Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Thu 4 May 2006 Broadford
Today at last it began to warm up. Sun in the morning but rain in the afternoon. More bees about now, but still haven't seen a butterfly this year. I walked round the shore from Camus na Sgianadain to Corry.
Common Sandpipers are here in numbers now. This was one of a pair piping noisily in the bay at the start of the walk. A bit further on I watched this Chaffinch making forays from the forestry plantation, where she probably had her nest, onto the strandline to peck at the seaweed.
There were several of these Pond Skaters on a pool at the high spring-tide mark, skimming over the surface to catch insects that had fallen onto the water, which were amazingly plentiful considering the lack of visible insects in the air. The predators match the descriptions and pictures of the Common Pond Skater, Gerris lacustris, but I don't have enough info to rule out other Gerris species.
The hoverfly on the right landed on my camera case, but I placed it on the rock to take its photo. It was very sluggish and had probably just emerged from hibernation. It is Eristalis tenax, also known as the Drone Fly, a honeybee mimic.
I was pleased to see and hear a trio of Whimbrels, one of which is shown above. It was raining by this time so not ideal for distance photography. This species regularly passes through Broadford on Spring migration.
In most places Wild Garlic is nowhere near flowering, but at Corry it was in full bloom up against a wall (RH pic). Spring is always more advanced in this sheltered spot than elsewhere, and the area also has some very untypical plants for Skye, such as Hedge Garlic (already with a few flowers on) and Wall Lettuce, as well as being one of the few places in South Skye where Cow Parsley occurs (for some reason it is common in North Skye). The alien Slender Speedwell is particularly abundant here too (in fact it is much more common in Broadford generally than around Portree), and the introduced bushes Fuchsia, Buddleia and Salmonberry are all naturalised and spreading.
Fri 5 May 2006 Glen Arroch
Summer skies but winter landscape. It was a beautiful day with real warmth in the air, shirtsleeves weather. Time was limited but I managed to fit in a walk along a stretch of Glen Arroch and the Kylerhea road, then up Allt Coire nan Cuilean and the associated track.
Dog Violets are out in plenty but not to be overlooked is the delicate little Bog Violet, seen here with a primrosey background. The Smooth Ground Beetle was scampering about over dead Molinia leaves.
The Stagshorn Clubmoss was frequent along the verges of the track up the hill. Here it is snaking its way onto the path. In some places the short and upright Fir Clubmoss was growing with it; this is shown in the second picture together with the "golf tee" lichen Cladonia fimbriata. The tee on the right has two further tees sprouting from its rim. Don't try this on your local golf course.
Sat 6 May 2006 Coille Gaireallach, Suardal
Another fine day, with sun going in and out quicker than you can focus the camera. Did some plant recording in this wood, which is on limestone. The Spring flowers were similar to those in other Skye woods, but I did not find Barren Strawberry and had to look hard for Golden Saxifrage.
No problem finding Wood Sorrel, however. Here is a fine clump of it on a fallen trunk across a dry stream bed. A little further down, water appears in the stream. This is typical of limestone country. The picture on the right shows the opposite, a place where a stream disappears underground. The cream flowers are Primroses and the white ones Wood Anemones. The fern at the base of the tree above the opening is Maidenhair Spleenwort, and if you can make out a very dim patch of green below that in the top of the opening itself, that is Green Spleenwort, a fern confined to limestone rock.
Birch trees are coming into leaf in the more sheltered parts of the wood, the fresh green leaves contrasting nicely with the red catkins. The close-up picture shows the catkin scales with the emerging stamens. There are two stamens per flower and three flowers per scale. Each flower has its own papery "petal" which is like a small brown scale, these can be seen surrounding the bases of the stamen pairs.
Witches' Brooms are plentiful on the birches here, and finding one within reach I decided to see if I could find any sign of the fungus that causes them, Taphrina Betulina. When I opened it up I found it full of tiny snails! The left-hand picture shows 4. On this basis there must have been hundreds in the whole tree. Witches' Brooms must make an ideal place for these and many other creatures to shelter in, as there's no way birds can get in among the intricacies of a Witches' Broom the way they can peel away bark to get at the invertebrates hiding behind it.
I placed one of the snails on a fallen branch to photograph it with its head out, and it duly obliged. It turned out to be the Tree Snail, Balea heydeni. They belong to a family of snails whose shells spiral in the opposite direction to those of other snail families.
I completely forgot about looking for the fungus, but when I got home I looked it up in Ellis and Ellis and apparently it shows itself on small swollen pale leaves on short erect shoots within the Witches' Brooms, in June. Will look for these next month.
Two members of the Sedge family that are putting up early flowerheads are Common Bog-Cotton, left, and Black Bog Rush, right.
Saw my first butterfly of the year, either a Green-veined White or a Small White, too far away to tell which. There are a lot of Platydracus stercorarius beetles running around now; also saw a Dor Beetle and plenty of ants. The insect world has come alive since a week ago.
Mon 8 May 2006
Only went out for five minutes today but it was enough to give me my second and third butterflies of the year, a Green Hairstreak and a Fritillary of some kind.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer