Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Sun 25 Apr 2004
At last. A sunny afternoon. Saw and heard the first Cuckoo. Also saw and heard a Willow Warbler in the same tree. Apart from Friday's silent WW, these were the first summer migrants I'd encountered on Skye this year. Also saw a female Wheatear later on in the day. They arrive later than the males. All these species have been reported by others on earlier dates (see Skye Birds sightings), but they were personal firsts.
Here is a record shot of the Cuckoo, calling from the top of a pine tree. It carried on cuckooing all afternoon.
The Bog Violet (below, left) is in flower now among the Sphagnum, much outnumbered by the larger Dog Violet (see 20 April) which also grows on the moors. On the right, Butterbur in the middle of a burn. Plants that like to be on the edges of burns are having to brace against torrents as a result of all the rain.
The spear-like leaves of Yellow Iris are now thrusting through the ground at a fast rate. In the large stand of them below left, they are now 50 cm high in the wetter parts. In June they will be much taller and the yellow flowers will appear. On the right, a young shoot of Wood Horsetail. The cone is not yet open to shed its spores, and the green branches are just beginning to appear from the top stem node.
These fungi growing in wet mossy grassland are probably a Coprinus species.
Here are a couple of attractive mosses. The one on the right is Polytrichum juniperinum, with the spore capsules still covered by their orange calyptrae.
The picture on the left below shows part of a little patch of woodland-floor plants up on the open hillside surrounded by bracken and other moorland plants. The patch is at the foot of a small rock which heather overhangs, so has shade for part of the day, and seems to be a place where sheep rest, which would suppress any bracken. The patch contains Primrose, Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Bluebell - most of the green in the picture is Bluebell leaves, the older ones of which have been grazed. All these species are found dotted around among the moorland vegetation generally, but this exclusive concentration of them was unusual.
A fine gall on Eared Willow, above right. Incidentally you can see from the bud how the shrub is only just beginning to acknowledge that Spring has arrived. This gall may be the same as the one on 21 Feb, as it's on the same host, but it seems to have a much rougher surface and its neat barrel shape at the end of the twig, with the hole in the top, is distinctive.
The next picture shows how varied is the state of advancement between different trees, even when they are members of the same species right next to each other. The bright green one in the middle is a Rowan, fully in leaf. The bare one with whitish bark at the bottom of the picture is also a Rowan, just upstream from the other one on the side of a small hill burn. It is covered with live buds - no dead wood there - but all they are showing is the greyish backs of the still tightly-folded leaves, so giving the tree a wintry appearance from a distance. No doubt there are differences in the two trees' growing conditions, but I would imagine that such a variance in seasonal development is due to genetic factors.
Behind the bright green Rowan is a Downy Birch, whose leaves are half out, giving it a greenish look, but in the upper right are seen the branches of another Downy Birch whose leaf buds have only just begun to burst, showing no green as yet. The right-hand picture shows its catkins. Finally, in the bottom left of the left-hand picture, a Hazel reaches across the burn to meet the bare Rowan, and it too is bare of any green.
Nearby, a more substantial burn tumbles through a tree-lined gorge, with many waterfalls. The atmosphere in there is permanently humid, making it a wonderful place for mosses and ferns.
On the left is the Hard Shield Fern, and you can just see a bit of Maidenhair Spleenwort hanging down from a clump directly above it. What the mosses are in the picture on the right I'll never know, but they express the spirit of the place somehow.
The Hairy Woodrush (above left) is one of three woodrushes in flower at the moment, the others being Field and Great Woodrushes which have both featured in these pages already. In general these Luzula species seem to be much earlier than the "proper" rushes and the vast majority of grasses and sedges too. Perhaps the genus evolved in woodland and flowered early to catch the light before the trees were in leaf.
On the right above is a chrysalis found on a fencepost, no idea what inhabited it. Below are a couple of shots of a caterpillar that was also on a fencepost, the Northern Eggar. It feeds on heather, which was growing adjacent to the post, and, like the Drinker, hibernates and emerges in Spring, but takes a further year to complete its life cycle. The adult moths fly by day and are often seen in Summer.
This was the only caterpillar I found that wasn't a Drinker. There were a great many of the latter about, most of which were on dead grass as usual, and one on dead bracken, but I did see a couple of them eating fresh grass, possibly Viviparous Fescue.
Back towards lower ground, found these mushrooms growing out of a clump of moss in very wet ground. They are a species of Omphalina and may well be O ericetorum although they seem rather pale for that species. They are attached to sphagnum at their base. The gills are very far apart, only about 14 in total at the base, though some gills divide near the rim. The mushroom has a very nice earthly smell, but faint. Flesh of stem spongy-looking, same colour as surface. They would not give a spore print.
Nearly home, and to finish up with, the cheerful blossoms of the Creeping Willow. Its short upright branches punctuate the mossy ground's covering of dead grass and other detritus of winter.