Monday, 1 June 2015

Moths, Bluebells and Eagles

I sent my moth records for April and May to our local recorder, Brian Neath, yesterday.  Overall the species count to date is well behind last year (22 compared to 29), and May was particularly disappointing - too wet, too cold and too windy.  Others commenting on the Skye Moths Facebook page have had much the same experience (

Nevertheless it turns out that the count of 85 red chestnut moths on a night towards the end of April was the highest recorded in a session on Skye- just a pity that it is such an unexciting moth. Despite such abundance I have never seen a caterpillar, but I read somewhere that they only feed at night.   Distributed quite widely throughout Europe, UK Moths suggests that red chestnut caterpillars feed on groundsel and bedstraw, (and there is lots of heath bedstraw on the croft) an assertion that gets repeated on lots of moth-focussed websites.  Wikipedia gives a few more host plants such as germander speedwell, again a plant which occurs on the croft.  As a general point though the certainty and specificity of moth-host plant interactions is striking and it is not obvious where this data came from.  My suspicion is that the data may be based on limited evidence, underestimating the extent of polyphagy (feeding on many different plants).  Interestingly The NHM website "HOSTS - a Database of the World's Lepidopteran Hostplants" lists Red chestnuts are polyphagous.

Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)

The bluebells now look terrific and as ever I have taken far too many photographs, still looking for perfection but it is impossible to capture.

Orchids are showing leaves and a few are in bud, but none flowering yet.  Their development is a week to ten days later than last year, affected by the cooler weather in May in the same way as moth activity.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Early Marsh Orchid
Greater Butterfly Orchid
We took a trip over to Minginish, the middle one of the 5 'bits' of Skye that stick out.   We know of an eagle nest there, so on a pleasant sunny afternoon we thought we could try to get some photos. We did but from half a mile a way, so the quality was not great.   Nevertheless eagles are great to watch as they make wide sweeps across the sky, riding the thermals.  Expecting this one to be a sea eagle, it was in fact a golden eagle, and we watched it intermittently for over an hour,  flying a little often mobbed by crows, but for the main part perched on a cliff top, and difficult to pick out.   There are around 12 to 15 pairs of golden eagles on Skye, and a similar number of the larger, and introduced, sea eagles, but unlike Mull there is no organised observation point.  

Golden Eagle

No sign of the otter family I am afraid.   Every year the number of otter sightings falls during the summer months, and this year is following the same pattern.   The trail camera has picked up nothing, nor are there any fresh spraints.   Roll on the winter (or, maybe not).

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