Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Thu 22 Jul 2004
Today we start at Rigg, where the hybrid Horsetail Equisetum x font-queri grows in great profusion. The parents are Great Horsetail and Marsh Horsetail. The hybrid is very rare nationally, and not known in Skye except in this one area, but here it grows on the road verge, beside the burn and spreads out onto the moor, a vigorous plant colonising a range of habitats.
The Grass of Parnassus, on the right, grows with it and has just come into flower; the first I'd seen this year. The staminodes form hoops of golden beads.
This is a Purple Bar Moth. I saw two of these today, one close to the road and the other at high altitude. The "bar" is not purple but navy blue; this is clearer in life than in the photo. The small black fungus growing in moss is probably a species of Trichoglossum. I pressed the moss down a bit to get the base of the fungus into the picture.
Without allowing lowland life-forms to delay us any futher, we stride off across the moors and up into the glorious Trotternish Ridge.
On the left, the mountain form of Meadow Buttercup. Although common in lowland fields and roadsides, this species is also one of the most extreme arctic-alpines. To its left in the picture is Lesser Clubmoss. The right-hand picture shows a small Goldenrod plant growing on the rock-face.
Up here there are great jumbles of boulders which are ideal for ferns, including the Mountain Male Fern, left, and the Parsley Fern, right. The Mountain Male Fern is an ancient plant, one of the two ancestors of the highly successful Male Fern which is so common across Britain in all kinds of habitats, and of the Scaly Male Fern which, in this part of the country, is even more ubiquitous. It was good to meet the old patriarch in his original haunts. Both the Male Fern and the Scaly Male Fern were growing in the same boulder group not far away. The Parsley Fern picture shows both the fertile and sterile leaves well, the fertile ones being those with the narrower segments.
There are some stupendous caves in this area, but, as so often with rock scenery, the camera makes the massive look tiny. The cave in the left-hand picture is large enough to walk into for a long distance, and extends much higher than the part included in the photo. Its roof is not completely closed so there is a degree of light along its length. Apart from mosses and liverworts, the main constituents of the cave's vegetation are Broad Buckler Fern (visible as the first obvious fern-like plant on the right-hand side), Beech Fern (an anonymous clump in the picture, behind the Broad Buckler), Wood Sorrel (most of the stuff on the ground) and Wilson's Filmy Fern, shown in the right-hand picture together with a kind of leech or worm that slithered across the wet vertical wall - looks just like a common earthworm in the photo but somehow in the cave atmosphere it seemed to be something not encountered in one's above-ground existence! Being in a place like this has a powerful effect on the psyche.
I wondered if the fern above might be a mountain form of Sea Spleenwort, but apparently it is just a young Hard Fern. The young fronds on a genuine first-year plant like this are very different from those that arise in spring from an existing rootstock.
On the right, a Hieracium species that is possibly a mountain form although it takes a specialist to distinguish between the hundreds of microspecies of this genus. It's only stem-leaf was a tiny bract halfway up, and it has a solitary but large flower. The five-fingered leaves of Alpine Lady's Mantle can be seen at the base.
A pair of Ravens noisily reminded me from time to time that they owned the steep precipice that towered above the boulder fields. The only other birds seen were a few Meadow Pipits and a Wheatear. The day was sunny but very breezy. We've still not had any days this summer that you could call hot. But August is to come...