Tuesday, 15 October 2019


It's what they do.

A bit of footage shot whilst walking by the shore on Sunday.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Blink and you miss it

Some recent photos of ephemeral moments...

Just after sunset on 4th October

A pair of Pied Wagtails bathing in a puddle

A Song Thrush on migration, 10th October

Just before sunset on 10th October

Monday, 7 October 2019

Blustery bluster

There's a south easterly gale howling outside. The view is slowly being obscured as salt encrusts the windows. But, for the moment, I can still see the vegetation in the garden, flinging itself around in some sort of toddler tantrum at the unfairness of an all-to-brief Summer and now... this!

Ferries are cancelled, access to causeways is under review, I shall not be putting out the recycling bins for collection but, from across the fields, Redwings, in ones and twos, are battling headlong into the gale, driven by the need to keep moving. Zugunruhe, it's called.

I am not going anywhere near a ladder today.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Book review, 70 years late

Hmmm, that post title makes it look as though my To Do list is a tad lengthy, but please let me explain. Despite my curmudgeonly exterior and 'born old' ethos, I do try to keep on trend to some extent. In the dragonfly world, this sees a photo ID guide of local species loaded onto my Orkney dragonfly group in Facebook and the page also has a general gleaning of exciting Odonata news from home and abroad. I will admit that 'exciting' is defined as 'exciting to me'.

A new specialist second-hand bookshop opened up in Orkney recently, and what with the length of my To Do list, I've only just got around to visiting it. The property used to be the home of Fluke Jewellery, who we visited on our first ever holiday to Orkney back in 2006. Now the modernised and extended premises house shelf after shelf of carefully-labelled books, in a multitude of categories including science fiction, history, nature and many more.

I was not expecting to find anything which would give me a frisson of interest, but tucked away in the Nature section was a small volume entitled 'The Dragonflies of the British Isles' by Cynthia Longfield. It was a second edition from 1949 (the first edition was published in 1937), so my interest was a historical one, rather than for a current ID guide.

Cynthia Longfield was one of the outstanding dragonfly enthusiasts of the 20th Century. When the British Dragonfly Society was formed in 1983, Cynthia was elected as the first Honorary member. Sadly, she died in 1991 at the age of 94, several years before my own interest in dragonflies took to the wing.

Although Odonata have been around for more than 300 million years, and the seventy years since the publication of Cynthia Longfield's ID guide is less than the blink of an eye by comparison, there have been noticeable changes. Between 1949 and 2019, the number of species of dragonfly and damselfly in the British Isles has certainly fluctuated. In 1949, there were 44 species altogether, 27 dragons and 17 damsels. By 2019, there were 52 species altogether, 32 dragons and 21 damsels. But these changes are not as simple as may first appear.

Firstly, for dragonflies, we lost the Orange-spotted Emerald, which went extinct in the British Isles in the 1950s, most likely due to a pollution incident on the Moors River in Dorset. The Highland Darter has since been 'lumped' in with the Common Darter by taxonomists, so technically another species lost, but there have also been additions of Southern Migrant Hawker (1952), Vagrant Emperor (1970s), Green Darner (1998), Lesser Emperor (1996), Scarlet Darter (1995) and Large White-faced Darter (2012).

Then, for damselflies, we lost the Dainty Damselfly, which went extinct in the British Isles in 1953, when a storm surge on the east coast destroyed its breeding site in Essex. However, the species was rediscovered in 2010 in Kent. Another loss was the Norfolk Damselfly, not recorded since 1958, its disappearance again linked to habitat loss. New additions include Willow Emerald Damselfly (2007), Southern Emerald Damselfly (2002) and Small Red-eyed Damselfly (1999).

The overall trend, then, is upward, which looks like a biodiversity win on the face of it. But the extinctions have been due to loss of habitat and pollution, factors which still threaten much wildlife globally. The new species which have begun to colonise the British Isles, are taking advantage of climate change, as rising temperatures bring new opportunities for expansion. However, paradoxically, this factor also poses a threat to northerly-adapted species, as they will be forced further north, until they run out of British Isles.

In 1949, many of the British odonates did not yet have common names, with some of our most abundant species only being referred to by Genus with an English modifier e.g. Common Ischnura for Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura elegans. Others have had their Genus changed e.g. Beautiful Demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo, was an Agrion virgo back in 1949.

One unfortunate inclusion in the book, which caught me by complete surprise, was in a useful table of the principal colours of the insects' bodies. Blues, greens, reds, purples, blacks and whites were all described with subtle descriptors for each change of hue. However, the browns included a shade which I will not reproduce here, but simply say that it was not subtle and I will acknowledge that it was written in a different time and place. As well-travelled and enlightened as she was, I guess that the author was using language which it was expected her readership would recognise. I would like to think that the world is above and beyond all that now, but sadly, we know this is still not the case.

More happily, the second edition did include 12 colour plates not in the first edition. These were illustrated by W. F. Evans and first published in 'British Libellulinae or Dragonflies' in 1845, over one hundred years beforehand. The artist's grandson gave permission for the plates to be used.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Small unexpected joys

Well, it's all a bit yin and yang, to be honest. Looking back at some phone and camera images taken during the past few weeks (an exercise in displacement activity as regards Botchit), I thought I saw a bit of a trend...

