Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Wed 12 May 2004 - Kyleakin

A day of hot sun, turning very chilly at about 6 pm when hazy cloud began to cover the sky and the sun was no longer any match for the wind.

Several plants seen in flower for the first time (on Skye, this year) today, including Germander Speedwell (below left) and Birdsfoot Trefoil (below right)

Veronica chamaedrys   Lotus corniculatus

The White Clover (below left) was still pretty scarce, but the Ramping Fumitory (below right) was fuming rampantly.

Trifolium repens   Fumaria capreolata

Hawthorn flowers (below left) were expected around now, but Bell Heather (below right) was more of a surprise.  I found three flowering stems out of acres of non-flowering ones.

Crataegus monogyna   Erica cinerea

Other flowers seen today for the first time this year were Red Campion, Sea Campion and Wall Speedwell.

Oaks are much more frequent in South Skye than in the North.  They are a mixture of the Common Oak (Quercus robur), the Durmast Oak (Quercus petraea) and their hybrid (Quercus x rosacea).  At this time of year with the leaves not fully open it is not possible to determine them properly.  The picture on the left shows the male catkins.  On the right is the Currant Gall, which appears on the upper surface of the oak leaf as in the top picture, but the bulk of it is on the underside as in the bottom one.

Quercus petraea-robur agg catkins   Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, upper side
Neuroterus quercusbaccarum, lower side

Holly is also found on these wooded slopes, usually isolated plants with their base among or adjacent to rocks.  Holly has spiny leaves below and smooth leaves higher up.  The spines help to prevent the lower ones being grazed by animals, while the upper ones are out of reach and so don't need spines, although in this case the ground was so steep that the upper leaves could easily have been reached by any animal that wanted to eat them - the plant isn't clever enough to factor the gradient into its calculations.  The left-hand picture shows the upper leaves together with a dense cluster of buds of which only one so far has opened.  The close-up on the right shows this to be a male plant, so no use looking for berries on it at Christmas.

Ilex aquifolium   Ilex aquifolium flower close-up

This next picture shows the sort of country we are in now.  The pale green patch halfway up the left-hand side is Oak; in front of it is Downy Birch.  The yellow areas visible on the mainland are Gorse.

Coast near Kyleakin

The great thing about finding a caterpillar hanging from a thread is that you can get pictures of it from every angle just by snapping away as it twirls.

Abraxas grossulariata caterpillar


Abraxas grossulariata caterpillar


Abraxas grossulariata caterpillar


Abraxas grossulariata caterpillar


Abraxas grossulariata caterpillar

Rear view on the left, gradually turning to reveal its underside on the right.  Although you can just about make out some of the hairs on the caterpillar in the pictures, the camera has not captured at all the thread on which it was hanging, so it must be mighty fine.  There were thousands of these Magpie Moth caterpillars in the heather.  In one small pool no more than a metre across there were several lying drowned - live ones were better hidden as a rule but very numerous once you started looking.  The caterpillar is a "looper"; it walks by arching its back and then straightening out.

Unknown chrysalis on Calluna vulgaris   Unknown eggs on Holcus lanatus

Two mysteries - the chrysalis above left was on Heather and may well be that of the Emperor Moth.  The eggs (if that's what they are) on the right were on a blade of Yorkshire Fog.

Thu 13 May 2004

Saw a Roe Deer just outside Portree among bushes on the moorland edge near An Tuireann.  In the Portree area I've only previously seen them in or near the forestry plantations.