Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Thu 12 - Sun 15 Apr 2007 Taynuilt and Benderloch
At last I have time to throw together a random collection of pics which I hope will be the first of many based on my new home in Argyll, as I expect to have a lot more free time once the summer's here.
My bird/insect camera isn't up and running yet as the battery ran out over the winter and I have to reset all the menus from scratch which will involve some experiment as I can't remember what the previous settings were. So it's mostly just plants on this occasion. (The Coolpix 995 battery lasted the winter, naturally; that camera is a class above every other in all matters great and small)
I intend to make "Nature Notes from Argyll" a separate site (though on the same domain) with its own home page like the Skye home page, but for now I'll just link it through from the last page of the Skye site.
Early Spring flowers such as Celandines and Wood Anemones are at their best right now, along with Primrose, Wood Sorrel, Golden Saxifrage and Barren Strawberry in the woods, and in more open places Coltsfoot, Popping Cress and Thale Cress. And of course these...
Dog Violets on a shady bank, among leaves of Wild Strawberry, Bluebell, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Broad-leaved Willowherb, Wall Lettuce and Sycamore seedlings. In the RH pic, Field Woodrush, abundant now in open grassland, but by midsummer there will be no trace of it.
All these were as common on Skye as they are in Argyll, but here are a couple that I never saw in Skye - though both do occur there in just one or two localities.
Dog's Mercury on the left, an indicator of ancient woodland, and quite common hereabouts. On the right, Three-veined Sandwort, growing appropriately enough in sandy soil, among vegetation which will dwarf it before long, but by putting up shoots so early it has a head start and gets all the light that's going before the tree canopy begins to close over, as well as making its flowers conspicuous to any small insects already on the wing.
I tend to think of Greater Stitchwort as belonging to the second flush of Spring flowers, along with Bluebell and Wild Garlic, but it is well in flower around here so has to be counted with the earlies. On the right is a tiny car-park weed known in English as Spring Whitlow-grass, but this comprises 3 species according to the latest thinking. This one, Erophila glabrescens, is the commonest of the three in the West of Scotland.
I've seen one Bluebell in flower, and one in bud, out of thousands with leaves only. Likewise one Pignut with a fully open umbel, among hundreds with only leaves. Have also seen one Cuckoo Flower out and one Yellow Pimpernel plant with flowers. But things are moving very fast now and these will soon be taking over from the Celandines and Anemones, while every day will bring further new species into flower. Oh yes, Thyme-leaved Speedwell, think I've seen that in flower twice so far. And of course Slender Speedwell is everywhere, but that's not native. The aliens Pink Purslane and Ivy-leaved Toadflax are also in bloom.
While most Bluebells don't yet sport any flowers, a number of them can boast the presence of the rust fungus Uromyces muscari. Celandine leaves host a related species, Uromyces dactylidis. And the leaves of Creeping Buttercup are galled by Urocystis ranunculi. The lower gall in the picture has opened its top to release the black spores.
By far the most striking difference from Skye at this time of year is the wonderful display of flowering Prunus species along the roadsides and everywhere you walk here in Argyll. Blackthorn is the most frequent, shown on the left in front of a Gorse patch, and in close-up on the right. The Blackthorn was attracting far more insect visitors than the Gorse, but then the latter is in flower over a much longer period.
This is Bullace, or something very like it. The flowers are larger than those of Blackthorn and the petals are rounder, as can be seen by comparing the RH pic with the one above it. I also noticed that the sepals, on this bush at least, are green from the start, whereas they are often a maroon colour on the buds of Blackthorn and gradually turn greener as the flowers open. But I haven't seen this mentioned in any books and it may not be reliable in all cases. The year-old twigs were downy which is why I put it down as Bullace, one of the many varieties of Prunus domestica, which includes plums, damsons and greengages. Both flower and leaf are several days earlier on this bush and others like it than on the local Blackthorn, though again this is not predicted by the literature.
One last picture of Blackthorn showing the short twigs that end in spines. Wild Cherry, on the right, is the third Prunus species now in bloom. It was difficult to get a decent shot of it as the wind was blowing all the flowers so they had their backs to me - well, all except the two in the middle of this pic. (If I'd gone round the other side I'd have needed to stand in the river on stilts and, what's worse, shoot into the sun).
The only Prunus I regularly saw on Skye was Bird Cherry which flowers a bit later.
Another plant virtually absent from Skye is the Bulrush or Reedmace, seen here with some of last summer's fruiting spikes still intact and others disintegrating to release the feathery seeds. This process goes on almost until the next year's spikes are ready. The second picture shows the young trefoil leaves of Broom, which appear on the Spring shoots but often fall off quite early in the summer. Photosynthesis is mainly carried out by the plant's evergreen stems which are ridged to increase their surface area; this can be seen just right of bottom centre where a piece has been chewed off.
Good to see that Argyll has the Bog Beacon, here among Sphagnum in woodland. On a drier woodland floor, Beechnuts are germinating to produce their extraordinary seed-leaves which are quite unlike the normal leaves.
Peacock butterflies are incredibly numerous here, considering that I never saw one on Skye and that there are only a handful of records for them there. The first one I saw this year was on 25 Mar and from then until 13 Apr they were everywhere you looked, though I was out for some time on the 15th without seeing any. The Butterfly Conservation site says "it is resident in the west and on islands of the west coast, as far north as Argyll", so you'd expect it to be on the edge of its range here and not all that common. Maybe it's just having a good year. They like to land on bare ground or any low object such as a log, but not usually on live vegetation, except when feeding when they are fond of the Blackthorn flowers.
I found this neat little moth on my bathroom curtain, and identified it as the Double-striped Pug. It's common all over the UK and has its first flight period from Mar-May and its second from Jul-Aug, but, according to Skinner, "in the north, including parts of Scotland, it is only single-brooded, appearing in June and July". Nice to know this is one of the parts of Scotland where it's able to double-brood (either that or I've got the ID wrong!)
Saw the first Swallows of the year on 12 Apr. Haven't noticed any other summer migrants yet, unless you count Lesser Black-backed Gull, but time outdoors has been very limited.
|Finally today's mystery object. I was
looking for Peacock eggs on Nettles, which I thought I'd find easily
enough given the number of butterflies that have been about, but had no
luck. However on one clump of young nettles many of the leaves had
spots of this yellow powder on their upper surface. I doubt if it's
eggs, as they are very fine, the individual grains being barely visible.
Perhaps it's the initial stage of some fungus. Would be glad to hear
from anyone who knows.
Update: Chris Yeates suggests this is a patch of pollen, as bees often clean excess pollen onto leaves like this.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer