Friday, 29 June 2018

Pheromone fun

A chance meeting with Gabrielle Flinn late in the month determined the outings for the rest of April.  Gabrielle is the Project Officer for the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project and when I met her at the Nethy Bridge post office she asked if I would be interested in looking for the Kentish glory moth (Endromis versicolora) with the help of a pheromone.  She showed me a small glass phial filled with something that looked like white polystyrene but was really a material that held the scent (pheromone) of a female Kentish glory moth when she was looking for a male to mate with.  To go around potentially suitable sites for the moth with a night-time operated moth traps or to physically look for the day-flying males would be hugely time-consuming undertaking.  Using the pheromone in comparison required the volunteer (me and many others) to select a suitable looking area of birch woodland, ideally with an element of young trees, hang the glass phial from a birch branch with a length of string, and sit back and wait for 20-30 minutes.  It has been calculated that the males can sense the pheromone from up to 1 km away and, with an opportunity to mate, the males home in on the phial.  I first encountered this moth via my moth trap (non-killing) when first arriving at the Loch Garten Reserve in 1976.  The trap was operated almost daily during the April to October period on the edge of Tulloch Moor and in an area where birch was the main tree species.  During all those trapping nights the Kentish glory moth was only recorded as follows: 1976 x2, 1977 x2, 1978 x4, 1979 x2 and 1980 x1.  Between 1981 and 2009 (the last record during my employment) the moth was recorded just four times.  I was therefore very interested to see how the pheromone would perform.  My first outing was on a bit of a breezy day but quite warm and in the area of woodland close to where I previously ran the moth trap.  The three 25-minute sessions failed to attract any males but at 
Pheromone (small white tube) on string with visiting Kentish Glory
least I had decided the best set up for hanging the phial – directly on the string rather than in a mesh bag.  Two days later I was back in the same area but with nothing recorded during the first two sessions.  At the third location I had just hung the pheromone and unscrewed the lid when I was aware of something whizzing past me, orange being the main colour I picked up and was fairly certain that this was a male Kentish glory.  I needn’t have worried because within a couple of minutes it was back and was circling the pheromone, almost, but not quite, landing on it.  Amazing, and my first contact with the moth in decades. Two more sessions failed to find anymore but at least I was happy that the methodology worked.  I made two more outing by the end of the month and again I had a male appearing within minutes of setting up the pheromone with this one actually landing on the lure but not trying to mate with it.  Via the six sessions a male was recorded twice and, unusually, it was found in damp to slightly boggy birch woodland.  My last outing on the 30th had me wondering what was flying close to my first couple of locations and I was fairly certain these were day-flying emperor moths.  From the five locations the moth was recorded just once actually visiting the lure as I was taking it down.  It will be interesting to see what turns up in May, but what an interesting wee recording project so well-done Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Canterbury University for working to produce such an effective pheromone.

Searching of old locations of Wilson’s filmy-fern continued with two outings taking me toward Loch Ness.  Without the use of GPS location technology way back in the 1970s both of these old locations (1971 and 1975) only had their 6-figure grid references, giving a potential search area of 100 metres square.  Not a big search area but with both old sites being on the side of rocky outcrops the search outings could have provided a bit of fun!  The amazing Pass of Inverfarigaig was the first location visited where trees on both sides of the single-track road were hanging thick with lichens, some in the rare UK category.  The fern prefers to grow on the north, shady side of rocky sites so, once parked up, the slow wandering up and down the steep rocky ground started.  A funny ‘growth’ seemingly 
The 'odd' plant a young herb robert!
growing from the mossy covering on top of a boulder had me puzzled – was it part of the moss itself, a liverwort or a plant?  Photos taken, a small sample was removed to check once home and by keeping the moss moist a little more growth was achieved.  The hairy leaf led me towards it being a plant and when out and about I was fairly certain that I had found a seedling herb robert (Geranium robertianum) and this was confirmed when I re-visited the location a few weeks later.  Likely looking rock ledges higher up from the road failed to produce the fern and, assuming the original finder of the plant, the great botanist Mary McCallum Webster, wasn’t a rock-climber, I continued to check the rock faces and ledges that were reasonably accessible.  After a couple of hours, I was beginning to think this wasn’t to be a ‘re-find’ day and after a quick bite of lunch thought I would check out one 
Wilson's filmy fern, plant with single sori bottom photo
damp rock face not too far from the road.  Once or twice a similar looking moss had me fooled and it was whilst trying to decide whether what I was looking at this time was a fern or a moss (having only seen the fern once before) I spotted something that dispelled all doubt – a distinctive spore bearing sori.  This was a small population, lacking the masses of sori seen during last months outing, but the dark leaf veins were present as were the leaf edge teeth so all I needed to do now was use modern technology and GPS the location.  However, with the location being on the side of a rock outcrop and also being in the bottom area of ‘The Pass’ the GPS was only giving an accuracy of +/- 25 metres so a description of the ledge location was also made.  One down, one to go.

Just a few days later I was back in the same general area but this time a little further north at Creag nan Clag, a very impressive conglomerate rock outcrop.  This type of ‘rock’ is made up of rounded fragments comprising small pebbles to large boulders bound together in a finer particle ‘cement’, usually silt and clay known as a matrix.  At home the weather had warmed up a little, so much so that I was fooled into making this outing a little under-dressed.  At the site the wind was quite strong and 
The conglomerate type rock/boulders
from a north-easterly direction meaning the higher I climbed the colder it became, particularly as the gully I was walking into was facing the wind.  My lightweight waterproof jacket would have been an ideal companion on this particular outing!  Walking into the gully the rock face to my left was 
Green spleenwort top and fertile Wilson's filmy fern bottom
checked but with very little plant life apart from along the base of the conglomerate.  Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) was quite regular but also a single clump of green spleenwort (Asplenium viride) with its characteristic green stem/all green appearance.  An odd-looking lichen turned out to be Leptogium gelatinosum.  Eventually a damper section of rock was reached and without too much searching there was Wilson’s filmy-fern with 5 distinct small populations many 
Alectoria sarmentosa subs sarmentosa
Purple saxifrage
displaying lots of sori.  By now I was just about frozen, despite there being sun outside the gully so time to head down to try and warm up.  Along the main rock face it was nice to see lots of the early flowering purple saxifrage along with Peltigera britannica and, the lichen this rock-face is famous for, Alectoria sarmentosa subspecies sarmentosa, hanging down from just one section of the rock-face.  There was also lots of purple saxifrage all nicely in flower.

Mid-month there was a reminder that spring/summer was on its way.  Whilst out in the garden a light buzzing sound around my head led me to automatically swat whatever it was and found a nicely flattened fly stuck to my hand.  To me this looked like a mosquito but thought this was a little early for them to be on the wing, so I took it into the house to have a closer look under the microscope.  All the features indicated a mozzie so I sent off a couple of photo to expert Stephen who informed me 
The banded house mosquito
First small tortoiseshell in the garden
that yes, it was a mozzie going by the name Culiseta annulate, the banded house mosquito.  Interestingly, I also found out that this mosquito is on the wing from spring to autumn and then the adults hibernate in building, caves or hollow trees and is one of 33 species occurring in Britain.  That other horror of the spring to autumn months also put in its first appearance – the tick, with two found on my body on the 15th.  Time to dig out the tweezers and bottle of TCP.  The first small tortoiseshell butterfly was in the garden on the 11th, a willow warbler on the 20th and a local tree pipit on the 22nd.

A little time was spent checking out a couple of important known sites for the green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis).  The first one was a trip over to Deeside to visit the NTS Mar Lodge Estate where, once again, a fallen conifer had produce over 100 capsules.  The number was down just a little from 2017, possibly due to enrichment from rabbit droppings being deposited on the trunk which is 
Green shield-moss and rabbit dropping!
Elgin shoot moth (Rhyacionia logaea)
allowing moss and plant growth to develop quite rapidly, making areas unsuitable for the moss.  It was also possible to see several capsules having been knocked over again, possibly due to rabbits though there was also evidence of red squirrels feeding on Scots pine cone seeds as well.  NTS staff have noticed an increase in the rabbit population in the area of the fallen tree.  Whilst counting the capsules a green woodpecker was heard quite regularly, a rare bird in these parts, and a small, but colourful moth which seemed quite happy to rest and have its photo taken, turned out to be the Elgin shoot moth (Rhyacionia logaea), a moth with just 8 UK records on the NBN Atlas.  However, local expert Mike, who helped identify it, said it was a species that he encounters quite a lot and is obviously heavily under-recorded, though there are two records from close to Braemar the latest being 2002.  Currently though it has only been found in conifer woodland in north-east Scotland 
ST at the fallen willow top and the good population of new capsules
where their larvae feed on buds and shoots of Scots pine and Sitka spruce.  The second outing to check for capsules was to an ancient fallen, but still mostly alive goat willow in the RSPBs Abernethy Forest.  A bit like the Deeside conifer, the capsules on this willow are to be found on several different parts of the tree.  Interestingly, a new group of 20+ capsules have appeared this year helping to boost the population to 64.  The moss was first found on this willow in 2009 when the tree was still upright and has been growing there ever since.

