Wednesday 31 August 2016

Structures of the departed

Last month, during a dragonfly walk in Russadale, the group spotted an old wasp's nest, tucked away under a heather bank. On our recent potter up the dale, I noticed that it was still there and pondered upon how long it could last in its sheltered location.

On the other side of the valley, hidden by sycamore trees, was a slightly older derelict building, its ruinous gable still visible.

Further away, looking north west, is the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.

In a bit more detail...

Stones of Stenness (lower right); Ness of Brodgar (peninsula between Harray and Stenness Lochs); Ring of Brodgar (centre left). In the distance is Skaill Bay (with the associated settlement of Skara Brae) and the Atlantic Ocean.

Behind Tormiston Farm and Mill is the large chambered tomb of Maes Howe.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Bloomin' lovely

On our Russadale walk, we were pleasantly surprised by all the Devil's-bit Scabious in flower. Little pom poms of various hues of purple, from very pale to the more normal shade.

And I was very taken with one particular umbellifer (Wild Angelica, I think) for its photographic possibilities.

Later, back at Tense Towers, I had another joyous umbellifer experience...

A very unexpected Wild Carrot!

Monday 29 August 2016

A million to one shot

As Saturday was such a glorious day, we drove over to Stenness to visit Russadale, in the hope of seeing some odes. Parking at Happy Valley, we first had a look at the pond there.

I have not yet seen an adult dragonfly or damselfly here, which is odd, as by all accounts there's larvae been discovered during pond dipping sessions.

Then we wandered up Russadale, heading for the old quarry and its pools. Just about the first insect we saw was a male Black Darter...

but the second insect, and the nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine after that were all midges. We lasted about five minutes, just enough time to photograph a rove beetle (ID'd as Staphylinus erythropterus by DD) and a diving beetle, before beating a hasty retreat back out into the valley.

In the comparative safety of a more open area, I started to see other insects amongst the vegetation...

A Common Carder bee on the flower of a Devil's-bit Scabious. (Thanks to AF for the bee ID)

A moth, Udea lutealis, again on DBS. (Thanks to MH for the moth ID)

I think this is either a gall or an ichneumon wasp.

A Meadow Brown butterfly.

A hoverfly. (an Eristalis spp, thanks to AF)

Later at home, whilst strimmering a particularly overgrown bit of the garden, I disturbed this fellow. ID'd as a Square-Spot Rustic by MH (thanks again!).

You will be glad to hear that I didn't bother trying to photograph the midges, as this would have resulted in this being a much longer post.

Sunday 28 August 2016

Arguing black is white

Saturday night...

Our Lass: "Have you seen my Kindle charger?"

Me: "Afraid not, but use mine, it's by the phone chargers."

OL: "Thanks!"

Sunday morning...

OL: "Thanks for the loan of the charger. Are you sure that one's not mine?"

Me: "I don't think so. When did you last see yours?"

OL: "On holiday... three months ago. I do think that's mine, y'know."

[We search the house for another Kindle charger just like the one pictured above. We look in cupboards, on shelves, in suitcases, in bags, behind things, on top of other things and under yet more things. Not a sign.]

Later on Sunday...

OL: "Oh! Here's mine! Panic over."

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Where the wild things aren't

In the Spring, I had high hopes of turning an area of our garden, known as the wildlife triangle, into a colourful and thriving patch of wild flowers. You may recall that things didn't go according to plan, see here and here.

Fast forward four months to the present, the area is still undoubtedly very triangular and, technically, does contain wild flowers. It is just that they are of the dock, thistle and nettle persuasion, rather than the cornfield annuals which I had envisaged.

There's also some mystery brassica/crucifer in there too, which is at least popular with moths, butterflies, hoverflies and Greenfinches.

So, all in all, not an unqualified success.

As I mowed the lawn this morning, I noticed that there was a very architectural Hogweed at the top corner of the triangle, which I suspect Our Lass will have designs upon for decorative purposes.

And then, at the opposite end of the triangle, amidst some rampant grasses...

I noticed two small splashes of colour...

Corn Cockle! Yay!

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday 21 August 2016

Fly in the sky

Despite the blustery and overcast weather, there are still crane flies about. One particular individual spent the whole of yesterday afternoon on our lounge window, allowing the opportunity for some photographs in a range of lighting conditions (and wind speeds!).

I'm rather hoping that everyone is so appalled by the state of my windows, that no-one will mention anything to do with my faux pas of last week and the amount of wingage on display.

After sunset, I happened to be sat next to the window, listening to the cricket commentary on the radio, as Durham were narrowly defeated in the T20 Blast final by a plucky Northamptonshire side.

Anyway, it was growing darker as the light faded, and the crane fly slowly walked its way back down the glass, until it reached the frame at the bottom. After a pause of a few moments, possibly checking that the coast was clear of wagtails, it launched itself into the breeze and disappeared swiftly downwind.

