Monday, 28 July 2014

More things that go bump in the night (can anyone help me with this moth)

Moths first. It was a productive night -
  • 3 Hebrew character
  • 1 Lesser broad bordered yellow underwing
  • 1 Common carpet
  • 1 Scalloped oak
  • 1 Dark Arches
  • 1 Snout
  • 1 Early thorn
  • 2 funny looking footman with lots of speckles
  • and 1 funny looking dart

?????? (turns out its Udea lutealis)
Broad Banded Yellow Underwing

Common Wainscot
Scalloped Oak

Early Thorn


There's also been bird movement. Up for grabs this evening were views of Ravenscraig's ever more mobile barn owl chicks. The barny's bred in a cave on the crag again this year. Despite low numbers of voles and mice all the chicks look healthy, and for the last 3 nights they've been testing their wings, moving back and forth between the crags. Apologies for the quality of the shots, they're not cooperative birds (1/40 ISO 1800).



Saturday, 19 July 2014

Moth trapping again!

Puffins and manx shearwaters sighted from the boats this week... But I wasn't on them; I was in labs. Feeling left out, I decided to put out the moth trap. The next day I was treated to lots of new months, mainly brown, and I felt the familiar feeling of confusion. 

The first to be identified were two rather lovely Hebrew character, Orthosia gothica. These moths are found across a range of habitats between March and April (although sometimes later). The moth takes its name from the dark mark on the wing, which resembles the Hebrew letter Nun. 

Hebrew Character

There were also 2 large yellow underwing, Noctua pronuba; unfortunately, the shots below do not show the egg-yolk yellow hind wings, they're really striking. They can be seen all over the UK, flying form July to September.

Below right is a spruce carpet, Thera britannica. Spruce carpet moths are less common in Scotland, flying in two phases, April to late June (spring brood) and from the end of August to mid October (autumn brood). Obviously the weather and latitude have affected the emergence time of these individuals.

Large Yellow Underwing
Spruce Carpet

There were also a number of cream moths, 2 square spots and a riband wave, Idaea aversata. Found throughout Britain, it tends to fly between June and August.

Erm.... we think its a Riband Wave...

Friday, 18 July 2014

New Nocturnal Neighbours

This evening marked the last night of the marine mammal field course. Instead of crawling out for that last social, I wanted my bed; however, as I made my way home I got that "Farland-Point-Feeling". So my headphones and I took the long route home, I make a couple of loops, music blaring, before something catches my eye. There is a green LED shining from the grass beside the path. Someone's dropped their phone... or a camera. I reach down and contact nothing but grass; I try again. 

This was about when the penny dropped and I reached for my own phone for a little extra light. "Please let it be a glow worm...." Sure enough, more light revealed the outline of this unassuming little beetle with her luminous bum. A brand new beastie for me, and thoroughly worth missing out on a hangover for. 

Lampyris noctiluca

Glow worms are most commonly found in southern England and lowland Scotland and Wales, and are active from May to late August; with peak "glowing" period in June/July, between 2200 and 2300. Its not just the females that glow; larvae and even eggs can emit a week light. 

They life cycle begins as one of 50-500 small cream eggs, which hatch into larvae that survive on a diet dominated by slugs and snails. This larval stage looks like a large ladybird larvae with cream dots, and can last up to 3 years, after which they pupate into the rather drab - winged - male form, or plated -glowing - females (above). These adult stages have no functioning mouth-parts and are relatively short lived.

The light of the glow worm comes from a mix of luciferin and the enzyme luciferase, and is used in attracting males, which have exceptionally sensitive eyes. As a result, one of the threats to glow worms is light pollution - other culprits being habitat loss and pesticide use. Although previously seen in large numbers on Cumbrae, this single sighting a lucky chance encounter; despite this, these LED beatles are well worth keeping your eyes open for, just in case.

After sending my sighting to the UK Glow Worm Survey, Richard sent me back a link to a great paper on Farlland Point glow worms by Millport Marine Station superintendent Richard Elmhirst, written in 1912. It can found here.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A week of rubbish phone pictures and bad dancing

Its a bit of a mixed bag this week. First of all, the weather's been all over the shop. On top of that, the water's still super clear too; not much for the fish to eat, so no reason for the birds or marine mammals to be around. A bit annoying, seeing at its the annual marine megafauna course... at least the manxies have returned to the upper Clyde Sea at last.

Thankfully, the sun is out, and after the rain at the start of the week the plants are doing much better. There are a few orchids left, the rest having long gone over. The rest stand out as flashes of purple amongst the cream of meadowsweet, orange crocosmia, and yellow birds-foot trefoil.

Common Spotted Orchid
Six Spotted Burnet

There are more insects around as well. There were scores of meadow brown butterflies, four or five small tortoiseshells, and the odd common blue around Farland Point on the way home this afternoon. I stopped midway home to spend a good 20 minutes chasing the six spot burnet moth above. Six spots are common in coastal areas, particularly in Scotland and feast mainly on birds-foot trefoil. Due to their smashing colours people often note them as butterflies...

