Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dance Flies and Missing Moths

May 5, 2021

On Skye last week I spotted some impressive flies which turn out to be Empis borealis, a species of Dance Fly or Dagger Fly. Thanks to Tony and Seth for i.d. This particular species of fly exhibits sex-role reversal in its mating process, with female flies aggregating in swarms to compete for male choice. Female fly swarms change their flying behaviour in the presence of males, who present nuptial gifts to females before mating. The name Dagger Fly comes from the long downward-pointing probosis used for spearing other insects.

Empis borealis

Prior to this year Pammene giganteana (Early Oak Piercer) was known in Scotland from just four VC’s and a handful of records. However, it is known that it comes to lures for Grapholita molesta (MOL), Grapholita lobarzewskii (SKI) and Grapholita funebrana (FUN).  Use of these lures has resulted in many new records in England and southern Scotland.

The larvae feed on spongy oak galls but oak trees are scarce on Raasay. There are a few near Eyre and some near Dun Borodale and in both places I have had a go with a MOL lure. The weather has been irritatingly cold, only reaching 6 or 7 C most days – the absolute minimum for these micromoths to fly, and I have not succeeded. Maybe next year I will try in Sleat where there is a lot more oak.

Lure on oak at Eyre

Late April – Insects

May 1, 2021

Micromoths have continued to provide interest though it has turned cold in recent days which is limiting what’s about -not just in terms of micromoths. This one is Philedonides lunana (Heath Twist), not a rare moth but one with very few records locally. I spotted two in the Manish area of Raasay.

Philedonides lunana (Heath Twist)

More interesting was this little female Heringocrania (Eriocrania) unimaculella (White-spot Purple) with a forewing length of just 5 mm found near Kinloch on Skye

Heringocrania (Eriocrania) unimaculella (White-spot Purple)

As ever I am grateful to NIgel Richards for i.d.s.

I have a variety of larvae that I am trying to rear so that their identification can be confirmed. My Bucculatrix nigricomella is now a pupa, so I wait with bated breath for this rather smart little moth to emerge.

I have been checking numerous stands of Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry) on Raasay and Skye in the hope of finding lepidopterous leaf mines, but with no luck so far.

Butterflies seen so far this year are Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Green-veined White and Green Hairstreak.

Green Hairstreak

I spotted a Common Groundhopper and a Common Green Grasshopper nymph at Fearns on Raasay, the former being something I have seen very rarely hereabouts.

Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata)

I also have a number of bugs that I hope to get help with e.g.:

Bugs from Kinloch

Mid-April

April 19, 2021

Last time I said I would write a separate entry about spiders, but I realise that I have already covered two of the three recent interesting finds. The third may be Philodromus emarginatus which would be an excellent record for the west coast of Scotland. However, it was immature when captured and so I have been rearing it. It has moulted once but is still not mature enough for a definitive i.d.

Philodromus emarginatus maybe

Some shore-work with two grandsons led to two useful fish records, Eelpout (Zoarces viviparus) which is unusual in producing live young, and Shore Rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus). Both, but particularly the latter, are very useful additions to the local marine list.

Whilst on the shore we found a number of small flatworms that are probably Procerodes littoralis, which according to MARLIN: “Unlike similar species….moves like a leech when disturbed, rather than moving smoothly”. I actually thought they were leeches initially, but that didn’t seem likely in a salty pool at the top of the shore.

Procerodes littoralis Probably

Some interesting micromoth larvae have turned up – probable Eupoecilia angustana f. fasciella (Marbled Conch) swept off heather (Calluna vulgaris) and almost definitely Stictea mygindiana (Cowberry Marble) mines and larvae on Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). The former has very few records locally; the latter is new to the vice-county. I am trying to rear adults from both.

This springtail may be Tomocerus sp. and this water cricket is Velia caprai:

Velia caprai is quite common on Skye & Raasay but the other species known in the Highlands, Velia saulii, has no records on NBN for this area. This picture from Bernard Nau’s draft Keys to Aquatic & Semi-aquatic Heteroptera shows how to tell them apart easily enough.

