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Tuesday 29 August 2017

Of damsels and dragons (Part 3)

Once word got around that there were damselflies at the quarry, neighbours started keeping an eye out and reporting sightings too.  Given the new enthusiasm for these wee insects, I asked Graeme of Tense Towers if, in his capacity of damsel/dragonfly biodiversity recorder and Orkney Field Club volunteer, he would like to come out to Graemsay and give us a talk.  He gamely agreed to do so,  and he and Herself came over last Friday night.

Given it is a bit of a niche subject I had warned Graeme that it might be a small audience. I knew some of the children were interested as they had seen dragons and damsels on Hoy and were keen to learn more, so I thought half a dozen folk might turn up.  In the end we had quite a few more - 83.3(recurring) percent of the population turned up!  Everyone was really interested in hearing what Graeme had to say.  We were mostly starting from zero knowledge so he had to begin with basics but folk listened intently, old and young alike.

Graeme illustrated his talk with lots of slides to show us all the different species of dragon and damselflies, although not all will be found in Orkney, and so far Graemsay has only 2 species.  But that's two more than we knew we had last year!!

Graeme's enthusiasm was infectious.... though we didn't all wave our arms about. NO idea what he is demonstrating here?  The flight of the dragonfly that travels all the ways from West Africa maybe?

There were also explanations of the kind of habitat to look for them, and photos of our quarry and descriptions of the areas where they have been seen.  As well as explanations and photos of how the larvae transform into an adult dragon/damsel.  Apparently one species can breathe out of its bottom. The audience were unimpressed with this feat.  Not sure what that says about us really...maybe move along from that thought for now....

And of course with any good presentation there is a practical session.  Here is Graeme demonstrating the "Homework" with one he made earlier in true Blue Peter fashion (that's a long running children's programme with rockets made out of washing up bottles etc).

 Anyway coloured pipe cleaners and pony beads (yup that's what he said....) were produced and the younger members of the audience had a go at creating a dragonfly (they were big so I'm guessing they were dragons....).

Then there was time for questions and onto the supper.  Because this is Graemsay and there is always a supper!  This time provided by Michelle Mowat.  There was quite a spread and I didn't take any photos because I was too busy making sure I ate the last donut..... sorry about that.  But take it from me it was good.....the supper.... well and the donut!

The enthusiasm carried over the next day with folk going up to the quarry to take another look.  It's coming towards the end of the season now but next year I think we'll all be ready to search for more of these ephemeral creatures.

Monday 28 August 2017

Of dragons and damsels (Part 2)

So here we are back at the quarry a week or so after yesterday's post.  This time I'm flying solo (ha excuse the pun!).  The day before I'd brought a friend from Stromness here and when we had first arrived it was quite dull and nothing was to be seen of damsel flies (no dragons spotted on Graemsay to date).  So we enjoyed looking at the wild flowers and the various fascinating pond skaters and other pond insects.  Then the sun came out and as if by magic, about 15 or 20 damselflies just lifted off the pond.  They were everywhere, you couldn't miss them, even though they are matchstick size. Their colours are so vivid. Even without binoculars or camera. Cos yup dear reader I had forgotten both!  But actually it was lovely because we could just watch them without trying to focus lenses etc.

Anyway the next day I went up the quarry this time armed with binoculars, a proper camera as well as my phone camera, and my lunch......

When I arrived it was warm but the sun had gone behind a cloud and nothing much was moving.  So I sat on a rock and munched lunch.  And then the sun came out from behind a cloud and whoosh they were up again!!  I don't have a whizzo camera so the zoom isn't that good. Plus they would fly over the further part of the quarry out of the way!  But patience (which I don't have in abundance) paid off and eventually by just sitting quietly on the rocks, they started coming around about me.

So, anyone who has watched wildlife films knows that basically everything you film is either eating, sleeping or... mating.  The ones I was watching seemed to be doing most of the latter, though there was also some feeding on small insects on the water going on too.

So here are some rather blurry photos to begin with..... Yup that's right - they look like they are forming a love heart!  Ha!  Cool!

These next photos show the male and female in tandem......

Now the really exciting thing is that I sent a bunch of photos to G. and said oh look more blue tailed damsels.  Well I said I was a novice..... these are NOT blue-tailed damsels at all but Common Blue damsels as he quickly messaged me back.  Which is a new biodiversity record for Graemsay.  Yay!!

And here are two sharper photos of said damsel - a male I think.....  Isn't he gorgeous??  Such vivid colours on the segments.

Hallo handsome!

And they eat midges...... of which there are billions on Graemsay at the moment.  I want my personal air force of damsels!

Sunday 27 August 2017

Of damsels and dragons (Part 1)

Graemsay Quarry (Copyright Alan Nelson)
Back in July it was "Dragon and Damselfly Week" in Britain where folk went out and about to look at these beautiful creatures and record them for biodiversity records.  In Orkney the recorder for "Dragons & Damsels" is Mr Tense Towers.  So in anticipation of  D&D week, G & G came to visit Graemsay with their friend A. a fellow "odonata" (latin name for D&Ds) enthusiast.

Last year G. has spotted some blue-tailed damsel flies at the old Graemsay quarry as he thought it was a good habitat for them, so this was where we all headed (photo above of the quarry).

It has to be said I'm not the most patient of wildlife watchers.  Five minutes max any wildlife has to appear and impress.  Needless to say nothing appeared so I left those with more - er- enthusiasm and persistence than me and headed back home.  However they very kindly send me a text once something DID appear so I jumped in the car and headed in an orderly fashion back to the quarry.

A. was senior photographer on duty so all these are his photos which he has kindly given me permission to use. First up is a young damselfly (blue tailed) newly emerged and not yet coloured up. They are very vulnerable at this point as their legs and wings are very soft and so they cannot fly or move far.  Therefore they are easy prey for fish, birds etc.

Emerging damsel. Copyright Alan Nelson

Can you spot her/him?  Sitting on the pond weed in the middle of the photo above.  Even more extraordinary is apparently it had emerged from the larval casing (which it is hanging onto) upside down.  And had managed to turn itself right way up.

The pond weed seemed very popular as there was evidence of "exuvia" (the larval casing) on several fronds. Like on this piece below.

Exuvia (larva case) Copyright Alan Nelson
And then.... the star of the show..... a beautiful blue tailed damsel. A female I think! (Mr G?)

Adult blue tailed damsel. Copyright Alan Nelson
Now I learned recently (because I've become a bit obsessed about this), that one major difference between a dragon and a damsel is that when damsels are at rest their winds are folded along their abdomen/tail. whereas dragons have their wings at right angles to their bodies (and fixed in that position).  So this gorgeous creature was being a bit of an anomaly by having its wings at 45 degrees!

I have to say also that this lovely damsel is the size of a matchstick!  So you need a good telephoto lens and binoculars to spot them!!  Er..... a bit like this..... I was very keen to study my first sighting of a damsel and made sure I was comfortable for a good few minutes..... why stand when you can rest I say. Haha!

It's in here somewhere! Copyright Alan Nelson
Eventually I was dragged away from plunging head first into the quarry - I think the concern was for the winged damsel not the human one!  I headed home and the rest of the party went off exploring further.

Other creatures found were......  an ant!  I used to see hundreds of these "south" but this was one of only a very few I have seen in Orkney!  They are not very common here.  Well apart from in one part of Stromness where apparently they escaped from the local Co-op having arrived in some produce!

Ant. copyright Alan Nelson

And this is a water cricket.  Again not very common! This was happily living in a ditch just down from the Manse.

Water Cricket. Copyright Alan Nelson
So that was my first experience of A Close Encounter with A Damselfly! Remember, delicate, size of matchstick.... Orkney..... gales...even in summer...... tiny little creatures of resilience and persistence!

Saturday 26 August 2017

Summer along the shore

Yikes! Nearly the end of August!  I've been busy with some extra work, visitors, and various summer activities.  So like many, blogging goes by the wayside.  But the evenings are drawing in now (sunset tonight is 8.30pm) so I'll have more time to share photos and stuff.

So here are just a few shots of a beautiful still day in early August on the beach at Sandside. Above is a panorama, it distorts the actual landscape but I love the images it creates of the big sky, clouds and hills etc.

Want to take a dip?!

This old wooden boat was sadly burned on the shore a few years ago.  Nature softens her scars.

I just love the big skies and clouds!

The clouds are dancing behind the Hoy hills!

Be back soon I promise!

Sunday 13 August 2017

A trip to Stromness

The other week on a trip on the ferry to Stromness it was such a glorious day that I took some photos of our "sail".  So here are a few, starting from Graemsay of course..... Above Hoy High lighthouse on Graemsay and the Hoy Hills (on Hoy) behind.

Hoy High lighthouse and Sandside.... wave to Button....who was still asleep in bed!

Sailing away....

Looking towards the Kame of Hoy

Coming into Stromness.  The Ness Campsite looking busy....

This is known as "The Old Lighthouse Pier" - this used to be used by the Northern Lighthouse Board for maintenance to the many lighthouses in Orkney.  It's still in use by the renewables industry and maybe a bit by the Northern Lighthouse Board but no so much now. To the right is "The Red Shed" which was the old lifeboat house.  The lifeboat is now moored near the pier - easier access etc.

Next bit along the shorefront in Stromness.  All the houses here have access to the piers, some their own pier, some shared.  And in the past the houses on the other side of the road (hidden from view) would have had right of use of a pier too.

The "little red shed" is actually part of a new build house on the front.  I like it - it mimics the old industrial buildings.  The spire is an old church, now called The Town Hall, and is a multi-purpose space for concerts, plays etc and is also used by the Stromness Baptist church.  The building behind the spire is the Old Stromness Academy (secondary school), split into various business units now including again those for renewable energy. And behind that Brinkies Brae (hill), the highest point above Stromness.

Bit of a panorama......

Coming in closer to the shore now....

Another fuller panorama for you......

And finally, having docked and heading into town..... the Pier Arts Centre, the Navigational School, and beyond, the Hoy Hills.

Hope you enjoyed the journey - only took us 20 minutes!  Time for tea and cake now maybe?

Monday 7 August 2017

Field, Sky, Sea

Looking to Sandside
Late Summer is a busy time for farmers who are gathering in silage, haylage and hay as winter feed for livestock.  On Graemsay there are 7 crofts or farms on the island. All have sheep, 3 also have cattle. Some hard feed needs to be bought in but most farmers try to get enough silage etc for the winter.  The sheep stay out in the fields all winter but cattle generally come into the byres to save the ground. Otherwise they poach the fields with their hooves in wet weather and the grass won't grow so well.  Also many breeds of cattle aren't hardy enough to do well outside all winter.

As for the rest of the working population, some like myself work from home, or are retired. Some of the farmers have other jobs as well either on Graemsay or off the island.  There are a couple of holiday homes too where the owners come and stay for a few weeks at a time.

Anyway back to cutting the grass in the fields for silage.  My field behind the house is let on a summer grazing rental to a neighbour who often uses it for silage or for late grazing for cattle.  This year he has cut it for silage - well the good bits!  It's about the only time I "walk the bounds" of the field as normally the grass is too long and the ground too rough.  But yesterday was a glorious warm summer's day so I went for a wander around the boundary.  Here are a selection of photos from that wander.

The photo above was taken by the Community Hall.  It looks down the "main road" to Sandside bay, with the house and steading at the end and Hoy High Lighthouse behind.  Some other fields "at Sandside" have also been cut ready for making into bales.

This was the field being cut one evening as the mist came in.....

Then looking over the field towards Mainland and Stromness the next morning!

Looking back to the steading (byres) at Sandside and over to the Hoy hills.

It is believed that some of these ruins were originally built for the lighthouse workers - at the end is a workshop.  Lovely blue sky and sea!

A bit of a panorama shot which distorts the actual landscape but I quite like the effect!  Hoy High lighthouse, Sandside and Hoy Hills.

Vetch - wild flowers growing in the field margins.

Low tide!  Looking towards Stromness.

Hoy High lighthouse

You will have to look REALLY hard but there is a skein of geese in the cloud.....

Hoy High lighthouse - designed and built by the "Lighthouse Stevensons

A close up of the "light"

Looking back towards Sandside and the Hoy Hills.

A thistle!!

And to finish another panorama - looking across to Hoy and over to Stromness