Sunday, 19 April 2015

Skye at Night (groan)

We travelled south just over a week ago because I had to attend a meeting of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland London.   On the way down at 5.06 am on the 10th we saw a meteorite, a  fireball, over in the north east.   At first we thought it was a marine flare, but clearly, where it was in the sky suggested that explanation was incorrect. There was a  bright streak moving down and then broadening out to a greenish ball.  All very exciting but rather brief and puzzling, needing some reflection to work out what we saw.

We are now back on Skye, greeted by yet another bright and sunny day.   It's never-ending!
The trail camera picked up the otter family early this morning leaving the holt; each lingered in front of the camera for once.    

Spring is progressing at pace.   Out in flower on the croft are Marsh Violets and Common Dog-violets and among the rocks on the shore there is Danish Scurvy-grass.

Danish scurvy-grass

Marsh violet

In addition to the comprehensive marking of butterfly orchids, I marked the position of around 120 plants of the other orchid species and hybrids that flowered last year.  I want to see when they leaf and the churn rate, the percentage of plants that repeat flower.    There are leaves appearing on three of of those marked orchids, so the first ones should be in flower towards the end of May.  The time interval between leaves and flowers is typically 5 weeks. 
Early marsh orchid with last year's spike remnant

Heath spotted orchid (Heavy blotching atypical)

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A few firsts for the year

We had a couple of days of bright sunny weather over Easter  which brought out the Lesser Celandines (and tourists, of which more later). The Lesser Celandines provide one of the first nectar offerings and a pollen bath to the first flies to emerge.    By contrast although the first of the Primroses are also flowering  these early emergers look a bit battered like  someone awaken prematurely, hair akimbo, unshaven and in need of coffee to be able to function fully.  Big, brassy Marsh Marigolds by a stream side are also flowering.


Lesser celandine with fly covered in pollen

Marsh marigold

There is a hybrid male willow near the shore which is always the first willow to flower, and this morning, at any one time, in the sun there were 3 or 4 white-tailed bumblebees stalking through the flowers. All have some form of parasitic mites gathered tightly on their bodies, particularly under the head.  

White-tailed bumblebee

We have only seen one otter in the last couple of weeks, probably a male fishing quite far out.  Our neighbour Alan, has however seen one of the cubs.   The trail camera picked up otters at the cliff holt at night and early in the morning on several occasions.

A couple of days ago two Slavonian Grebes swam past the croft, quite the most elegant of the grebe family;  yesterday there were several scattered Great Northern Divers, the most imposing of the divers especially now their summer plumage is showing.  

Dry weather meant that I could get the moth trap out on 3 nights, with a modest 7 species in total, and counts of 11, 7 and 57.   On the first two nights I put a groundsheet above the trap fearing rain and this might have affected its efficiency.   I got lots of Hebrew Character and Red Chestnut Moths, and the first Common Quakers.   I also had a Pine Beauty.    Nothing new though to add to the all time count for the croft.

Pine beauty moth

We had a couple of trips off the croft.    The first was to Sgianadin, 5 km down the coast,  where Forestry Commission Scotland  have made a woodland walk after  most of the planted firs were cleared several years ago.   The walk goes to a point, Rubha na Sgianadin, passing a quarry on the way, with a good exposure of what looks like Raasay ironstone - heavily iron stained sedimentary rock   We had a couple of visitors who said they had seen otters there, and sure enough there was a mother and cub, fishing quietly off the rocks and ignoring a 69-year old winkler nearby.  (Collecting winkles looks backbreaking but apparently they are much in demand in Spain, and a profitable afternoon's endeavour).  It was low tide and difficult to get close to the otters without disturbance, but I got a few pictures.   To add further interest there were several common seals splashing noisily, close to shore; Guillamon island where they haul out is only 1 km away.   Near the quarry I found what I think is a pine marten scat, but I need to check it out, before I commit to an evening of observation.    I also collected the first ticks of the year!
Mother and cub

Subject to checking, pine marten scat

On Sunday we joined the throng of tourists and travelled up to Staffin in the hope of seeing the dinosaur prints on the beach at An Corran ("the rounded bay"), 'enjoying'  incognoscenti cope with single track roads with passing places (especially those from abroad who are already confused by driving on the left, and coping with unfamiliar hire cars).   The precise location of the dinosaur prints on the rocks exposed at low tide is not revealed, so we joined 10 to 15 people aimlessly wandering over the rocks, some with mobiles to look at appropriate websites to try to get a clue but seaweed and sand obscured what might have been there.   I took a couple of pictures of what might have been prints but in reality they were just marks in the rocks.  I also tried to marry up a few pictures of the scene to that om an information board but that did not work reliably.  
An Corran

Dinosaur prints somewhere down there
More research is needed (ie ask someone who really knows the position) and return after a storm when the seaweed might have been cleared away.