Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Waspish Behaviour

This worker Tree Wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris  was busily battering itself against the inside of my patio door yesterday. Then it caught itself in a spider's web before landing in an undignified heap on the carpet. All this despite the fact that it's a double patio door and the other door, two feet to the right, was wide open. Clearly there's no helping some insects...but help it I did. I gently potted it up and released it on the decking. I say "released", more a case of flicking it out the end of the pot to land, once again, in an undignified heap. It then spent some time cleaning itself


Two points strike me. Firstly it seems that all of our social wasps have a yellow patch on the side of the body, just below and ahead of the wing bases. Yet this one doesn't. Perhaps it's actually an MI5 micro-drone, in which case they clearly they need more professional hymenopterists working for them. Or maybe it's a Terminator Wasp sent back from the future, in which case you'd think they'd know about how patio doors work.

Secondly, this is clearly a fastidious insect and is fully intent on cleansing itself from whatever muck it has recently been through. As I see it, the antennae and eyes are the main sensory organs, hence need to be kept in good condition, So WHY does it repeatedly drag its legs across the hairy mesoscutum (fancy terminology for its back)? Surely the mesoscutum itself doesn't need preening, does it? So, my assumption is that the long hairs across the mesoscutum are used to brush clean the tarsal segments of the forelegs, which are in turn used to do the real cleaning. 

To be completely honest, I'm just pleased with myself for not running over the horizon, screaming like a girl at the sight of a wasp. I've come a long way this past ten years or so, so I have...

In other news, I found this small moth in the woods today. Rubbish pics, of course, but I'm thinking it may be Mompha locupletella, which I think would be new for Skye Edit: now confirmed as M.locupletella, still waiting to hear if it's a first for Skye.


I've whacked the pics up on the Skye Moths FB Group, they've still yet to be 'seen' by the two moth expert heavyweights (Keith the CMR and Nigel the Moth Guru) but I feel hopeful that I've got it right. Which would make it my FOURTH new for Skye moth this year.

Last bit of big news is that Pete, Tim and Ali are all arriving here in Uig this Friday. Which is in...um...just three more days' time! I'm SO madly excited. I had John Martin pop into my square for maybe 20 mins last year, though he had a dozen or so Wildflower Society bods with him at the time, and I had Tony come up in March for a whole week, but other than that I've been without any PSL buddies whatsoever. I've had contact with Pete, Tim and Ali via Faceslap and emails, but I've never actually met any of them before. Hence I'm really looking forward to Friday and introductions. Then it's straight down to the nitty gritty of showing them shitloads of new stuff for their lists! Hopefully Nick Hodgetts will join us for an hour or two, I know that Ali in particular is keen to get to grips with a few more bryophytes. 

Through no fault of my own, tonight's music swings back to WASP, even though you had them only a couple of weeks back, sometimes life sucks - get over it, but for fate it could be you stuck on the wrong side of a patio door. 



Also, whilst we're deep in 90s power ballads, this one is for the wee 6ft 2" waitress at work who just got dumped by her first true love, may he rot in rancid sheep dip for all eternity...



Roll on Friday, NG3963 won't know what's hit it!

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Biggest Day

On 10th June last year I took part in a 24-hour PSL Bioblitz Challenge, midnight to midnight with the object of recording as many wild species as humanly possible before time ran out. There were several teams across the country, but I was the only participant going solo and the only one to restrict themselves to a single 1km square. I like to be different, y'see...

Anyway, on last year's attempt it was cold, windy and it rained for 16 or 17 of the 24 hours. This year it rained the lightest drizzle for a short while before dawn, then cleared and ended up a relatively cool morning into the middle part of the day before turning decidedly warm by late afternoon/early evening. Personally speaking, I start to flag in the heat so these conditions suited me well. Unfortunately, I neglected to go to bed the previous night, so my energy levels relied on a steady stream of Red Bull, Relentless, chocolate bars and coffee. I sugar rushed my way through to about 2pm then hit a wall. At 5pm I returned to the hotel for staff dinner, had a shower, changed into fresh clothes and hit the square feeling a whole lot fresher. At about 9pm I retired to my room to tackle a few mystery specimens in pots and to go through the many images I'd taken with my camera. I collapsed into sleep around 1am, some 42 hours after waking up. By heck, it sure was a great feeling peeling off my socks and boots after 21 hours in the field.

I'll run you through the day as it happened, in an abridged form obviously! As is customary, I took a pic of the sky at the stroke of midnight

It never gets completely dark up here at this time of year, even at midnight! 
Quick change of plans, I figured I needed to answer a call of nature before setting off into the wilds. A'hem... But it wasn't wasted time, we hardcore PSLers are always primed and ready for recording, and the best of us can find stuff in the most unlikely of places. Even, as in this particular instance, whilst sitting on a toilet seat...  Species number 1 (White Ermine) attained at 0001hrs

Species No 1: a White Ermine on the bathroom wall
Species No 2: Pholcus phalangioides by the skirting board below the sink
Species No 8: Endrosis sarcitrella in the laundry shed (it stays lit well into the night)
Naturally, I had my light trap running in the back garden. In strict disobedience of last year's Rules I'd turned it on ahead of the start of the 24 hour period. Sod it, I didn't check it until after midnight,  so what's the difference? I had a star moth in the trap, yet I didn't know that at the time and hence only took a single crappy record shot. I wish I'd have posed it nicely, but I didn't realise the significance until later the next day.

Brussel's Lace - just the 3rd record for Skye following two at a Sleat site last year!!! 
Beautiful Golden Y - what a stunner of a moth!
I headed out into the woods with my torch and net, all kitted out and ready for action. Plenty of moths flying around, unfortunately they all seemed to be of just one species, Common Carpet. I tried to ignore the plants everywhere, telling myself that they'd still be there in daylight and that I needed to concentrate on finding inverts. The female Steatoda bipunctata was still in her web in the corner of the shop window, seemingly still the only Skye record for this spider. The track through the woods was absolutely littered with huge great slugs, the vast majority being large Leopard Slugs Limax maximus with a few Black Slugs Arion ater thrown in for good measure. On tree trunks I added several lichens along with plenty of Tree Snails Balea sarsiiTree Slugs Lehmannia marginata, a few Common Earwigs Forficula auricularia plus the lightning-quick predatory fly Tachypeza nubilis Species 100 (Sessile Oak) attained at 0210hrs

Suddenly I realised that I was no longer alone in the woods, I could hear footsteps sneaking about on the gravel track quite close by. I instantly killed the torch and froze, wondering how best to tackle whoever it was trying to creep up on me. I had my net handle, could be a useful weapon. I had my torch, I could suddenly dazzle them in the face and make my move. And then we met, face to face and all alone in the middle of the woods

Species No 119: Holy crap - it's a womble! 
Wild and wary, just wish I could have gotten a bit closer...
I think I must be the only person in Uig who hasn't seen a Hedgehog in the woods at one time or another. I was beginning to think everybody was having a big joke with me. Well, it may have taken me almost 18 months, but I've certainly seen one now!

It was getting lighter all the time, I barely needed my torch by 3am and it wasn't long before Robins and Song Thrushes added themselves to the tally, Tawny OwlsOystercatchers and a noisy Grey Heron being the only birds heard in the darkness.  

I headed back to the hotel, checked a few bits I'd potted up and took another look at the light trap. No more surprises, though a huge male Poplar Hawkmoth was a lovely addition to the tally alongside the first Rivulet I've recorded here

Species No 143: Poplar Hawk - been getting a few of these lately. Or the same one over and over again.
Species No 145: The Rivulet - a lovely wee moth
After a brief indoors interlude, I was straight back out and into the woods once more - this time in daylight. A Cuckoo called from somewhere up on the hillside, they've been a bit sporadic of late and I'd worried about missing them entirely, so it was a relief to hear one so early into The Challenge. As it happens I heard them throughout the day. 

I suddenly realised that the Alder I'd just walked by was covered in bits of white fluff...what??? A closer inspection revealed lots of woolly aphids. An even closer inspection revealed them to be psyllids not aphids. Woolly psyllids? That's a new one on me! 

Species 180: Psylla alni the Alder Woolly Psyllid. Cool stuff!
Staying with psyllids for the moment, a good hard stare into a patch of Rosebay Willowherb soon turned up this wee chappie. 

Species No 204: Craspedolepta nebulosa the Rosebay Willowherb Psyllid
This is the very species that I found new to Scotland last year, the Highland Biologiocal Recording Group (HBRG) now have a whole page dedicated to this beast, which you can check out by clicking here. Species 200 (Oxeye Daisy) attained at 0440hrs.

Also in the same patch of Rosebay Willowherb were six of these

Species 203: Mompha raschkiella, a rather smart moth presumably about to lay eggs on the foodplant
I've recently been granted permission to wander through a meadow. Technically, this being Scotland, I'm free to wander anywhere pretty much willy-nilly anyway (gotta love the Right to Roam Laws up here!) But I feel happier knowing that the landowner says I can wander about, regardless of what the current tenant may think. So saying, what with it being a bit before 5am, I suspect the tenant would still be fast asleep. Anyway, this meadow is just brilliant! I soon added approximately 100 Chimney Sweepers, thirty or so Timothy Tortrix, a handful of Grass Rivulets, a few Greater Butterfly Orchids and the only Rabbit of the day amongst others. 


Species No 206: Aphelia paleana the Timothy Tortrix - a firm favourite of mine
Species 233: Chimney Sweeper Moth, and an immaculate one at that! 
Low tide wasn't until 1227hrs, it was still only just about 6am. Nevertheless I took a quick wander along the water's edge and added a fistful of common seaweeds and watched Green Shore Crabs swimming in the shallow water. I entered Uig Wood again and spent a bit of time lifting stones and boulders in search of molluscs, beetles, crustaceans and flatworms. Unfortunately this was not a very profitable use of my time, after nearly three weeks without rain even the undersides of part-buried rocks were dry. I don't know where the inverts I sought found shelter, but it wasn't beneath the rocks I checked, though I did find a few bits and bobs. I did see quite a few leafmines though including several that I haven't recorded here before. Species 300 (Narrow-fruited Watercress) attained at 0743hrs.

Species No 298: Phytomyza angelicae on Wild Angelica
I headed back to the hotel at about 0900hrs, checked a few more bits in pots and wandered down for staff breakfast at half nine. I'd already asked the chef to rustle me up an extra large veggie omelette with beans. Bless him, he made me an eight egg omelette. Best chef ever. It was whilst I was breakfasting with the waitresses that my boss wandered through and asked me how I was doing, what number was I on so far, and did I already have the fly on the window? Much merriment ensued as he tried to show us the 'bluebottle' he'd spotted but that had mysteriously vanished into thin air. Poor chap's getting old. Early dementia was our immediate (and highly vocal) evaluation. But then, bless him, he really did spot a fly on the window right next to me. It quickly went into a pot, I could see it was a small soldierfly. Back in the lab I checked it more closely - Microchrysa polita and new to Skye, new in fact to the Inner Hebs and adjacent mainland! My boss was soon telling everyone that he'd found a fly new to Skye and he was SO proud of himself, haha! That was species number 345 and I was soon out the door and in search of more species. 

Species No 368: Black Snipefly Chrysopilus cristatus
Species No 376: Micropterix aruncella, I saw three of these within five minutes
I took myself back down to the shore seeing as the tide was finally heading out. Much turning of boulders added some good littoral stuff including the centipede Strigamia maritima, the staphylinid Thinobaena vestita and a very, very, tiny carabid for species number 400. Species 400 (Aepus marinus) achieved at 1210hrs.

Species No 411: Saltmarsh Flat-rush, a new one for the square! 
I then spent a good long while searching for fish beneath rocks. And by heck I found them too, including two species completely new to the square! Plenty of Butterfish and Shore Rocklings, these being the usual suspects that I find here. Bizarrely I've never had a Blenny here, but that all changed as I heaved one large stone over - yes! Finally! I've never been so excited to see a Blenny, so excited in fact that I forgot to take a pic of it... Happily I managed to catch and pot the next new fish, though I hadn't a clue as to what it was at the time. The hugely long second dorsal had me completely flummoxed, and it was only after zooming in on the photo's afterwards that I noticed and counted the barbels - that's when the penny finally dropped! 

Species No 427: the smallest Five-bearded Rockling I have ever seen. So cute!
I headed up the River Conon and into the Chasm of Doom. The river is running very low at the moment and it didn't take much searching to find several Brown Trout in a deeper pool and a male Three-spined Stickleback holding territory over his nest. Various new plants, bryophytes and aquatic inverts were quickly added including Polycelis felina (a flatworm) and Electrogena lateralis nymphs (a mayfly) plus lots of River Limpets. A flyby Dipper was a real bonus, I hadn't realised they were resident here, presumably breeding just upstream of my square, probably up by the waterfall. 

Possibly my biggest 'miss' of the day was Portevenia maculata, the Ramsons Hoverfly. I found it new to Skye last year, new to the Western Highlands, in fact. Just a few days back I counted over thirty of them in the carpets of Ramsons that cover the valley floor here. Today I noted the Ramsons, I noted the associated fungi Puccinia sessilis and Botryotinia globosa but not a sniff of the fly. I even did a bit of sweep netting. Nada. Truly bizzare. 

I clambered my way up the southern face of the gorge, it's actually quite difficult now that the vegetation has grown up, I almost fell off a couple of times! Once at the top I emerged into blazing sunshine and associated heat (off with the jumper!) and was straight into invert action with various hoverflies sunning on Ivy leaves. I'm amazed that it's taken up until now to see it, but finally Episyrphus balteatus fell for the year, alongside dayticks Syrphus ribesii, Eristalis pertinax, Eristalis horticola, Helophilus pendulus and Calliphora vomitoria (a surprisingly late entry at number 466). Two Rooks high overhead were a good addition, I'd probably have missed them if they hadn't been calling. 

Eventually I descended back down to the hotel for dinner, a shower, a change of clothes and duly departed with a much needed burst of renewed energy. I'd been avoiding the Sphagnum bog area until now, I fully anticipated a fresh suite of additions to the tally. What I wasn't expecting were the clouds of hungry horseflies that descended on me as soon as I set foot into the grazing lands that surround the bog. It transpires that the cattle have been moved elsewhere leaving an entire swarm of Notch-horned Clegs Haematopota pluvialis in a desperate search of blood. Oh lucky, lucky me... Species 500 (Marsh Cinquefoil) attained at 1807hrs.

However, the bog is a very good habitat (even if it is looking decidedly dry at the moment) and I was soon racking up new species including these beauties. 

Species No 502: Round-leaved Sundew
Which were soon eclipsed by these bigger beauties

Species 510: Great Sundew - entirely new to the square and absolute stunners! 
I had at least four horseflies on me when I took this pic, which is why it's somewhat squiffy and out of focus. I even managed to hit myself in the head with my own net several times whilst using it as a giant fly swatter. Horsefly bites don't actually hurt, it's just a small sharp jabby feeling (though technically they saw through your skin rather than jab with a proboscis) but I just don't like them. I could have let them take their fill, but through sheer numbers they could have bled me dry. So I swatted and swiped and repeatedly hit myself in the face and eventually scampered off in a quite undignified manner. Today I learned that the lady down the shop lives in the house that overlooks the bog. She was watching me seemingly catching all sorts of flying insects with my awesome net skillz. Nope, I was just swatting at clouds of horseflies, but thanks...

Just above the bog is a natural outcropping of stone amogst the grazing pasture. It has Field Gentian (couldn't see any though - probably too early) and a few other nice plants, so I gave it a bit of time. I found these

Species No 492 - a Swedish Whitebeam seedling!
The parent trees a good 100ft away
I've still to key these through properly, but they look like Swedish Whitebeams to me. One for another day. 

Species No 495: Heath Fragrant-orchid
Finally I saw a butterfly, just one mind you, a Green-veined White. It was soon followed by a Four-spotted Chaser and a few Large Red Damselflies. Still no grasshoppers though, which I find mightily strange. I had intended to grab a water sample from the ditch, but it was dried up. In fact, I manged to walk across what is ordinarily quite a deep water-filled ditch. No idea if the tadpoles managed to make it to froglet stage before their home dried out. I didn't see any. 

After donating a substantial amount of blood to the horseflies I quit and headed for the safety of the woods once more. I'd yet to work my way up the Glen Conon road, I had a particular species in mind which I've never seen anywhere else in my square. Bloody hell, but I was putting in some serious legwork today! 

Once up the Glen Conon zigzags I bunked over the crash barrier and descended into the wooded area above the river, north face of the gorge this time. I soon found my target species - European Larch and covered in Woolly Adelgids Adelges laricis. Nothing else worthwhile though, until I spotted a thick Alder limb covered in Hazel Woodwart...umm??? 

