Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)

Sun 19 Aug 2007 Beinn Bhreac, SE of Barcaldine

Parked at the end of the forestry in Gleann Salach and headed for the summit of Beinn Bhreac, 708 metres.  This was my first venture into real hill country since moving to Argyll (there is so much to see at lower levels!) and was a practice run for one of the higher mountains which I hope to do shortly.

Cicadellidae family sp on Filipendula ulmaria   Velia caprai or V saulii

Triturus helveticus or T vulgaris

While checking Meadowsweet for galls I found this Leafhopper on the underside of a leaf.  It must be an adult just emerged from its final nymphal moult, about to unroll its new wings.

The unnamed lochan at NM988389 had hundreds of Water Crickets skating about on its surface.  They scattered at any approach so I had to be content with a rather distant photo.  This one is a nymph.  A newt appeared from the depths, but didn't seem interested in feeding on the crickets.  I got the feeling it had come to investigate me, since every time I changed position to try and photograph it from the side, it changed position in turn so as to be face-on to me again.  Whether this was meant to make it look as thin as possible or as fierce as possible I'm not sure.

Scotch Argus butterflies are still everywhere, but at this level they were particularly numerous, despite the dull weather, fluttering about at below grass-top height and frequently pausing on vegetation, but not, as far as I could see, for any purpose such as laying eggs.

Up here on the hill in high summer you're aware that autumn is not far away.  The Deergrass tops were turning from green to gold and the Bog Asphodel fruits from gold to brown.  But Heath Spotted Orchids were still in bloom.  As the altitude increased the Asphodel too began to have flowers on it, and plants like Lousewort, which were over down below, could be seen in flower.  I wondered what would be the first alpine plant I'd see in Argyll...

It was Alpine Meadow-rue at 569 metres, followed by Fir Clubmoss (not really an alpine, but something I always look out for as a sign of gaining height) at 573 and Alpine Clubmoss at 592.

View south from Beinn Bhreac

It had been sunny earlier on but was now very dull.  There was a sheet of low cloud over the whole sky, broken up here and there and varying in density, but of uniform altitude as far as the eye could see in every direction.  It just clipped the top of Ben Cruachan, on the far left.  Fortunately it never came any lower, and as the day wore on it became a lot more gappy and the sunshine returned.

After lunch at this spot it was a short stroll to the summit.  The only other alpine found before reaching the top was Alpine Lady's Mantle which kicked in at 642 m.

Cetraria islandica   Vaccinium vitis-idaea

I noticed some purple-brown tips sticking up from a mat of Racomitrium lanuginosum, and on pulling the moss away found it to be the lichen Cetraria islandica, also known as Iceland Moss, an important food of Reindeer in Arctic regions, and even of humans in the past, but in Britain a montane species and not part of any creature's diet as far as I know.  The red fruits of Cowberry look a lot tastier.

The gall of Aculus anthobius on Heath Bedstraw, which featured in the Nairn trip, was very common near the summit.

Carex bigelowii   Euphrasia cf scottica

North of the summit I found one more alpine, and it was quite a surprise: Stiff Sedge, a plant more strictly confined to mountains than the others.  Well past its best, but since we haven't had its picture before, here it is.  This Eyebright from a group in a wet flush near the top is Euphrasia scottica, or close to it at any rate. (I am not among the select few who can identify Eyebrights with complete confidence).

I then made my way east, staying above the NM--40 line so as to record in a new tetrad, down the slope towards the upper reaches of the River Esragan, where I turned south and followed the burn, which is all it is at that stage.  Remarkably, Alpine Lady's Mantle was abundant all along the banks of the burn and on the sides of the gorges it passed through.  This continued down to 420 m altitude at which point I left the burn.  It was far more common than it had been on the mountain.  Alpine Meadow-Rue and Fir Clubmoss also reached lower altitudes beside the burn than on the mountain, and Starry Saxifrage and Roseroot were met with for the first time.  Yellow Saxifrage was also present, though that is not such a surprise.

I would expect sheltered banks like these to have lowland plants at higher altitudes than normal (as indeed they did), rather than the reverse.  It's true that populations beside a burn are replenished by seeds washing down from higher ground, and I'm used to seeing a scattering of alpines at sea level in river gravel on Skye, but not as the dominant plants in richly vegetated ground at lower levels than on the open hill.

Selaginella selaginoides   Saturnia pavonia caterpillar

Both Lesser Clubmoss (shown here) and the much stouter Fir Clubmoss were thriving among the liverwort mats on dripping vertical banks.  I also found Stagshorn Clubmoss in one place (on drier ground) making four clubmoss species on the day.

The Emperor Moth caterpillar's green camouflage loses some of its value among the varied colours of late summer moorland, still I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't bent down for some reason.  A Fox Moth caterpillar was seen earlier, but generally there seem to be far fewer large caterpillars on the moors in Argyll than there were in Skye.  I've yet to see a Northern Eggar.

Tue 21 Aug 2007 Inverawe - brief local stroll

A lot of second-generation Peacock butterflies about today.  Saw one Speckled Wood and many Scotch Argus.

Phyllonorycter coryli leafmine on Corylus avellana   Pteridium aquilinum sporangia

The blotch mine of the Nut Leaf Blister Moth (Phyllonorycter coryli) on a Hazel leaf.  This mine is on the upper surface only, there is no sign of it from below.

Sporing Bracken.  In Skye it was extremely rare for Bracken to produce spores; only in a very hot summer would the occasional frond do so, and I never saw it myself.  I don't know what the norm is down here in Argyll, but I was struck by the appearance of this frond's upperside, which I thought might be due to a gall, and turned it over to find these spore-cases.  Haven't seen any fronds like it since.  It remains to be seen whether this one was exceptional or just exceptionally early.


All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer