Archive for April, 2013

Surprised in Sleat

April 28, 2013

Yesterday I had a few hours to spare before a SLO concert at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and decided to look for the one remaining localised record of Mercurialis perennis (Dog’s Mercury) that I had not re-found. The site is near the mouth of the Allt a’ Cham-aird near Tormore and was described as “geo on shore” with a six-figure grid reference.  This was slightly misleading, but having scoured the geo I found a mass of Mercurialis a short distance away in open woodland.

Mercurialis perrenis

Mercurialis perennis

This leaves two vague old records not re-found, one from 1868 and one anonymous and undated. The same site also had a record for Glechoma hederacea (Ground-ivy), another Locally Scarce plant, but I thought I was pushing my luck to find this so early in the year and so it proved.

However, at the top of the shore close by I found Ammophila arenaria (Marram):



This was highly unexpected. Marram is long known from the dunes at Glen Brittle but the only other Skye records are unlocalised 10 km square records from the far north of Skye and had been thought to be probable errors.  This new site from an area that is not obviously sandy (though the underlying substrate may be) means that these old records need re-evaluation.

There is only a small patch of this habitat but it has to be worth another look later in the season in case any other sandy coast specialist are present e.g. Ranunculus bulbosus (Bulbous Buttercup) – in this part of the world it is only native in this sort of habitat. A return trip would be good anyway as there is a good wet patch with Hypericum tetrapterum (Square-stalked St. John’s-wort) and a sedge that I wasn’t sure about in the absence of inflorescences. Also, the adjacent ground is in a tetrad with only three records before yesterday when I added two more whilst searching for the Mercurialis.  There is only about 0.2 km2 of land in tetrad NG60F but they could be quite an interesting 0.2 km2 with a burn, coastal cliffs and a short section of road.

North Fearns, Raasay

April 27, 2013

A fairly short visit to Fearns (Alders in Gaelic) allowed me to refresh records for three plants that I had not recorded on Raasay in the 10 km square NG53 since before 2000.  Not that they are declining or rare, just that I have been spending the huge majority of my botanical recording time on Skye.  Nasturtium officinale (Water-cress) on Raasay is only found here where it flourishes in several small burns mostly just as they enter the sea.  Mentha aquatica (Water Mint) is more common and was growing well in several burns and wet spots. Crepis paludosa (Marsh Hawk’s-beard) is also quite widespread and present yesterday in a small burn in woodland.

The Allt Fearns is by Raasay standards quite a large burn and towards the sea merits “waterfalls” on the OS map:

Allt Fearns 1

Allt Fearns 1

Allt Fearns 2

Allt Fearns 2

I spotted my first bluebell in flower, a slightly scruffy specimen:

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

and was pleased not to have been here at the wrong moment:

Rock in Tree

Rock in Tree

There was much evidence of mice or voles:



and of course many spring flowers such as

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

Chrysosplenium oppositifolium

Centre of Alien Activity on Skye

April 21, 2013

Yesterday I visited the American Skunk-cabbage. It looks good under the birch:

Under the trees

Under the trees

but it is multiplying fast with 45 mature flowering plants:IMG_1598a

and about 200 seedlings and immature plants:IMG_1597a

and one specimen has broken away from the poorly vegetated swamp to a drier habitat with bracken:IMG_1595a

Pretty as it is, though the smell is not great – though nothing like a squashed skunk on the road in the American Mid-west, trust me – I think it should go.  The problem is not apparent at this time of year but after flowering the leaves become enormous and shade out everything below. Skye & Lochalsh Environmental Forum will discuss it at their next committee meeting.  If they want to take action, they will need to discover and talk to the landowner.

Carl Farmer says that in Argyll “Skunk Cabbage…certainly out-competes native vegetation here.” Indeed I have seen it there growing in the sort of habitat one really doesn’t want it where sundews, bladderworts and butterworts would be expected.

This area is a centre for alien plants with large patches of Gaultheria shallon (Shallon) that probably give shelter to birds and small mammals, but it has completely obliterated the natural vegetation apart from the trees.  This is a lesson in what happens if you let these things go. The best one could attempt with this now is control, not eradication.  It is another pretty thing:


but look what happens:IMG_1604a

And again, there is lots of Gaultheria mucronata (Prickly Heath), yet another pretty thing:

Gaultheria mucronata 031203 (5)

but, whilst it is not as dense as Shallon, it too forms large patches where little else can grow:


There is also a great deal of Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum or more likely part of a hybrid swarm best called Rhododendron × superponticum) – see Naturalised rhododendrons widespread in Great Britain and Ireland by J. Cullen.

And a few self-seeded Pinus contorta (Lodgepole Pine).

There are general philosophical questions about how much we should resist change, whether the whole ecosphere is now so affected by human activity that we have a responsibility to manage it, why we are more upset about foreign plants rather than natives when they are invasive (Bracken? Brambles?), but enough for today…..

Skunk-cabbage on Skye

April 11, 2013

Jenny Grant of  the Skye and Lochalsh Countryside Rangers reports Lysichiton americanus (American Skunk-cabbage) near Kyleakin, a first for the vice-county:

Lysochiton  Photo: Jenny Grant

Lysochiton                         Photo: Jenny Grant

It is known from the mainland nearby at Duirinish.  According to DEFRA’s Non-Native Species Secretariat: “Reports from Germany suggest that it can locally out-compete native vegetation, but this has not been observed in GB”.  Plans are afoot to eradicate it from the Skye site……

The Weather

April 4, 2013

Not only have we had no snow this year, we have had no rain for about a month. The ground is so dry that when you pull up a weed a small cloud of dust blows away.  Garden plants are suffering drought but with regular frosts at night (also unusual) I am hesitant to water…. The sparrows are taking dust baths in the flower beds. Folks with private water supplies are fretting and there is a shortage of water for animals being kept inside. I am about to go away for 12 days but I leave with no rain in the current five-day forecast, so who knows when we will get some.

Ben Tianavaig

April 4, 2013

As well as the saxifrages there was plenty of other fun to be had along McQueen’s Rocks and on the cliffs of Ben Tianavaig.  Some of the large cliffs are not shown clearly on the 1:25,000 OS map so there was more good habitat than I had expected.  I re-found Cryptogramma crispa (Parsley Fern) but failed on Dryas octopetala (Mountain Avens). There have been several recent small landslips – but big enough not to want to be caught in one



The cliffs had lots of Silene acaulis (Moss Campion), Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady’s-mantle), Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney Vetch) etc. and left me wondering what other goodies might be found later in the year.

McQueen’s Loch had Menyanthes trifoliata (Bogbean) but it is a bit early for aquatics generally just yet.

McQueen's Loch

McQueen’s Loch      Dun Caan, Raasay in the background

There were many rock doves on the cliffs and it looks as though one had met a sticky end here:

Dove's End

Dove’s End

I was not surprised to see a white-tailed eagle as the well-known breeding site is not far away.

Purple Saxifrage & Bumble Bees

April 3, 2013

Steve Terry has been busy updating records for Saxifraga oppositifolia (Purple Saxifrage) in the Cuillins in NG42 and 52 and has made a significant difference to the recent distribution data.  I decided today to have a look for it in NG53 the only site being near Ben Tianavaig where it was last recorded  in 1981. It has never been recorded from Raasay which comprises the majority of land in NG53. There was a lot of it in NG5139 but also in NG5140, in a tetrad where never recorded before in the adjacent hectad NG54:

Saxifraga oppositifolia

Saxifraga oppositifolia

I was left wondering why a plant with such diminutive leaves has such large showy flowers or rather what might pollinate such an early-flowering species.  A search of the web brought me here:

Stenström, M. and Bergman, P. (1998),  Ecography, 21: 306–316. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.1998.tb00568.x

This suggests that for  bumblebees at an alpine site  in northern Sweden, the flowers of Saxifraga oppositifolia are the main pollen and nectar source in the early part of the season. One of the few insects I saw on the hill today was a white-tailed bumblebee. (The whirligig beetles on McQueen’s Loch didn’t seem a likely candidate.)

In passing, the Saxifraga hypnoides (Mossy Saxifrage) looks distinctive at this stage:

Saxifraga hypnoides

Saxifraga hypnoides

Another Beautiful Day

April 1, 2013

With wall -to-wall sunshine yet again I couldn’t resist another wander around my home area. Given that I spent part of 25 years recording plants on Raasay it is surprising that on 1st  April I can still add eight 1 km square records in a couple of hours within a mile or two of home. Nothing that special: aliens including conifers at which I have got rather better over the years, and a few common species that just happened to have been missing.

The locally rare (i.e. on Raasay) Potentllia sterilis (Barren Strawberry) is in flower:

Potentilla sterilis

Potentilla sterilis

as is this willow (probably Salix cinerea):



I have been looking at more Scots Pines for the pine gall but lots of our trees are very tall with no lower branches so it may not be easy. Anyway I haven’t found any. More tomorrow on weather, I hope.