Thursday 29 June 2017

Hit me with those laser beams

As musical references go, this one is not from a track in my collection. I'll leave you to decide whether the inclusion of the stone wall is intentional.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Coincidence and serendipity

Coincidence and serendipity in equal measure, that's how I'm calling it.

When I switched on my computer this morning, I had an email from a cousin in London, asking about the identity of a moth she had rescued from a cobweb. It was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, a fantastic insect to see, let alone experience up close and personal. I was very envious.

Photo credit: Cousin J
In the late afternoon, Our Lass returned from work and was keen for a walk around the usual circuit, so off we went, catching up on the day's events and soaking up some sun. Returning home, as we reached the garden wall, we could see something fluttering around the front of the house, flying up towards the soffits, and then moving along the wall. It didn't appear to have the colours of any of the butterflies currently on the wing, but there was too much daylight for a big moth to be out and about.

Beseeching Our Lass to keep her eyes on it, I hurried around into the garden and to the front of Tense Towers, where I was guided to the spot where it had last been seen... "Just above the light."

Yep, this is the opposite view to the one I normally post.

And above the light, tucked up at the top of the wall and under the soffit was a dark shape.

Now I could see that it was a moth...

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth!

And the really serendipitous part? If we had not gone for a walk and had, instead, been sat at home, possibly even looking out of the window... we probably wouldn't have seen it.

Yellow and Blue

Within the confines of Tense Towers, 'Yellow and Blue' is a much-appreciated track by local duo Saltfishforty.

The weekend's wildlife also took on these hues or, at least, the roadside swathes of buttercups and surreptitious damselflies kindly obliged.

A day-flying moth "Nothing to see here... move along now."

Helophilus sp hoverfly

Another hover, Leocozona lucorum

Poplar Hawkmoth

Likely to bee... a Heath Bumblebee (Thanks for the advice, John!)

Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura elegans, the rufescens form of the female

Summer solstice 2017 (northern hemisphere edition)

Today is the Summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, traditionally marked by either waking up at Stupid o'clock to view the sunrise, or pulling an all-nighter from the previous evening's sunset. A stone circle is optional, but does lend the occasion a frisson of gravitas.

Regular readers (check your medication, folks) will know that I'm not great at late nights and that also, although mornings are easier, 4am is very not the panacea I'm seeking.

Hence this photo, a panorama from the front door of the sunset on 20th June 2017, taken at approximately 22.25 whilst clad in my dressing gown. Neither the Oystercatcher or the cow seemed to mind.

(Click to enlarge)

Tuesday 20 June 2017

Dawning realisation

Our Lass spent a week in Paris recently, ostensibly as part of a re-union, but the real reason was to see how many times Birmingham Airport could lose her luggage. Twice, as it turned out. It's a skill.

At Charles de Gaulle airport, as she prepared to return to home, she overheard an English lady, in the same queue, complaining that Disneyland Paris had been full of French people.

I think this attitude tells you much of what you need to know about the predicament in which the UK currently finds itself.

Whilst I voted to Remain within the EU, I can now see that Europe is probably better off without us, dumb-headed pillocks that we are.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Early birds and insects

Sunday dawned bright and... [struggles for the correct descriptor]... [what was that unfamiliar sensation?]... oh yeah, warm! The temptation to be up and out was too much to resist so, probably earlier than was advisable for finding Odonata, I park the car by Inganess Bay and slung some optics around my neck.

The previous night had seen quite a bit of rain, which left the path very squelchy underfoot and the Wideford Burn with an obvious flood line, high up its banks. On seeing these signs, a few worries surfaced that I may have called the sojourn wrongly, but calm was restored when it became apparent that there was plenty of insect life on the wing.

As I walked upstream alongside the burn, Sedge Warblers were whistling and scratching their jazzy songs. Reed Buntings were also calling, though I suspect that when it comes to song, the Reedies are still in the Primary 1 Music class. Sand Martins and Swallows flew overhead, whilst several other species perched conveniently close to the path, in the early sunlight.

Meadow Pipit

Redpoll sp. (male)

Redpoll sp. (female)
Once over the main road and into the lightly wooded portion of the valley, more insects could be seen, basking in the warmth offered by the shelter of some trees. It still wasn't 'core hours' for odes, but a few Large Red Damselflies fluttered amongst the vegetation, along with butterflies, hoverflies, and a few day-flying moths.

In fact, I was well and truly distracted from Operation Odo by the sheer amount of other things to see.

I didn't have a clue what I was looking at, but it was clear that insects were pedalling furiously through their life cycles. Later, the knowledgeable folk of the local Insect page on Facebook were able to put names to the images: pupa of the Magpie moth (TG); a day-flying moth Micropterix aureatella (NC); eggs of the beetle Gastrophya viridula (AG); caterpillar of the Garden Tiger moth (TG); and, a fly Leucozona lucorum (AF). Thanks, guys!

I was on firmer ground with the damselflies, quite literally, as the path is intermittently boardwalked at this point.

A female Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans

A pair of Large Red Damselflies Pyrrhosoma nymphula in tandem
It was a grand start to the day.

Monday 12 June 2017

Thoughts on a trip south

There were several reasons for our short break in Perthshire: celebrating Our Lass's recent birthday; marking the end of her post-op convalescence with an adventure; a bit of time off for me (as I'd worked the the last 4 bank holidays); and, a change of scene, with different geography and wildlife.

In thinking of the different wildlife in and around Glen Lyon, I tended to dwell upon what was present within the wooded hillsides and leafy river valleys in comparison to our home in Orkney. What I didn't consider, until later, was the flip side of that, what was missing compared to home.

During the four days of the trip, we did not see a single House Sparrow or Starling, despite these two species being the most frequent visitors to the garden of Tense Towers. In fact, the sparrows nest under our eaves, and both species are always foraging along the drystone wall, through the borders and across the grassed areas.

I think this is known as locally abundant and widespread, which aren't the same thing, obviously. Both House Sparrows and Starling numbers are in decline, though there are still a great many of them, just not as many as there once was.

Here's a quote from the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) website:

"Starlings are not doing very well at the moment. The abundance of breeding Starlings in the UK has fallen rapidly, particularly since the early 1980s, and especially in woodland The declines have been greatest in the south and west of Britain; recent BBS data suggest that populations are also decreasing in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the trends were initially upward. The species' UK conservation listing has been upgraded from amber to red as the decline has become more severe. Strong improvements have occurred in breeding performance, suggesting that decreasing survival rates, particularly of young birds, may be responsible for the observed decline."

Data from BTO survey

And one from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' (RSPB) website:

"Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations."

Data from BTO survey

Due to their large population declines, both birds are Red Listed as species of high conservation concern.

It's a sobering thought that we need to appreciate them, and much else besides, whilst they're still here. The appointment of Michael "We've had enough of experts" Gove as the latest Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does absolutely nothing to quell my fears for our wildlife and the habitats in which it lives.

Saturday 10 June 2017

A trip south, part 4

If I was being pedantic [...waits for myriad exclamations of "Surely not?!"], I would have to say that this post is actually about the trip back north. As it is the concluding part of the trip, I guess we can let that pass. For the journey back, the weather wasn't great, but at least it was a driving day, so no harm done.

With plenty of time in hand to catch the early evening ferry across to Orkney, we pootled up through the Highlands, stopping off at Ralia for refreshments, Inverness for comestibles, Foulis for lunch, Helmsdale for the hell of it and Wick for gardening supplies and fuel.

Just north of Inverness, near the Black Isle, we were fortunate to spot a Red Kite and a Buzzard. Sadly, this isn't as much of a forgone conclusion as it used to be, due to raptor persecution in the area.

Somewhere on the A9 in Caithness, we rounded a bend to see a Kestrel up ahead, hovering high over the road verge. I eased off to see what would happen. The Kestrel dropped lower. I slowed down a bit more. The Kestrel dropped lower. With the distance between us decreasing, I slowed down some more, and the Kestrel dived into the undergrowth. By sheer luck, I had just about timed things to perfection, as the little falcon powered back into the air with a small rodent in its talons, right across the bonnet of the car. What a view! I suspect that the mouse or vole was less enamoured with the situation.

Once on the ferry, we took up a window seat for the crossing, just in case there was a sniff of a chance of Orca (yes, they'd been seen several hours beforehand, yada, yada, yada). Predictably, they were not around now, but our seawatch was rewarded with a solitary Manx Shearwater, scything its way across water.

It had been a fantastic long weekend, though I never did finish the hot tub list.

A trip south, part 3 and a bit

Well, this is awkward.

Awkward is a relative term, I suppose, depending upon whether one has forgotten to include a couple of photographs in a blogpost, or if one has called a snap election and inadvertently reduced one's standing in the country.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm the former.

These photos were taken at the cottage after returning from our walk. We were looking out of the lounge window which, on the southern aspect, is at first floor level. The top image is of a pair of recently-fledged Goldfinches, who were hopping about and investigating all manner of things on the ground. The second image is of an unfamiliar bumblebee, so I had to seek advice about its identity. My grateful thanks go to JC (not Jeremy Corbyn!) and DD (not David Davis!) for their help. It is a Blaeberry Bumblebee.

Hopefully, unless more sudden elections are called, my next post will be part 4.

Friday 9 June 2017

A trip south, part 3

The forecast for Sunday was for more showers with a few sunny periods. The plan had been to climb the hill behind the cottage, going up to a water body shown on the OS map, in the hope of finding some dragons. It looked like a long, gentle slog, definitely do-able, and the lower part of the route had already delivered with Tawny Owl and Pine Marten. Closer scrutiny of the map revealed shooting butts on the tops, so the higher land was obviously being managed for Red Grouse, with all the environmental nasties that entails, and then I noticed that the water body was fenced off. Hmmm.

So, instead, we drove up Glen Lyon, past Fortingall and its 5000 year old Yew tree, and parked at Bridge of Balgie. Over a pre-walk cuppa at the Post Office and Tea Room, we chatted to a family up on holiday from the Scottish borders (mum, dad, two wee bairns and grand dad). It turned out that next month they'll be in Orkney, exploring family roots and taking in all that scenery. As I explained what we were doing in Glen Lyon, i.e. going for a walk, it dawned on me that this was quite a big deal. In the previous twelve months, since we'd last been in Glen Lyon actually, Our Lass has had two knee operations. This walk was going to be our first proper amble up a hill for many a year. Momentousness!

Donning waterproofs, we set off across the bridge over the River Lyon and towards the start of the walk. Our main challenge was going to be the climb up the side of a gorge formed by two burns. Taking it slow and steady, with frequent halts for... er... taking photographs, we made our way ever higher.

Dung beetle of some sort

Rock showing striations caused during glaciation

Singing Tree Pipit. That's the pipit singing, not the tree.
Near the top of the initial hill, we came across several pools. As it was beginning to rain, we sheltered by some trees and had lunch. By the time we had polished off several slices of flapjack and some fruit, the sun was beginning to re-appear. All the better to explore the pools.

Diligent staring at likely spots produced several Common Blue Damselflies and a single Blue-tailed Damselfly, though sadly, nothing larger.

Much later, looking at the images on my computer, I noticed that the Blue-tail had one wing which hadn't formed properly, or not inflated during emergence (right fore wing). It could probably manage to fly with 'one engine down', so be able to forage and maybe even mate.

The descent from the highest point of the walk began in a steady drizzle, but as we clambered our way down the side of another burn, the sun returned. On reaching the road, Our Lass managed to find a Siskin and a family of Grey Wagtails, two species that we were hoping to see during the weekend. Then it was back to the tea room for a well-earned feast.

We even shared it with the local Chaffinches, who were very used to humans.

