Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Skygazing, fishing and spending too much time with a microscope

The last few days have been eventful.   We saw a few more birds that are winter visitors to Skye; a brambling struggled to get at the garden bird feeders against competitive sparrows, a few fieldfare settled on the remaining rowan berries, and a black headed gull mingled among other gulls .   The birding highlight though was a resident, a sea eagle, with its white tail glinting in the sunlight around a kilometre away, mobbed by gulls - it's tough being an eagle.   The same goes for the buzzard we have seen on most days, which has been regularly harassed by crows and ravens,


Aurora Forecast
But the eagle was not the big highlight.  Last Tuesday, one of several clear dry nights (for the last 10 days the weather has been superb, though it  ended at the weekend with heavy rain and today strong winds and more rain) coincided with an appearance of the Northern Lights.   The only sighting I have had on Skye was 18 months ago, and although the Kp index was a modest 5 as measured by the Kjell Henriksen Observatory on Svalbard, such that Skye was on the very edge of visibility, there was a display which lasted 20 minutes or so. With the naked eye they lights were not greatly obvious - a brightness and colouring, gentle rather than psychodelic - but the camera exaggerated the colouring and drama.

Northern Lights over Raasay
Northern Lights over Raasay
Northern Lights over Raasay

                                                                                          Back to the more commonplace.   During the period of clear dry nights I put the moth trap out a couple of times but the catches were small, (one night like a British Eurovision song entry - zero) not least because the temperature overnight was at, or near, freezing. There were a couple of Feathered Thorn and an Angle Shades.

Feathered Thorn
Angle Shades

I have spent a lot of time, probably too much,studying and identifying the fungi I have found on the croft.   Some of the earlier identifications I have made might be incorrect and I will take a look at them again over the winter.   I am reasonably confident that the examples below of recent identifications are correct to species level after using several fungi handbooks and then checking them against Fungi of the Hebrides - R W G Dennis, which comprehensively lists all the fungi recognised in the Inner and Outer Hebrides in 1986, long before the days of the NBN Gateway.

Pale Waxcap (C. berkeleyi)

Pale Waxcap (C. berkeleyi) Spores

Star Pinkgill (Entoloma conferendum)

Star Pinkgill (Entoloma conferendum) Spores
Waxcap (H. euroflavescens)

Waxcap (H. euroflavescens) Spores

Whenever I see an otter fishing I want to know what the fish species might be that the otter is eating but it is just about impossible to tell, so I have put a creel out by the kelp where otters regularly fish, on calm days when I can get the creel in and out using a canoe.   I caught 2 cod on the first day, but then things went awry on the second day.   I probably had the creel in water that was too shallow because the creel was almost literally full of crabs, 47 in total, and they took ages to pull out of the narrow necked creel.  45 were shore crabs and the other 2 were velvet swimming crabs,  The next day from deeper water I had 2 velvet swimming crabs, easily the most evil looking crab, and on the last day of fishing, what I think were two juvenile Norway pout.  None of these were eaten, least of all the fierce and threatening swimming crabs.

Velvet Swimming Crab
A Creelful of Crabs

Young Cod

Probably a Juvenile Norway Pout

Sunday, 12 October 2014

For a Change: Birds

I am not really a birder - they come after mammals, plants and even moths in my list of interests.  At this time of year though migration is underway, and there is usually something on which to focus.  Skeins of geese have been flying overhead, including brent geese, but to get a bit closer to some of the birds around  I took the canoe out on each of the last three days, getting bolder each time on the expensiveness of the camera I took with me, and the risk of a catastrophic drenching.    Conditions were perfect with the the sea flat calm, save for the occasional rain shower.  

On Scalpay, the island opposite, there is a spit where cormorants and gulls gather but there is also a small group of turnstone, perhaps 10 or so,  and by quietly drifting into where they feed I got really close - sufficient to hear the almost metallic click of stones as the birds turn them over looking for food.

Towards Scalpay there are small numbers of Black Guillemot, mainly young birds and juveniles

Black Guillemot (Juvenile)
On the way back yesterday I came across a big, pale flanked dog otter fishing midway between Dunan  and Scalpay.   It was low tide so the water was not very deep.   My neighbour, Alan, had seen this otter several times in recent days. I kept up with it for a while but got no usable pictures and as it headed off towards Strollamus I gave up the chase.  My wife saw probably the same otter this morning near the slipway, but only briefly.

Two days ago, from the canoe, I saw what was probably a different otter feeding amongst the kelp, also at low tide near the Dunan end of the village.  I think this was a female - smaller and thinner faced.    An otter is also using the cliff holt during darkness.
Long-tailed Duck

This morning where Loch Ainort meets Loch na Cairidh I came acrsoss a male and female  of a rare winter visitor to Skye, a  Long-tailed Duck.   Yesterday I saw two juveniles in the same spot. These breed in the arctic tundra and winter off-shore mainly in the Baltic though some make their way west to the east coast of Scotland and a few.   The Hebrides mark the most westerly limit of the winter migration in Europe.   I got quite close though taking photos from a moving canoe of two birds also moving and intermittently diving did not produce perfect results.

As ever I had a retinue of two seals as I paddled home.   These must be the most nosey of animals, popping up behind the canoe at frequent intervals to monitor me, the intruder in their space, with a bit of noisy splashing to create some distraction.

Common Seal
Common Seal

On the croft a buzzard has been around for several days, occasionally harassed by crows.    There is a pair of ravens and yesterday morning I had a brief view of a sparrowhawk.

Grey Pine Carpet Moth
I put the moth trap out a couple of times but the counts were low because of a full moon and low temperatures.    The count was dominated by Grey Pine Carpet Moths, though I think amongst them were a few Spruce Carpet which are very similar.    I will have to get confiration from our moth recorder.

The sun is shining again; I need to be back outside!