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 the 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.