In part 4, we return home, via a few transportational wildlife encounters.

A trip south, part 2

The following morning, whilst preparing breakfast, Our Lass noticed a small bird perched on the telephone wire outside of the kitchen window.

Yay! Spotted Flycatcher.

With a sunny and showery forecast for the afternoon, we spent the morning at Cluny House Garden, in what has become something of an annual pilgrimage for Our Lass. The garden is tucked away on a hillside above the River Tay. It has winding, occasionally steep, paths and a lovely mix of wild and cultivated flowers and trees. Because of a lack of facilities that a larger, more commercial, garden would probably have, Cluny House always seems quiet and undisturbed, which is great for wildlife watching, if not my bladder.

Here's a couple of examples of wild and cultivated:

Kidney Vetch (apparently the local hare only eats the yellow variety!)

Himalayan Poppy
 And here's a couple of examples of cute:

It was difficult to be sure, as Red Squirrels are very mobile, but I think we saw five individuals during our visit.

Our next destination was an industrial estate in Aberfeldy. Don't laugh, but we made a special trip to the local recycling centre. No, some exotic species of bird hadn't been seen there, we were actually recycling three and half years' worth of aluminium foil, as we are unable to do this back home in Orkney. Yep, all those flan cases, an inordinate number of mince pie cases, the packaging from the occasional ready meal and the foil from the odd meat pie. Even stacked neatly, it had taken up a sizeable amount of room in the boot of the car. With the warm glow of a job well done, we repaired to a tea shop for lunch.

During the afternoon and in between showers, we made use of the hot tub at the cottage. Slowly marinating in a big bath outdoors isn't really my cup of tea, so I was soon bored enough to start a list of birds seen from the tub. In no time at all it had amassed a healthy flock of Sparrowhawk, Jay, Spotted Flycatcher, Buzzard, Willow Warbler, Raven and Swift, plus all the usual garden suspects. Maybe I could get used to this lifestyle?

In the evening, we again took a walk up the track behind the cottage, this time wandering a bit further afield. For the most part, the track follows the edge of a gorge in which the Keltney Burn flows, so the gentle sounds of running water were pleasingly mixed with birdsong and the heady scent of woodland plants. On the return journey, I noticed a dark shape in the distance, coming up the track towards us. I just had enough time to alert Our Lass to it, raise my bins to my eyes and gasp in astonishment as a Pine Marten leapt from the track into the undergrowth. Wow! Our first ever one and a perfect end to the day.

In part 3, we do something rather momentous.

Thursday 8 June 2017

A trip south, part 1

For a mini-break, we decided to have a long weekend in Glen Lyon, Perthshire. The ferry trip across the Pentland Firth to mainland Scotland was uneventful, despite much gazing for Orca. Predictably, several hours later, a pod was seen off South Ronaldsay. Gah!

We had a rest halt at Helmsdale, one of those relaxing tea/cake/walk by the river pitstops, which also included a Common Sandpiper by the water's edge and a Blackcap calling in vegetation by the path.

After Inverness, we detoured to Abernethy Forest, to visit several prime odo spots, being suitably rewarded with five species.

The two bog pools above are  excellent habitat for Large Red Damselflies, Four-spotted Chasers and White-faced Darters.

White-faced Darter, male

Emerging Four-spotted Chaser

Raft Spider

W-fDs making out in the sunshine

Sage advice

And also,

A lochan that is home to loads of...
Northern Damselflies
By the time we arrived at the rented cottage, it was early evening so, after unpacking, we took a stroll up a track that ascended the hillside behind the property. We caught a glimpse of a largish brown bird which plunged into the undergrowth some way off. We puzzled over its ID... too small for Buzzard... too big for Sparrowhawk... but definitely looked like it was hunting supper. The fact that it was still quite light was what threw us, because it was in fact a Tawny Owl. When it took to the air again, it became apparent that the owl had been unaware of our presence, as it flew within three feet of our heads!

In part 2, we start listing bird species seen from the hot tub.