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Hebridean Imaging

Hebridean Imaging

ants

End of June update

Hi there, well it’s been a very busy month and i’m away to Lewis for the weekend (helping a friend celebrate her birthday!) so i thought i’d do a quick post to summarise what’s been happening over the last couple of weeks. The weather has continued very good – dry and mild mostly, so we’ve been able to do quite a bit more chick chasing. You know you are coming to the end of “chick season” though when you spot a young Lapwing or Oystercatcher, jump out of the van to chase it and it leads you a merry dance and just as you are about to catch it, gasping for breathe, the darn thing flies off!!

The machair is starting to look amazing now and it never ceases to amaze me the sheer variety of flowers that grow there.

hebridean orchid

Orchid growing by the roadside - i can never remember the names - i think it's northern marsh orchid

As i mentioned the Lapwing chicks are getting pretty big now:-

lapwing chick

Lapwing chick

It’s quite surprising (well, to me anyway) the length of the breeding season. As some birds are almost ready for fledging – a Lapwing has an incubation time of 24-29 days then another c.33 days for the nestling to become independent (Harrison & Castell, 2002, p.140) there are still birds on nests – we recently found this Ringed Plover nest.

ringed plover nest

Ringed Plover nest

We were able to ring some Common Gull chicks, and while searching for the chicks i almost stumbled upon an Eider sitting quietly on her nest – i must have only been two feet away and she just sat and looked at me, she didn’t budge one bit, so i apologised to her and crept away.

eider nest eider down

Eider sitting quietly on her nest

A walk down to the beach on a warm sunny day was very enjoyable – we found this grasshopper – we are told that there are only two species that occur here – Green and Mottled – so i’m presuming that this is Mottled?!

mottled grasshopper

Mottled Grasshopper (?)

As usual the beach was amazingly quiet!

south uist beach

Empty beach - South Uist

We found a Rock Dove nest but didn’t ring the youngster that was in there – it looked a bit big and we didn’t want to alarm it and cause it to leave the nest prematurely.

rock dove chick

Rock Dove chick in the nest

Found this ant near the garden, i sent the picture to Rhian and she replied to say that it was the same species as the ones we’d most commonly come across, Myrmica ruginodis. Ah well, you gotta keep trying!

myrmica ruginodis south uist ant

Myrmica ruginodis

Moths have again been pretty quiet! Probably our best night coincided, happily!, with one of the National Moth Night evenings. That evening we managed 36 moths of 16 species. Still well down on our numbers this time last year 🙁

magpie

Magpie Moth

While sitting in the office last week i heard a loud noise and glanced up to see the air ambulance helicopter flying really low across the croft at the back of the house. Wow! I thought. A couple of minutes later there was even more noise at the front of the house and i looked out to see the helicopter landing in the garden opposite. I was a little stunned to start with but managed to dash out and grab a photo. The jungle drums were working overtime and before the rotors had even stopped my neighbour phoned and gave me the low-down on what was going on 🙂 Happily nothing life-threatening and the lady it had come for walked to the chopper unaided. She had had an op the week before and had developed some pain and needed to be taken back to the hospital in Stornoway – the quickest, easiest and safest way for that to happen was by helicopter. Great service!

scottish health service air ambulance helicopter

Scottish Health Service air ambulance

Once i’m back in Uist early next week i’ll update the ringing summary for June.

Harrison C. & Castell P., 2002, Collins Field guide to Birds Nests, Eggs and Nestlings.

Never a dull moment…

The week started out with a trip up to North Uist last Saturday to Claddach Kirkibost. Bill next door and myself had volunteered to man the Curracag (Outer Hebrides Natural History Society) stand at the “Watch out for Wildlife in Uist” event. The other stands were occupied by representatives from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), Fiona Crouch from The Shore Thing project run by the Marine Biological Association, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Machair Life project.

Curracag Stand

The Curracag Stand at the Watch out for Wildlife in Uist event

On the Curracag stand we were not only chatting to people about the local natural history society and the newly set up Curracag Wildlife News Forum but also making people aware of the Outer Hebrides Biological Recording Project (OHBRP) which has been part-funded by Curracag and aims to encourage people to submit records of their sightings. The aims of the OHBRP are stated as: “the OHBRP was formed to collect and collate records of the distribution and numbers of animals and plants which are found in the Outer Hebrides and outlying islands. This information will be made freely available to promote interest in the wildlife of the islands, to maintain and enhance biodiversity and protect our natural environment. The objective is to ensure that accurate information on the flora and fauna of the area is available to local government, environmental agencies developers and land managers to inform decisions that may affect our natural environment.

I think that in the past people/bodies/institutions have been over to the islands studying various aspects of the natural world here and the findings and sightings have disappeared somewhere into the ether.

Ian turned up sometime late morning (well, OK i’d forgotten a couple of things and he brought them along for me), you know what he’s like, always one for chatting up the ladies so while he was there he got chatting to the WDCS Shorewatch team and told them “oh yes, sign us up”. Sign us up turned out to be “sign Yvonne up”…

When i got home we noticed a pair of Mute Swans in the field at the back. They had 7 cygnets with them which didn’t look more than a day or two old. One of the cygnets was hitching a ride on the female’s back.

Mute Swan carrying young cygnet

Mute Swan carrying cygnet on it's back

Bill next door also got an amazing photo of them – a sheep had approached the family and the male swan took on a threatening pose – wings up and hissing – Bill said that the sheep then walked forwards towards the male swan! Oops bad move! The photo Bill took can be seen on the Curracag Wildlife News forum at http://www.curracag-wildlifenews.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=266 Click on the thumbnail there for the larger image.

Sunday looked like a nice day although the breeze was a little cool. As i was now having to travel up to Benbecula to do the Shorewatch training i thought that i may as well travel earlier and join in with Fiona’s Shore Thing which was held at Stinky Bay. Even when you’re over 50 (well, only just!) the lure of a morning splashing about in rock pools looking at all the interesting weeds and critters is just too much to resist.

We found a really interesting Breadcrumb Sponge and anenomes and starfish are always good to see.

Breadcrumb Sponge Halichondria panicea

Breadcrumb Sponge (Halichondria panicea)

Anenome

Anenome

Starfish

Starfish

One of the most fascinating sights of the day was when we had finished on the beach and headed back to the jetty. There were thousands upon thousands of maggots on the quayside – i have no idea what species these larvae were and i guess they had hatched sometime between the tides. Later on in the day the tide was very high, over the jetty so they would have all been washed off.

maggots - fly larvae

Larvae - species unknown

A picnic lunch and then off to the WDCS Shorewatch training. There were 3  new recruits and we spent the afternoon learning all about how to carry out the Shorewatches, learning about what we might see and how to identify them, the visual differences between dolphins, porpoises and whales. After the theory we all headed out to do a practice watch under the guidance of Kila our trainer and Anya a more experienced watcher.

We’ve had some amazing sunsets and sunrises this week – the skies here never cease to amaze me. This flat calm scene greeted us early one morning as we headed over to check on the Buzzard’s nest.

Summer sunrise South Uist

Summer sunrise, South Uist

At the Buzzard’s nest only one chick remains and it has grown quite a lot since we last saw it. It was big enough to ring now. Sadly the other chick was dead at the side of the nest, it had grown a bit since we had last seen it but was not as big as the one remaining. I don’t know how or why it had died, it had no obvious injuries and it hadn’t become a meal for the remaining chick. Hopefully the one that is left will continue to grown and eventually fledge.

Buzzard chick

Buzzard chick

Ian had posted on the Curracag Forum with a request for samples of ants from around the islands. Having received the first ones he’d sent them off to Rhian last week so that she could identify them. It didn’t take long and we soon had news that there had been two species found: Myrmica ruginodis and Leptothorax acervorum. Only a single Leptothorax acervorum was found all the rest were Myrmica ruginodis. The hunt continues…

I’ve plotted the ones identified so far on a Google map:-

Ant map - click to see a zoomable version

Ant map - click to see a zoomable version

Another flat calm and misty morning and another fab sunrise saw us up at first light to turn off the moth trap and open the nets.

Misty morning South Uist

Misty morning South Uist

Misty morning South Uist

Misty morning, looking south west

A few summer visitors around, we’ve regularly heard Corncrake and a Sedge Warbler was singing away from the garden next door. We’ve ringed both Willow Warbler and Blackcap this week as well.

Blackcap

Blackcap. Second year male.

We’re now up to 50 juvenile House Sparrows this season. Lots of other juveniles around as well with Robin, Song Thrush, Starling, Blackbird and Greenfinch juveniles all turning up for rings. On Monday a pair of adult Siskins appeared in the net, the female of which had a fully developed brood patch.There are still quite a lot of Collared Doves around, in this past week we’ve ringed 6. In their quest to hoover up all our bird seed they somehow manage to squeeze themselves into the ground traps.

We’ve been trying out our new portable moth trap – a Midi Robinson with a 15W actinic light

Robinson Midi 15W Actinic trap

Robinson Midi 15W actinic portable moth trap, nestled under the trees in next door's garden.

Some days we’ve had very little in the traps, other days it has been quite interesting. We’ve again had two species of Hawk-moth – Poplar and Elephant. First for the year this week have been Shark, Map-winged Swift, Small Square-spot and Large Yellow Underwing.

Here’s a selection from the week:-

Map-winged Swift

Map-winged Swift

Brimstone Moth

Brimstone Moth

Shears

Shears

Shark

Shark

Monopis weaverella

Micro moth Monopis weaverella

Pleurota bicostella

Micro moth Pleurota bicostella. I know i showed this one last week but the long palps with the spikes on the end really fascinated me

Silver-ground Carpet

Silver-ground Carpet

Amongst the other insects attracted to the light of the moth trap are Caddisflies. Ian has decided that they need further investigation and has been collecting and photographing them. He says that he will write something on here and post some of his photographs – i’ve told him i have quite enough to do with the birds and the moths (and the Shorewatch that he signed me up to!) without getting into Caddisflies as well 🙂

Late Thursday afternoon we lost our internet connection and by Friday morning it still wasn’t back on. What was going on? We eventually found out that thieves had tried to steal a large cable on the mainland which they thought was copper wire (the scrap value of copper is very high at the moment). It turned out that the cable was fibre-optic and it got damaged in the attempt. Thousands of homes were affected and we eventually got our internet connection back at around 8.30pm on Friday.

See this article: http://news.stv.tv/highlands-islands/105438-phone-lines-reconnected-after-attempted-cable-theft-left-thousands-cut-off/

I thought that i would end this weeks blog with a lovely sunset picture, taken last night, Friday 8th June 2012

Sunset South Uist

Sunset, South Uist - looking west