Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Tue 31 Aug 2004

Not a good day to be out!  It was sunny and calm, but the midges were on the attack even at mid-day in full sunlight on exposed hilltops.  I've never known midges that bad in those conditions.

Didn't take many photos as you have to keep moving when the midges are about.  I was back at the location of 22 July, with a view to checking up on three interesting plants that I'd found on that occasion, and hopefully finding a few more.  The day turned out fairly unproductive, but not without interest.

On 22 July I showed a picture of a young Hard Fern which caused a lot of debate when I sent it to various fern fans.  Some recognised it straight away as a young Hard Fern but others said it looked more like a Spleenwort.  I personally had never seen a Hard Fern looking like that, and from that day to this I've been looking hard at Hard Ferns (which are very common) and have still never seen one like it.

Blechnum spicant    Unknown fern

There it is on the left.  As you can see, it has grown some new leaves in the past 6 weeks, and they are closer to Hard Fern leaves than the original two.  I was already convinced by the weight of evidence that the plant was a Hard Fern, and these new leaves confirm it, but all the same I'll be interested to see if it ever attains the normal Hard Fern shape.  One reason for the confusion is that I'd assumed that all young Hard Fern leaves would be like the young leaves you find on an existing Hard Fern stock.  But what we're looking at here, presumably, is a brand new young plant, whose initial leaves may be unlike those to follow, as happens with many flowering plants.  In that case, the fact that I haven't seen any others like it must imply that new Hard Fern plants are very uncommon in comparison with new leaves on old ones.

At any rate there are some mighty strange ferns up there.  Don't know what to make of the one on the right, and am not going to try.

Gymnocaripum dryopteris   Silene acaulis

This one had me puzzled for a while as well.  Eventually I realised it was an Oak Fern.  Unfortunately it wasn't in a position to show its usual elegant form.  The fronds were crammed between a rock overhang and the ground, but I couldn't find any others so they'll have to do.

There's a lot of fine gritty scree up there with a good selection of alpines dotted about in it, including Iceland Purslane, Northern Rockcress and Moss Campion.  Found one very unseasonal flower on the latter, shown above right.

When I noticed a dragonfly whizzing around over a small pool, I thought it must be a Common Hawker at that altitude, but it turned out to be a male Black Darter.  I don't think we've had a male yet, so here he is in his sombre garb.  He kept returning to this ball of dried grass, and when I passed the pool again some 20-30 minutes later he (presumably the same one) was still there investigating all the dried grass clumps around the edge of the loch.  Perhaps females hide in them?

Sympetrum danae, male   Aeshna juncea exuvia

Aeshna juncea exuvia

I did, later on, find a Common Hawker exuvia at Loch Scamadal, about 100 m lower down at 325 m altitude.  Shown above right, first in situ and then spread out belly-up on the camera case.

We are now having our lunch (while the midges have theirs) on the point of Carn Liath.  The rock scenery around here rivals that of the Storr and the Quiraing, but unlike those areas you have the place to yourself and never see a human soul.  Don't tell anyone, as I want it to stay that way.  I did have the resident pair of Ravens for company, and also, unexpectedly, a pair of Ring Ouzels, whom I hadn't seen last time.  It must be about time for them to head south.  Their ratchet-like chack-chack-chack alarm/contact calls are similar to those of the Blackbird, but cleaner and sharper, more surprised, less complaining.

The views from that spot are diverse.  To the north is the winding River Lealt, as bleak a scene as anyone could wish for on a sunny August day.  I'd love to walk its whole length some time.

River Lealt


Isle of Rona

To the east, the Isle of Rona, with the Torridon Mountains behind, and the tip of the Applecross peninsula in between.

After noticing that what little breeze there was came from the south, I figured that I might be better off lower down but further east, out of the shelter of the Storr.  This proved correct.  But I couldn't resist the detour to Loch Scamadal where I found the exuvia shown above, and also some fine specimens of Holly Fern on the rock walls of the great semi-circular corrie that holds the loch.  I then followed the Rigg Burn back to the road.  It was little more than a trickle where I disturbed this Dipper, who was under one of the many natural culverts where the burn goes underground for a short space.  I must have stepped right on top of its hiding-place .  I've had countless goes at photographing Dippers and never got near enough for a decent shot, but any shot is good enough to bring back the memory.

Cinclus cinclus
Phragmatobia fuliginosa, young larva

The burn is in that little dark strip going from about right-middle to top-middle.  Rather slimmer than a Dipper's usual choice of waterway, but these upland burns are teeming with life.  Saw a large frog nearby, just as when last time I found a Dipper in the hills.  So the birds don't go short of food.  Much lower down the burn I found this young Ruby Tiger caterpillar on Eared Willow.  Thanks to Tom Prescott for the ID.  I noticed it while trying to examine a possible Narrow Buckler Fern, whose location I'd recorded from my last visit, but I was driven back by the midges despite dousing myself with repellent.  It takes a lot to put me off examining a possible rare plant, but these midges had what it took.  Fortunately that spot is only 20 minutes or so very pleasant walk from the road, so I'll be back.

Wed 1 Sep 2004

Three quick pics from Portree while out shopping.

 Euphorbia helioscopa   Betonica officinalis   Rhytisma acerinum

The Sun Spurge is an uncommon weed in Skye.  I found this lone specimen in the Bayfield Car Park.  Betony is also very uncommon on Skye, but grows on The Lump and is in flower at the moment.  Also noticed Sycamore Tar Spot for the first time on the island.  On 25 July I showed some of this from Dingwall and remarked how it disfigures every leaf of trees near the East coast but seemed absent from Skye.  Well, there are a few blotches of it appearing now.  I don't know if this is a new invasion, which will soon have all our Sycamores blackened, or whether the fungus has been here in a mild form for years but is unable to take hold in a big way.



All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer