Tuesday, 10 June 2014


Several lovely sunny days recently. On Saturday the temperature got up to 25 degrees briefly, according to our own weather station.   It was almost too hot even for the midges.

This year's orchid count is underway; so far  there are 80 early marsh (Dactylorhiza incarnata), a few northern marsh, lesser butterfly and heath spotted orchids. The first heath fragrant orchids are just coming into flower. The variability of heath spotted orchids is considerable, made even more tricky by hybridisation with other marsh orchids. There is an example below.  

Heath Spotted Orchid (but maybe Common Spotted as the central lobe of the labellum is very long)

Lesser Butterfly Orchid
I have looked closely at the early marsh orchids.  They only appear in the boggy area of the croft, in a permanently wet area in amongst common butterwort, bog asphodel and sedges.   The average height is 12.9 cm and there are between two and three keeled, unspotted leaves up the stem in a spiral.  There is sometimes a small basal leaf but it is often missing - probably chewed off.  In Britain four sub-species are recognised, based largely on the colour of the flower.  From the colour, pale pink, and the height, ours fit the description of incarnata but there are some characteristics of pulchella also.   The bracts between the flowers are purplish and the labellum, the middle petal, is not strongly recurved, though pulchella are usually more purplish pink.   Indeed there have in the past been one or two plants on the croft that look like the classic pulchella, but not this year.   Most if not all early marsh orchid plants on Skye are conventionally labelled as pulchella, so I probably have to follow that lead. 
Early Marsh Orchid (ssp. pulchella?)

Early Marsh Orchid (ssp pulchella ?)
My past encounters with deer have not been happy.  18 months ago a red deer ran into the side of my car, early in the morning on the A87, the route into Skye from Inverness and Fort William, causing over £1,000 of damage.   Now the roe deer (not red as per my previous lazy attribution, which Stephen Bungard our botanical recorder pointed out), have taken up near residence, and I have seen deer on several occasions.   They have damaged several small rowan trees by scraping off the bark,  and frustratingly inflicted the same treatment onto a blackcurrant bush which is not behind a deer fence.  Also they have dug several of what can best described as 'scrapes'.  

There is a little ritual developing with one of the deer; I come out with a camera at 7.30am, take a couple of pictures until it sees me, then it heads off at pace to find a part of the fence it can jump, its night-time grazing over.  The same on three days so far.

Damaged Rowan


Trying to learn a little more about orchid pollination I put the moth trap down in the bog near the early marsh orchids.   The widespread view is that many orchids are fertilised by night flying moths.  Indeed I have hardly ever seen bees or other insects in the daytime show any interest in orchids.   I had hoped to capture moths with orchid pollinia attached to their faces,  but nothing doing so far.  Pollinia are two stalked projections which carry pollen, and these break off when an insect searches for nectar in the orchid spur underneath.   The insect then flies off to another flower where it repeats the process but the pollinia then touch the female stigma of this second flower serving to fertilise it.  Neveretheless I caught 41 moths, totalling 16 species, some of which were rather attractive, such as this, which I think is a Small Angle Shades

Small Angle Shades

If the weather conditions are suitable I shall run the trap again at the weekend.

I looked at some of the early marsh orchids but could find very few with pollinia missing.  All I found were some flowers where slugs had damaged the flowers.  
Early Marsh Orchid one week after the first flower opened, probably damaged by slugs

An unexpected small treat was to find an uncommon plant on the road verge (the A87 gets another mention), 50 metres from my gate: moonwort, a strange looking fern last recorded in the tetrad square (i.e. 2 km by 2 km) 26 years ago.   In truth it is easily overlooked, and I was in any case looking for orchids.

Finally, nothing ottery at the moment.   No recent spraints and the various otter runs by the shore have been unused.  Oh well...

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