Tuesday, 23 August 2016

See if you can find a fly that annoys you!

After keeping a list of bird species seen in the house garden for about 15 years were are pleased to announce a new species – common gull!  Usually, when bits of brown bread or left-over rice are thrown out in the garden the local rooks, jackdaws and, in summer, black-headed gulls dive in to pinch it all.  But, on the 2nd, I happened to be looking out of the window just in time to see a gull, with a completely white head drop in to grab whatever we had put out and it was only as it departed 
Juvenile great spotted woodpecker on the new Firwood garden 'stump' feature
that I shouted to Janet that we had just had a visit from a common gull.  Go back a decade and there were just a few localised breeding colonies, mostly comprising just a few pairs, but over recent years there seems to be about as many common gulls as black-headed gulls visiting local fields at ploughing-time, showing how numbers have increased.  At the same time, the number of black-heads has declined quite markedly and the evening roost of up to 4,000 birds on Loch Garten in the spring, is no more.  Many small colonies on local farmland pools or wee lochs has also declined perhaps leaving an opening for the common gulls?

Early in July one survey was giving way to another.  Having wandered over some of the Abernethy sites cleared of lodgepole pines, checking stumps for the appropriately named stump lichen (Cladonia botrytes), I was reaching the end of the easier access sites and getting close to a hoped for total of 50 locations.  In the May blog finding quite a few stumps with the lichen in one localised area was the highlight and it was completing the stump checking in an adjacent area that was to be my final area before other survey work took priority.  Despite this area looking none too suitable, stumps 
The natural Cladonia botrytes site a dead Scots pine tree
A good population of Cladonia botrytes
once again started to provide more records though the last outing produced a blank.  Pedalling back home thinking I was finished staring at stumps for a while, I was tempted to visit an area of similar fellings close to the track.  It would only take a few minutes!  Many of the 25 stumps looked suitable but didn’t support any stump lichens and as I circled round to make my way back to my bike I passed a long-dead fallen Scots pine supporting quite a good covering of the other Cladonia lichens that occupy this type of deadwood habitat.  As I have been checking stumps at other locations I have been also checking this sort of habitat – just in case- and at one location previously, the lichen was found on a decaying section of lodgepole pine trunk.  However, this was a Scots pine, a fallen tree, providing a natural ‘lump’ of deadwood compared to the man-created tree stumps and my day was 
One happy man!
well and truly made when I found a group of podetia belonging to Cladonia botrytes!  As far as I can find out this is the first time the lichen has been found on a naturally occurring piece of deadwood in the UK a fitting end to this period of stump checking.  And the total so far?  Of the 2500 stumps checked so far (stumps not counted for the first six outings so probably more than 3000) the lichen has been found on 45 of them giving a strike rate of one in every 50 stumps checked.  50 by the end of the year?  Watch this space.

The new survey mentioned above is the 2016 BSBI/Cairngorm National Park plant survey, targeting the under-recorded OS map squares comprising the Park.  This is the third year of involvement and the great thing about these surveys is wandering through areas that normally wouldn’t be visited and for me, finding other ‘things’ along the way.  My commitment covers 5 OS tetrads (2 x 2 kilometre squares) stretching from Laggan in the south to four others more local to home.  The first one of these was visited on the 6th July, a little later than my start date last year but a good time with most plants 
Remembering about willowherbs with 4-lobed stigmas (flower centre)
And willowherbs with club-shaped stigmas
in full flower.  This first site was by the B9007 road near Carrbridge in what looks like a fairly boring piece of moorland but I knew from an earlier visit to check on a group of aspens that there was more to this location than was obvious from the road.  The first thing was to get my brain back into gear with all the plant names and straight away I was puzzling over the willowherbs and forget-me-nots and getting used to hairy stems (pubescent) or not (glabrous) and if hairs were present whether glandular or not.  Problem species, provided they were plentiful, required a specimen to be collected and popped into a polybag for that evening/next day’s homework.  The amazing gully I dropped down into, complete with waterfall, took a couple of hours to work my way through with all plants recorded as progress was made.  As the GPS told me that I was entering a new 100 metre OS square 
(JJ100345 to say JJ100346), the recording started all over again and by late afternoon fourteen 100m squares had been visited giving me over 550 records comprising 147 different species.  Recording is the enjoyable bit, spending time entering the records into Mapmate is the more laborious bit, but all worthwhile in developing a picture of what is important and its location.  Ten species of sedge were recorded with the highlight being a group of flea sedges (Carex pulicaris) complete with the black fungus (Anthracoidea pulicaris) growing on their fruits (utricles).  This was something found last year and was the third UK record so nice to add another location.  I had seen on the map that there were a couple of small lochans higher up on the moor and these were visited in case they supported something interesting plus providing a list of plants possibly not seen elsewhere during the day.  The 
Marchantia polymorpha liverwort
first lochan was quite unusual in that it didn’t have water flowing in our out, its water-level being determined by the surrounding water-table.  Whether because of this I’m not sure but the whole shore was covered with a green leafy liverwort appropriately named common liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha subsp. ruderalis) many with umbrella like female reproductive organs present.  A very stunted plant had me puzzled so a photo was sent to expert Ian who confirmed my suspicion that this was mare's-tail (Hippuris vulgaris), usually found growing in the water.  An annoyed common gull 
Mating six-spot burnet moths
circled overhead but I didn’t find any evidence of breeding but a female teal, feigning injury as it flapped across the water, was followed in the sedges by a group of youngsters.  Time to leave them in peace.  Back at the car I was pleasantly surprised to see mating six-spot burnet moths on the road verge close to bird’s-foot trefoil, another inland site for this once coastal species.

The BSBI recording outing to just above Aviemore a few days later held an unusual surprise.  A timber stacking area by the main track held a few good plants including several spikes of heath cudweed (Gnaphalium sylvaticum).  This area is mainly Scots pine woodland, some planted and some natural so if I was to keep recording within the pines the list of plants would be monotonous 
Valerian leaf with fungus Uromyces valerianae
Uromyces valerianae spores x1000 oil
and few in number so heading for rock outcrops or wee burns added a great deal of diversity.  Following one burn lots of leaves but without flowers turned out to be valerian (Valeriana officinalis) many covered with the fungus Uromyces valerianae and as I passed them, any sedge heads were quickly checked for Anthracoidea fungi.  The long, bendy spikes of green-ribbed sedge (Carex binervis) were regularly encountered and one flower-head caught my attention because the utricles on one head looked swollen and possibly the start of the fungus developing.  This is one sedge I’ve yet to find with the fungus so possibly quite important.  One for the microscope so the spike and head were collected to be checked once home.  The microscope confirmed that a few of the utricles were swollen so to check if there was a fungus inside, one was poked with the point of my very sharp tweezers but instead of a black spore mass appearing a bit of liquid oozed out and with it something I was sure was moving!  Sure enough, the longer I watched the ‘something’ turned out to be an insect 
Larva of Wachtliella caricis  (yellow) on utricle of green-ribbed sedge
(to be confirmed 100%)
larva so out came the book on plant galls to see if anything was known from the sedge.  Sure enough, the book told me that a small Diptera fly lays eggs in the sedge fruits from the family with the amazing name of Wachtliella.  However, there are very few UK records and very little is known about the species so the specimen, with intact inflated fruits was sent off to the UK expert in this particular group.  The initial email reply after receiving the specimens contained a few words that confirmed the lack of knowledge about this group – “I am always pleased to receive queries on Cecidomyiidae [Diptera family] but cannot guarantee satisfactory answers!” and “Much of the descriptive work was done in the late 19th century and there has been little subsequent research, partly because of the difficulties of working with sedges……… I am willing to examine specimens of galls with larvae (dead or alive) but cannot promise positive identification.”  Not sure why I keep finding things that need more work doing on them and this would appear to be another one but, for now, Wachtliella caricis will have to be the name we will be working with, and if anything develops in the future at least all the information about location, host plant etc is there for the record to be modified if needed. 

Mid-month the older grandsons came over for a night and quite a few things of note occurred.  Archie had scored a few times in the garage door goals and Finlay was getting pretty good at being a goalkeeper.  However, when grandad was in goal a few more goals were scored but with the ball also ending up on the roof and regularly disappearing in the gap between garage and chalet.  Retrieving the ball from the latter I noticed a lot of leaves at the base of the birch tree in the tub had been eaten 
Birch sawfly (Cimbex femoratus) larvae
Adult birch sawfly found later in the month near Carrbridge
and on checking I could see a mass of birch sawfly (Cimbex femoratus)  larvae (nibbling away.  I left them undisturbed and let the boys see them before letting them see the odd behaviour should you touch them – the larvae curl the tail end of the bodies over their backs towards their heads probably as a defence mechanism, producing quite an odd but amusing sight.  Most sawfly larvae seem to react in the same way so worth checking if you find any.  Archie is really keen on spiders so next day we headed off towards a part of Abernethy Forest where several bog pools have, in the past, held good populations of the big raft or nursery-web spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus).  Whilst I searched the bog Janet and the boys enjoyed picking lots of blaeberries in what is an exceptional year for these woodland berries.  Grandad though wasn’t having any luck and failed to find even a hint of the spider realising a little later that the best time for the nursery-webs is a few weeks later than our visit!  I did 
though find a very obliging large red damselfly which allowed Archie to get a good close up view.  Back at the house I noticed that a small fly was landing regularly on my head and hands and anywhere close to where I was sitting.  After this had been happening for over half an hour I decided it was time to try and catch it, initially using a handy empty glass but after asking Janet to nip through to my rucksack, one of my smaller plastic tubes, a bit handier if the fly was on my hands or arms.  Why did I have such an interest in this wee, annoying fly?  Over the last couple of years the HBRG have been asking members to keep an eye open for it and despite may folk seeing flies buzzing around their houses few are likely to be the ‘true ‘house-fly (Musca domestica).  The HBRG website gives the following information “Ask most people if they have seen a House-fly and they will tell you their kitchens are full of them.  Sadly or otherwise, the true House-fly is very scarce in Britain these days, and very few flies in houses are indeed House-flies.  The NBN Gateway map shows only six Scottish localities since 1990.  Those in Highland were found in 2009 and 2010 in Inverness; and in 2015 from near Edderton, at Strathpeffer, and on Raasay.  Just south of our area, in 2011 a pair was 
Wing venation of House-fly (Musca domestica)

