Saturday, 22 October 2016

Goodbye swallows hello redwings

Summer arrived late this year.  Compared to April, May and June when the winds were generally from a northerly direction, July, August and September benefitted from winds regularly from the south-south-west and much warmer weather.  September was particularly good with the temperature 
One of the first spiders webs covered in dew
for the first 15 days averaging 19.50C, the highlight being 250C on 15th!  Despite our good weather, the first pinkfeet were passing overhead on the 15th and a late curlew was heard flying east the same morning.  Even though this day was very warm, a cool night ensured we had a typically, misty September morning so I combined a tooth fungi check near Loch Mallachie with a camera outing to 
Loch Mallachie
photograph the water droplet covered spiders webs and I wasn’t disappointed.  A misty Loch Mallachie didn’t disappoint either.  Progress was slow and, as I walked the sun started to burn through the mist and spiders webs became even more photogenic.  However, this was a morning to check the last of the rarer tooth fungi sites and there was huge disappointment when the main site in 
Hydnellum cumulatum on track
and the nearby spiders web
Abernethy Forest for Hydnellum cumulatum (new to the UK in 2001) produced no records.  Nearby Phellodon niger and Hydnellum aurantiacum where found in almost the exact same locations as in 2011 and all was not lost re H. cumulatum as I knew of another site close by that might still support the fungus despite quite a lot of trackside vegetation encroachment.  Despite not having checked this location since 2012, the fungus was still present at two of the three locations and, looking up, there was an amazing glowing spiders web, back-lit by the strengthening sun.  I have no doubt that this will be the only UK record for this fungus this year. 

Local moth expert Mike had also suggested that with the very warm southerly winds mid-month we should remain alert to the possible arrival of migrant moths and butterflies.  Certainly, red admirals were being encountered but the real surprise came when I saw Aileen in the village who told me that she had seen the biggest ever moth on her windowsill the night before.  My “do you have a photo?” query saw one arrive by email that evening and despite going through my moth book a couple of 
Convolvulus hawk-moth - copyright Aileen MacEwan
times I wasn’t sure what it was.  Initially I thought it looked like a dark arches (Apamea monoglypha) which is quite a big moth, but the moth in the photo lacked the distinctive ‘W’ markings on the outer edge of the wings of that species.  The photo also lacked any other feature by which to determine how big was “the biggest ever” moth.  Another run through the moths field guide didn’t help so as a last resort I went on to the brilliant UK Moths website and clicked on the systematic list under the Species tab and worked my way down to the start of the bigger moths (beyond the micros) and when I arrived at the Family Lasiocampidae, I was able to click on links to photos.  Could it be a hawk-
Painted lady
Red admiral
moth?  Checking the moth book hadn’t led me to this group despite it being the first I checked but, clicking onto convolvulus hawk-moth (Agrius convolvuli) I saw a likeness of the characteristic features, mainly because there was a similar photo of the moth with wings closed, and this was confirmed a little later by expert Mike.  Phew!  Garden arrivals were painted lady and red admiral butterflies.

In August I met up with three SNH staff regarding a planned visit towards the end of September to a couple of sites in RSPB Abernethy Forest.  The visit was aimed at showing a larger staff group the effects of disturbance in the landscape both natural and man-made and my link was to the latter and the reason why most tooth fungi are found associated with tracks and small quarries linked to them.  The effects of natural disturbance would be covered by visiting a section of the River Nethy where heavy winter rains had caused major changes to the course of the river.  The August visit was aimed at visiting the possible sites so that an agenda for the later outing could be prepared.  At the first site lots of tooth fungi were seen along with deadwood creation and the group were well impressed by what they saw overlooking the River Nethy.  Heading back to our cars from the latter site 
Exobasidium splendidum?
Exobasidium splendidum?
lichen/fungus man Dave spotted a group of cowberry plants (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) which had been turned completely red by a fungus attack and he queried whether this was linked to the common fungus on cowberry - Exobasidium vaccinia or cowberry redleaf.  I said I wasn’t sure but the reddened plants were something I regularly encountered in the forest though E. vaccinia was a fungus I knew created concave leaves on the living plant and with the lower surface white-felted with the reproductive part of the fungus, much different to what we were seeing.  Dave took a few photos to check.  An email the next day informed me that the reddened cowberry plants could be linked to another fungus going by the name of Exobasidium splendidum, a brilliant name for this bright red fungus.  However, there were few records for it and there were problems identifying it but if I had time, could I return to the site and collect a specimen to send off to the experts at Kew.  This I did but 
Cowberry red leaf left & others
and more of the same or, perhaps, different?
in making my way back to my car I wandered away from the track, seeing if I could locate more red infected plants as I walked.  The cowberry redleaf fungus was everywhere and I had no problem finding it as I walked.  At the site where I collected the totally red infected plants I realised that they were around the base of the Scots pine, almost tightly so, and as I walked I checked the bases of more pines.  In the few hundred metres between my first find and my car I found another seven infected plants, the red plants growing at the bases of the pines and growing quite happily with non-infected plants.  A few more specimens were collected to send off.  Back home I tried to find fungal spores but was unsuccessful, but reading the literature and checking the various websites I found there were just four records for E. splendidum in the UK and that it wasn’t formally assessed re rarity, but potentially Critically Endangered.  Did I have the right species?  In a few hundred metres I had almost doubled the total of known UK locations for the fungus so I awaited the results from Kew with interest.  Brian at Kew did some amazing work with the specimens and with very limited other 
Blaeberry bumblebee (Bombus monticola) found the same day
material to compare with suggested that we were possibly dealing with Exobasidium spendidum but it could also be E. juelianum or a species that has yet to be fully described.  Complex sequencing will be the only way to get to the bottom of this group of species and with more material at home drying, there could be more work to be done to arrive at the true species.  I think this just confirms the complexity of some of these closely related species, and this is for just one plant species.  There’s a lot more out there that is in need of more work so hopefully, one day……..

A phone call from Gus in the village alerted me to the possibility that one of our most deadly fungi could be growing in Grantown.  The local Strathy newspaper editor had been in contact about the destroying angel fungus (Amanita virosa) and because he knew little about it had contacted me to see if I could help.  I had only ever seen this fungus once before in 2012 but was familiar with what it looked like and its key features and hoped that the general location details supplied by the editor might let me see it again, so, off I went to Grantown.  I walked the track where the fungus was supposed to have been seen and did manage to find a similar looking white fungus but growing from deadwood and in another place something that might have been the false death-cap, a member of the same family but not quite so deadly.  But no destroying angels.  I began to think that there had been a misidentification by someone unfamiliar with the fungus but when the editor supplied a poor photo of what had been found along with the name of the finder, I knew we were dealing with the real thing.  
The Grantown destroying angel
The editor was working to a tight deadline so I supplied what information I had about the fungus along with a photo of my 2012 find and thought that was that.  An informative write-up appeared in the newspaper warning readers to be careful if collecting mushrooms to eat, along with the poor photo (the fungus was on its side and a bit out of focus) to accompany the article.  Returning to Grantown for a bag of bird food a couple of days after the paper was published I was tempted back to the path through the woods to see if I might have more luck finding the fungus via a slightly wider search.  People walking their dogs must have wondered what I was up to as I wandered back and forth, but there, perhaps two or three times the distance into the wood than reported, was a white fungus with a slightly bent stem (stipe) and also displaying the ‘ring’ on the stem, characteristic of this fungus.  The ring is the remains of a covering that enclosed the gills when the fungus was young (look at the button type mushrooms in the supermarket) and as the cap expands the cover tears 
The Boat of Garten version
resulting in the floppy ring around the stem.  Close by was another specimen and on the bank below were the decaying remains of another four, one of which might have provided the original photo.  The information that was correct said ‘growing under a beech tree’.  Heavy rain between my visits might have been responsible for the two fresh specimens emerging.  Would there be anything to see at the site found in 2012?  Next day I was on site but couldn’t find anything in the gap amongst the birches and aspens where first found.  However, nearby, and protected a little by the branches of a fallen tree were two fruiting bodies but both well past their best and starting to disintegrate.  A few metres away 
Amanita virosa spores x1000 oil

though another specimen was found and this was in good order and with all key features still visible.  A small section of one of the decaying fungi was carefully popped into a tube so the spores could be checked once home.  Lots of washing of hands followed as gills were removed, sectioned and squashed to provide a view of the spores under the microscope.  New photos were forwarded to the Strathy editor allowing a second article to be written showing the deadly fungus in situ emphasising just how similar it looks to similar sized edible species.

4th September 2016 and I did it.  A late afternoon walk to stretch my legs saw me wander off track and into ‘stump land’, an area which initially I had written off as unsuitable to check for the stump lichen.  The further into the thicket of natural regeneration of birch and Scots pine I walked the more open it became and the stumps from the felling of lodgepole pines in 2000/2001 appeared.  Location number 49 was found quite quickly but it took quite a bit more wandering to find another occupied 
stump. After 138 stumps checked (this outing) my 50th location for Cladonia botrytes was found.  Once again I had to phone Janet to say sorry, I was going to be late for my evening meal as measurements and photos had to be taken.  The number of locations for this lichen in Abernethy Forest has now passed the total known within the UK spanning the period 1955 to 2015 (x30) but because the stumps supporting the lichen are usually in an advanced state of decay, few of these survive today.  I have no doubt that there are more to be found in Abernethy but 50 will be enough for now!  More work though was to follow.  The editor of The British Lichen Society’s members Bulletin had issued an urgent request for articles for the next edition and the experts that had helped me 
The 50th population of the stump lichen
identify my first finds had also suggested a write up would be very helpful.  So, it was time to put pen to paper, sort all my records into order along with stump details (sizes/heights) and to match up my photos to my finds.  Drafts were circulated and comments acted upon and with the final draft signed off by Sandy Coppins (thank you), text and photos were sent to Paul to incorporate into the next Bulletin.  Not sure that the 20-odd photos will all be used but hopefully enough will be used to reflect the range of stumps occupied by the lichen.

After an early start on the 18th to set up Janet’s craft stall in Aviemore I headed up to the carpark on Cairngorm to try once again to find plants of bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) which had been turned bright red by the fungus Exobasidium expansum.  The route I was following was a wee burn 
Bog bilberry & Exobasidium pachysporum fungus
running below and adjacent to the funicular railway whose occupants must have wondered who the strange chap was wandering about below them, especially if I was there on their trip up the mountain AND down!  Because the plants in this area are close to areas visited by the public many grow quite well when compared to the deer nibbled plants a little further out on the hill.  Many plants were covered with the fungus I’d found on previous visits, Exobasidium pachysporum, a species classed as rare in the UK but probably under-recorded.  As I wandered higher up the burn the plants started to 
Peacock butterfly
peter out so the single recent record for the fungus in the UK remains.  I made my way to areas bulldozed flat all those years ago when Cairngorm started to develop as a ski area and the first 
Interrupted (top) & alpine clubmoss (bottom)
surprise was finding a peacock butterfly sitting on the ground enjoying the sun (the temperature was 150C!) but when it realised I was close by taking its photo it rose into the air and kept on rising just like a bird of prey.  Perhaps it was a recent migrant arrival?  Plants of the clubmoss family were the other highlight with stag’s-horn, interrupted and alpine species found growing fairly close together.  Time to descend and help Janet to pack up after a none too productive day.

Late in the month the last visit to the Osmia inermis trial nest site near Blair Atholl was made on yet another warm, sunny day, weather that wasn’t too kind on this bee and other insects earlier in the summer.  The orange, ceramic saucers, installed to see if the bee would find them suitable as nesting 
Nest site saucer in place
A disappointing end
sites were searched for, inspected and removed as this was the end of the two year project.  At the first site, a bit of limestone outcrop, saucer after saucer was checked but without any having been used.  Quite a disappointment and with the fifty saucers collected we made our way back to the car.  The second site which is again slightly lime-rich, comprises an area of bird’s-foot trefoil rich heathland and the last site in the UK where the wee bee was known to be breeding (old nest found 2008).  Sadly, nothing was found at this site either and with all the potential nesting saucers now removed it is debatable whether another artificial nest creation project will be considered.  Ideally, site visits during hot, sunny weather in June to early July would be best to watch for the bee visiting flowers, but with a trip each way of around 80 miles and the guarantee of sunny weather when there make this type of visit fairly impractical.

As the autumn colours were becoming evident across the countryside the last of the BSBI recording tetrads was visited early in the month.  This outing took me back to Glen Markie, west of Laggan, with the aim of trying to visit a deep gorge along the River Markie (seen on an earlier recording visit) to see if there might be a few lichens of interest along with plants.  A couple of surprises were found by the track.  In the track-side grass I could see a tiny yellow, spindle-shaped fungus, an indicator of a fairly rich grassland habitat, and a guess that these were known as the ‘handsome club’ (Clavulinopsis laeticolor) was confirmed once back home.  The second fungus was a much bigger 
The 'handsome club' fungus
surprise - two fruiting bodies of the tooth fungus, Sarcodon squamosus, which was new to that area.  The boggy area between track and river produced records of the usual plant species and as I reached the river I could see that I would have fun trying to get into the gorge despite the fact that I was about half a mile down river from it!  In places there was accessible boulder strewn riverbank but most of the side of the river was sheer rock outcrops, not very high but not very easy to get on to check.  Plants from the higher, mountain sections of the river were evident, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna
River Markie
Mountain sorrel
and tea-leaved willow (Salix phylicifolia) along with several aspens growing from rocky areas where they had escaped browsing deer.  Close to the main section of the gorge I found an accessible section with a good mix of tree species, including hazel and aspen and some nice, damp sections of rock, which looked right for one of the lichens I was hoping for: Peltigera britannica.  Sure enough, several small populations were found along with its rarer relative Peltigera leucophlebia, which is often found along river-sides.  Rocks on the other side of the river looked very interesting and would be much more accessible but it just wasn’t possible to get across.  One for the future.  As I made my way back down the track to my car, parked by Spey Dam, lots of mistle thrushes were in the trees and adjacent fields, but it would be much later in the month before the first redwings would appear.  
Peltigera britannica top & leucophlebia bottom
Recording visits completed all that was left to do was get all my records into Mapmate, ready for forwarding to Andy to add to the 2016 report for the Park and to forward to the BSBI database.  My recording outings this year had produced 5700 plant records (I’ve yet to work out how many species) adding to a current ongoing total from all recorders of 23,400.  Over the three years of the project, but with a few more records still due for this year, an impressive total of just over 75,000 plants were recorded by the 10-15 recorders, comprising just over 1000 plant species, quite an amazing result.  It has been a great project to have been involved in which shows the real benefits of targeted area recording, but the biggest ‘thank-you’ has to go to Andy Amphlett who organised the project, kept everyone informed of progress, and highlighted some of the rarer species to keep an eye open for whilst out in the field.

And lastly, thanks has to go to Janet’s sewing machine for a great outing right at the end of the month.  Due its annual service we dropped the machine off in Fochabers before making our way to Spey Bay just a few miles up the road.  Cool and a bit breezy we made our way out over the pebble ‘beach’ to the shore to be met by many gannets fishing just off-shore.  Perhaps a combination of a high tide and a fresh run of water down the River Spey after recent rains had brought the fish close to the shore, but as we watched gannet after gannet plunged into the sea in front of us attracted by a plentiful food supply.  So, out came the camera and, after several attempt the technique was established to capture some of them during their spectacular dive process.  We hope you agree.

One of many sets of photos!
Hm! Don't know what all the fuss is about!

Enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet

UK Moths
and, for convolvulus hawk-moth
Destroying angel Firwood blog
Fungus rings via photos
British Lichen Society – and The Lichenologist
Osmia inermis
July 2015 blog first Osmia inermis visit
Mapmate recording database
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

Chanterelles near 'the gorge'
Grandson Archie's photo of dung beetle rolling rabbit dropping
A daytime moon

Photos © Stewart Taylor

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Did you spot my wellies in a month that literally ticked by?

Firstly, congratulations to daughter Laura for achieving something I’ve never managed.  Back on the 11th August Laura came over to help Janet with her craft stall at the local Abernethy Highland Games held annually in the village.  Having finished work and then driven over from Aberdeen she was keen for a walk so we set off up the road and onto the Speyside Way with me going a little mad in showing her all sorts of things as we walked.  Black clouds overhead weren’t kind, and dropped light drizzle, then steady drizzle for which we were both prepared, me with my waterproof jacket slung over my shoulders and Laura with her umbrella.  As we walked, we took photos of tooth fungi along the track 
Hydnellum peckii (Devil's tooth)
side, making our progress quite slow.  I was fine when we had to negotiate the puddles on the track wandering as usual in my Muckboot wellies but Laura had to be more cautious only being shod in trainers.  Our aim was to reach one of the small trackside quarries where I knew there would be species of tooth fungi we hadn’t seen but as we got there the rain got a little heavier so I had to resort to putting up my umbrella as Laura tried to take photos whilst sheltering under hers.  Then her phone rang “Where are you? Dinner is ready” Janet informed us so we turned to head for home walking a little quicker than on our way out.  At one of the bigger puddles I had got a little ahead of Laura when I heard her shouting for me to stop, mid-way through the puddle.  She wanted a photo so I turned to face her.  “No, just carry on walking” so I slowly carried on through the water.  As I waited to see how the photos had come out I was about to be treated to a course in modern technology.  Laura sends in quite a few photos to the BBC Weather Watchers website and as we walked the photo of me, mid-puddle, was loaded up on her phone and sent off to the BBC.  We were running so late in getting 
Distracted by the Olympics, well done Max and Laura Trott
back to Firwood that we missed both the national weather at 6.30 and even the Scottish weather at 6.55pm so didn’t see if the photo had been used, but no one phoned to say they had seen it so we assumed it had arrived too late for the broadcasts.  Family viewers would also have been unaware that the back view of someone walking through a puddle was me, and, with a user name and not her own name attached to all her photos sent in, that wouldn’t have been too obvious either.  So, that was 
Laura's photos
that – we thought.  Friday, we were all out with Ruth and the boys and Saturday saw Laura and Janet running the craft stall at ‘the games’.  Mid-day Sunday we thanked Laura for all her help and waved cheerio as she headed home.  During the afternoon I counted flowering field gentians in the field at the end of our road finding just 186 compared to just over a thousand in 2015.  In the early evening we were watching the Rio Olympic Games when the phone rang, “Did you see my photo?” Laura asked, “which photo?”  “You, in the puddle, it’s just been on the BBC Countryfile 5-day weather forecast!”  The weather for the week ahead was to be overcast and showery so the Met Office/Weather Watcher picture selectors must have thought me in a puddle, under an umbrella, summed up the outlook, so well done Laura for spotting the photo opportunity.  The strange thing about the photo though is me holding an umbrella whilst both my arms are by my side!  The clue is given earlier in the blog.

Back in April and May 2014 I wrote in two blogs about the appalling number of deaths, by poisoning, of buzzards and red kites on the Black Isle, north of Inverness.  The April blog was titled ‘Conon Bridge, Highland Region, Scotland, the bird of prey killing capital of Britain”.  During August 2016 more information emerged to show that this remains the case, in Highland Region, with an accumulation of information, via satellite tagged birds, that, over a 5 year period, eight young tagged golden eagles have disappeared, three of them in this year alone.  The most recent was a tagged hen harrier which had fledged just a few weeks earlier in Banffshire.  These birds have all ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths, a vast area comprising mainly grouse moors.  A few estates in this area are doing brilliant work to help birds of prey and nature in general, but away from these, the slaughter goes on.  When I arrived at Loch Garten as the first permanent warden in 1976 I became aware of how intense killing birds of prey was in the general area and, following up reports, I visited several pheasant rearing pens with gin traps on every strainer post, some with dead birds in them, a tawny owl and a buzzard if I remember correctly.  In 1977 I was approached by a visitor to the Osprey Centre who said he had seen a large dead bird of prey on a moor, in the Monadhliaths and 
One of many dead buzzards
when I went to check I found a dead, adult, golden eagle.  You will rarely find gin traps on posts around pheasant pens today but you will find lots of fen traps, set legally, inside mesh cages, aimed mainly at catching the smaller mammal predators like stoats and weasels.  You will see a Firwood blog (September 2014) with one of these traps, set legally, with a dead dipper in the fen trap!  In January 2008 I found a dead buzzard next to a fence post where it had died after eating a poisoned bait.  This way of killing birds of prey is very indiscriminate and other birds and mammals have been killed along with the occasional pet dog.  However, for the bird to eat the bait and then fly away to die opens the possibility of the bird being found and the finger pointed at the estate though very few prosecutions follow because there is no proof of where the bird had dined.  What is happening in the Monadhliaths though is showing a change in the way the birds are killed.  Aware that blasting at a bird that might fly away to die or do something similar after eating poisoned baits is being overtaken by a more subtle way of killing, particularly with quite a number of birds now carrying satellite tags.  Probably a bit like a what you see on BBCs Winter Watch, a bait will be left out on the hill to attract the bird of prey, but, close by will be the perpetrator, gun at the ready, to ensure a clean kill so the bird can be removed, tag and all, and no evidence is left.  The folk monitoring the tagged bird know where it is, the satellite stops working, the location is searched, but no evidence is found.  Sadly, a Monadhliath ‘Bermuda Triangle’ is in place. 

Enough about these deeply disturbing events, what has been happening in the recording world locally?  Plant recording work has continued with outings taking me into places that wouldn’t normally attract attention producing lots of plant records but also interesting finds.  The first day of the month saw me in woods on the outskirts of Aviemore recording either side of the A9.  The strange orange fungus growing on grass stems has appeared in the blog several times previously, and once 
Choke fungus on Velvet bent grass
again more was found, again all associated with Agrostis grass species (A. capillaris – common bent).  The first finds were at the end of July on Tulloch Moor on Agrostis canina (velvet bent) and since then, including the find above the fungus has been found six times on velvet bent and three times on common bent.  On both grasses the fungus is EpichloĆ« baconii and despite lots of searching I’ve not found it on any other grass species locally.  Whilst on holiday in Yorkshire earlier this year the grass was cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata) and the fungus there was EpichloĆ« typhina.  Up until 2005 this was the name given to the fungus irrespective of which grass it was found on and was the 
Choke re-found near Grantown after 5 years
name I’d used for my earlier finds.  Interestingly, I’ve re-visited locations of three of my finds from earlier years and at all the sites the fungus was still present allowing the earlier records to be modified to record the right species.  The biggest gap between records was the one near Grantown where my first record was in 2012, so quite intriguing to find it still in the same location.  This has been a bit of a theme during this month and several species of tooth fungi have appeared in exactly the same spots as they were last recorded from in 2011.  Amazing. 

A search for the choke fungus on the grass false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) on Ord Ban hill next to Loch an Eilein developed into quite a test.  The first part of the morning saw Janet setting up her craft stall in Aviemore and once my input was complete I said cheerio and drove along to Loch an Eilein.  The grass is not that common in the local area or within the Cairngorms National Park but the population on the side of Ord Ban is big and I was hopeful something might be found.  The only way 
Janet's craft stall in Aviemore
to check for the fungus was to wander back and forth across the steep slope with the tall grass often above my waist.  Lime-rich rock has, in the distant past, been extracted from high up on the hill and a winding sort of path, possibly used by ponies to carry the excavated rock, works its way up to the small rock-face and as I wandered three lots of folk made their way up the path one stopping to chat and explaining they were going up the hill for the view.  In the past when visiting this area looking for lichens I had never seen anyone so perhaps the path has been advertised as one to visit for the view.  Patches of grass drew me well away from the path and in the distance I could see a natural rock-face which looked like it was worth visiting.  As I left the last patch of grass I wandered into an 
Ticks waiting for a victim - ST?
area of scattered rocks with small populations of beech and oak fern, bracken, the occasional mature birch tree and a few Norway spruces.  A plant growing between big rocks had me guessing though, for some reason, the name Enchanter's-nightshade was written in my notebook.  Grid reference taken along with a few photos I continued on towards the rock-face but not before encountering more of the same plant, all growing within the rocks.  The only enchanter's-nightshade I had seen locally was the rare alpine version so time for more photos along with a small sample to check once home.  The rock comprising the small cliff must have been fairly acidic because plants encountered were generally run of the mill though a few small populations of brittle bladder fern were found (Cystopteris fragilis) identified correctly once home by checking the sori and spores on the underside of a frond.  Several times I had to stop to pick off and squash the ticks that I was finding on my pants, hands and arms, a few being of the ‘bigger’ more colourful variety.  Back down at the car park I headed out to the road 
Hybrid enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea x intermedia)
(refusing to pay the parking charges I had parked down the road) and along the way firstly finding hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) and them marsh woundwort (S. palustris) the latter being a plant I don’t often come across.  Perhaps in the past I had just put all my woundwort finds down as hedge, when, with a little care in checking the leaves, some might have been marsh, a long leaf stalk in hedge and a short one in marsh.  Time to drive back to help Janet pack up but as I drove I was constantly picking off ticks!  I arrived at Janet’s stall whilst there were still lots of visitors wandering between the craft stalls so I sat in the back of the tent and started to remove an ever increasing number of ticks, mainly from my arms.  My actions weren’t too good for trade so Janet asked me to go and sit somewhere else to continue my tick removal efforts!  Back home it was time to check the itches around my waist and chest where again many ticks were pulled out.  The plant sample was 
Infertile seed hybrid enchanter's-nightshade
checked and I was quite excited as I was fairly happy that I was dealing with the alpine enchanter's-nightshade so photos were forwarded to BSBI man Andy.  He thought my ID was correct but was a little concerned that the leaves were slightly the wrong shape, though the flowers all growing at the top of the flower stem did look right.  “Did I have a good photo of the flowers and the seeds?”  Sadly not, and the sample I had brought home was mainly showing flowers.  I would have to go back and get photos of the seeds!  Having removed 50-60 ticks from body and clothing this was something I wasn’t looking forward to.  So, the next day, the walk up Ord Ban was repeated though this time I was trying hard to avoid wandering through tall grasses, possibly the source of my tick infestation.  The enchanter's-nightshade was easily re-found and once I found plants with good flower-heads AND seeds I collected another sample for checking.  However, I collected more than I bargained for and, sticking out horizontally from the plant stem was a caterpillar!  Photos taken it was removed and 
Small phoenix moth larva (Ecliptopera silaceata)
placed back on another plant stem.  Local expert Mike helped with this one and advised that this was the larva of the small phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata) a moth I had only ever seen once before.  I also noticed that some of the nightshade leaves were infected by a fungus – more samples needed.  I did though remember that when I visited the only know population of alpine enchanter's-nightshade locally a leaf fungus was also present and once checked it turned out to be the same species Pucciniastrum circaea.  Not wanting to waste the effort of the repeat visit a list of plants was compiled just local to the nightshade to add to the BSBI survey and by the path at the bottom of the hill a strikingly hairy caterpillar was found sitting on a bracken leaf – the vapourer (Orgyia antiqua).  
Vapourer moth larva (Orgyia antiqua)
When Andy saw the new plant sample he confirmed that I had actually found the hybrid species a mix of Alpine and common Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea x intermedia (C. alpina x C. lutetiana)) a plant with quite a few known sites locally.  One of the features of the hybrid, and hence the need to see the seeds, is that not being fertile, the seeds drop off the plant as the flower-head grows.  The leaf shape is also a little different. So you live and learn.  And the ticks?  Another 50+ with one inside my belly-button and three in my private parts!  I won’t be returning to that site in a hurry!

As can be seen from earlier blogs I have been quite active in recording the fungal balls (smuts) that occur on flower-heads of sedges.  As with many of these less obvious undertakings, once bitten by the bug, the urge to learn more about the subject takes over and searching begins.  This happened with this group of fungi and after seeing a smut for the first time on a tiny spring sedge back in 2013 whilst counting the Flowerfield orchids, casual checking or structured searching has led to many new 
Mud sedge (Carex limosa) and Anthracoidea limosa smut
Anthracoidea limosa spores x1000 - oil
finds.  This year the best was finding the smut on pill sedge (Anthracoidea caricis on Carex pilulifera) probably for only the third time in the UK whilst adding a couple more sites for the similarly rare Anthracoidea pulicaris on flea sedge (Carex pulicaris).  However, despite much searching over the years, finding anything on populations of mud sedge (Carex limosa) has so far eluded me.  Like the last two listed species there are only three UK records for this sedge/smut 
Rannoch-rush (Scheuchzeria palustri)
combination with two of them coming from the Rannoch Moor area.  The site, near Rannoch Station, was first found in 1920, with just one record since about ten years ago.  The second site, on the other side of the moor (Glen Coe area) had a similarly ancient record dating back to 1943.  Would they still be there?  Only one way to find out!  A good weather window developed early in the month so I drove down to a location I last visited, by train, when we lived on the Isle of Rum – Rannoch Station.  This remote station is reached via a single track road some sixteen miles west of Kinloch Rannoch and thirty-eight miles from the A9 at Killiecrankie and is on the line between Glasgow and Fort William.  An early start saw me arrive by 9.30am, the drive down the A9 not being too bad, regardless of the average speed cameras.  Despite there not being a specimen lodged with Kew from the more recent find, Brian at Kew did have a reasonable grid reference for the location, so wellies on, off I went.  The other plant Rannoch Moor is famous for is the Rannoch-rush (Scheuchzeria palustri) with several sites around the moor and found nowhere else in Britain.  Would it be possible 
Lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor)
Lesser bladderwort 'hairs'
to see it?  The moor close to the station is generally wet heathland with lots of wee lochans and it was to one of these that the grid ref was guiding me.  No searching, there was the mud sedge complete with Anthracoidea limosa smuts!  Brilliant, and a great start to the day.  Not only the sedge but also masses of Rannoch-rush, sadly past flowering, so doubly brilliant.  At this location most sedge heads had the smut so time for a few photos along with a single modern sample for Kew.  First found in 1920 and still there, perhaps an indication that it might never have been present in my local mud sedge populations.  Lots of the small peaty pools were visited but the sedge/smut combination wasn’t always present in fact in the five locations were the sedge was found the smut was only growing at three of them, two of which were more or less on the same pool.  Smuts were also found on star sedge (Carex echinata/Anthracoidea karii), carnation sedge (C. panicea/A. paniceae) and on deergrass (Trichophorum x foersteri hybrid / A. scirpi).  The Rannoch-rush was found at four sites.  
Vaccinium oxycoccos
To visit all the pools the railway line had to be crossed and in a runnel close to the line a small yellow flower caught my eye – a bladderwort.  This was lesser bladderwort (Utricularia minor), confirmed 100% when the bladders were checked under the microscope once home.  At the last of the bog pools several sphagnum cushions were covered with cranberry runners and lots of berries.  This was a new plant for me Vaccinium oxycoccos, very slightly different (minutely hairy flower/fruit stalks) to the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum) generally found in Strathspey.  Just the drive home to complete a great day.

This visit had set the ball rolling and a second visit was planned for the Glen Coe end of Rannoch Moor.  A very different drive with Loch Laggan, Fort William, Ballachulish and Glen Coe to pass by/through, achieved in about two hours.  In brilliantly sunny weather there were many visitors stopping and passing through Glen Coe and with cloudless skies the surrounding mountains looked 
3 sundews L to R - greater, hybrid and round-leaved
stunning.  This visit though was about looking down and not up so the wellies were worn once again and searching started.  This though was a very different challenge with the old record just having Loch Ba, Rannoch Moor as its location.  Help was sought before making the visit and several location were provided from the BSBI database for where mud sedge had been found previously but with a huge problem – there was only one location for the plant in the Loch Ba area and the grid reference was only at the one-kilometre scale!  It wasn’t even clear if this was the location of the infected plants because the modern day map shows Loch Ba on the east side of the Glen Coe road whereas the older ones show the same name being applied to the loosely connected water bodies to the west of the road.  From the BSBI locations there was a good concentration of mud sedge locations about four kilometres north of Loch Ba so initially this is where I went and despite finding the sedge in seven locations, no smuts were found.  Lots more locations though for the Rannoch-rush, lots of sites for the insectivorous greater and round-leaved sundews and, with both parents present the hybrid obovate sundew (Drosera x obovate) was also found which, surprisingly, was only the second record for the area.  A pleasant surprise was finding lots of white beak-sedge (Rhynchospora alba), not actually a sedge but a plant with a similar smut to the sedges.  This was looked for but not found.  
Lots more lesser bladderwort in flower and more records for the smut on star and carnation sedge.  After nearly three hours of searching it was time to move on to Loch Ba and for lunch I headed out towards Loch na Stainge in the area covered by the 1km map square.  Bog pools were checked along the way without success but lunch was taken in possibly one of the most picturesque location I have dined in during 2016.  To my right were at least three mountains towering to over 1000m in height and with blue skies and the occasional fluffy white cloud the view was amazing.  Down below me in 
Water lobelia
the loch I could see scattered populations of water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) bobbing about in the gentle waves hitting the shore.  Again, I wasn’t here to gaze at the view so a bit more bog searching was undertaken. Despite lots of wandering, no mud sedge was found.  My body was telling that it had had enough so, reluctantly at around 3pm I called a halt and headed for home.  Perhaps one for a second effort next year. 

Late in the month the annual Harley Davison ‘Thunder in the Glens’ event took place with something like 3,000 bikers taking part.  For a change I went out onto the B9007 Carrbridge to Ferness road in 

the hope of getting photos of bikes and riders with the Cairngorms as a backdrop as well as riders with the usual cowhorns, flags and muppet head covers!  One of my BSBI plant recording outings was just off this road and my survey in what looked like a pretty boring piece of moorland, found a small hillside burn with some very important plants.  The first was one of the horsetail family, shade 
Shade horsetail
horsetail (Equisetum pratense), followed a little further along the burn by it equally rare relative rough horsetail or Dutch rush (Equisetum hyemale).  Wood cranesbill was unexpected and it was nice to see a couple of patches of starry saxifrage, possibly washed down from higher up the hill.  Small heath and Scotch argus butterflies were enjoying the sun but the biggest surprise of the day was a trackside pool still full of tadpoles – in the middle of August!  The most remarkable sight though was 
Late tadpoles
saved until almost the end of the month.  A very ordinary looking sitka spruce plantation near to Forres once again produced a huge surprise, the same wood that produced only the second UK location for the rare Bankera violascens tooth fungus.  When first found in August 2012, 1100 fruiting bodies were present – a remarkable count.  The next two counts in 2013 and 2014 produced just 100 and 50 fungi whilst just a handful were found last year.  Pushing my way into the spruce 
Bankera violascens the spruce tooth
branches this year I could see the population had increased, and at the end of my count 1800 fruiting bodies had been seen!  Despite the rarity of this fungus it hasn’t been given a red data, rare or other designation due to the fact that it grows with and is dependent on a non-native tree species – sitka spruce.  Again I produced a map of what was where and let the estate know what had been found so hopefully the wood will be managed sympathetically if thinning work is undertaken.


Enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet

Raptor persecution information
Monadhliath Mountains “Birds of prey not welcome here!”
followed by
Raptor Persecution Scotland 2016 incidents
Firwood Blog May 2014
Small phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)
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

Slow-worm found during plant recording
Jam time!  Thank you Janet
A massive crop of blaeberries this year
 Photos © Stewart Taylor