Hypoxylon fuscoides - very few records for this in Britain and new for me too - huzzah! 
By now I was proper whacked. Too many hills, too many Red Bulls, not enough real fluids and not enough sleep. I ambled and bumbled for an extra hour or so but in the end found myself heading back up the hill to the hotel where I grabbed a fistful of beers from the bar and retired into my room to try and make sense of what I'd collected in pots and on my memory card. 

My final tally is of 546 species, I've never seen that many species in a single day before. Success! 

As an aside, I was meant to be doing this today. Thankfully I have been keeping abreast of the weather forecast and knew today was going to be wet n' wild. Here's a very short clip of the trees outside my house this morning. I'm so glad I held my Biggest Day early!



Taken at midnight at the end of my Biggest Day. 

I'll compile a breakdown of the species seen in the next post. For now, it's almost 1am and I think I still have some outstanding sleep to catch up with. Night y'all....




Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Sea-Fishing

Several of us managed to secure places on The Radiant Queen this evening, a happy gathering on a sad occasion - this was the very last fishing trip being run on this boat. The fish weren't biting, they haven't been all season, and numbers of paying guests have been falling. All in all it was just a matter of time. I feel privileged to have been on the final trip in cracking company and the craic was great. 

Puffins are pretty much guaranteed, we saw a few hundred or so
Lion's Mane Jelly with Moon Jelly - lots of each seen tonight
Massively cropped pic of Neoturris pileata
Rosy Featherstar Antedon bifida  hauled up from the depths
But it's not all about the wildlife, the company was excellent. Love these guys (well, some of them...)

Callum with the only fish of the trip - a huge Pollack...ahem...
Big Lee - one absolutely amazing fella, with his stolen glasses...
Our very own homegrown soon-to-be professional footballers. Maybe.
How do you better a sunset like this?
Of course, you add a (kinda) Titanic moment! Lacklustre Lachlan, haha!
This from a couple of days back, I just happened to look up and this is what I saw

22 degree halo around the sun. Coolness!
Day off tomorrow, need a big push towards the 800 mark I reckon. 





Sunday, 3 June 2018

24hr MegaBlitzing...Part II

The date was 10th June 2017. The Challenge was to record as many species as possible in a full 24 hour period, midnight to midnight, no holds barred. Several teams across the country took part, for the most part we all endured sideways rain for the bulk of the day. One Sussex team successfully smashed the 1000 species barrier, quite phenomenal really (though they had brilliant weather throughout). It was quite possibly the first time that 'the thousand' had ever been achieved in a single day, quite amazing. 

I did my own wee version up here on Skye. They had to bend The Rules to accommodate me, but it was great fun, despite being cloudy and cold, then rainy, then just cloudy, then rainy again. I didn't even swing my fourfold net - not once - nothing flying other than birds and raindrops! You can read about my attempt by clicking here.  

It is almost exactly a full year since the 2017 attempt. Time for a re-run methinks!!!



These pics were taken just a few days ago - it's all starting to look rather productive at last
I'm a bit restricted regards choosing days off work and I'd need two consecutive days to be able to attempt this again (one day to do it, the second day to recover/add up/blog about it). There are Skye Nature Group outings on 12th, 19th and 28th June and a Skye Botany Group trip to Soay on 29th that I don't want to miss, plus I have the 1KSQ PSLers coming up 22nd-24th June. There are certain days of the week that are awkward for me to take off work. It appears that my options are being squeezed somewhat...

As it stands, the dates that currently seem suitable are 7/8th June, 8th/9th June or 15/16th June. Low tide is much better on the 15th. My weather website advises me that there is no rain due up until at least 9th. Which means that lichens and bryophytes will be all reduced to crispy husks and mostly unidentifiable (no change there then!) and the land molluscs will all be hidden away in the deepest cracks and crevices. Get me - making my excuses already, ha! Fuckit, I had a blast last time and I'll have a blast this time too. 

Right, a quick chat with the bosses is in order for tomorrow, see what we can thrash out between us. MegaBlitz Part II coming soon to a screen near you! 

Music! Heck, I've been a bit remiss lately, haven't I? I've forgotten to add a track or two for the past couple of posts. Sorry about that (or maybe you were glad? No accounting for some folks' taste...) So have you heard of this bunch? I've listened to them maybe once or twice, the title seemed appropriate for the forthcoming 2018 Uig MegaBlitz


And this has just come to me, haha! Early Metallica belting out this gorgeous classic, back from when they were screamingly raw and fresh (rather than super polished but boringly bland...)


Yup, I'll be Blitzkrieging my way through NG3963 soon, very soon...

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Day I Found TWO Moth Species New for Inner Hebrides

I spent a truly amazing day on Raasay with the Skye Nature Group today. I know bloggers tend to use words like 'amazing', 'incredible' and 'awesome' willy-nilly all the time, but it really was amazing, and for several good reasons. The weather was mercilessly hot and breathless, we were all sweating buckets within minutes. It was then that Stephen decided we needed to head uphill, bless his hiking socks.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's up a hill we go...
Stephen lives on Raasay and over the years has developed an intimate knowledge of the plants and local geology across his island. We were off to explore a limestone dominated area, an unusual feature in this part of the world. Our theory was that the plants growing here would be different to those growing over much of Skye and hence the associated invert assemblage could also be different. Who knew what we might find. Who knew indeed...

I think this was the very first moth that I netted, talk about off to a flying start!

Pyrausta ostrinalis
I recognised this as one of the Pyrausta straight away, but I wasn't sure which one. It went into a pot and was passed around for all to admire before I let it go again. I'm exceptionally glad that the image above shows a good portion of the hindwing because that pale patch above the two pale bars, combined with the blackish suffusion around the edges of the big golden bar across the forewings, clinches the identity of this moth as Pyrausta ostrinalis - completely new to the Inner Hebrides!!!!!

I waved this pic across the Skye Moths FB page where it was confirmed by moth guru Nigel Richards as well as vice county moth recorder Keith Sadler. It still needs to be sent off to Mark Young for official acceptance, but there shouldn't be any issues with as distinctive a moth as this. Sweet, it's not every day you get to add a moth to the Skye List (even though we were on Raasay...) 

A few sweep/miss/swish/got-its of the net later and I bagged this fine fella

Merrifieldia leucodactyla aka the Thyme Plume - and a lifer for me! 
So, a 'new' for Inner Hebs followed by a 'new' for me. Could the moths possibly get any better, I wonder? Yes, yes they really could.

"It's an Udea, not sure which one though. Maybe lutealis" was what I said at the time.
Well it turns out that it was an Udea after all, but not lutealis. This is Udea decrepitalis, new for me AND new for Inner Hebrides too!!!!!!!! According to UK Moths - A rare and local species, believed to be restricted to the Scottish Highlands, although one was recorded in South Wales in 1978. Again, I waved the pic across the Skye Moths FB Group and Nigel came back with "looks correct to me" (and if it's good enough for Nigel then it's good enough for me) so that's TWO 'new' for Inner Hebrides moths in the space of twenty minutes - Raasay is fast becoming my favourite part of Skye, haha! 

We wandered along the clifftop path enjoying the superb scenery and mirror-like calm of the sea far below. I casually asked if there were any endemic Sorbus on Raasay and Stephen surprised me by stating that there was a rare Sorbus just ahead, growing both above and below the path we were on. And sure enough, within another ten minutes or so, he pointed across a hillside and there stood my first ever Rock Whitebeam Sorbus rupicola. It was several hundred metres away yet I knew I had to get a record shot of it. This was a significant day for several reasons, not least because my PSL stood at 4997 species plus whatever I added whilst on Raasay. I knew the plume was 'new' for me, I didn't think the Udea was (though it certainly was) which meant that my 5000th British species was this magnificent beast

Sorbus rupicola - the mighty Rock Whitebeam
Happily, Stephen has been out to this tree to confirm the identity and it really is a Rock Whitebeam. I learned that beam is the old word for tree. I questioned whether it was the same word as used in, for example, roof beam. Colin chipped in that builders sometimes use the phrase ceiling tree when describing a ceiling beam, so I guess that answers that. My 5000th British species, a white ceiling beam...coolness.

Next we clambered up a very steep slope, admiring a profusion of flowering Early Purple Orchids (euphemism for catching our breath) and finding Yellow Saxifrage and lots of Alchemilla. A bit of impromptu scrutinising of the Alchemilla revealed a hairy stem (so definitely not glabra), leaves were sparsely covered in long hairs along the tops of the leaf folds and edges on the upperside and quite hairy on the underside too. I found a flowering head which had very hairy capitula

Hairy capitulum = Alchemilla filicaulis ssp vestita (Hairy Lady's Mantle)
To my mind this was my 5000th species, though the Udea moth later proved me wrong. Stephen was on a mission to drag us into a specific geological feature, though he couldn't recall the correct name. "Like a crack in the rock" he announced. I cleverly suggested gryke, seeing as we were on limestone. Too small, apparently. Ok, so then I suggested 'canyon'. Too large, by all accounts. Sheesh, but this guy was fussy. Oh, and it started with the letter F. Luckily for everyone, Rob immediately sussed it and suggested 'fissure', which was the correct term. The great news was that it was uphill some more.

Larger than a gryke yet smaller than a canyon....must be a fissure, yay!
Sadly, we failed to find the Holly Fern that once occurred on the fissure walls. We carefully descended, worried about starting a rockfall onto those still below us (at least I did). At the bottom of the geological feature that is larger than a gryke yet smaller than a canyon, Stephen very casually waved his arm at some rocks and muttered "Brittle Bladder-fern" - whaaaat?!?! I've never even seen Brittle Bladder-fern before, it's a lifer! I duly took some pics


Brittle Bladder-fern - quite a distinctive jizz to this plant. Very nice indeed. Awesome, in fact.
We then spied Beech FernHart's-tongueWall RueLemon-scented FernGolden Scaly Male-fernGreen and Black SpleenwortsHard Shield-ferns - I figured I was getting my eye in on fern ID before I completely blew it by pointing out a Lady-fern frond that was actually Bracken - duh! Stephen quite rightly threw a bit of it at my head for being so very dense.

Stephen - oblivious/completely unconcerned about the huge fall beneath him
By far the commonest insect we encountered was Rhagio scolopaceus, the Downlooker Snipefly, I can't ever recall seeing as many as we found today. They seemed perfectly content to land on our arms, rucksacks or hats as we meandered along the paths. I'm just glad they don't bite, I imagine that a non-naturalist could quite easily panic if one landed on their face/arm/shoulder!

Rhagio scolopaceus - Downlooker Snipefly
And then we turned a corner, crested a rise, and saw this

Magical waterfall, spilling straight into the sea! Incredible :) 
I'm not sure I can imagine a more tranquil spot, apart from being hassled by bastard midges that is. 

We walked onwards, down into a wooded ravine, across a shallow stream, up the other side again and came out at the site of an ancient village, long since abandoned. Upslope of the village were several deep ravines. Stephen said that they used to tether the children to stop them falling in (!) whilst Deirdre told us that goats were outlawed on certain crofts because the sheep would follow them onto cliffs and fall off. Harsh! All I know is that I loved it here, even more so when Stephen called us over to admire a solitary plant of Hairy Rock-cress Arabis hirsuta - yet another new one for me

Worst pic ever of Hairy Rock-cress, but at least you can (maybe) see the seedpods
Eventually we turned around to head back once more, we had a ferry to catch. Across the sea, somewhere above Kyleakin, we could distantly see a fire raging across a hillside


This comes hot on the heels of a large fire that rapidly spread across the hills above Sligachan just a couple of days ago, started by two careless tourists having a BBQ outside their campervan. Plus several more fires on other parts of Skye that same day, this heatwave has turned parts of the island "dust dry", as the locals say. Discarded cigarettes and disposable BBQs may seem innocuous enough, but in these conditions.... 

Back at the cars we just about had time for freshly baked pancakes and home made jams at Stephen's home before rushing off to the ferry and homewards once more. 

But not before Stephen showed me a couple of rather tasty invasive alien plants that were both 'new' to me

Spineless Acaena (Acaena inermis) growing in a verge of short grasses - tick! 
American Speedwell (Veronica peregrina) as a persistent weed in the veg plot!
So, from 'new to Inner Hebrides' moths to alien weeds in the cabbage patch, today has been just awesome. Lovely people, truly amazing scenery, moderately severe sunburn and a fat fistful of lifers. What more could a boy ask for in life? 

Hell yeah he has!