Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Guests - some invited, some not.

We had some invited guests from southern England  to stay with us last week.  We previously told them of the wonders to see on Skye and in particular on and from our croft.   They were not wildlife obsessives so the pressure was on to show the big and dramatic; otters, eagles, deer, seals, dolphins and so on.  Small brown birds just did not tick boxes.   In the event we failed miserably.    Nothing much turned up other than a few small brown birds, and though we did manage red deer (more below) seals were elusive and the others definite no shows.  In desperation we took the boat over to Pabay, which is reliable for common seals and whilst there were a few there on the rocks, close enough for recognisable photos, together with a couple of greylag geese on the shore, there was nothing else. Our humiliation was completed, when Alan, our neighbour from two doors down the road, cheerfully asked if we had seen the otter family on Monday.  Red faces all round!

We also had lots of uninvited guests.  Saturday, May 18 was very wet (34mm) and the following day, still, warm, with light showers.  Conditions were perfect for midges to emerge in their thousands for the first time this year, making life less than pleasant.   The Highland Midge (Culcoides impunctatus), by far the most important of the 5 midges that bite humans in Scotland, breeds in damp, boggy ground of which the Highlands has a lot. They emerge in still, warm, humid conditions from around May onwards, with a preference for early morning and late afternoon.   Only the females bite, to obtain a blood meal to provide protein for their eggs.   There does not appear to be any way of controlling them and whilst bats and birds are predators they make little impact.  Indeed, we will have a few pipistrelles later in the summer but there are none around at the moment despite the copious food source available.

Highland Midge (dead!)
Some years ago we bought a Midge Magnet, which I think was designed primarily to catch mosquitoes in the USA, and it worked quite well for a while but the internals regularly got blocked by midges which are less than 2mm long, and we have long since abandoned it.

The impact of midges on tourism, and any outdoor activity in the Highlands is immense; many visitors have their experience tainted by them, and despite the large numbers of people dependent on tourism for employment, I think it is remarkable therefore that there does not appear to be any sustained government sponsored research activity into midge mitigation and control, but then they are not really a problem in Edinburgh.

There is an interesting paper at  pointing the way forward for research and SNH produced a useful summary of midge ecology at

Pale Prominent
I found that midges are attracted to light.   I put the moth trap out last week, catching 75 moths of 16 different species - and lots and lots of midges, massacred by the heat of the mercury vapour lamp (maybe a prototype for an effective midge eliminator).   Amongst the moths was the extravagant Pale Prominent, but there was also the common, yet attractive, Nut-tree Tussock, Clouded Silver and the Brimstone.  I am now up to 26 species YTD.
Clouded Silver

Nut-tree Tussock

Early Marsh Orchid
Orchids are beginning to flower.  The first Early Marsh Orchid started flowering on May 22, and the first Northern Marsh Orchid yesterday.    Butterfly Orchids are in bud.   Which brings me back to the deer,- also uninvited guests.    Their preference  for soft young plants means that I have had to put wire cages round the orchids in bud as a modest defence against them because unusually for this time of year we had two young roe deer (not red as I originally rather lazily assumed without looking properly, and corrected by Stephen) on the neighbouring croft early on Saturday morning, then on Sunday afternoon another (?) young deer was on our croft.   How it got in I have no idea because it really struggled to get out, making no sensible effort to jump the fence.   It made several ineffective attempts, becoming ever more frantic, bashing the fence and itself but neither were damaged fortunately. Eventually I coaxed it up to the main drive to our property.   

Northern Marsh Orchid

Roe Deer

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dolphins - One of Ard Dorch's Big 5

My wife saw them first.   To use her Liverpudlian (or splitting hairs, Lancastrian) expression we see dolphins once every Preston Guild, i.e. rarely.  On Friday, late in the afternoon, a small pod of probably 6 animals, swam up Loch na Caraidh, round the headland and into Loch Ainort.   Large animals, - one showed a palish grey flank when it jumped almost clear of the water - they swam noisily past, blowing and grunting as they went, at about 6 to 7 mph.    After running down to the shore, I managed to get a few pictures in the 5 minutes or so that I could see them before they moved west into the sunset.   By the time I had got back to the house and into the car in the hope of following them down Loch Ainort, they had disappeared.  It was roughly 2 hours after high tide, and the water was quiet.  I am pretty confident that they were bottle-nosed dolphins but I am waiting for expert confirmation. 

We have never seen dolphins so early in the year; previous sightings have been in July and August.    It was also odd that they came up Loch na Caraidh even though there is a shallow neck at the south east end (probably no more than 4 metres deep) which joins the loch to Broadford Bay where they probably came from   Dolphins are definitely one of my proposed "Ard Dorch's Big 5", the others being Otter, Pine Marten, Red Deer and Eagle (Golden and / or White-tailed, take your pick), and the secobd most difficult to spot

Elsewhere things have been more predictable as spring progresses. The bluebells are massing to turn fields blue probably next week.    Summer migrants have just about all returned - siskins, stonechats and common sandpipers being the latest arrivals.   A pair of cuckoos have been circling the croft relentlessly pursued by sentry meadow pipits. I am at the stage now where the call is just about getting on my nerves especially at 3.30am after the initial enthusiasm when they first arrived.   Butterfly orchid plants are beginning to show leaves.

No otter activity sadly in the last couple of weeks.   The trail camera picked up nothing, and the paths around the holt are sprouting bracken and bluebells.

Puss Moth

I put the moth trap out last Wednesday near the croft boundary within a few yards of flowering willows and bracken.  Steve at the other end of the village caught a puss moth in a similar trap position two weeks ago, and I got a couple of these rather splendid moths which are associated with willow.   Other species that I had not seen so far this year included  a Streamer, several Glaucous Shears, a Pine Beauty and a Brown Silverline, bringing the 2014 year to date total to 16 species.

Glaucous Shears
Brown Silverline