Sunday, 9 August 2020

Cliff and the Archangels

It was time.

Time to revisit a coastal walk which I had previously only done in Winter, when the Grey Seals are pupping or when the low sunlight illuminates the scenery in a golden glow.

It is suitably different in Summer, though not necessarily drier or less windy.

This is the bay of Bur Wick in South Ronaldsay. The plan was to venture northwards up the west coast of the island until we (Eagle-eyed M and I) came to the place we reached during our southerly jaunt from Sandwick earlier in the year.  

As we found during that previous walk, there were many Common Blue butterflies frequenting the hollows and sheltered spots of the clifftops. Mostly males looking for love, as the females made themselves scarce. We were fortunate to find this little lady who allowed me to edge closer for a photo opportunity.
The clifftops were covered in mini-forests of Angelica Angelica archangelica which in turn were covered in all manner of insects, including bumblebees, honey bees, social wasps, solitary wasps, hoverflies and craneflies. I failed to adequately capture the wider Angelica scene, but spent ages oo-ing and ah-ing over various waspish delights. Here is a Maritime Mason-wasp Ancistrocerus scoticus.
A kerfuffle inland drew our attention, as a Great Black-backed Gull and a Great Skua (Bonxie) had a bit of a stand off over some alleged slight, possibly involving one looking at the other in a funny way.
The cliffs along the route are spectacular, not terrifically high, but the rock strata are very interesting, with different coloured layers and all sorts of whorls and scrunches (technical geological term).
Amongst the heather and crowberry, we kept seeing examples of this moth, but had no idea what it was at the time. Recourse to an ID guide later, proved it to be an Antler Moth.
These beasties are Dagger Flies of some stripe, but didn't both us at all, unlike the clegs, midges and Red Ants (when we stopped for lunch, M managed to park herself on top of an ant colony). 
All the while, the seas of the Pentland Firth pounded the coast. OK, 'pounded' might be over-egging the conditions on a Summer's day, but the scenery bears witness to wilder times on these shores.
During our return to where we had parked, the insects feeding on the Angelica florets were as abundant as ever. This is a hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri...
and we found another Antler Moth.
Nearing Bur Wick once more, an oil tanker was sailing into the Firth, en route to a ship-to-ship otransfer in Scapa Flow. It can be seen in the distance, navigating between the Lother Rock and the Pentland Skerries.

An unexpected insect to be found in the 'canopy' of the Angelica forest was this Earwig. Now that I look at the photo again, I suppose there is a passing resemblance of the floret to an Elizabethan wig.  
And we also managed to find the other species of mason-wasp which is present in Orkney, the Stocky Mason-wasp Ancistrocerus oviventris.
The only social wasp we saw was this Tree Wasp.

Eight months ago, M had a fall on this walk, necessitating a trip to A&E, so I think it was good for her to lay that particular ghost to rest. In fact, at the place in question, she was able to take some photos of a Small Tortoiseshell, which was basking on the warmth of a piece of wood.


Mark said...

You did well with the 'Blue' they never open their wings for me!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Ah, but you never see photos of my failed attempts! Certainly, a butterfly will close its wings to be less conspicuous if it senses potential danger. My motto is 'low and slow', trying not to be a huge looming presence rushing in. But I think, more importantly, it depends on whether the butterfly is too hot or cold. If the latter, and that's more likely here in Orkney, the wings will be open to soak up some therms. Perhaps south, they're already too warm and shut their wings to keep try and keep cool. But yes, I was very happy with the results from this particularly careful approach, especially as it was on a cliff edge!

Caroline Gill said...

Wonderful photographs, and I'm rather jealous of your Small Tortie sighting. I've only had one fleeting glimpse all summer of this once common species. Thank you for the comment om my blog.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Hi Caroline, Orkney doesn't have that many species of butterfly, so they're all quite special. I think there's about 10 species present during the year. We lost a Fritillary a few years ago (a fact I only recently discovered) but gained Comma in 2019. I enjoy visiting your blog for the wide diversity of wildlife you share. It is most appreciated.

Mark said...

MrTense, are you ok?

Imperfect and Tense said...

Still here, Mark, just lost the muse for the moment.