Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Thu 27 May 2004

There's a watery theme today.  This ditch was red with Bulbous Rush...

Juncus bulbosus agg   Tadpoles in ditch

...and black with tadpoles.  Hundreds of them, along quite a distance.  In some places there was just a black mass of bodies, as if at a feeding frenzy.

Stellaria alsine   Cochlearia officinalis

The Bog Stitchwort (above left) is also fond of ditches.  On the right, a sudden blaze of brightness typical of hill country, where from a distance all looks sombre.  This is the Common Scurvy-grass, which is supposedly found only on seashores and mountains.  There were patches of it scattered at intervals all the way along the banks of the River Lealt, and even at Loch Cuithir, which is just a stone's throw from the screes where the alpine vegetation starts.  So we can now say that Scurvy-grass, like Sea Plantain, occurs at all altitudes in Skye.  With it in the picture are Marsh Marigold (yellow flowers), Mountain Fern (extreme left) and Hard Fern (on bank just above flowers).

River Lealt and Sgurr a'Mhadaidh Ruaidh

This is where we are - heading up the River Lealt towards the Hill of the Red Fox, but we will turn off to the right and visit Loch Cuithir instead.  It's a sunny day, but time is limited.  I'm determined to come back here in say July for a much more thorough exploration.

The endless green is relieved by occasional splashes of Marsh Marigold as well as the Scurvy-grass, Cuckoo Flower and the odd Celandine.  Of course Spring starts later in the uplands than lower down.  But not uniformly so: I was surprised to see a lot of Common Mouse-ear in flower among the close-grazed riverside turf, since the plentiful "urban" examples of this species have yet to flower.  But on the whole there is a kind of green monotony about these pastures.

Then you turn a corner and come to a pool full of the Bogbean (below, left), looking like some exotic garden feature - such an abrupt contrast is so typical of the Skye hills.  Less noticeable but just as interesting was the Lesser Bladderwort (right) in the same pool, a plant which feeds on insects trapped by the rounded bladders on its leaves.

Menyanthes trifoliata   Utricularia minor

A stretch of burn near the loch was full of a species from the Intermediate Water-starwort group (Callitriche hamulata agg).  Huge dense masses of the plants arose from the stream bed and, due to the fast-flowing water, only reached the surface some way down stream, where they carpeted the surface for a while and then made way for the next lot to start, causing a kind of "stepped" effect.  On the right is a Stonewort, a totally submerged plant.  The orange bits are male reproductive structures.

Callitriche hamulata agg   Stonewort (Characeae)

On the left below is a close-up of the leaves of the Intermediate Water-starwort.  There were no flowers or fruits on these plants.  All the leaves tapered to a notched tip, the submerged ones being broadest at the base and not expanded at the tip.

Meanwhile on the right below is the familiar Common Water-starwort, which colonises temporary ditchwater, as in the picture, and even springs up in puddles.

Callitriche hamulata agg   Callitriche stagnalis

Lets leave the watery theme for a while and look at a little plant growing among the gravel of the track, the Heath Pearlwort, below left, not at all common on Skye.

Sagina subulata   Populus tremula

We are back at the road now and looking at a group of Aspens, above right.  These trees never set seed this far north, they perpetuate themselves by suckers, so all the wild specimens on Skye must have been in place since the last episode of global warming, and are no doubt looking forward to the next.

As it was such a glorious sunny evening, I had a brief hunt around Scorrybreac on the way home, not entirely fruitless either.

Unknown moth   Mitrula paludosa

This moth flew down onto the rock and was so well camouflaged - although it may not look it in the picture - that every time I looked away and then looked back I couldn't spot it for a while.  It obviously relies on camouflage for defence, as it even allowed me to touch it without stirring.  Doubtless if it had fluttered a wing and I'd been a predator it would have been gobbled up instantly.  Don't know what kind it is.  I have a book that shows all the British macro-moths, or to be exact all of them except that one.

On the right we have a fungus called the Bog Beacon which I found growing on decaying pieces of Bog Pondweed.

Geum urbanum   Lathyrus montanus

The Wood Avens, above left, has been in flower for a few days now, while the Bitter Vetch is producing pods already.  The Red Campion and the Tutsan, below, are also brightening up the woodland edge.

Silene dioica   Hypericum androsaemum