Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Lachnellula - sorted!

So I took myself back to yesterday's larch and failed to find the tiny fungi on dead twigs for maybe fifteen minutes, before finding them in a closed up, even tinier state. Phew, maybe a third of a millimetre diameter, I would never have found them if I didn't already know they were there.

Back indoors I sprayed them with water, watched them open to their full size (approx 0.6mm across) and made a fungal squash. Whacking the slide beneath the compound microscope I was relieved to see spores. I'd already found a key to the entire genus, so unless they were new to science I'd nail the ID. 

Just a quick reminder of what they look like in situ, this pic from yesterday

It's the miniscule little 'cup' on a dead Larix twig. Today they were closed up and all but invisible
And here is a truly stunning image showing the spores in all their wondrous glory

Whoever said mycology isn't exciting?

I know they aren't much to look at, but there are clues that lead us to a specific identification. Firstly, the Worldwide Key to Lachunellula is amazing and can be viewed by clicking here. By working through the species one by one, I narrowed it down to just a handful that occur on Larch. Of those, one is found only in Russia, another occurs at high altitude in The Alps and other mountainous regions, helpfully they all had diagrams of the spores. Lacking both the required chemicals and a graticule for measuring the spore size, I basically picture matched my spores with those that occur on Larix and came to an ID. 

In the end it was a head to head between just two species, here are their spore shape

The main differences are that L.occidentalis has obtusely rounded ends to the spores whereas L.wilkommii has one end usually more acute. Subtle, yeah I agree. The other (rather helpful) difference is that one tends to occur on resinous cankers as a parasite and has an apothecia diameter of 3-6mm. The other is saproxylic on dead bark and has an apothecia diameter of 0.5-4.0mm. Oh right, that'll be my one then! And the answer is.... Lachnelulla occidentalis, just as I suspected yesterday. Nice to confirm though and seemingly 'new' to NW Scotland. 

Distribution of "Larch Disco" according to NBN (there's also a record from Shetland)
Talking of apothecia, here's a patch of Tree Lungwort that caught my eye. Apparently it only uncommonly produces apothecia, it seems that nobody told the Uig Wood population! 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Fluff, Fungi and Fangs

Despite it being a fairly dreary, drizzly, grey kind of day I was determined to find some new stuff for my PSL, particularly more beetles if at all possible. The very first bird I spied as I walked outside was a huge, ponderous White-tailed Eagle flopping across the bay - always a nice start. It circled overhead an hour or so later offering better views, a full adult as opposed to the youngster I usually see here. A short while later a high up raptor resolved into a male Peregrine, just my second Uig sighting in over two years! I have no idea why they aren't more commonly encountered, there are certainly plenty of Hoodies, ducks and Rock Doves for them to prey upon up here.

Despite the crappy weather, the plants know it is supposed to be springtime with Coltsfoot bursting forth down by the river, the first few cones of Field Horsetail are erupting from the earth and the lone bush of Flowering Currant in my square is finally living up to its name

I know of a mature Larch that hosts Larch Woolly Adelgids, so figured I'd wander across and see if I could find any, despite it still being very early in the season. Well, I have to say I'm not sure if I found one or not! What would you say?

Adelgid or just a bit of fluff?
Think I'll have to go back a tad later in the season to find the answer to that question. But what I did find were lots of very small fungi on dead larch twigs, looking like tiny fluffy cups

As you can see from the size of my thumbnail, these really are rather tiny discos!
A bit of online detective work led me to the genus Lachnellula. There would appear to be two species that occur on dead larch twigs, L.willkommii and L.occidentalis, both of which are already known from Scotland. I'm erring towards occidentalis, but will have to go back tomorrow and gather a sample to whack under the microscope in order to check the spores. That's if I can find them again!

I ambled down to the beach and wandered the upper edge of the small strip of saltmarsh between the slip and the Rha mouth. Plenty of beachhoppers and Porcellio scaber beneath the boulders, plus a Clivina fossor with its massively elaborate digging plates on the front femurs. There are two species of Clivina in Britain, both quite similar looking. I carded my specimen and keyed it through, just to be sure.

Clivina fossor - not exactly the best angle for showing those amazing front legs...
Also found beneath the stones was this impressive, all black staphylinid

Recognising it as a (probable) member of the Staphylininae group, I ran it through the keys and was pleased to find that I guessed correctly (and doubly pleased to realise that I could probably get it to species too). Traditionally, staphylinids have been avoided by all but the most masochistic of coleopterists, but this individual keyed through absolutely beautifully. I ran it through twice, as I usually do when things go too well, and it still came through as Tasgius melanarius, one I've not knowingly seen before. Tasgius have huge curved scimitars for mandibles, the shape of which is an important aid for correctly naming the species.

Tasgius melanarius - 16mm of pure awesomeness! 
There were many features to be checked when running it through the keys, but importantly note that the pronotum narrows towards the elytra and it has an overall big-headed feel to it. Then there are the jaws. Oh my word - the jaws!

Note the narrowing, round-shouldered pronotum. And those huge great jaws!
Come 'ere and give us a kiss - honest I won't bite...
The Sickle-jawed Monster from Hell (well, Uig in this instance)
I suspect escape would be nigh on impossible once impaled on those ferocious mandibles. Or maybe they're used for jousting? Or flipping over housebricks? Anyway, that's another staphylinid keyed through with very little trouble. I might even start tackling the small ones sometime soon.

This is a 'new' beetle for Skye, all previous Inner Hebrides records are from adjacent Raasay (1999 onwards but sporadic at best). Locally it is also known from South Uist and Lewis on the Outer Hebs.

Friday, 15 March 2019


A few days ago I drove down to England in order to attend a funeral, but made time either side for some pan-species listing with friends. First stop was The Gower in South Wales, where I met up with my Chief Partner in PSL Crime Tony Davis on a plant twitch. Happily, Debs and Kev Rylands also managed to meet us, despite not 'needing' the plant that Tony and I did. The Gower is a beautiful part of the world, though it was blowing a proper hoolie and it felt decidedly raw in the cold wind. Luckily, we were at Pennard Castle (remains of) and there were plenty of walls for us to shelter behind. Scurrying across the golf course, we duly arrived at the castle where it took Tony all of about three seconds to walk beneath our target plant. Luckily I noticed it about one second later and called him back. We needn't have worried though, it proved to be common all over the walls!

Yellow Whitlowgrass - nationally this is a very rare plant, though it's common as muck here 

Tony had done his homework and had top gen for two uncommon mosses that grow on the castle walls. A short time later and he called me over to see them in all of Yeah, glory! 

Tortella nitida - a bit dry and hence shrivelled, but note the obvious shiny back to the nerve

Entosthodon pulchella - note how the inclined capsules are pointing in different directions from each other
We also found a pretty spectacular liverwort which we narrowed down to two species. One of the pair supposedly tastes mildly peppery, the other doesn't. A quick bit of nibbling on the thallus led us to believe it tasted of chewing gum (Debs - who was chewing some chewing gum at the time) or of gritty castle wall (me - who had scraped some gritty castle wall into my sample of thallus). In the end, we took a barrage of pics and decided to figure it out afterwards, ideally out of the strong wind. 

Reboulia hemisphaerica - note the female receptacles have 5-7 lobes each (not 4 as in Preissia quadrata)
Our plant targets all secured at Pennard Castle, we zipped off for rockpooling fun at nearby Port Eynon. Initially, we had planned to hit Worm's Head, but Tony figured that in the strong winds we'd likely be pummelled by the wind and swept away by huge waves, particularly Debs who doesn't suffer from being quite as freakishly tall as the rest of us. Ahem.

