Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Mega - from the toilet seat!

About a week or so back, I was sitting on the loo watching a small Pholcus phalangioides hanging upside down in its web. Then I spotted movement below the web, in the crack where the skirting board meets the lino. From where I was perched, I couldn't quite make out what it was that I could see slowly moving back and forth. It looked kinda orange though. Anyway, I had no pot or tube on me, so I flushed the loo and forgot all about it. 

This happened several times during the course of the week. Today though, I had a glass tube to hand...

What the blinking flip is that then ???
With my naked eye I thought I'd found some sort of a large, furry booklouse, or maybe an indoor-loving springtail. Or was it a bug? I actually couldn't tell. Through a handlens I was somewhat surprised to see that it was a beetle! Freaky weird-looking thing, whatever it was. 

A short while later and I figured I had the Golden Spider Beetle Niptus hololeucus, something I'd never even heard of before. I couldn't find too much online about confusion species so shamelessly pinged the above image off to beetle guru Mark Telfer. A (very) short while later he came back with, Gripping!!!! Do not clean that toilet until I can get up to Skye next year! Unfortunately the whole house is being completely gutted and rebuilt this winter, and I won't be living in it any more, so I've popped it into a tube with some tissue paper and a slice of courgette (for moisture and nibbles) and I'll post it off to him when the post office opens. Mark won't tick it, but it'll be confirmed (or otherwise) before plugging a gap in his already immense collection of carded beetles. 

I find it quite hilarious that Mark, one of the most highly respected professional coleopterists in Britain, needs a beetle that I casually found whilst taking a dump.

In other news, there's an apple tree growing in my mate's garden just upslope of here. I noticed a few leafmines on it and brought them back to check. Bohemannia pulverosella, as expected. New to Skye, also as expected. This really is one crazy island! 

Leaf mine of Bohemannia pulverosella - new to Skye!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Agromyzid rearing

I've been in loose contact with Barry Warrington of the Agromyzid Recording Scheme this past couple of months or so. I have to say, he's quite possibly the most helpful and responsive organiser of any scheme I've ever been involved with. It doesn't matter if I email him at 2am, he'll ping me back an email within ten minutes or so. Ok, fifteen at the absolute outside. I believe he has a wife and young Agromyzid recorders in tow, quite how he does it is beyond me. 

Anyway, Barry has a team of folks across the country collecting tenanted Hogweed mines and rearing out the adults to further our understanding of the species involved and of their distributions. I merrily threw in my lot and signed up for this, Uig Wood being a rich hunting ground for Hogweed loving Agromyzids. Alas, none have survived beyond pupal stage so far, I've not even managed to hatch out any parasitoid wasps, clearly I must be doing something wrong!

Today I had a rare free day, the whole damn day. I headed into my square and came face to face with an unfamiliar mine on a Common Reed leafblade

Well it's a flymine, I can see that much at least
I whacked it in my bag and duly forgot about it in the excitement of sweeping various Mirid bugs and a suspiciously dark harvestman off nearby vegetation. Back indoors again, I found the leaf and took a closer look...

Puparium with anchor rope. Hmmm, interesting...
This, if I'm to be entirely honest, was not what I was expecting (but this is Skye where the unexpected is a daily occurrence. I should know that by now, really...) The 'common' flymine on Reed is Cerodontha (Poemyza) phragmitidis which has a wonderfully diagnostic puparium as can be seen here.

Unfortunately, this isn't quite so wonderfully diagnostically-shaped. So what am I left with? Well....Cerodontha incisa and Cerodontha pygmaea are the options. By all accounts they are indistinguishable from each other whilst puparia, so I shall have to rear it through to adulthood. Which, unfortunately, is not something I appear to be particularly proficient at doing, thus far.

Here's a quick peek at my setup for Agromyzids. I suspect ventilation/humidity may be the main factors that I need to address in order to successfully breed them through to adult stage. I already wipe off any excess condensation every couple of days or so, but maybe a mesh lid would be better than a solid one? 

Cerodontha spp with foodplant in a moist environment - what could possibly go wrong?

In other news, I found a couple of harvestman 'new' for my 2018 tally. One was also new to my PSL

Leiobunum rotundum, this is a male judging by the colour/body patterning
Female Oligolophus tridens - seemingly common and widespread yet new to me
I even went as far as extruding the ovipositor and taking pics, but nobody wants to see that. Oh, you do? Bloomin' weirdo, so you are...

Probably the first time you've looked upon the ovipositor of a Oligolophus tridens. At least I hope it is!

Dunno what this is yet, an Ophion type yes, but I can't honestly say that I've ever seen one with a black tip to the abdomen. Hopefully all will become clear once I start keying it through

It's an Ophion Jim, but not as we know it....
I'm on 1157 species for NG3963 so far this year. That's precisely 85.7% of the way towards my target of 1350 species and 82.2% of the way towards achieving Andy Muzza's 2013 score of 1407 species. I'd be seriously happy attaining either target. Tim, being Tim, is already well on his way to 2000 species this year. I have no hope of keeping up with his record-breaking yearlist. But I do have Small Autumnal Moth. Yo Tim, let's see ya claw that back from the Broads! 

I seem to be in a good place for these

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Heliozela sericiella for the hat-trick!

Today I joined the Skye Nature Group on a fungus foray into Dunvegan Woods. It was ever so slightly farcical inasmuch as no-one present was even slightly proficient in fungi recognition, but we weren't about let a small thing like that stop us from having fun! The midges were ferocious around the car park but thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, they left us alone once we entered the woods. Perhaps spruce plantations aren't to their liking? 

The start of the walk was through a dense, dark Sitka plantation yet within just a few metres of entering tree cover we started finding many fruiting fungi. We had no idea what most of them were, mind you - "nice patch of chestnut ones over here", "these look different", "small white ones here", "these are covered in tiny spikes" etc etc echoed through the trees. All to a backdrop of "hmmm" and "aaaah" noises... I think we sussed a few though. 

Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria amethystina - one of a few that even I can identify
I think this is Lactarius detterimus - the green bruising and spruce association is distinctive
Possibly Helminthosphaeria clavariarum parasitising a Clavulina sp
Clavulina coralloides I think
Clavulina rugosa. Maybe....
Back on safe ground with Plums and Custard Tricholomopsis rutilans
What with this being a fungus foray, I obviously helped out by looking at leafmines, turning rocks and watching Buzzards flying around with dead rats (or beavers, as was suggested). 

Speckled Wood ssp oblita 
Everyone knows that insects have six legs, at least in their adult stage. So check this butterfly and tell me what's gone wrong (or just Google 'brush-footed butterflies'). 

We checked out the Chinese Lantern Tree growing alongside the path. Last time I was here I thought it was something like a Willow-leaved Cotoneaster. Thankfully, Stephen came back during the flowering season and has now correctly identified it. Unfortunately, it's an untickable tick for me, seeing as it's presumably planted with no sign of it self-seeding nearby. Arse.  

Then I spied a small oak tree. Oak! Hell yeah, within moments I was all over it like a rash. Less than one minute later and....

Holy crap!!!
Damn right!
Sometimes (far too often, in fact) I find something and think, "oh right, yeah - I've seen this online somewhere. What was it again?" But not this time, as soon as I saw this I knew exactly what I was looking at. This is the larval feeding signs of Heliozela sericiella, something I've been desperately keen to find for the past couple of weeks. And then, scant moments later, it got even better.

I'd just finished passing the leaf around, explaining how the caterpillar had excised a piece of leaf tissue, folded it around itself like a sleeping bag and lowered itself to the ground far below to pupate within when I spotted this on an adjacent leaf....  

Holy shite! Y'know that caterpillar and its sleeping bag I was just going on about....
I could scarcely believe my luck, first finding the cut outs, then finding a larva still within it's pupal case! There are just three species of Heliozela in Britain. As of last month only one had been recorded on Skye, Heliozela hammoniella on Downy Birch. I refound (and life-ticked) that at Orbost a couple of weeks ago. Then I found Heliozella resplendella on Alder at Kilmarie last week which was completely 'new' to Skye (I life-ticked that too) and now, to complete the hat-trick, Heliozela sericiella on oak, also a life-tick and also 'new' to Skye! Phew, there's small chance of me ever completing a family of moths new to myself (with two also being new to Skye) in just over a week ever again. It's been intensely satisfying to find them through proper fieldwork as opposed  to just slapping out a light trap and waiting. 

Quick set of images required, methinks! 

Heliozela hammoniella mine on Downy Birch - Orbost 21st August 2018
Heliozela resplendella mines on Alder - Kilmarie Woods, 22nd August 2018
Heliozela sericiella mine on Pedunculate Oak - Dunvegan Woods, 30th August 2018
So that's Heliozela done and dusted, now there's a hole in my bucket(list), Delilah, Delilah...



From Pantera's sublime album Vulgar Display of Moths* which could only ever lead on to this monster of a track


And then this (RIP Dimebag. Ace guitar solos, but could you ID a moth by its mine, I wonder?) 



* not the real name of the album, before you inundate me with comments and cries of outrage....

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Another First for Skye!

Flushed with yesterday's successful hunt amongst birches for the mines of Heliozela hammoniella, today I shot off in search of oak and it's associated Heliozela, namely H.sericiella. There's hardly any oak up this end of Skye, so I headed south and figured I could kill two birds with one stone by dropping into the woodland at Kilmarie where I needed to check some flymines on Goldenrod. 

Parking up, I headed down a grassy ride between the trees noting a rather lamentable absence of oaks. Dammit, now what? Well I had the next generation of agromyzid larvae on Goldenrod to collect. Plenty of mines, unfortunately either vacant or aborted. I found one with a larva within, but the mine is all wrong for the species I was hoping to find. I took some leaves back anyway, I've pressed them and can add them to my collection. 

Vacant flymine on Goldenrod, causer as yet unknown
I also found this monstrous thing!

Growing beneath Downy Birch, some kind of a giant bolete, I guess?
I haven't even attempted to ID it yet, probably something easy. It looks like Boletus edulis the Penny Bun but there are probably loads of confusion species. 

(Edit - Just Googled Penny Bun, it does look a good match, though quite a decent find on Skye with just a couple of unconfirmed records on the NBN. Apparently Boletus comes from the Greek work for clay, and edulis means edible. So, Edible Clay - nice!)

Still no oaks, but I did spy quite a few Alders. Hmmm, Alder has it's very own Heliozela which, according to Butterfly Conservation and the County Moth Recorder, has never been recorded on Skye. However, the NBN has a single Skye record from Carl Farmer, he's pretty good so I'm not sure how the record never made it beyond NBN. 

No kidding, within two minutes of checking the first Alder, I'd found a mine with cut-out! I couldn't believe my luck

Mine of Heliozela resplendella in all of it's glory!!!
Essentially, this is pretty much identical to yesterday's Heliozela hammoniella mine, except that it starts halfway up the midrib instead of emerging at the petiole. And it's on Alder not a birch. I had fretted that it would be quite difficult to spot on a dark leaf, but actually it stood out like a sore thumb. It definitely helped that the Alders here aren't already full of nibbled holes (as they are back in Uig). Here's a piccie of the tree in question

The nearest tree is the Alder that had the mine on it - note it's a fully sunlit tree
Buoyed by success, I checked several other Alders along the ride and soon had a fine collection of mined leaves


Every one of these was a terminal leaf situated on lower branches in full sunlight. I had a good hard look higher into the trees and also examined leaves away from the tips without any success. I then started checking Alders that were in the woodland and in shade, again no luck. 

The obvious conclusion that I draw from this is that, on Skye at least, Heliozela resplendella requires leaves that are fully sunlit and that leaves growing in, or subjected to, shade are apparently unsuitable. But that's just my immediate thought, which could be miles out. 

I returned to Uig to put this theory to the test. There's absolutely shedloads of Alder growing throughout Uig Wood. I'd already spent an hour or so yesterday, checking shaded trees without any success. Today I deliberately decided to restrict my search to just two Alders growing on the very edge of Uig Wood and directly facing the sun. Guess what...

Heliozela resplendella, I'll be buggered! 
And here's a pic of the tree in question. The mine was about four feet above the ground and situated in a terminal leaf (or what's left of it)

Found on the low branches just above the Butterbur leaves
So the theory holds water so far! I whacked some pics up on the Skye Moths FB page. Keith (CMR) came back with Mark Young comments "unmistakable". Mark Young is micro-lep recorder for Scotland, Keith always runs potential 'new for Skye' species past him before adding it to the records, better safe than sorry. Good stuff, after yesterday's hoo-haa I actually do have a Heliozela new for Skye. Unless Carl Farmer's record is subsequently accepted, in which case that just leaves me Heliozela sericiella on oak. 

Staying with the hole theme for a while longer...


I'm determined not to play anything by the band Hole, can't say I like the woman one bit, so have some more from Royal Blood. This track is absolutely kickin' and I love it! Turn the volume up high, lay back, close your eyes and immerse yourself in some great big chugging riffs



Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Hole in the Skye

It's time for a brief interlude in my 'Missing Month' series of catch-up posts....

Today, four of us braved the wet weather and met up for a Skye Nature Group visit to Orbost, which is situated pretty much midway between Dunvegan and Struan on Skye's west coast. I'd never been there before but Big John told me that it was "a lovely part of the world". Big John never tells lies, though he pushed it awfully close this time...

