Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Wed 28 Jul 2004
A walk with the Highland Council Ranger Service along the course of the old railway from Lealt to Loch Cuithir. Diatomite was mined from the loch and transported by the railway to a processing plant on the coast. This ceased in about 1915. There is very little to see of the railway today, but a few rusty and disintegrating bits of rail remain in places.
The eagle-eyed Countryside Ranger, Sarah Kay, spotted this Buzzard feather by the roadside, and right on cue we heard Buzzards mewing in the distance. The route along the railway goes through boggy moorland with nothing unusual in the way of vegetation (though Pale Butterwort was noticed), but outstanding views of the Trotternish Ridge up ahead. The loch itself is rich in vegetation. Red Pondweed is one of its glories, shown above right with young flower-spikes about to emerge from the water, with the upright green stems of Common Spike-rush in the foreground.
The very long floating leaves of Floating Bur-reed cover parts of the loch, as they do many Skye lochs. The flowers are less often seen, but here we have the male flowerhead in its brief white (due to the stamens) phase, above the 3 or so green female flowerheads. The north end of the loch has extensive stands of Water Horsetail, unusually well-branched for deep water, the branches all upright due to the crowding of the stems. In between them in the picture are the floating leaves of Jointed Pondweed, and in the foreground the bending leaves of Bottle Sedge. The only birds on the loch were a pair of Mallard.
When the party turned back I continued up the burn that feeds the loch, to explore a bit of the higher ground. Chickweed Willowherb, above left, is plentiful along the sides of the burn, the dark green leaves and pink-purple flowers make a beautiful combination. The burn is fed in turn by smaller flushes, often bright mossy green and graced with hill flowers such as Starry Saxifrage, on the right.
A large frog plunged into the burn at my approach, and a Dipper flitted down the water giving its alarm call. This was probably the highest altitude at which I'd seen a Dipper. In Skye they very often seem to be at the mouths of burns all year round, but I have seen a few in the hills, and certainly this one had read the books and chosen the archetypal upland habitat. There's plenty of insect life in a burn like this for it to feed on, not to mention frogs up to whatever size it can handle.
Looking from beside the hill burn down onto Loch Cuithir and its satellite pools. The weather was grey and the cloud low, so I didn't venture too high. In fact I was just ahead of the drizzle all the way back, and caught a shower just as I reached Lealt, by which time the hills were in mist, and the Dipper and the frogs had them to themselves again.