Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Monday to like

Due to a low key and lethargic weekend, Monday morning saw me mowing our plot before rains hit later in the week. I was sufficiently awake and alert to notice this wee flower just before it was about to have an urgent meeting with Mr Blades in HR.


Would you look at that?! A Wild Pansy! And not anywhere near my failed wildflower patch. Go figure.

Later in the day, I noticed just how far along the western horizon the setting sun had travelled since the Summer solstice.


In fact, although I framed the sun in different parts of the image, I couldn't fit in the distance travelled in one shot. So the above photo simply shows off Scapa Flow and a distant Hoy at sunset.

Later still and Facebook went nuts, at least locally, as we were treated to a clear evening with a light show courtesy of the Aurora Borealis. Although none of us managed to stay awake until the early hours for the best view, we were able to sample a little of the natural theatre.


Here's the Plough, the aurora and the tail lights of a passing car.


More faint greeny glow and a shooting star.

These were fifteen second exposures, so are probably slightly more vivid compared to as seen with the naked eye.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Hup's a daisy

For the second day in a row, we found ourselves in the village and port of St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay. I know what you're thinking... and, yes, tea and cake were involved. This time we were in the company of Sian (from Life on a Small Island blog), who had journeyed over from Graemsay to visit Our Lass during her convalescence. St Margaret's Hope is known locally as The Hope, and sometimes referred to as the even shorter T' Hup. After a pleasant lunch at Robertson's Cafe, we wandered the short distance to a community garden next to the Marengo Centre. 'Marengo' is not your typical Norse-derived place name, as the above link explains.

Whilst the ladies pottered around, discussing 'Bake Off', identifying plants, chatting about 'Strictly', helping each other negotiate stone steps, musing over 'Poldark' and other life-enhancing topics, I busied myself with taking photographs. This being Orkney, I hadn't anticipated there being much in the way of colour, what with it being Autumn and all. And Autumn seemed to have arrived after the previous day's glorious weather. But I was wrong...










It would appear that my phone is a better entomologist than I am. I was trying to take a photograph of a hover-fly, but my phone decided that a different, and much smaller, insect was of more interest. I'm not sure whether it is a species of sawfly or scorpion fly, but it's definitely a female.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Hoxa call

Whilst technically the Autumnal equinox, Thursday was a lovely late Summer's day with warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. It was the sort of day that doesn't occur very often in Orkney, so it would have been frivolous to waste it upon indoor tasks, or even worse, work.

This wasn't a conundrum with which I had to wrestle for too long, as Our Lass is on sick leave, recovering from an operation and, due to a late cancellation of a booked job, I was free to enjoy the benign weather.

The morning was spent carrying out husbandly duties of the retail accompaniment variety. Who knew that it was possible, nay necessary, to go shoe shopping whilst on crutches?! In the afternoon, we drove across the Barriers to South Ronaldsay and made our way along the single track road to the Hoxa peninsula.

Parking up not far from some boggy pools, our plan was for Our Lass to enjoy a bit of a careful potter along the tarmac track, safe from uneven surfaces but conveniently close to Nature.


This late in the Orcadian dragonfly season, I wasn't sure what, if anything would be on the wing. However, the weather has been kind to us this Summer, so hopes were high of at least something.

After a bit of diligent searching, I finally spotted a male Black Darter, not far from the water's edge. His wings were somewhat tatty and his black colouration a little faded, suggesting that he was a rather mature individual who had experienced many adventures in his short aerial existence.


Whilst Our Lass ambled to and fro, I wandered up a grassy track beyond the pools. In the lee of a willow plantation, plenty of insects were enjoying the warmth of the sun and the foraging opportunities, including these Common Carder bumblebees. My thanks to MG for help with the ID.


There were also some female Black Darters, probably younger than the male I had seen, and therefore looking pristine and fresh.


Walking back towards the car, the flash of sunlight upon wings alerted me to the presence of a few more dragonflies. These turned out to be more male Black Darters, so my tally for the visit was six individuals, 4 males and 2 females. I chuckled to myself as I realised that the boys were hanging around the edge of the pools, hoping for the girls to come by, whilst the girls were in fact elsewhere, more interested in lunch and basking in the sun. Perhaps a lesson there that I would've benefited from many decades ago!

Head down in odo observation mode, I was vaguely aware of the alarm calls of some Snipe nearby. My automatic reaction was to look overhead, presuming I had spooked the waders and that they would be hurriedly gaining altitude and sweeping away to a quieter bit of boggy moorland. Unable to locate the birds, I was about to resume my search for dragonflies, when my gaze fell upon some other movement beyond the afore-mentioned Willows.


It was a juvenile Hen harrier, busy searching for prey and consequently scattering Snipe right, left and centre. It repeatedly pounced down into the vegetation, perhaps chasing an Orkney vole, but to no avail. It eventually flew off, empty-clawed to try its luck elsewhere.

Just before I reached the car, something small flew across the road in front of me, which turned out to be a Painted Lady butterfly. It landed, briefly, on a Scabious flower, allowing me to rattle off a few shots before it fluttered out of range.


It was a very fresh-looking specimen, presumably recently emerged, so I expect that it will shortly be commencing the journey south to Africa. Our Lass and I made the slightly shorter journey into St Margaret's Hope to forage upon herbal tea and fruit cake. Cafe society, indeed.


Sunday, 18 September 2016

Walls, what are they good for?

Long-suffering readers may well remember this post from two years ago. Re-reading it now, I am chastened to recall that our dilapidated wall has been awaiting attention for all of that time. Shame on me.

Now, most photos from Tense Towers, looking straight across the front lawn, do not show the wall in too bad a light. However, a glance along the wall is a very different kettle of fish...


Well, this afternoon, pretty much two years to the day since the training course, I finally went all neolithic with our boundary dyke.

It was a grand day, the sun was shining and the birds were singing. To be exact, the Skylarks were calling, as small migrating flocks of five or six flew overhead from morning until evening.

The first task was to remove the fallen portion of the wall...


then it was possible to see the state of the cross section of the wall.


The infill was mostly absent, which will not have helped the structure.

And so the re-build began, trying to maintain the 'A' shape of the cross section and packing the centre of the wall with plenty of infill.





At least it is now a bit straighter!


I suspect that the rest of the wall will need attention too, but I will need to recover from this session first.

Barrow breath or Lemming dribble?

The list of strange afflictions which affect the human body seems to grow ever longer as medical science discovers yet more causes of our suffering. And we always appear surprised, notwithstanding the fact that we're dumping loads of our toxic waste into an environment and a food web that's had a gutful of our plastic throwaways.

Happily, this post has nothing to do with that, as Our Lass and I have just finished a light lunch of poached eggs on toast. Our appreciative thanks must go to the hens from Life on a Small Island blogger, Sian. And thanks also to Sian herself, of course, for being kind enough to transport them safely all the way from Graemsay to Tense Towers (utilising two cars and a ferry).

(There's now a tab on the right hand side bar of the blog which links to some of my fellow Orkney bloggers, including Life on a Small Island)

So, as our lunch ramped up a level from 'light' to 'modest', I pondered upon the choices of cake. For her visit to see Our Lass, Sian had also baked some Bara brith, what with her being of Welsh descent and all, whilst I had opted to go with the old staple of Lemon drizzle cake.

Our Lass had the choice, Barrow breath or Lemming dribble?

Obvs, I would've said "Both!"

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Up on the roof

Thursday was very foggy. For some places. Other places had bright sunshine.

A Mainland drive from north to south or from east to west produced alternating bands of weather which, despite the breeze, remained in place all day. Weird. The morning saw me on a roof in Stromness. Visibility was across the street and that was about it. I didn't take a photo, but if I had, it would've looked something like this...



Whilst I was taking some readings, a two tone siren sounded from the centre of town. Hmm, over the last three years, since moving from a large city to quiet ruralness, sirens have gone from just another bit of background noise to 'Wtf?'

So I was a little concerned as to what might be happening over in the harbour area that warranted the alarm. My unease ramped up another notch as a second siren wailed out its clamouring cry. Through the shifting grey swirls of fog, I could just make out a diffuse flashing blue light. Then I heard much shouting and screaming which, despite my foreboding, sounded for all the world like excited children.

Hang on a minute, this is likely to be a planned primary school visit by the emergency services, isn't it?

Phew.

Twenty four hours later and what a difference a day makes. Another rooftop, another part of Orkney. Some grand view, this.



Friday, 16 September 2016

Less bovver than a hover

Back in the 1980s, an advert from Qualcast, makers of rotary lawn mowers, advised folk that "It was a lot less bovver than a hover". This slogan insinuated that hover mowers, as made by Flymo, were not as easy to use or that they produced inferior results.

Now, this is supposed to be a wildlife blog, so let's get straight down to the nitty gritty.

In Orkney, there are about 50 species of hoverflies, but there are only 8 species of dragonflies and damselflies. I can ID all of the latter and very few of the former, so from my, admittedly biased, point of view, a dragon is a lot less bovver than a hover.

This saliet snippet was of absolutely no use to me the other day, when I arrived at a customer's property a bit earlier than forecast (it was a good day, we were ahead of schedule) and they weren't in. To make good use of the time, whilst waiting for the customer, I was surveying the outside of the property for the best solution, which meant that I had to skirt around the edge of their garden.

It's a lovely garden, still with plenty of colour in it (plus a small water feature, sadly odo-free on this visit).

But it did have loads of other insects...








The waiting wasn't really a chore.