An outing to see the green shield-moss growing on a substrate and several tree species not previously known to support the moss also provided other good records.  In this woodland, near to Beauly, fellow green shield-moss ‘hunter’ Sandy had found several capsules growing on a bracket fungus 
The circular Fomes bracket fungus top and the moss capsules bottom
growing from a fallen birch tree.  Both tree and Fomes fungus were in the mid-stages of decay and possibly the reason why the fungus was providing a suitable growing habitat.  In the same woodland Sandy had also found the moss growing from dead sections of a hawthorn and a whitebeam, both new tree hosts.  On my way into the wood I managed to find another location on a decaying fallen birch tree, and close to the whitebeam, more capsules on a fallen goat willow, so obviously a good wood for the moss.  The outing also provided my first records of willow warbler and chiffchaff for the year and another location for the small, but distinct, larch ladybird (Aphidecta obliterate), a ladybird I often find without a larch tree in sight.  However, it does also like Scots pine.  Under the 
The slime mould Trichia decipens as found top, and under the
microscope bottom
Slime mould spores x1000 oil
hawthorn, I could see a distinct patch of something coloured orange and on closer inspection found it was one of the slime moulds, but with very distinct small, round balls on top of small stalks.  The bulk of the orange colour had been created by the mass of bodies ejecting their spores, one to take home for checking later.  Under the microscope I could see the typically round spores of a Myxomycete (slime moulds are not actually a fungus which was new to me) so one to check with slime mould expert Bruce who pointed me in the direction of Trichia decipiens a slime mould linked 

Work on the new aspen wood last mentioned in the March blog continued, though a few problems with fence posts not remaining secure caused quite a bit of extra work.  Because the deer fence is within an area used by black grouse, lots of marker ‘droppers’ had to be added to the wires to make the top part of the fence more visible to deter the grouse from flying into the fence.  Returning one day to carry on with the dropper installation, I was aware the fence wires on one section were very 
ST cutting up the fence droppers top and a cuckoo perched on the fence
just after their installation
slack and several of the droppers had been knocked off, tufts of hair telling me that a red deer had been inside the fence and had caused the bulk of the damage when trying to get out.  I learnt later that there were actually five red deer in the plot, goodness knows why when the grazing available outside the fence was at least as good as that inside.  So lots more work involving a new corner straining post installed by the fencing contractor and tightening up the wires once again.  The marker droppers also posed a problem having given up ever getting them, two months after ordering them.  Small runs of specially cut timber sizes usually do take longer and with time pressing to get the fence finished I ordered 150 posts that had been made to create a wooden garden fence.  The one problem was that I needed to cut them all in half to get them to the right size for the job they were going to have to do.  Eventually they were taken to the fence site and I began the long job of stapling them in place.  With the time to plant the young aspens getting ever closer it was essential to get the fence finished to deter more deer trying to get in.  This work though was to continue into May.  An easier and more enjoyable job was planting tatties, kale and onions in the veg patch all installed by the end of the month.

A visit to Tulloch Moor to check old stems of bog asphodel for a common, but rarely recorded fungus turned up something else.  The first was fresh frog spawn and on a dry knoll a nest of narrow-headed wood ants (Formica exsecta).  There were few ants active on this cool day but the grassy structure of the nest made the identification quite easy.  Lots of heather beetles (Lochmaea suturalis) were seen as was the fungus growing on dead stems of bog asphodel going by the name of Microdiplodia narthecii, a new species for the RSPB Abernethy Reserve.  In the woodland along the edge of the 
Microdiplodia narthecii fungus top and spores bottom x1000 oil
boggy area a large section of deadwood caught my eye, so I thought it would be worthy of a visit.  As it turned out there was little of note until I spotted a small beetle running around which, quite helpfully, stayed still for long enough to have its photo taken.  Once home I checked my fairly basic beetle book to see if I could identify it from my photo but in the end I sent a copy of the photo to expert Stephen to see if he could help with a name. It was a beetle called Lordithon but was one of 
The Lordithon trinotatus beetle and pine needles to aid ID
two and the only way to sort out was by getting a reasonably accurate measurement of the its length.  However, there wasn’t a specimen, so Stephen utilised something in the photograph adjacent to the beetle, several Scots pine needles.  Over a few minutes Stephen arrived at the average width of a pine needle and by using this measurement worked out that the beetle was 6-7mm in length leading him to the name Lordithon trinotatus, another new species for the reserve.

An outing with Janet to a woodland by the River Findhorn was a real eye-opener, adding to my list of important sites along this amazing river.  The woodland walk is on the Darnaway Estate and is known as the Dunearn Burn Walk and gives a couple of options depending how far you want to walk.  As we left the car park I got quite excited when I found common wintergreen (Pyrola minor) growing by the path and even more so when ancient oak trees came into view some of which had small populations 
Common wintergreen
of lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria).  However, all around were the remains of felled beech trees and I had to assume that these had been removed to help the oaks regenerate, favouring important native trees against the non-native beech, as this tree is classed in this part of the UK.  This removal work proved even more important as the path took us into and area of oak and ancient hazel with the hazels hanging thick with lungwort and Pannaria rubiginosa with the strange common name of brown-eyed shingle lichen possibly because it can also be found growing on rocks.  As Janet enjoyed her packed lunch sitting enjoying the view I was off down the steep slope (very steep in places) seeing what else was growing on the hazels with enough promise of more interesting lichens should I 
Woodruff and fungus top and Puccinia punctate  asci and
spores bottom (x1000 oil)
manage to return and spend the day checking more of the oaks and hazels.  Making my way back up to the path there were primroses in flower along with a distinctive plant with circular whorls of leaves growing up its stems – woodruff (Galium odoratum).  There were also bluebell leaves but no flowers as yet.  Some of the woodruff plants had an obvious dark-brown fungus growing on their leaves which turned out to be Puccinia punctate, a fungus I had only seen once before growing on a close relative of woodruff, fen bedstraw (Galium uliginosum) and not recorded from the Darnaway area.  It was only once home I realised that this part of the River Findhorn is designated as The Lower River Findhorn SSSI the web-link (below) gives details about the positive work being done to help the oaks, hazels and their dependant flora.  A site that will warrant another visit soon.

A shout from Janet late one evening saying “come and see this” usually makes me pick up my camera (if working away on laptop in next room) and dash through ready to photograph whatever might be visiting the peanuts on the deck outside.  Most often it is for a pine marten, but, on this occasion, it was a hedgehog which had climbed up on the log with the dish of peanuts and was happily munching away.  So happily was it munching that it allowed me to quietly and slowly open 
the door onto the deck, without it running away.  Flash and glass don’t go well together so by opening the door I was able to get a decent photo of this unusual and first time witnessed event.  The un-flustered hedgehog carried on munching as I closed the door but then seemed a little unsure about how to get down from the log!

On my way back from my outing to look for the filmy fern I popped in to the RSPB Loch Ruthven Reserve and, as we had seen a thawing of the ice covering small pools and lochans needed for the frogs and toads to mate and deposit their spawn, lots of both species were regularly seen on the 
Whooper swans top and mating toads bottom at Loch Ruthven
move.  Between the car park and the bird viewing hide the path was covered with toads making their way to the loch and also males looking for females to mate with.  I had to warn several visitors to be careful not to tread on them as they made their way along the path and also point out mating pairs and singletons heading for the water.  A couple of whooper swans were also on the loch and Slavonia grebes were also in residence but a long way from the viewing hide.  A wander up to some of the rock outcrops high above the loch failed to find any more Wilson’s filmy fern but, overall not a bad day.  However, the fun and games that day hadn’t quite ended.  It was daylight this time when Janet shouted to “come and see this” and on the ground, under the old apple tree, were two great tits, 
Battling great tits
locked together as they probably battled for a female or nesting territory.  One bird was on its back and the other lying on its side with claws well attached to the chest of the other bird.  Several photos taken I decided to venture a little closer to have a closer look and check that the bird on its back was still alive.  They were obvious oblivious to my approach and it was only as I bent down to try and pick them up did they become aware of my presence and break up their fight.  For quite a while afterwards one great tit was very vocal so perhaps this was the ‘winner’?

Strange to by writing a blog for the month of April in late June but with lots on the go delays have built up.  However, hope you enjoyed the read.

Stewart and Janet

Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms
Mary McCallum-Webster
More details about banded house mosquito – Culiseta annulata
Lower Findhorn SSSI information
Strathspey Weather
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

Lochnagar in the distance on the drive over to Deeside
I did say it would be warmer to have lunch in the Logie cafe!
Red squirrel feeding on birch sap after top was cut from tree
A chilly day hunting for ferns
Photos © Stewart Taylor

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Thank you Ray Woods and BBC Radio 4

With the long cold spell in this part of the UK the village pond was about half thawed by the end of March having been frozen since the end of December, so it must have been difficult going for the first frogs getting together and finding unfrozen pools around the place.  My first frog spawn was found on 25 March, with more a couple of days later.  Firwood also had a first, but we both missed it/them – 
1st frogspawn after a frosty winter
2 red kites over the house reported second-hand via Simon about an hour after his friend had seen them.  One was also seen over the single-track road to Dorback just a few days earlier so perhaps, at long last, birds might be starting to breed in the area.  These sightings follow on from the three birds I photographed on the farmer’s round bales near Boat of Garten back in September 2017, and I did wonder then whether one of the birds might have been a youngster.  Fingers crossed.  Our feeders also had a visit from a greenfinch, a rare event this winter.  Despite lots of evidence of its presence it wasn’t until the 1st that we actually managed to see it – the visiting badger, thanks to Janet’s set-up where she can see the on-ground bird feeders whilst relaxing on the sofa.  It was 11pm when the shout came through to me in my front ‘office’, “badger!”.  So I quickly grabbed the camera and 
carefully made by way to the doors that open out on to the decking.  The first few shots were taken as a photographic record and when I realised the badger didn’t react to the little light on the front of the camera to aid focusing in dark conditions, I popped up the flash and took a photo.  No reaction, though you can see from the badger’s eye in the photo, that it was aware something was on the go.  A couple more flash photos through the glass and the badger was left to finish its evening meal.  Peta and Richard will be please to hear the news following their sighting a few weeks earlier.  Tracks in the snow and across the veg patch let us know it was still around during the rest of the month, but this was our only sighting.

The folk from various organisations came together for a meeting of the Cairngorms National Parks aspen project on the 5th and at the meeting John passed over 60 tree shelters for me to install at some of the Tulloch sites.  I’m still hoping that fences will be modified to keep out deer (red and roe) at a couple of these sites but in the meantime, the mesh shelters should allow at least a few trees to 
Slowly forward, a few aspen suckers protected
become established.  The shelters were installed over healthy suckers (the growth from established aspen roots) but it was quite sad when checking for these just how many were either dead or quite thick-stemmed, showing just how often they had been eaten back.  This is something I see at many of the aspen woods I visit.  Over a couple of visits all the shelters were installed so only time will tell if we manage to get new trees established.  How different this was to a wood near Kingussie that I 
Masses of young aspens and what a difference a stock fence can
sometimes make - see left of fence
visited a couple of times to check aspens for lichens.  Fencing, stock exclusion and possible effective deer control had allowed new young aspens to become established across much of the woodland with young trees ranging from a metre in height to 3-4 metres ensuring a healthy future for the wood and the various species it supports which are dependent on both young and old trees.  The best site I have ever seen for new growth and a real joy and honour to be allowed to visit it.  The first day recording lichens didn’t turn up too many of the unusual species though Fuscopannaria mediterranea was a 
Fuscopannaria mediterranea in centre top photo and
aspen gall with cream-spot ladybird bottom
nice find.  With so many young trees I wasn’t too surprised when I found a few trees with the mite supporting gall Aceria populi.  As I photographed one gall an orange speck in the gall caught my eye and on checking I realised it was a ladybird – the cream-spot ladybird (Calvia quattuordecimguttata) last recorded in that area in 1903!  Whether alive or dead I don’t know as it was left in-situ and undisturbed.  The second visit started to find more of the unusual lichens associated with mature aspens and, being early in the month it was nice to hear the calls and display of many farmland waders as they were arriving back to breed. 

There was a very worrying few days mid-month when Janet developed a severe ear infection requiring a visit from the local doctor to help me get her to bed.  This was followed up by an ambulance crew visit later in the evening to confirm that the ‘everything spinning’ symptoms were caused by something called Labyrinthitis.  A couple of injections followed by a course of tablets helped but the dizziness came and went for over a week and even by the end of March she still hadn’t felt well enough to venture out.  (At the time of typing Janet is much better and getting out and about again – phew!).  A couple of days before going down with the infection we had had a very chilly 
Yours for less than £1 millon, Castle Grant
walk out towards Castle Grant in Grantown, an impressive property which is currently for sale.  Making our way along the track towards the castle we commented on this probably being the main ‘avenue’ to the castle when built due to the number of ancient limes and beech trees lining the route.  One huge beech had a couple of bracket fungi growing from it but at a height that didn’t allow a close inspection, so photos taken for checking once home.  The size and shape of the bracket lead me towards it being one of two Ganoderma species, brackets which can grow to 50cm across and can 
The Southern bracket fungus on beech tree and showing
the section removed for checking
The annual growth growth layers showing it had been growing
on the tree for 8 years.  The spores are shown in the photo below
grow for many years, increasing in depth as well as width.  In growing like this the bracket develops ‘tiers’, a new layer being produced each year, a little bit like rings within a growing tree.  However, without a small sample it wouldn’t be possible to know which one of the two species I was dealing with, so a return visit would be needed, complete with step ladder and hand saw!  This was done a couple of days later and, using the saw, a small section of the bracket was removed for checking at home. Thankfully no one came along the track to ask what the heck I was doing!  Cutting the bracket allowed the annual growth layers to be seen and by brushing the round spore holding pores, I was 
able to get enough spores to check under the microscope.  The general appearance of the bracket and the spore sizes led me to the name Ganoderma australe, the southern bracket, a tree heart-rotting species regularly found on beech, lime, sycamore and horse chestnut all tree species found along the track to the castle.  The southern bracket has a close relative known as the Artists bracket (Ganoderma applanatum) with an underside which is creamy white and can be scratched with a sharp point to leave brown marks and so produce artistic images - hence the common name.  See web-link below for details.

Through February and March BBC Radio 4 had been repeating past editions of the natural history programme The Living World and waking a bit early one Sunday morning I was listening to the radio when a repeat from 2011 was broadcast involving Ray Woods and the Celtic Rain Forest in Wales.  You can hear the programme via the web-link below.  In the programme Ray talks about a lone tree and its populations of rare lichens but also mentions the two tiny ferns Wilson’s and Tunbridge filmy-ferns.  That got me wondering if I had ever seen either of these ferns the only possibility being when we lived on the Isle of Rum where one of them was highlighted on the south-side nature trail.  Searching the BSBI maps this turned out to be Wilson’s filmy-fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii), but with little idea of what it looked like or the typical habitat where it was likely to be found.  Checking the BSBI maps informed me that a small population of this fern had been found recently (2007) in 
Inshriach Forest just down the road and a long way from it main stronghold in the west of Scotland, so this seemed a good place to start finding out a little bit more about it.  Janet’s recovery was progressing well enough for her to allow me to disappear for an afternoon, so off I set.  Leaving the car I was in an area of the forest where I had been involved in the study of the wee solitary bee Osmia uncinate several years ago, but was soon in unfamiliar woodland as I headed up towards some rocky outcrops.  A trackside pool had more frogspawn and, with the sun shining, hairy wood ants were starting to swarm on the top of their nest.  Soon I was into the boulder scree with mainly Scots pines and a few broadleaved species. The going was a bit dangerous and care was needed not to disappear into vegetation-covered holes between rocks.  The GSP though eventually did its job and guided me to the general area where the fern had been found previously.  I was though, a little confused because most books say the fern likes damp rocks, as on Rum, but the area I had been led to was mainly large, fairly dry rocks, but with good coverings of mosses, lichens and polypody ferns.  However, the most important feature was that the location was north facing so avoiding direct daytime sun.  Slowly, each rock/boulder was checked until I noticed a small unusual grey/green leafy growth, quite a bit, 
The distinctive grey/green fronds of the fern in left and top of boulder
popping out from the moss on the top of a rock.  Hand lens out and I could see the plant had very dark veins and lower stems and the ‘leaves’ had marginal teeth.  All doubts were then dispelled when on the tips of some of the ‘leaves/fronds’ I could see the distinctive spore bearing sori.  A search around the location found the fern growing on about seven mossy rocks with many showing lots of sori on the ferns fronds.  Brilliant, and certainly a fern I couldn’t remember seeing since our days on Rum in the early 1970s.  Nearby was a small population of interrupted clubmoss and also creeping lady’s tresses.  With the sun out and the area generally having had a spell of fairly dry weather heather burning could be seen all around from my slightly elevated location with four distinct 
Wilson's filmy-fern and showing distinctive sori on fronds
shown in close up below
columns of smoke rising high.  Time to head back to the car, but the last test of the day was yet to come.  Having made my way up the hill via a couple of obvious forest tracks, then several timber extraction routes, I eventually reached one of the tracks I wasn’t exactly sure which one I had emerged on.  My guess was to turn left but I then remembered one of the tracks was circular and may have taken me the wrong way, possibly adding quite a distance on to my walk back to the car.  Time to phone Janet.  Over a few minutes on the phone I manged to talk Janet through passwords, Google sites, and, using the grid reference where I was, managed to get the grid reference of where my car was!  Yep, it was turn left and the lesson learnt was always note the grid ref of the car’s location before setting off!  Passing on my details to BSBI man Andy he informed me that there were a couple of other locations in the wider area where the fern had only been recorded once and that was in the early 1970s.  Was it still there?  Something to follow up into April.

At the end of March we had booked local tree surgeon Alban to come and trim back the cherry and apple trees and also take the top off one of the very tall birches in the wood behind the chalet.  Over the years, the old three storey nest box in the birch tree had fallen apart so whilst we had tree climbing experts on site this was a chance to replace it.  I was also keen to trial a few swift nest boxes in the adjacent trees so set about making up the boxes ahead of Alban’s visit.  A sheet of external ply was cut into sections in the local builders merchants yard and once home cut to the right sizes with the Dewalt table saw which we retained after building the house.  The plan was to have four of these, two in obvious view to try and attract the swifts and two in a more shady location further into the 
wood.  The swift box plan was one found in the internet.  With the car breaking down on the day I went to get the wood, time was a bit limited to get everything finished ahead of Alban’s arrival, and the last screws went into the three-storey box as the trees were being worked on.  With everything ready all that needed to be decided was how these biggish boxes would be attached to the trees and this was solved as locations were chosen and pieces of wood cut to fit the uprights of the tree trunks.  This was certainly not a task I would have managed from a ladder no matter how tall it extended to.  A bit of nest material (feathers and dead grass stems) had been put into the swift boxes as the roofs were secured and all that needed to happen at the time of fixing was to tip the boxes up to ensure the material was at the opposite end to the entrance hole.  A job well done by Alban and colleague so its fingers crossed time as we get into May and the declining population of Nethy Bridge swifts return to breed.  Another couple of boxes were installed as a trial to see if we can get treecreepers to breed in the wood at the back of the chalet, not the usual wedge-shaped ones but small, narrow boxes with a typical narrow slit as an entrance.  Treecreepers have been heard in the wood but I’ve not checked the boxes yet to see if any are in use though recent chalet guests did photograph a bird on top of one of them.

I got a bit carried away looking for evidence of badgers in the RSPB reserve woodland just over our fence and wandered way out and across the Speyside Way track.  This took me into stump lichen (Cladonia botrytes) territory so of course I had to see if they were still present on the subtly marked stumps.  On the first stump I checked the lichen had disappeared, but I was pleasantly surprised to 
Stump lichen (centre) from a new location
find in on another stump close by.  It was still present at two other original sites and I made my way back towards the house via the original stump where I had first found the lichen.  The lichen was still present but looking the worse for wear so much so that I don’t think I would have found it if it had looked like this a couple of years ago, particularly being inexperienced in finding it.  However, there was another surprise, it is now growing on the next stump a couple of metres away, a little bit of new information about this amazing wee lichen.

My blog in December 2014 covered the part the little green shield moss (a protected species) played in having a planning application for housing in School Wood in the village turned down.  However, as the blog reminds me, the Cairngorm National Park planning folk said they would work with the developer regarding any new application.  After this year (2018), the area of ancient woodland under threat from new houses will be removed from “possible development site” to “none development site” in the new CNP Local Development Plan but currently remains under threat.  Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group have a feeling that something is currently happening about this site and that a final planning application might be in the offing.  BSCG, myself and several other locals 
Plectania melastoma top and with spores hard to find I had to rely on
wetting a section of fungus with diluted Potassium Hydroxide (KOH)
to get the red reaction
are very worried about how CNP planners will react to a new application having a very poor track record in turning down applications regarding development of other locally important conservation sites.  So, once again we are having to spend time visiting the site, recording species, and building up a picture again of the importance of the site.  If it is not suitable for development in the new Local Plan, why should it be suitable now?  A visit to see what is where compared to 2014 started late in the month and there was a very pleasant surprise at one location.  Whether the green shield moss (Buxbaumia viridis) is still present will await any planning application but an unusual cup-shaped 
Brown shield moss capsules
red-brown fungus got me quite excited.  Photos were taken and a single specimen removed to allow the spores to be checked and once this had been done I confirmed that this was just the third Scottish record for Plectania melastoma, a fungus growing from buried deadwood.  The last Scottish record on the FRDBI website was way back in April 2012 and was from yours truly!  A close relative of the green shield moss was also still present, the brown shield moss (Buxbaumia aphylla), with twenty capsules found at one of two sites. 

The bird feeders in the garden have been well used recently, sunflower hearts keeping siskins, chaffinches and the occasional brambling happy.  Fatballs have also proved popular with the great spotted woodpecker and members of the tit family, a gang of tails of long-tailed tits hanging from the fatballs making a wonderful sight.  A male and female sparrowhawk have also sped through the 
Great spotted woodpecker
garden in the hope of picking up a meal and in doing so we have noticed some very unusual behaviour, mainly from the male bird.  When either bird visits, the smaller birds often panic and occasionally we hear the bang of one hitting one of our windows despite them having black silhouettes of birds stuck on them.  Mostly, the birds hitting the windows end up on the ground slightly stunned and if left alone most recovered and flew off.  Our utility room window was one regularly hit and, after a bang one day I went out to see if the bird was okay.  Turning the corner of 
The male and female sparrowhawks visiting the garden
the house I was surprised to see the male sparrowhawk had found the chaffinch and was in the process of squeezing the life out of it.  When the occasional collision had been fatal before this, the dead bird was often just left on the ground and probably picked up by a night-time pine marten or a local cat and not the sparrowhawk.  However, both myself and Janet noticed that the sparrowhawk started to whizz through the garden and then double back through the honeysuckle arch possibly checking out if there was a stunned bird below the window.  This seemed highly likely because on a second occasion I disturbed the sparrowhawk again, on the ground, with the window collision casualty.  Over time we were fairly certain that the flight pattern of the sparrowhawk was aimed at trying to panic birds towards this particular window in the hope of one of them stunning itself.  One to check with the British Trust for Ornithology to see if this behaviour has been reported before.

Enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet
Plectania melastoma fungus
BBC R4 The Living World – The Celtic Rain Forest
Ganoderma applanatum  Artists bracket – to see the artwork
Firwood blog December 2014 re School Wood
Strathspey Weather
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

One-flowered wintergreen in the snow
A slightly worn dotted border moth on an aspen
The pine marten checking the patio repairs!
Photos © Stewart Taylor