Thursday 31 May 2018

Y's after the event

As I write this, it is a foggy evening and there will not be a sunset. Well, obviously there will be a sunset, but it will not be visible through the murk. This morning was very different, we awoke to warm sunshine, so sunny, in fact, that when Our Lass left for work it was already rather hot. Before she drove off, we stood for a while and marvelled at the goings on in what passes for our cottage garden border. There were many moths, busy nectaring amongst the Red Campion. And several species of hoverfly, basking on leaves or flowers.

The moths were Silver Y, an immigrant species, and there must have been an influx overnight, as the local wildlife social media sites were all a-flutter with the news. I managed to take a short burst of video to illustrate the abundance, see hereI then returned indoors to swap my phone for a proper camera, the better to photograph the hovers.

Silver Y, Autographa gamma

Leucozona lucorum

Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade Hoverfly)

Scaeva selenitica

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Heading north

During the return trip to Orkney, my calculations reckoned that there was an hour free to fritter away on some wildlife watching, as one of our rest halts on the journey. We decided to visit Insh Marshes, an RSPB reserve not far from Kingussie, as it was conveniently near to the A9 and held the potential for dragons.

Indeed, as we sat at a viewpoint, munching our sandwiches and listening to bird song, a Four-spotted Chaser flew over our heads and a couple of Large Red Damselflies could be seen in the vegetation.

To stretch our legs, we walked to one of the hides, which was down a narrow path which wound through a small valley. Fortuitously, this sheltered warm spot was absolutely chock full of Odonata. We didn't have enough pairs of eyes to follow all the action, but the time flew by as we marvelled at more Four-spotted Chasers, plus Large Red, Northern and Common Blue Damselflies.

The view from the... er... viewpoint

Large Red Damselfly

Four-spotted Chaser

Northern Damselfly

Northerns in cop

An immature Common Blue Damselfly

All too soon the hour was gone and we had to tear ourselves away and continue the journey. Happily, we will be having a week's holiday not too far from here a bit later in the year.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Wedding bellissimo

The venue for our niece's wedding was Dalhousie Castle Hotel. At one time, this was the ancient seat of Clan Ramsay, so there was much history to be explored by current family members with affiliations to the name.

I have to admit that time didn't allow me sufficient opportunity to figure out which parts of the building were from which era, but I'm guessing it's oldest at the bottom (maybe that's why it's called the ancient seat?).

The castle was a very imposing structure from the outside, and a complete rabbit warren on the inside, with rooms, corridors, stairwells and passages all going off in different directions.

As befitted our status, Our Lass and I were allocated a room at the top (circled in red). Our garret was up so many flights of stairs, it felt as though we were climbing a hill. Indeed, we even had a false summit to contend with, as the final flight was tucked away around a corner. Then, after unlocking the door to the room, there was another few steps to the bedroom, and even more to reach the bathroom. I think the people in the room above were probably the crew of the International Space Station.

In one of the function rooms, three of the walls contained a potted history of Scottish royalty, although after the Act of Union, it all finished off in a bit of a hurry. I was pleased to find a reference to the Maid of Norway, who had been the subject of a recent Stuff On My Phone post.

The dungeons had been converted into a restaurant, which sort of guaranteed subdued lighting.

A walk in the grounds revealed a wooded hillside. Once under the cover of the trees, the woodland floor was a mass of Wild Garlic (Ramsons). It seemed to go on forever, which does prove that garlic can repeat on you.

Whilst browsing the shelves of the library, I discovered a whole host of board games, so couldn't resist this staged photograph of... Tense, in the library, with the teapot. I know, I know, my murder weapon of choice needs more work.

And so to Clan Ramsay. The black eagle motif was everywhere, as were references to the clan tartan.

The eagle motif even made it to the room where the wedding ceremony took place.

And here's a photo of the bride and groom, with parents, grandparents, brothers and partners. The weather was perfect, the official photographer had an excellent line in patter, and Our Lass and I scored a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Dipper in the grounds.

As I am married to a Ramsay lass, I thought it rather fitting that I should wear a little of the tartan, and I was able to source a tie before leaving Orkney.

Heading south

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, we journeyed south to the Edinburgh area for a niece's wedding. We drove down on Friday, enjoyed a lovely family-filled Saturday of ceremony and celebration, and then pootled back up to Orkney on Sunday.

Driving south, our first pitstop was at Helmsdale, mainly because it's such a pretty little village and has several good tea shops. On the way back to the car, I stood a while on the banks of the river, whilst I waited for Our Lass. A Willow Warbler and a Blackcap were belting out their respective songs across the water, and as my eyes wandered over the landscape, I picked out a pair of birds flying towards me. Mr and Mrs Bullfinch, my first of 2018 (although I did see a pair on 31st December 2017). Then it was off south again, with a brief stop for fuel in Tain, where we saw and heard our first Swifts of the year.

I had made a picnic lunch, so we could detour a little further from the A9 without losing too much time. This meant we could visit some tiny bog pools and a lochan near Loch Garten, to look for dragonflies and damselflies. As we arrived, the sun was shining, a Tree Pipit was singing from a tree top and light was glistening from fluttering wings as recently-emerged dragonflies took their first flights. Oh, be still, my beating heart!

The site is tiny, just two small bog pools separated by a short length of boardwalk. Honestly, you could probably cover the whole malarkey with three reasonably-sized table cloths. And not just because we were having a picnic.

The pool on the left of the boardwalk is where the White-faced Darters emerge. We've been visiting this site for over a decade, and it never occurred to me that we never see a White-face emerging from the other pool. I only found out at April's Scottish conference that they are very specific about which sites they occupy. Very specific!

Here are some shots of these dapper little chaps... 

Recently-emerged, not yet taken first flight

A mature male

Another mature male

Recently-emerged, perched on exuvia (shed larval skin)

A mature male

In the other pool, Four-spotted Chasers ruled the roost (although we did see a couple of female 4 spots egg-laying in the White-faced Darter pool).

A dragonfly mid-emergence. There is a quiescent period, when the insect has to wait for its legs to dry and harden, before it can fully emerge from the exuvia.

Blink and you'll miss it (which we do, every time)

An adult Four-spotted Chaser

Another adult

Then it was a short journey to the lochan, where we always hope to see these lovely Northern Damselflies, which have a very limited distribution in the UK, only found in a small area of Scotland.

An adult male

Male and female in tandem
And much later, after we had arrived at the venue, met up with folk, had a meal and then ventured out into the cool evening air, there was one final treat. Calling from a nearby copse was the wheezy hiccup sound of some Tawny Owl fledglings.

Monday 21 May 2018

Hoy gin sauce

This past week has seen the annual Orkney Nature Festival taking place, with events all over the archipelago, showcasing all manner of wildlife. Due to work commitments, we were only able to attend the Nature Cruise on the final day, but had a pleasant afternoon trip around the island of Hoy, aboard Northlink's Ro-Ro ferry, Hamnavoe.

Beginning in Stromness, the journey was an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the island of Hoy, with RSPB staff on hand to help with seabird ID, a cetacean spotter on the bridge (sadly, her skills were not called upon) and a member of the crew pointing out geological, historical and nautical features en route.

And there was a buffet (of which we partook) and free tasters of whisky and gin (of which we didn't) (at least, this 'we' didn't, I can't speak for Our Lass).

As the forecast was uncertain about the potential for precipitation, I didn't take my camera along. Neither did I wish to join in the jostling for a good position at the hand rail, so I stood back from the action and generally waved my phone in the vague direction of the scenery. The following photos have had their horizons re-aligned to somewhere near horizontal!

The stretch of cliffs along St John's Head towards the Old Man of Hoy

St John's Head, one of the highest vertical sea cliffs in Britain

The Old Man of Hoy

Rackwick Bay

Candle of the Sneuk (on the right)

Sea cliffs on the approach to The Berry

Looking across Graemsay towards the Hoy hills

Source to sea

The first report of damselflies on the wing in Orkney came through to me this week. So, the 2018 flight season is underway with a Large Red Damselfly seen in the north of West Mainland. This prompted me to make a couple of visits to a site nearer to home which has often been good for early damsels.

The Wideford Burn trickles off a low un-named hill and within 2.5 kilometres it meets the sea at Inganess Bay. On its short journey, it passes through rough pasture, thickets of gorse and sparse woodland, before flowing under the main road to Kirkwall Airport. As the burn skirts the northern edge of the airport and the water flow slows down, it crosses a stretch of marsh, then tumbless across a rocky shore and into Inganess Bay.

For the purposes of dragon hunting, I tend to visit the sparse woodland, just west of the main road, where the bushes and low trees afford some shelter, allowing insects to bask in any sunshine on offer.


Here we are, on the boardwalk alongside the burn, as it flows through the woodland and under the main road.

Many insects were busy feeding on the abundant wild flowers. You could almost hear the contented slurping! From top: Green-veined White butterfly on a Dandelion; Silver Y moth on a Primrose; and a Common Carder Bumblebee on Water Avens.

Other wildlife was keen to be feeding...

These are Hooded Crow chicks, whose parents were seen hunting for tasty morsels in the surrounding fields.

Within the shelter of the woodland, we also found lots of Pink Purslane and a Nettle with the beginnings of a cluster cup rust.

Wandering downstream, we reached the marshy area, where all manner of wildlife was going about the business of living and creating more life.

From top: Green Dock Beetles; Crane Fly; a new Fern frond unfurling; Brown Hare; and a singing Sedge Warbler.

As we neared the airport boundary, our attention turned to flying things:

From top: Ready for take-off; Hooded Crow; Britten Norman Islander; and a Shoveler duck.

Standing on a wooden bridge over the burn, looking downstream, we can now see the sea.

In times past, the shallow bay was seen as a possible invasion route so, dotted about in the fields, there are still visible remains of coastal defences.

As the end of the walk approached, we watched several families of Mallard ducks on a small lochan. Here too were our first Sand Martins of the year, swooping down low over the water to catch flies or to have a drink.

Lady's Smock, or Cuckooflower, is now in full bloom, as the colour palette of our Spring begins to turn from yellow to pink.

At the burn mouth, a pair of Mute Swans were feeding in the gentle flow where the fresh water met the sea.

And here's the bay, with another relic of coastal defences, a blockship, slowly rusting away but providing a safe nesting habitat for terns. No doubt there's countless marine creatures below the water surface too!

You will have noticed there weren't any damsels or dragons... maybe next time.