Archive for July, 2018

Strange Fruit

July 29, 2018

My granddaughter Amy found this on the beach:

It is near-spherical, 6 cm diameter, rock-hard and the inside is highly (and pleasantly) aromatic but not citrus-like. Petrified orange? Escape from pot-pourri (probably too large for that)? Exotic fruit that has travelled by sea?

Recent Insects and a Tar-spot Fungus

July 29, 2018

I’ve not been plant-hunting as such this last week but here are a few recent sightings:


Dark Arches found in the house


Map-winged Swift


Barred Yellow

From Acer campestre (Field Maple), a planted specimen on Raasay, a flower bug:


Anthocoris nemoralis, not the commoner A. nemorum

And from the top of Dun Caan, Raasay:

Willow Tarspot on Salix herbacea

Willow Tarspot on Salix herbacea

Sròn nan Aighean and Beinn a’ Sga

July 19, 2018

This is the ridge running east-west as a spur of the Trotternish Ridge that I had intended to cover a couple of years ago but then had to return to the top of Flasvein to retrieve my camera.

Yesterday’s visit was well worthwhile with Poa glauca (Glaucous Meadow-grass), four species of saxifrage, the Nationally Scarce Euphrasia ostenfeldii (Ostenfeld’s Eyebright) and oddly, my first record of the year for Botrychium lunaria (Moonwort). June is normally the peak month for Moonwort records on Skye, but maybe the extreme dry weather has held it back. Also: Carex bigelowii (Stiff Sedge) checked as having stomata only on the underside of the leaves at a modest altitude for this plant of c.450m and Luzula spicata (Spiked Wood-Rush).

Two patches of Epilobium alsinifolium (Chickweed Willowherb) were nice, and down below on the bank of a burn there was Lycopodium clavatum (Stag’s-horn Clubmoss).

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I thought I had found Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (Mountain Crowberry) but close examination of fruits did not support this.

On the way home I went to see Morag’s find of Galium verum (Lady’s Bedstraw) in Portree – the first localised record and the first post-1999 record in NG44 (much commoner in the west of Skye):

Galium verum Portree

Galium verum in Portree


and I was shown this rather fine wasp nest in Portree:


Wasp Nest Portree

Penifiler Lochs and Camas Bàn

July 19, 2018

On Tuesday Skye Botany Group went to Penifiler Lochs and Camas Bàn. We found Drosera anglica (Great Sundew) and Sparganium natans (Least Bur-reed) for the first time in NG44 since before 2000 – where they had been reported back then.

When I got home I realised that I hadn’t taken any photographs but here is one of Druim Loch from Caroline, showing Lobelia dortmanna (Water Lobelia) and Nymphaea alba (White Water-lily):

Water lobelia

Druim Loch       Photo: C Dear

We failed to find others I had hoped for: Melampyrum pratense (Common Cow-wheat), Plantago coronopus (Buck’s-horn Plantain) and Salsola kali subsp. kali (Prickly Saltwort). The last was recorded at Camas Bàn from 1963 to 1974 but not since, so it was a bit of a long shot – and Storm Hector last month probably cleared the sand of any plants, anyway.

However, there was Carex laevigata (Smooth-stalked Sedge) and Saxifraga hypnoides (Mossy Saxifrage), so a useful visit.  Nick had an excellent time in the calcareous sandy bryophyte-rich turf at the back of Camas Bàn, including a new vice county record, Leiocolea gillmanii, a rare liverwort that was abundant there, and Brachythecium glareosum, known from only one other site in the vice-county, and last seen in Skye by Birks in the 70s.

We also spotted this moth larva on Myrica gale (Bog-myrtle) which we believe to be Light Knot Grass:

Light Knot Grass larva

Light Knot Grass Photo: S Terry

Gob na h-Oa

July 14, 2018

Gob na h-Oa (The Tip of Oa, if that helps) is a point west of Fiskavaig partly in tetrad NG33C, which until yesterday had a mere 29 plant taxa recorded. There are now 138. It is 92% sea but the land has some nice cliffs with Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney Vetch) and Rubus saxatilis (Stone Bramble) and there are good colonies of Honckenya peploides (Sea Sandwort) and Populus tremula (Aspen).

The sea caves are good:


and there were moths about including lots of Yellow Shells:


Yellow Shell

I dropped down into Camas Aird an t-Sabhail to look for Carex arenaria (Sand Sedge), a rare plant on Skye and last recorded there in 1977. I am pleased to report a thriving population:


Carex arenaria (Sand Sedge)

On the way home I stopped at Sligachan to look for Hammarbya paludosa (Bog Orchid) – success: 9 plants – and Rhynchospora fusca (Brown Beak-sedge) – total failure.

There were also more grasshoppers about than we usually see on Skye or Raasay. It seems to be a good year for them here.

Chorthippus parallelus ( Meadow grasshopper)

Chorthippus parallelus (Meadow grasshopper)

The short wings are useful in the determination. It was released after the photoshoot – no grasshoppers were harmed in the making of this blog.


July 12, 2018

I hadn’t been to Wiay for nine years during which time there has been no grazing – well almost no grazing: I saw one enormous old sheep with a huge shaggy coat and immense horns who had obviously been missed when the rest were taken off about ten years ago. Anyway, it made the going pretty tough over much of the island with thigh-high wet Molinia.

I added 56 taxa to the list for NG23X, which I had only visited briefly in 2009. The far west had some splendid water-lily pools and Nick found Vaccinium oxycoccos (Cranberry) just over the border from its known locations in NG23Y.


Wiay Pool

I did spot the Cranberry in NG23Y where I had seen it before:


Vaccinium oxycoccos (Cranberry)

– a rare plant in NW Scotland.

We may have had a bit of rain recently but in some places, the vegetation is not going to recover this year:


Cliff-top Vegetation

Nick ended up with 72 bryophyte in NG23X and 80 in NG23Y. Neither of us got into the part of the island in NG33D – but this tetrad has more land on Oronsay and near Ullinish on the Skye mainland, so we concentrated on the tetrads unique to Wiay.


Strath Mòr

July 12, 2018

Strath Mòr runs from Luib in the north to near Torrin in the south and contains lochs and marsh with interesting species. The highlight of my recent visit was a single flowering Hammarbya paludosa (Bog Orchid), the first record for NG52 since 1976.


Nor for the first time, I failed to find any Eriocaulon aquaticum (Pipewort) in Loch na Sguabaidh. My predecessor also failed to find it. The source of the records is the 1989 NCC Freshwater Loch Survey and I suspect rosettes of Isoetes lacustris (Quillwort) may have been mistaken for it. Either that, or a small population was there and has been lost.


Isoetes lacustris in Loch na Sguabaidh

Also, Schoenoplectus lacustris (Common Club-rush) is not to be found at “Abhainn an t-Sratha Mhoir, 1km length above NG562249” as reported in 1990. Again I have tried before and so did my predecessor. However, small colonies are missable – the only known Raasay site is a few chewed stems that were overlooked until 2000.

There were several sites for Utricularia stygia (Nordic Bladderwort). A single plant had flowered though was a little past is prime:

Utricularia stygia Strath Mor

Utricularia stygia (Nordic Bladderwort)

Otherwise….. lots of smuts on Star Sedge, various dragons and damsels, too many green-eyed Deerflies, a Brown China-mark moth and lots of toads.

Planted Trees and Wildflower Seeds

July 6, 2018

This week has led to some reflection on just what should be recorded. At Dunvegan the estate undertook some roadside planting quite a few years ago so there is now a variety of semi-mature exotic trees like Acer campestre, Acer platanoides, Betula papyrifera, Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, Crataegus laevigata, Prunus cerasifera, Quercus rubra and Salix x sepulcralis nothovar. sepulcralis.  Conveniently they are all labelled!

I have recorded these as they are by the road rather than behind a wall in the estate and so the records will serve as a record of origin should they spread.

At Tayinloan, there is a neglected arboretum between the new road and the old. The edges of this area gave me the Laburnum records mentioned recently but there are also many other introduced trees such as Cut-leaf Beech (Fagus sylvatica Asplenifolia):


Fagus sylvatica Asplenifolia

and much more exotically, Chilean Flame Tree (Embothrium coccineum):

Chilean Flame Tree Embothrium coccineum

Chilean Flame Tree Embothrium coccineum

I haven’t ventured into the area (yet) but there looks to be a variety of exotic conifers and who knows what else. So far I have not recorded these formally.

And then, on Raasay, the new Distillery has planted a wildflower meadow with all sorts of things never seen in these parts before, plus a few that have or may have been – like Medicago lupulina (Black Medick).  Should I record these using the same logic as the planted trees at Dunvegan i.e. they may spread?

But no…. BSBI guidance says record:

  • Everything up to boundary of gardens [this would include parks and estates (public or private), and cemeteries, though the boundaries will often be obscure]. This should include anything planted outside these, including street trees.
  • Planted trees in estates etc. are as worth recording as street trees.
  • Cultivated crops (annual or perennial), allotments, game cover and wildlife strips… should be treated as gardens, i.e. ignored other than the weeds of the planted/seeded area.

Hmm.. always room for debate around these things.  But maybe I should record planted trees in e.g. Dunvegan Castle grounds and tackle the exotic conifers at Tayinloan.

Later: Less than 12 hours after writing this I have had a report of Medicago lupulina (Black Medick) (and Phleum bertolonii (Smaller Cat’s-tail)) from a recently re-seeded area beside the Coral Beach car park. Thanks, John.

Glen Sligachan

July 6, 2018

Yesterday I walked well over 15 miles from Sligachan, south to Loch an Athain, up Meall Dearg, into Harta Corrie and back. This took me past the Bloody Stone, the site of a fierce encounter between the Macdonalds and the Macleods, the bodies of the slain being piled round the base of a huge rock, topped by a Rowan tree.


The Bloody Stone

More peaceably, I added lots of plant records at low level to tetrads with small numbers of previous records – mostly the alpines that attract folks to the higher levels. That said, much of the Cuillin is not species-rich.

I spent too long diverting to Loch an Athain in order to improve the recent plant list for tetrad NG52B (higher level covered recently) and climbing Meall Dearg, so that my time in Harta Corrie was distinctly limited.  The climb up Meall Dearg was not useful in itself, the hill being devoid of interesting plants, though the views were good.


Loch an Athain from Meall Dearg

However, the lochans to the southwest were lovely.  Harta Corrie is spectacular and deserves a dedicated visit; even after this visit the relevant tetrad taxon list stands at a mere 57 vascular plants.

It is certainly dry out there:


Allt nam Fraoch-Choire

In passing I found the smut Anthracoidea karii on Carex echinata (Star Sedge) for the first time this year (in a new 10km square):


Anthracoidea karii

and also spotted Claviceps purpurea (Ergot) on Anthoxanthum odoratum (Sweet Vernal-grass):





July 6, 2018

On Tuesday, Skye Nature Group went to Tokavaig to look at Dorothy’s croft which is managed by her and Andy for the benefit of wildlife and the environment  – which includes scything the bracken and woodland regeneration.

We recorded 156 plant species and 92 other species from lichens to amphibians, but mostly invertebrates. It contains a variety of habitats and at least two of us want to make a return visit, preferably with Nick to cover bryophytes as well – perhaps next year.

In the process I added a few plants to the list for both NG61A and NG61B and down in the wet area I was able to show Dorothy her Sparganium erectum (Branched Bur-reed) which I struggled to find back in 2012.


Sparganium erectum (Branched Bur-reed) – with a rust?

We found several orchids that seemed to me to be pretty clearly Dactylorhiza x formosa (D. maculata x purpurella), but they smelled sweet, like Gymnadenia. Further investigation showed that the nearby Dactylorhiza purpurella (Northern Marsh-orchid) also smelled  sweet. Not a property I was aware of before, but then who smells orchids that are not supposed to smell?  Well, obviously Hilary does. And now so do I.

The best thing of the day for me was a shower of Keeled Skimmers (Orthetrum coerulescens), something I do not remember seeing on Skye before and which on Skye is almost restricted to Sleat.


Keeled Skimmer