15th February 2019 – The Year of the Fly
A sunny day in February in Scotland is not to be ignored, so I was easily persuaded to take a break from whatever it was I should have been doing to go and spot a North American sea duck overwintering amongst thousands of its less exciting, merely Arctic, cousins. There were waders on the mudflats, raptors on the saltmarsh, and divers, grebes and ducks out at sea. In the clear water just beneath the rocky outcrop where we were gazing out over the wave-less sea, a solitary razorbill was swimming back and forward, popping up for a second and diving down again.
Scrambling along the foreshore took us down to water level where a volunteer on the Nature Reserve was picking up what little plastic debris had washed into the sandy bay. A tangle of wrack had a few specks of aberrant white wrapped up in it, but otherwise she had little work to do. I on the other hand, scenting riches, and having had the forethought to put a collecting tube in my pocket, got down on my haunches and prodded at the line of dark rotting seaweed. There was movement in the innards, dark shapes flitting a few feet and delving back into the darkness. Slightly surreptitiously, since I knew that collecting on the reserve was forbidden and I wasn’t sure if this extended to the foreshore, I prodded again. But without a net it was hard to catch anything, and in any case the flies kept low to the ground, eager to get back into their briny substrate. Eventually I managed to pot a straggler, and later we saw the lost duck, so all parties were happy.
This wasn’t a very pretty fly – spiky with bristles, and an odd triangular-shaped head with antennae perched at the tip, looking like ill-fitting nose-plugs. Perhaps the concept of a pretty fly is alien to you – but there are some that are beautifully striped, iridescent or metallic, elegantly slim-waisted or pleasingly obese. Their wings might have perfectly placed crisp spots or dreamy marbling, the veins perversely branching or matter-of-fact simple. On other fly-candy, long evenly spaced bristles march down the thorax in perfect pairs, or their antennae are evenly sized whorls bristling like pine trees, fashion-conscious legs distorted into weird shapes. But even I struggle to exclaim over this one. It’s even an orphan from another family (Coleopidae), now more or less on its own in the Sepsidae, where it goes by the name of Orygma luctuosum.
Maybe it was best left skulking in the seaweed, though arguably it was more interesting than a distant view of a dark duck with a white patch on its head. “Suum quique” as my father used to say – to each their own; or perhaps “De gustibus non est disputandum” – in matters of taste there can be no dispute. No-one could doubt that it was a lovely day for February.