Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Mon 19 - Tue 20 Sep 2005 Tunbridge Wells
This is a butterfly we don't have on Skye, the Small Copper, on Yarrow flowers. The red berries belong to the Yew tree, which is native to Britain but often planted. As this one was on acid soil I suspect it was from planted stock, but it looked natural anyway.
Thu 22 Sep 2005 Winchelsea, Sussex
This is a fascinating area where the sea has receded over the years leaving expanses of shingle. As you go inland, there is a complete gradation from the unstable beach pebbles churned around by every wave, right through to well-vegetated ground with ordinary soil, and every stage in between. I didn't have enough time to explore it properly and it was a bit late in the year for most things, but here is some of the beach vegetation.
Sea Kale is one of the hardiest shingle plants, growing on exposed ridges at the top of the beach where there is very little competition. Few species could tolerate these conditions, and even the Sea Kale can only establish scattered plants here and there among the pebbles. The flowers were long gone but the pictures show the pods and the glaucous leaf, being eaten by the familiar Cabbage White caterpillar.
A companion of the Sea Kale in these situations is the maritime variety of Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara var marinum). I don't know whether the small bunched leaves in the second picture are due to fasciation or the gall mite Aceria lycopersici, which has a similar effect. If I'd known about the gall's existence at the time it would have been easy enough to tell, but I can't be sure from the photos.
The magnificent Yellow Horned Poppy is another specialist of extreme shingle. You can see here how much of the habitat around it is bare of any vegetation. Viper's Bugloss is not quite so hardy and occurs on the inland side of the ridges. It has almost finished flowering and the last remaining flowers are on the ends of long spikes of empty calyces.
The maritime form of Curled Dock (Rumex crispus ssp littoreus) was the fourth member of the extreme shingle quartet, along with the Sea Kale, Yellow Horned Poppy and Bittersweet. Its stems were completely withered and brown and I didn't bother with a photo. Unlike the other three, it is also common all round the coasts of Skye.
The next most hardy group of plants, growing on the sheltered side of the ridges along with Viper's Bugloss, included Sea Beet, Creeping Thistle, Tall Oat-grass, Biting Stonecrop (I presumed, in the absence of flowers), and the two below.
Rock Samphire is a fleshy-leaved plant of the Carrot family. Lesser Hawkbit, of the Daisy family, normally has the typical Dandelion-like flowers shared by so many of its relatives, but this specimen had all the ray florets tubular for part of their length.
The remaining pictures are from further inland and are of plants that are mostly very common in the south of England, but rare or absent on Skye.
Scarlet Pimpernel, a plant of bare ground, and Black Horehound, common on roadsides and hedgebanks.
Two twining plants: Black Bryony, its leaves already turning autumnal, and Hop, showing the fruiting cones.
Another climbing plant is Traveller's Joy, whose feathery fruits form this misty-white effect. Blackthorn is common in hedgerows and roadside scrub, and often forms a base for the preceding three species to climb on (as in the Black Bryony picture). Here are its dark fruits, or Sloes, with their grape-like "bloom". As these are on the large side they may have a bit of Bullace in them; the two species form a complete range of fertile hybrids.
I was amazed at how common the Bristly Oxtongue was. It was the most frequent roadside flower at this time of year. The grass is the hybrid between Meadow Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. I just happened to spot it and recognised it from pictures I'd seen. Like a Ryegrass the spikelets fit into hollows in the rachis, but the inflorescence is branched which never happens in a pure Ryegrass.
Finally, a huge gathering of Starlings, over the shingle flats about half a mile from the sea.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer