Twit-twoodunnit? The curious case of the silent feathers*

On 6th February we stumbled upon an avian crime scene. Piles of feathers lying on the ground close to Kinramer Wood indicated that an unlucky bird – and clearly quite a large one – had recently met a sticky end here. We tried to examine the feathers from the road using binoculars. A goose, perhaps? No, that wasn’t right. So who was the victim, and what had happened to them? We went in closer for a stickybeak…

crime scene

Evidence at the scene. Left: two large piles of feathers on the grass. Right: a closer view.

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The velvety texture of the wing feathers

When we got closer, we could see lots of large wing feathers, orange, grey and white with bold black bars. In addition, these feathers were incredibly soft, with a fine downy texture. Immediately we knew they had to belong to an owl, and from the size and distinctive markings, it didn’t take long to conclude that they had to be from a Long-eared Owl, one of Rathlin’s most secretive residents.

Rathlin2018_Long-eared Owl feathers1u

This clump of material contains the sharp, pointed front teeth of a mouse.

Mingled with the feathers, we found another piece of evidence – the tail and teeth of a mouse, which we can only assume the bird had been holding or eating when it died.

We gathered up the feathers (and the bits of mouse) and took them home for closer study.

Intriguingly, we found that these remains included an almost complete set of beautiful flight feathers from the left wing, but very few from the right wing. There was an assortment of fluffy body feathers, but not a single tail feather.  Not to mention the almost complete absence of any other parts of the unfortunate owl.

Rathlin2018_Long-eared Owl feathers1b

We found nine out of ten primary feathers from the left wing of a Long-eared Owl. Only the outermost primary is missing.

LEO fimbriae

The comb-shaped fimbriae reduce air turbulence, and thereby noise, at the front edge of the flying owl’s wing.

Owl feathers really are worth a close look. One unique feature is this intricate barb structure along the outer web of the outermost couple of primaries. These feathers form the leading edge of the wing when the bird is in flight, and the distinctive saw-tooth shapes (technically known as fimbriae) along the front edge muffles the noise of the air rushing over the wing, allowing the bird to approach its prey silently. Another sound-muffling adaptation is the soft fringing on the trailing edge of the feather. These features and how they reduce noise are described in detail in this paper by Pulkit Sagar et al.

Rathlin2018_Long-eared Owl feathers1f

The soft fringe on the trailing edge of each wing feather also help an owl fly silently

LEO feathers ageingWhat else can we tell from these feathers? Well, based on a fantastic information sheet by Javier Blasco-Zumeta & Gerd-Michael Heinze (available here), we think we can fairly confidently determine the bird’s gender and age:

  • The large pale area on the inner web of each secondary is plain white (A). This makes it a male, as females would have darker buff colouring in this area.
  • The pattern of barring on all these feathers is quite sparse, with just four strong black bars per feather (B), and the outermost bar is set well back from the feather tip (C). This tells us that the bird was an adult; i.e. at least three years old.

So, it’s an adult male Long-eared Owl, but how did it die, and why was most of one wing and a pile of body feathers left behind at the scene?

Our suspicions turned immediately to Ferrets, the feared feral foe of much of Rathlin’s wildlife. These non-native mustelids are ferocious predators of ground-nesting birds and many other animals, and consequently a huge conservation issue on Rathlin. Perhaps the owl had pounced on a mouse, and in the process of eating that was itself pounced upon by a fortuitous ferret. But the other evidence didn’t seem quite right for a ferret kill. The bird had clearly been plucked, and that would be more typical behaviour of a bird of prey.

owl eaters table

Predators of Long-eared Owls, and the number of records for each predator. Species occurring on Rathlin are in bold. Adapted from Mikkola (1976).

But would any birds of prey kill a Long-eared Owl, itself a top predator? We managed to dig up this eye-opening paper by Heimo Mikkola, who gathered together records of owls preying upon, and being preyed upon, by other owls and raptors. One of the findings was that, of all European birds of prey, the Long-eared Owl is by far most frequently preyed upon by other birds (46% of the 934 records, see table). Its main enemies are Northern Goshawks and European Eagle Owls, which we certainly don’t have here on Rathlin, but it has also been known to fall prey to Common Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons and even (on just a couple of occasions) Common Sparrowhawks, all of which do live here. From the data in that paper, the buzzard is the most likely of these three raptors to eat a Long-eared Owl, but it would still be a fairly rare occurrence.

One final theory is that the owl injured itself, perhaps by colliding with overhead power lines during the night, and was then found, plucked and carried away by a scavenger. This is possibly the most likely scenario – there were overhead wires nearby, and there are lots of Hooded Crows, Common Ravens and Common Buzzards around to take advantage of such a mishap.

We’ll never know for sure what happened to this bird. It is always a thrill to catch a glimpse of a live Long-eared Owl, but even finding these few remains was exciting. It gave us a rare opportunity to study its beautiful plumage, take a close look at its unique adaptations, and to learn more about one of Rathlin’s most elusive inhabitants.

LOEOW_3_m 1c-001

Boo!

*Ok, we know Long-eared Owls don’t really go twit twoo (that’s Tawny Owls), but this was the punniest title we could think of.

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Hello halo!

IMG_4463The night of 29th January was a chilly one on Rathlin, but the moon was shining brightly and almost full. We happened to look up to admire the night sky, and noticed a big ring of white light around the moon.

It was a 22 degree halo, which occurs due to the refraction of light in small hexagonal ice crystals high in the atmosphere. The 22 degrees refers to the radius of the ring.

Rathlin2018_lunar 22 degree halo1

Actually there were two rings around the moon at the time – the 22 degree halo and also the corona, which circles the moon more closely, and which we observed as a ring of orangey-red colour showing against the thin cloud surrounding the moon.  The corona differs from the 22 degree halo in being the result of refraction of light in water droplets or ice crystals of a larger size.

We’d seen the solar version of this phenomenon before, both on Rathlin and in Kamchatka, as shown in the photo below.

22 degree halo

22 degree halo around the sun

Splitting Hares: getting to know Rathlin’s intriguing leporids

intro collage

As evening approaches, quietly grazing mammals hop cautiously out into the meadows of Rathlin, their long ears, twitchy noses and large hind feet identifying them as leporids – members of the rabbit family, Leporidae. The island has both European Rabbits and Irish Hares and, although neither is truly native to Rathlin, this is a good place to compare the two species side by side. Not only that, but the island is home to the mysterious and beautiful ‘Golden Hare’, a rare genetic variant of the Irish Hare that is unique to Rathlin.

European Rabbit

Originally native only to Iberia and northwest Africa, European Rabbits were brought to Britain and Ireland by the Romans and they soon proliferated as only rabbits can. They have since been introduced to many other parts of the world where they have generally made a serious pest of themselves with their tunnelling, grazing and phenomenal fecundity.

Rabbit1

An adult European Rabbit with a kit, showing the characteristic rusty-coloured patch on the back of its neck.

Rabbits were brought to Rathlin sometime in the second half of the 19th century. Past outbreaks of myxomatosis have kept the population in check, and they are a common prey of the local Buzzards. The introduction of ferrets to Rathlin in the 1980s was intended to control the rabbit numbers but, while these rapacious predators undoubtedly do prey on many rabbits here, they also indiscriminately kill other animals and are disastrous for the island’s native wildlife, particularly burrowing and ground-nesting species like the Atlantic Puffin, Manx Shearwater and Northern Lapwing.

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European Rabbit keeping a low profile

 

Irish Hare

The Irish Hare is a subspecies of the Mountain Hare, which occurs naturally right across a vast area of northern Europe and Asia. Unlike the Mountain Hares in other countries, the Irish Hares do not turn white in winter and remain largely gingery brown, with just a white tail and underparts, all year.

irish hare5

Apparently, the collective noun for a group of hares is a ‘drove’. Gatherings of grazing hares, with their quiet, alert mannerisms, remind us of wallabies (with which they share a similar ecology).

Irish Hares are much larger and more striking animals than the rabbits, with longer ears and longer hind legs giving them a lankier appearance. They also have a richer gingery coat and black tips to their ears. Hares can look beautifully elegant and stately, but they often come across as amusingly gangly and dorky when they burst startled from the undergrowth. Unlike Rabbits, Hares don’t make burrows, living instead in a small depression in the ground, usually hidden in vegetation. The proper name for this depression is a ‘form’, but we like to call it the hare’s lair.

Irish Hare collage

Irish Hares doing what they do on Rathlin

According to Philip Watson’s book Rathlin Nature and Folklore (a fascinating and highly readable introduction to the island’s natural history), Irish Hares were first brought to the Rathlin for sport by about 1784, much earlier than the rabbits. A second introduction in the 1950s replenished the population which had by that time been wiped out by shooting for sport and for the pot. Currently, little shooting occurs on the island and the hares seem to be thriving here.

Rathlin Nature and Folklore also mentions old tales of Rathlin hares sucking the milk of cows. We have not yet observed this behaviour ourselves, but we’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for that!

 

Golden Hare

Among Rathlin’s population of Irish Hares, a small minority of animals have a very striking appearance. They have stunningly pale blonde fur all over and, when seen up close, bright blue eyes. ‘Normal’ Irish Hares can be quite variable in fur colour, but a true ‘Golden Hare’ is unmistakeable. To see one is a special thrill indeed. These highly distinctive Golden Hares only occur on Rathlin Island, and it’s most likely their insular separation that has given rise to this unique population.

Rathlin2017_Golden Hare3b

What a blonde bombshell!

When mammal populations become isolated on small islands, the low number of individuals creates a genetic ‘bottleneck’, which can result in reduced genetic diversity or distorted gene frequencies. Genes that were common in the original mainland population could happen to be rare or absent in the small sample of animals released on the island, while mutations that were rare in the wider population can find themselves disproportionately common within the small new community. This may explain how characteristics that are generally very rare, such as pigment deficiency (leucism), can be more prevalent among small and isolated populations. It’s likely that Rathlin’s Golden Hare arose in this way, perhaps facilitated by the relative lack of predators here.

There are multiple other cases of mammals on small islands having unusual colour forms. Check out the white wallabies on Bruny Island off Tasmania, or Alderney’s blonde hedgehogs. Or, at the other end of the pigmentation spectrum, there are large numbers of black European Rabbits on several Scottish Islands.

The first sighting of a Golden Hare was around the early 1970s, when islander Liam McFaul recalls noticing an unusual pale hare and, after creeping close enough, being surprised to see that it had blue eyes. He also recounts that, soon after this first encounter, the unfortunate animal was shot by a neighbour for dinner. Despite the demise of this individual, its blonde genes must already have become established among Rathlin’s Irish Hare population because the blue-eyed blondes popped up again in later generations and have been a noted feature of the island ever since.

Golden Hare collage

Haring around – blondes have more fun

We are greatly intrigued by Rathlin’s Golden Hares. Can they be male and female, or are they always of one gender? Do Golden Hares produce golden leverets? Several very close encounters with our local Golden Hare left us wondering if they have impaired vision, particularly as poor eyesight can be associated with pigment deficiencies. Are they otherwise weaker, more susceptible to disease, more likely to be caught by predators than the normal hares? Unfortunately, we have been unable to find any published studies of the Golden Hare, so we have no answers to these questions so far.

A visitor to the island who manages to see a genuine Golden Hare has been very lucky indeed, as there are never more than a handful of them in existence. In 2017 we knew of at least four, and perhaps five, different golden individuals on the island, but in some years it seems there are no more than one or two.

 

Silver Hare

Silver Hare

The ‘Silver Hare’

We were intrigued to see this lovely leporid lolloping around in 2017. It’s an Irish Hare, but it’s very different to all the other hares on the island. In fact, it looks very like a (non-Irish) Mountain Hare wearing its mostly white winter coat. Jokingly, we call it the Silver Hare. Presumably it is a mutant, another genetic anomaly of the sort that crops up so easily in isolated mammal populations.

We expect the Silver Hare is a one-off but, who knows? Perhaps it will breed successfully and give rise to a whole lineage of similar-looking Silver Hares, living here alongside its Golden cousins and all the other more traditional bronze-coloured ones – a full podium of Rathlin hares.

Curly wurly

Anyone for a Curly Wurly? We saw a lot more of this exhibitionist Hare than we were expecting!

A memorable seal meal

One evening last spring, we were out for a stroll along the scenic Kinramer permissive path, which always offers some of the most spectacular views of anywhere on Rathlin Island.  But the view we had that evening, taking a casual look over the cliff edge down to the ocean below, was certainly something we’d never seen before. Check this out:

Not only were we enthralled by the struggle between the hungry Grey Seal wrangling to get its dinner down, and the feisty fish valiantly fighting for its life, we were intrigued as to what species of fish that was.

Our first thought was that it was an eel, but after closer inspection of the video we weren’t sure – judging by the body colour, could it be a Ling? But the body was so long, so that didn’t seem right either. We posted the video on the local Facebook group for some help. That led to a lot of debate, but quite quickly we had an interesting answer that it was a Sea Lamprey (thanks Paul Graham!). We searched online for more information and found terrifying close-up images of their circular tooth-filled mouths, and pictures of lampreys latched onto other fish, rasping at their skin with those rows of teeth to feed on their blood.

Lamprey_anatomy

Lamprey anatomy By LadyofHats [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lampreys are primitive fish, and are distinct in having gill slits, like sharks and rays, rather than gills covered by an operculum, like bony fish.

We checked the video again, and yes –  at certain points you can clearly see the seven round gill openings. That was unmistakeable – it had to be a lamprey.

seal eel meal3

Seven gill openings clearly visible

What a surprise! And what a whopper! Imagine encountering that beast on a swim.

We’ve another interesting video of a seal meal, this time a big eel – https://youtu.be/Ee2qjwOHTjc

Mothing on Rathlin: highlights of 2017

Once you have entered the mysterious, magical world of moths, there’s no going back. It is very easy to overlook moths, many of which hide away by day and only venture out under cover of darkness. But once you take a peep into their secret lives and discover their extraordinary beauty and diversity, their amazing lifecycles, their incredible powers of camouflage and mimicry, the phenomenal migrations… that’s it, you’re hooked. You have a become a moth-er.

Mothing – finding and studying moths – is addictive. Moths are such beautiful, fascinating creatures, and each find brings a new thrill –  you never know what you will discover next.

When we arrived on Rathlin Island, we couldn’t wait to see what moth species live here. Throughout the year, we tried a variety of special techniques for finding these mysterious creatures. We deployed light traps at night to attract moths whenever the weather allowed (here on Rathlin that can be frustratingly infrequent!). As there are some species that are not attracted to light, we also went out after dark to search flowers for feeding moths and watched out for day-flying species as we walked around the island. We even experimented with using sugary baits and luring them with special moth pheromones, though neither of those proved successful.

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Three of the moth traps we used on Rathlin – a portable Heath trap (top left), Skinner trap (bottom left), and Robinson trap (bottom right). In all cases, moths are attracted to the light overnight, and settle in a container full of eggboxes, which provide cosy nooks for them to snuggle into until we come to check the trap in the morning.

mothing

Sharing the wonderful world of moths

When the weather was settled enough to plan mothing in advance, we invited Rathlin locals and visitors to come along for a mothing morning, to join us as we opened up the trap to see what had arrived overnight.

Wherever you live, there is usually a remarkable diversity of moth species to be found, but we were delighted to discover that Rathlin is a particularly good mothing location. Despite being a small island, Rathlin has a good diversity of natural habitats including coastal heaths, wetlands, wild flower meadows and sea cliffs. The varied vegetation in these habitats supports a wide range of insect species, some of which are highly specialised to living on particular plants. In addition, Rathlin has plenty of plants that have been brought to the island by people, like the conifer plantation, and many other trees, shrubs and flowers planted in gardens. These may be less ‘natural’ habitats, but they are nevertheless great for Rathlin’s moth diversity.

moth collage

Some of Rathlin’s stunning moths from 2017. Almost all of these species are common here at the right time of year.

In this blog post, we will run through some of our mothing highlights of 2017. We’ll concentrate only on the ‘macro moths’ – a commonly used but not strictly scientific term that (in general) includes only the larger and (often) more easily identified species. The enormous number of smaller species – the ‘micro moths’ – have always been considered a more difficult group to identify and have often been ignored altogether. We have been making a considerable effort to record the micro moths of Rathlin as well, but they will be the subject of another post later in the year.

The moths of Rathlin have been studied before, albeit rather intermittently. In fact, the island macro moth list already stood at about 205 species before we arrived, and this included a number of rare and very localised species. We knew what species to expect and identified a few target species to look out for, thanks to the generous help and advice offered by the Northern Ireland moth recorders and other local moth-ers, and the information in the The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland (a spectacularly thorough and beautiful book!). But it had been a few years since any serious trapping had been done, so we were excited to see what we could find, and even hoped to add some species to the Rathlin moth list.

Now, let’s rewind to spring 2017 to begin our look back at the year’s best mothing moments.

Red-green Carpet

More green than red on Rathlin: Red-green Carpet on 15th November

It didn’t take too long for us to get a Rathlin first. On 7th May we had three Red-Green Carpets in our trap, and were surprised to find that the species had not been seen on the island before. It doesn’t seem to be a common species on the north coast of Ireland, but appears reasonably numerous on Rathlin. In fact, we found several more in November. We guess it had not been caught here before simply because very little moth trapping has been done in the late autumn to spring period.

On 18th May we caught two more new-for-Rathlin species: Shoulder Stripe and Herald. Both of these appear to be generally scarce on the north coast, and were not particularly expected on the island. Neither species was seen again all year, so presumably they are not common here. However, Shoulder Stripe flies mainly in the early spring and we will need to do more trapping at that time of year to find out its true status.

shoulder stripe herald

Shoulder Stripe (left) and Herald

A week later we found a species we had been really hoping for: Netted Pug. This is a rare coastal species in Ireland and, although it had been found on Rathlin before, the last record was in 1971 and all subsequent attempts to find it had been unsuccessful. We were delighted to find one in our trap on 25th May, and quite astonished when, four days later, we discovered two of them on the outside of a toilet window at the West Light. The toilet light had been left on overnight, and had attracted these rather special moths. Sometimes the best finds happen when you’re not even trying!

Incredibly, on 11th June, the very same lucky toilet window scored a new species for Rathlin. This time it was a Thyme Pug, a moth which is scarce and very localised in Northern Ireland, although the cliff top habitat on Rathlin is ideal and has plenty of its eponymous foodplant. From then on, we made it our first job every day to check that toilet window!

Netted and Thyme Pug

Toilet window gold! Netted Pug (left) and Thyme Pug

Green Silver-lines

What a vivid green beauty: Green Silver-lines

A Green Silver-lines was a colourful surprise in our moth trap on 27th May. Typically a woodland species that is closely associated with oak, we would not have expected to add this one to the Rathlin list. There is almost no oak on the island, so exactly what this beautiful insect was doing here is a bit of a mystery.

Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Hummingbird Hawkmoth being released after its visit to the West Light

On 2nd June, while we were working at the West Light Seabird Centre in the middle of the day, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew in through the open back door and proceeded to fly madly around the room until it was captured against a window. This is always an exciting migrant species to see and, even though it was not a first for Rathlin, it was a rare chance to examine this extraordinary insect up close.

 

During a very productive period in mid June we added another five species to the island list. A Bordered White on the 14th was unexpected, although the island’s conifer plantation may provide suitable habitat. We did catch the species one more time during the year, although that was at the West Lighthouse quite some distance away from the conifers. Also on the 14th was a surprising Marbled White Spot. This seems to be a rare moth in Northern Ireland, known from only a handful of locations and, although suitable heathland may exist on Rathlin, we didn’t find any more of these moths during the year.

bordered white marbled white spot

Bordered White (left) and Marbled White Spot

18th June was equally successful, with Clouded Border and Miller both new for the island. Clouded Border is fairly ubiquitous in Northern Ireland and it is surprising that it had never been found on Rathlin before, although we did only catch one more of them later in the summer. Miller is much scarcer in Northern Ireland, especially on the north coast, and was therefore quite an unexpected find here.

clouded border and miller

Clouded Border (left) and Miller, both found in the shiny blue Heath trap

Chestnut-coloured Carpet

Chestnut-coloured Carpet

Also on the 18th, a Chestnut-coloured Carpet was in our trap at Kebble. Rathlin is the only known site in Northern Ireland for this scarce juniper specialist, so it was a very pleasing find. We didn’t see this species again all summer, suggesting that even here it is not common. In 2018 we will aim to target areas with juniper to investigate the status of this and other juniper lovers.

Grass Rivulet

Grass Rivulet

On 22nd June we found another of our target species by the subtle entomological technique of charging frantically after it through marsh and waist-high rushes. The flying insect eventually settled for long enough to confirm its identity as a Grass Rivulet, a species that had been recorded on Rathlin previously, but not since the 1930s! It was good to confirm it still living here, and it actually seems to be doing quite well as on 5th July we caught nine of them in a single trap. The larvae of Grass Rivulet feed only on yellow rattle, which appears to be very common in the island’s hay meadows.

Brussels Lace

Brussels Lace

A Brussels Lace in our trap on 29th June was another new species for Rathlin, but our encounter with it was bittersweet. Upon release, this moth flew underneath the garden picnic table and settled in a dark crevice, where we assumed it would be secluded enough to hide away safely until nightfall. However, a brazen and opportunistic Chaffinch came hopping along and we watched in horror from the sitting room window as it pounced on the Brussels Lace and gobbled it down, without a thought for its delicate beauty or its important contribution to the Rathlin moth list. The Chaffinch will forever be regarded as Fringilla non grata during all mothing activities. In fact, due to the local abundance of voracious garden birds we now release most moths on nightfall, after all the hungry hordes have gone to roost.

A hat-trick of new-for-Rathlin moths on 5th July partly made up for the traumatic events of late June. A Small Elephant Hawkmoth in the trap was an attractive but perhaps not entirely surprising addition to the list, while a Clouded Buff was an excellent and highly noteworthy record. This is one of Northern Ireland’s rarest moths, known from just a few locations, so it was a very significant addition to Rathlin’s list.

small elephant clouded buff

Small Elephant Hawkmoth (left) and Clouded Buff

Two firsts in our trap was a pretty good start to the day, but the excitement continued after lunch. A small brown moth seen fluttering along the coast at Bull Point was pursued on foot along the precipitous cliff-edge until it was finally captured in a specimen pot for identification. On examination it proved to be a Marsh Pug, a species that had been rarely recorded in Northern Ireland at all, and certainly never before on Rathlin. Its appearance on the island is puzzling as its main food, field mouse-ear, is unknown here. Perhaps it was a migrant that had wandered over to Rathlin from somewhere else, but who knows where that might be?

Rathlin2017_Marsh Pug1a

Marsh Pug: the rarest moths are not always the most beautiful

Bordered Grey

A fairly shabby specimen of a Bordered Grey

Bordered Grey was our next big highlight on 2nd August. This is another of Rathlin’s real speciality moths, as the island is one of only two sites in Northern Ireland where it is known to occur (the other is Peatlands Park, Co Armagh). The Rathlin population was only discovered in 2001, and we were glad to prove the species still persisting here 16 years later, even if we did only manage to find a single individual.

Buff Footman

Buff Footman

A Buff Footman on 21st August caused us some excitement when we checked the books and read that it is extremely rare in Northern Ireland. However, we soon learned that the species has recently undergone an incredible population explosion throughout the country and is now found almost everywhere. Nevertheless, it was a the first ever record on Rathlin so we were still pleased with the discovery.

The weather in early autumn was mostly too terrible to have the traps out, but we did discover that searching sheltered ragwort flowers after dark was quite a productive way to find feeding moths. We found quite a number of species by this method (although nothing especially rare), and it was an enjoyable way to see moths and other invertebrates going about their secret night-time business.

Angle Shades

Angle Shades feeding on ragwort at 10.30pm on 20th August

Pearly Underwing crop

Pearly Underwing

By the end of autumn relatively very few moths are on the wing, but we spent a bit of time searching fuchsia bushes after dark and came across a few hardy insects feeding on the flowers. A Pearly Underwing on 14th November was an excellent reward for our nocturnal efforts, and was just the second ever sighting for Rathlin. This is a scarce migrant species in Northern Ireland that has only rarely been recorded on the north coast.

Dotted Border

Dotted Border

Our very last moth of the year was yet another new species for the island. On a damp and breezy night on 20th November when we would hardly have expected any sensible moths to be out and about, we found a Dotted Border by the roadside, clinging on tight to some tall plant stems against the wind. This is a reasonably common moth in Northern Ireland, but was not previously known from Rathlin. Even though it is a winter-flying species, they are not normally on the wing until at least late December, so the date of our sighting seems to be quite unusual.

And so, with that final Dotted Border, our mothing year drew to a close. We have only featured the very best bits here, and have had to leave many other interesting sightings out. During 2017 we managed to find and identify 150 species of macro moth on Rathlin. This included 15 that had never been recorded here before, taking the island’s all-time macro moth list to 220 species. Even so, we can be sure that there are still plenty more to be discovered here. There has been little trapping conducted on Rathlin in the early spring, and some habitats and locations have never been surveyed, so there is lots of potential for more magic mothing moments in 2018!

clifftop mothing

Extreme mothing on Rathlin – finding a Northern Rustic on the wonderfully scenic Kinramer North trail.  Stay safe people and take care on cliff edges!

It’s here: Rathlin Bird Report 2017

Hot off the press, here is our Rathlin Bird Report 2017.  This is a summary of everything we saw during a year of birding on the island, plus all the sightings we’ve heard about from others, and lots of pictures.

2017_051

Rathlin’s bird list for last year reached a satisfyingly round total of 150 species. The highlights of 2017 included a first for Northern Ireland and several local rarities, plus all Rathlin’s usual specialities like the Great Skua, Red-billed Chough, Corncrake, and of course squillions of nesting seabirds.

Click here for all the details.

Now we’re looking forward to all the birds that 2018 will bring to the island. We’re sure 150 species can be beaten!

A Seabird Summer

From March to September 2017, we worked for the RSPB at the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre. This is a very special place at the western end of Rathlin Island, which is home to a huge seabird colony and a unique upside-down lighthouse. Here we got to watch the entire seabird breeding season playing out, and not only were we able to watch all the usual nesting activities, but we got to witness some very exciting moments – some of our highlights included a Guillemot laying an egg, some outrageously violent egg-stealing by Ravens, Guillemot ‘jumplings’ leaping from the top of a cliff, a Puffin chick taking its first steps outside the burrow, and a Fulmar chick fledging from its nest.

Some of these we have already posted on Youtube, but after amassing a large collection of short video clips we decided to put them together to tell the story of the seabird summer. You can watch our video here: