Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Sticta the roads...

There was a slim chance of sneaking out today and not getting rained upon, and I took it. And indeed I didn't get rained on - I got hailed on instead. Plus nearly blown off my feet at the beach. The winds last night were unrelenting, gusting at over 50mph and coming straight in off the sea. Several times I had to dash out to save a clattering dustbin or plastic crate or some other random blowing debris from smashing itself up the side of the building. The wind was almost like a solid entity at times. And it hasn't really dropped very much today. 

I spied a flock of gulls on the beach and gave them a thorough scan for Glaucs or Iceland Gulls, both are being reported with slowly increasing regularity on the Outer Hebrides. I hunkered down behind a bit of discarded farm machinery and braced my hands and face on the edge of a big metal wheel. Tears tracked sideways across my face and the wind tried its hardest to batter my binoculars into my eyesockets, but eventually I satisfied myself that I hadn't overlooked any white wingers. They'll be there one day, just hope I'm there to see them too! That's when I stood up and was side-swiped by a huge gust and sent spinning into the road. Luckily the traffic was typically 'light' - basically there's about one car every hour along this track! I must've looked a right prat though.

Here's a quick bit of video taken as I was walking down the hill towards the beach. It shows sideways hail gusting up the valley maybe quarter of a mile away. It doesn't really do it justice, but I reckon it was moving at over 40mph. Luckily it missed me almost entirely, I just caught the very edges of it.  

I headed into the woods for some shelter and decided to climb over the bridge and jump down to the far side of the river and explore some new ground. Never been in this bit before and I could see a nice looking cliff face ahead of me. That looked very interesting! I slip-slid my way across the slope using fallen trees, logs and so forth to pick my way across to the cliffs. On the way I found this crazy fungus.

Xylaria polymorpha, same as last week's specimen but much more handsome!
There were also some Scarlet/Ruby Elf Cups (Sarcoscypha sp) growing from a dead twig, half-buried in the moss. If I had 300x zoom I would be able to make out if the hairs around the outside of the rim were straight and matted as in Sarcoscypha coccinea or corkscrewed as in Sarcoscypha austriaca. However I don't have that kind of magnification and colour/distribution don't help either. Annoyingly I had to leave them unidentified. I also spotted a nice patch of Pyrenula. This is Pyrenula macrospora with a green thallus, large black perithecia and obvious white pseudocyphellae scattered throughout. 

Oops, I forgot we were meant to be having a few days off from lichen pics!
Eventually I scrambled my way to the base of the cliff, wow - it was covered in big chunks of Sticta, nothing like the small discrete growths I'm used to seeing on mossy tree trunks, this was on a much larger scale. I did take a load of pics of close-ups but they all came out annoyingly blurry, like this

Here's a pic of part of the cliff-face with the Sticta growing all over it.
Turns out to be Sticta canariensis, and a lifer for me. That means I have now seen Sticta canariensis, S.limbata, S.fuliginosa and S.sylvatica - a full house! All I need now is a nice, bright day and I can go photograph them all in natural light (rather than using flash) and knock up a nice little montage. Cool. 

I say full house but as this page explains, recent developments show that there is more to Sticta fuliginosa than meets the eye. Had to be really....

Sticta canariensis is my 23rd new lichen since moving to Skye at the start of December, and the 4th one this year. My British lichen tally stands at a whopping 81 species. Clearly still very early days (and I need to get myself a couple of books, some chemicals and a compound microscope before much longer...) but the important thing, for me at least, is that I'm finally taking an interest in them. Seriously, the turnaround in my mind has been amazing. I used to just frown at them and walk away. 

And that is the incredible thing about Pan-species Listing, it actively encourages you look at things you wouldn't otherwise attempt to identify. Or maybe even look at. Have I improved as a naturalist by showing an interest in lichens? And if so does it even matter? Hell yes! And hell yes again! Yes it does matter, not only have my eyes been opened to the beautiful forms of (some) lichens, but I now appreciate the different niches they occupy and can have a guess as to why that should be. And I can record things I've been unable to record before, or at least a small selection of them, which is better than none. As my recognition levels improve so will my accuracy of identifications and I'll be able to send through more records with a greater level of confidence. And I'm not just on about lichens, I mean everything - this is a way of life for me. If I can break into lichens I feel I can break into about anything. This year I'm really going to try and tackle dipterans and hymenopterans, both being groups where I'm currently very weak.

There has been a modest amount of interest from a few PSLers to come visit me this coming summer. Bring it on, I say. Let me introduce you to the world of the Celtic Rainforest and its lichens! (Now there's something I never thought I'd say). Then you can show me those flies, bees and wasps I was just mentioning...ta muchly!

Keep off the moors...


  1. Your enthusiasm comes across well in your writing and as someone who takes the " walk on by " approach to Lichens and mosses, I'm almost tempted to have a closer look at a few myself......

  2. Do it Mick, do it! But make sure you've a friendly shoulder to cry on, coz you're gonna need it if breaking into the murky underworld of mosses and lichens. Best of luck and thanks for taking the time to comment, it's much appreciated :)