Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Tue 2 Jun 2009
Owing to lack of time I've become 5 months behind with updating this site. I have plenty of material to include from that period, but I think it makes more sense to jump forward to the latest material and then fill in the old material when time allows. I hope from now on to keep the site up to date by following a "latest first" principle.
Today I was at the Seil Island Hall at Ellenabeich where a very exciting project is underway. The area around the hall is being made into gardens with the help of the BBC's Beechgrove Garden team, and will soon feature on the programme. There will be a wildlife garden, also flower and vegetable gardens, native hedging and a variety of other features. All of it will be managed with wildlife in mind, and the results will be closely monitored. To start off with, I'm surveying the whole site in its present form. All the species present are being recorded, so that we can observe how they respond to the changes and see which new species move in and old ones move out as the site develops.
Here are a few photos I took while doing the survey. I only surveyed one long grassy embankment; there is a lot more to do! The embankment was built long ago with waste from slate quarrying, and has many slates on its surface exposed to the sun. On a hot day like today these become extremely warm.
Ideal conditions for ants, and they make the most of it. Many of the slates have colonies of the Black Garden Ant underneath them, like this one with workers and larvae. Look out for their flying swarms around August.
There are virtually no other invertebrates under these slates. Perhaps the ants eat them all. The chunk of slate in the RH pic has a hollow beneath it where a toad lives; the fern is the Black Spleenwort, growing in thin soil over slate on the bank. This kind of habitat has been colonised by plants typical of natural rock outcrops, such as Wild Thyme, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Herb Robert and English Stonecrop, which all attract bees and butterflies.
Here's a Small Copper butterfly feeding on English Stonecrop flowers, and then resting on a slate to show its underside markings. Other butterflies seen were Painted Lady, which is currently present in Argyll in large numbers, Orange Tip and Green-veined White.
The flowers on the bank were visited by several Carder Bees (Bombus pascuorum) while I was there. I noticed other kinds of bumblebees in other parts of the garden but could not tell what they were.
Parts of the bank are bare slate lacking any soil covering. These have species typical of disturbed ground, such as this Smooth Hawksbeard, much like any other yellow Composite on top, but with a delicate red, white and yellow pattern to the floret undersides.
Sheep's Sorrel is another of the ruderals that take advantage of the bank's bare slaty bits. The Seil Island Hall is in the background. The House Sparrow is having a dust bath in the track that runs along the bottom of the bank, which is yet to be made up.
A Silver-ground Carpet moth fluttered over the bank, landing on various leaves, sometimes with its wings half-closed and sometimes keeping them open.
Areas of the bank with deeper soil support grasses and tall herbs, the most conspiciuous elements at this time of year being Sweet Vernal-grass, Tall Oat Grass, Red Fescue, Ribwort Plantain, Cowslip (perhaps originally planted) and Nettle. These pictures show Nettle galled by the fungus Puccinia urticata, and Red Fescue stems ringed with Epichloe festucae, in its white "Neotyphodium" stage, without fruitbodies. If the fruitbodies form it will turn yellow, like this one (a related species), but E festucae has never yet been known to form fruitbodies in Britain. Thanks to Stuart Dunlop and Malcolm Storey for help with the identification.
The find of the day was this 11-spot Ladybird, a vice-county first according to the NBN map. It was not on the bank but on the slaty slope leading down to the water near the Hall entrance. (Pic is posed, not in situ)
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer