Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)

Sun 6 Feb 2005

Dry this afternoon with fleeting bits of sun.  A respite from winter, but spring seems far away.  A few Hazel catkins have opened up, but most are still unexpanded.  Heard a Song Thrush singing - then saw it, low down in a tree, as if it was too wintry at the top.

Feathers of Larus marinus killed by Vulpes vulpes   Sphagnum capillifolium

These feathers are the remains of an immature Great Black-backed Gull caught on the shore and carried into the woods by a fox.  While I was in this Hazel scrub a loose flock of around a dozen Great Tits passed through, not accompanied by any other species as far as I could see.  Sometimes you get mixed tit flocks, sometimes single-species.  The Great Tits were very vocal, the most popular sounds being a short churr and a "wheep" or "wheep wheep" call.

On 22 Jan we saw the all-red form of the moss Sphagnum capillifolium; here, catching the wintry sunlight, is a form with red heads and green branches.

Pyrenula macrospora   Unknown bi-coloured lichen on wet rock

This attractive map lichen encircling a young Hazel is Pyrenula macrospora.  The one on the right has got me beat.  It's always the ones you think will be easy that turn out to be the hardest.  Hopefully someone will recognise it from the picture and description.  It was plentiful on rocks over which water seeped down from the ground above.  It was several hours since any rain, so the rocks must be wet a good proportion of the time, though the seepage probably dries up after prolonged dry weather.  At any rate the colouration and surface growth on the wet bits of rock were completely different to those on the adjacent dry ones, and this lichen was one of the differences.  It was everywhere on the wet bits, and nowhere on the dry.

The thallus is crustose and cracked-areolate, the areoles less than 1 mm across.  At the edges the thallus fragments so that there are patches of it scattered near the edges like offshore islands.  The thallus has rust-orange areas and areas that look white at a distance but close to are a mix of grey-green and white proper.  The rusty and the pale areas intermix a lot but there are no intermediate-coloured zones.  The rust is only on the surface.  If you scratch away the surface, all you get is granular whiteness like fine sugar.  In the pale areas there are occasional small patches of green alga.  Very occasionally there are small bunches of sorediate coralloid isidia.  These are a mixture of the rusty and the white colours, with the smallest grains white.

What rules out everything in the books are the hemispherical black fruitbodies which are up to 4 mm across.  The lichen surface is also full of black dots which may just be young fruitbodies but are probably not, otherwise you'd expect far more old ones.  Each areole has several of these which range from about 1/50 to 1/10 mm across, and are sometimes clustered in small groups.

The relatively huge fruitbodies coupled with the bicoloured thallus and the unusual habitat ought to be enough to narrow this lichen down to one or a small group of species, but I can't get anywhere with it.

Sun 13 Feb 2005

A very strong North wind today, but it was dryish for once, so by keeping to areas sheltered from the north it was possible to potter around a bit.  Spring is still very sluggish.  Have not seen any more spring flowers since that Barren Strawberry on 12 Jan.  But then I've hardly been out, owing to the dreadful weather.  There were plenty of Celandines out in Inverness on 4 Feb and I'm sure there are a few in the warmer parts of Skye too.

Red-breasted Mergansers were displaying in Portree Bay.  The male swims alongside the female and erects his head and neck, then pushes the neck forward and down but with the head pointing upwards and the bill open.  He then sits upright on the water and flaps his wings vigorously.  There were two apparently competing for the same female.

Xestia sp caterpillar   Frullania dilatata

I found this caterpillar crawling on the paving slabs outside my house.  I brought it in to take its photo, and then put it in a plant pot with some potting compost which it buried itself in, hopefully to pupate.  I think it's the Square-spot Rustic or the Six-striped Rustic, but apparently there is no way to tell these apart.

On 29 Jan we had the liverwort Frullania tamarisci, and today I found another member of the genus, Frullania dilatata.  It's a mixture of green, red and brown, rather than the uniform deep wine-red of the previous species, and has much broader water-holding flasks on its underside.

Caloplaca thallincola   Xanthoria ectaneoides

Two lichens from the "yellow zone" just above the high-tide line.  On the left, Caloplaca thallincola; on the right, Xanthoria ectaneoides.

Anaptychia fusca   Sticta sylvatica

Another lichen from the same zone is Anaptychia fusca, shown here with young shoots of Sea Ivory (Ramalina siliquosa) attempting to grow through it, and a more established Sea Ivory to the lower left.

The photo on the right won't win any prizes - in fact I wasn't on very good form today, lets face it - cold hands!  (later - written 4.6.05 - Howard Fox has identified this as Sticta sylvatica which is obviously correct.  At the time I ruled that species out because my lichen had what I took to be black apothecia, up to 0.6 mm wide, sessile, slightly convex, margin concolorous or none, crowded into certain areas of the thallus.  You can just make them out in the picture.  As apothecia are unknown on S sylvatica, these black objects must be something else.)

Degelia atlantica   Physcia aipolia

Another crummy picture.  On 22 Jan we had a rosette of Degelia plumbea, and here is its relative Degelia atlantica, which is also very common on trees.  It reproduces by isidia (knobbly bits that grow on the surface and fall off to become new plants) whereas D plumbea reproduces by apothecia, the reddish-brown fruit-bodies shown in the 22 Jan picture.

The lichen on the right has plenty of apothecia, of a dark golden-brown colour rather like treacle (the picture doesn't show this well).  It was high up on a Willow branch, but easy to get at because the branch had cracked off and fallen in the January storm (storms are great for lichen hunters).  It is Physcia aipolia.  Thanks to Howard Fox for this id.

Trentepohlia sp   Formica lemani or F fusca

These orange filaments are the alga Trentepohlia (either T aurea or T abietina) which often occurs as the algal partner in lichens but sometimes grows on its own as here.  It was on an exposed rock.

I turned over a flat board that was lying on the grass near the shore, and found this very active ants' nest.  I'd have expected them to be hibernating - but then maybe they were, and just spring into action when disturbed?  Got a feeling they'd have been down in their tunnels if they were hibernating though.  They are probably Formica lemani but Formica fusca can't be ruled out.  Thanks to Murdo MacDonald for this ID.



All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer