Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Sun 16 May 2004

A very windy and dull morning.  I set out at 5 a.m. to do one of my squares for the BTO Breeding Bird Survey.  If I waited for the sort of weather conditions that the organisers, who obviously don't live in the Highlands, recommend, the birds would probably have all migrated by the time I got round to it.  At least today was forecast to be dry, and so it proved.

Visible and audible birds were fewer than when I did this square last year, and I notched up fewer species, only the commonest ones in fact.  The birds were probably less active due to the weather conditions.  Last year I had Linnet and Teal on the patch and Twite and Golden Plover flying over - the whole square is forestry plantation.  Nothing like that this year, though after the survey time was over I did see and hear a pair of Red-throated Diver flying over the forest on the way from their nesting loch to the coast.

Conditions were poor for photography but I saw a few things that I couldn't resist.

Saturnia pavonia   Saturnia pavonia

We had an Emperor Moth on the site the other day, but that was a dead one.  This one was alive and clinging to a blade of grass, unperturbed by either the buffeting wind or the photographer.  I suspect it had just emerged from its chrysalis, though I couldn't see any remains in the vicinity.  The first photo shows it from its top side, and the second is a close-up of part of the underside, showing the segments on the leg which is clasping the grass, the toothing on the antenna, and the false eye pattern which looks like a powerful work of primitive art.

Dytiscus sp, probably marginalis   Polygala serpyllifolia, pink form

I was amazed to find this huge beetle walking along a sphagnum-packed rut in a forestry ride.  It turned out to be a water-beetle, definitely a Dytiscus species and probably the Great Diving Beetle, Dytiscus marginalis, which it fits perfectly, though since I can't find descriptions of the other Dytiscus sp I can't be certain.  It's a female.  There was no water nearby; the ground was very wet, but not such as a beetle could swim in.  Surely they don't walk rather than fly to get from one body of water to another?  Or could it be that these creatures live among the sphagnum, even though they can't exercise their swimming powers there?

The Heath Milkwort, last shown on 7 May, comes in many different colours.  Dark blue is the commonest, but here's a pinkish one (above right)  White and pale blue forms are also found.

Lathyrus montanus   Pinguicula vulgaris

The Narrow-leaved Bitter Vetch (above left) is so adapted to the moorlands that it has lost the tendrils sported by other Lathyrus species, since there is no tall vegetation there for it to climb.  Also flowering now is the Common Butterwort (above right).  Both of them were blowing around so much it was hard to keep them in the frame let alone focus on them.