Monday, 18 May 2015

New Camera, Same Old Subject

I bought a new camera, a Canon EOS 70D; the existing Canon EOS 50D is beginning to suffer from wear and tear; the new one is technically more advanced and offers video capability.

Keen to try it out, I needed a subject.  Conveniently we saw an otter, maybe one of the otter cubs, and it posed for the new equipment.  It fished in the kelp at low tide in Loch Ainort then took a nap for 25 minutes, camouflaged against the wrack,  before briefly going back in the water.   Out again it climbed up the rocks towards where we were hiding and was dumbstruck when it saw us, then raced back into the water before taking stock and resuming its slow progress west, as if nothing had happened.  Four hours later, we saw it again, briefly, fishing 100 metres from the shore.

A nap
Stirring into life
Scampering over the rocks
Meanwhile the bluebells are beginning to look impressive, though as with every year we worry about whether our management regime has been appropriate and whether there are the same number of flowers as last year.    Orchids are above ground and so far I have found the leaves of about 46 lesser butterfly orchids and 38 greater butterfly orchids, with an enhanced colony of the former around three of last year's plants.
Lesser butterfly orchid leaves - 4 plants where there was one last year
A heron which is normally stationed a few yards to the right of the slipway has been spending a lot of time stalking through the grassland, presumably looking for voles and frogs though I have yet to see it have any success.   Nervous, the slightest movement at least 50 yards away will put it to flight, and I have several photos of a disappearing heron.

More of the summer residents have arrived, the latest addition being the bright yellow and black siskins.   I am a bit puzzled by their status; Skye Birds says they are a common breeding resident but in Ard Dorch we don't see them in the winter, and my assumption is that they winter perhaps in Southern England, but I may well be wrong.

Much to see, this is one of the best months on Skye.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Sunny Skye

Willow Warbler
Summer visitors have been arriving regularly. Willow warblers have been noticeable over the last couple of weeks, appropriately enough in and amongst the creeping willow.  A couple of days ago we had two swallows, a common sandpiper and a small number of wheatears.   One of the latter was unlucky enough to be  taken by a sparrow hawk, on a short swift glide down by the shore, which is not much of a reward after travelling several thousand miles from North Africa.  We have not had wheatear breed on the croft so I think those we see are on passage maybe to Iceland stopping off to fatten up for the last leg of the journey, or provide a meal for birds of prey.

Cuckoos started calling on Scalpay and nearby a couple of days ago, though on other parts of Skye they have been seen last week.   Meadow pipits, which often acts as hosts, are everywhere.

Already we have lots of voles, and a heron has been stalking them regularly on the croft though we have not seen it have any success so far.   It quietly wanders around then after a while gives up and flies back to the shore.

Heron Stalking Voles
The plant life is becoming more varied.  The first leaves of lesser butterfly orchids are appearing above ground, whilst in flower inter alia we have wood sorrel in shady corners under walls, and a few bluebells.   Lousewort is beginning to flower in the more boggy, less fertile places. 

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Leaves - c. 1cm high
Wood Sorrell
Common Carder Bee
Garden Bumblebee
Several warm, dry days last week brought out Bumblebees in numbers that we don't often see.   The most common and catholic in the flowers they visited were White-tailed Bumblebees and Common Carder Bees, though we have had Early Bumblebees initially almost exclusively on a purple azalea, but now that has passed its peak they are focussing on blackcurrants.   For the first time I noticed Garden Bumblebees attracted to a patch of Lesser Celandines (they could be Heath Bumblebees though; Garden have longer, narrower faces, but it is actually quite difficult to photograph them head on, usually it is just the abdomen that can be seen). 

Each bee species seems to have a characteristic pitch to its buzz, which is different to the next. I found an explanation in this snippet on line.  

"Gard Otis, a professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario who studies bee behavior, ecology and evolution, explains.

Bees buzz for two reasons. First, the rapid wingbeats of many species create wind vibrations that people hear as buzzes. The larger the bee, the slower the wingbeat and the lower the pitch of the resulting buzz. This is a phenomenon of the wingbeats and not specifically of bees--some flies, beetles, and wasps also have buzzy flight caused by their wingbeats.
In addition bumblebees (genus Bombus), are capable of vibrating their wing muscles and thorax (the middle segment of their body) while visiting flowers. These vibrations shake the pollen off the flower's anthers and onto the bee's body. The bee grooms the remainder of the pollen onto special pollen-carrying structures (on the hind legs of most bees) and takes it back to the nest to feed to the larvae.   When bumblebees vibrate flowers to release pollen, the corresponding buzz is quite loud."
I had the moth trap out on two nights with catches of a wapping 200 or so on one night (the largest I have had in 5 years) and 36 on another, but with small species counts.  The catches were dominated heavily by Red Chestnuts and Hebrew Characters.
Finally to otters.   Several sightings, the best on April 23, when I heard one of the cubs eating on what looks like a crab (crunching through bones), before I saw it, then on May 1 we saw both the mother and two cubs moving east from the slipway round to Croft #1 where the scuffled and jostled for a time, occasionally catching a fish.
The trail camera picked up otters by the cliff holt on 8 occasions in the last 4 days.  Here are a couple of clips which I think are quite neat.