Some days we have a period of bright sunlight for an hour or so just after dawn, and if we're really lucky, another short solar blast at sunset. In between, it is a very mixed bag, with the results somewhat unbecoming of a G2V type yellow dwarf star. This image was taken through cloud at tea time, for safety reasons using LiveView rather than looking through the camera lens.

Of course, if we can't manage a fix on the Sun, there's always the Moon...

That early morning light, which I mentioned above, does often pick out random objects in the Orcadian landscape.

I repeated the shot about 11 hours later, from the exact spot by the front door but, unfortunately, handheld isn't great for such light levels.

Recently, I was working away from home, and began to experience the first sign of a migraine, which, for me, is a tingling or numbness of the extremities (fingertips and tip of my nose). With a day's work ahead of me and a ferry trip back to Orkney to contemplate, I wasn't in the greatest of humours. To be fair, I very rarely have full-on migraines these days (with added visual distortions and stomach-wrenching nausea), and even the '72 hours of eye ache' version is much less frequent. But these initial symptoms were worrying, especially in the circumstances. Seeking advice from a fellow sufferer, I was astounded to learn that she uses caffeine as part of her treatment, which is why, after a swift trip to a chemist and some pharmacist advice to take the medication with food, I was to be found in a tea room with a huge slice of cappuccino cake (the hot chocolate with soya milk was optional). Well, that's my excuse, anyway.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

The epitome of wildlife and cake

The past week has been quite busy on the environmental and wildlife front. Last Sunday, we helped out at an event for the Great British Beach Clean 2019, a Marine Conservation Society project. Then, on Tuesday evening, a Dutch researcher, Dr Jan A van Franeker,  kindly gave a talk for the Orkney Field Club about his work investigating the effects of plastic pollution on the Fulmar population of the North Sea.

On Friday, I carried out a monitoring survey at a local site, looking for evidence of the Orkney Vole to help determine the level of the population in the archipelago. That evening, Our Lass and I attended another talk, this one about the island of Papa Westray, given by the island ranger, Jonathan Ford.

Today we went along to a walk organised by the Field Club. This was part of the 'Through The Seasons' programme, which for 2019 is at Brodgar. We spent a couple of hours wandering the shores of Harray and Stenness Lochs, either side of the Ring of Brodgar. The highlight was an Otter foraging in Harray Loch, but we saw all sorts of other wildlife too.

Egg-shell slime mould

A Puffball species of fungus

One of several hairy caterpillars seen on the day, species unknown

The thin red line of a fungus created by two lichens battling over a territory

A Metellina species of spider

Another Metellina species of spider

Parrot Waxcap fungi
The bonus treat for the day was soup and sandwiches at the nearby Standing Stones Hotel. For a change, we had opted for a vegan lunch, which was an absolute taste sensation.

And there were cakes afterwards. What's not to like about that?!

Monday, 23 September 2019

Climate struck

I have to admit that I did not manage to attend any gathering for the Global Climate Strike on Friday 20th September 2019. Nearly, but not quite. I was working in Shetland that day, and didn't finish the task in time to hotfoot it back into Lerwick for the noon meeting at the Market Cross, attended by about 100 folk.

I did, however, find time later in the afternoon to visit the Why Waste shop to purchase some less environmentally-damaging cleaning products and cosmetics.

The previous evening, before heading out to catch the night boat to Shetland, I had managed to capture another ephemeral sky moment across Scapa Flow. Later, pondering how to caption the photo, the words 'there's a hole in the sky' came to mind, which I recalled were sung by Ronnie James Dio on Run with the wolf, from Rainbow's Rising album. However, I decided to research the phrase anyway, in case there was a more apt use of it in the musical canon.

Oh boy, was there ever!

Up until this point, I knew very little about the Grateful Dead, other than they were a band that began in the mid 60s. My lyric search turned up the line 'there's a hole in the sky where the light pours in' from a song called We can run from the 1989 Built to Last album. This seemed a neat fit for my image. Then, oh jeez, then, I read the remainder of the lyrics...

We don't own this place, though we act as if we did,
It's a loan from the children of our children's kids.
The actual owners haven't even been born yet.
But we never tend the garden and rarely we pay the rent,
Some of it is broken and the rest of it is bent
Put it all on plastic and I wonder where we'll be when the bills hit.
We can run,
But we can't hide from it.
Of all possible worlds,
We only got one:
We gotta ride on it.
Whatever we've done,
We'll never get far from what we leave behind,
Baby, we can run, run, run, but we can't hide.
Oh no, we can't hide.
I'm dumpin' my trash in your back yard
Makin' certain you don't notice really isn't so hard
You're so busy with your guns and all of your excuses to use them.
Well, it's oil for the rich and babies for the poor,
We got everyone believin' that more is more,
If a reckoning comes, maybe we will know what to do then.
All these complications seem to leave no choice,
I heard the tongues of billion speak with just one voice,
Saying, "just leave all the rest to me,
I need it worse than you, you see."
And then I heard,
The sound of one child crying.
Today I went walking in the amber wind,
There's a hole in the sky where the light pours in
I remembered the days when I wasn't afraid of the sunshine.
But now it beats down on the asphalt land
Like a hammering blow from god's left hand
What little still grows cringes in the shade like a bad vine.
Songwriters: Brent Richard Mydland / John Barlow
We Can Run lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
The echoes of these words from 1989 are still as fresh and even more urgent, thirty years later. If you have not yet done so, can I please ask that you watch the short film Protect, Restore, Fundfeaturing Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot. Thank you.