We arrived in the rain, held our walk in the rain, saw some stuff in the rain and then finally we departed. In the rain. Not entirely Big John's fault, I agree, but I blamed him nonetheless. Whilst standing in the rain.

Anyhoo...as per Stephen Bungard's instructions, we duly checked out a row of planted trees/shrubs/tall things, all or some of which may prove to be large Cotoneasters, or Stranvaesia, or maybe something completely different. I kept stuffing bits of branches and clusters of berries into my rucksack, I could probably have been arrested for deforestation had anybody thought to check. We also checked out a couple of Laburnums which keyed to either Hybrid or Scottish Laburnum, depending on how strictly you wish to follow the keys. I'd like to go back in dry conditions and try again. 

But the BIG news is that I found another moth new to Skye! Alright, so there's the small fact that it's been recorded here before. But other than that, it was new. Heck, I thought it was new at the time - and that's what's important, right? 

See that oval hole? And the brown line leading up to it? Good. Now read on....
So what we have here are a set of clues. I love clues! Anybody can whack out a light trap and see what species end up inside come morning time. But you need a few extra skills to find shizzle like this! I love it, I really honestly do. Take Luffia ferchaultella. Own up, who's ever had that at a trap, eh? My point exactly!

So here's the story. A newly-mated female Heliozela hammoniella moth only has one thing on her mind. Kids! So she diligently seeks out a suitable bit of birch, it has to be just right, up near the fresh tip is good. She lays an egg on the stem which then hatches out. The tiny newborn caterpillar squints in the bright light of day, figures it needs to get out of sight and grab a quick meal. It immediately burrows into the safe, dark, tasty stem. Thereafter it chews its way ever upwards towards the more nutritious leaf. Eventually it hits daylight as it breaks out of the stem and into the leaf blade. At this point our caterpillar is still small enough to fit between the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf. Just think about that for a moment. Have you ever tried to look at a leaf edgeways on? It's thin, very bloody thin, probably as thin as a £5 note, maybe thinner? And yet there's our tiny caterpillar, happily living inside that! 

Eventually, of course, our caterpillar grows too large to be constrained within green leaf tissue as thick as a £5 note, it needs to move on elsewhere. So what happens next? Wait up, I'm telling you. It chews its way out of the leaf tissue, walks across the leaf surface for the very first time in its life and then, using just its jaws, chews out a perfectly neat oval section of leaf. Then things get seriously weird! You remember back to when you were a kid and you used to wrap yourself up in the duvet covers and parachute to the ground? No? Oh ok, so maybe that was just me then... Anyway, our tiny caterpillar now grabs hold of a precisely excised plate of leaf which it then folds over and tucks in around itself until it has created itself a nice leafy sleeping bag. When it's happy that the fit is snug, it spins a line of silk from its mouth and lowers itself to the ground, far far below. Maybe as much as six feet below, and that's a whole lot of silk for a caterpillar that measures maybe 4mm from head to rearmost pro-leg. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? 
So, knowing the back story, check out the image above. We can see where the caterpillar has erupted upwards out of the stem and into the leaf blade. We can see where it chewed it's way through the leaf tissue from leaf base, heading upwards and crossing the midrib before growing much larger and fatter in the final stages of the leafmine - time to jump ship, guys! We can see where it left its constricting mine, walked diagonally across the leaf surface and excised a section of leaf to use as a cocoon during it's descent to ground level. Ok, so all that actually remains for us to see is our caterpillar's history, but bloody hell - how amazing a story does this one leaf tell us??? 

Personally I absolutely love stuff like this. Yeah, so a light trap will chuck bucketloads of moths your way. Light traps are a fantastic way to quickly and efficiently sample the moths flying across/through your neighbourhood. But you learn next to bugger all! This simple leaf mine has already told me so much. 

So, after all the excitement of having found Heliozela hammoniella completely new to Skye, you can probably imagine my disappointment when I realised that it has already been recorded here before. Arse. Back to the drawing board for Walkabout... 

Happily there are other members of the same moth family that haven't been found here yet. One is on oak (not a common plant up here, though there are more down south around the subtropical Costa del Armadale area) and another on Alder. Interestingly, the NBN Gateway shows a Carl Farmer record of Heliozela resplendella from Sleat area. Butterfly Conservation doesn't have that record. Rejected? Overlooked? Ignored? Who knows, but Carl is pretty good, I suspect he's correct. Either which way, I'm going to be on High Alert for Heliozela mines. A quick hour in Uig Wood turned up a blank, I shall try again. Soon as the rain stops...

Typically scrappy little Downy Birches that Heliozela hammoniella likes
Regards the title of this blog, I couldn't find anything called Hole in this Leaf, so this will have to do. From back in the day when I was three. Ah hell yeah, I remember it so well.

Hole in the Skye by Black Sabbath, early stuff for the boys yet already a masterful tune. Reckon they could go places, y'know...


The Missing Month - Part I

Ok, so clearly I've been bad again. Keeping this blog bang up to date was one of my resolutions for 2018 and yet somehow a whole month has passed since my last post. I did ask that you give me a nudge if ever I went quiet for more than a week or so.

I'll break the 'missing month' into bite-sized posts. This first post will concern the week that Tony came to stay. Naturally, we had a fantastic week (hence this post won't be particularly 'bite-sized' after all), I saw eighteen species new for my PSL, I'm guessing Tony probably had just a few more...

Day 1 - July 29th seemed an awfully long time coming, the preceding week positively dragged by and felt more like a month. One unexpected highlight was finding this beauty inside the bathroom window on the 25th

Small Tortioseshell - I gave it a prod and in return it revealed the underside of the (usually hidden) forewing
but then finally the day dawned when Tony was due to arrive. And arrive he did, exactly as promised - what a legend! The weather forecast wasn't looking especially great for the duration of Tony's stay (in fact I've nicknamed him Rain Man), so whilst it was still modestly pleasant we braved a quick dash into the evening sunlight and headed for the Sphagnum bog at the top of the hill. Tony had forwarded me a Hit List of plants he wanted to see, two of them occur in the bog and both were eminently gettable...

Drosera x obovata - the hybrid between Great and Round-leaved Sundews, both of which occur here
Lesser Clubmoss - we saw this fairly frequently throughout the week
Both of these plants were quite high on Tony's Hit List, so it was nice to start off well. En route up to the boggy area we'd stopped to examine a few leafmines on a roadside Grey Willow. In the good old days this would be a simple identification to make; Stigmella on Salix = Stigmella salicis, sorted.

Stigmella salicis - importantly, the egg was located on the under surface of the leaf
However, micro-lep guru and old friend John Langmaid is currently in the throes of splitting Stigmella salicis into two species, one that lays the egg on the topside of the leaf and one that lays the egg on the underside. Every mine we checked had the egg on the underside, which may conform to Stigmella salicis or it may conform to the 'new' species, I'm not sure yet, but we'll be able to properly assign it to one or other when the paper is published. We soon had Tony's MVL trap blazing away in the garden and hatched our plans for tomorrow. Well, I had to work, but Tony hatched his plans...

Day 2 - July 30th dawned just a smidge too early for my liking (I'd forsaken my bed for the living room floor, Tony having use of my room for his stay) but there was the MVL trap to go through so I hauled myself up off the floor and donned boots, ready for action. 26 moths of 18 species wasn't exactly spectacular, but Eudonia truncicolella and Acleris laterana (gen detted) were new for the square and a Mompha propinquella was good to see, it being my third for the garden and just the fourth record for Skye!

Eudonia truncicolella - note the chequered fringes to the forewing, plenty of white between the black
Tony wandered down to Uig Wood whilst I was working. I pointed him in the direction of several plants that he needed, none of which he managed to locate. I think mostly because my directions are famously crap rather than Tony's lack of plant finding abilities. So, after work, we returned to Uig Wood where we found the necessary species, namely Globeflower (basal leaves only), Marsh Hawk's-beard (gone over already) and Upland Enchanter's Nightshade (no excuses, he'd walked straight by it!) We then clambered up a hill where Melancholy Thistle and Invisible Spider were new for Tony. Back down on lower levels we called in to say hello to the Lesser Knotweed patch and spotted plenty of Dasineura pustulans galls on Meadowsweet leaves. Ticksville for Tony!

Day 3 - 31st July and the moth trap had improved on yesterday's numbers, 90 moths of 29 species including a Manchester Treble Bar (a good moth on Skye), 2 Gold Spangles, the first of a great run of Dark Marbled Carpets, 2 Eana osseana (lifer for me!), Agriphila tristella and a Dotted Carpet (also a lifer for me!)

Dotted Carpet - the first of several that we trapped during the week
Today we intended to join a Skye Nature Group outing to Rubha Hunnish, the very northernmost point of Skye and acknowledged as a great spot for cetacean watching. Peggy Semler volunteers for the cetacean watch programme up here and she was running the show today. Unfortunately she had no control over what the weather was doing, it had turned decidedly shitty. Strong winds and sideways rain greeted us as we began our slog across the open moorland towards the high cliffs that overlook the sea far below. Very far below, in fact. The rain swept in and we lost sight of everything further than half a mile out. Peggy and I glimpsed a subliminal Minke Whale as it did a high roll and dived deep, never to be seen again. Tony needed Northern Minke Whale (though he's seen their Antarctic cousin), so was a bit gutted to have missed the 'action', such as it was. A couple of Bonxies were the only other things of interest.

Rubha Hunnish towering over an empty sea
After an hour or so, Tony declared that he was 'off to find a tree'. Peggy remarked that he'd be lucky (I think they all blew away many, many years back) and so, when he hadn't returned after about twenty minutes, I figured I better go check he hadn't fallen into a hole or become stuck in the bog. Turns out he was busily finding inverts on the leeward side of an outcropping, which certainly seemed far more appealing than staring at a blank sea. Without further ado I joined him searching the rocks for insects.

Tony working his magic
We kicked up several moths from the rocks, they all seemed to be Twin-spot Carpets apart from a couple of Dark Marbled Carpets. I noticed a strong population of Star Sedge in the bog and soon found several plants that were infected by a smut, something Tony had never seen before

Anthracoidea karii - a smut fungus restricted to Star Sedges growing in the Highlands and Outer Hebrides
A tiny leafhopper launched itself out of the Wild Thyme carpeting the rocks and landed on my arm - never a wise thing for an insect to do. It was quickly in a pot and later keyed through to Eupteryx notata, a common hopper but new for me. It's associated with Wild Thyme and already known from Scotland, so no worries there. Completely new to Skye though - obviously. By now we'd successfully lost sight of the rest of the party so cut our way across the moor and back towards the car, being severely buffeted by the near gale force wind. Here's Tony trying his best not to be blown off his feet

Words fail me - other than "haha!"
Day 4 - 1st August no major surprises or upsets in the moth trap, though yet another Manchester Treble Bar helped confirm my back garden as Skye's premier site for the species. Today we had yet more plant-bothering plans in mind.

We began by heading down to Penifiler on a plant twitch. Skye is recognised as being a great place for Equisetums (just ask anyone...) and there was one horsetail that neither of us had seen before. Armed with a suitably specific grid reference and after a bit of genning-up beforehand we felt confident that we'd skore

Dutch Rush aka Rough Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) - sweet!!!
We found a whole clump of Dutch Rush in the verge, then decided to wander into an adjacent field and found a whole heapload more of the stuff in ditches. A lone Scotch Argus was Tony's first for several years. We also found Field and Wood Horsetails as well as both Common Wasp and Red Wasp on Hogweed heads. Tony ticked the Red Wasp, low-listing scummer that he is :)

Further along the road we noted a hedgerow full of Confused Bridewort Spiraea x pseudosalicifolia with a large Geranium flowering below



It keyed out nearest to Pencilled Crane's-bill, though the petals weren't right for starters. Turns out it's the hybrid between French and Pencilled Crane's-bill, a garden plant known as Druce's Crane's-bill Geranium x oxonianum which I think was new for Tony. Recently, Tony and I have had a small, though potentially significant, disagreement regards hybrid plants and their eligibility towards our PSLs. More to follow in due course...

Happy with finding Rough Horsetail at it's only known Skye site, we sped onwards towards the hills above Sligachan in search of Bog Orchids and Brown-beak Sedge. I hadn't seen either before, Tony needed the sedge. We set off along a track that led inland from Sligachan, sploshing through standing water on the path and wading through the small torrents flowing across the lower sections. We were soon forced to cross the river, thankfully there's a decent bridge!

View from the bridge. Note the lack of sideways rain...well that sure didn't last for much longer!
The weather forecast, combined with my own infamous abilities to accurately foretell the coming conditions, led us to believe that we'd mostly dodge the incoming showers. However, just as we cleverly managed to place ourselves into probably the most exposed part of the glen possible, the rain came crashing down. Hard. Ha, but we are fearless intrepid pan-species listers and we laugh in the face of rain! Or, to word it slightly more accurately, I pull my coat sleeves over my fingers, hunker up inside my hood, man up and splash woodenly through the torrents. Tony, on the other hand, figures if he's wet already then what's the point of even bothering to zip up a non-waterproof jacket, raise a hood, pull on a hat or bother with waterproof trousers. Hence his enthusiasm for Brown Beak Sedge suddenly waned quite considerably. I bravely foolishly suggested we carry on just a bit further, but even I, at the sight of a raging river cutting across our path, agreed that it was probably safer and wiser to turn back. Dammit.

However, all was not lost (other than Tony's will to live) for I soon spied a small lochan that looked promising. And sure enough, bingo!

Pipewort - a crushingly localised plant in Britain and a lifer for both of us! 
The heads of these plants were submerged at a depth of maybe six inches below the surface. Looking at the Heather and Bog Myrtle, which was also submerged, I reckoned the water levels were maybe a foot or so higher than they should be, which meant that the Pipewort should have been emergent and glorious to behold. So too the drowned Water Lobelia flowerheads, currently several inches underwater. Pipewort and Water Lobelia were both lifers for Tony. He celebrated by looking at me with blank, hollow eyes whilst the rain dripped off his nose and ears and doubtless ran down his back too. I quickly figured we needed to get him dry again - and pronto.

Some time later we arrived back at the car, the rain by now having temporarily stopped. As if by magic, Tony suddenly burst back into life and suggested we stay indoors for the rest of the day. To be fair, we both had a bit of microscopy to be getting on with. However, judging by the snores emanating from my room, I think Tony chose to spend his time away from the microscope. My housemates were heavily involved in a noisy PS3 game on the bigscreen (Call of Duty - Ghosts, it's pretty sweet). Tony slept through it all, bless him. The good news was that he awoke feeling much better and microscopy did indeed happen. Yay!

Day 5 - 2nd August started with us peering into a wet light trap. Wet, but full of moths! By my reckoning there were about 140 moths of 30 species including a single Pyrausta despicata - a new moth for me. A Chevron was new for the square this year, as was Opostega salaciella with its crazy big ear flaps.

However, today's main event was to be the ascent of The Storr, one of the most spectacular lumps of rock to be found in all of Britain. Stephen Bungard, BSBI Recorder for Skye, had kindly agreed to lead us by the nose to a suite of rare plants that occur up there. It's taken me over 20 months of living on Skye to visit The Storr, but bloody hell it was worth it! I now need to get back up there ASAP to see some of the stuff we missed on the day. As for the stuff we did see...

First up was Needle Rock itself where it took a matter of seconds to find Rock Lady's-mantle Alchemilla wichurae, with it's broad leaf shape, strong hair-tipped teeth and the veins running at 45° from each other. Confusingly, it also grows happily in the mountain turf.

Rock Lady's-mantle. You'll notice that the leaves are wet...I sense a theme developing
Just a few feet away was the first of an awful lot of Northern Rock-cress. So much of it, in fact, that I utterly failed to manage a single decent image. Need to go back!

Northern Rock-cress - really quite common on ledges/outcroppings pretty much everywhere up here
Also rather nice to reacquaint myself with this, last seen up Ben Lawers a few years back

Mountain Sorrel - seen fairly infrequently on ledges
The other plant that was very noticeable on bare rocky ledges was this rare beast, Glaucous Meadow-grass Poa glauca. I wish all grasses were as obvious as this one!

Poa glauca - a real botanist's plant and a bit of a Mega!
We were soon to be ascending into the cloud base, but not before we had a bit of a hands-and-knees search for Sibbaldia on a hillside where a huge landslip had previously occurred. I strung an odd-looking Alpine Lady's-mantle, which was as close as we managed, but Stephen then came up trumps with a whole flippin' colony of Moonwort! Fantastic, this is a bizarre looking fern and one I've been keenly searching for these past couple of months, hence I was especially pleased to encounter it in numbers and in such an amazing landscape too. Happy days! Though I did stand up a bit quickly and nearly fell off...

Moonwort - it's a very sexy fern 
It's a bizarre landscape up here!
We headed up into the wind-lashed clouds and got soaked. Tony was keen to point out that my prediction that it wouldn't rain today was rubbish. I was just as keen to point out that getting smacked in the face by a fast moving cloud was NOT the same as being rained upon. Honest guv... Anyway, we all got thoroughly soaked, despite it definitely not raining. Happily, we had some very good plants to keep us suitably enthralled

Cyphel - another one I've always longed to see, hence I was just a tryphel excited!!!!
Stephen was on a mission to take us to the sole known Three-leaved Rush plant in the entire Trotternish (!), so onwards and ever upwards we slogged. Eventually we stood at the base of a cliff and began working our way through the scree. Rounding a corner, we stopped and stared upwards to see this

See that scraggy mess on the right? That's a Three-leaved Rush, so it is! 
There may be others up here, but Stephen knows these crags very well. If there are others here, they must be very well hidden, is all I'll say.

We endured a very wet walk (whilst not being rained upon) around the top of a corrie but, thanks to the poor visibility, we managed to miss the correct route to a Holly Fern site. The Iceland Purslane still lay far above us up on the summit plateau. We had a team huddle and all agreed that it would be a fairly miserable scramble to get to it, one for another time when the weather was bearable. We descended and headed back into drier conditions. For one mad moment the sun came out and it became uncomfortably warm!

Back at the car we noticed an area of dumped manure and wool shoddy, complete with several jumbo cereal grasses. Stephen took some away to key through, bless him.

This turned out to be Bread Wheat Triticum aestivum - tick! 
Tony was keen to see Equisetum x font-queri, the hybrid of Giant x Marsh Horsetail that occurs up here. This was colloquially known as Skye Horsetail for a while, though it occurs elsewhere too. It's abundant along much of the roadside just north of The Storr carpark and we had no difficulty finding loads. More pleasingly, for me at least, were the many flowering Grass-of-Parnassus, one of which had a Broom Moth larva chomping the anthers. This is the first time I've seen the caterpillar, though I've had plenty of the adults in my light trap.

Marvellous!
Our adventure over, we headed back to Portree. But not before Tony spied a clump of "big yellow daisy stuff" in a roadside ditch.

The heck is that then?
Stephen slammed the car into a handy layby whilst I dodged death on the busy road and ran back to grab a sample plant. I thought it looked like Elecampane but with smaller leaves, Tony suggested Leopard's Bane, but the leaves were wrong for that too. Hmmm.

Back in Portree Stephen pointed out the only known Yellow Corydalis in VC104 (!!!) and headed off to a nearby garden centre to see if they could name the "big yellow daisy stuff"

Yellow Corydalis growing above the church windows. But why is it so rare on Skye???
Tony and I returned homewards a bit shattered but full of exciting memories of the high slopes and brilliant plants we'd seen today. Stephen came back with "Inula hookeri" for the yellow daisy, another lifer for everyone - what a stupidly brilliant day we'd had!

Day 6 - 3rd August was Tony's last day on Skye. We started by going through the previous night's haul of moths in the trap. I was sad to see the back of Tony's Robinson trap with it's powerful 125W MVL bulb. Makes my own small actinic trap look like a toy. Anyway, there was a bumper haul of some 250 moths of over 40 species including my first Bee Moth on Skye, Square-spot Rustic, Lesser Swallow Prominent were both new for year and - best of all - a V-Pug which was only the second for Skye!!!! And, to top it all, Tony decided that I could borrow his trap until I next see him, what a complete flippin' legend!

Some of the frenetic scribblings in my notebook from that morning :) 
So, our last outing of the trip. Tony was keen to see Shady Horsetail, I knew a site. We headed off to Storr Lochs, parked up by the dam and spent a short while gathering various pondweeds for Tony to key through once back home again.

From the dam, we walked a short distance to the steep steps that lead down to the shore at Berreraig Bay. Thankfully, the Shady Horsetail gave itself up less than a third of the way down, it was becoming uncomfortably humid and the midges were biting! We stopped to examine some Sallow leaves that had some sort of a tar spot fungus growing on them

Turns out this is Willow Tar Spot Rhytisma salicinum and a lifer for both of us! 
I found a patch of Heath-rush with several Coleophora cases attached to the seedheads. The only Coleophora recorded from Heath-rush in Britain is Coleophora alticolella, a very common species  here on Skye.

Coleophora alticolella on Heath-rush seedheads
Tony had a very long drive ahead of him, so we headed back. But not before he did the usual trick of spotting something interesting from a moving car - this time it was a patch of Lesser Knotweed in the verge. I'd spotted lots of pink and white-flowered bindweed a bit further along the same verge, so we checked it out. Initially we thought this was Large Bindweed, but Stephen later corrected us and told us it was actually Hairy Bindweed and known from the roadside verges in Portree. Sweet, that's a lifer for me!

Most boring pic ever of Hairy Bindweed? Probably!
And so endeth an amazing week. Stephen earns our eternal gratitude for dragging us kicking and screaming up that mountain and showing us so many great plants, and also just for being such an all 'round great guy. Tony is simply beyond words, what an outstanding fella! I'm heading saaarf again in a few weeks time and we're meeting up again. Doubtless we'll be immersing ourselves in yet more fast and furious PSL'ing mayhem and madness. Coupla bloomin' nutters that we are :)