Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Exciting Additions!

Continuing on from the last post (would I decide to go for the iconic mammal or a potentially punishing fight with what could be my Species of the Year...), I typically decided to do something completely different. Seventy five minutes of a sensation possibly akin to having my upper back savagely mauled by a sewing machine and this was the end result

Can't believe he shaved my back!
I do actually own a pair of shoulders, despite the camera implying otherwise. The guy who took this pic asked me to hunch over like a gorilla so he could get a clear shot without my shoulder blades getting in the way. Or something like that. He probably just enjoys watching folks impersonating animals. Anyway, it's my first time being inked in over twenty years and I'm happy with it. 

I was still trying to decide between heading somewhere for a Pine Marten stakeout or veering across to Oban with its 'monster' when I passed a sign that seemed to be aimed directly at me

A portent if ever there was!
I'm not massively superstitious, but with wording as clear as that I figured, heck - why chance it? Storm Emma, the so-called Beast from the East, was due to hit. Did I really want to be caught in a whiteout up Tyndrum or Glencoe? I promptly abandoned plans and headed straight back to Skye a day or so earlier than planned. 

I ended up watching Bladerunner 2049 with the housemates. It's alright, definitely nowhere near as good as the first one, although by the time it finished at about 1am, I was rather mashed on vino. It's entirely possible that my judgement may have been impaired. I can't actually remember how it ends.

On a nature-related point (seeing as how this IS meant to be a nature blog, after all) my nice new shiny moth trap had arrived in my absence. Click here for a link to the official blurb. 

It very neatly flat-packs into that briefcase it's standing in
I had to slightly enlarge a notch in one of the baffles and decided to tape another couple of bits to the centre bar (I could see them dropping off into the trap when I remove the lid) but other than that it seems alright. Pretty basic, the workmanship isn't going to win many prizes, but hopefully this will do the trick and attract a huge variety of night-flying insects for me to record. Mostly midges, doubtless. Bound to get a decent range of moths though, along with diptera, caddis, beetles, bugs, maybe even a Storm Petrel! Typically it's bloomin' frigid out there tonight. I've even closed my window! 

Only ever going to be one song tonight, the quote on my back is from the lyrics to this track. As always, enjoy. 

Monday, 26 February 2018

Brotherhood of (old fart) Man

I've spent the last twelve days road-tripping down to the south of England and back, hence the rather lamentable absence of recent blogposts. I'm not quite back yet, though I am back in Scotland. The snow has started and last night's temperature of -2 made kipping in the car just a tad cool. Always a thrill when you wake up to find ice coating the inside of the windows... I'm currently lording it up in a swanky Premier Inn room for the night, with electricity, a toilet, a shower and a bed. Get me! 

There are certain things I can't easily do from Skye, visiting Specsavers being one. So, with a heavy heart and a not inconsiderable degree of trepidation, I bravely entered the butchers (doh!) and then Specsavers to have my eyes tested for the first time since I was a schoolkid many aeons ago. I'm fed up with not being able to see small detail at close range, I've even begun to squint wiring up a plug, FFS. Anyway, eye test complete and +1.25 'reading goggles' were duly made overnight ready for collection the next day. My distance vision has grown a bit soft around the edges too, turns out both eyes are at -0.25 which is too small a prescription for contact lenses. I'm now the proud owner of a pair of 'for driving' glasses too. Pffffffft. On the other hand, I'm once again viewing everything in HD. 

I caught up with a few mates in Epsom, I'm the kiddo of the gang being the youngest by three or four years. It was great to catch up, not so great being informed about the existence of a few other "hidden joys" of becoming an old duffer. Seems that worsening vision hits many men in their mid-forties. I can live with this, not happily, but I accept that your eyes just start wearing out. What I'm not so thrilled to hear is that my chest hair is doomed to turn grey and that I'll be lucky to make it through the night without needing to get up and pee at least once (probably three times) and that when I think I've finished peeing, I'll randomly dribble some more down my leg. OH SUCH JOY!!! Meh, so do I order the man-size nappies now or just get a catheter put in? Sheesh, sometimes life is harsh. It's not as though women have to go through this kind of shit when they get older......ahem.....

Helped my mate dismantle his car - it's what we soon-to-be bedwetting, half-blind, greying chaps do for one another
But anyway - 

I also met up with a few naturalist friends (as opposed to beer buddies with bladder issues) at the wonderful Portland Bird Observatory down in Dorset. It's having a facelift at the moment, so isn't currently at its very best - though it soon will be

I asked the gaffer if it was alright to climb the scaffold. He said no. Arse.
I teamed up with fellow PSL nutters Kev and Debs Rylands, so funtimes were always guaranteed. We were joined by SpiderLord Matt Prince and Nicola Queen of the Lichens. We spent an amazing day down in Church Ope Cove clambering through rocks and scrutinising the soil for all manner of rare and inconspicuous lichens. I had my doubts at the beginning, but it ended up being a terrific day, even though Kev and Debs clearly couldn't take the pace - as can be seen below

It's all too much for the Rylands as Nicola finds yet another unpronounceable lichen
We all (well, apart from Kev) managed to find our own examples of the incredibly localised liverwort Southbya nigrella, known from 55 discrete patches amongst the rocks and in real danger of being lost beneath invading Cotoneaster scrub. Here's a poor pic I took of this absolutely miniscule wee beastie

Southbya nigrella - it's the dark green overlapping leaves. Tiny!
That's me on the prayer mat, offering thanks to Pan, god of lists (pic courtesy of Debs Rylands)
Amidst the mass of lichens and mini-bryophytes I managed a bit of rock turning and unearthed my first ever Mitostoma chrysomelas, a harvestman with very long pedipalps, as can be seen in the pic

Mitostoma chrysomelas - attempting to hide beneath a snail shell
I also managed to finally meet up with Dorset Dave, author of  DMC Journal, one of my fave blogs. We only just made it too, having already missed each other a couple of days earlier. I was throwing the stuff into the back of the car about ready to shoot off as he arrived, a close thing but great to put a face to a name at last! After waving goodbye to everyone, and to Portland itself, I headed off to Purbeck for a bit of botanising. Rue-leaved Saxifrage on a pub roof, Toothwort in a Hazel wood and Dorset Heath on a Dorset heath were all lifers for me

Toothwort - a bizarre, chlorophyll-lacking parasite found here growing on buried Hazel roots
With time to kill I headed up to Blashford Lakes late afternoon and found myself staring down the barrel of some kind chap's telescope and at the Thayer's Gull which turned up a few weeks back. This is an incredibly rare bird this side of the Atlantic, a real Mega in fact. Only problem is the BOU have downgraded it from full species to sub. Bastards. I didn't manage a pic, you'll just have to take my word that it was spectacular. Or you could Google an image and discover the truth for yourself...

I kipped in the car up near Staines that night and woke vaguely refreshed and cold. Still, within twenty minutes of waking, I found myself looking at this damn fine beast!

American Horned Lark - MEGA!!!! (almost...)
This is not a Shorelark. Well, it is a Shorelark at the moment, but hopefully not for much longer. This individual isn't of the subspecies you'd ordinarily find in Europe. This is an American race of Shorelark, or American Horned Lark as they call it out there. Genetic investigations would seem to imply that there are several species currently lumped under the heading of Shorelark/Horned Lark, so other than being a very smart bird to see it's also (someday) going to be a "new" bird for my British PSL. An armchair tick, in fact. All I know is that I've seen Eurasian Shorelarks whilst freezing my 'nads off along Norfolk beaches and now I've seen American Horned Lark whilst freezing my 'nads off along Staines Reservoir causeway. I sense a theme developing with these buggers. I make that two untickable bird lifers in two days, both utter Megas too. Bloody BOU, I ask ya...

Next, I teamed up with my ol' buddy Tony Davis and met Josie Hewitt for the first time. We had a day's worth of New Forest botanising lined up, though first port of call was the back end of a delightful housing estate in Swaythling, just on the outskirts of Southampton. Tony had done his homework well, he'd located a plant I've previously tried for without success. 

Purple Toothwort - four feet up a tree!!!
This is the alien Purple Toothwort, long known from the riverside pathway at Monksbrook. It's a bit early yet, it will look better in another couple of weeks time, but this was the best clump we saw. More clumps were emerging through the soil (which is where I expected them to be, not up a tree!) but barely showing signs of opening up, certainly no colour yet. What a bizarre plant, even freakier than yesterday's Toothwort beneath Hazels. Good man, Tony. Next?

We sped off to a secret site in search of a secret plant, but failed. We figured that it was just a bit too early in the season. Just have to come back some other time, ideally April/May, I guess. But that won't be this year, sadly. However, Tony did pull out another botanical lifer, seen and identified from a moving car (and he was driving too!) A handy side turning allowed us to slam over and jump out to key through what, it transpires, is really quite a common tree and one I've simply overlooked for many years

Cherry Plum Prunus cerasifera - note the green twigs and the fact that it's in flower already
I ran it through the keys to be certain, but everything pointed to Cherry Plum. There were loads of them all along the roadside verges, Tony kept saying, "oh look, there's another one..." I've just never really looked at them before, I guess. Glabrous, green young twigs, small brown scale buds, blossom appearing as the leaves burst, the early flowering...yep, definitely Cherry Plum! Bit embarrassing really, I wonder what else I've been overlooking that I should have nailed years ago? Bound to be a few. 

We then spent a bit of time looking for a rare moss that grows on Beech bark, but failed to convince ourselves of finding the right stuff, before heading off to Blashford Lakes. Not for another look at the Thayer's Gull, we were after snowdrops in a churchyard. 

I admit, I was a bit sceptical about ticking off churchyard snowdrops. Naturalised apparently, but still within the churchyard - hmmmm. Despite this, I soon joined Tony and Josie and began checking through the drifts of white flowers for signs of any that were different. Before too long, Tony found a clump of Greater Snowdrop, a lifer for all of us

Greater Snowdrop - Galanthus elwesii with extra green patch on the petals
In addition to the extra green patch midway down the inner petals (Snowdrop has a narrow green mark above the apical cleft but no other petal markings), Greater Snowdrop has huge wide glaucous leaves, over 2cm wide in fact, and broad rounded leaf tips. Whilst oohing and aahing over these, we noticed the deep green, hood-tipped leaves of another snowdrop clump nearby, also naturalised amongst the drifts of Snowdrop. This keyed straight through to Green Snowdrop - another lifer for us! 

Green Snowdrop Galanthus woronowii - note the green not glaucous foliage in the background
We ventured off to Blashford Lakes reserve itself, being handsomely rewarded with excellent views of Bramblings at the feeders before wandering down to the river in search of whatever caught out fancy. Josie mentioned that she only had one fish on her PSL, Tony and I decided we could double that without too much effort, this being a very reliable spot for Bullheads. Tony waded in, the water never more than halfway up his wellies - when suddenly he walked off the edge of an underwater shelf and disappered knee-deep into the water, only barely keeping his balance and not falling in completely!!! One look at the shocked expression on his face and Josie and I burst out laughing, haha - so many times I've been the one falling into mud or muck or, indeed, into rivers. Now - finally - it was the mocker's turn to be mocked! 

Whoops a daisy.....Pahahahahahaaaa   :D 
It's a good thing that it wasn't already a really cold day, or that Tony didn't have a spare pair of jeans or socks to change into. Coz yeah, that would have been really bad. For Tony, I mean. Oh dear. 

Anyhow, eventually I stopped laughing and promised not to publish the picture (haha, as if!) and that was that. Lovely to meet Josie, she's very good at not taking the piss out of folks who fall into rivers. I could probably learn something there, but where's the fun in that? 

And now I'm back up in Scotland. I have two immediate thoughts, one involves an iconic mammal that I've only seen once before. The other involves a potentially long, physical battle but would reward me with what could be Species of The Year for me. I have to be back at work after the next couple of days or so and the weather is set to close in. Hmmm, I should probably head back to the safety of Skye before it gets too bad. Probably....

There were two options for tonight's song, that I could see. So here you go, take your pick. As always, enjoy!

I have to confess, Angelo is one of the very earliest songs I can recall from my childhood (though I'd always thought it was by Abba). Hearing it now brings back a strong memory of being in my dad's Capri whilst heading up the Wolverhampton Road. Bizarre but true! 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Holey Lenticels, Batman!

