Friday, 15 August 2014

Days Out

I had a couple of days out last week.   

The first was an outing with the Skye branch of the Scottish Wildlife Trust  to look for water plants at Storr Lochs, a few miles north of Portree.  A botanical trip, so as ever Stephen Bungard was the leader and his comments on the walk are at    We found four pondweeds (bog, perfoliate, broad-leaved and red) and several horsetails.  

Field Horsetail showing branch and stalk nodes x10
 Broad-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton natans)
In the damper grassland, there was lots of Grass of Parnassus, a very handsome plant which deserves an exotic name.   Despite being brought up in the Lake District I was not aware that Grass of Parnassus featured on the arms of the county of Cumbria.   It appears to have a preference for slightly basic soils and further south, such as Ainsdale on Merseyside, I have seen it in damp duneslacks.  

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Although the walk had a botanical focus it was good to see some other wildlife including 2 short-tailed voles, and several  fungi in fruit (Egghead Mottlesgill, Dung Roundhead and Persistent Waxcap) before rain brought matters to an early end.

Egghead Mottlegill (Panaeolus semiovatus)

 Persistent Waxcap (Hygrocybe autoconica)

 Dung Roundhead (Stropharia semiglobata)

Then on Saturday in the sunshine, we went to a National Trust for Scotland event at Balmacara Square, across the bridge, a few miles beyond Kyle of Lochalsh.    There is a lovely village pond there and  I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my trouser legs to go pond dipping along with the other children.  I found lots of water boatmen, and larvae of palmate newts, while damselflies danced around the edge of the pond.  

 Water Boatman (Notonecta obliqua)
Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

Creeping Lady's Tresses (Goodyera repens)
 We then went on to the nearby Lochalsh gardens to see an orchid, Creeping Lady's Tresses, (Goodyera repens) growing under Scots Pines.  Its distribution is primarily northern in Britain, in pine and birchwoods.   It is common for example at the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten, but not at all common on the west coast because these habitats are unusual.  

Meanwhile on the croft I put the mammal trap out over a single, well used vole run over a 36-hour period, inspecting regularly.    We caught 4 short-tailed vole, a common shrew and a wood mouse, all of which therefore seem to use the same track.   (Voles are eating brassicas, wood mice are eating peas). 

To add to voles and mice, further pests, cabbage white caterpillars, are now attacking cabbages with some ferocity.   
Wood Mouse
There have been lots of slow flying black flies around,  with legs dangling down as they fly, so that they look ungainly and rather fierce.  I caught a couple in a butterfly net and worked out that they are Bibionids - Heather Flies.  They are harmless and despite the name it appears that there is no connection with heather other than they emerge just as heather comes into flower.

 Heather Fly (Bibio pomonae)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Height of Summer

This is very much a catch up of observations over the last 3 or 4 weeks.

We had some remarkable weather at the end of July; hot and dry with temperatures up to 30°C. We had lots of windows open in the house for the first time in years.   I managed the annual haycut on half the croft during those days, a little earlier than last year.   I have let the grass lie to give some help to the spread of biluebells which seem to require some fertility in the soil.

The remaining part of the croft still has orchids setting seed and the cut there will  as usual be delayed until the middle of September.    Seed set amongst the lesser butterfly orchids looks to have been very limited.   I have yet to work out the pollination rate, the number of flowers that develop into seed pods, but of the 35 flowering spikes this year, 14 failed to produce any seed pods.  A few simply died off while some were chewed off by voles or slugs.  

The orchids flowered early this year because of the warm spring and maybe flowering did not synchronise with the appearance of pollinators.   I never managed to trap any moths with pollinia attached during the peak flowering period.   

During the hot dry spell I had the moth trap out on a 23 and 24 July.   The species count was 34 and 37 and the number of moths 72 and 83 respectively.   The total species count for the year to date is now 111.    There were a few interesting ones.   Whilst not very spectacular but a first record for Skye, was a Green Pug, whose larvae feed on plants of the Rosaceae family, and I am now fretting that I might have inadvertently introduced the moth when I brought up an apple tree from the south, where it is common.  However the moth is locally present throughout Scotland so a Skye occurrence is not out of the question.

Green Pug

One of the more attractive moths was a Coxcomb Prominent, and of course the Garden Tiger which usually turns up in small numbers at this time of year.

Coxcomb Prominent

Garden Tiger (and midges!)
Voles are everywhere, though not often seen.   Every mound has nest holes and there are vole runs every few yards.   I caught an adult near the vegetable garden yesterday in a Longworth mammal trap and a young vole this morning in the same place.

Vole Burrow
Another Vole Picture Because They Are Neat

The roe deer returned; it is the same individual from some weeks ago, recognisable because one of its antlers is damaged.   A couple of days ago it was feeding in the kale yard which can be seen from the house.   My wife "chased" it off (she tapped on the window!) because it damages blackcurrant bushes, but it came back again later in the evening.   However my attempt to get close enough for some more photographs proved too much and persuaded the deer to make a getaway, jumping  the fence though not without difficulty.

There are some otter signs about on the Loch Ainort side - fresh(ish) spraints and an otter run that looks recently used because the grass has been flattened.   I caught a very brief glimpse of one earlier this week, the first for several months.

Scotch Argus butterflies made their first appearance in the middle of July, and the first waxcap fungi, H miniata, with bright red caps sitting low in the grass began appearing at the end of July.    Another early event.
Scotch Argus Butterfly