Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)

Tue 12 Feb 2008 Luing.

A Seil Natural History Group midweek walk.  We met at Cuan and took the ferry to Luing.  Three Black Guillemots in breeding plumage were seen from the ferry.

Ruined slate building   Slate rocks, Luing

The Isle of Luing is composed mostly of slate and signs of its quarrying are everywhere.  The LH pic shows the ruins of a slate building, with slate rubble in the foreground, and the cliffs above Ellanabeich, on Seil, in the background.  The RH pic shows slate rocks and something of the fast tide-race between Luing and Seil.

Iron pyrites in slate   Potamogeton polygonifolius. submerged-leaves only form

In many places the slate contains cubes of iron pyrites which make it less serviceable but more attractive.  There are a great many pools of various sizes from flooded slate workings.  This one contains a form of Bog Pondweed having the submerged type of leaves only, in contrast with the usual form with only floating-type leaves that occurs in ditches and moorland flushes.  In lochs it generally has both kinds of leaves.

Luing Cattle   Inorganic limestone

A special breed known as Luing Cattle are the only kind kept on the island.  Ellanabeich and Easdale can be seen in the background.

In places the slate is overlaid with dykes of ancient limestone originating from the volcanic eruption on Mull 60 million years ago.  Whereas most limestone is formed from the shells of sea creatures, this limestone is inorganic, and is striped with white bands of highly pressurised calcium carbonate known locally as marble.

Two Skylarks flew over calling to one another with snatches of song.  From the east coast of Luing we watched two otters in the water and then on the shore of Torsa Beag, a mother and cub.  They were some distance away but we were able to watch them for a good long time.

Tursiops truncatus   Tursiops truncatus   Tursiops truncatus

Walking along the east coast road back to the ferry we were fortunate enough to see a group of 4 Bottlenose Dolphins splashing about in the water.

All in all a very successful day, and to round it off while lunching at the pub - outside in the mild weather - we were visited by a queen White-tailed Bumblebee.  Spring is on the way!

Belnahua and the Garvellachs

Belnahua (left distance) and the Garvellachs (centre and right distance) from Port Mary on the north-west coast of Luing.  One day Nature Notes will report from those islands!

Wed 13 Feb 2008 Ardmaddy

The start of my second series of BTO timed tetrad visits.

Anas penelope   Thamnobryum alopecurum

A pair of Wigeon in Ardmaddy Bay.  Altogether I counted 35 of these, compared to 50 in December.  Other birds of interest were 3 Bar-tailed Godwits and 3 Jack Snipe.

A new moss for me - Thamnobryum alopecurum, very dark green against an even darker background, growing where water runs down over a shaded roadside bank.

Seil from Ardmaddy

Foreground: Birch scrub and Bracken.  First bit of land: the peninsula on the W side of Ardmaddy Bay.  Small island to R of centre: Eilean Tornal, in Balvicar Bay, Seil.  The land behind it is Seil, with the village of Balvicar to the left, and behind that in the distance are the mountains of Mull.

Tue 19 Feb 2008 Kilchoan to Degnish, another BTO bird survey day.

Pyrrhula pyrrhula

I watched this female bullfinch for a while; she had a voracious appetite for Blackthorn buds.

Polystichum setiferum   Polystichum setiferum, basal scales

I try not to look at plants while doing a bird survey but noticed some tufts of Soft Shield Fern along a stretch of shady roadside bank at Kilchoan.  I know it's not quite so rare in Argyll as it was in Skye but still it was quite a surprise.  The "thumbs" on the pinnules nearest the rachis are the sign that it's not one of your ordinary woodland ferns.  The second pic shows the huge scales at the base of the frond; these are much larger than on the Scaly Male Fern which is shaggily clothed with more, but smaller, scales.  In both pics the fronds are flopping downwards over the bank, but at least they're still green in February.


All photos and other content copyright Carl Farmer