Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Thu 15 Apr 2004

The rain never ends.  Saw a roadkill Hedgehog in Portree, the first I've seen dead or alive in the area.  But I was living at Uig for years before I saw a Hedgehog there (it was a live one on that occasion).  These must be very small populations that somehow manage to survive.  They seem to be a bit commoner in Sleat, where I used to see them quite often.

Fri 16 Apr 2004

Dry weather was promised from 3 pm onwards and this proved correct, though the wind was very cold and the sun only came out for brief spells.  It's forecast to be wet again all weekend :-(

But look!  Bluebells!  It's true then - summer is on the way!  There were dozens of them coming into flower in one small patch under Hazel; had not previously seen anything by way of a flower stem this year.  Proof once again that the Varragill estuary shore is ahead of Scorrybreac.  On the right is a Primrose flower opening out, showing how the five petals are folded together in the bud.

Endymion non-scriptus   Primula vulgaris

Here's a close-up of the Marsh Marigold flower.  On the right is one a bit more advanced, with the petals falling and the carpels lengthening.

Caltha palustris   Caltha palustris

Next, the leaves of Pignut, among Hazel stems twined with Ivy, a typical scene on these scrubby slopes.  On the right, one of the rewards you find if you fight your way into the scrub, the shade-loving Wood Anemone.

Hedera helix, Conopodium majus and Corylus avellana   Anemone nemorosa

Here is one of the best concentrations of Wood Anemones I've seen.  This shows the sort of conditions in which they thrive, though they are also found out in the open in Skye.

Anemone nemorosa

Talking of monocultures, here is Wild Garlic as far as the eye can see, and this will be white in turn before long when the flowers come out.  Can't be long now, they are usually in flower with the Bluebells.

Allium ursinum   Sorbus aucuparia

On the right above is a Rowan bud opening.  The flowerheads and leaves come out together.  A great many trees are still in a completely dormant state.  Most have some buds not yet opened and some just beginning to open.  This is the case with Beech, Ash, Hazel and Birch, but the situation varies enormously from place to place even within a few hundred yards.  Ashes along the roadside were much more advanced than those along the riverbank, perhaps because there are fewer competing trees and they get more light.

Cirsium palustre   Myrica gale

Was surprised to find these precocious buds on the Marsh Thistle (above left).  But not at all surprised to find these golden-red flowers on the Bog Myrtle (above right).  A rare moment of sunshine allowed me to get a picture of them despite their swaying in the wind.

Armeria maritima   Gavia stellata

Some of the Thrift plants on the shore are coming into bud (above left).  Just as I was about to hurry home and get warm I spotted a Red-throated Diver on the tidal waters of the Varragill.  I took a few pics in which it was just a speck and, realising it would not allow me to get any closer, decided the only thing for it was to sit down and hope that it would come nearer to me at some point.  I sat there for half an hour in the perishing cold wind, must be crazy.  By the time it finally came within range the sun had gone behind the hill.  It was stunningly beautiful through the binoculars, with its speckled back, even though it was in non-breeding plumage.  If only you could just press a button on your binoculars and get a picture of what you see!  They are only 8x magnification, but it's totally beyond the camera to achieve anything like that even at maximum image size and maximum optical zoom.  The above picture was the best but very dull; it has been edited to make it lighter.

For most of the time the bird just sat on the water, hardly moving from one spot, though it must have been "swimming" to stay put as the current was against it.  Only twice did it dive.  Once to reappear as far to my right as it had previously been to my left, then it dived again from that spot and reappeared in the original spot on the left.  Occasionally also it stuck its neck forward and made a plaintive miaowing call.  It pecked at the water surface from time to time, but mostly did nothing.

Here are a couple more pics that completely fail to do justice to this beautiful bird.  The below left one is more natural than the other two, as conditions were brighter then, but the bird was further away.

Gavia stellata   Gavia stellata

Must admit though, if I hadn't had the camera, I wouldn't have sat and watched the bird for half an hour and gained an unforgettable memory of what it really looked like.  That's the real value of a camera, I think, it makes you look at things, and you end up with a better collection of pictures in your head than on your computer.


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