Saturday, 31 December 2016

And the 4500th falls!

Just a quick blast of a blog tonight. As of this morning my British PSL stood at precisely 4497 identified species. An awkward number, I was keen to push it up to a significant figure by the end of 2016. Would I manage it? Last chance today, I had simply to go for it! 

So off into Uig Woods I trotted in search of 'new stuff'. An uncomplicated plan, they usually work best for me. I concentrated on scanning the tree trunks for obvious looking lichens (and studiously ignored those bastard hard bryophytes that are also everywhere up here. I just find them so damned difficult to ID). Anyway, it rained a bit, it stopped for a bit, it rained some more. I didn't care, I was on a mission. 

I finally took a closer look at a common lichen, it looked pretty distinctive. Turns out to be Lecanora chlarotera, common on smooth-barked trees and one I should have secures ages back. Here it is

Look closer, see a few black dots on the apothecia - that's a parasitic fungus, also new for me.
The black spots could be the lichenicolous fungus Vouauxiella lichenicola or one of the Stigmidiums, which seems more likely given that whole apothecia are being covered rather than just small dots.

Meanwhile, on a nearby trunk was this beauty just waiting for me to discover it 

Pannaria rubiginosa, yet another denizen of the Celtic Rainforest
Often found in company of Degelia and Pulmonaria in the humid Celtic Rainforest. Yep, can't argue with that! It seems quite range-restricted in Britain. This part of Scotland is its core territory. Nice!

I wandered down to the beach for another look at what the tide had brought in. Searching through the kelp holdfasts is always a great way of finding stuff, Wart Barnacles (Verruca stroemia) were commonly encountered, but a small, oddly squared bivalve caught my eye. I brought it back home to study under the microscope, turns out it is a thing called the Wrinkled Rock-borer (Hiatella arctica) and it is widespread around NW Scotland coasts, very often on kelp holdfasts. 

Wrinkled Rock-borer (Hiatella arctica). Not a great pic, but better than the microscope atempts!
One other thing caught my attention on the beach. There are lots of lichen-covered rocks and boulders at the top of the beach, well above the HWM. Most are capped in a plain white lichen, but one had a plain white lichen with huge great black apothecia. I took a pic, went home and researched. Turns out to be another lifer, this one is Tephromela atra and a real stunner too!


Just check out those amazing apothecia!
Cropped enlargement of the fruit bodies. I think these are just amazing!
So that finished my wee foray into the wilds of NG3963. She's been a sweet square kilometre so far, quite a range of lifers since I've moved here. Been here a month and 2 days so far and still loving it. My British PSL total now stands at 4502 species. 

Everybody, whatever you get up to in your spare time, have a great New Years and I hope 2017 is an amazing year for you. See you on the other side!!! 

Friday, 30 December 2016

Penultimate Day

Hurrah! The storm winds have passed at last. It was actually quite comfortable out there for the first time in over a week. First up I checked on the dead sheep. Yep, still dead. Unfortunately it was still a long way out on the beach too, doubtless it will still attract various species after a nice yummy meal, those after somewhere to lay their eggs and those in search of mates. Just not as many as if it was up on dry ground instead of being swamped by seawater a couple of times a day. I could see a family walking my way, I doubted the two young kids would sleep too well that night had they seen me laboriously hauling a sheep carcass up the beach and into the bushes by its horns. I left it out there all exposed on the black sands. The Hooded Crows have slightly enlargened the hole in its side, but otherwise it still looks relatively unscathed, in a seaweedy kind of way. 

The tide was well out so I went exploring. The beach here has such a shallow gradient it really is pretty much flat. No rockpools. No green. Not very diverse. But it does currently have an awful lot of washed up seaweeds, mostly Egg Wrack and Bladder Wrack but also a few bits of Oarweed (Laminaria digitata) and Sea Belt (Saccharina latissima) which were new for my NG3963 list. Found this thing on a holdfast, something I've never seen before.

Ascidiella scabra, a sea squirt
I also had a proper shufty at the barnacles. I'm not a huge fan of barnacles (although Chthamalus stellatus has a pretty cool trick, splash water onto them and watch closely as they momentarily open their valves to reveal bright blue flashes. Looks a bit like the Eye of Sauron wearing mascara!) The ones plastering the hard surfaces here mostly seem to be Balanus crenatus, one I've never identified before - despite being one of the commonest barnacles in Britain. 

Balanus crenatus
After the beach I took a wander into the woods, what's left of them. My wee track through the trees has turned into a bit of a slippery mudpit and there seem to be a few extra trees and branches strewn around the foot of the steep slope. 

The pile of logs in the left foreground was already there. The rest though...
I had another look at the Graphidion community on the smooth-barked tree trunks. There's an explanation of what the term means on this British Lichen Society page. Mostly dots and squiggles to me, which to be fair is a fairly accurate description anyway. Here's an example, something I think akin to Opegrapha atra.

Opegrapha atra and Graphis scripta are typical members of The Graphidion
Tomorrow is the last day of the year. My Pan-species List stands at 4497 species. I'd really like to hit 4500 tomorrow, start 2017 on a nice round figure. Weather is due to be crap again (I'm getting used to this) but I'm going to go for it anyway. But not mosses, it needs to be something satisfying!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Death

Enjoy a small festive treat on me, a reminder that there's more to December 25th than the twisted, perverted, truly ridiculous sham of a pretence that is the Christian's c-word. But I digress.

Unfortunately I had neglected to bring tinsel or baubles. Careless, I know.
Presumably this is one of the sheep that came down off the hills during the last few of days of storms. There were a whole bunch of them on the treacherous slope above the River Conon a couple of days back, seeking shelter from the strong winds and driving rain. I guess this one fell in, where it would have been battered around a bit on the rocks, before being carried out into the bay.

Your destructive habitat-munching days are over,  me old mucker.
That's one less woolly maggot helping to trash our countryside. I was recently shown a ridiculous FB post regarding the ongoing plight of deer in the Scottish Highlands, presumably applied equally whether referring to the native Roe, dubiously native Red or wholly alien Fallow and Sika? How the poor wee beasts are being driven into conflict with man due to far too many deer fences, hence depriving them of their traditional slopes, rutting grounds, shelter belts and so forth. Aah bless. The sooner the Scottish government wakes up and starts a systematic culling of the herds the better. But I won't hold my breath. 

Wrack and ruin - literally.
Here's another woolly maggot further up the beach. A midway stage of decomposition between these two corpses will provide me with good hunting grounds for various 'carrion beetles', maybe some nice silphids and staphylinids. I'll have to hope the more recent arrival gets washed higher up the beach than present, not sure how attractive it will be if full of sea water.

Also be worth keeping an eye open for Tetraplodon mnioides, a moss that grows on old bones, sheep carcasses being just about perfect. Maybe more likely up on the hills or in woodland than on the shore I guess, but it has been recorded from Skye already so I shall keep checking.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Storm's a-coming

My boss told me that as he saw it, the idea of moving to Skye and sitting out a wild and windy storm had an almost romantic charm to it. Then he sat through one. The roof blew off the back of the hotel and nine mature trees came down across the grounds. His romantic notion of a Hebridean storm went gusting straight out the window. And guess what...yep, there's a storm coming. One of the staff here reckons wind gusts are going to hit 90mph. I'm just thinking about all the outside painting I've got lined up to do. Luckily the weather is due to improve - in about a week's time.

Naturally enough I did what any self-respecting, hard-working fella would do. I immediately dashed off to the woods for some last minute pan-species listing before the weather really closed in. Heading down to Uig Woods was fine, the wind was at my back and it was fairly dryish. Stepping through the gateway I finally identified the big sedgey-type thing that grows all over the place here as Great Wood-rush Luzula sylvatica complete with its associated microfungus rust Puccinia obscura, which is a lifer for me. Even though I've been staring at it for weeks now. It has been recorded from Skye before, but apparently not from up here at the top end.

Puccinia obscura in all its glory.
There has been a fair bit of rain over the past few days, as can be seen by the current state of the river. I was walking that right hand margin last week, turning stones in search of flatworms.Nothing other than lots of Polycelis felina so far.


I managed to clamber up a bit of the slope in order to reach a big old oak that I could see was festooned with dark patches of lichen. No clear idea of the species involved yet, but here are a couple of pics anyway. Suggestions welcomed! Probably a Sticta or two in there. Like Sticta birds you fool. Apologies for the harsh glare from the flash, it was pretty darn murky out there.




Just as I finished taking these rubbishy pics the wind picked up and the temperature fell. Hmmm, time to make my getaway. One last pic though before I left the woods, this being a whole different kettle of fish. This is what almost every single smooth-barked tree around here looks like up close.

This is what's known as The Graphidion, comprising several genera of lichens on smooth bark. This is Pyrenula.
Scary shizzle to say the least. There are a couple of 'easy' Pyrenula, but that'll have to wait for another day. It was starting to look a tad ominous out to sea. This was the view across the bay towards the pier. 

That dark stuff? That's a hailstorm. Guess what hit me about 3 minutes later...
Luckily I had my waterproofs in the bag. Even so, I was still about 10 seconds too slow, but survived the uphill walk back home without getting wet. Having hail lash me in the face wasn't funny, but the rest of me was dry. There's a welder's mask in the garage, that'd protect my face. And probably get me arrested. Typically the weather cleared up just a few minutes after I was back indoors. Sounds pretty crappy out there now though.   

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Seeking Enlichenment

It's wet. It's grey. It's raining. It's cold. It's yukky out. Remind me, how did I end up on Skye in the wintertime? 

Anyway, that's enough of that ol' claptrap. There's places to go, things to see, species just waiting to be discovered! I hit the road and went exploring a new area of NG3963... But first up was an overdue return visit to that patch of Mentha down by the shore. As I recalled it had rather serrated edges to the leaves and smelled a bit like chewing gum. Going back with a copy of Stace and The Vegetative Key I soon sussed it as Spear Mint Mentha spicata, or possibly an almost pure hybrid of it. The teeth along the leaf margins seemed a bit less prominent than they ought to be, but essentially nothing else fitted. Plus it's already known from the area. Spear Mint is my 1091st species of British plant.  

Note the short petiole on these gorgeously spearmint-smelling leaves (you'll just have to take my word for that!)
After setting my mind at rest regarding the identity of the mint I headed into Uig Woods for another uneducated gawp at the vast array of lichens on offer. Seriously, I need some help with identifying these buggers! Many seem to change colour when wet, often quite radically. To the point where I fail to recognise it as the same species I was flummoxed with last time. Anyway, the rain certainly helped highlight one particular species that I've been on the look-out for. And nope, I haven't played around with the colour or contrast on this next image.

Lobaria virens - my first ever Day-Glo lichen!!!
Oh right, no mistaking THAT when you see it! At least not when it's wet. I had wondered if I'd been overlooking it amongst the masses of Lobaria pulmonaria that grows over many of the branches, trunks and wall tops around these woods. Guess not! So that's two Lobaria down and two to go...

A small road climbs the hill in the far north-east corner of NG3963. I hadn't explored that part of the square yet so off I marched keeping a sharp eye out for traffic (ha, not a single car went up or down that hill in the hour or so I was there!) There are some really sizeable Fuchsia (Fuchsia magellanica) bushes fully naturalised along this stretch of road, be interesting to see if they are attractive to insects in the summer months. Unfortunately it doesn't feature in Ellis & Ellis so I shall restrict myself to checking any insect associations instead. 

Immediately noticeable amongst the ranks of Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) lining the roadside ditch were a great many Coleophora cases jutting out of the seedheads at unlikely angles. There are several species that feed on Juncus but only C.alticolella and C.glaucicolella have cases that look like this. 

So is it Coleophora alticolella or is it Coleophora glaucicolella???

Luckily the larva (which is hibernating within the case) would provide the answer. Or rather the shape and size and presence/absence of the sclerites on the abdomen would. Confused? Yeah, so was I but actually it's pretty easy to tell them apart, just need to wake the wee fella up and take a peek. Which is what I did back indoors (mainly due to the newly-appointed moth recorder's request for absolute proof - even though C.alticolella is decidedly common on Skye and C.glaucicolella has yet to be recorded). It was a good process to go through, and I'm really glad that he insisted on a 100% definite ID rather than a probable, even in the face of overwhelming odds. I suspect he's going to make a damn fine recorder. 

I pinned one end of the case and the larva (ever so slowly) emerged from the other end. Easy!

Mega crop of the same pic. I don't think he was very happy about being woken up in late December! 
So, as can be seen on the images above, the first two lateral sclerites (the dark patches on the first two body segments just above the legs) are noticeably bigger than the sclerite on the third segment and there isn't a dorsal sclerite (which would be on the top) on that same third segment. This conclusively shows that this moth is Coleophora alticolella, not glaucicolella, and the record has been put through as such. Now the local moth recorder is happy and I'm happy too. Not so sure about the moth, I shall put it on a fresh seedhead tomorrow. Phew, job's a goodun! 

As is my wont I soon found myself grubbing around beneath the trees, turning logs and boulders for signs of life. I added the odd myriapod and woodlouse, a few slugs and snails (still awaiting ID) but nothing particularly exciting. Lots of Yellow Brain Fungus Tremella mesenterica and White Brain Exidia thuretiana on dead sticks and logs. 

I did a bit of a mad scramble up a steep slope in order to shortcut back to the road above me. Using a low branch I hauled myself up one especially slippery section and almost came a cropper when it suddenly snapped off in my hand! I ended up doing a flying dive for the tree (somehow I made it) to save myself a naughty fall back through the bramble patch I'd just spent the last few minutes high-stepped through. Next time I'll just take the longer route. 

Back on the road once more I set off downhill (don't ask...) and returned to Uig Woods and its array of scary lichens. I have to admit that some of them are pretty damn swanky things when viewed through a handlens. Obviously you look a complete and utter weirdo to any passing members of the public (mummy, why is that man sniffing a tree...) (hello police? There's a perv hiding behind a tree...) (ambulance? There's a man super-glued his head to a tree...) which is why I keep an eye out for dog walkers, short-cutters and any other weirdos behind trees. Although finding a lichenologist would be almost too good to be true, I can but hope. Maybe I should join a lichen group, go on some outings and then get them to visit Uig. Hmmm. Anyway, I'm starting to get a feel for lichens and can recognise a few now. Big obvious ones anyway. Like Lobaria, Degelia, Peltigera, Pertusaria. 

Degelia cyanoloma - this is what I mean by 'big and easy'!!
A close look at a patch of Pertusaria pertusa, a pale grey crustose lichen, revealed a bleached patch of thallus. A closer look showed why - it has been parasitised by an invasive fungus which kills and bleaches the lichen as it spreads. The fungus involved is Nesolechia oxyspora, nationally it is very thinly scattered throughout western Britain but has its stronghold in this part of Scotland. Nice! Well, not so nice for the lichen obviously. 

Note the pale patch in the centre of the thallus, this is the area of fungal infection

Microscope pic - the small, rounded orange patches are the fungal fruit bodies.

Ok, just a couple more lichen pics to finish, these taken through the 10x handlens.

This I had down as Ochrolechia parella. Not so sure now... 
Not sure any more. It looked good for something earlier. My head hurts. Time for bed...

Right, and that's quite enough lichens for one day. They'll still be there tomorrow (curses...) On my way out I couldn't help but notice this wee chap sheltering on a gatepost.

Oligolophus hanseni - these are on the wall back home too. Lovely tubercules - ooh err missus!




Wednesday, 14 December 2016

There's a moose loose...

Just a very brief post, an unexpected addition to the list today was a rather lost looking Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) sitting in the hallway outside the room. Not sure how it made its way indoors, possibly via the backdoor (sometimes it's left ajar when folks pop outside). Unlike the much maligned House Mouse (the clue is in the name...) Wood Mice do not habitually come indoors, although they will merrily forage in gardens and maybe nest under your shed or in a birdbox.

Anyway, it very handily ran straight into a non-lethal mouse trap (ha!) which I picked up and emptied outside near the burn. It was last seen scampering off beneath a fence panel, still alive and kicking. Stay outside little buddy, plenty of seeds and berries out there for you to feast upon. Especially now there's a bird-feeding station just across the driveway. 

I'm pleased to have finally bumped the Mammal tally up from a measly one (human!), pity I didn't think to take a quick pic though. That's the 194th species I've recorded from the 1km square NG3963 so far this month.

Here are a few links to information regarding the Wood Mouse, Britain's most numerous mammal



From Countryside Info 

Late night update - a Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) was settled on the lit bathroom window about an hour ago. I potted it to confirm the identity, took a few pics and released it back outside again. This individual is a male, the females have tiny stubby wings and are totally unable to fly. The closely related Northern Winter Moth (Operophtera fagata) is a tad larger and paler than the much commoner Winter Moth, although both are present on Skye so I shall have to keep my eyes open for the other one. Winter Moth will, as its name suggests, fly throughout the winter right into February whereas the Northern Winter Moth's flight season is usually finished by the end of December. So that's my first macro-moth for the square safely in the bag.




Tuesday, 13 December 2016

I'm finally lichen it

Woke up to find it was a beautiful day outside, clear blue skies and wall to wall bright sunshine. Right, time for some more exploring and today I had Aimée's company too. But first, a quick nip down to the shop added both Collared Dove and Kestrel to the slowly increasing birdlist. 

Discovering what appears to be absent or scarce up here is really quite surprising. There are absolutely no Stock Doves here, Magpie is very slowly colonising from the mainland, Mute Swan is a barely annual visitor, Coot is a vagrant, and there is just a single record for Green Woodpecker. Mind you, on the flipside of the coin both species of eagles breed, Red Grouse and Ptarmigan breed, Golden Plover and Greenshank nest, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel, Corncrake....the list goes on. Plus there aren't any of those poxy arse Rose-ringed Parakeets up here - and I can live with that. 

On the beach were a few Oystercatchers, Redshank and about 200 gulls bathing where the river enters the sea. Mostly the usual motley crew of Herring, Common and Great Black-backed Gull. But, hiding at the back was a single 1st winter Black-headed Gull too. Haha, I've never been so glad to see a Black-head, my first sighting up here! A Common Snipe was accidentally flushed from long grass just above the beach, yet another addition to NG3963's sightings.

Wandering out across the exposed sands we failed to find anything of excitement beneath rocks or amongst the masses of Egg Wrack and Channelled Wrack. Aimée found a couple of wormcasts (seriously, the first we've seen up here!) and I found the exposed tube of a Sandmason Worm. Then Aimée brought over a bit of Egg Wrack with 'stuff growing on it'. It was a species of epiphytic hydrozoan, I couldn't name it without reference to my books and microscope, but later on I was able to name it as Dynamena pumila Sea Oak Coralline and a lifer for me.

Dynamena pumila taken down the barrel of my microscope. It's a technique I need to refine...
Moving up the beach we entered Uig Woods and headed straight into the undergrowth away from the main path. Aimée managed to flush up a grand total of four Woodcock (!) I had a good old look at the lichens on the tree trunks and figured I knew one or two from endless surfing lichen websites.

Degelia cyanoloma I reckon, a local speciality up in this part of the world.
Tree Lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria, pretty damn common up here to be fair. 
Not entirely sure, maybe a really heavily developed Degelia atlantica???
Degelia atlantica, at least I think it is anyway. 


Back on the road again I remembered the Peltigera membranacea from yesterday and managed to take a few pics. Annoyingly none of them were sharp, and this was about the best of a bad bunch.










Sunday, 11 December 2016

Tasty Tepals

Today I decided to take a look around the two small cemetery plots up the top of the hill, they're just ten minutes walk away. There aren't any old graves up there for one simple reason - the old cemetery was washed away in a freak flood in October 1887. It's an incredible story, the soil of the hillside was literally washed away with many hundreds of coffins and their gruesome contents deposited downslope, hundreds of sheep were washed out to sea with many properties totally destroyed. Read the full story here, it's well worth it.  Here's the first cemetery, not exactly a greatly appealing habitat to search through is it? 

I didn't enter, seeing as I'm not very clued-up on mown winter grasses...

Second cemetery with its rather productive drystone walls.
Moving on to the next small cemetery I entered and began exploring the drystone perimeter walls. Lifting a few stones I found Nebria brevicollis, Petrobius maritimus, gathered a small collection of snails and stared in mild horror at the array of mosses and lichens adorning the wall. To be fair, I did recognise a handful. The recurved seta of Grimmia pulvinata, the long necks of Tortula muralis plus a weird jelly-like lichen that I'd been shown a few years back Collema auriforme

Collema auriforme, a so-called Jelly Lichen
Also in the wall were several small Megabunus diadema, surely the swankiest looking harvestman on the British list, and a couple of the amazing hairy-arsed globbie Dicyrtomina saundersi. Not a bad wall, I shall have to come back and pay it more attention soon. 

Leaving the cemetery I bunked over a few fencelines and into the uppermost reaches of Uig Woods. I could hear the river somewhere down below but couldn't see it through all the trees beneath me. Lots and lots of strange lichens and bryophytes, which I mostly managed to avoid. One day...one day... 

I reckon I must be the only birder on Skye who, upon hearing a Coal Tit calling, thinks, 'Hmmm, Yellow-brow. Nice. Hang on, that's a Coal Tit - yeah wicked!!' After spending the whole summer and autumn on Scillies where Coal Tit is a major rarity, and after encountering up to nine Yellow-browed Warblers a day in October, I think I have my avian priorities somewhat mixed up!

I suddenly stumbled across this shy couple in the trees, bit embarrassing really so I gave them a wide berth. 

He looked ready to defend his lady's honour. I kept my eye on him until I was well clear.
Descending the hill I crossed the road and headed through the trees towards the seashore. After checking lots of Rumex I eventually struck lucky and found my first ever Northern Dock amongst masses of Broad-leaved Docks. This time of year it's all about the tepals, seeing as the rest of the plant is dead and dry. Northern Dock is distinct in that its tepals are smooth-winged and have no tubercule (or, as Stace describes it, suborbicular, cordate, entire, without tubercules). Broad-leaved Dock tepals have a single tubercule and the wings are toothed (triangular- to oblong-ovate, with variable teeth, a smooth tubercule). Cheers Mr Stace. Here are a couple of pics that I took to show the differences. Sorry they are both a bit blurry, they looked alright on the back of the camera!

Northern Dock - smooth outline and no tubercule. And a tick!!!!
Broad-leaved Dock - lots of jagged teeth and a central tubercule.
The Northern Dock did show a few green basal leaves, but according to The Rules I'd be well within my rights to have ticked it off just by the seeds. Glad to see a bit of green too though. Out on the sea were a few Wigeon and Red-breasted Mergansers but nothing much else of note that I could see. I later discovered there's an overwintering White Wagtail currently on Uig Pier, just a few hundred metres outside of my square. Apparently pretty darn bizarre up here. 

I wandered back across the road and explored the river again. Alder Bracket Inonotus radiatus was another lifer for me, found growing on a dead stump. 

Alder Bracket (Inonotus radiatus). Annoyingly over-exposed.
I bit the bullet and, with a heavy heart, picked a wee bit of a distinctive looking moss off a rock in the river. Taking it back home I surprised myself by narrowing it down to just two species and eventually (hopefully...) got it to Cinclidotus fontinaloides, a lifer for me. Lots of the Greater Water Moss Fontinalis antipyretica present on the rocks too. 

Fontinalis antipyretica doing it's sexy thang
And Cinclidotus fontialoides not doing any kind of sexy thang...
I figured that with imminent rain forecast I had pushed my luck quite far enough for one day. Heading back up the road for home I noted large (well pretty damn frickin huge actually) patches of grey wrinkly Dog's Lichen growing in the grass/heather verges. Back indoors I decided to have a quick look online at Peltigera. There's a brilliant lichen site I look at sometimes, the author is based on the West coast of Scotland would you believe, and scrolling through the dog lichens I found this page which rather helpfully led me to my final lifer of the day. I think the sheer size of Peltigera membranacea rules out just about any others and the habitat and distribution fits nicely. Cool. I'll grab a photo next time I amble past it. 

My NG3963 List now stands at 182 species, 15 of them being lifers for me.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Usnea shmusnea

Today I made it to the top of the hill above the Conon River as it flows through Uig Woods. From the river itself nothing short of mountaineering equipment will get you up the slopes, slippery mud and an extremely steep ascent being the order of the day. I'd give it a go in dry weather, but I think one slip and you'd be hard pushed to stop a headlong slide back down to the river below. 

Alternatively, turn sharp right through the gate and climb the steep but safe hillside through a lightly wooded area and bingo, safe and sound at the top with the noise of the river somewhere down below. I soon found and followed a narrow muddy track, suspiciously narrow in fact. When it passed underneath low branches I realised I was on a sheep track. At the top I found the culprits, they eyed me warily before hastily trotting off. I did (briefly) consider scrambling down the valley side but figured I'd kill myself in the attempt. Need ropes! 

A few European Larches had blown over up here and their bare branches were positively festooned with masses of lichens. I recognised the genus as Usnea (one of the very few I'll happily tackle, in fact) and potted a few samples to key through back indoors. 

Usnea subfloridana on a fallen larch limb - a lifer for me!

My Usnea haul comprised Usnea wasmuthii, Usnea subfloridana and Usnea florida with the first two being lifers for me. Also a bit of Ramalina fastigiata and Evernia prunastri thrown in for good measure. Oh and loads upon loads of this understated wee thing - 

Lobaria pulmonaria - hyper abundant all over the gaff up here!

Up near the top of the hill I passed through a small area of Hazel. Up here it is totally unmanaged and is a remnant of what is known as Atlantic Hazelwoods. 

Natural Hazel woods - uncoppiced, unmanaged, just lovely.

It's a great habitat and I figured it shouldn't take me too long to suss out if a certain moth occurs here. First up I needed to locate the microfungus Hypoxylon fuscum which, after quite a surprisingly serious bout of searching, I finally succeeded in doing. And there I found my moth. Or did I? Actually no, I found lookalike signs. Very lookalike! 



This, I at first thought, is the larval frass of Nemapogon clematella. The larva lives just under the surface of the bark and feeds on the fungal hyphae of Hypoxylon fuscus. I find it quite easily in the woodlands in Surrey and Hampshire so know what I'm looking for/at. Some years back I took a freshly-frassed hazel stick home, carefully shaved through the layers of wood until the larva was revealed in it's tunnel and watched it grow. It pupated but for whatever reason never emerged. Good fun to watch though! Taking a closer look at this bunch of frass it struck me that the particle size seemed too large and loose for clematella. I scraped it away and found an exit hole, possibly of a wood-boring beetle. Not the moth anyway. Checking UKMoths and the NBN Gateway I see that, apart from one very isolated record, Nemapogon clematella does not occur in Britain much north of about Cumbria. So, a bit of caution here has stopped a very out of range record being put through. 

The Hazel leaves were entirely devoid of leafmining signs, at least the very few still attached were. A few Phyllonorycter rajella mines were in evidence on the Alders as were a few leaves infected with the Alder Rust Melampsoridium hiratsukanum, but that was about it. Even the Brambles seemed bizarrely un-mined! A long, hard search for the Invisible Spider Drapetisca socialis was completely unsuccessful. I checked the British distribution and although so far unrecorded in the vicinity of Skye I feel it's probably here somewhere. More searching required! One thing that does sadden me is the fact that there are NO records of Psychids on Skye, apart perhaps for Psyche casta. Now, call me a weirdo (weirdo! I hear you cry...) but I really enjoy trunk searching for their larval cases. Yeah, weirdo. 

I flushed a Woodcock from the leaf litter/dead bracken mix which was a pleasant surprise (well it was for me at least) as I descended the hill. I almost slipped arse over tit a couple of times but you'll be disappointed to hear that I made it back down to the river without actually falling over or even muddying my trousers. Maybe next time eh? 

Back at the river I spent a short time turning stones and finding 5 more Polycelis felina in the process. Lesser Celandine and Wavy Bittercress threw themselves onto the list whilst Treecreepers called from the wooded hillside. Here's a couple of parting shots of the river flowing towards the sea...




...and one looking upstream. I've not been past this point yet (no path, very steep/slippery/overgrown edges). I'll have to bring my wellies with me next time and just wade it. I've brought my chest waders too, well - you never know! 



 Note how everything is just covered in mosses and lichens. Yuck.