Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Thu 12 May 2005
A sunny day. We start off with the little Thyme-leaved Speedwell which grows among gravel along the edges of tracks and whose flowers must often go unobserved. The Cuckoo Flower, which grows in damp places, is much more noticeable and a familiar sign of Spring.
The Wood Horsetail is at its most attractive now with the cones still present and the young branches developing. The Water Horestail forms great thickets in damp places and often the stems have no branches at all, though the one shown is beginning to sprout a few.
The sun brought out plenty of insects. The White-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lucorum, is busy at a Dandelion flower, while the Large Red Damselfly is clinging to a Spruce bud.
Two large beetles now. The first is the Violet Oil Beetle, Meloe violaceus. I watched it for some time feeding on a buttercup leaf. At one point it wandered off and tried daisy and clover leaves but didn't like them and returned to the buttercup. Oil Beetles eat poisonous plants so as to make themselves poisonous to predators. They are famous for their extraordinary life cycle, in which the female lays thousands of eggs which hatch into larvae who search for flowering plants and climb the stems to wait for a hairy-legged insect to land on the flower, upon which they cling to its legs as it flies away. Those fortunate few who end up on the legs of a particular kind of bee get carried back to the its nest where they feed up on the bee's egg and its store of honey until they complete their development into adult Oil Beetles. They exude an orange "oil" when alarmed.
On the right is the Bark Runner Beetle, Rhagium mordax. I found two of these on the dry mossy bark of a fallen tree.
These small black cups on the previous year's stems of Hogweed or Angelica are the imperfect stage of the discomycete fungus Heterosphaeria patella. Thanks to Chris Yeates for this id. On the right are the fruiting catkins of Grey Willow which are very prominent just now among the still developing leaves.
The Common Sandpipers are back on the Varragill Estuary, where they enjoy both the fresh water of the river and the pickings on the salty shore. This one has just fished up some morsel from among the seaweed. High above the river mouth the melody of the Song Thrush rings out from a well-positioned telephone wire.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer