't much of a weekend for being out and about, let alone taking a leisurely stroll or a wildlife walk. Instead, I stayed indoors and set about compiling the Orkney dragonfly and damselfly records for 2017. This is a double bonus, because not only is it a useful addition to the data sets held nationally and locally, it also means I can spend a couple of days revelling in thoughts of a Summer past, gazing at some fantastic photographs and reading wonderful descriptions of folks' dragonfly experiences. Let's face it, at a time of year when the little loves aren't going to be on the wing again for another four months (at least in Orkney), then it's a small but welcome distraction from the long tail of Winter still to come.

Over the course of the 2017 flight season, which locally was from mid May until mid September, nearly three dozen people sent me 226 records of their dragon and damsel sightings, using all manner of methods. Some forward me their neat and tidy spreadsheets, others post photographs on social media, a few sets of handwritten records usually appear and then personal conversations, phone calls and emails account for the rest. Orkney is a small county, both in area and number of inhabitants, and its latitude also reflects this in the reduced populations of Odonata. However, encouraging folk to go out and look for these insects and then report their sightings are two of the central aims of my largely unofficial remit as the island's 'Mr Dragonfly'.

As you can probably gather from the low numbers mentioned above, compiling the records  is not an onerous task, but each record must be verified to check that an insect has been correctly identified and its location accurately noted. Cartographic errors do occur. Orkney sits astride two 100km squares, so annotating the wrong one puts the record on mainland Scotland or in the sea. It is also easy to transpose northings and eastings in a grid reference, or simply type one figure incorrectly, which will have a varying inaccuracy depending upon which significant figure it is. Correct identification of the insect is somewhat less of a problem, as the archipelago has only eight breeding species which are, thankfully, sufficiently different from one another. Well, for now at any rate. Yes, with the 'warm front' of climate change migrations heading steadily northwards, we will likely receive a few confusion species before too long.

Obviously, local recorders with much larger taxa, like butterflies and moths, have to plough through thousands and thousands of records each year. I really do believe that I get off lightly!

Once the data is compiled and submitted to the various official recording bodies (locally, the Records Centre in the Library, and nationally through iRecord) then I can begin writing up a report of the flight season for the Journal of the Orkney Field Club. I have to remember that it isn't a blog, and so must leave out my terrible puns, awful jokes, made-up words and general references to rock bands and lyrics. This is the difficult part!

And when that is complete, I can turn my attention to matters slightly further afield and create a presentation for an airing at the Scottish Dragonfly Conference in April. This will be my biggest challenge (and audience) to date, but at least it will keep me occupied through the cold, dark nights of February, my head full of dragony delights, facts and figures, and the occasional song lyric terrible pun.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Stuff On My Phone (10)

After the comparative 'highs' of yesterday's mountains, it seemed apt to feature a tune on a similar theme for the latest SOMP blogpost. Admittedly, I may have peaked too soon.

Here's Joe Bonamassa's 'Mountain Time', admittedly not the actual version on my phone, but a more nuanced, extended live version recorded at the Royal Albert Hall, London in 2009.

This track does indeed 'take me somewhere' and 'it's good to be there'. Cue wibbly wobbly lines as we travel back in time to 1982...

In my younger days, I courted a girl who was living on the English Channel coast, adjacent to the South Downs (I could never understand why they were called Downs, when you patently had to walk UP them). Anyway, my 'drive all night' was therefore 'south on 23', rather than 'west on 80'. This young woman did 'live free and easy', 'show me wonders' and 'take my mind', on account of having a very different upbringing to the one I had experienced. What chance did a boy from County Durham stand, eh?

And it's probably a given that regular readers will know 'I hate the city and I love the country', so no surprises there.

However, the lady in question was certainly as wild as eagles and as sweet as honeysuckle, and she still is (especially as she's reading this over my shoulder).

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Yesterday and today

Nope, this isn't a Beatles blogpost, nor a Y&T one, just a straightforward post about two recent and consecutive days.

Today has been sub-optimal for working at height, with near gale force winds and driving rain, so I took the opportunity to catch up with some online training instead. 

Yesterday, however...

Pre-dawn hues
After the sun came up, it picked out several snowy mountain tops on the Scottish mainland, which I was able to capture in monochrome:

Morven, 706m high and 88.4km distant

Ben Klibreck, 962m high and 116.2km distant

Ben Loyal, 765m high and 106.2km distant
Ben Hope, 927m high and 114.4km distant
Then, in the afternoon, there were some more spectacular moments:

And another view of Morven, silhouetted by the setting sun:

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The beginning of 2018

For the beginning of 2018, New Year's Day commenced in a similar vein to the closing of 2017. Until late afternoon it was wet and horrible. However, just before sunset, the clouds began to roll back and some blue sky appeared.

Our Lass and I headed for a nearby hill at a rate of knots.

Panoramic taken above Carnock, with Grangemouth on the left and the Ochil Hills in the distant centre

And in amongst a large mixed flock of (mainly) Chaffinches and Yellowhammers, we spotted a few Tree Sparrows. A small but significant delight.

The end of 2017

Jings, I've not blogged since last year! Best sort that out pronto.

Our festive period was a bit of a blur. Christmas Day itself was spent with friends, sharing a brisk coastal walk, followed by a convivial meal and pleasant company. 

Boxing Day was a much chillier affair, with the features of the distant Hoy hills picked out by flurries of snow. Our Lass and I went for a walk on the beach at Barrier 4, but neither of us felt like hanging around to take photos. However, we did have good views of a Great Northern Diver and a pair of Long-tailed Ducks, all quite close in to the shore.

Then we were back at work for a few days, before a trip south to visit relatives in Fife. It was very icy as we set off pre-dawn to catch the ferry. After negotiating some snowy roads around Thurso, the drive down the A9 went without a hitch. Some grand snowy scenery, mind, but the roads were ok.

In fact, emboldened by the fact that the roads were so clear, we detoured to Loch Garten (just like we would in the Summer, only now there would be no Ospreys or dragonflies and damselflies). However, this diversion was to be just as exciting. A friend in Orkney had mentioned that Winter was a good time to visit the Osprey hide, as there would be lots of Coal Tits and some Crested Tits around, the former coming to the hand to feed and the latter a specialist of Caledonian pine forest and not on either Our Lass's or my life list.

Continuing our journey south, we began to notice that the registration plates of the vehicles heading north were covered in snow. By the time we reached Fife, the last few miles to our destination were the wrong side of 'interesting'.

The following day, we managed a short walk near the village of Carnock, feeling quite giddy at the sight of so many hedges. We were able to see such exotic (for us) species as Blue and Great Tits, Bullfinches and Yellowhammers. Oh, be still my beating heart!

New Year's Eve was dreich. I went to bed at 11pm and slept through the raucous celebrations.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Stuff On My Phone (9)

Firstly, here’s wishing all my readers Greetings for the Festive Season. This morning at Tense Towers, we’re working hard at being very relaxed and are currently building up to second breakfast, prior to a walk and a meal with friends.

Our Lass is poaching some eggs, so I’ve just taken her phone to the kitchen, as its timer app is permanently set to 4 minutes. This is our preferred poaching time. 

My phone timer app?

It's set to 15 minutes for cooking rice to go with curries, con carnes and a Mediterranean chicken recipe.

But I doubt it will be needed today!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Time stand still

Once upon a time, long long ago... well, in March of this year to be precise, I posted the second of an occasional series. It would be fair to say that I haven't been able to give the western horizon project the time it deserved in 2017.

However, in June, just prior to the Summer solstice, I snapped this image, which was posted here, showing the setting sun dipping below the horizon to the right of Wideford Hill.

Zipping forward six months, and as today is the Winter solstice, I think I need to wrap this one up, eh?

Below is a panorama from a couple of evenings ago, showing where the setting sun disappeared from view behind the farm below our home.

For those rock trivia fetishists out there (you know who you are!), the inspiration for the post title was taken from a 1980s Rush track.