Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Running Before I can Walk

I have today and tomorrow as my days off this week, it's actually really nice to finally have two consecutive days off. Unfortunately for me this was the weather outside the window this morning, hence I stayed in until early afternoon (complete and utter fair weather wussbag that I am...)

The rain was sideways and the trees were blowing about, this pic really doesn't do it justice at all
Typical early springtime weather up here, the locals keep blethering on about possible snow at lambing time. I reckon that if I expect the worst then anything less than utterly horrific is a bonus. Until the fearsome midge arrives... 

Eventually rain gave way to grey which in turn gave way to paler grey with occasional blue, good enough for me! I donned rain gear and boldly strode off into the unknown. I headed for the zigzag road opposite the store and soon found myself checking Lesser Celandines for their associated microfungi, they have a bewildering array of Uromyces and Puccinia that infect the leaves at this time of year. I quickly found Uromyces, though I'm still not sure of the species involved

Probably Uromyces dactylidis, though maybe not...
A recent revelation to me was the discovery that the reddish leafspots on various species of  Rumex include Puccinia phragmitis and Venturia rumicis - it's not always Ramularia rubella! Looking around today all I saw was Puccinia phragmitis plus Puccinia acetosae on Common Sorrel leaves, which rather bizarrely appears to be new to me. Overlooked, but made it at last! Here's an especially crappy pic of it growing in a verge. EDIT: the dock leaf is probably Ramularia rubella after all.

Puccinia acetosae - admittedly one of the more underwhelming fungi on my list...
It genuinely saddens me to think I won't be searching for overwintering Small Copper larva on the Common Sorrel leaves up here, nor the eggs or adults in a month's time. Small Copper is absent from the Isle of Skye, probably my fave British butterfly species and it just isn't here.
Followed by Puccinia phragmitis in all of its 'glory'...
I spent a bit of time on the hillside above the River Conon, rain came and went and I failed to find much of interest apart from a very small, slender stonefly on a wooden fence post. I haven't grilled it yet, but it'll be a lifer for me whatever it is. 

Moving into the lower woods I made an effort to check for lichenicolous fungi on tree trunks. I soon found a whacking big patch of Pertusaria pertusa that was heavily parasitised. Here are a few pics showing firstly the patch with bleached centre, then a close-up of the fungus and finally an uninfected bit of Pertusaria thallus

I couldn't find anything that matched, so added the images to the British & Irish Lichen Facebook Group in the hope they could help. Jenny Seawright suggested I join the UKLichens Yahoo Group which I did, my membership is pending a moderator's notice but hopefully I'll have the opportunity to  put a name to this beast of a lichenicolous fungus before too much longer. 

I turned a few more rocks and stones, found a bunch of millipedes and worms plus a couple of Microplana terrestris. I also found a tiny egg sac which I think belongs to a flatworm. Certainly I've seen a similar image online recently. Problem is I do an awful lot of online searching and I can't remember where I saw the relevent image. (EDIT: these are more likely to be nemertean worms eggs, as suggested by Christian Owen).

Taken through my 10x handlens - these were pretty tiny!
Also found beneath rocks were a couple of Arion flagellus with their monstrous tubercules 

Arion flagellus - point blank refused to squirm or rock despite much poking and prodding
On an altogether larger scale I flushed a Woodcock from brambles about 12ft in front of me and also accidentally flushed several of these

C'mon, it's easy! What d'ya mean you still can't see it? *sigh*
I noticed a tiny patch of bright orange fluff growing out of a tree trunk, one of the Trentepohlia. I haven't recorded any of them from NG3963 so stuffed it in a pot and took it home for microscope work. Turns out to be Trentepohlia abietina which is a lifer for me! Sweet. Apparently it often grows in tiny inconspicuous patches on tree trunks, very dissimilar to T.aurea that I'm so used to seeing covering sallow trunks in the south of England. Microscopically one of the features to look out for are the cell walls, T. aurea shows a central thinning of the cell walls where they join, whereas T. abietina has equal thickness across the join. The following image is incredibly pants, but with a bit of squinting you should be able to see the uniform wall thickness between cells, Maybe. 

Trentepohlia abietina, actually a green alga in disguise, at 400x magnification
It was then that I noticed a greyish slug four feet up a tree stump. I didn't recognise it and figured it to be a Tandonia due to the long, pale keel. Then I saw the all white sole and got just a little bit excited! I took a quick barrage of pics and accidentally dropped it into the undergrowth. I don't know where it ended up but I certainly couldn't relocate it. Would my 5 images be enough? I had to contact an are all five images, unedited apart from a bit of cropping

So. What do you reckon? I had thought it was a weird Tandonia budapestensis until I saw the pure white sole. Holy sh*t, surely this was Tandonia cf cristata???? Wow, how amazing a find was that!?!? I rushed back, uploaded the pics and immediately sent them to Christian Owen, GrandMaster of all things Slugified. Bless him, he let me down gently. I hadn't found Scotland's first Tandonia cf cristata at all, this was the grey form of Lehmannia marginata, the Tree Slug. Which would explain what it was doing four feet up a tree trunk after recent wet weather. DOH! What a dick! To be fair, Lehmannia marginata is a common species here and I've never seen a grey morph before. Though I do see them on trunks every time it rains...

Slug update: There has been a change of ID regards the slug, it appears that this is actually the Ash-Black Slug Limax cinereoniger, which is very exciting for two reasons. Firstly it is the first record for the top half of Skye, not massively surprising given the lack of suitable habitat up here. Glen Conon, through which the Conon River flows and the inland half of Uig Woods is situated, is pretty much the only decent patch of deciduous woodland in the entire northern half of Skye. Limax cinereoniger is an ancient woodland specialist. Much of Skye's native woodland was cleared for sheep farming practice but Glen Conon was too steep to do much with, so it - and the slug - escaped eradication. Uig Woods west of the A87 is planted, this is where I found my specimen. Presumably Limax cinereoniger has expanded out of the remnant original ancient woodland into this secondary woodland. And the second reason it is exciting is that it's yet another lifer for me - yay!

Many thanks to Brian Eversham for casting his mighty eye across this blog, and many thanks to Christian Owen for taking a fresh look at the images this morning and doubting his previous ID. I'm really going to have to pull my socks up what with all these eminent naturalists visiting the blog nowadays!

I leave you with a promise of better weather and all things glorious

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