Threw back the curtains to be greeted with a snowy vista, which was a bit of a shock seeing as I didn't even know we were due snow today. Here's the view from an upstairs window looking out across the rear of the hotel and the bay beyond. Not too shabby, I've certainly endured worse (yes Tolworth Broadway, I'm talking to you...)

Beeee-aaa-uuuutiful - this makes me happy! 
Anyway, I've only managed one day off work out of the last sixteen. Things seemed blissfully quiet, so I scurried away at 2pm for some "me time". I managed a whole thirty minutes before having to head back to show the plumbers around again. Pfffft. Luckily, during that half an hour, I successfully found something I've recently been looking for, a fungus that grows on the bark of birches. I only learnt of its existence a few weeks ago, though apparently it's dirt common. Even so, I doubt I'd have ever self-found this particular species. It's hardly a stunner!

Bark of a Downy Birch twig
Apologies for the rather crappy image, I should have tried this whilst still outdoors. Anyway, so this is what a Downy Birch twig looks like. This particular twig is about 15mm diameter. See the big, horizontal bands? They're called lenticel grooves. And the smaller, pale-rimmed ovoid bumps are lenticels. I think that's right? Lenticels are a feature of Betula (birches), find a twig/branch/trunk and have a look. In Britain we have Silver Birch, Downy Birch and their hybrid. There are also various non-native birches kicking around in nurseries/gardens and local councils sometimes use these in amenity plantings. A few may become established in time, if they haven't already. Surprisingly (to me), the only naturally occurring birch here on Skye is Downy Birch.

A close (10x handlens) inspection of these lenticels allowed me to find the target of my search, the hugely underwhelming Pseudovalsa lanciformis. It is barely worth scrolling down any further, but seeing as I went to the effort to locate some, you may as well at least glance at it

Woo-hoo, yeehaw baby! (umm, yeah.....righty-ho.....)
Note that these lenticels are somewhat distorted and have blackish circular holes in them. I know, I did warn you! What you're looking at are the remains of the fungal perithecia erupting through the lenticel. To quote direct from Ellis & Ellis

Pseudovalsa lanciformis (Fr.)Ces. & de Not.
Perithecia 0.5mm diameter, in groups of up to 10 immersed in dark brown to black stromata with narrow elongated discs appearing through transverse slits in bark. Common on attached twigs and small branches

So the 'holes' are the basal parts of the fungus packed into the lenticels. The fruiting bodies have fallen off/died, else I'd show you a pic of the spores. This year's fruiting bodies should be up in a few more weeks time, but honestly - don't hold your breath. They're just greyish/blackish blobs that protrude from the surface a tad. Pretty shite, if I'm honest. I'm glad to have encountered it, another fragment of natural history knowledge has been stored away, but it's never going to make sexy centrefold in the Mycologist Monthly, or whatever the equivalent may be. Ali managed a nice pic of the spores on his 1KSQ post, better than my efforts for sure. It's entirely thanks to Ali that I even heard about this fungus (cheers, chap!)

I managed to sneak away again after work, though it was almost dark by then. The Iceland Gull was present again, there are quite a few of them dotted around the Western Isles at the moment, very nice after my complete blank last winter.

Final image is of a really weird cloud, looks as though it's having a bit of a bad hair day!

Music time again. For no reason other than they've both just autoplayed on my YouTube channel, I give you tonight's offerings. As always, enjoy! 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Someone Call a Plumber!

Today was easily the most stunningly beautiful day of the year so far. Sharp frost over the undergrowth, wall to wall sunshine in a clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. It's times like this I'm so glad I live where I do. The air is pure, the noise of birdcalls and the occasional sheep is pretty much all there is to it. Amazing.

Unfortunately for me, I spent the whole of this wondrous day crawling around in loftspaces, peering under floorboards and into voids between walls in what has become a seemingly never-ending quest to track down an elusive leak in the central heating system. The biggest problem is that the building has been extended who knows how many times and nobody has a clear idea quite where the old plumbing runs, nevermind the newer stuff. Plumbers are back in again tomorrow, at least I've helped narrow down the search area.

Gotta love a random 3" nail banged through the floorboards....

Between the original external wall (now an internal wall) and the new wall. Bit of a tight squeeze!

Hope nobody wants through that door in a hurry...
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I've categorically discovered a great many places where the leak isn't (good job we've got a whole five days before re-opening to the public...)

By the time I finished failing to find the leak it was getting dark. I scrambled up the hill and faced west towards the open sea

Despite missing most the day, this makes me happy
Right, I'm in a mood for daft and meaningless music that'll get my head a-bobbing. Luckily, I know just the fella....enjoy! 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Dead-nettle Surprise

Yesterday, whilst en route to the shop for vino, I spied what looked to be a single Red Dead-nettle plant flowering in a garden border. Hmmm, I couldn't recall ever seeing dead-nettles before in the square, or anywhere else on Skye for that matter. Could it actually be a 'decent' plant to find up here? Surely not. Anyway, I emailed the vice county BSBI Recorder who immediately wanted to know if I'd ruled out Northern Dead-nettle, Cut-leaved Dead-nettle and even Henbit Dead-nettle. Um...I decided I needed to go back and take a pic!

Today the weather was lovely; hardly any wind with not a sniff of rain, sleet or snow. There was even a great big bright yellow thing in the sky, possibly a yeartick in itself! I've had to pick up an extra day at work tomorrow (somebody needs to let the contractors in and babysit them whilst here). So, at 1pm I thought buggerit - I'm off down the beach! I'll more than make up for the lost hours tomorrow. 

First the Red Dead-nettle. I leaned as far over the garden wall as I could and managed three crappy shots, all massively over-exposed. Here's the best one, which I've adjusted so that you no longer need sunglasses to view it. 

Bog standard Red Dead-nettle Lamium purpureum, I reckon. 
Happily the BSBI Recorder agrees. This constitutes the first ever record of Red Dead-nettle from my monad. An adjacent square has an earlier record though. From 1968 - that's FIFTY YEARS AGO!!!! Incredible how this "common urban weed" (as it was where I lived in London) is such a good plant up here. I bet it's more widespread than suspected, maybe the backstreets of Portree would be the place to check, or around the dump maybe? 

Down at the beach I spied a very distant immature Iceland Gull, waaaay out at the water's edge. The tide really was pretty darn far out today, I should have taken a pic, but I was too busy lifting stones for starfish and crabs and other cool goodies to think about that. 

Disappointingly, the only starfish I saw was fast disappearing down the neck of a Herring Gull, not my best views ever. No sea slugs, the only anemones were Beadlet Anemones. The only fish were a Shore Rockling and about ten Butterfish (including three with eggs!) and the only crabs were Green Shore Crabs. A few pics for you

Lots and lots and lots of Dog Whelk Nucella lapillus eggs on the undersides of rocks
Mystery chiton species. All of my chitons are mystery species. I may have to address this one day soon.
No idea!!! Possibly a Serpula, I need to drag one out and key it through. Cool tube though, whatever it is
Final pic is something I've seen here loads of times, yet never really paid much attention to. It's common as muck on both the undersides and lowersides of many rocks at the low tide mark

Spirobranchus lamarcki - a very common tubeworm
I assumed that this was going to be Spirobranchus triqueter, which I've seen before. But clearly these tubes have the raised ridge running along the midline of the tube plus a ridge running along each shoulder of the tube, you can see this quite well on the uppermost, large tube in the image. These extra ridges mark this species as Spirobranchus lamarcki, which is a new one for me - happy days! It tends to occur in shallower water than S.triqueter, though both are common around the coasts of Skye. 

I think I need to spend a (warmer!) day studying these animals, undoubtedly there are several other species present and it would be nice to compile a photo gallery of each. Let's face it, they aren't exactly hugely mobile so I should do alright with the camera set up in macro mode. I'll have to find some that are already submerged and grab images of the animals themselves, not just the calcified tubes. 

At the end of today, I'm at 325 species for the square this year. Ali is really storming ahead on the 1000 in a 1KSQ Challenge, he's on 341 already and has 500 in his sights for his end of Feb total. Totally bonkers, and somehow he blames me! Ha, we shall see. I doubt I'll top 400 by end of February, I shall tell you why later...

Nearly forgot - music! What do you fancy tonight? Really??? Tough, you can have this instead. Enjoy!

Far better than the original (I don't like AC/DC - never have. Live with it...)

AMAZING band, I need to start listening to these guys again!