Wednesday, 6 February 2019

A very sad period but a celebration of a long and amazing life


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 viridisand 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
Leptogium burgessii
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. 
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
Interrupted clubmoss
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
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09wpnvg
BSBI New Year Plant Hunt
Eggs with Legs – An Osprey’s Story
NBN Atlas
Strathspey Weather
Parkswatch
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
 
Daughter Laura's BBC Weatherwatch photo
Cormorants at Loch Pityoulish
Happy Christmas - the lights worked
Photos © Stewart Taylor

Thursday, 31 January 2019

A date with an unusual waxcap


Very early in October, as I was working at home putting together an order for electric fencing equipment, the doorbell rang and fungus exert Liz Holden arrived with some fantastic news.  To explain why Liz was there I need to step back a year to when I spent several days putting together a paper for the Cairngorms National Park staff on the importance of a group of grassland fungi (waxcaps and fairy clubs) and the grassland habitat they occupy in the local area.  I felt I had to do this to highlight the problems this group of fungi are facing currently with a very important field in Carrbridge being ploughed up to remove ‘a problem’ the owners had encountered with a housing 
Date waxcap (Hygrocybe spodicia) as found by Liz
planning application.  Also, more of the rough grazing sites they occupy in agricultural areas continue to be ploughed up, fertilised, and re-seeded with intensively managed grass crops.  In 2010/11 the Cairngorms National Park had paid for a survey of these type of grasslands in the Badenoch and Strathspey area and, by allowing Liz access to 24 of these surveyed sites she undertook her own survey in 2010 of the waxcaps etc present.  After presenting my paper to the Park they agreed to a new contract for Liz to re-visit the 24 sites to see what changes had taken place during the last eight years.  It was after Liz had checked a field close to Firwood that the doorbell rang.  Over a cup of tea Liz told me about her amazing find just a few hours earlier – the date waxcap (Hygrocybe spodicia), a species which highlights a very important grassland particularly if other waxcaps are also present.  At this particular site the date waxcap was added to a list of 9 waxcaps and 3 fairy clubs putting the field almost into a nationally important site.  I wondered if this appearance was due to the very hot dry 
Parrot waxcap (Hygrocybe psittacina)
summer we had experienced where the grass in the field had partly browned off and horses grazing the site were having to be supplied with hay – in October!  Interestingly, several of the other regular waxcaps and fairy clubs hadn’t appeared and neither had the field gentians, another feature of the site.  As Liz finished her cuppa and departed to carry on with her survey I just had to go and see the two groups of date waxcaps.  This waxcap is one of Britain’s rarest and is recognisable by its very dark-brown cap and fairly bright yellow or orange gills.  Seeing the fungus for the first time didn’t disappoint.  One group comprised quite small fruiting bodies and not fully developed, whereas the second group were absolutely perfect and growing just as the books and websites describe this Red Data Book species.  Inspired by this find I visited the Flowerfield orchid site for the first time to look for waxcaps and managed to find six different species the most unusual being the very slimy (viscid) parrot waxcap (Gliophorus psittacinus (syn. Hygrocybe psittacina).  A grassland in Abernethy Forest 
A poor specimen of the golden waxcap
which used to be important for this group has now become very rank due to the lack of heavy grazing by a once enormous deer population.  Despite the deep grass I did find the golden waxcap (Hygrocybe chlorophana) last recorded here in 1989 by one of the UKs waxcap experts the late Peter Orton, an annual visitor to the reserve.  This is a site I’m hoping to work with the RSPB, SNH and possibly the Park to re-introduce regular grazing to see if the important numbers of waxcaps and allies can become re-established.  This site alone highlights the problems facing waxcaps, too little grazing and they disappear, too much grazing and ploughing and fertilising and they disappear.  I just need to put pen to paper to start this ball rolling.

A short walk along the Speyside Way near Grantown proved interesting.  The site owner of the site where we planted aspens back in May said he would be happy to have a few hazels established also and, having walked this track earlier in the year I had seen several hazels hanging thick with nuts.  On the way to the hazels I was keeping an eye open for hawkweeds with possible galls as mentioned in 
A few of the crop of hazel nuts
Wood hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)
the August blog but the only one found was in one of the plant’s stem (Aulacidea hieracii).  Having had a few quite breezy days ahead of my visit I realised I would be picking up the hazel nuts from the ground rather than from the trees and in quite a short time I had half a bag full.  I also spotted a fungus delicacy, the wood hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) which has spines instead of gills under the cap although from a different family to the tooth fungi.  A short extract from the First Nature website about this fungus states “Hydnum repandum is a popular edible species, but it should be picked while young. The Wood Hedgehog is delicious in all sorts of dishes from soups and risottos to our own favourite invention which we call 'Hedgehogs on Toast'”.  For me a photograph sufficed, and the 
fruiting bodies were left as found.  Back home I wondered if the red squirrels would be interested in a few fresh hazel nuts and it didn’t take long to find out!  Some were eaten at the place they were found and some were taken to nearby tree limbs before cracking open.  Hopefully, some carried off by the squirrels will have been buried for ‘later’ but perhaps with the chance of remaining unfound and popping up to give us our own hazels trees, though it would be many years before there would be a nut crop.  At the aspen site I wandered back and forth with bag and wee spade and, creating a small split in the vegetation I was able to drop a couple of nuts into the soil in the hope that a few would grow into trees.  An aspen/hazel wood would be a brilliant outcome and something quite rare in our area. 

A wedding anniversary lunch (49th help!) outing saw us drive up to Logie Steading near Forres.  The food and coffee are always good and there’s a nicely looked-after garden to visit.  After a bite to eat though we headed off to the River Findhorn to enjoy the sunny day and to wander as far as Randolph’s Leap a location were a famous incident involving local clan warfare occurred many years ago.  No matter how many times we walk this route, with a few wee variations, we always find something new.  The fields by the path have a small herd of longhorn cows which convert into 
Sweet chestnut seeds top and false deathcap fungus
amazingly delicious and tender portions of mince and stew which we take home from the Logie Farm shop.  A mix of trees by the river have small populations of the lungwort lichen and by the path patches of woodruff with their distinctive whorls of leaves around the plants stem.  By Randolph’s Leap Janet held out her hand with a sample of what I thought was a very large beech mast but then realising it was a sweet chestnut fruit.  The nearby tree, which we had both missed on previous visits, had a huge crop of seeds with some still on the tree making amazing pictures against a bright green sunny backdrop.  Nearby a single false death cap fungus (Amanita citrina) was growing by the path along with a large population of shaggy scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa) growing from a dead fallen tree.  This fungus is often confused with the common honey fungus but taking a specimen home and obtaining a spore print helps identification: white spores for the honey and brown for the scalycap.  
Conkers top and Melastiza contorta cup fungus and spores x1000 oil
Crossing the Bridge of Logie (over the Dorback Burn) on our return allowed me to spot an out of reach population of brittle bladder fern.  Walking up the drive back to the Steading produced huge numbers of fallen ‘conkers’ from the horse-chestnut trees.  Not sure why but we both find it quite hard not to end up taking a few conkers home, a tradition hard to break that dates back to childhood!  On the root-plate of a fallen drive-side tree an orange fungus caught my eye and once checked at home this turned out to be Melastiza contorta, a cup type fungus growing on deadwood with quite unusually shaped spores.  A record in NBN Atlas told me that I’d found this fungus once before in 2015!  Back at the Steading we headed off to the walled garden where I spotted another odd-looking fungus by the track, possibly a Boletus.  To get a decent photo I had to hop over the fence and when I 
Sepia boletus (Xerocomus porosporus) top and Logie Rainbow
heard footsteps approaching, I had to explain why I was lying on the ground!  It was the sepia boletus (Xerocomus porosporus  synonym Boletus porosporus), a most unusual fungus with a crazy paving pattern on the top of the cap along with a reddish flush near the base of the stem (stipe).  The garden was interesting as always and once again we looked in amazement at the sheer number of apples the well-managed trees produce every year, many of which are left on the ground to feed blackbirds and thrushes.  Suddenly the sun disappeared, dark clouds developed and with a heavy rain shower giving us a nice rainbow-end to our day out.

Mid-month saw us head south to Lancashire for our October holiday in one of the wettest drives south in a long time, 50-100m visibility at times which is a bit of fun on a motorway!  With Janet’s mum now in a care home we decided to hire a house in Waddington for the week, one of many bonny villages in the Ribble Valley and one regularly visited when out with the Cyclist Touring Club many years ago.  Altham Care Home was our first stop to catch up with Nellie before heading to Waddington to unpack.  A Lancashire Village with a typical village pub.  People, dogs, chatter and folk standing at the bar, a real pub so time for just one drink before retiring to the house for the 
Nuthatch top and dipper in the village stream
evening.  A walk round the village next morning gave us our first nuthatch and a small stream running through the village was home to grey wagtails and a resident dipper despite the traffic driving by.  The village bird list for the week, without any intense walks and searches, was 20 species, another list for the BTO Birdtrack.  Lunches during our stay allowed us to catch up with family and friends of Nellie and to meet up with Nellie for part of each afternoon.  Waddington is quite an amazing place to walk around, particularly with the one-hundred-year anniversary of the First World 
1st World War tributes
War due in less than a month’s time.  All around the village were Perspex people shapes each with a tribute to someone from the village lost during the war.  It was very sad reading just how young some of the soldiers were, bringing home to the reader just how many people from one small Lancashire village died.  An amazing sight was the number of large ivy bushes, all fully in flower, and all being heavily visited by flies, hoverflies, wasps and honey bees, the latter with large pollen baskets visible on their hind legs.  With a little help from Murdo I was able to add common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) to my species list for the village.  Returning to Waddington one evening after dining with brother 
Common wasp top and honey bee  feeding on ivy flowers
Common house spider
Peter and wife Paula and family Janet spotted a large spider wandering across the floor so the camera was grabbed, and the spider photographed so as to be able to identify it.  The best photos were of the spider happily walking on my hand, posing as it went.  Once again, the spider turned out to be the common house spider (Tegenaria domestica).  When I found it in the same place on the floor the next morning I thought it had died but no, a little later it was off and lost behind the kitchen cupboards.  On our last day, before meeting up with family, we had a pleasant walk from the house, down to the River Ribble where the only kingfisher of the trip was seen before heading along the river bank through Cross Hill Quarry Local Nature Reserve.  Exiting the reserve, we walked to West Bradford 
Redwings stripping the rowan tree bare
for a bit of liquid refreshment before heading back to Waddington for a late lunch.  This former limestone quarry, along with another visible about half a mile away would have been perfect for a recording day out in the plant flowering season.  Next day we spent an hour with Janet’s mum before heading back north arriving home to find hundreds of fieldfares and redwings had arrived and were in our rowan trees devouring berries.  Just time to get the cars packed up for a craft fair the following day before heading off to bed.

After helping Janet set up her stall at the Boat of Garten craft fair, I drove back home to catch up with winter thrushes rapidly removing berries from our rowan trees and was nicely surprised to see about 
Just a few of the long-tailed tits
20 long-tailed tits also visiting the garden.  There were so many thrushes that by the next day the rowans had been stripped bare and the birds had mostly moved on to other mainly rowan trees around Nethy Bridge.  Having made my acquaintance with the fungus growing on interrupted clubmoss last month I thought it worth checking out a big population of stag’s-horn clubmoss along the route of my Grantown butterfly transect to see if it might also be there.  There was something on the ‘cones’ of 
AAGGHHH!  Tick on clubmoss head
the clubmoss but I wasn’t sure it was what I was looking for so samples were sent off to Brian at Kew to check.  Whilst checking the clubmoss I was also aware of something orange and black on one plant and, on closer inspection, found a big tick waiting to attach itself to a passing host for a drink of blood.  On this occasion it wasn’t going to be me!  Whilst away, a message had arrived from Hilary in Grantown informing me of her find in Anagach Wood, the golden bootleg fungus (Phaeolepiota aurea), and could I please check it out.  Having never heard of this fungus before I thought it worth 
Golden bootleg fungus
visiting on my way home, she said I couldn’t miss them, and they didn’t disappoint.  This rare, oddball fungus grows to about 20cm in height and before reaching maturity is covered in a grainy sheath joining cap to stem which eventually tears around the edge of the cap leaving a ring on the stem.  At full maturity the cap can expand out to about 20cm in diameter though none I saw had reached that size.  Despite being such a big fungus it is inedible and is known to contain hydrogen cyanide which is quite toxic to humans.  The books say this fungus is “usually associated with disturbed ground and often with nettles” which was a perfect description of the disturbed ex-quarry where it had been found.  Well done Hilary.

After a drive over to Kingussie to pick up Janet’s Strathy crossword prize, a nice bottle of malt whisky, I was tempted to call in at Insh Marshes RSPB Reserve to check out a few aspens with rare lichens, and also to see the best area for the rare dark-bordered beauty moth (Epione vespertaria) and the aspen logs used by the aspen hoverfly (Hammerschmidtia ferruginea).  This was to try and guide 
Violet webcap (Cortinarius violaceus)
future aspen management ideas via the current CNP aspen project.  The aspens with rare lichens were all still surviving thankfully, and it was interesting to see the aspen suckers (natural regeneration from the aspen tree roots) where the moth bred were quite tall when compared with the much smaller “guide-sized ones” which I know of in the Grantown area.  Making my way to logs which have been brought to the reserve from fellings elsewhere I spotted two beautifully blue/purple coloured fungi 
One of the aspens (propped up!) with a rare lichen Collema  nigrescens.
The middle photo was taken in March 2010 and the bottom one
October 2018 showing the lichen is not surviving.
growing amongst the aspens.  Photos taken I knew I would have to take a sample with me to check under the microscope if I was to arrive at a name, so one was carefully packed into a plastic container.  The big aspen logs that had been deposited for the hoverfly also held a bit of a surprise - a group of small, round, orange fungi all with long eye-lash-like hairs around their edges.  Another sample needed so plenty of homework once home.  The purple-ish coloured fungus turned out to be Cortinarius violaceus, the violet webcap with one website stating, “and so unless a sample is required for detailed study it seems wrong to remove any from their natural habitat.”  Sorry, so next day I 
Scutellinia setosa fungus and asci and spores x400
planned to return my specimen to the spot where I’d found it, better for it to drop its spores there than in our house.  The orange one also posed a few problems before arriving at the name Scutellinia setosa, a rare species also in the UK with just 25 records but at least abundant on the decaying aspen log where it was found and a fungus I had to get better photos of during my return visit next day.  On my return visit I met up with Pete Moore the reserve warden and when I showed him the violet webcap he told me he had seen that fungus a few years ago and not too far from where I had found it.  On returning my specimen a wider search of the location turned up another 7, making the return trip worthwhile.

Late in October Janet and myself had a day out in Elgin, where we headed for Moray College University of the Highlands and Islands where daughter Ruth was attending her graduation ceremony after three years of study for a Diploma of Higher Education in Person-Centred Counselling and 
Daughter Ruth's big day, bottom left in photo with fellow
course students
Psychotherapy.  Along with mum and dad were Ruth’s boys, Finlay, Archie and Harry all there to cheer on Ruth as she went up on stage to receive her certificate.  The boys had a great day out, drinks and cakes in a café by the college as Ruth disappeared to get into her graduation gear, and, after sitting reasonably still for the whole of the ceremony, returning to the café for lunch and more drinks.  As we disappeared off home with the boys Ruth spent one last afternoon with her fellow course students chatting over progress since the course ended back in June.  A great day and well-done Ruth!

The order for electric fencing equipment mentioned at the start of this blog progressed to a delivery, and, whilst at Insh Marshes, I collected a solar panel and battery, one of several that had been used last winter on an aspen protection project.  One of the farmers in Tulloch, James, has been involved in the Park aspen project during the last year allowing me to map out aspen areas, suggest fence modification ideas, and, at the site to be worked on currently, add electric tapes to a stock fenced plot.  This fence had been installed about fifteen years ago to exclude grazing by sheep and cattle but had failed to stop the deer from jumping in and continually browsing the new suckers.  It is known 
Fitting solar panel at start of installing electric fence
that electric fences can deter deer from jumping over stock fences and that is what James was allowing me to try at this site to try and get the new generation of trees established.  So, right at the end of the month fence posts and other bits of wood were sorted and over the course of a morning the solar panel was fitted, and holes drilled in the stock fence posts ready for the insulators to be attached early in November.  Another positive bit of work to try and help the aspens by the second of two Tulloch farmers.  However, the last day of October wasn’t quite such a memorable day, and it might go down in history as a very sad day for an area of very rare habitat.  I had an early start for the drive up to Clashmore just west of Dornoch where an initial meeting was being held to detail the way 
Coul Links planning meeting with potential wreckers front left
and the conservation bodies front right and reporters front middle
forward regarding a public enquiry into a planning application to covert the heavily designated Coul Links dune system into a golf course.  Lined up on one side of the village hall were the local councillors and legal representatives supporting the application whilst on the other were all the conservation bodies and organisations and their legal team all presided over by two reporters from the Scottish Office who would be hearing all the pros and cons before making a final, vital decision.  A billionaire is funding the application with all the conservation organisations having to cover their own costs of bringing together all the reasons why the application should be turned down.  One can only hope this isn’t going to be yet another disaster as happened with Trump and the wrecking of Menie dunes in Aberdeenshire.  It all kicks off on 25 February 2019 with the whole inquiry planned to last four weeks!  No doubt a local MSP will be working his socks off to see this development goes ahead, destroying yet more of Scotland’s important natural heritage.

One of Lichenologist heavily involved with recording at Coul Links also paid a visit to Firwood during the month accompanied with two other experts to carry-out surveys of sections of three local woods.  Brian and Chris are based at the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens (Brian is retired but, like several RBG ex-staff still regularly works there) along with Jan, a visiting Czech lichenologist.  Jan has been doing these surveys in several woods in Europe based on recording as many species in a marked out 100 x 100 metre square in each wood.  The wood they surveyed in Grantown on Spey is a very important aspen wood, rich in rare and common lichens and, having contacted the owner to 
Jan and Chris marking out the plot top, Brian hard at work
middle and the team ready for the last days recording
request access permission, I left them to carry out the survey.  In the evening there was time for a chat and a few drinks over dinner, expertly provided by Janet.  The following day saw the team heading off into the RSPBs Abernethy Reserve to carry out the survey in one of the oldest sections of ancient Caledonian pinewood.  I accompanied them on this outing to guide them to an area of the forest rich in ancient Scots pines along with many standing and fallen dead trees, a natural process that had taken place in this remote section of the forest over many decades.  Having helped them set up the hundred metre quadrat I left them to do the recording as I know very little about lichens growing on pines and set off to walk back through the forest to Forest Lodge where Janet had arranged to pick me up, recording anything unusual as I walked.  This allowed me to visit areas of the forest where I hadn’t been for many years but I was glad to reach home and enjoy a nice cup of tea!  The last outing saw the team visiting an ancient area of mainly birch trees but with a good scatter of alders again 
Lichen competition, slug eating a Cladonia lichen!
within the Abernethy Forest.  As this was close to where the new aspen wood had been planted earlier in the year I led the way in my own car so that I could check on the progress of the aspens before heading back down the track.  This small but ancient birch wood is an unusual feature of Abernethy Forest, a forest dominated by Scots pines and with very few areas of birch woodland or any other broadleaved species if it comes to that.  I did manage to add one lichen species to their list before I left so nice to have played a small part in this important survey.  The day ended with a last gathering at Firwood to enjoy a few beers and sample a malt whisky won by Janet via the Strathy newspaper’s crossword competition.  An enjoyable few days and I look forward to seeing a list of the lichens recorded, especially to see how many will be new to the Abernethy list.

That’s it for another month, still catching up but enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet

First Nature – Wood Hedgehog
Randolph’s Leap River Findhorn
Waddington village
Meet the people who plan to destroy Coul Links, and don’t believe all you read
Not Coul who are trying to save the site
Scottish Government - details of application
Public Inquiry information
NBN Atlas
Strathspey Weather
Parkswatch
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

Archie and Harry and the well used 'truck'
A pipers welcome on Ruth's big day
Loch Mallachie
Photos © Stewart Taylor