Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Fri 3 Jun 2005
The gall of the mite Eriophyes leiosoma is very common on the Lime trees in Portree. The pictures show the upperside and underside of an infected leaf.
Mon 6 Jun 2005 Glenbrittle
As it was set to be sunny all day I made for Glenbrittle hoping for a further encounter with the adder that I nearly put my hand on last time, or one of its kin. I approached the rocks from a different angle so that I could see if there was anything on them from a long way off. But there were no adders to be seen. Still, the day had its compensations...
To my complete surprise, I got a new "life tick", by which I mean a plant that I'd never seen before anywhere. It's easy to get new ticks when visiting new areas, but it's always a particular pleasure to get one right here on home soil. It's the Upright Vetch or Wood Bitter-vetch, Vicia orobus. There was just one clump of it on a completely inaccessible cliff ledge, so I had to take the photo from a distance and aiming into the sun. I knew there were a few scattered about in north-west Skye, but I did notice afterwards that there was an existing record for the grid square that I was in (which is more or less in SW Skye)
The photo on the right shows another sea-cliff plant which is not quite so scarce, but rather infrequent, Scots Lovage. Leaves only, the future flower spike is still tightly rolled up, you can just see it in the top centre of the pic.
While exploring these coastal cliffs it's always worthwhile casting your eye out to sea now and again...
Not all sea monsters are mythical. This is a Basking Shark, more like a battleship than a fish. It cruises in a straight line for some distance, then makes a broad U-turn to go back along a parallel route. At one point it breached with a sudden twist and splash, but I didn't have my camera on it at that moment. In the picture the head is where the ridge of water starts on the right, the dorsal fin is visible in the middle and the tail on the far left. The picture below gives some idea of its size, as there is a Shag for comparison, although the Shag is a bit further out to sea than the Shark. The average length of a Shag is 72 cm. On this basis the Shark might be about 8 metres long, as long as 4 human beings.
More familiar but equally magnificent was this Rock Pipit which has just landed from its display flight. Also at one point 6 Greylag Geese flew over just offshore.
Round to Rubh' an Dunain and there were over 200 terns on the flat rocky area there that extends out from the shore. At one point they were all in the air, the rest of the time most of them were just loafing but several were flying about excitedly and one, just one, kept coming back to the same little inlet near where I was sitting to hover and dive. The only angle I could get on them was into the sun, and I couldn't tell whether they were Common or Arctic Terns or some of each, but here's a shot of the one that came round and hovered repeatedly.
All along this coast there are Oystercatchers nesting and making sure you know about it with their shrill whistles of alarm when you get too chose. This broken egg on the grass shows that one of them has had its nest robbed, probably by a Hoodie Crow. I'm almost sure it's an Oystercatcher egg though I can't rule out some other bird having a similar egg.
I've described before how the shores of the tidal Loch na h-Airde have a mix of sea and inland vegetation. Sea Milkwort, left, is one of the beach plants you find there. Silverweed, right, is plentiful in the low grass round about, and is a very common plant on Skye, both on the shore and inland. At this time of year it produces yellow flowers to go with its silvery leaves.
A pool close to the loch was full of tadpoles of different sizes, some of them very small. The season for laying frogspawn is very extended hereabouts. The walk back across the moorland was enlivened by the bleating of Snipe performing their aerial display, and I got a good view of two Meadow Pipits mobbing a Cuckoo. It's strange that they're aware of the danger an adult Cuckoo represents and prepared to attack it despite its size, but once the egg is in their nest they have no idea of its implications, though it would be so easy to remove. Why have they evolved to attack the Cuckoo but not the egg?
The Downward-looking Snipe-fly was quite numerous today. It lands on rocks and then makes short flights from one part of the rock to another. The Orchid Beetle on the right was resting on a grass stem. I also saw my first Small Heath and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies of the year.
Here are some of the little waders that peck about at the edge of the tide. Turnstone on the left, Ringed Plover on the right, and Dunlin below.
Finally a picture of Kidney Vetch that I took while waiting for the adders.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer