Saturday 24 September 2016

Hoxa call

Whilst technically the Autumnal equinox, Thursday was a lovely late Summer's day with warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. It was the sort of day that doesn't occur very often in Orkney, so it would have been frivolous to waste it upon indoor tasks, or even worse, work.

This wasn't a conundrum with which I had to wrestle for too long, as Our Lass is on sick leave, recovering from an operation and, due to a late cancellation of a booked job, I was free to enjoy the benign weather.

The morning was spent carrying out husbandly duties of the retail accompaniment variety. Who knew that it was possible, nay necessary, to go shoe shopping whilst on crutches?! In the afternoon, we drove across the Barriers to South Ronaldsay and made our way along the single track road to the Hoxa peninsula.

Parking up not far from some boggy pools, our plan was for Our Lass to enjoy a bit of a careful potter along the tarmac track, safe from uneven surfaces but conveniently close to Nature.

This late in the Orcadian dragonfly season, I wasn't sure what, if anything would be on the wing. However, the weather has been kind to us this Summer, so hopes were high of at least something.

After a bit of diligent searching, I finally spotted a male Black Darter, not far from the water's edge. His wings were somewhat tatty and his black colouration a little faded, suggesting that he was a rather mature individual who had experienced many adventures in his short aerial existence.

Whilst Our Lass ambled to and fro, I wandered up a grassy track beyond the pools. In the lee of a willow plantation, plenty of insects were enjoying the warmth of the sun and the foraging opportunities, including these Common Carder bumblebees. My thanks to MG for help with the ID.

There were also some female Black Darters, probably younger than the male I had seen, and therefore looking pristine and fresh.

Walking back towards the car, the flash of sunlight upon wings alerted me to the presence of a few more dragonflies. These turned out to be more male Black Darters, so my tally for the visit was six individuals, 4 males and 2 females. I chuckled to myself as I realised that the boys were hanging around the edge of the pools, hoping for the girls to come by, whilst the girls were in fact elsewhere, more interested in lunch and basking in the sun. Perhaps a lesson there that I would've benefited from many decades ago!

Head down in odo observation mode, I was vaguely aware of the alarm calls of some Snipe nearby. My automatic reaction was to look overhead, presuming I had spooked the waders and that they would be hurriedly gaining altitude and sweeping away to a quieter bit of boggy moorland. Unable to locate the birds, I was about to resume my search for dragonflies, when my gaze fell upon some other movement beyond the afore-mentioned Willows.

It was a juvenile Hen harrier, busy searching for prey and consequently scattering Snipe right, left and centre. It repeatedly pounced down into the vegetation, perhaps chasing an Orkney vole, but to no avail. It eventually flew off, empty-clawed to try its luck elsewhere.

Just before I reached the car, something small flew across the road in front of me, which turned out to be a Painted Lady butterfly. It landed, briefly, on a Scabious flower, allowing me to rattle off a few shots before it fluttered out of range.

It was a very fresh-looking specimen, presumably recently emerged, so I expect that it will shortly be commencing the journey south to Africa. Our Lass and I made the slightly shorter journey into St Margaret's Hope to forage upon herbal tea and fruit cake. Cafe society, indeed.

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