Sunday, 1 July 2018

Soay Sauce

BSBI Recorder Stephen Bungard had chartered a boat out of Elgol across to the island of Soay and I, along with nine other gung-ho types, were booked on the morning sailing. Firstly I was very excited by the possibility of encountering real live Soay Sheep on their home turf, and secondly we were landing by dinghy - also very exciting! Unfortunately, there are two islands named Soay and it's the other one that has the endemic breed of sheep. Arse.

But first we had to get to Elgol

Traffic was a nightmare...
I'm a firm believer in the use of car bumpers and that 1.5 tonnes of vehicle will soon scatter a flock of sauntering sheep. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this was not my car and I wasn't the one driving. Plus the crofter was watching everything, I'm almost certain he'd take exception to his flock being driven over. Ho-hum, it's a good job we're not in any hurry to catch a boat... 

I love being on the sea and the boat crossing was ace. I leaned forward on the rail looking out towards mysterious Soay, home of no feral sheep, probably in much the same manner as that crazy spaniel we've all seen hanging out of a car window, ears flapping in the wind and tongue lolling crazily. Well, I managed to keep my tongue in my mouth (at least I think I did..) but it was all very exciting anyway, with many Moon Jellyfish and a few Lion's Mane Jellyfish passing beneath us as we sped onwards. No cetaceans seen, though a Common Seal and a few Commic Terns almost made up for it. 

Approaching mysterious Soay!!! 
We were shuttled ashore via dinghy, two at a time. I was in the second crossing
Another two safely arriving - good old James the Skipper!
Nick 'Moss Man Chronicles' Hodgetts immediately set off to the far end of the island in search of bryophytes. We never saw him again until ten minutes before the boat reappeared to shuttle us back again... by which time he was quite hilariously sunburnt and looking somewhat dehydrated and worse for wear. I really ought to have taken a pic.

We began by slowly working our way towards the buildings. There are more houses than residents nowadays, there being just three full time Soay folk increasing to about six in the summertime. There's a tiny, closed-down school building and I imagine that even in it's heyday absences from class would not have gone unnoticed. Poor kids.

Stephen had a Hitlist of plants that had previously been recorded either from Soay itself, or at least from the hectad that Soay sits within. Missing species included such delightful rarities as Sycamore, Groundsel, Cow Parsley, Creeping Thistle, Pineappleweed and Scots Pine. NONE of which we were able to refind. None! 

We did, however, manage to refind Oval Sedge, Small-fruited Yellow-sedge and Common Couch as well as finding Red Currant, Long-bracted Sedge and Entire-leaved Cotoneaster entirely new for the tetrad. There was also a puzzling rose bush with adjacent rose hips exhibiting glandular hairs and no hairs at it smelled of apple! Weird, presumably a downy rose hybrid of sorts. I think Stephen is seeking outside help regards the ID of this plant. 

Cor, check out the bracts on that!
By now it was approaching easily 50 degrees C in the shade and life as we know it was getting difficult. I swiped a damselfly with my net but the heat was making me dizzy and I failed to focus the camera properly. Either that or the lens had melted 

Note the shape of the upper black mark on the abdomen - making this a Common Blue Damselfly
We saw quite a few of these, plus a handful of Large Red Damselflies, a few Common Blue-tailed Damselflies, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly and several Common Darters. I say 'Common Darter', but there's a bit more to it than that. 

Common Darter is an extremely widespread species across Europe, parts of North Africa and extending throughout Asia all the way to Japan. In Britain it has been split into two subspecies: Sympetrum striolatum striolatum throughout England, Wales and the southern/interior/eastern areas of Scotland and Sympetrum striolatum nigrescens along the Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland as well as on the Isle of Man (and Norway). S.s.nigrescens also appears not to migrate, contrary to the nominate race. 

S.s.nigrescens has, in the past, been split into a different species from the nominate race, it being colloquially known as the Highland Darter Sympetrum nigrescens. Physical differences are that the black on the bodyparts is more extensive, the black on the frons extends further down the side of the eye, the sides of the thorax are far more black than in nominate and typically enclose several small, discrete pale patches and the black on the abdomen is also far more extensive. There are subtle yet distinct differences in the genitalia of both the male and the female. It's quite possibly a good species, I don't know the latest thoughts but DNA analysis should end any debate. Anyway, here's a pic that shows the hugely extensive darkening of the thorax and slightly more extensive black on the frons. Note also that the femurs appear to be entirely black and lack the yellow stripe of the nominate race. 

'Highland Darter' - I mean c'mon, just look at the black on that! 
I really wilt in the heat. I had the chance to move to Nicaragua some years back, but the heat (as well as the godawful music) soon changed my mind. Amazing place though, if I ever overcome the overheating issue I'd love to go back someday. I still need that damned quetzel, for starters. 

So yeah, I was definitely wilting and very thankful that I'd brought a whole 2.5litres of water and a bottle of Lucozade with me. I'd probably have just sat in the shade and sank into a stupor if it wasn't for one thing. Well, lots of one thing - horseflies! Horseflies like you've never seen before. Horseflies in clouds that darkened the skies. Horseflies that swarmed around us in an unrelenting quest for our blood. Horseflies that landed on our arms, our shoulders, our legs, our hats, our bags, horseflies flippin' everywhere! But then came a deadlier, delta-winged, green-eyed monster. I felt fear, my friends. Fear! For I had met this abhorrent beast once before, this was Chrysops relictus the Twin-lobed Deerfly from Hell. Chrysops typically work in pairs or threes, one to distract and dismay whilst the other circles your head and lands to attack. Chrysops are pure evil. They bite harder than horseflies and they are utterly, utterly single-minded in their determination to settle and bite. On the other hand, they are quite incredibly pretty. Here's a pic of one that I swatted as it sank it's fangs into my lower jaw, bastard pretty wee thing

You can see the black 'twin lobes' on the uppermost abdominal segment
Just as pretty, if rather less fierce, were the pair of Large Emeralds that we found in the woods, just resting on rushes next to the path

Large Emerald (female) - simple antennae and a short, fat arse
Large Emerald (male) - slim hips and fancy pants antennae
This chap was too cute not to pick up and terrorise

Soay Toad, presumably endemic now that Soay is an island?
By the time the boat came chugging into view I was spent. I lay sprawled across the hard cobbles and almost fell asleep. I think I actually did briefly drop off as we were heading back towards Elgol. Me and heat, not a great mix. I suspect Stephen was a little disappointed with the small number of additions/refinds we managed on Soay. But at least we all now have a working knowledge of what a Chrysops looks (and feels) like. In case you were wondering about the title of this blog, the answer is Human Blood.

  All posts should end with a bit of Slayer! 

1 comment: