Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Sat 9 Oct 2004
Walked along the Peat Road to Loch Sneosdal in North Trotternish. The route has been splattered with footpath signposts since I was last there, but it's still a nice walk. Quite a few moorland flowers are still out, but I was mainly interested in the fungi, it being that time of year. There turned out to be an enormous variety of fungi, so I concentrated on those that I thought I'd have the best chance of identifying.
The day was dry and the later part of the afternoon was sunny. In fact around 4 pm I lay back in the heather and drifted off to sleep with the warm sun on my face, to the sound of a small waterfall.
The glory of the moorland at the moment is this Scarlet Waxcap or Hygrocybe coccinea. They are common in areas of short sheep-grazed turf. The picture on the left below shows what they look like when they get a bit older.
On the right above is a very wet and sticky waxcap known as Hygrocybe chlorophana. It grows in similar places to the red one but was not so numerous.
The left-hand picture shows one of these with a double stem. The middle picture shows what they look like when they're weathered a bit, and the right-hand picture shows a couple removed from the middle group to reveal that the bits which were hidden under the caps of others remained yellow while the exposed bits weathered to white.
Impossible to get a decent picture of this mushroom in situ. It is either Hygrocybe pratensis var pallida, or Hygrocybe virginea var virginea. It wouldn't give a spore print. Only found it in one place, on sheepy turf.
This Earth-tongue was in mossy grass, with heather and rocks nearby. It is probably a species of Trichoglossum but could be a Geoglossum or Thuemenidium. Close by was the only puffball seen all day, a Blackish Puffball (Lycoperdon nigrescens), which has opened to release the brown spores.
This is Stropharia semiglobata which also has dark brown spores. First picture in situ, others not. The caps were hanging half-off, as shown, the stems having split so that part remained attached to the cap and part not. The gills are free from the stem, even where it was still attached. Growing in sheep turf.
Smoky Spindles (Clavaria fumosa) growing through a the winter leaf-rosette of a thistle.
This mushroom was not found on the grassy turf like most of the others, but always in Sphagnum. A walk across the heathery bits would produce plenty of these, and virtually no other kind. They may be a Mycena species. The flat unstriped top is very distinctive. Whitish-grey ones were more frequent than brown.
Final fungus for the day is this white stick which could just be the stem of some mushroom that has lost its cap, but it had the feel of being something along the lines of a Clavaria, and it seems to match Clavaria vermicularis, known as White Spindles, quite well. Among moss, grass and clover in a heathy area.
The middle picture is a gall on Wild Thyme caused by the mite Aceria thomasi. On the right is a chrysalis found deep inside the heather. The chrysalis itself looks fairly normal but it was partly covered in this white substance like dried foam. This may be a species of Entomophthora, a Zygomycete fungus that is parasitic on insects. Thanks to Brian Gale for this suggestion.
In one place, with grazed grass and a few boulders, not far from the loch, there were a great many of these small black insects, both walking over the rocks and flying from place to place. I think they may be the St Mark's Fly (Bibio marci) or something similar. This group of 3 walked for some distance in this fashion, the female in front, with a male on top of her, dragging another male backwards behind them. Not sure if dragging is the right word, as all three were actively walking. Whether any were trying to escape rather than trying to co-operate was hard to judge. It could be that the female and the rear male were copulating and the other male was trying to replace the rear one, but it looked more like a team effort than a struggle to my ignorant eye. Anyone got any ideas?
Other than the St Mark's Flies there were few insects around, but the shiny black fruit of the Crowberry will help to feed the few moorland birds that remain in the winter when all the insects have gone. This unseasonal Lousewort flower was a surprise. Also found a few flowers on the Yellow Saxifrage.
There was a Dipper at the loch edge, later seen (if the same bird) in a burn that flows from the loch. The most exciting part of the day came when, driving back in the dusk, I saw what could only have been two Short-eared Owls. There wasn't enough light to be sure, but there really isn't anything else they could have been. This species seems to have been absent from Skye in recent years, although they used to be regular. They are nomadic and go wherever the voles are plentiful, and vole numbers fluctuate greatly on Skye; there have been a few about this year. Of course it is migration time so the birds' presence doesn't necessarily mean anything, but still it is encouraging.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer