Two months, all in one blog!
1st November and, right on cue, a tawny owl was calling very loudly in the trees just across the road from Firwood. This is towards the end of the main calling period (late August to October) the time of year that tawny owls sort out their breeding territories. I took part in the last BTO survey in 2005 but decided not to sign up for this one but, the BTO were asking for volunteers to go out to randomly chosen OS map squares, to listen for calling birds during the two hours after sunset. This survey has been resurrected due to the decline in tawny owl numbers by comparing the data from the last two BTO UK Bird Atlas surveys (1968 -1972 and 2007 – 2011), from the annual Breeding Bird Survey and the all year round BirdTrack records. The BTO were also asking for additional volunteers to undertake a new survey ‘The Tawny Owl Calling Survey’ a weekly survey from your garden, a local park or piece of woodland (30 September 2018 to 31 March 2019) for 20 minutes between sunset and midnight. Even though this survey is now well underway the BTO would still be happy to have your records between now and the end of March 2019. Worth checking if either survey will run again in 2019.
Work on the electric fence progressed well and, with new drill gadgets available to screw in the insulators etc, progress was quite quick. The length of the almost square fence was just 200m so not too big a job but not having worked with 20mm wide electric tape before, a few lessons had to be learnt. A few overhead branches had to be trimmed along with bits of juniper bushes and any tall vegetation touching the old stock fence because contact between tape and the ground (earth) would short-out the electric current and take the power from the fence. Unlike wiring in a house, the
positive wire goes between battery and electrical tape and the negative wire goes to a one metre metal stake in the ground. This wiring system ensures that whether human or animal touches the tape its body acts as a conductor allowing 6000-8000 volts to give a sharp shock as it travels through the body to the ground. The tape isn’t constantly ‘alive’ as the fence unit sends out a positive pulse about every 5-10 seconds ensuring the battery doesn’t run out of power too quickly. The battery in turn receives all its power from the solar panel so everything works well – but only if the sun gets a chance to shine! The ‘official’ switch on was on the 12 November and all worked well until a voltage check in early December showed there was no power and walking the fence-line I found a roe deer had jumped the fence but caught the top, bending the metal tape holder over until it touched the
wire of the stock fence. Tape holder bent back to upright and tapes re-tightened and it was fingers crossed in the hope that deer had had a bit of a scare and wouldn’t be back. Wrong! The same thing happened again a couple of weeks later. The forest floor on the outside of the fence at the point of incursion was high enough to give the roe deer a bit of height advantage when jumping in and it was probably when trying to get out that it caused damage to the tape. Annabel, who has horses in the field at the end of our road had a few spare plastic electric fence posts and these were borrowed and quickly installed with an extra piece of electrical tape attached which removed the ground-height advantage. To date this has solved the problem and possibly with the help of a discarded plastic tub I found nearby filled a little with human scented urine!
Thinking about odd scents leads nicely on to another unusual find close to the electric fence whilst checking out a recently fallen aspen brought down by a recent gale. The woodland around the fenced plot is grazed by sheep in the winter and cattle in the summer and it was, as I was approaching the
|Cow-pat top and spores etc at x400 and x1000 oil of|
Cheilymenia (=Coprobia) granulate fungus
aspen that I noticed an old cow pat with a bright orange colouring on top. A closer look showed the cowpat was covered in probably hundreds of a tiny disc-like fungus, 1-2mm in size and, because the cow pat was several weeks old and turning crusty, I thought it ‘safe’ to cut a section away with a good number of the discs for checking once home. Typing orange disc fungus on cow pat into Google led me straight to Cheilymenia (=Coprobia) granulate, an early coloniser of cow pats and other herbivore droppings and is one of many organisms converting animal droppings into humus. However, because there are several other disc-type fungi on dung the websites advised to check a specimen under the microscope to be sure of the right species, so that is what I did. As I increased the magnification it was clear to see massed ‘tubes’ (asci) all containing eight spores and at x1000 magnification the ellipsoid spores measured 16-19 x 10-12 microns (µm) so all was correct. Despite the fungus supposedly being ‘quite common’ I think this was the first time I had seen it.
Another fence was also finally completed at the end of November, the fence that was heightened around the planted aspens back in May. As a stock height fence it wasn’t classed as a problem for woodland grouse (black grouse and capercaillie) but, by increasing it to deer height, additional droppers had to be added to make it more visible. Because help wasn’t available in May when the fence was ‘completed’ these droppers were attached using just a heavy-duty hand stapler, but I knew that these wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the droppers in place should red deer rattle them with
|Thank you team|
their antlers. Proper fencing staples would need to be hammered in to replace them but, with the lightweight droppers attached to just three line-wires, a second person would be needed to hold a heavy-duty hammer against the dropper to allow the fence staples to be banged home. With help from Amelie and Chris at RSPB Abernethy along with volunteer Alan this job was completed on the 30th November. As we were driving out to the site, I had to explain to the team that the bottles rattling in the back of the landrover contained Prosecco, something to celebrate with once the job was done. Once back at Forest Lodge each team member was given their mini-bottles to celebrate with
|2 green shield-moss capsules growing from moss on rock|
once home, but one was opened just to say thanks for helping finish this long-running job. On the way home, I stopped to check out a regular location for the green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis) and though there was none on the usual log something on a lightly mossy rock caught my eye: three capsules growing quite happily and possibly a UK first for the moss found on a rock habitat. All of my records to date have been from wood based habitats.
For the hundredth anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and end of the First World War I headed for the peace of the Rynettin croft area in Abernethy Forest. This location would allow me to see if the flock of herdwick sheep undertaking the grazing this year for the owners were doing a good job waxcap-wise and to be in a peaceful place for the two-minute silence at 11-o-clock. Six different waxcaps were found comprising about 75 fruiting bodies so quite an important grassland
|Crimson waxcap top and meadow waxcap|
site. The species seen were butter waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana), meadow waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis), parrot waxcap (Hygrocybe psittacine), crimson waxcap (Hygrocybe punicea) and snowy waxcap (Hygrocybe virginea). On this visit and the one later in November to finish off the fence it was obvious that the sheep had done an amazing job and, despite the dry summer, lots of fruiting bodies had appeared, probably all down to the grazing technique of the sheep. Also noticeable was, as the autumn progressed, the sheep left the improved grassland field and concentrated on the natural but previously under-grazed adjacent ‘rough’ grassland. Right through until the end of November
|The brilliant herdwick sheep|
|We will remember them|
more and more fruiting bodies appeared and, apart from odd ones getting trampled, most were left to mature and spread their spores. Adjacent to the croft’s rough grassland, RSPB own a very rank area of the same natural grassland mix and discussions have started to see if this area could also be grazed by the herdwick sheep – so long as I can find some funding to help fence the site to allow the sheep access to graze. Fingers-crossed because with the list of species known to have been present at this site before the grass grew too deep makes it almost of national importance thanks to the recording effort of the late Peter Orton with myself as companion and chauffer. This was also the right sort of location to remember all those who lost their lives during the 1st World War.
Late in November Janet’s brother phoned to say her mum had been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties, her condition deteriorating over the next couple of days. When the phone rang at 3am on the 26th we both knew that her amazing life of almost 99 years had come to an end, confirmed by Janet’s brother during the call. Nellie was born near Wigan into a mining family. She married Albert in 1942 and they had four children, Janet being the second eldest. A keen cycling family, most Sundays were spent out with the local Cyclist Touring Club members and a few weekends saw visits
to Youth Hostels. Cycle tours during the school holidays became famous with trips to the Yorkshire dales, Ireland and Wales, the early ones as family holidays but, over the years, numbers grew and trips to Wales and Ireland saw about 20 folk on a mixture of two and three-wheeled bikes, tandems (including Nellie and Albert) and even a tandem trike! A few of the attendees were also keen folk singers and it wasn’t unusual on the last Ireland trip to see faces at the windows and the doors constantly being opened to see who was singing all the songs when we visited the local pubs at night. Pedalling back from southern Wales in the mid-60s saw myself and Janet getting to know each
other better, eventually marrying in 1969. Nellie and Albert climbed Ben Nevis in their 50s, hitch-hiked through the Uists in their 70s but perhaps their most unusual ‘adventure’ was when Albert got a job as a gardener at Pittodrie House in Aberdeenshire. We were already living in Nethy Bridge so it was nice to welcome other family members north. Nellie and Albert returned to Lancashire as her mum got older, and though the tandem wasn’t resurrected they attended Ramblers outings most weekends. In 1999 Nellie lost her husband and best friend but carried on as long as she could attending outings with the local rambling groups. Our recent visits to Lancashire will long be remembered for the lunchtime outings to pubs and cafés where Nellie had the ability to ‘squeeze’ in a nice pub pudding to finish off the meal!
Nellies funeral was held on the 5th December at Accrington crematorium with the Taylor-clan driving down the day before and staying at Sparth House in Clayton-le-moors. Having booked in we visited the funeral parlour to pay our last respects to Nellie and finding a nice display of ferns popping out from the red-bricked wall of the building, one of which turned out to be rusty-back fern. On the day
of the funeral our cars met up at Milnshaw Gardens, Nellie’s last place of residence before following the funeral car to the crematorium. Despite the sadness of the day (and the return of emotions as I type), Laura’s partner Douglas managed to find a series of songs by the Irish Band the Clancy Brothers one of Nellie’s favourite folk bands and I hope she was listening as we joined in with the songs as we drove. As we said one last goodbye to our mum, grandma, great grandma and great-great grandma, the Ashokan Lament was playing in the background.
As we arrived back home Janet had to load up the cars ready for the Boat of Garten Christmas Fair the next day, a well-attended event in the village community hall. As Janet sold, I returned home to make up a card to send to the warden and residents at Milnshaw Gardens to say thank you for their companionship and friendship over the many years. On the Sunday it was back to normal with an outing to Loch Ruthven to look for a lichen I had heard about on BBC Radio 4 earlier in the year. I was lying in bed early on the morning of 25 March with BBC Radio 4 playing quietly into my ear-piece and was privileged to hear a repeat of ‘The Living World’ from 2011 when Paul Evans joins Ray Woods in Snowdonia in a programme titled The Celtic Rainforest. The programme’s content struck a few personal chords with Ray taking listeners firstly into the world of ‘filmy-ferns’ and then mentioning a lichen going by the name of black-eyed-Susan. Not being familiar with the name I
|The first Wilson's filmy-fern in Inshriach NNR|
typed it into Google to find I was dealing with Bunodophoron melanocarpum and was inspired to go looking for it and also to do a bit of botanising. When we lived on Rum in the mid-1970s I was fairly certain that we saw Wilson’s filmy-fern (Hymenophyllum wilsonii) the first filmy-fern Ray talks about in the programme and I wondered if this fern had been found in my local area in Strathspey. Help from the BSBI informed me that there had been a recent find on a rocky hillside in Inshriach Forest NNR near Aviemore plus a couple of old records from the early 1970s from near Loch Ness. The next day I headed out to try and re-find Wilson’s filmy-fern in Inshriach last seen in 2012 and, after much scrambling over large rocks, it was found on several boulders close to the original location. Also present on the rocks were the lichens Sphaerophorus globosus, Rhizocarpon geographicum and interrupted clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum). A few days later I visited one of the best sites locally for Lobarian lichens, the Pass of Inverfarigaig adjacent to Loch Ness. The filmy-fern though hadn’t been seen here since July 1971, well before GPS aided recording the precise location but, a little guidance said, “above memorial stone”. The higher rocks didn’t look suitable, so more time was given to the damper rocks closer to the road and, on one narrow ledge, a few tiny
|The Wilson's filmy-fern east of Loch Ness|
fronds of what looked like the filmy-fern were found, one group thankfully, with sporangia confirming this was the fern. My luck was holding. A couple of weeks later I had the chance to visit yet another important lichen site, a craggy rock outcrop to the east of Loch Ness, the third of the Wilson’s filmy-fern sites. The wee fern was last recorded here in August 1975 so once the crag-face was reached a careful search started of the main gully, the BSBI record stating that this was the area where it had been found. Collema flaccidum, Leptogium gelatinosum, Polychidium muscicola, Sphaerophorus fragilis lichens were recorded during the climb up the gully along with a nice mixture of plants despite this being early in the growing season (16 April). On one of the slightly damper ledges the now familiar filmy-fern was found, and a wider search revealed 3 small populations several with good numbers of sporangia. At the bottom of the gully were beautiful hanging
|Alectoria sarmentosa top and purple saxifrage|
populations of Alectoria sarmentosa subsp. sarmentosa lichen, occupying a relatively small section of the conglomerate cliff. Small areas of the rock-face were bright purple due to the early flowering purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) growing next to non-flowering cushions of mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides). Leptogium palmatum was the last lichen entry in the notebook as the freezing wind was telling me it was time to return to the car being slightly under-dressed on what I thought was going to be a warmer spring day. Making a few enquiries about the Bunodophoron melanocarpum lichen I found it had been recorded at Loch Ruthven in 1994. The recorded location was rather general and at the 100m square level, and there was no information about whether it was growing on a tree or a mossy rock. In the west of Scotland, the lichen can be found growing on bark of birches and oaks and also on mossy rocks and it was the latter habitat I decided to concentrate on
|The big population of black-eyed Susan top and the black|
apothecia in bottom photo shows how it got its common name
particularly when I was finding big population of Sphaerophorus globosus on the mossy rocks, a species it is often found growing alongside and can easily be confused with. Wandering back and forth across the hillside many rocks were visited but without finding the elusive black-eyed Susan. The rocks though were mossy and covered in many lichens, far too many for me to identify but a few nice finds comprised; Andreaea rupestris (Black Rock-moss), the regular rock lichen Umbilicaria polyrrhiza, and, in a boggy area lots of bog asphodel several with the fungus Microdiplodia narthecii present on the dead flower heads. There then followed a bit of email correspondence that led me to a 2015 record of the lichen in the Glen Garry area, a big population, on a fallen birch tree, and, it was fertile, a big aid to identification! So, before the chaos of Christmas I set off early one Sunday
|The very similar Sphaerophorus globosus lichen but with apothecia|
upright and on top of branches
morning to the sounds of a dawn chorus on Elizabeth Aker’s Radio 3 programme arriving in Glen Garry with fingers crossed that the lichen would still be there. For this outing I had a reasonably accurate grid reference which guided me along the River Garry to a location where I searched for the fallen birch tree. It wasn’t too difficult to find and, to my huge relief there was black-eyed Susan waiting to greet me. I could have kissed ‘it’. Taking a few photos of this amazing lichen required scrambling over rocks to get the best pictures. It was, as I was just about finished taking my photos that something very strange happened; I looked down onto the rock next to my rucksac and I had to decide if I was looking at a leafy moss or a fern! Thankfully there wasn’t anyone nearby as I
|What a find, the Glen Garry Wilson's filmy-fern|
shouted, just like Victor Meldrew “I don’t believe it!” and whether guided by Ray Woods I don’t know but there, next to the Bunodophoron laden birch tree was Wilson’s filmy-fern. An amazing early Christmas present! The fern had been recorded a few kilometres away, but this was a new location. The next couple of hours were spent scrambling around on the rocks and through the trees by the river finding another tiny Bunodophoron population along with lots of Leptogium burgessii lichen on a small hazel and Peltigera leucophlebia on a rock by the river, both new to the location. The drive back home saw me passing close to Loch Ruthven with thoughts of another visit there in the near future now that I had a better idea of exactly what I was looking for.
This winter, the BTO have initiated a new survey, the BTO/Natural England Winter Bird Survey, to build up a picture of where birds in winter reside along with their numbers. I was given the option of continuing to survey the same 1 kilometre square I do for the breeding birds, so offered to take this on, requiring one outing per month between December and March. My first walk was completed on 11th December and produced 37 bird contacts comprising 16 species as shown in the table below. I
was quite surprised to have so many. An unusual species was recorded as I walked between the two recording sections, a female capercaillie, a species I’ve never seen in this wood in all the years I’ve done the breeding bird survey. I also managed to visit the last of the locations I know locally with a good population of interrupted clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum) to see if the little recorded black fungus (Phaeosphaeria lycopodina) was present on the cones. It was quite nice to visit this area, an area of the Abernethy Reserve where, in the 1980s, way ahead of others doing this sort of work, we felled all the young Norway spruce trees before blocking up the drainage ditches that had allowed the trees to be planted in the first place. In the summer the area, though still naturally wooded with Scots
pines, has nice populations of common dragonflies and is also home to the raft spider Dolomedes fimbriatus. I digress. As I approached the location, I could see the big population of the clubmoss was still present and, as I wandered, I could see the fungus was also present, the lowest altitude record so far at just 200 metres asl. During this same period the Radio 3 Carol Competition 2018 was underway with six finalists whose newly composed music was played quite regularly with the public being asked to vote for their favourite. Not the usual sort of thing to include in the blog but what WAS unusual was the poem written by Carol Ann Duffy in 2011 was all about bees! The first verse in copied below and a link to the online carol down below:
The Bee Carol
Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice –
a silver frieze –
except the winter cluster of the bees.
Another slightly mad survey was also tackled once again at the end of 2018 the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt, but only for plants that are actually in flower and found between 30 December 2018 and 1 January 2019. Last year Janet found a flowering shepherd’s cress (Teesdalia nudicaulis) in the Findhorn dunes, the only record from the whole of the UK survey. So, on the 30th December it was to the Findhorn dunes once again that we headed. Kicking off from the Findhorn Foundation site our route took us out into the dunes and, armed with last year’s GPS grid reference for the shepherd’s
|Plant list and tree mallow on sea-front|
|Sandy earthtongue (Sabulogossum arenarium)|
cress, we checked the spot once again. Amazingly the leaves were there but without the flowers but, whilst searching around for more plants I found three fruiting bodies of an earthtongue fungus which, with the help of expert Liz, was identified as the sandy earthtongue Sabuloglossum arenarium (Geoglossum arenarium) with just 22 UK records. Exiting the dunes, we popped out on pebbles by the sea, dodging in and out of the dunes and shore before ending up at the dunes car park, Findhorn museum and ice house where quite a few flowering plants were recorded. It was then back along the shore road to our start point. In all 23 flowering plants were found compared to 15 last year. The same survey was done below the Kessock road bridge (17 species), Nairn harbour (9 species) and the football pitch area in Nethy Bridge (7 species). A couple of other lists were compiled via casual outings and across all the sites 33 different plants were found in flower!
And finally, next year, 2019, will be the 60th anniversary of the opening of the public viewing facility at the Osprey Centre, or, as it was all those years ago, a small caravan suitably located to allow the 12,000 people that turned up to see Britain’s only breeding ospreys. No doubt there will be
lots of events and publicity but, ahead of all that the pupils at Deshar Primary School in Boat of Garten, The Osprey Village, have, with the help of Boat resident Louise Wyllie produced a short story about these remarkable birds. The story has now appeared in book form, “Eggs with Legs – An Osprey’s Story”, so, if you would like to support the Year of the Osprey, please keep an eye open in your local book shop or purchase one by following the links below..
That’s it for 2018, enjoy the read.
Stewart and Janet
Sparth House Hotel
Radio 3 Carol Competition 2018 - The Bee Carol by Carol Ann Duffy (2011)
The Living World from 2011
BSBI New Year Plant Hunt
Eggs with Legs – An Osprey’s Story
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
|Cormorants at Loch Pityoulish|
|Happy Christmas - the lights worked|
Photos © Stewart Taylor