found on Lismore.  One useful clue is that House-flies, unlike other flies in houses, are a particular pest at mealtimes, darting about your person and the food you are trying to eat.  If you meet a fly behaving like that, even in a respectable home or hostelry, bottle it and send it in.”  In other parts of the world the house-fly is quite numerous but as our own homes becoming increasingly clean and sanitised this is not so in Britain.  In countries where the fly is common they can cause problems and are capable of carrying over 100 pathogens, such as those causing typhoid, cholera, salmonellosis, bacillary dysentery, tuberculosis, anthrax, ophthalmia, and parasitic worms.  Some strains have even become immune to the most common insecticides.  However, my attempts to catch the Firwood individual were failing quite badly and though being able to sneak up on it with my tube when it landed on me, I wasn’t having any luck and for a while it seemed to disappear.  A little later whilst sitting doing ‘stuff’ on my laptop, it was back and, just as earlier, it became quite annoying.  Luckily next to my laptop I found one of the small, square plastic ‘food saver’ tubs that I use for collecting 
Top view of House-fly
things like small fungi when out and about and a few minutes later I had it.  Sadly, this meant the fly was heading for a cold ending in the freezer, but if all the problems it could cause above are correct, then perhaps this was the right place for it.  A couple of hours later box and fly were retrieved from the freezer and after letting it thaw for a little while I popped it under the microscope to see if I could match the colouring of the fly with those given on the Diptera.info website below.  The colouring on the top of the fly looked correct as did the veins in the wing so, photos taken then, as requested, I ‘bottled it and sent it in’.  A few days later Murdo informed me that I had won another virtual lollipop and my fly was indeed a House-fly.  Brilliant.

An odd query arrived from Will at the National Park about something he had seen high up in the Cairngorms.  Whilst visiting Loch Avon during survey work he had seen a huge yellow tide-mark around the loch and, being a little worried about the source, he picked some up and took it home in his lunch-box.  He asked if this might have been pollen from the big population of junipers along one side of the loch and I had to admit that I couldn’t be sure.  Would I like to see the contents of his lunch-box which, since his return from the mountains had lived in his freezer.  So I popped in to see what he had found and to take a small bit home to look at under the microscope.  Sure enough once viewed there was some kind of pollen there and checking what juniper pollen looked like via the 
Scots pine pollen grains with 'air bladders'
internet I was able to rule this plant out as the source.  However, in helping RSPB Research man Ron out with his book, I had done a little checking of pollen and what I was seeing looked very similar – Scots pine pollen!  This was a little odd because there are no pines by the loch, the nearest lone trees being about five miles away and true woodland about six miles away.  I checked the weather around the time that Will had found the pollen and could confirm that it had been strong at times and blowing from a north/north east direction, and just at the time that the pollen would have been falling from the pines.  It’s not unusual to see yellow tide-marks on the shore of Loch Garten but this was the first time I’d heard about it being seen on this high altitude loch.  Will had also queried whether pollen deposits like this would be beneficial to the loch and with a little help from Ron we found that this 
Tide-mark on shore of Loch Avon © Will Boyd Wallis
topic is starting to be researched.  The first thing I found out is that the circular shapes making up the pollen grains are air bladders allowing the pollen to travel, wind assisted, over large distances.  Having been high above Glenmore forest several years ago after a calm dry spell I was amazed to see that as the wind strengthened the pollen from the Scots pines was being lifted by what looked like mini-whirlwinds high into the sky.  So it looked very feasible that this is what had happened between the Abernethy Forest pines and Loch Avon.  Research has shown that there is a beneficial effect by these pollen deposits.  Pollen introduces high amounts of bio-available terrestrial organic matter and nutrients into surface waters within a short time and that pollen plays an important ecological role in nutrient cycling of temperate lakes but requires further work to be undertaken in ‘aquatic ecology’ to determine just how beneficial.

Early in the month I was told about a remarkable orchid population near Newtonmore.  These were greater butterfly-orchids (Platanthera chlorantha) and there were estimated to be upwards of 10,000, possibly as many as 20,000 so on a day when I had to pick up Archie and Finlay from school just 5 miles away, I set off early allowing a site visit before driving back to Kincraig for 3pm.  I was not 
Greater butterfly orchid meadow
disappointed and the orchids were indeed present in jaw-dropping numbers.  Thankfully I was not counting these orchids as I had been at the Flowerfield site just a few days earlier.  When encountering lesser and greater butterfly-orchids size is not the main determining factor, many of the lesser butterfly orchids at the count size were big enough in height to fool the unwary.  What you need to check are the two ‘pollinia’ inside the flowers, growing parallel in lesser butterfly and divergent downwards in greater.  Looking across the thousands of orchids though at this site there 
Greater butterfly orchid 'divergent pollinia' inner part of flower
Lesser butterfly orchid 'straight pollinia'
was little doubt that they were of the greater variety and such was the scale that it was difficult to get the camera to do justice to what the eyes were actually seeing.  As I approached the end of the meadow I spotted something a little unusual towards the back of the greater butterfly’s, a very tall pink/purple-coloured orchid which had me guessing as to species.  It looked like a heath-spotted orchid but was far too tall to be that species so time for a photo to send to the experts.  Local plant expert Andy suggested it was a hybrid possibly between heath spotted-orchid and northern marsh-orchid but I would need better photos to send to the orchid expert at Kew.  So, a second visit was made and more photos were taken but whilst there I also photographed other orchids that might be 
Hybrid orchid Dactylorhiza x formosa
the two parents of my plant.  These were processed and sent off to Kew and a few days later an email arrived saying that the photos were great but that I had photographed the wrong parts of the plant!  I had repeated the types of photos taken of the marsh fragrant-orchid a year earlier where petal sizes were critical but for this plant it was the shape and size of the ‘spur’ growing from the back of the flowers.  Doh!  You live and learn but, my expert did actually have enough pictorial information to confirm that Andy was right, this was a hybrid between the two orchids and is known as Dactylorhiza x formosa.  There were also a few old records from the same general area.

The second Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey was completed and with the sun shining for a change, green-veined white (1 contact), common blue (1), meadow brown (2), ringlet (28) and small pear-bordered fritillary (1) were seen.  Large heath butterflies have also been a feature of some of the BSBI survey sites.  Two coralroot orchid sites were visited and plants counted and the choke fungus 
Large heath butterfly - hiding
on grass stems has been found at several sites but all so far being Epichloë baconii on Agrostis grass species.  A bit of path repair in the garden found a New Zealand flatworm (Arthurdendyus triangulates) under one of the paving slabs – not good news for the native worms.  Scottish Natural Heritage Information and Advisory Note Number 7, gives the following information:           “4.3 Prey.  The New Zealand flatworm feeds by wrapping its body around its prey and secreting digestive juices onto it.  The liquefied prey is then ingested through the mouth tube that extends from the middle of the underside.  When not in use, the tube is drawn back into the body of the flatworm.  Studies on captive New Zealand flatworms have shown that they can consume several earthworms in 
New Zealand flat worm (Arthurdendyus triangulates)
a week.  Part of the reason for the large impact of the flatworm on the earthworm population may be that the flatworms can follow their prey through their burrows in the soil.  By contrast, other earthworm predators such as birds are largely limited to the soil surface, and those such as moles which attack worms underground are restricted to large burrows.”  The BSBI survey has also taken me to places where other good records have been made.  Near Carrbridge a population of pill sedge (Carex pilulifera) had the Anthracoidea caricis fungus on its fruits.  Because of confusion in the past with the correct fungus name/sedge relationship I can’t be sure how often this fungus has been recorded – not too many times I think.  On my way to one of the survey sites west of Carrbridge, 
Anthracoidea scirpi on deergrass
several tooth fungi were found with one, Sarcodon glaucopus (green-foot tooth), being found for the first time west of the A9 road.  This outing also found a good population of bog orchids (50+) at a new site and on a botanically boring area of bog a highlight was Anthracoidea scirpi growing on the flower-heads of deergrass (the hybrid Trichophorum x foersteri), just my second site and about the 10th UK site.  In the Kinveachy Forest above Aviemore an enormous wood ant nest checked for any 
Rose chaffer  (Protaetia metallicaand ants
green shield-moss capsules instead produced a large metallic green beetle – Protaetia metallica.  The 
beetle was totally surrounded by wood ants so I wasn’t sure whether the female beetle had deposited eggs in the ant nest or not.  The larvae of the beetle live as guests in the wood ant nests and occasionally when I’ve found nests dug open by deer or badgers, these beetle larva about the size of your little finger have been present.  The same day produced a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) warming itself by the track and happily staying put whilst having its photo taken, the first I’ve seen for quite a while.

I can’t sign off without mentioning the weather.  The day of the butterfly count the temperature reached 250C but the weather-folk were warning of a massive break-down with lightning, thunder and heavy rain.  At 3.30am on the 20th the thunder started with some very impressive sessions of lightning, lighting up the bedroom especially when we had a flash and bang right overhead.  The rain 
was impressively heavy bouncing off the road with mini-rivers along the verges.  I debated about getting up to see if I could photo events but with the rain falling so heavily it would have been difficult to get shots with the window down.  Eventually everything settled down and it was back off to bed.  However, it wasn’t over and at 10am the whole storm was repeated with again a big flash and bang overhead with once again rivers running down the road outside the house.

Quite a month, enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet

Lichen Podetia definition (please ignore the adverts!)
Glandular hairs photo
House fly information
Diptera.info website – House-fly
BTO/Butterfly Conservation - Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG

Common blue butterfly
GreyHeron River Nairn
Bog orchid
Photos © Stewart Taylor.  Loch Avon photo © Will Boyd Wallis

Monday, 18 July 2016

Masham, wedding, orchids and cricket – what a month!

The guidance given by the couple we met the day before was acted on immediately (see last blog) and after a bit of botanical research the 1st day of June’s outing would take us along the River Ure from the bridge at Wensley, hopefully, seeing wood cranesbill plants along the way.  The floods of last winter were very evident at the start with large section of path washed away and debris stuck in lower branches of riverside trees.  A kingfisher was heard by me and seen by Janet.  A wet hollow had tall sedges which had me puzzled but when checked later turned out to be Carex acuta (Slender Tufted-sedge) and debates about cranesbill leaves (wood and meadow leaves are fairly similar with 
Wood cranesbill
Wood cranesbill leaves top and
Meadow cranesbill bottom
the meadow ones being much more deeply divided) were ongoing until we found the wood cranesbill, in flower, right by the path.  Debate over.  Meadow cranesbill plants weren’t yet in flower, and yes the leaves were different but easy to see when the plants were growing side by side and what was meant by ‘deeply divided’ became more obvious.  As I took a few photographs, cocksfoot grass (Dactylis glomerata) crept into my view and, there again, was choke fungus growing on some of the 
Immature choke fungus on cocksfoot grass
stems.  However, when found in the past this fungus was orange but this one white, was it young or something different?  I had recently been sent a paper which had appeared in The Mycologist, Volume 19, in May 2005 (Spooner & Kemp (2005). Epichloë in Britain. P 2-87) which explained that for quite a while this fungus, which had been reported from several different species of grass, had all been identified as Epichloë typhina but this paper explained that there were 7 species in the UK, and that many of these were wrongly identified as this species.  Firstly, my find was in the early stages of development being white and would turn the more familiar orange colour as it matured, the colour of all the ones previously found.  Occurring on cocksfoot, the species would be E. typhina according to the key in the above paper.  I know from memory that all my previous finds of this fungus had been from other grass species but sadly, the grass species at the time wasn’t identified.  I first found this fungus whilst out on a botanical outing with Ian Green and happily named it, in ignorance as E. typhina.  So, more searching will be needed, possibly in the locations where previously found, so the species of grass can be identified and then the correct species of choke fungus.  However, finding the choke fungus and giving it the right name hides an amazing and highly evolved relationship going on in the background.  The first word I learnt related to this fungus was Heterothallic.  “Heterothallic 
Choke fungus on unidentified grass
species have sexes that reside in different individuals.  The term is applied particularly to distinguish heterothallic fungi, which require two compatible partners to produce sexual spores” (Wikipedia).  This relationship involves the host grass and insects.  The infected grass contains toxic substances making it less susceptible to grazing by herbivores and insect attack.  The name "choke" arises from the sterilising or choking of the infected grass where the fungus develops on the stem, stopping the grasses ability to produce seed.  The relationship with insects involves a Botanophila species of fly.  The fly lands on the fungus to feed and to lay eggs which subsequently hatch into larvae which in turn feed on the fungus.  After laying its eggs, the fly visits another grass stem affected by the fungus carrying with it tiny fungus cells called spermatia which it ingested whilst feeding on the first choke affected grass.  These cells are excreted onto the new choke-infected grass whilst the fly is feeding.  Once deposited, the spermatia cross-fertilise with other cells to enable the fungus to reproduce to continue its life cycle.  This cross-fertilisation relies entirely on the fly transporting the spermatia to another site.  Once the cross-fertilisation has taken place the choke fungus can develop spores which, when mature, are ejected enabling the fungus to spread to new sites by infecting seeds on other grasses flowering nearby.  The infected seeds carry the fungus through to the new growing season and when conditions are right the orange fungus will appear on the grass stem to continue the life-cycle.  Amazing.

Having caught up with wood cranesbill we continued on the path by the river passing some amazingly colourful meadows glowing yellow with masses of flowering bulbous buttercups (Ranunculus bulbosus).  The riverbank produced large bittercress (Cardamine amara), the woods 
Bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in meadow
masses of red campion and the hybrid between primrose and cowslip the false oxlip (Primula x polyantha) and something new by one of the walls turned out to be field madder (Sherardia arvensis).  But, the best was yet to come.  Many of these flower-rich meadows have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and are maintained by cutting for hay once the plants have set seeds.  At one farm we asked the farmer if it would be okay to carefully visit one of these 
Burnt orchid (Neotinea ustulata)
Green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio)
meadows in the hope of seeing a couple of the rarer UK orchids and as we walked through the buttercups and yellow rattle flowers Janet was first to spot our main target burnt orchid (also known as burnt-tip - Neotinea ustulata) a small, creamy white orchid with a distinct dark purple top to the flower spike, hence its name.  In all, eight flowers were seen along with several more of the green-winged orchids (Anacamptis morio) an amazing sight with masses of burnet-saxifrage flowers all around which is oddly named as it is neither a burnet (rose family) nor a saxifrage!  Chuffed to bits we carefully made our way back to the path and back to the riverside path where a kingfisher was heard but not seen. 

When we lived on the Isle of Rum NNR (1973-76) the then Chief Warden left the island to work for the same organisation (then Nature Conservancy Council now Natural England) in the north-east of England, taking on responsibility for a project involving the protection and conservation of the lady’s slipper orchid in the early 1980s.  At that time, and still to this day, there was only one known natural population of this plant, a single clone, in the whole of the UK and due to increasing pressure of folk 
Kilnsey Crag
Climber on Kilnsey Crag
wanting to see it, it was given 24 hour protection during the growing season for a number of years from 1971.  Despite that, part of the plant was dug up in 1975 emphasising the need to try and increase the number of plants at what still remains ‘the’ secret site, and if that was successful, introduce their offspring to receptor sites in the north of England.  Easier said than done.  Initially, the plants were fertilised by hand in addition to what might have taken place naturally by insects, but, being an orchid, results were very slow to manifest themselves.  For long-lived orchids it could take 
Bird's-eye primrose (Primula farinosa)
growing with lady's slipper orchids
Lady's-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) at
Kilnsey Park
many years to know if this would be successful.  In 1983 Kew Gardens became involved in trying to propagate the orchid under laboratory conditions and it was at this time that Peter Corkhill, ex of Rum, took on responsibility for the conservation of this orchid in the field whilst working with the staff from Kew.  After many trials, seedlings were successfully grown but when transplanted into the wild, despite the plants initially surviving, none survived long-term.  Those initial seedlings seemed to have been planted out too early (2-3 years after germinating) and eventually it was found that they needed to be grown on for 5-7 years before being let loose in the wild.  Initially seedlings were introduced to 12 sites across the plant’s former range and by 2003, 9 of these sites had been successfully established.  By 2010, 16 sites had been established with plants at four of the sites producing seed pods.  Having decided that, without a lot of luck, we were unlikely to ‘come across’ the original site we decided to visit one of the successful introduction sites at Kilnsey Park, close to Kilnsey Crag where the plant used to grow.  We weren’t disappointed and had to wonder what it 
Common twayblades (Neottia ovata)
14-spot ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata)
would have been like over a century ago to have seen this plant, in quantity, at one of its many sites before it was collected, almost, to extinction.  On our way home we called in to an orchid meadow we visited last year the Leyburn Old Glebe Nature Reserve where once again we were amazed by the sheer number of orchids, mainly green-winged but with a big population of twayblades and just a single spike of burnt orchid.  A bonus was a 14-spot ladybird (Propylea 14-punctata) wandering amongst the flowers.  At the top of the slope of the meadow we could see out across the river and 
View from the Leyburn Old Glebe Nature Reserve!
hills whilst down below a field full of heavily fertilised grass was being given one of probably several doses of chemicals!  Despite that, it was good to read that in 2006 the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority in conjunction with many other bodies developed the Hay Time Project aimed at restoring 200 hectares of upland and lowland meadows in and close to the National Park and bringing together farmers and the public to highlight what is amazing about these meadows and the plants and insects they support by organising the annual Flowers of the Dales Festival.  Perhaps a National Park closer to home could take a leaf out of their book and ditch development for conservation?

It was Saturday, a market day in Masham and something we just had see.  Along with stalls selling s/h books, tools and postcards there were others selling local produce giving us lots of choices for our evening meal.  On the way back to the house we wandered via the bowling green, tennis courts and cricket pitch, the latter very busy with youngsters and teenagers practicing cricket.  Quite an enjoyable half hour was spent, cups of tea in hand, watching all this activity whilst in the ‘middle’ a couple of folk were preparing the pitch for a league cricket match due to start early in the afternoon.  However, this was the day we had planned a visit to a bit of moorland above a place called 
"I don't believe it!"
Colsterdale where there were some interesting looking rock outcrops and broadleaved woodland and with lunch packed, off we went.  As we wandered up Birk Gill the sun disappeared and we realised that we were back in typical blaeberry/heather moorland, just like home, all being managed for red grouse production.  A bee with a reddish ‘bum’ turned out to be the blaeberry/mountain bumblebee (Bombus monticola), one to check later re its UK distribution.  Amazingly, this location was the only site locally where it had previously been seen!  As the heather moor turned to boggy heath we started to disappear into the cloud and mist and then realised we had followed the wrong track.  This wasn’t surprising as the one we should have followed had disappeared under the heather obviously not regularly used.  We were back at the house by later afternoon so just time to nip to the White Bear pub for drinks before being tempted back to the cricket pitch to see the cricketer teams in action.  Overhead a pair of parent 
One of several avocets at Nosterfield Reserve
Wall butterfly (Lasiommata megerasix)
curlews were chasing around after a buzzard, whilst on the pitch a ball which had been knocked for a six was lost in deep grass behind the score-board building!  We thought we could get used to this sort of summer living – but never did find out if the Masham team won.  Avocets, several, were again spotted at the Nosterfield Nature Reserve along with a wall butterfly.  However it was the next day that proved quite an interesting day out, a visit to Malham Cove, the biggest test being full sun, 250C heat, and little shelter as we did the circular walk around the famous cove.  We didn’t need to worry about taking the wrong path today as there were probably hundreds of people doing various bits of 
Malham Cove
House martin nests at the Cove
the same walk.  At the Cove the RSPB were manning the peregrine-watch stand and as we got to the base of the Cove one of the birds was seen flying overhead.  By the path we were pleased to see clumps of Jacob's-ladder flowers (Polemonium caeruleum) whilst screaming overhead were swifts and house martins, both of which nested on the rocky overhang of the limestone cove.  The path we wanted took us up and over the top of the Cove and on to an area of limestone pavement: an amazing geological feature that I know very little about.  However, I was aware that some unusual plants grow there and I just hoped the many sheep wandering about hadn’t eaten them all!  The big blocks of 
Jacob's-ladder flowers
limestone popping up from the surrounding grasslands are known as ‘clints’ and, due to the effect of erosion, big gaps running deep into the clints are known as ‘grykes’ and it was in these grykes that many plants live, out of reach of grazing animals.  More salad burnet was all around and amongst the limestone as we climbed the slope were hart’s tongue fern, wall rue (fern), herb robert and quaking grass.  The two ferns were in many of the grykes that I visited but the one I was seeking, green spleenwort (Asplenium viride) managed to evade me.  However, in reading about this rocky habitat I noted that there was another fern worth keeping an eye open for – the appropriately named limestone fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum) and, as some of the limestone blocks protruded upwards enough 
Limestone fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum)
Glands found on limestone fern
to create small ‘cliffs’ I saw Janet wandering off into the distance as I spent a little time checking a couple of these outcrops, particularly the ones that were north-facing hence avoiding the full sun.  Was the fern I was looking at the oak fern or the limestone fern?  Both look very similar and, thankfully, there was enough of the fern to allow me to take just one frond to check once home.  If I had been familiar with the fern my hand-lens would have told me that I had indeed found the limestone fern, the backs of the fronds and the stems of the fern are covered in ‘glandular hairs’, the tips of these hairs have tiny blobs of a liquid secreted by the plant, something the oak fern doesn’t have.  You live and learn.  As we descended from the Cove towards the road at Janet’s Foss I noticed a couple of ice-lolly sticks by the path and said to Janet “that’s a bit unusual all the way out here”.  As we reached the road, still a mile or so out of Malham village the lolly stick mystery was solved: there was a mobile catering van – selling ice creams, a perfect spot to stop, get a bit of shelter from the sun, and enjoy a couple of 99’s before following the Gordale Beck back to the village.

The last day of our holiday saw us being tempted back into ‘orchid territory’ doing a circular walk from a small village near to Leyburn, down to the River Ure and back again.  Near the river strange mounds in the fields were possible yellow meadow ant nests but despite stopping to check several, no ants were seen.  Sadly, without seeing any ants it’s not possible to say whether they were Lasius 
Ant nest mounds?
flavus, so can’t forward as a record.  A calling green woodpecker nearby, known to feed on these ants, was probably happier to dig into the mounds than me to see if ants were present.  At this stage we were quite close to the river and once again I shouted to Janet that there was a kingfisher calling nearby and as I searched for it through my binoculars she saw it fly behind use, following a dried up section of old riverbed!  Janet therefore won the ’spot the kingfisher’ contest 2-0!  On this outing two 
Cramp balls or King Alfred's cakes fungus
more burnt orchids were found and as we headed back along a path towards the car several black, bun-shaped fungi on a dead section of ash turned out to be cramp balls or King Alfred’s cakes (Daldinia concentrica) something I’d not knowingly seen before.  The next day it was back on the road heading north arriving home just 9 days before daughter Ruth’s wedding – help!

Those nine days went by in a blur, the first of those days saw Janet cracking on with food preparations for the Friday night family gathering and for the ‘afternoon tea’ following the marriage ceremony and me visiting the local builders merchant for wood for the plinth on which the bride, groom and vicar would stand for the actual marriage.  In between times I caught up with the last of my evening wader counts and the second and last of the BTO breeding bird surveys.  The wood 
A typical timber harvester
arrived on the Monday for the plinth and construction started, whilst in the evening I set off for the last of the evening woodcock surveys near Carrbridge.  I was in for a surprise!  As I left the car and headed down to the River Dulnain I could hear, in the distance, the sound of some sort of vehicle and the further I walked I realised there was a timber harvester working – right in the bit of plantation where I normally stand to do the survey.  My survey started at 10pm, and here I was, with twenty minutes to go, faced with a huge machine felling and processing trees.  To undertake the survey is a three hour commitment, and, with little chance to re-visit in the next couple of weeks, I decided to get as near to my normal survey location (about 70 metres away) and do the count from there.  The beauty of this decision was that I was out of the dense plantation, was in more open, birch woodland, and I could see a lot more of the surrounding woodland, though not quite as important as most contacts are made via the birds calling as they are roding overhead.  As I settled down the midges arrived in their hundreds but thankfully I had some spray with me, stopping the bites but not the annoyance.  Almost immediately the first bird flew by overhead.  At 10.15pm the timber harvester 
Laura preparing wedding flower displays
stopped but too late for me to move.  In all, twelve roding contacts were made by the end time of 11.15pm, a great result compared to the two earlier visits and with the good news that the BTO would be happy to accept the count and that all future counts could be done from the same spot.  Walking back to the car was pretty amazing with a red glow in the north, enough light to see all around despite the midnight hour approaching.  The next day wasn’t too good with heavy rain and a forecast for the run-up to wedding day looked equally wet.  The plinth was made and installed and help was given with installing the large marquees with everyone getting quite damp in the process.  Looking ahead the BBC Weather website showed that the rain should ease and that the wedding day could be cloudy 
Bride and bridesmaid preparations
but dry from midday on.  Fingers-crossed.  Family started to arrive on the Thursday and the gathering of 30 folk on Friday went well thanks to Janet’s amazing preparation and planning.  Delivering food for the afternoon tea mid-morning on wedding day found the garden venue resplendent thanks to Louise and Hugh’s efforts and driving back home to get ready I was sure I spotted a break in the dark clouds.  As bride and bridesmaid prepared themselves in our front room I popped upstairs to go through my ‘father of the bride’ speech one last time and, with the weather website showing 
Congratulations Ruth and Lewis
improving weather by 2pm we planned our drive over, chauffeured by brother Peter, a little later than we should have (brides prerogative!) arriving on site just as the skies cleared and the sun came out, a weather window that stayed with us for the rest of the day.  Perfect, and not too sure who was watching over us that day.  The Sunday evening dance went well and wee Harry, who was staying with us played his part by sleeping on until 8.30am both mornings.  By Tuesday we said cheerio to 
All too much for grandad and Harry!
the last of the departing family and by lunch-time the plinth in the wedding garden was dismantled, the last bit of evidence that something major had taken place in the garden just a few days earlier.  In the afternoon I popped into the local ironmongers to buy some canes, and by late afternoon, with red and white tape tied on, the first were installed as the next major event of the summer was upon us.

The next three days were spent walking fairly accurate ‘lines’ back and forth across the famous Flowerfield orchid meadow, counting the number of lesser butterfly orchids (LBOs).  Whilst on holiday a message had arrived that this year looked like a bumper one for the orchids – something of 
Lesser butterfly orchids
Small white orchid (centre) with fragrant and
heath spotted orchids
an understatement.  As I walked, hand-tally counter clicking away, the numbers started to build and by the Friday the last click showed that there were 5600 LBOs flowering this year, a thousand more than the last highest count!  Amazing.  As far as we can determine, this is the highest count to date for this orchid in the UK, putting the site into the highest category of importance despite the meadow having no official designation or protection.  I returned to the meadow for one last count the next day – the small white orchids.  Most of these flower spikes occupy quite a small area within the bigger meadow, making the count a little more difficult when walking the lines, trying not to squash any flowers whilst clicking away to make as accurate a count as possible.  2600 orchids were counted, 
probably as high a count of small whites anywhere in the UK adding hugely to the overall importance of the site.  As was happening last year, the orchid is spreading out from its original area with about a dozen plants seen in new areas this year.  David, who lives opposite the meadow can remember when there were less than a dozen plants all told, making the current count and the build up over the last few years all the more remarkable.  A hybrid orchid, which was first seen a couple of years ago, was 
The hybrid x Pseudorhiza bruniana orchid
flowering again (2 flower spikes) so photos were taken showing flower sizes and plant height and sent off to expert Richard at Kew to try and get a definitive name, and confirmation of the two parents and his reply contained a pleasant surprise.  “You have found two plants of the hybrid between Pseudorchis albida [small white] and Dactylorhiza maculate [heath spotted].  To the best of my knowledge, this intergeneric hybrid has only previously been found twice in the British Isles: in Skye and Orkney, and has been named x Pseudorhiza bruniana”.  Another great record for Jane and Jeremy, the owners of the meadow, who have been brilliant custodians since the importance of the site was mentioned to them many years ago. 

So, a brilliant month, with lots of excitement and good finds and with two families still in recovery mode!

Enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet

Comparison Wood and Meadow cranesbills, at bottom of photos click on “Leaves not as deeply cut as those of Meadow cranesbill” to see that species.
Isle of Rum NNR
Leyburn Old Glebe Nature Reserve
Limestone pavement (click on name at bottom of web-page)
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG

Orchid beetle (Dascillus cervinus) on
small white orchid
Northern brown argus butterfly seen during orchid count
A perfect end to Ruth and Lewis's wedding day - thank you

Photos © Stewart Taylor