Thursday, 22 March 2018

More Algal Fun

But not with a microscope, not this time. Five minutes alone and.....

Just how much fun can one guy have with a jet wash? :) 
I'd better finish blasting off the algae before the bosses get back, I guess. One chef burst out laughing and took a pic, whilst another member of staff said I'd spelled "Dickhead" wrong......

It was a (relatively) mild night last night, not much wind with a bit of drizzle in the air. It almost felt humid! Hence I was expecting a veritable horde of moths in the trap this morning. Nope, one Dotted Border and one Mottled Grey, with another of the latter in the laundry shed. Arse, where are they all?

Mottled Grey Colostygia multistrigaria - a March/April flying species

Seemed the obvious choice

And unbelievably, there appears to be a band called Mottled Grey! Well, Mottled Gray, but close enough. I used to deliver over much of South London and all through the estates for a living, I reckon I recognize quite a few of the places in this next vid

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Bog Roll

Yesterday was gloriously sunny and bright, today it was crap. But a day off isn't to be spent indoors, so I shombled up the hill in my wellies and hit the Sphagnum bog. As bogs tend to be, it was very wet and gloopy. I had a suite of species in mind though, and first up was a targeted search for an aquatic moth...

Bog Pondweed exhibiting a suspiciously neat semicircular hole...
On the underside I found the excised section of leaf, neatly folded over.....
Lifting the lid - a caterpillar! An underwater caterpillar! How very bizarre...
This is a larval Brown China-mark Moth Elophila nymphaeata. I found the adult moths flying about a bogweed-filled ditch last summer, subsequently finding plenty of larval mines, often with the young larva within. But this is the first time I've found the larva in its free-living stage, so I was rather pleased to find one so easily. The trick, of course, was finding a leaf with the diagnostic cut out. After that it was easy.  

I spent a bit of time around the deeper channel that bisects the bog, noting several small clumps of frogspawn (Common Frog Rana rana up here) including this clump, rather bizarrely situated above the water level

Dangling from a stem well above the water!
The spawn seemed to be developing alright, but I snapped the dead stem and put them into the water anyway. Plants 'new' for the year included Heath Rush (bright green amongst the browns), Deer-grass (bright orange amongst the greens), a few Pale Butterworts plus a small area of this stuff

Fir Clubmoss - I had no idea it grew in bogs!
I've only ever seen Fir Clubmoss growing at the top of Cairngorm, so to find it in a lowland bog was a bit of a shock! I keyed it through, it definitely is Fir Clubmoss. Turns out it does grow in bogs, as well as on mountaintops and moors, so I've learned something new. It's also previously unrecorded from this tetrad, so Stephen (the local BSBI Recorder) will be pleased. 

Naturally, whilst up to my knees in a bog, I collected a few water samples for microscopic inspection once back at 'the lab'. Bit disappointing really, maybe it's a poor time of year for microscopic algae. I photographed a couple of mystery species but only added one to the yearlist. 500 seems a very long way away, right now. 

No, it's not an airship - this is Netrium interruptum

Tetmemorus granulatus
Pleurotaenium sp - probably P.trabecula
I definitely need to upgrade my compound microscope. The one I have is alright, but I think it's time to move on to the next stage. I didn't want to spend a fortune on something I wouldn't really use, but I've now found myself spending as much time at the compound as with the stereo microscope, possibly more so, in fact. 

Here's a pic I managed through the compound last week, one I'm very pleased with

Coxal pores of Geophilus truncorum, a small species of centipede
If I can take images as sharp as this, but at high magnification, then I'll be happy. The pertinent feature here, by the way, is that each hind coxa has two pore openings. Combined with number of body segments/pairs of legs and overall size, these allowed me to identify the centipede in question as Geophilus truncorum. Pretty common and widespread, yet new to both myself and Skye!

Also pretty common and widespread yet 'new' for me was this little fella, one I've been searching for ever since moving up here

Deroceras laeve - the Marsh Slug (at last!!!)
I'm really surprised it's taken so long to (knowingly) encounter this slug. I've been checking every  single dark Deroceras invadens I find and coming away disappointed. Deroceras invadens is very common up here, and variable too. Not many are as dark as Deroceras laeve, but some are. However, invadens shows a pale area around the rim of the breathing pore and the tail is noticeably longer than the mantle. Plus the sole is usually somewhat paler than the body/flanks. Happily, this little bugger ticked all the right boxes (plus has big eyes on chunky tentacles which give it the appearance of a youngster) and so, after many false starts, is now officially on the NG3963 list. Phew! 

Hmmm. I've just realised that there's been a distinct lack of music playing whilst I've been writing this post. Hence my mind is blank regarding a track to leave you with. Buggerit, this'll just have to do. Get yer feet a'tappin and your hands a'clappin folks, we're all off to The Rattlin' Bog - enjoy! 

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Bring out the Bunting!

Just finished work, stripped out of my bonfire-smelling hoodie and stopped in my tracks as I looked out of the window...holy crap, look at that

My first ever Skye Reed Bunting! They aren't exactly rare up here, just rather scarce and localised. I still remember finding my very first Reed Bunting (a male on top of a reed at Frensham Great Pond Surrey, 1986 - I was 14) and this is the second most excited I've ever been at seeing one! This is the 99th species of bird I've seen in my square, and 111th for Skye as a whole. Happy days indeed. 

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Chasm of Doom

Today I did something that was decidedly reckless, very foolish and potentially lethal. And tomorrow I'll probably do it again. 

The River Conon flows through my square, spilling out of Glen Conon and into the sea. Inland of the A87 it runs through a deep ravine. Twice I've managed to scramble up the north face of the ravine. The third attempt saw me lose traction and slide down the steep slope, rather luckily I snagged my leg around a tree trunk and hence stopped an uncontrolled descent, suffering a scraped belly and hands but defying death itself. It's steep, yes - but not vertical. The problem is that the soil just slides away underfoot, so that before you know it, you and the ground are slipping downhill and there isn't much you can do to stop it. Which leads to much amusement - unless of course the descent is over 200ft with large rocks and a hungry river at the bottom, in which case it very definitely soon stops being funny. Anyway, I've yet to attempt the north face again since scaring the shite out of myself last time. Fingernails and small clumps of grass just don't stop a slide once it starts. It frightened me. 

But time dulls the memories and today I crossed the river by leaping from a fallen tree to a rock and then onto the far bank. I had a sedate wander, didn't slip over, couldn't see any trout in the pool......and then spied a darkened cave in a deep overhang almost at the water's surface. Back on the opposite bank again. Taking a moment, I plotted my route across the river, using various rocks to make my way across. Pretty soon I was back on the south bank of the Conon and peering into the cave for signs of the near-mythical Killarney Fern. Gametophyte stage only, no doubt, but something I'd love to be able to discover new for the area. It's bound to be here somewhere and a dark recess just above the river level is ideal. Anyway, I didn't find it. Straightening up and looking around, I realised that I now had a slight predicament on my hands.

The rocks that I had used to leapfrog my way across the river were now all facing the wrong way, providing only awkward angles, almost promising a certain dunk into the river. Sod that! My only other option was to tackle the south face of the ravine without killing myself. Sheep have fallen off of this slope, only to die in the river and wash up on the shore. I'm relatively lithe and nimble, but if a sheep can fall off that face....

Anyway, I spied some stuff on a moss-covered boulder which demanded my immediate attention.  

Nephroma laevigatum - a stunning lichen and one I've not (knowingly) seen before
I popped a small sample into a pot and checked it over once back indoors again. It's a really nice lichen, and unfortunately one that's seemingly in decline. Unpolluted, humid gorges in the far north and west are it's stronghold - so I guess it was only a matter of time before I encountered it up here. Really quite delightful. For a lichen, that is.

Sticta canariensis growing on the same mossy boulder - a real stunner of a lichen! 
Anyway, back to that climb up the face of the ravine. I spent a good two or three minutes visualising my route to the summit - far, far above me. Fuckit, visualise all you like, there's no knowing the path until your feet are on it, eh? I figured a zigzag approach was better than a full on vertical ascent and found a (sheep?) trail that headed generally upwards. Good enough. 

Randomly, I only thought to take one pic whilst recklessly risking life and limb on the Slope of Death

River Conon waaaay down below and the summit waaay up above, somewhere...
Somehow, I managed the ascent without any problem. Ha! I've now successfully conquered both the north and south faces of the ravine! Hell yeah, I rock. Proper. In celebration of still being alive, I found some dead Downy Birch leaves and added a couple of microfungi to my PSL. Man, I sure do know how to partay, eh? Damn right I do, yeah...

Gnomonia setacea - the black hairlike setae are the fruitbodies of this tiny fungus
It isn't very easy to discern (poor pic, I know) but there are several black hairlike spikes scattered across the surface of this dead birch leaf. It's magnified about 40x - and still crap! These spikes are a lifer for me, none other than Gnomonia setacea, would you believe? Dirt common on dead birch leaves across Britain, but one I've never looked for before today. Instant success, in fact, seeing as these were on the very first leaf I checked. So anyway, each spike arises from a small bump and towers at a mighty 3/4mm in height. 

Wait until you see the next one...

Venturia ditricha - awesome I know, right?
Similar to the last microfungus, but instead of having a single 1mm tall hair-like fruitbody, this has several 1/3mm tall setae arising from each rounded bump. The image is awful I know, but it's not easy taking fantastic pics of something that's this flippin' tiny.

After making it to the top, I decided to head back down to sea-level - but taking a less dangerous route through the woods this time. Once back on level ground I started turning stones in search of goodies. One day I'm gonna find myself explaining what I'm doing to a policeman, I just know it! 

Kontikia andersoni - I'm finding plenty of these lately

Boettgerilla pallens the Worm Slug,  probably the least photogenic mollusc in the world?
The delightful Slug Mite Riccardoella oudemansi on a Budapest Slug Tandonia budapestensis
I only ever seem to see Slug Mites on this one species of slug. Are Tandonia especially prone to mite infestation? Why don't the larger Arion slugs have them too? Or the near-ubiquitous Deroceras invadens and D.reticulatum? I have absolutely no idea, I just know that if you check two or three Tandonia, then you'll almost certainly find the mites. 

Right, my light trap is running tonight. I only run it every other night, that way it gives the moths a chance to feed, rest, find each other and mate - as opposed to being stuck in a box for several consecutive nights before dying a hungry, dehydrated, frustrated virgin. Nobody wants that.

How many 'firsts' for Skye will this humble box produce in 2018, I wonder?
This, dear folks, is almost my first ever request! Tonight I give you a Joan Baez classic, as performed by a fellow Brummie. As always, I do hope you enjoy! 

Friday, 9 March 2018

A Sweet-grass indeed!

I've been messing about in the dirty old, smelly, manky-arsed, cow-ridden ditch that runs from the amazing Sphagnum bog, across the dirty old, smelly, manky-arsed, cow-ridden cow pastures before it disappears underground. Without wellies. Because I'm bold like that. Uh huh, yeah I am...

Here's the plant that started it all, initially found two days ago on 7th March

There's floating Glyceria leaves in the midst of that tangle of dead stems! 
Glyceria fluitans, I reckoned. Back indoors I consulted the books and realised that nothing is quite as easy as that. Transpires that there are several species (and a hybrid!) that my plant could be. Typical, I'd just have to go back and grab a handful to check. 

Which is exactly what I did yesterday afternoon. Tonight I finally got around to keying the leaves through using the awesome Veg Key. There are six potential species this could be...

First of all, leaves 10-16mm wide OR <10mm wide

Reckon that's about 4.5mm wide - which rules out Reed Sweet-grass. Five species to go...
Next the key asked for the ligule length. My whole sample had just one decent sheath, hence I only had one opportunity to check the ligule length. Ordinarily I'd like to measure a few and find an average. Was mine 1-3mm and shorter than wide OR 6-10mm and longer than wide? 

Bit bashed and torn, but c5mm and clearly longer than wide. Rules out Whorl-grass. 4 species to go...
The next feature I needed to check for was the presence or absence of cross-veins in the leaf. Whacking a leaf blade under the microscope gave a pretty categorical answer

Definitely exhibits cross-veins. That rules out Small Sweet-grass. Just 3 species to go now!
It all went a bit subjective from here on in:
Leaves 5-10(15) mm wide and yellow green, deeply ribbed, rough or smooth both sides
Leaves 5-10mm wide and dull dark green, variably ribbed, rough or smooth both sides
Leaves 4-6(10)mm wide and fresh green, shallowly ribbed, occasionally rough above

Well, my plants were ribbed but not noticeably (though I had nothing to compare them with!) In the water (check the top pic) they were definitely a pale greyish green colour. Add to that the leaf width (4.5mm) and I think we're on safe ground to say it is the latter species of the above key. And the result is.....

....Glyceria fluitans (Floating Sweet-grass) - just as I bloody well thought in the first place! But it is good practice to run things through the keys, I should do so more often, truth be told. 


But that's not all, oh dear me no sirree, it's not. I squeezed some water from my handful of Glyceria and whacked it under the compound microscope, just in case there were any microscopic things of interest. There certainly were...

A mighty fine looking freshwater alga if ever I saw one. Whatever it is...
Using Nick's copy * of The Freshwater Algal Flora of the British Isles, I narrowed this down to one of the Draparnaldia genus. Luckily, there are only two species in Britain (and they may turn out to be the same species anyway). Back to using the keys once more...

* Nick, can't thank you enough for the loan, it's an absolutely fantastic book! I'm being very careful not to crease the pages or dog ear the corners, honest mate! :)  

The shape of the cells in the primary branches are a critical difference between the two 'species'; one has barrel-shaped cells, the other cylindrical/slightly constricted at cross walls. Hmmm...let me zoom in some more and have a butchers

I think more barrel-shaped than cylindrical.
Here are the options as drawn in the book. Typically my specimen seems a bit ambiguous.

Barrel-shaped cells of Draparnaldia glomerata
Cylindrical cells of Draparnaldia mutabilis
I was still a bit undecided. My barrels seemed a bit kinda cylindrical, in a barrelesque kind of way. Luckily, I whacked a few Glyceria blades under the microscope and found plenty of epiphytic algal growth on them including this very fine specimen.

Just check out the barrels on that !!!
Seems like a very good fit for Draparnaldia glomerata to me. To quote from the Algal Flora - 

Probably cosmopolitan, widely distributed in the British Isles where it forms bright green gelatinous tufts (edit - I put my finger in it, definitely gelatinous!) commonly 5-20cm long, growing on various surfaces (eg stones, aquatic macrophytes) in a wide range of aquatic habitats including the clear, soft waters of shallow peaty pools in the Scottish Highlands...

Good enough for me! Of extra interest was this leech that I found clinging to the underside of a stone in the River Conon on 7th March. Turns out to be the rather widespread (though not recorded from Skye) Glossiphonia complanata which, despite being very common in almost any type of freshwater habitat, is a new one for me! Here it is as per when I found it

And here's the same leech in a pot

Now I know what you're all thinking. It's March. March is Lichens Month. And I really didn't do too well with February's Bryophyte Month did I? No, I didn't. Watery ditches aren't renowned for their amazing lichen diversity. So I looked at some trees 'n stuff too. 

The distinctly papillate (warty-edged) apothecia of Melanohalea exasperata - a lifer for me!

Sticta limbata - a lovely member of the Lobarion community
Sticta canariensis - another rather special lichen that's commonplace up here
Last pic, proof that Spring is here - finally! 

Music time again (I have a sneaky feeling this is the only reason a few of you even bother with this blog...) Anyway, presuming that you read all of the above and didn't just skim down here for your fix of great songs, here are tonight's toons for you. As ever, I hope you enjoy.

First up is this old skool classic, Korn's Freak on a Leech...

Followed by the massively underrated Sticta Your Guns

Thursday, 8 March 2018


Managed a sneaky beaky day off work today. No wind, no rain, no sleet or snow and absolutely no midges - it simply doesn't get any better up here! I set off after breakfast and got back just before teatime. So yeah, I even missed my dinner, quite preposterous, I know. 

However, the upshot was that I added over fifty species to the NG3963 yearlist including Floating Sweet-grass as a brand new addition to the square. Here it is in all of its 'stunning' beauty

Glyceria fluitans in what could be charitably described as a 'heavily nutrient-enriched ditch'
I checked the copious cowpats for dungflies, but if there were any present out there they eluded me. It did feel quite warm for a short while, I was utterly convinced I'd skore Scathophaga or Calliphora within moments, though somehow I never quite did. 

Is it my imagination, or are sheep just bloody weird at times?
For some unknown reason, these sheep decided that they wanted to follow me across the fields today. Usually they hoof it across the horizon as soon as I stick my nose above the parapet (they must know I'm keen to check them for ectoparasites - I mean, who wouldn't be, right?) This bunch followed me all the way across the field and only stopped once I'd clambered across a barbwire fence. Freaky animals. And kinda spooky when doing the whole following thing too. 

The sun burst forth for a short while, which didn't help me to identify anything new, but the novelty value was high

This'll be bursting with life in another coupla months!
I checked tree trunks for signs of sunbathing flies (I can hardly wait to see that bronzey green sheen of the first Gymnochaeta viridis for the year) but lucked out, though I did find this wee stunner

Megabunus diadema - or the Mascara Harvestman, as I call it
I also managed a modest selection of lichens and bryophytes new for the year whilst scanning the tree trunks for real invertebrate species

Sticta canariensis - a noticeable component of the lichen flora here, with Mycobilimbia pilularis in the background
I wandered down to the shoreline at Cuil, noting a very close Great Northern Diver and a fine male Goosander just offshore. The tide was too far in for any meaningful rockpooling, though I did manage to find a few bits and bobs beneath the cobbles 

Female Halorates reprobus beneath a beach boulder. Note how I cleverly focused on the arse, not the head, end...
I heard my next 2018 addition whilst watching a flock of six Rock Pipits foraging along the strandline. Looking up, this is what I saw

First person to guess/figure out what they are wins a packet of Superhero Popping Candy...
Last thing of note from today's jaunt was a rather weird clump of Snowdrops

Some sort of double-flowered garden variety, I guess?
Nearby was a clump exhibiting rather more usual flowerheads

I have a few bits in pots, including a freshwater leech which I'm quite keen to put a name to. Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment! 

Oh! Oh! I almost neglected to mention that the moff trap successfully managed to attract a moff tonight! After several blank nights (ie cold, freezing, windy and/or rainy nights) my duck has been broken* with this incredible beast! All of which puts me on a rather grand 401 species for the year. Sweet! 

Pale Brindled Beauty - a male (coz it has wings, the females don't)
*I don't like cricket. It's slow. It's boring. It's crap. Just so you know....

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Garden Listing

I managed an hour or so scrambling through the undergrowth of Uig Wood yesterday being rewarded with four Woodcock, plus there were two Lapwings out in the sheepfield behind the shop. These are the first Lapwings I've ever seen here, doubtless cold-weather migrants fleeing snow-bound areas. This is my 97th bird species for NG3963.

Massively cropped Lapwing - it was a bit of a way away!
There is an area of decomposing wrack at the top of the shore which held a flock of up to 100 Chaffinches at the start of the winter. Most small birds have recently fled, my 20-25 Chaffinches in the garden have reduced to a single male bird. The Siskins and Goldfinches have vanished elsewhere. However, there are a few thrushes eking out a living amongst the rotting piles of weed. Mostly Song Thrushes and Blackbirds, but nice to see a few Redwings in there too. A handful of small birds are also using this food source including Robin, Wren, Pied Wagtail and Rock Pipit. I haven't seen or heard a Dunnock locally for several days, hope they're alright.  

The low-lying hollow that was inundated with seaweed in a recent storm. That's Northern Dock in the foreground.
I've been looking at my NG3963 Species List tonight. Ali has completely run away with the 1000 in a 1KSQ Challenge, he's light-years ahead of the rest of us. I reckon I can make a significant increase to my own flagging tally next time I have a day off. I have a hitlist, y'see... Catching him up is going to be a real task and a half though, plus Tim Hodge is in it this year. Tim is an absolute demon, he's also the guy who knocked me flying out of the Top 20 in the PSL Rankings Table. One to watch (and admire...) is Tim.

Trawling through the usual bunch of blogs and websites this evening, I see that Graeme Lyons blogged about adding his garden to the PSL Locations page. He's currently languishing in last position (though that'll soon change, mark my words!) You can link to his blog here. This got me thinking, should I do likewise and add my garden list to the rankings? 

Took me about quarter of a nanosecond to come to a decision, hell yeah! So here you have it, I've added Uig Hotel Grounds, Skye to the Site Rankings page. Why the hell not? Well, two reasons. Firstly it pushes Graeme even further down the table (haha! It's not often I get one over on the Incredible Lyons Machine!) and secondly, it will encourage me to look closer to home and help break the cycle of endlessly wandering Cuil Road and Uig Woods. My own back garden is mostly a big, fat mystery to me. I did a brief ten minutes sweep netting through the undergrowth last autumn and landed myself four lifers and a moth new to Skye! I'm also less likely to get funny looks from members of the public whilst in my own back garden, though it does back onto the local church, hence Sundays are probably out of the question. Dour bunch of buggers at the best of time, though if I'm looking at 'God's creations'...?

OH! I very almost forgot! I spent a fair whack of today rearranging the woodshed. Had to rebuild some of the pallets, then shift about a thousand tonnes of firewood from one end to the other in readiness for adding this year's split stuff. About two tonnes worth, I reckon. Should be fun... Anyway, apart from two Wood Mouse nests that I discovered in the middle of the wood stacks, I saw a moff! Pretty sure it was an Oak Nycteoline, which would be a damn decent record for Skye (pre-2000 records only) but I didn't have a pot/camera with me, bit oafish I know but there you go. My bad. Hopefully I'll get one in my light trap any night now. 

Hopefully I'll get anything in my light trap any night now...slow start, to say the least! Today's sideways sleet won't help. Spring has yet to arrive up here, regardless of what the calendar says.

I spent most of today with this confounded tune rattling around my head, it's only fair I inflict it onto you too, dear reader. Enjoy! (Mwah-ha-haaa...)