Friday, 9 December 2016

Usnea shmusnea

Today I made it to the top of the hill above the Conon River as it flows through Uig Woods. From the river itself nothing short of mountaineering equipment will get you up the slopes, slippery mud and an extremely steep ascent being the order of the day. I'd give it a go in dry weather, but I think one slip and you'd be hard pushed to stop a headlong slide back down to the river below. 

Alternatively, turn sharp right through the gate and climb the steep but safe hillside through a lightly wooded area and bingo, safe and sound at the top with the noise of the river somewhere down below. I soon found and followed a narrow muddy track, suspiciously narrow in fact. When it passed underneath low branches I realised I was on a sheep track. At the top I found the culprits, they eyed me warily before hastily trotting off. I did (briefly) consider scrambling down the valley side but figured I'd kill myself in the attempt. Need ropes! 

A few European Larches had blown over up here and their bare branches were positively festooned with masses of lichens. I recognised the genus as Usnea (one of the very few I'll happily tackle, in fact) and potted a few samples to key through back indoors. 

Usnea subfloridana on a fallen larch limb - a lifer for me!

My Usnea haul comprised Usnea wasmuthii, Usnea subfloridana and Usnea florida with the first two being lifers for me. Also a bit of Ramalina fastigiata and Evernia prunastri thrown in for good measure. Oh and loads upon loads of this understated wee thing - 

Lobaria pulmonaria - hyper abundant all over the gaff up here!

Up near the top of the hill I passed through a small area of Hazel. Up here it is totally unmanaged and is a remnant of what is known as Atlantic Hazelwoods. 

Natural Hazel woods - uncoppiced, unmanaged, just lovely.

It's a great habitat and I figured it shouldn't take me too long to suss out if a certain moth occurs here. First up I needed to locate the microfungus Hypoxylon fuscum which, after quite a surprisingly serious bout of searching, I finally succeeded in doing. And there I found my moth. Or did I? Actually no, I found lookalike signs. Very lookalike! 



This, I at first thought, is the larval frass of Nemapogon clematella. The larva lives just under the surface of the bark and feeds on the fungal hyphae of Hypoxylon fuscus. I find it quite easily in the woodlands in Surrey and Hampshire so know what I'm looking for/at. Some years back I took a freshly-frassed hazel stick home, carefully shaved through the layers of wood until the larva was revealed in it's tunnel and watched it grow. It pupated but for whatever reason never emerged. Good fun to watch though! Taking a closer look at this bunch of frass it struck me that the particle size seemed too large and loose for clematella. I scraped it away and found an exit hole, possibly of a wood-boring beetle. Not the moth anyway. Checking UKMoths and the NBN Gateway I see that, apart from one very isolated record, Nemapogon clematella does not occur in Britain much north of about Cumbria. So, a bit of caution here has stopped a very out of range record being put through. 

The Hazel leaves were entirely devoid of leafmining signs, at least the very few still attached were. A few Phyllonorycter rajella mines were in evidence on the Alders as were a few leaves infected with the Alder Rust Melampsoridium hiratsukanum, but that was about it. Even the Brambles seemed bizarrely un-mined! A long, hard search for the Invisible Spider Drapetisca socialis was completely unsuccessful. I checked the British distribution and although so far unrecorded in the vicinity of Skye I feel it's probably here somewhere. More searching required! One thing that does sadden me is the fact that there are NO records of Psychids on Skye, apart perhaps for Psyche casta. Now, call me a weirdo (weirdo! I hear you cry...) but I really enjoy trunk searching for their larval cases. Yeah, weirdo. 

I flushed a Woodcock from the leaf litter/dead bracken mix which was a pleasant surprise (well it was for me at least) as I descended the hill. I almost slipped arse over tit a couple of times but you'll be disappointed to hear that I made it back down to the river without actually falling over or even muddying my trousers. Maybe next time eh? 

Back at the river I spent a short time turning stones and finding 5 more Polycelis felina in the process. Lesser Celandine and Wavy Bittercress threw themselves onto the list whilst Treecreepers called from the wooded hillside. Here's a couple of parting shots of the river flowing towards the sea...




...and one looking upstream. I've not been past this point yet (no path, very steep/slippery/overgrown edges). I'll have to bring my wellies with me next time and just wade it. I've brought my chest waders too, well - you never know! 



 Note how everything is just covered in mosses and lichens. Yuck.

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