Thursday, 15 November 2018

Quite a different month


As daughter Laura returned from holiday on the 1st July, we were preparing for our own holiday in Yorkshire, so we had a drive over to see her and Douglas and to return the cat from its own ‘summer holiday’.  It was nice to record a 10-spot ladybird in their garden and to catch up with good numbers 
of tree sparrows that breed and feed around their garden.  I had been having problems with my wee Lumix TZ60 camera, a faithful companion over many years, but, with various electrical faults developing it was time for a new one.  The first replacement came via Amazon (John Lewis ordering procedure too confusing) and, after a few days of use I realised that the function that allowed the camera to switch from image on screen to built-in viewfinder was causing the camera to not provide an image on either, so it was returned.  The arrival packaging also left something to be desired with the camera, in its box, sliding around inside.  However, arriving just 3 days before the holiday there wasn’t time to send back so I just had to put up with the fault.  When working the camera was just as good as the earlier model though one of the iA options had changed to something much poorer when adjusting to allow for colour enhancement.  The camera went straight into use and on the evening 
Lesser butterfly orchid and large emerald moth
when it arrived accompanied me to an orchid count on the local golf course with half a dozen BSBI members.  Lesser butterfly orchids appear in small numbers each year in the areas of un-cut rough between some of the holes, and places where the course was extended many years ago into an area where the orchid was known to be present.  The green-keepers are aware of the orchids presence and manage the sites sensitively.  In this dry summer a couple of dozen flowering spikes were found along with a few greater butterfly and fragrant orchids.  Bonuses were a new location for the six-spot burnet moth and a nicely resting large emerald moth (Geometra papilionaria). 

The following evening saw me carrying out my last count of one of our local lochs, a great evening just sitting, watching and recording.  Nothing too unusual but another useful bit of information to add to the BTO database from a slightly remote loch.  On the way quite a few heather beetles were seen (Lochmaea suturalis) along with a wee moth I hadn’t seen for a number of years: the Rannoch looper (Macaria brunneata).  A white ‘spot’ on the side of a plant when checked turned out to be a crab 
Rannoch looper moth
Crab spider with chimney sweeper moth evening meal
spider (possibly Xysticus cristatus) holding its evening meal, a chimney sweeper moth (Odezia atrata).  These spiders are often seen on the tops of flower-heads with legs outstretched, waiting for unsuspecting prey items to land.  This spider was to make another catch in August which turned out to be very special!  At the loch mallard and teal were feeding and agitated calling close by suggested there was a water rail with young.  A little grebe also was seen with a youngster demanding food and, without seeing or scenting me, a roe buck wandered out to the edge of the loch to feed.  All told, 13 
bird species were recorded and, once again, I was treated to a brilliant sunset as I was making my way home.  As mentioned last month, permission had been given for me to protect the stumps of hazel trees which had suffered quite a heavy bit of felling.  Some trees were left as just stumps whilst others had a single stem and all were trying to regrow but were suffering from heavy grazing by roe deer.  Sheep were excluded from this important aspen/hazel wood over a decade ago so installing a rylock fence circle round the hazels could give them a chance to re-grow.  Unlike hazels in the south of England, coppicing wasn’t a practice carried out very often in the Highlands and the north and west of Scotland and the mature trees in some areas are home to common and rare lichens.  Davie, a local fencing contractor, had given me several end of rolls of rylock, but several whole rolls would also be needed to protect most of the hazel stumps, along with suitable wooden stakes to hold the ‘rings’ in place.  David Mills at the local BSW sawmill in Boat of Garten was also very helpful and provided the last 30 stakes I needed to complete the job.  In the few days available before heading south, there was just time to add additional stakes to the trial ‘circle’ and to order the wire and stakes with most of the installation work taking place next month.  The visit to add the extra stakes was 
Twayblade top and wild basil
Small nettle
beneficial in another way allowing me a chance to check on the population of twayblades growing, but hidden away, in the deep bracken and grasses next to the River Spey.  After a bit of searching 22 flowering spikes were found and, on the way back to the car I popped over the roadside barriers to find that a population of wild basil was still present and flowering really well, along with a tiny population of small nettle (Urtica urens).  With the sun shining the next day there was just time to walk the monthly butterfly transect near Grantown on Spey (same route as the breeding bird survey) before finally packing up for our holiday.  Four species were seen, green-veined white (5), small tortoiseshell (1), small heath (1) and ringlet (30) with the temperature averaging 220C.

Our recent trips south have benefitted from having an early start to make reasonable progress down the A9 whilst keeping a careful eye on the first 100 miles being watched over by ‘big-brother’ average speed cameras.  Good progress was made until we turned onto the dreaded A66 from the M6 at Penrith where, in front of us, we could see the traffic starting to queue.  After sitting in the queue for over 20 minutes Janet got out the map and suggested we turn around, head just a few miles back along the A66 before turning off towards Appleby, stopping for our lunch in Colby, just on the edge of Appleby.  Brilliant.  A quiet road (though quite a few folk were using it to avoid the problem on the A66) and a first chance to record a few flowers whilst sitting on the village green enjoying our 
Lunchtime knapweed (Centaurea nigra var radiata)
butties.  We spent about an hour in Appleby to stretch our legs and, with map on my navigator’s lap, we enjoyed a leisurely drive along country lanes via Kirby Stephen, over the tops of Birkdale Common where we stopped to admire the views and find round-leaved crowfoot (Ranunclulus omiophyllus) in a pool next to the road.  Keld, Gunnerside and on into Reeth where we were to spend the next couple of weeks.  The 
Round-leaved crowfoot
Reeth
rented house where we were staying was up a wee ginnel running between two pubs, and, having managed to get the car close to the house front door, we off-loaded all our gear before parking up on the village green in front of the two pubs.  This would be the last time car and house would meet again until it was time to depart.  Just time for a walk around the village to do a bit of shopping before heading to one of the pubs (a real pub!) for drinks and an evening meal.

8 July
We explored Reeth a bit more and then headed off to Richmond.  Janet spotted a craft fair in the town hall so we popped in to check out the competition and enjoyed tea and cakes before following the paths around the castle.  High above the River Swale and on the path right below the castle ramparts 
Small tortoiseshells top and pollen beetles below
were lots of ragwort flowers several of which were covered in small tortoiseshell butterflies along with the occasional green-veined white and ringlet.  On many other flowers there were masses of tiny black beetles and it was only after a few days that we realised these were pollen beetles (Meligethes aeneus).  The path options eventually took us down to the river and, being a hot, sunny Sunday, the river was full of folk either on the river bank or floating about in the water with the maddest sets of inflatable buoyancy rings some of which must have taken most of the day to blow up!  We thought a visit to the castle would get us out of the sun for a while, so we paid the entrance fee and made our way into the castle and up to the top to admire the views.  Looking down, we could see the outline of 
Richmond Castle and the drought-exposed foundations
the foundations of some old buildings caused by the sun as the dryness killed off the grass growing on the shallow soil above the remains of the foundations.  One of the guides told us that this was the location of an army barracks, built around the 1850s and knocked down in 1931.  A cell block though has been retained and inside there are walls of graffiti from prisoners, mainly conscientious objectors from the 1st World War.  Sadly, the cell block was closed to visitors due to work being undertaken to repair and preserve the graffiti, so we were only able to see a selection of photos showing some sections of it.  Back at the house we had a couple of flies which kept annoying us and, yes, these were the annoying house flies (Musca domestica)!

9 July
A none car day and a walk along the River Swale.  A footpath by the river took almost into the village of Healaugh where a set of stepping stones allowed us to cross the river and return along the other bank.  Early on, a fairly natural field produced big populations of betony (Betonica officinalis), salad burnet (Poterium sanguisorba), red campion, and the choke fungus (EpichloĆ« baconii) on an Agrostis species of grass.  By the river a kingfisher was heard but not seen and a tall yellow plant turned out to be yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) something I can’t remember seeing before.  
Yellow loosestrife
Almost back at Reeth and just below the bridge taking us back across the river was an enormous bank of river shingle which was covered in flowers so as Janet sat on the riverbank enjoying the sun and a passing family of goosanders, I visited the shingle.  The shingle bank was quite amazing, a big mix of native plants but also a mix of garden escapees.  Most of the latter would have been washed down from riverside gardens during river spates and perhaps the most unusual ones were early pampas-
Early pampas grass top and giant scabious
grass (Cortaderia richardii) and a new vice-county record) and giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea ) just the second VC record).  The plant species were so diverse that as England played Croatia in the World Cup on the TV in the following evening, I made a second visit to the site to try and list as many species that I could identify and ended up with 65, with a 7-spot ladybird and alder tongue fungus adding to the total.

10 July
Listed in my notebook as ‘up’t thill day’.  From the village green in Reeth you can see an imposing hillside called Fremington Edge to the north-east.  Lots of the disturbed hillside is visible where Chert quarries were worked in the past, and the road/track from the village headed up through several of these.  It was a hot day and in full sun, so wide brimmed hats and sun-cream were the order of the 
Looking down on Reeth and Janet descending
day.  We passed a couple coming down the track as we made our way up and, to avoid the heat, they had set off hours earlier and were on their way back down!  Highlights of the day were seeing lots of carline thistles (Carlina vulgaris) and field after field with nests of the yellow meadow ant (Lasius flava).  However, despite checking many nests, once again no active ants were seen.  Small copper and red admiral butterflies were also seen.  A pint in the Buck Hotel was most welcome once back in Reeth.

12 July
On arrival in Reeth I typed “nature reserves in Richmond area” which produced an interesting site, Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve located in the Catterick Army Garrison.  Working out the way in on the map was fun and as we got to the garrison we had to stop at a sentry point and explain where we were going.  Once in the garrison we met another soldier who unlocked the gate to let us drive into the reserve.  Despite being just 100 acres in size the mix of species rich habitats is pretty amazing, natural and plantation woodland, moorland edge, flower-rich meadows, small streams and a small lake.  The reserve is also used regularly as a mist-netting site to catch, ring and monitor breeding and 
Small skipper on betony flowers
Alder tongue on alder cone
migrant birds.  23 species of butterflies have been recorded from the 2680 species of plants, birds, butterflies and other animals so far recorded, so it was nice to see small skippers, small tortoiseshell, large white, ringlet, speckled wood and meadow brown.  Lunch in one of the hides overlooking a reed-bed produced a brief sighting of a stoat and on a small lake there were families of little grebe and tufted duck.  Conversion of farm fields to wildflower meadows was very impressive and though at an early stage, the populations of the grass-suppressing yellow rattle were immense.  In the alder wood the seeds were developing the red, alder tongue fungus (Taphrina alni) and something growing in the small stream had us scratching our heads until we realised it was the greater spearwort (Ranunculus lingua) and the “odd aquatic” listed in my notebook turned out to be an introduced species Canadian waterweed (Elodia canadensis), a submerged aquatic originally native to North America.  Close by we could hear members of the army practicing on the shooting range or possibly on an active exercise.

13 July
We spent the morning inside due to RAIN, quite heavy between 12 and 2pm.  As it eased, we headed to Barnard Castle just a few miles up the road.  We parked up and explored the main street through the town before heading towards a wood by the River Tees popping into a garden allotment along the way.  However, with a hosepipe ban, the vegetables looked to be struggling a little.  An information 
The 'burdock fly' Terellia tussilaginis
board told us we were entering Flatts Wood and by the sign I noticed a few flies visiting flowers on a burdock plant and just out of interest took a photo.  Probably less than a hundred metres into the wood Janet was pointing at something growing from the masses of enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), a helleborine, a rare plant on this holiday.  Checking the plants features we had found a single broad-leaved helleborine though sadly the flowers hadn’t yet opened.  A wall by the small 
Enchanter's-nightshade top and broad-leaved helliborine
Percy Beck stream was well-off for ferns with brittle bladder, hart’s-tongue and maidenhair spleenwort with the find of the day close by, remote sedge (Carex remota) and with an orange ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata) thrown in for good-luck.  Back at the house a laptop search for ‘flies on burdock plant’ turned up the name Terellia tussilaginis, a gall fly, with few records this far north (Yorkshire).  By the end of our holiday we had probably tripled the number of locations for the fly in this area, so obviously not rare!

14 July
The day’s outing to Marske Beck and Clints Wood proved to be one of the best days out for species seen and recorded.  The wee burdock fly was seen again and during the walk six species of butterfly were recorded the best being comma and as we left the woodland to walk between farm meadows lots of yellow meadow ant nest mounds could be seen many actually along the track verge.  As we 

Yellow meadow ant  and nests top and Janet with  fungus
Musk mallow
stopped for lunch Janet took shade under and ancient, hollow ash tree whilst I hopped over the fence to explore an old quarry area.  With the very dry weather a patch of rockrose was hardly identifiable being so small, but a blue cranesbill type flower had me puzzled and turned out to be musk mallow (Malva moschata).  As I approached Janet, she appeared to be wearing a very strange ‘hat’ which turned out to be an enormous bracket fungus having fallen from the ash tree, Dryas saddle (Polyporus squamosus).  The meadows had good populations of carline thistle and a few small skipper butterflies were seen.  At Orgate Farm we turned to walk back along a minor road where goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis) was found, similar in appearance to a tall, stately dandelion but usually quite difficult to see amongst the roadside grasses.  Close by was a yellow shell moth (Camptogramma bilineata) and a fast flying red admiral.  The find of the day though was found as we left the road to 
Small-leaved lime leaf and galls
cut-back across fields and woodland where a lime tree caught my eye, and, remembering finding an unusual gall on the leaves of a lime near Grantown, I started to check the leaves on this tree.  Amazingly, there were the galls but, with the lime leaves looking rather small I wondered if I was dealing with small-leaved lime and therefore a different gall (Tilia cordata and the gall Aceria lateannulatus).  I found out later that there were just 5 previous records in the UK, only 3 of which have been confirmed as ‘correct’.  Phew!

17 – 19 July
The last three days saw us continue to enjoy the hot dry weather with a visit to the River Swale at Keld, with my map-reading seeing us both almost requiring ropes to get up the steep hillside and 
back to the track we should have been on.  The river by this walk is famous for it three waterfalls, one of which requires a bit of a scramble to see the best of the waterfall.  Though nothing too unusual was found over 70 species were recorded just as we walked along and it would have been good though if time had allowed to spend half a day right up by the limestone cliffs just to see what we might find there. 

The next day we headed to the edge of Richmond and, convincing Janet that there wouldn’t be steep hills to climb (again) we head off towards Whitcliffe Wood and Scar.  The first half an hour was a steady plod up a track(!) towards the wood where we saw several comma butterflies along with 8 
Small teasel
Peacock butterfly
other species of butterfly, several red admirals and a peacock.  The burdock fly was recorded again and, in the wood, small teasel (Dipsacus pilosus), a new species for us.  Exiting the wood, we were back into yellow meadow ant territory with lots of nest mound and, at last, nests were the ants were seen.  In the distance we could hear the thud, thud, thud of the rotor of a big helicopter and sure enough a chinook appeared almost overhead and appearing to land/hover on a hillside on the other side of the River Swale, well into the military exclusion area.  A few minutes later it reappeared and 
hanging below it was a landrover and trailer!  There was obviously an exercise taking place and half an hour later two ‘normal’ helicopters passed overhead and spent the rest of the time we were on our walk popping up and disappearing in the same area as the chinook.  As we walked it was becoming obvious that we had another hill to climb (up to 1000’) to get to the path that would take us back along the top of Whitcliffe Scar before dropping us down to our starting point.

For our last day out we really should have had a good look at our map, again.  The woodland on the map (Hudswell Wood and Calfhall Wood) probably disguised the contours and once again we climbed steadily through the National Trust woodland until we reached the road into Hudswell 
village and the George and Dragon pub where we had an enjoyable lunch.  However, we had seen a footpath sign which said there were a couple of hundred steps to follow to get back to the river – and they weren’t joking.  Along the way we saw the biggest individuals and populations of hart’s-tongue ferns ever and another patch of musk mallow.  Oh, and don’t forget the wee fly on the burdock plants!

The next day we packed up and headed north driving across country to Brough and the dreaded A66 and yes, it happened again, a long tailback of vehicles so we turned off and followed a minor road running parallel to the A66.  Then it was Penrith, M6 and heading north arriving home at 6.30pm.  Janet then sorted everything out for a craft fair in Aviemore on the Sunday ensuring we dropped back into the run of the mill tasks as though we hadn’t been away.

Three days later and we were back on the A9 at 7am heading back to Lancashire for a family wedding (niece Abbie marrying Mike) on the 28th.  Early in July Janet’s mum had been in hospital to try and cure a serious foot infection the outcome of which meant she would be moving into care just 
Janet's mum and the family visit
before we arrived for the wedding.  A couple of days were spent helping to sort out her flat along with daily visits to the care-home and then it was time to dust off the best clothes and drive off to Immanuel Church to join all the family members awaiting, with Mike, the arrival of the bride.  What 
The brilliant wedding and a happy grandson Harry at the wedding feast
a day, an amazing church service complete with a live orchestral quartet and wedding bells and then off to Waddington for the wedding meal, speeches, celebrations and toasts to the bride and groom.  A day later and we were all heading back north again to be greeted by four pine martens on the house deck in the evening.  A replacement Lumix camera had also arrived via Amazon whilst we were away, the package having been left on the back-door step where it had got damp before a neighbour rescued it.  Once again, the box was open and there was no packing inside.  It was returned to Amazon the next day without being unpacked!

That’s it for another month, and still trying to catch up!

Stewart and Janet

Richmond Castle including the cell block
Foxglove Covert Nature Reserve
NBN Atlas
Strathspey Weather
Parkswatch
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

Town crier in Richmond
Speckled wood
Aspen watering has ended!
Photos © Stewart Taylor

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Bird’s-nests and butterflies in an orchid dominated month


June had quite a good start with the final tree shelters installed at the Tulloch aspen site to the 

Click beetle  (Ctenicera cuprea)
accompaniment of lots of greenish click beetles, (Ctenicera cuprea), and a few small heath butterflies.  On the track to the site a small, colourful moth stopped me in my tracks and, after a bit of chasing, as it flew between flowers, it perched up beautifully to allow photos to be taken.  There were two potential species of Pyrausta that it could have been and when I sent my photo off to expert Mike to check, he said he could only confirm by seeing the under-wing.  Unbelievably, I did have an under-
Pyrausta ostrinalis moth
wing photo and it was confirmed as P. ostrinalis, which I’ve seen before.  At the planted aspen site the heightened fence was finally completed. The young trees all appear to have produced leaves so fingers crossed we have a ‘new’ wood developing.  However, the hot/dry weather since planting meant that four, 25 litre water containers had to be bought, to transport water to the site with the first watering-can session taking place on the 2nd.  With grasses and plants only just getting going it was quite easy to see the wee canes and spiral guards at each of the sites but toing and froing with the watering can took an hour and a half to complete.  A bit of a guessing game but, with 100 litres of 
How to make it rain!
water and about 200 aspens, about half a litre of water was available for each tree so the 10 litre can had to last for about 20 trees.  Thankfully my hand-tally meter kept me well informed and all the trees received some water.  Yes, you guessed it, and just as I finished and arrived back at the car tiny drops of rain were landing on the windscreen but only for a few minutes so not enough to help the trees.  Driving back to Nethy Bridge the rain had stopped but about a mile from the village the roads were very wet and when I got home Janet told me that there had been a torrential downpour with rivers of water running down the road, none of which landed on my aspens! 


Our outing to Croy near Nairn on the 4th via Lochindorb proved to be an hour or so late.  Early evening the previous day the doorbell rang and our chalet guests David, Anita and Christopher had just returned from Lochindorb and asked if I thought the bird in their photo was an adult long-tailed skua, an amazing record for this area if correct so I said I would seek a second opinion as everything 
Christopher's long-tailed skua photo © Christopher Teague
about the perched bird looked right.  Within minutes the phone rang, and Richard confirmed that the bird ID was 100% and that he would be heading out first thing the following day to see if it was still there.  In the meantime, David had also received confirmation that their ID was correct.  At 9am on the 4th Richard rang to say the skua was still there more or less where it was the day before, so we decided to head for Croy via the loch.  Despite lots of scanning neither Janet or myself managed to find the bird so we continued our outing to an amazing ‘arboretum’ in the grounds of Kilravock Castle.  The inclusion of ‘Kil’ in the name is the Celtic word for church and suggests a church once occupied part of the site.  The castle which now occupies the site is a 15th century stately home to six generations of the Rose family the last family member – the 25th Baroness, Miss Elizabeth Rose, died in December 2012, having given the castle and its adjacent grounds to the Kilravock Christian Trust 
Monkey puzzle top and sitka spruce
in 1984.  Despite the castle website saying the castle and grounds are now closed to the public, Janet found a piece in the Nairn tourist information leaflet saying it was okay to visit the grounds which is where we were heading.  A major part of the grounds comprises an arboretum and in it we found some amazingly ancient trees, a monkey puzzle tree the like of which you are unlikely to find anywhere else growing close to a similarly ancient sitka spruce.  Old estate tracks are edged by avenues of ancient beech trees and generally the trees we saw on our walk were of an age seldom seen in other Highland woods.  We returned via Lochindorb but once again failed to find the skua only to be informed later the following day that it was seen heading north, and possibly to the coast, at about 10am on the morning of our visit.

The next day, the 5th, will long live in my memory as one of those special days.  This was the follow up day mentioned in the May blog to the wood where several old flower spikes of bird’s-nest orchid had been found during a green shield-moss recording visit.  On leaving the car at about 10.30 the notebook was out as this would also be a general recording visit, mainly plants, but also anything else of interest.  The first entry was a speckled wood butterfly along with a green-veined white, cuckoo flower and the sedge Carex nigra.  A few plants were recorded by 100 metre OS squares as I walked 
Goldilocks buttercup top and sun-lit bird's-nest orchid
so there were quite a few repeats but for the day the 175 records comprised 80 species.  At the first location where old bird’s-nest orchid spikes had been found previously I was relieved to find a new site for flowering spikes of goldilocks buttercups, progress from just the basal leaves from the first visit.  Next to the goldilocks were two, fully in-flower, bird’s-nest orchids, a brilliant start.  Leaving my rucksac as a guide, I wandered back and forth to see if there were any more, and two more were found.  The bright sun, whilst not the best for taking close up photos, was a big help in sort of ‘lighting up’ some of the bird’s-nest orchid spikes in the vegetation, and as I wandered, their numbers grew.  In total, the orchid was found at 18 locations as detailed below.
Spikes/location
No. locations
Total spikes
1
4
4
2
7
14
3
2
6
6
2
12
9
1
9
10
1
10
22
1
22
Total bird’s-nest orchid flowering spikes = 77
The bigger groups were growing over a few square metres but just about visible in one photo and quite an amazing sight.  In Scottish terms this is an important site for this orchid.  There is only one higher count of over 170 spikes in Argyll back in 2011 with several locations of counts of around 30.  In the area of my count the orchid has been recorded nearby with the first record in 1963.  
Considering that I was in my wood for almost five hours and only covered about half of the wood, there could be more to find.  Was this a good flowering year?  If so, future counts might prove more difficult.  Whatever, it was a great day out.  A phone message waiting for me when I got home determined what I would be doing over parts of the next few days.

When I made the phone call it was to a TV producer who was keen to film the now famous ‘longhorn’ timberman beetle for a slot in one of the evening programmes – did I know if there were any locations where the beetle might be active and could be filmed?  RSPB staff had been contacted but suggested I might be the person who could help.  HELP!  The BSW sawmill in Boat of Garten was mentioned as a site where the beetle had been seen recently and, with the loss of Rab’s sawmill in Abernethy, this might prove to be a good alternative particularly as lots of fresh logs were stored there.  However, unlike Rab’s sawmill, it isn’t located within a native pinewood but, on making contact excellent assistance was given given by Dave the site manager.  Staff were asked to keep an 
Ant beetles top and egg laying red-belted awl-fly
eye open for any wandering beetles and I was accompanied by staff (for safety and H&S reasons) during a morning search of logs and cut timber in the stacks yard, but without any luck.  A major thinning of Scots pines had taken place within the Craigmore section of the RSPB Abernethy reserve with lots of logs still lying by track-sides and a felling of a few more mature trees had also taken place to remove trees from two important archaeological sites near Tore Hill.  So, over the next five days log stacks and felled trees were visited for a couple of hours a day in the hope that the freshly cut trees would prove attractive to mating/egg laying timberman beetles.  I managed to do something similar for the BBC series ‘Highlands – Scotland’s Wild Heart’ but realised at the time just how lucky I was to find males and a female together, and as the days/checks crept by I was beginning to think my luck had run out on this occasion – particularly when a filming date had been specified.  The bigger trunks at the archaeology site seemed to be the best option particularly as the other species which were found during the ‘Highlands’ search were present.  Ant beetles (Thanasimus formicarius) were regular along with a couple of other longhorn beetle species and a couple of weevil species including Pissodes pini.  An unusual fly was also present the red-belted awl-fly (Xylophagus cinctus
Male timberman beetle
again a species seen during the last timberman search and, like the beetle, an ancient pinewood indicator.  On the morning of the 10th June a single male beetle was found on one of the trunks of the pines at the archaeology site and I heaved a sigh of relief.  The film unit were due in a couple of days time so a phone call was made to say I had a beetle and could they arrange for the cameraman to come to film it only to be asked if I could look after it for 2-3 weeks because they didn’t have a cameraman available!  The beetle was released the next day, however, it had been an interesting exercise and several of the rarer insects living in Abernethy Forest had been recorded once again.  The next day Fraser from RSPB popped in to the house to install the last of my swift nest boxes at the top of the ‘high-topped’ Scots pine at the back of the garage.  Fingers crossed a pair will find it.

An email from the Flowerfield orchid site owners mid-month warned me that the orchids were appearing early this year possibly due to the hot and dry conditions.  The rainfall comparisons are given in the table.  With these conditions my guess was that there would be fewer flowers and that they would be slightly earlier than normal.
Rainfall
Jan
Feb
Mar
April
May
June
Total
2017
64.2
39.0
39.8
47.8
43.9
85.6
320.3
2018
37.5
45.2
33.1
37.0
29.3
21.9
204.0
A visit to the site the following day did show lots of flower spikes appearing, so the count was arranged to start on the 18th a few days early than normal.  The first two days counting along cane-marked transects covered the first five sections with usually the fewest lesser butterfly orchid spikes.  
Lesser butterfly orchid top and small white orchid in
an amazing year
However, the tally counter produced a count with a hint of things to come: 112 spikes compared to 35 in 2017.  It then took a couple of days to count the marked-out area running parallel to the road and, as the count of this area progressed, I realised that this might be a special year, 4830 against 1892 in 2017!  With dry weather though some flower spikes were already going over whilst others were just getting going.  It was notable though that there were hardly any heath spotted orchids, the northern marsh orchids were stunted and the fragrant orchids appeared to be fewer but in good numbers.  None of the latter are counted accurately.  As the count progressed the usual six-spot burnet moths were obvious and active and, with a few found resting on the lesser butterfly orchid heads, I checked to see if they were feeding on the flowers because we still don’t know which insect(s) is responsible for cross pollinating that orchid.  A few were found on the fragrant orchid flowers where it was obvious 
Six-spot burnet and pollinia on fragrant orchid
they had been feeding on the flowers as their proboscis’ were covered in the orchids pollinia.  In orchids the pollinia is a single mass of pollen grains with a viscid (sticky) coating attached to the plant’s anthers.  They attach themselves as a single unit to the insect’s proboscis as it feeds to be carried to the next orchid to pollinate it.  A single pollinia can contain tens of thousands of pollen grains and it remains attached to the insect as it visits several other orchids.  A strange bulge high on 
Hawkweed and plant gall
the stem of a hawkweed turned out to be a plant gall created by the gall wasp Aulacidea hieracii not rare, and with few local records but a few more were found over the next few weeks.  Butterflies were also seen in good numbers comprising northern brown argus, common blue, meadow brown, small heath and several dark-green fritillaries a couple of which were seen mating.  On the last day, as the canes were being collected in a bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus) was found on a heath spotted orchid flower-head rather than the more usual thistle flowers and on top of one of the fence posts was a wee but impressive snake-fly (Atlantoraphidia maculicollis).  Over the 6 whole and part-count 
Bee beetle top and snake fly
days, a remarkable 7700 lesser butterfly orchids were counted, a total I feel will take some time to emulate.  The last job was to mark-out and count the more compact population of small white orchids and over a couple of hours the hand-tally counter totalled 1673 with an additional 14 becoming well established tens of metres from the main population.  It would be very useful if someone could spend a bit of time at this site to undertake a study as to why this fairly non-descript meadow produces so many orchids particularly as the count doesn’t take in the thousands of fragrant orchids that also appear every year.
Lesser butterfly orchids
Small white orchid
2008
650
2008
101
2009
1288
2009
277
2010
2800
2010
570
2011
800
2011
no count
2012
970
2012
416
2013
4345
2013
1508
2014
1225
2014
338
2015
1667
2015
1010
2016
5655
2016
2645
2017
2820
2017
1182
2018
7710
2018
1673
After the count the new Director of Conservation and Visitor Experience at the Cairngorms National Park, Dr Peter Mayhew (my ex-boss at RSPB) spent a couple of hours meeting the meadows owners and mostly walking the orchid meadow to appreciate the sheer number of orchids but also to think about how, this, the best site in the UK for the two orchids in the table, might receive some form of ecological protection/support.  I’m still working at it.

The second of two BTO Breeding Bird Survey was completed with lime trees by the road and farmhouse adjacent to the transect route producing yet another surprise.  As I walked past them I spotted lots of tall, red growths popping up from their leaves, a gall mite that would require a sample for checking once home.  The limes are the common lime, the hybrid Tilia x europaea (hybrid of Tilia cordata and T. platyphyllos (small and large leaved lime)) and checking the British Plant Galls book I arrived at the name Eriophyes tiliae, confined to the common lime host.  According to NBN Atlas 
Lime leaf and the Eriophyes tiliae wasp gall
this is just the fourth Scottish record.  The third and final woodcock survey was also completed with again a reasonable number of roding birds seen or heard.  However, the midges were pretty unbearable!  An outing to Dufftown had a dual purpose, a nice wee walk for us both but a walk that would take us past four of the town’s six distilleries to see if the black whisky fungus (Baudoinia compniacensis) was present, the by-product of the evaporation from the barrels of whisky maturing in the bonded warehouses.  This information was to be added to the growing list of sites as a paper was being prepared for Field Mycology to highlight this seldom recorded fungus.  Armed with a couple of tasty sandwiches and cakes from a recently opened cake shop the walk went well with lots of nice flowers along the way.

Evening activity in the garden was quite entertaining during the month with Colin and Jackie seeing a badger by the chalet.  The following evening new chalet guests David, Anita and Christopher were entertained by a pine marten and Janet saw the first hedgehog of the year.  Amazingly, a week later as our chalet guests were ready to leave a pine marten dropped in to say cheerio at 9.30 in the morning! 
That same evening we had one of the most unusual encounters to date on the garden deck, both pine marten and hedgehog feeding together and side by side!  Mid-month a pine marten turned up at the squirrel feeders at mid-day and whether it was the same adult that turned up with three youngsters a couple of days later, we can’t be sure.  A second female turned up with one youngster, but she looked to be in a poor state, loosing hair from face and body whereas the family of three appeared quite regularly with the noisy, calling youngsters letting us know they were around.  As in previous years the young martens had fun around the squirrel feeders with mum ‘trapped’ in the box with youngster sitting on the lid and one or more youngsters regularly falling or almost falling from the wooden arch supporting the feeder!

The month ended on a positive note with a couple of aspen hoverflies (Hammerschmidtia ferruginea) seen visiting a fallen aspen to lay eggs at the site where all the fallen aspens were ‘tidied up’ a couple 
of years ago.  Permission was also given for some of the hazel stumps at the same site to be protected by rylock fencing rings to try and minimise browsing of new shoots by mainly roe deer and to allow the trees to re-grow.  A trial one was installed at the end of the month whilst funding was sourced to do more later in the year.  The planted aspens also received another watering on the last day of the month with most looking very well.

That’s it for another month, and still trying to catch up!

Stewart and Janet

Long-tailed skua in Highland Region
Kilravock Castle
NBN Atlas
Strathspey Weather
Parkswatch
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
 
Tick removed from cat being bitten by another tick!
F1 driver grandson Harry
Dark-green fritillary
A day out on Nairn beach
Photos © Stewart Taylor.  Long-tailed skua © Christopher Teague