This was probably a smart move in the circumstances, as today has seen plenty of wagtail, swallow and martin action around the garden, with a few pipits and a flock of sparrows thrown in for good measure. It makes you wonder just how many crane flies are required each year to keep a viable population on the go.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Living in the higher reaches

The alignment needed to be perfect. Total syzygy was required, or it was all for naught. But with the honeyed smoothness of serendipitous fate, wheels turned, cogs meshed and patience was rewarded.

It had taken nearly three years' wait for this moment: a day off from work; some warm, sunny weather; and a space on the tour of the upper levels of St Magnus Cathedral.

Or, to put it another way...

The usual view of the cathedral is from ground level on Broad Street...

but not today.

During the Summer, tours of the upper levels of the cathedral are run by a small team of custodians. I was fortunate to secure a place on an additional afternoon tour, so made my way to the south transept for half past three, in the company of five other keen sightseers.

After the obligatory health and safety briefing, we signed a disclaimer (readers may pause a while here and ponder the free will/destiny implications of that) and began the climb up to the first level. For guidance, keep in mind the tiny window (middle right) in the above photo.

Above the nave, on the balcony on the south side, we were able to see some of the carved masonry which had been replaced over the years. Also here were old windows (some not even used) and other paraphernalia from the building's and town's history.

The small bell shown above pre-dates the current three bells in the tower. As these were installed in 1528, it is only known that the small bell is older than that, because it bears no markings at all.

The double ladder behind it (with 13 rungs) is the gallows ladder, which was used nearby in times gone by. Two folk would climb up it, but only one (the hangman) would come back down it.

Pre-Reformation, the walls of the cathedral would have been of painted plaster, but after the Reformation these were covered over with whitewash. A later refurbishment removed these surfaces back to the original red and yellow sandstone. During our visit, the bright sunlight threw colours around the interior of the building once more.

Remember that peedie window? Here it is, up close and personal.

Climbing a level higher still, we were able to take in the view down into the nave, looking towards the west window. This had been a busy spot during the recent commemoration to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland.

Up another level, and we were in the bell tower, which as you might expect, houses the bells. I think the round window (middle left) is the back of the clock face.

Then it was time to make the final ascent (well, not the FINAL ascent, obviously, as I'm here typing this blogpost) and out onto the parapet at the base of the spire.

The views over the royal burgh were spectacular, if a little disorientating until I figured out which bit of Kirkwall was which.

The above photo shows the junction of Castle Street and Broad Street (centre) and also the harbour and marina (top right).

There was so much to take in during the tour that I suspect I haven't remembered even half of it. It will come back to me in bits and pieces, I am sure, as snippets of the custodian's conversation surface in my memory. It was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, one I would heartily recommend.

Garden(centre)ing for wildlife

Within the Tense Towers team, I do not profess to be the leading expert on things horticultural. Oh no, not by a long chalk. The remit for the selection of plants falls to the fairer half of the relationship, and a jolly good thing that is, too, as I'd be hopeless at it.

However, I do tag along on shopping expeditions to garden centres and nurseries, as there's always room for a bit of wildlife in these places, so what's not to love?

A recent trip to a local nursery gave me the opportunity to enquire about an out-of-bounds, but decidedly odo-friendly looking, patch of reeds. Alas, I was informed that the large pond, as it had been, was overgrown and lacked any open water. Which is a shame, because it must've been a good site in its day.

Whilst Our Lass pottered about peering at plants in pots, I planted myself in a prominent position and panned my peepers in a panoramic perusal of the profuse produce.

[Sorry, couldn't resist that. Three 'p' words in and something 'other' took over my thoughts]

My reasoning was, aside from the possibility of future alliteration, to see where any insects were congregating. This is usually an excellent method of finding nectar-rich flowers to add to your shopping list. In this instance, a mature border, full of a shrubs growing to different heights, was the magnet for countless bees and flies. It was in a sunny spot and sheltered from the breeze, so I went and stood there for a while, pondering on the chances of the shrubs at Tense Towers attaining a similar size.

From deep within the vegetation, an unseen Wren sang its fortissimo song, lending a sonic dimension to the visual and scented atmosphere.

[Happy sigh]

And a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly nectared on a... er... yellow flower (did I mention that I wasn't the gardening expert).

Our Lass was looking at some small plants that, to my eye, appeared to be succulents. I asked what they were, to which she replied "Bergenia." As it turns out, these aren't succulents but do have leathery, rounded leaves. But the thing that really caught my attention was what was growing beneath them, covering the soil in the pots. A veritable jungle of different life stages of some liverworts.

Sadly, I wasn't allowed to buy any, as you will recall that I'm not the horticultural expert.

Tuesday 16 August 2016


Law enforcement agencies in Scotland have taken the unusual step of releasing a photograph of a suspect who they would like to speak to in relation to last week's mysterious disappearance of approximately 30 crane flies in Holm, Orkney.

The suspect is described as of indeterminate gender, with a small build, was last seen wearing a mixture of black and white clothing and walks with a peculiar gait.

Police are warning members of the public and winged insects not to approach the suspect, who is known to disarm the former with cute looks and jaunty behaviour, whilst dismembering the latter with reckless and hungry abandon.

Stay safe and don't have nightmares.