Thanks are due to Nigel Richards, Seth Gibson and Stephen Morean for help with identifications.

Early April

April 8, 2021

This sort of weather is not very conducive to field work.

However, some things are afoot. Through the Skye Naturalists’ Network on Facebook and with the help of Skye Gardening Society, I have had a number of people locating and inspecting Quercus ilex (Evergreen/Holm/Holly Oak) and Pyracantha coccinea in the hope of finding leaf mines caused by moth larvae.

The firethorn leaf miner Phyllonorycter leucographella invaded the UK 30 or so years ago and has spread north rapidly. It is found up to the Highlands but there are still vice-counties where it hasn’t reached or hasn’t been noticed, such as ours.  It makes rather silvery blister mines on the upperside of Pyracantha (Firethorn) leaves and no other species is known to use this foodplant.

The European oak leaf-miner or Zeller’s midget Phyllonorycter messaniella makes blister mines on oak leaves (and also on beech).  Unfortunately, on our native oaks, there are a number of other Phyllonorycter species that can be confusing, but P. messaniella is a specialist species on the evergreen oak, Quercus ilex.  On Q. ilex in Scotland, this is the only Phyllonorycter mine to be found. 

It turns out that both host species are pretty rare on Skye/Raasay and so far no mines have been found.

Gall on gall:

This is Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia (Rusty Sallow/Willow). I think the rosette, which is a common gall locally, is caused by a dipteran of the Rabdophaga strobilina/rosaria agg. However, there is another gall on the leaf midrib, upper surface, which is probably caused by a sawfly – Euura pedunculi or similar. The divisions shown are millimetres.

I have sent away a couple of stoneflies and Seth is kindly looking at a scuttle fly for me using a new key to the genus Triphleba provided by Henry Disney at Cambridge who is “King of Scuttle Flies”. Henry says this is the right genus and sent the key. Even then, quite a few of the outcomes are “possibly the unknown (fe)male of…..” so Good Luck Seth.

Scuttle Fly

I will write a separate entry about spiders.

On the plant side, I have found a large colony of Tussilago farfara (Colt’s-foot) on disturbed ground not very far from home. There really isn’t very much of this on Raasay:

The resin glands on Abies alba (European Silver-fir) are apparent at the moment and contain a rich red resin.

Moth News

March 24, 2021

At Nigel’s suggestion I went and had a look at young leaves of Leucanthemum vulgare (Oxeye Daisy) and successfully completed my mission by finding the larva of the micro-moth Bucculatrix nigricomella, sometimes given the name Daisy Bent-wing.

This is new to the vice-county. Map from eastscotland-butterflies:

The next day I found this chap flitting about in the conservatory:

Depressaria daucella

Sometimes known as Dingy Flat-body (poor thing), I found larvae last year on Oenanthe crocata (Hemlock Water-dropwort) on the shore just along from the house:

Depressaria daucella larva on Oenothera crocata

However, the adult marks the 200th species of adult moth I have recorded here at West Suisnish.

Inverts and Plants

March 18, 2021

Someone has planted two groups of three Monkey-puzzle trees (Araucaria araucana) on the lower slopes of Temptation Hill on Raasay. (There could be more.) This seems slightly strange to me, but perhaps no stranger than the Forestry planting little patches of cypress all over the place in the same area. They should perhaps have been planted more than one metre apart if they are to grow to full size.

Araucaria araucana (Monkey-puzzle)

Nearby a small forest of Ribes sanguineum (Flowering Currant – silly name as all Ribes species flower!) is coming into flower:

Ribes sanguineum (Flowering Currant)

Recent finds have included lots of this Globular Springtail on a picnic table (Thanks Stephen M for identification):

Dicyrtomina saundersi

and, yes, those marks at the bottom of the picture are millimetre divisions.

Larvae of The Drinker were out in numbers yesterday:

The Drinker

There were lots of this common fly sunning themselves on a wooden bridge across the Arish Burn:

Phaonia tuguriorum

I see this one pretty much all year:

The moth trap has been out a couple of times but has yielded nothing new for the time of year in the way of moths. Adults caught so far this year are Dotted Border, Hebrew Character, Mottled Grey, Pale Brindled Beauty and Red Chestnut.

However a coouple of days ago there were no moths in the trap, just a few gnats and this fine spider:

Clubiona phragmitis

According to the Spider and Harvestman Recording Scheme website this species is “very scattered…. in northern Britain”, “can be found in most wetland habitats, especially in emergent vegetation at the edge of water and occasionally on sand dunes” and “adults have been found throughout the year, but mostly in late spring to mid-summer and late summer to early autumn”. My specimen is not far from wetlands but I am not sure that it is late spring yet nor that being found in a moth trap is entirely normal. Something of an outlier as a record.

The Raasay Mines

March 18, 2021

A little over one hundred years ago a poor seam of iron ore on Raasay was mined for strategic purposes. A splendid book about the mine was published in 1990 and subsequently updated:

There was both opencast and underground mining. A barrier across the entrance to No. 1 Mine was put in place quite a lot of years ago:

This is what the entrances to No. 2 Mine looked like in 1917:

but this one was never worked owing to geological issues and subsequently the entrances were partially filled in. The biggest remaining hole looks like this:

The lower entrance is even less inviting:

I had started checking on these in the hope of finding hibernating Herald moths and perhaps other interesting critters, but I have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. In addition to a torch one would need ropes, back-up, absoultely no sense of claustrophobia and possibly a deathwish.

Anyway, I did find this spider in one of the entrances:

Metellina merianae

Odds & Ends

March 9, 2021

This little rove beetle was on the outside of the house. It is Tachinus subterraneus (thanks Bruce and Stephen M) and amazingly not recorded by Richard Moore during his years of beetle recording on Raasay. There are curiously few Scottish records on NBN, too.

Tachinus subterraneus

This moth-fly today is Psychoda sp. but going further than that requires checking the genitalia and/or antennal tip – not for me nor even for my bug/beetle/general entomology expert friend!

Psychoda sp

In the bay outside there are two Canada Geese – numerous enough to be a pest in places but a real rarity on Raasay.

Canada Goose on Raasay

Low Water

March 3, 2021

We have had some of the lowest tides of the year in the past few days, exposing the kelp beds in the bay by the house. Monday was the perfect day for exploring this habitat – the lowest tide of this period, not a cloud in the sky and not even a breeze. And all well before the midge season starts. The Eider were making their calls of faint astonishment and the Herring Gulls wanted to beat me to the animal life with intentions less pacific than mine.

Netted Dog Whelks had left tracks in the sand and Banded Chinks have laid egg rings all over the kelp.

Banded Chink: Adult and Egg Rings
Netted Dog Whelk

There was the usual array of starfish (Bloody Henry, Common, Spiny) though no Seven-armed which seem to be seasonal, appearing later in the year, and large numbers of Edible Sea Urchins – always worth another image!

Edible Sea Urchin

There were various crabs, hermit, spider and others, anemones and fish. I only caught one which appears to be a Five-bearded Rockling.

Five-bearded Rockling

There was a fair bit of this seaweed, which Seth suggests may be Desmarestia aculeata. An expert opinion is awaited. Later: confirmed.

Desmarestia aculeata?

Early February at Home

February 9, 2021

There is a lone curlew on the shore. I think there was just one this time last year – perhaps the same individual. Recently, there have been a flock of Purple Sandpipers, Turnstones and a pair of Goosanders to add to the usual Red-breasted Mergansers, Mallards, Eider, etc.

I have recorded Rhododendron Bud Blast before. Then it was called Pycnostysanus azaleae, but now it is Seifertia azaleae.

Seifertia azaleae

Several galls are present on small sallows along the road. I opened one up and found it to be caused by the gall midge Rabdophaga salicis.

Early one morning, I found this little chap in the bathroom, Amaurobius similis or perhaps A. fenestralis :

Amaurobius cf similis

We are having a period of cold weaher but escaping the serious snow affecting much of Scotland.