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 Epichloë 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 Epichloë 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?
Ouch!
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.  
Lunch-spot
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.

Enough.

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  

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
Slow-worm
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