A chance meeting with Gabrielle Flinn late in the month determined the outings for the rest of April. Gabrielle is the Project Officer for the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms project and when I met her at the Nethy Bridge post office she asked if I would be interested in looking for the Kentish glory moth (Endromis versicolora) with the help of a pheromone. She showed me a small glass phial filled with something that looked like white polystyrene but was really a material that held the scent (pheromone) of a female Kentish glory moth when she was looking for a male to mate with. To go around potentially suitable sites for the moth with a night-time operated moth traps or to physically look for the day-flying males would be hugely time-consuming undertaking. Using the pheromone in comparison required the volunteer (me and many others) to select a suitable looking area of birch woodland, ideally with an element of young trees, hang the glass phial from a birch branch with a length of string, and sit back and wait for 20-30 minutes. It has been calculated that the males can sense the pheromone from up to 1 km away and, with an opportunity to mate, the males home in on the phial. I first encountered this moth via my moth trap (non-killing) when first arriving at the Loch Garten Reserve in 1976. The trap was operated almost daily during the April to October period on the edge of Tulloch Moor and in an area where birch was the main tree species. During all those trapping nights the Kentish glory moth was only recorded as follows: 1976 x2, 1977 x2, 1978 x4, 1979 x2 and 1980 x1. Between 1981 and 2009 (the last record during my employment) the moth was recorded just four times. I was therefore very interested to see how the pheromone would perform. My first outing was on a bit of a breezy day but quite warm and in the area of woodland close to where I previously ran the moth trap. The three 25-minute sessions failed to attract any males but at
|Pheromone (small white tube) on string with visiting Kentish Glory|
least I had decided the best set up for hanging the phial – directly on the string rather than in a mesh bag. Two days later I was back in the same area but with nothing recorded during the first two sessions. At the third location I had just hung the pheromone and unscrewed the lid when I was aware of something whizzing past me, orange being the main colour I picked up and was fairly certain that this was a male Kentish glory. I needn’t have worried because within a couple of minutes it was back and was circling the pheromone, almost, but not quite, landing on it. Amazing, and my first contact with the moth in decades. Two more sessions failed to find anymore but at least I was happy that the methodology worked. I made two more outing by the end of the month and again I had a male appearing within minutes of setting up the pheromone with this one actually landing on the lure but not trying to mate with it. Via the six sessions a male was recorded twice and, unusually, it was found in damp to slightly boggy birch woodland. My last outing on the 30th had me wondering what was flying close to my first couple of locations and I was fairly certain these were day-flying emperor moths. From the five locations the moth was recorded just once actually visiting the lure as I was taking it down. It will be interesting to see what turns up in May, but what an interesting wee recording project so well-done Butterfly Conservation Scotland and Canterbury University for working to produce such an effective pheromone.
Searching of old locations of Wilson’s filmy-fern continued with two outings taking me toward Loch Ness. Without the use of GPS location technology way back in the 1970s both of these old locations (1971 and 1975) only had their 6-figure grid references, giving a potential search area of 100 metres square. Not a big search area but with both old sites being on the side of rocky outcrops the search outings could have provided a bit of fun! The amazing Pass of Inverfarigaig was the first location visited where trees on both sides of the single-track road were hanging thick with lichens, some in the rare UK category. The fern prefers to grow on the north, shady side of rocky sites so, once parked up, the slow wandering up and down the steep rocky ground started. A funny ‘growth’ seemingly
|The 'odd' plant a young herb robert!|
growing from the mossy covering on top of a boulder had me puzzled – was it part of the moss itself, a liverwort or a plant? Photos taken, a small sample was removed to check once home and by keeping the moss moist a little more growth was achieved. The hairy leaf led me towards it being a plant and when out and about I was fairly certain that I had found a seedling herb robert (Geranium robertianum) and this was confirmed when I re-visited the location a few weeks later. Likely looking rock ledges higher up from the road failed to produce the fern and, assuming the original finder of the plant, the great botanist Mary McCallum Webster, wasn’t a rock-climber, I continued to check the rock faces and ledges that were reasonably accessible. After a couple of hours, I was beginning to think this wasn’t to be a ‘re-find’ day and after a quick bite of lunch thought I would check out one
|Wilson's filmy fern, plant with single sori bottom photo|
damp rock face not too far from the road. Once or twice a similar looking moss had me fooled and it was whilst trying to decide whether what I was looking at this time was a fern or a moss (having only seen the fern once before) I spotted something that dispelled all doubt – a distinctive spore bearing sori. This was a small population, lacking the masses of sori seen during last months outing, but the dark leaf veins were present as were the leaf edge teeth so all I needed to do now was use modern technology and GPS the location. However, with the location being on the side of a rock outcrop and also being in the bottom area of ‘The Pass’ the GPS was only giving an accuracy of +/- 25 metres so a description of the ledge location was also made. One down, one to go.
Just a few days later I was back in the same general area but this time a little further north at Creag nan Clag, a very impressive conglomerate rock outcrop. This type of ‘rock’ is made up of rounded fragments comprising small pebbles to large boulders bound together in a finer particle ‘cement’, usually silt and clay known as a matrix. At home the weather had warmed up a little, so much so that I was fooled into making this outing a little under-dressed. At the site the wind was quite strong and
|The conglomerate type rock/boulders|
from a north-easterly direction meaning the higher I climbed the colder it became, particularly as the gully I was walking into was facing the wind. My lightweight waterproof jacket would have been an ideal companion on this particular outing! Walking into the gully the rock face to my left was
|Green spleenwort top and fertile Wilson's filmy fern bottom|
checked but with very little plant life apart from along the base of the conglomerate. Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) was quite regular but also a single clump of green spleenwort (Asplenium viride) with its characteristic green stem/all green appearance. An odd-looking lichen turned out to be Leptogium gelatinosum. Eventually a damper section of rock was reached and without too much searching there was Wilson’s filmy-fern with 5 distinct small populations many
|Alectoria sarmentosa subs sarmentosa|
displaying lots of sori. By now I was just about frozen, despite there being sun outside the gully so time to head down to try and warm up. Along the main rock face it was nice to see lots of the early flowering purple saxifrage along with Peltigera britannica and, the lichen this rock-face is famous for, Alectoria sarmentosa subspecies sarmentosa, hanging down from just one section of the rock-face. There was also lots of purple saxifrage all nicely in flower.
Mid-month there was a reminder that spring/summer was on its way. Whilst out in the garden a light buzzing sound around my head led me to automatically swat whatever it was and found a nicely flattened fly stuck to my hand. To me this looked like a mosquito but thought this was a little early for them to be on the wing, so I took it into the house to have a closer look under the microscope. All the features indicated a mozzie so I sent off a couple of photo to expert Stephen who informed me
|The banded house mosquito|
|First small tortoiseshell in the garden|
that yes, it was a mozzie going by the name Culiseta annulate, the banded house mosquito. Interestingly, I also found out that this mosquito is on the wing from spring to autumn and then the adults hibernate in building, caves or hollow trees and is one of 33 species occurring in Britain. That other horror of the spring to autumn months also put in its first appearance – the tick, with two found on my body on the 15th. Time to dig out the tweezers and bottle of TCP. The first small tortoiseshell butterfly was in the garden on the 11th, a willow warbler on the 20th and a local tree pipit on the 22nd.
A little time was spent checking out a couple of important known sites for the green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis). The first one was a trip over to Deeside to visit the NTS Mar Lodge Estate where, once again, a fallen conifer had produce over 100 capsules. The number was down just a little from 2017, possibly due to enrichment from rabbit droppings being deposited on the trunk which is
|Green shield-moss and rabbit dropping!|
|Elgin shoot moth (Rhyacionia logaea)|
allowing moss and plant growth to develop quite rapidly, making areas unsuitable for the moss. It was also possible to see several capsules having been knocked over again, possibly due to rabbits though there was also evidence of red squirrels feeding on Scots pine cone seeds as well. NTS staff have noticed an increase in the rabbit population in the area of the fallen tree. Whilst counting the capsules a green woodpecker was heard quite regularly, a rare bird in these parts, and a small, but colourful moth which seemed quite happy to rest and have its photo taken, turned out to be the Elgin shoot moth (Rhyacionia logaea), a moth with just 8 UK records on the NBN Atlas. However, local expert Mike, who helped identify it, said it was a species that he encounters quite a lot and is obviously heavily under-recorded, though there are two records from close to Braemar the latest being 2002. Currently though it has only been found in conifer woodland in north-east Scotland
|ST at the fallen willow top and the good population of new capsules|
where their larvae feed on buds and shoots of Scots pine and Sitka spruce. The second outing to check for capsules was to an ancient fallen, but still mostly alive goat willow in the RSPBs Abernethy Forest. A bit like the Deeside conifer, the capsules on this willow are to be found on several different parts of the tree. Interestingly, a new group of 20+ capsules have appeared this year helping to boost the population to 64. The moss was first found on this willow in 2009 when the tree was still upright and has been growing there ever since.
An outing to see the green shield-moss growing on a substrate and several tree species not previously known to support the moss also provided other good records. In this woodland, near to Beauly, fellow green shield-moss ‘hunter’ Sandy had found several capsules growing on a bracket fungus
|The circular Fomes bracket fungus top and the moss capsules bottom|
growing from a fallen birch tree. Both tree and Fomes fungus were in the mid-stages of decay and possibly the reason why the fungus was providing a suitable growing habitat. In the same woodland Sandy had also found the moss growing from dead sections of a hawthorn and a whitebeam, both new tree hosts. On my way into the wood I managed to find another location on a decaying fallen birch tree, and close to the whitebeam, more capsules on a fallen goat willow, so obviously a good wood for the moss. The outing also provided my first records of willow warbler and chiffchaff for the year and another location for the small, but distinct, larch ladybird (Aphidecta obliterate), a ladybird I often find without a larch tree in sight. However, it does also like Scots pine. Under the
|The slime mould Trichia decipens as found top, and under the|
|Slime mould spores x1000 oil|
hawthorn, I could see a distinct patch of something coloured orange and on closer inspection found it was one of the slime moulds, but with very distinct small, round balls on top of small stalks. The bulk of the orange colour had been created by the mass of bodies ejecting their spores, one to take home for checking later. Under the microscope I could see the typically round spores of a Myxomycete (slime moulds are not actually a fungus which was new to me) so one to check with slime mould expert Bruce who pointed me in the direction of Trichia decipiens a slime mould linked
to deadwood which was probably just buried under the soil. An old orchid flower spike close by also sparked a bit of interest so photos were taken and once back home plant expert Ian confirmed that it was a bird's nest orchid. A good find and something that would prove even more important a few weeks later.
Work on the new aspen wood last mentioned in the March blog continued, though a few problems with fence posts not remaining secure caused quite a bit of extra work. Because the deer fence is within an area used by black grouse, lots of marker ‘droppers’ had to be added to the wires to make the top part of the fence more visible to deter the grouse from flying into the fence. Returning one day to carry on with the dropper installation, I was aware the fence wires on one section were very
|ST cutting up the fence droppers top and a cuckoo perched on the fence|
just after their installation
slack and several of the droppers had been knocked off, tufts of hair telling me that a red deer had been inside the fence and had caused the bulk of the damage when trying to get out. I learnt later that there were actually five red deer in the plot, goodness knows why when the grazing available outside the fence was at least as good as that inside. So lots more work involving a new corner straining post installed by the fencing contractor and tightening up the wires once again. The marker droppers also posed a problem having given up ever getting them, two months after ordering them. Small runs of specially cut timber sizes usually do take longer and with time pressing to get the fence finished I ordered 150 posts that had been made to create a wooden garden fence. The one problem was that I needed to cut them all in half to get them to the right size for the job they were going to have to do. Eventually they were taken to the fence site and I began the long job of stapling them in place. With the time to plant the young aspens getting ever closer it was essential to get the fence finished to deter more deer trying to get in. This work though was to continue into May. An easier and more enjoyable job was planting tatties, kale and onions in the veg patch all installed by the end of the month.
A visit to Tulloch Moor to check old stems of bog asphodel for a common, but rarely recorded fungus turned up something else. The first was fresh frog spawn and on a dry knoll a nest of narrow-headed wood ants (Formica exsecta). There were few ants active on this cool day but the grassy structure of the nest made the identification quite easy. Lots of heather beetles (Lochmaea suturalis) were seen as was the fungus growing on dead stems of bog asphodel going by the name of Microdiplodia narthecii, a new species for the RSPB Abernethy Reserve. In the woodland along the edge of the
|Microdiplodia narthecii fungus top and spores bottom x1000 oil|
boggy area a large section of deadwood caught my eye, so I thought it would be worthy of a visit. As it turned out there was little of note until I spotted a small beetle running around which, quite helpfully, stayed still for long enough to have its photo taken. Once home I checked my fairly basic beetle book to see if I could identify it from my photo but in the end I sent a copy of the photo to expert Stephen to see if he could help with a name. It was a beetle called Lordithon but was one of
|The Lordithon trinotatus beetle and pine needles to aid ID|
two and the only way to sort out was by getting a reasonably accurate measurement of the its length. However, there wasn’t a specimen, so Stephen utilised something in the photograph adjacent to the beetle, several Scots pine needles. Over a few minutes Stephen arrived at the average width of a pine needle and by using this measurement worked out that the beetle was 6-7mm in length leading him to the name Lordithon trinotatus, another new species for the reserve.
An outing with Janet to a woodland by the River Findhorn was a real eye-opener, adding to my list of important sites along this amazing river. The woodland walk is on the Darnaway Estate and is known as the Dunearn Burn Walk and gives a couple of options depending how far you want to walk. As we left the car park I got quite excited when I found common wintergreen (Pyrola minor) growing by the path and even more so when ancient oak trees came into view some of which had small populations
of lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria). However, all around were the remains of felled beech trees and I had to assume that these had been removed to help the oaks regenerate, favouring important native trees against the non-native beech, as this tree is classed in this part of the UK. This removal work proved even more important as the path took us into and area of oak and ancient hazel with the hazels hanging thick with lungwort and Pannaria rubiginosa with the strange common name of brown-eyed shingle lichen possibly because it can also be found growing on rocks. As Janet enjoyed her packed lunch sitting enjoying the view I was off down the steep slope (very steep in places) seeing what else was growing on the hazels with enough promise of more interesting lichens should I
|Woodruff and fungus top and Puccinia punctate asci and |
spores bottom (x1000 oil)
manage to return and spend the day checking more of the oaks and hazels. Making my way back up to the path there were primroses in flower along with a distinctive plant with circular whorls of leaves growing up its stems – woodruff (Galium odoratum). There were also bluebell leaves but no flowers as yet. Some of the woodruff plants had an obvious dark-brown fungus growing on their leaves which turned out to be Puccinia punctate, a fungus I had only seen once before growing on a close relative of woodruff, fen bedstraw (Galium uliginosum) and not recorded from the Darnaway area. It was only once home I realised that this part of the River Findhorn is designated as The Lower River Findhorn SSSI the web-link (below) gives details about the positive work being done to help the oaks, hazels and their dependant flora. A site that will warrant another visit soon.
A shout from Janet late one evening saying “come and see this” usually makes me pick up my camera (if working away on laptop in next room) and dash through ready to photograph whatever might be visiting the peanuts on the deck outside. Most often it is for a pine marten, but, on this occasion, it was a hedgehog which had climbed up on the log with the dish of peanuts and was happily munching away. So happily was it munching that it allowed me to quietly and slowly open
the door onto the deck, without it running away. Flash and glass don’t go well together so by opening the door I was able to get a decent photo of this unusual and first time witnessed event. The un-flustered hedgehog carried on munching as I closed the door but then seemed a little unsure about how to get down from the log!
On my way back from my outing to look for the filmy fern I popped in to the RSPB Loch Ruthven Reserve and, as we had seen a thawing of the ice covering small pools and lochans needed for the frogs and toads to mate and deposit their spawn, lots of both species were regularly seen on the
|Whooper swans top and mating toads bottom at Loch Ruthven|
move. Between the car park and the bird viewing hide the path was covered with toads making their way to the loch and also males looking for females to mate with. I had to warn several visitors to be careful not to tread on them as they made their way along the path and also point out mating pairs and singletons heading for the water. A couple of whooper swans were also on the loch and Slavonia grebes were also in residence but a long way from the viewing hide. A wander up to some of the rock outcrops high above the loch failed to find any more Wilson’s filmy fern but, overall not a bad day. However, the fun and games that day hadn’t quite ended. It was daylight this time when Janet shouted to “come and see this” and on the ground, under the old apple tree, were two great tits,
|Battling great tits|
locked together as they probably battled for a female or nesting territory. One bird was on its back and the other lying on its side with claws well attached to the chest of the other bird. Several photos taken I decided to venture a little closer to have a closer look and check that the bird on its back was still alive. They were obvious oblivious to my approach and it was only as I bent down to try and pick them up did they become aware of my presence and break up their fight. For quite a while afterwards one great tit was very vocal so perhaps this was the ‘winner’?
Strange to by writing a blog for the month of April in late June but with lots on the go delays have built up. However, hope you enjoyed the read.
Stewart and Janet
Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms
More details about banded house mosquito – Culiseta annulata
Lower Findhorn SSSI information
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
|Lochnagar in the distance on the drive over to Deeside|
|I did say it would be warmer to have lunch in the Logie cafe!|
|Red squirrel feeding on birch sap after top was cut from tree|
|A chilly day hunting for ferns|
Photos © Stewart Taylor