The return of the sun has also brought out the lizards at last. This little man was found crossing the car park at the marine station before I captured him to show to the students. He was happy enough to sit and bask on anyone in the sun, flattening his body to absorb as much heat as possible.

Common Lizard
Other than that, its been quiet. The students are keeping me occupied with a mix of pub quizzes, practicals and karaoke. When that's done, all I want to do is sleep!

Saturday, 12 July 2014

More of the Allotment

Last month I was back home for a few days, and took the chance to nip to the allotment and see how everything was growing; it sure has changed.

For a start everything has grown about a foot. In the front of shot is the mass of spuds, hiding the garlic (and elephant garlic) beside the pea net. Behind those are the dwarf beans and the covered melon bed. We've even gotten the sweetcorn in now, which should crop in early autumn. 

Green and growing
The recycling has been recycled too. What were water filled weights to hold down the fleece are now cane toppers which double as handy bird scarers. You can see just how wild the spuds have gone in the back of shot.

Below that you can see that out army of willing pest control are still active, looking out for aphids and black fly. Its a two-spot ladybird if anyone's started ID'ing.

Yes is the same two spot as in the ladybird post.

I've proved myself not to be completely inept when it comes to planting, as my salad and marigold companion bed is going strong with regular watering from the folks. In fact, plants are cropping all over the allotment - showing how much warmer it is in Nottingham than here in the north. The peas, beans, salad, and strawberries were all ready to pick and we filled a basket or two to take home before planting out new stuff for the autumn.

Even the poor salads and marigolds that I planted roughly two months ago have pulled through

Only about 50% of the peas make it home.

minus one strawberry

Friday, 11 July 2014

Loving the Ladybirds

Mum has always been envious of my eyesight. Her most common, joking, complaint was that I could "see the ladybird on the leaf before (she'd) seen the leaf". It was true, but mainly because I was probably looking for them rather than at what I was supposed to be doing. However, back then I never stopped to think, 'which ladybird'?

According to the UK Ladybird Survey, there are currently 46 species of ladybird (Coccinellidae for those in the know) in the UK. 3 of those are recent colonists, 20 don't even look like ladybirds.

Most environmentalists will know of the supposed "inordinate fondness for beetles", with around 1.9 million extant species described - well, of those beetles, ladybirds are pretty well represented. There are around 3500 extant species of ladybird worldwide, that's approximately 1 in every 542 species. They range from 0.8 to 18 mm, all with their marvellously domed shells, and come in an astounding range of colours - spotted, stripped or plain.

I don't think I've gone beyond a quick count of the dots on a ladybird before, and if its a yellow one, just forget it! Honestly, I can't say I'd know my adonis from my 11 spot; but from now on I'm going to try.

I've started out by going through my own pictures (see below), and over the next few weeks I'm going to try and get snaps of every ladybird I spot, on every leaf. You can join me too. Either look up the Ladybird Survey, or check out their handy guide here.

Two Spot (red form) - Mum's allotment
Fourteen Spot - Mum's allotment

In the picture below (taken from a video on my mobile) there are two perfect happy two spots (carefully making more little two spots); however, the wanderer in the background is a rogue. Its a harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis succinea), the scary invasive one. If you're interested, ours are a genetic mix of those introduced accidentally from N. America (60%) and European flyovers (40%). Its the standard story. Introduced for pest control, it slowly out competes many of the locals by way of out eating them, resisting diseases, and when that fails, eating the poor buggers. 

Harlequin to the Right

If you see a harlequin ladybird near you, please submit your sightings to the Ladybird Survey's Harlequin Survey page. Also - the little sods bite.

Forays into Moth Trapping

Its been a bit slow on the island recently. This time of year I'd usually have the scope out scanning for shearwaters etc.; however, the relatively clear water is displaying a distinct lack of plankton. No plankton, no fish. No fish, no birds. Sure, this years crop of youngsters are keeping me interested; the linnets, common sand and oystercatchers on the point all doing well, but the Clyde doesn't feel like its buzzing. Thankfully, FSC Millport has a new toy. A brand spanking new moth trap, and Rachel and I have been having great fun this lunch time getting to grips with the new beasties. 

Silvery Arches

Drinker Moth
The large range of habitats on the island results in a the potential for great diversity of species in a relatively small area. So there's something new in every trap. Just like taking up birding, there appear to be a lot of little brown jobs. Unlike birding, its blinking easy to get prolonged views that aren't massively obscured by one annoyingly leaf. And if it looks like rain, you can take your catch inside  or a cup of tea while you pour through the books.

Flame Shoulder
True Lovers Knot

Peppered Moths
Today's undoubted stars where a pair of garden tigers. One fresh, one well worn. After a spell in the cold room they were more than happy to crawl onto your hand to warm up and pose for photographs.

Garden tigers have a huge range, being found across Europe and into both Asia and North America. In the UK they can be found in a range of habitats, and fly from late June through to August. Before they get those distinctive wings, they can be seen as the orange and black "wooly bear" caterpillar. Despite their distribution and habitat range, the garden tiger is a BAP species, with number thought to have dropped by as much as 90% in the past 30 years.

My first Garden Tiger

Rachel holding said Garden Tiger