Friday, 24 February 2017

New for Scotland!

I was asked to work this evening, so took the afternoon off in lieu. Pretty wet and murky outside but with a couple of hours to kill I wandered down to Uig Woods in search of more slugs to photograph. Let's face it, wet weather and slugs kinda go hand in hand, right? 

I began by lifting rocks in contact with the woodland floor, not too many slugs actually (guess they're all out gallavanting elsewhere in the wet?) but I did find a strikingly patterned flatworm, one I knew I hadn't seen before. Thanks to endless internet searching for obscure creatures I thought I recognised it as the 'Many-eyed Flatworm', discovered new to science near Cambridge a few years ago. Flippin 'eck, this could be my most significant find on Skye yet! I took lots of pics through my 10x handlens, which just happened to have a few raindrops on it hence the resulting shite pics -

The last image is a mega-crop in an attempt to show the eye configuration. Meh, they're all pants shots but I whacked them on Facebook anyway. Brian Eversham (a flatworm expert and the guy who found the initial individual near Cambridge!) reckons it looks good for his species. Christian Owen thinks it looks good too, he found a couple in South Wales.  So there you have it, I've discovered the awesome Marionfyfea adventor new to Scotland and by far the northernmost individual ever discovered IN THE WORLD!!!! :) There's a really detailed account of the species in this paper published just three months ago, it lists all of the known sightings IN THE WORLD and there really aren't many! 

I've emailed a chap at the Terrestrial Flatworm Recording Scheme asking if he wants the specimen. No reply yet. I don't have any pure ethanol laying about so I purchased a shot of 61% proof whisky from the bar downstairs, that'll have to do as preservative! I now have two glass tubes worth of the stuff sitting on my desk. No danger of me necking it, I bloody hate whisky.

So as if yesterday's Kontikia andersoni and Microplana terrestris combined with today's Marionfyfea adventor wasn't already enough flatworm excitement to keep me grinning, I lifted a nearby rock and found this

Microplana scharffi - a native terrestrial flatworm, and only the 3rd or 4th I've ever seen.
Cor blimey, it's flatworm central up here! I'll soon be challenging Dave Fenwick's back garden in Cornwall for having the most species of flatworm recorded from a single site! Ok, maybe not quite that many...probably. Just have to see what else I can uncover over the coming months. 

Of the slugs I didn't find anything different or obtain any new pics. In fact the only thing I took a photo of was this Copse Snail Arianta arbustorum. Ocys harpaloides, a smallish Carabid beetle, was found hiding beneath a stone, new for the site and my yearlist. Potentially new for Skye too, which is pretty bizarre for a common beetle! Skye really has been very under-recorded in the past.

Birdwise a Mistle Thrush flew into a treetop near the church, the first one I've seen here this year. In the woods I accidentally flushed a Woodcock from thick cover. It shot off low through the trees, eliciting alarm calls from Blue Tits. I've noticed this before, presumably it looks a bit like a female Sparrowhawk barrelling through the trees? Better safe than sorry if you're the size of a Blue Tit.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Slugging it Out

In a continuation of the thought process mentioned in the last post, I have indeed created a new page dedicated to the molluscs I find in NG3963. If you really are too damn lazy to click on the tab in the navbar overhead, you can click here instead. I've also created a page for the fish I find. Get me!

Most of my mollusc pictures were pretty grim. To say they were mediocre would be stretching the truth, hence I spent most of this afternoon out and about with my camera in search of slugs and snails. In all honesty the new pics are still pretty crap, I really do need to upgrade my clickamatic. I won't bore you senseless with umpteen slug pics (that's what the Mollusc page is for!) but here are a few of the 'less awful' ones

Deroceras reticulatum - a common and variable species in NG3963
Dark-striped sole and clear, sticky mucus of Tandonia budapestensis
Hopefully this is Arion hortensis, it'll be new to Skye if so!
But of course I wasn't just looking at slugs, I also found a couple of terrestrial flatworms and a land nemertine.

Kontikia andersoni (red and orange) and Microplana terrestris (grey-brown) from under a plastic sheet
Despite being such a gaudy looking creature, Kontikia andersoni is doubtless under-recorded in Britain, in fact it seems that this may be the first Scottish record! This one was about a centimetre long, the Microplana terrestris elongated itself to maybe 2cm in length which I've never seen them do before. I did wonder if it was actually Rhynchodemus sylvaticus, but the movements and eye placement were wrong. 

See that thin yellowish stream in front of the animal.....just read on!
I found this land nemertine on a bit of moss-covered debris in long grass, a tiny wee thing. I wasn't sure if it was another flatworm or not and then it did something quite incredible - the long yellow thing lashed out from its head, blindly waved and flickered around a few times (imagine a hummingbird's tongue rapidly probing a deep flowerhead!) and seemed to drop off! What the..??? It was all so fast it was amazing, I'm lucky to have been watching at that precise instant. I tried to pot the tiny beast but incredibly it just fell to pieces in a sloppy mess! Buggered if I know what's going on, but all that was left were gobbets of slimy body pieces that I wiped off on my jeans! If anybody knows the species I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. I'm guessing it's an Argonemertes sp but that's as far as I can get. At a guess. 

I wandered up to the cemetery (checking the walls for molluscs to photograph) and found my first Pogonognathellus longicornis and Petrobius maritimus of the year, plus Hedgehog Slug Arion intermedius and Silver False-keeled Slug Arion circumscriptus silvaticus as new for the square, cool. A lone Megabunus diadema was clambering about the drystone wall that surrounds the cemetery. 

There you go, a whole blogpost where the largest species mentioned measures a whole inch in length!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Fifty Shades of Green

It's been pretty crap the last couple of days, both emotionally and meteorologically, but I forced myself back into action today. I headed down to the woods and shoreline in-between outbreaks of rain and somehow managed to stay moderately dry. The wind is really picking up now though, meant to become severe overnight, the Outer Hebs are going to take another bashing I think. 

The tide was mostly in but I had a look across the top of the beach anyway. I could see a long line of yucky white gunk along the water's edge and headed off to investigate. Nothing to worry about, it was just spume. First time I've seen it here though, I've seen it at Portland Bill being smashed into the cliffs and blown upwards on the wind looking for all the world like foamy snow! Here it simply ebbed onto the stones and weed, coating everything in a slimy froth.

Spume in all of its glory

Spume is a soup of decayed organic marine matter (fats and lipids, dead plankton etc) whipped up into a froth by water agitation. It's an entirely natural phenomenon and not a sign of pollution or poor water quality, despite looking pretty grim. I couldn't find anything noteworthy amongst the froth, though I did fancy my chances with a deep green alga carpeting the mud at the edge of the saltmarsh. I figured the unusually intense colour would narrow it down to maybe a couple of species and the microscope could do the rest. Fool that I am.

Distinctive colour, how hard can it be?
Back at the microscope I cranked up the zoom and found myself staring into a miniature carpet of green tubes, nice! I reached for Green Seaweeds of Britain & Ireland, only to quickly discover that I'll undoubtedly need a higher magnification to ID the green scuzz photographed above. 100x would probably do it, which is more than double the power I can currently achieve. Dammit. I really do need to beg, borrow or steal a proper compound microscope in the near future. I shall add it to my list of priorities, somewhere between getting a car and buying a laptop that works. Then I'll be able to do lichens properly, have more confidence with bryophytes and I'll even be able to start keying through stuff like springtails. I have the literature, I just need more zoom!

The only object that caught my attention on the beach was this rather lovely razor shell covered in the calcified tubes of Spirobranchus triqueter. Despite dunking them into the sea I failed to see any sign of the worms inside.

Triangular in cross-section with a sharp 'spike' above the mouth of the tube
Leaving the beach I headed into the woods and discovered a large pile of rocks behind the community hall car park. I had a search under several rocks finding plenty of slugs including a single Worm Slug Boettgerilla pallens and several Budapest Slugs Tandonia budapestensis complete with accompanying 'slug mites' scurrying across them. It has recently been discovered that the mites on slugs are a different species than was first thought. In Britain (and across much of Europe) they have proved to be Riccardoella oudemansi and not Riccardoella limacum as was assumed. According to the brilliant FSC Slugs of Britain & Ireland Budapest Slugs have not been recorded from northern Skye before, in fact there's just one dot on the map for Skye as a whole. But it is a successfully expanding species (much to the dismay of farmers and gardeners, this really is a pest species!) so I'm not at all surprised to find them in Uig. Worm Slug was only discovered on Skye in the early 2000s (and only discovered in Britain in 1972) so it's done well to move this far in little over 40 years. There was also a single Tramp Slug Deroceras invadens beneath the stones. I shall have to come back here when the weather is better and do a bit more in the way of slug searching and photographing. I think I may start a photographic album of the slugs up here, yeah I think so! 

This is the pile of rocks in question. Doubtless I shall come here again (and again...and again...)
As you can see, the woodland floor is starting to burst into life with thousands upon thousands of seedlings thrusting through. Give it another month and I'll be able to start identifying them! Actually I can do a few, even at this stage. Ground Elder is most evident in the above image, but there's a Dandelion and some Cow Parsley in there too. 

Common Nettle, a nice easy one! Here amongst Cow Parsley and Ground-ivy
Big clump of Montbretia by the woodland stream

A few Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage are in flower already!
Naturalised (or maybe fully wild?) Daffodil clump
Seeing as it had been raining and the lichens were looking at their best, I visited the Lobaria virens tree. Yep, no getting away from it, this looks pretty damn amazing when wet! This is without flash or image manipulation

Lobaria virens - translates literally as "the Green Lobaria"
And with that I've run out of greens. I didn't find any lifers out there today, or at least none that I could identify, but it was good just to get out into the woods despite the buffeting wind and ever present threat of a drenching. I'm liking the idea of starting a gallery of slug pics too. Keep your eyes open for the 'Slugs' tab appearing on the navbar sometime soon!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Farewell Pixie Girl

This is a natural history blog, you've hopefuly already noticed that by now. But allow me this one digression. 

Last August, whilst living on St Marys on the Isles of Scilly, a young lady landed at my feet with a bump. We hit it off from the word go and for the last few weeks of my stay on those magical islands I moved into her room on Bryher. 

Our time to leave the islands came in mid-October, it was make or break time - we kept in touch and continued seeing each other. In November she applied for a job at a hotel on Skye. I went with her, partly for the craic and partly as chauffeur but somehow, and against all expectations, I too landed a job on Skye. In December we started a new venture as live-in staff at the hotel with the world as our oyster.

However, the old saying that you don't really know someone until you live with them rang true. We had our ups and downs, more downs than ups of late. One thing led to another and we were unable to reconcile our differences. Today my little lady has gone, headed back to the south of England. There's a huge gaping hole in my heart and my eyes seem to have developed a strange leak that is proving problematical. Last night we made our peace with each other, she was my little Pixie Girl once more.

Dafty girl, never could get the hang of using both eyes at the microscope

Thursday, 16 February 2017

A Promise of Spring

Just a quick whizz out and about today. Spent a short while on the beach and found a couple of extra bits - Chainweed Catenella caespitosa fringing the base of a large rock near the high water mark, growing beneath Serrated Wrack just like it says in the book. Also managed some better pics of the marine lichen Verrucaria mucosa, these showing a nice olive colouration

A far better background than yesterday's image!
And although this next image will make your focus swim, this was the best I could manage of the tiny Lichina confinis, one I've not seen before. Very similar to Lichina pygmaea but found below the mid-water mark as opposed to the upper levels. It still seems really weird to me that we have marine lichens, until recently I had always assumed they'd simply die if immersed in saltwater. In the spray zone yes, but truly marine? Nope, just seems intrinsically wrong. 

Yeah I know - crap! Grey lichen on grey rock taken on a grey day, what d'ya expect?
This also was new to me but definitely dead and hence not countable (despite everything that this article says!) This is Snail Fur Hydractinia echinata, an encrusting hydroid that settles on whelk shells inhabited by hermit crabs. Can't wait to find both living animals!

Very dead colony of "the immortal"  Snail Fur Hyrdactinia echinata on a washed-up whelk shell
Leaving the beach I headed into Uig Woods. I had an explore at the back of the community centre car park and found a flourishing patch of variegated Yellow Archangel, presumably originating from garden throw-out material

Should look amazing when in flower, despite undoubtedly being of garden origin
The woodland floor is absolutely erupting with green life. Large areas are carpeted in thousands upon thousands of Ground-elder seedlings, Common Nettles and Broad-leaved Docks are also starting to push through. Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage is abundant here, I can hardly envision how absolutely stunning it's going to look here when they start flowering! The stream has had a sudden flush of life too, this was just bare mud last week

Marsh Marigold - I love this plant, it's just so great for insects!
Last thing of note was Ramularia gei, a micro-fungus that infects the living leaves of Wood Avens. The purple border isn't always conspicuous, or even present, but it shows well here. This has been visible all through the winter, I just kept missing it until today.

Ramularia gei - a new one for me
Outside of NG3963 I found patches of Scytinium (Leptogium) gelatinosum growing on top of a low wall. It's a bizarre lichen, with a jelly-like quality (hence the name) and it took me a while to decide that it really was a lichen rather than Nostoc or an alga. I carelessly neglected to take a pic of it in situ, so here's a poor pic of a piece I brought home

Scytinium (Leptogium) gelatinosum - weird green gloopy gunky stuff
Regards my 1000 species in a 1km square challenge I'm up to 340 species for the year. So that's the first third of the 1000 species under the belt. Should go a bit slower for the next month or so before the inverts burst into action - then it'll all go mental for a few months! I'm well ahead of my 2013 tally for the 7th week of the year. In 2013 I reached 300 species on 26th February and 400 on 17th April. Hopefully I'll hit 400 before March is out this year. Scytinium gelatinosum doesn't make it onto that list seeing as it was from an adjacent square. Just have to go find it closer to home...

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

An AMAZING time at the beach

Hit the beach today. That was it. No work, no hills, no woods, no nuffin' - just the beach. I was there for hours n' hours and oh boy did I ever have a fun time!

I concentrated on seaweeds (naughty word) marine alga and surprised myself by finding SEVEN new ones for my list. I walked away from a couple of red alga that looked too nondescript to even bother with (plus all the pink encrusting ones, Lithophyllums I believe), but basically grilled the rest including a few green ones that required the microscope to clinch an ID. Ok, so I'll just whack up pics with captions, lots of pics on this post!

Prasiola stiptata in situ
Prasiola stiptata habbo shot - higher than the other species, often found where birds sit and crap.
Prasiola stipata - noticeable stipe which runs into blade, often several arise from a communal holdfast
Blidingia minima in situ where a freshwater burn runs across the rocks
Blidingia minima - cells not running in parallel rows (trust me...) hence not B.marginata
Cladophera rupestris - do-able on colour alone, but angle of branching and diagonal joins important too.
Choreocolax polysiphonia -  it's the pale 'galls' on the Polysiphonia lanosa
This was my find of the day - a truly tiny epiphytic colourless red alga that lives epiphytically on an epiphytic red alga, amazing! Took a lot of hard squinting to finally find some, then found several clumps on this one alga. Really pleased with this, a targeted search successfully completed. Talking of targeted searches, here are a couple more than worked out rather nicely

Ptilota gunneri - growing on a Cuvie stipe, just like it's meant to!
Elachista fusicola - growing here on Bladder Wrack
Elachista fusicola - microscope pic (and hence duff...)
Membranoptera alata - epiphytic on Cuvie stipes
Blimey, I never knew we had so many epiphytic marine algae, it's like a whole world full of bromeliads out there!!!

Membranoptera alata microscope pic. Note the tetrasporangial sori in the blade at the bottom of the image
Hildenbrandia rubra - the red scuzz on the pebble. Massively prevalent across Uig Beach!
They were the lifers, add to that a host of other species that I've already seen and I was having a whale of a time. Didn't even fall over despite schlomping through acres of wrack! So that's seven new alga, but I also managed a new lichen. Massively common in this habitat, I have to thank Ali for the heads-up (saw it on his blog...) Despite it being very common I managed the worst pics ever....

Verrucosia mucosa - note the pale outline to the thallus. Proper shite shot, huh?
I found a few other bits n bobs amongst the weed. As instructed by Steve Trewhella, I brought a tray with me this time and duly found another mollusc blob. Whack it in the tub and hey presto it grows horns and gills!

I don't care what the experts say, I reckon this is Doris pseudoargus!
Also found this fella under a rock. Talk about slippery as an...oh....oh right, now I get it

Atlantic Eel Anguilla anguilla - note the Hildenbrandia rubra (red scuzz) on the pebble. Common as muck!
Managed to inadvertantly bring this chap home with me, hiding away amongst a clod of Cladophera. The shape of the telson (last segment of the body, or 'tail' if you like) is crucially important when identifying this genus of marine isopods.

Idotea granulatus - commonest of the bunch but new for me (it's my 4th of the genus...)
Other things of interest included some amazing-looking sponges. My sense of smell is pretty poor (although I smell strongly if that means anything?) and I was unable to detect any bleach-like or bread-like smells emanating from this specimen. I suspect Breadcrumb Sponge but without microscopically checking the spicules it's a bit of a guessing game. Hence it's not on my list...yet

Probably Breadcrumb Sponge Halichondria panicea, but possibly not
And I found this dainty wee thing. No idea which species, a quick (2hr...) blast through various websites provided few clues. My good mate and fellow PSL weirdo Danny Cooper wisely counselled "anemones are a nightmare. Find a marine biologist or ignore them." If you are a marine biologist who knows the species, please do leave a comment!

I dunno, question is - do you?
Back at the top of the beach I found this lichen growing in mortar, possibly Collema cristatum (Ali, care to comment?) EDIT: The man from Del Fife, he say 'yes!'

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Spawnographic Content

Stunningly gorgeous weather today, although the windchill dropped the temperature to about zero degrees centigrade. But I had my daft hat and woolly gloves, I didn't care! I climbed the hill by the cemetery (highest point of the square I think) and revelled in this view across the bay. Ravens and a Buzzard wheeled overhead but no sign of any eagles today. Like that really matters - just LOOK at that view!!!

Tide's out...I better get down there and find myself some goodies!
Quickest way to the beach from up here (apart from trespassing) is to head down through Uig Woods and along the Cuil Road. I had a brief look at lichens and mosses in the woods, but to be fair I just wanted to hit the beach so didn't collect any apart from a Pellia with male and female sex organs on the same leaf. I couldn't remember which one(s) had that feature, turns out it was Pellia epiphylla and a new one for my NG3963 species list. First of a few as it transpired...

Microplana terrestris from beneath a log. The flash makes it seem quite blue, it is grey in real life.
The gulls were busy eating a starfish, I couldn't make out which species of starfish but it'll be new to the square whichever it is. Bit frustrating but there you go, hopefully I'll find one before the gulls do next time. I headed down to the water's edge, as far down the shore as I could manage without getting wet. Lifting stones seemed the best bet of finding seashore stuff, but then I spotted an actual rockpool! Only about 7ft by 4ft and all of 5" deep, but better than nothing. I carefully began lifting stones and before long I found this truly remarkable-looking creature

Tadpole!, what? Umm???
I recognised what this was but simply couldn't remember the name. All I kept thinking was juvenile Lumpsucker, bizarrely. A quick look in the book reminded me, yes of course - Montagu's Sea Snail Liparis montagui, a lifer for me and my 63rd species of British fish. Brilliant. It seemed quite docile and soon assumed this characteristic resting position. But the fishy fun didn't stop there, oh no. Moments later, in the same small pool I found a Butterfish Pholis gunnellus under a stone and even managed a short video of it too.

I left the rockpool and headed to the water's edge, lifting rocks all the way. Beneath one large rock I found yet another Butterfish, this one being the largest and palest one I've ever encountered. Large because she was heavily gravid, note the mass of eggs at her side, I'm sure many more were about to follow

Butterfish are unusual in that both parents will guard the eggs
And still the fish came, my total count was one Montagu's Sea Snail, four Butterfish and two small Shore Rocklings Gaidropsarus mediterraneus, my second new fish of the day! The three barbels on the head seperates it from all other British species of rockling apart from Three-bearded. The uniformly unmarked browny flanks confirm it as Shore Rockling, Three-bearded Rockling has much paler marbled/spotted flanks.  

There were two of these beneath one large rock. This is my 64th species of British fish.
The underside of rocks were fast becoming my fave habitat to explore! Despite much turning I failed to find any anemones. Loads of encrusting bryozoans though, none of which I could name because I wasn't about to start lugging large rocks up the hill to my microscope. Electra pilosa was found on wrack blades (I don't mind taking bits of seaweed back with me!) and I spotted this distinctively patterned snail on some kelp

Banded Chink Shell Lacuna vincta - and another lifer!
Invader from Outer Space!
Dog Whelk Nucella lapillus eggs being actively laid
Next up I found a really weird-looking blobby thing attached to the underside of a rock. No, I hadn't dropped a rock on my toe - this was even weirder and blobbier than that. Essentially I had no clear idea of what I was looking at, that's how weird it was! Here's the first of several pics of  'The Thing'

Any ideas or thoughts so far?
At this stage I was thinking along the lines of it being some sort of a sea-squirt. So I prodded it. No sign of any squirting. Ok...I poked it again, still no squirt. Hmmm. I took another pic whilst waiting for inspiration to strike

Still waiting for that blast of inspiration to arrive...
Then it did something quite unexpected, it fell off the rock! This is what the underside looks like

Aaah - NOW I have an inkling as to what this might be!
This, I think, is some sort of a mollusc!
Sherlock Holmes himself couldn't have figured it out any quicker. The foot was the big giveaway, hiding under the outer mantle. This was some sort of a sea slug, or so I figured. I'd never seen anything like it before and back indoors I was still none the wiser after a fair whack of internet and literature trawling. Bugger, I had to do something I hate doing - I asked for help on the PSL Facebook Group. The thread pretty soon deteriorated after Steve Trewhella joined in (he's an absolute diamond really!) You can read it here if you're logged in.

Suggestions so far are Lamellaria perspicua (though I think it's about twice as large as that species is meant to be), Jorunna tomentosa (that's Dave Fenwick's suggestion, so I ought to listen really) and Doris pseudoargus (my own suggestion and the one I'm happiest with - despite my lack of experience with any of the species mentioned!) As if that wasn't bad enough, I turned a nearby rock and found this!

I still dunno what they are but now they're making babies!
I love seashore stuff, it's just so damned alien!!! I saw a paddleworm egg sac bobbing away in weed, it really is that time of year again isn't it. It was full moon a couple of nights ago, I suspect this may have triggered this spawning/mating behaviour. Or maybe the increasing daylight hours? Pretty sure the sea hasn't warmed up noticeably of late!

If I ever get a definitive answer on the identification of the blobby things I'll let you know. My money is on Doris, though what do I know?