Arriving at Port Eynon we were met by a ferocious gale (nice one Tony...) but braved the elements anyway and wandered out towards the water's edge several hundred metres away. In all honesty, it was bloody cold, so cold that even Debs had to zip her coat up, but doubtless a damn sight more sheltered than Worm's Head would have been. 

But before we left the carpark, I spotted a cluster of hollow, dead stems. Ooh, could be anything inside those. I randomly grabbed one, broke it open (with my teeth, coz I'm a hardnut innit) and guess what fell out? No, not a tooth...

A fast-moving (wind assisted, in fact!) Lesne's Earwig, just the third one I've ever seen
Then we hit the beach and expanse of shallow rockpools. Kev mentioned needing just two more species to reach a significant number on his PSL, I pointed out some Verrucaria mucosa growing on a rock and suddenly he needed just one more species. But what would it be?

Tony papping some Baked Bean Ascidians. The arse crack was all too much for poor Kev (photo courtesy of Debs)
No rush, Tony. It's not as though I'm balancing a gurt big sharp rock on my foot... 

We did quite well considering the cold, the wind, the incoming tide ( "it doesn't come in that quickly, must just be a swell. Oh, quick, the nets are floating away..." ) with highlights being Shore Urchin, masses of Broad-clawed Porcelain Crabs, a few Long-clawed Porcelain Crabs, a Velvet Swimming Crab (Tony: that's not a swimming crab, it's just walking - swoosh goes the 'swell' - me: well it sure is swimming now), European Sting Winkle, Spotted Cowries, good numbers of Worm Pipefish and Rock Gobies plus the odd Blenny, Common StarfishPomatoceros lamarcki, Volcano Barnacles of all...I heaved one boulder over and found my very first ever sea spider!!!! Hell yeah, and it was HUGE!!!

Female Nymphon gracile. Awesome on a stick


I've waited years to find one of these, years! I have no idea how many hours I've spent messing about in rockpools, quite a few, always hoping one day to find a sea spider. And now I have, amazing! Debs captured the moment quite nicely (though she missed my punching the air and yelling Yes! Yes! Fuck yes!!!) 

It's very well camouflaged, honestly I'm not just fondling a rock! 
Note also that I have not shaved for three and a half months. I'm sure I never used to have grey in my beard. Well that soon changed. Read on, dear reader, just read on...

Our day on The Gower was over, hugs and handshakes all around, then I jumped into Tony's car and was dropped off back by Newport and my own hire car. I had a second free day before the funeral and I had A Plan. 

Day 2 

When I drove down from Skye yesterday I randomly found a dead end lane and pulled over for some much needed sleep. Unfortunately, this particular dead end lane was, in fact, the entrance to a pikey site. I struggled into wakefulness to find myself the object of some amusement, haha. So last night I'd booked myself into a Days Inn. I slept soundly, very soundly. I woke feeling refreshed and hungry and was soon on the road again. My destination was an unremarkable-looking patch of woodland which, I hoped, held a quite remarkable animal. One that was on my PSL Wish List, no less! 

Looks just like a million other patches of bog-standard secondary woodland, but....
I had my sieve and tray with me, brought along specifically for this moment. I added leaf litter and started sieving. I tried two spots with no success, saw a fallen log, used it as a chair and set to sieving this third spot of woodland floor. A few minutes later and a teensy, tiny piece of twig started crawling across the bottom of the tray - yes!!!! 

I realise that this might be somewhat underwhelming to many (most?) sane folks, happily I'm not one of those - and hopefully you aren't either. This is none other than Enoicyla pusilla The Land Caddis 

Have a few pics of this tiny critter

To give you an indication of the size of this beast, here it is next to my fingernail

Last short vid, just before we move on to another destination

I was pretty stoked at successfully finding a Land Caddis, the only British caddis to have a terrestrial larval stage, all others living an aquatic existence in rivers, ponds and lakes. I also found a few southern species that are absent from Uig. Stuff like Green Woodpecker, Holly Leafminer and Psyche casta. I texted Tony, he called me a grip merchant! Just as I was leaving the woods, I spotted an Ivy hang heavily infested with Soft Brown Scale Coccus hesperidum

The sooty mould is growing on their excretions. No idea which species of mould, but it would be a lifer whatever it is
It was still morning time, what to do next? I needed to stay local for tomorrow's funeral. My only other gen was of an alien plant growing prolifically in the North Yorkshire moors. Sod it, the satnav said it was only three hours away. I hit the road and didn't stay local at all...

That afternoon I found myself shivering across a wild, wet patch of moorland, studying the grassy tracks for a plant. Ninety minutes later and I was back at the car without finding the plant. The knowledge that I had absolutely no idea if it was visible at this time of year, or even how big it was, hit me hard. What a complete donut, was I wasting my time up here in the middle of nowhere? Plenty of Red Grouse though, each and every one of them telling me to "go back! go back!" 

Red Grouse shit - you won't find that anywhere else in the world
I sat in the car and almost turned around to head south again. But no, I'd come this far, I wasn't quitting yet. I drove on a couple more miles and found a large track with parking space too. Right, I pulled on a second coat (!), put up the hood and crossed the road ready for another lengthy wander across the moors. Then I looked down at the ground beneath my feet - holy crap! There it is!!! This is Cotula alpina, the snazzily dubbed Alpine Cotula. It was unexpectedly discovered up here some ten years back, I don't know if anybody actually knows for sure how a plant from Australia arrived on the North Yorks moors, but it's apparently spreading along a good section of the tracks that criss-cross these hillsides. There's a nice write up about the finding here. Hats off to Julian Small on the PSL website for cluing me in on this plant.  

Well, at least I know how big it is now :) 
Clearly bigger than a Land Caddis larva, but not by much!
The edges of that roadside track are full of Cotula alpina
I was briefly tempted to string a dandelion onto my PSL. But then I came to my senses, realised they are impossible and moved along

So very tiny and cute - it just has to be Taraxacum parnassicum, right???
It may well be T.parnassicum, but equally it may not. I think it'd be pure daft trying to name a dandelion that isn't in flower. I left it alone. One day I shall ID a dandelion, but not this day. For anyone wanting to see the Cotula alpina, head to grid ref SE 11914 75465 and fill your boots. Which is probably how it's being spread around, come to think of it.  

Ok, so long drive southwards. Or maybe not quite yet, I didn't need to be there until mid-afternoon. There's bound to be something else to see up here...I booked into another Days Inn and used up all their WiFi searching for more targets. 

Day 3

Woke up pretty early and aimed myself towards the village of Gainford in the southern part of Durham. See, heading south! Just not very south, ha. First port of call was St Marys churchyard where I failed to find my target plant. I managed a few bits though, including one puzzle that I thought would be easy to solve. Three days later and I'm still clueless. 

Abraham-Isaac-Jacob with Ramsons in the background
Creeping Comfrey - masses of this all over the place
Fungal leafspot on the comfrey leaves
So I hadn't seen the fungus before, but it shouldn't prove too tricky to name. He said. If ANYBODY out there has an idea as to the identity of this fungus, I'd really appreciate a clue. There was loads of it, some plants had most leaves exhibiting this spotting. Hostplant is definitely comfrey (Symphytum) and the black spots are definitely a fungus not paint, birdshit, oil or tar or anything like that. What the heck is it? Seriously, I've drawn a complete blank so far. Help.  

I had a second site for my target plant, in fact I'm a little bit glad I couldn't find it in the churchyard because there's always an element of doubt regards churchyard plants being genuine or planted. So I drove the mile or so required to reach Site B and started again. 

I didn't make it very far, about eight steps in fact (I kid ye not!) before I clocked the lifer at my feet

Spotted Dead-nettle! Sweet!
What a gorgeous little plant!
Totally unexpected, totally brilliant, what a great start! There were only two plants in flower, sadly I accidentally snapped this flowerhead off from the main stem, but there were at least three or four square metres of Spotted Dead-nettle carpeting the ground around the welcome sign. Happy with my unexpected bonus plant, I strode down the path towards the river and spa. 

A precise reconstruction of the original Victorian water fountain
I could smell the water gushing from the fountain at about 20 feet range, it smelled sulphurous and rank. Probably a few lifers in it, I reckoned. I didn't try any, I just stuck with my trusty Sugar Free Red Bull, also full of crap but less likely to give me the shits. 

I wandered the path through the woodland, scanning for my target plant. Eyes left, scouring the ground for a flash of yellow, constantly snagging on closed Lesser Celandine flowers. As the poem reads

There is a Flower, the lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold an rain;
And the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 't is out again!
When hailstones have been falling, swarm on swarm,
Or blasts the green field and the trees distrest,
Oft have I seen it muffled up from harm,
In close self-shelter, like a Thing at rest

And today was a day for all good Lesser Celandines to be closed shut tight, because it was bitterly cold and grey. I reached the end of the trail through the woods without spying my quarry, so I turned around and headed back, eyes left again but now scanning the lower track. It felt right. And then...

Can you see it yet? 
Finally, I spied a small glint of yellow and homed in on my first Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem, it being at serious risk of being swept away by the raging river (just check the waves in the pic) and oh boy, what a delicately stunning beauty it is! 

I found just three plants in the flooded woodlands
I suspect my timing was a bit out, the warm weather a week or two back probably forced them through a bit earlier than usual. And the high water levels were probably covering other plants, I was probably quite lucky to find the three plants that I did. No sign of the rust on them, but so what? Why be greedy? I'll just have to find more Yellow Star-of-Bethlehems another time and check those. Looking forward to that day already, they really are very lovely plants. 

Sweet Cicely and Ramsons, now there's a fine concoction of scents! 
Eventually there was nothing else for it, I scurried south, endured the funeral, made myself a few more enemies (ha!) and started the long journey back up to Skye once more. I had just one final plant to track down before hitting Skye. I stopped near Dumbarton that night. 

Day 4

The day dawned sunny and bright, blue skies and everything seemingly washed clean. Then I noticed the trees that had been snapped in half overnight. Ouch! My target today was White Butterbur, the BSBI maps showed a tetrad centred on the River Leven between Renton and Dumbarton. I parked at Renton and walked the river right into Dunbarton. Nada, not a sniff. I did find a few goodies though. I was decidedly shocked when a Cetti's Warbler burst into song from one wet ditch, I had no idea they'd expanded this far north! (Edit - added it to BirdTrack and got a red warning! -"Unexpected in Clyde" - yeah, tell me! I added a few extra deets for them.) A pair of Bullfinches showed very well, demolishing the buds on a blackthorn bush. Gadwall, Teal, Goldeneye, Mallards and Little Grebes were on the river. No sign of any Tufties though, something I'd been hoping to jam into on my jaunt down south. Crazy isn't it? I was so happy to be seeing stuff like Pheasant, Magpie, Carrion Crow, proper real Feral Pigeons instead of pure Rock Doves. Heck, I found a pair of Mute Swans on the river and texted Tony in excitement! Yeah, plain crazy. That Tuftie would have been nice though...

Again, the river was running very high, I suspect that if White Butterbur still occurs here it may have been below the surface. I did find a small Mahonia aquifolium bush growing out of cracks in a concrete wall, birdsown I guess.

Oregon Grape. I checked, it's already been recorded from this square
That afternoon, I rocked up back at Uig Hotel and shocked everyone I met. How? Easy, I'd cut my hair!

Sunday - Beardie Boy, complete with three year old ponytail
Early on Wednesday morning - beard is gone but that hair...……….. 
Two of the staff here have never seen me cleanshaven - and NONE of them have seen me with short hair, haha! 
Still an ugly fecker, I know. There's not much I can do about that except maybe hide it again? Right, back to that beard and hair... :)