Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Tue 29 Jul 2008 Ben Lui
Surveying plant populations on Ben Lui as part of BSBI Site Condition Monitoring team. The area covered was partly in Stirlingshire (VC88 Mid-Perthshire) and partly in Argyll (VC98 Main Argyll). The mountain is very rich botanically owing to the limestone rock and lack of grazing. It rained for much of the time which limited the number of photos.
The so-called False Sedge is the only British sedge outside the large genus Carex to have separate male and female flowers, as the Carex species do. It is close to Carex but has an open utricle which exposes the nut. It occurs in a narrow band across Argyll and Perthshire with outlying populations in Teesdale. Pic 2 shows the Sheathed Sedge, which is a bit more widespread in the Highlands. It was discovered in England for the first time a few years ago during the foot and mouth epidemic when the lack of grazing allowed the plants to flower. Large amounts of vegetative material had been unrecognised on the English hills until then. I have to say though that Jim McIntosh of our party had no problem recognising this plant from its basal leaves, so the English have no excuse! It was some time before we found flowering shoots, which are scarce even when the plant is ungrazed.
I showed a very poor pic of Hair Sedge from the Ben Lawers area last month. These give a better impression of it, though the terminal male spikes have fallen. It's frequent in the Argyll and Perthshire hills and scattered in limestone districts elsewhere, including the far north coast of Scotland at sea level.
Here's a better pic of Black Alpine Sedge than the Ben Lawers one, despite the windy conditions. This species is confined to high ground, mainly in Argyll and Perthshire. The little plant in the second pic is Hoary Whitlow-grass, without the twisted fruits found on better-grown specimens. I took the photo to make sure it wasn't the rare Rock Whitlow-grass, which always has untwisted fruits, but the toothed leaves prove it to be the commoner species.
Two of our target species were Shade Horsetail and Alpine Woodsia. I took these (and other) pictures to try and verify possible specimens. The problem with the Horsetail was that many of its branches were 4-angled, whereas Shade Horsetail is supposed to have them all 3-angled. The fern was suspicious because of its black stems, among other things.
It turned out that we were ok with the Horsetail; it is Shade Horsetail and there was a lot of it. We also found its hybrid with Wood Horsetail. The fern, however, is not Woodsia but a stunted Brittle Bladder Fern. Despite reliable past records of Woodsia from the area we did not find any on this occasion.
We did find something even more exciting from my viewpoint, since I had never seen it before: Mountain Bladder Fern. Continuing the green theme, Frog Orchids were frequent at around 600 m altitude.
Plants such as Alpine Saw-wort, left, which are usually confined to rock faces, were growing in open grassland along with many others that seemed odd in such a habitat, such as Northern Rock-cress (whose leaves were very different to those it has on Skye). Round-leaved Wintergreen was only flowering on inaccessible rock ledges, but this shot from a distance has come out reasonably well.
Other plants of interest included Three-flowered Rush, Northern Bedstraw (hairy mountain form), Wood Cranesbill, Alpine Bartsia, Globe Flower, Scottish Asphodel, Cyphel (much rarer in Argyll than in Skye), Stone Bramble, Toothed Wintergreen, Holly Fern, Moonwort, Moss Campion, Alpine Bistort, Mountain Sorrel, Mountain Willow, Dwarf Willow (on rock faces, in contrast to its Skye habitat of bare flat exposed tops), Limestone Bedstraw, Stiff Sedge, Russet Sedge, Green Spleenwort, Mountain Avens, Northern Bilberry, Purple, Yellow and Starry Saxifrages, and frequent large stands of Melancholy Thistle.
This striking gall on Marsh Violet is caused by the rust fungus Puccinia fergussonii, described as "very rare" in British Plant Galls, but apparently only "scarce". Found at 585 m.
A couple of moths were met with on these heights, both of species we had in Saturday's moth traps, but worth another showing. The Common Marbled Carpet landed on a rucksack. The other is the Green Carpet, whose colour has faded even more than in Saturday's example.
Fri 1 Aug 2008 Taynuilt
House Martins from my window. Swallows are a lot more usual on these wires.
Mon 4 Aug 2008 Port Appin
Found one Birdsnest Orchid, left, and hundreds of Broad-leaved
Helleborines, right. Also hundreds of Narrow-leaved
Helleborines but they were past flowering and only had leaves.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer