Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Sat 21 Feb 2004
It was sunny for a few hours today, then turned cloudy with a chilly northerly wind.
Examined some more Hazel. It seems clear that the majority of bushes have no female flowers at all, but all have abundant male catkins. Ones that do have female flowers have several. On some bushes all the male catkins are still closed, but on the majority they are all open.
Hazels also bear a fine crop of lichens, of which two are shown below. The first is Parmotrema perlatum and the second is Ramalina farinacea.
There were a few Woodcock about, including one that shot up from within a few feet of me. I've never yet managed to see one on the ground before it takes off, though many times I must have been staring straight at them. They are perfectly camouflaged on the woodland floor, and lie still until you are almost on top of them, then take off with a great clatter.
Two adult Sea Eagles were wheeling high over the Varragill estuary, soaring on steady wings in overlapping circles that gradually shifted south until they were in the direction of the sun and could no longer be watched. They were shadowed, but hardly mobbed, by a pair of gulls. The eagles were at a greater height than I normally see them, but at that height they don't look particularly large to the naked eye, and it's only if you put the binoculars on them out of curiosity that you see what they are. So no doubt many high-altitude sightings are missed.
Found this attractive bracket fungus in an area of cleared forestry, on a felled Larch trunk.
The pictures below show close-ups of the top surface (left) and the underside (right), photographed from below. I think it is Gloeophyllum sepiarium (later confirmed).
The next pictures are of Common Dog Lichen, or Peltigera membranacea. This is abundant along the mossy edges of the forestry tracks near Portree. The first picture shows the brown fruit-capsules, and the second shows the grey thallus lobes.
Wrens could be heard in full Spring song from various points on the forest edge. While photographing the Peltigera I noticed a Willow seedling with four galls on it. I've not noticed galls like these on any mature willow so was surprised to see them on this tiny seedling. One of the two galls in the left-hand picture actually has a live red bud on it. The galls are smooth and the one in the second picture has the end broken off and a 1.2 mm hole in the woody interior. (Later: these could be any of several kinds of Willow stem gall)
Two lichens from Downy Birch now, growing right next to each other. The first is Evernia prunastri, or "Oak Moss", and the second is Platismatia glauca.
Onto the saltmarsh now and these green droppings are everywhere, looking very similar to goose droppings, but you rarely see geese on the Varragill saltmarsh. There are plenty of Widgeon there though. These pellets are about 9 mm thick and the book says goose droppings are 10-12 mm thick. It doesn't mention duck droppings, but the proportion seems about right. Several species of duck occur in the estuary in winter, but Widgeon are the most numerous and are keen grazers of the saltmarsh vegetation, which would account for the green droppings.
Also washed up on the saltmarsh was this oyster shell. By now the sky had clouded over and soon started to rain, precluding further photography. A group of about 6 Rock Pipits were on the shore, keeping together as they moved from place to place. Don't remember seeing them in winter groups before, but that's the advantage of nature notes like this, it means I'll remember things from one year to the next.
Just before leaving the shore at the Portree end it stopped raining and the sun came out just as it was about to drop behind the hill, so I took these 3 quick pictures of the year's incipient beach vegetation.
Thanks to Howard Fox for two of the lichen id's on this page.