Saturday, 20 December 2014

The ‘wee moss’ has a dramatic effect

The first week of the month was good for catching up with data entry, but for all the wrong reasons.  A slightly sore back/hip developed whilst south of the border and after a walk to the shop for the papers on the 1st problems started.  On the way back from the shop a car pulled in next to me and when the window was wound down I was face to face with my Uncle Hector.  A very pleasant surprise and worthy of an invite back for a cup of tea.  Hector and family were out for a run to Aviemore from their home in Inverness and just happened to spot me as they passed.  After catching up on all their news they continued their journey to Aviemore and I was left thinking something was going wrong with the back – again!  So it was off to bed but not before making a heath-robinson type stand with Janet’s dads old portable painting easel, something that could rest on my stomach and capable of supporting
Scaly tooth fungus - Sarcodon squamosus
my laptop.  The first afternoon saw me catch up with record entries up to the end of May, June being completed the next day.  The third day saw the back a little better but the laptop and stomach combination continued as did the data entry, and as Janet disappeared off to look after the grandsons the next day, I made the first of my “recovery” walks up and down the Tulloch road and along the Speyside Way.  The notebook was out and entries were made for a couple of scaly tooth fungi and a fly agaric (yes, the same species that seemed to be a
Rose in flower early November - Firwood
surprise to Alan Titchmarsh on his visit to the gardens of Buckingham Palace whilst making a TV programme for the Christmas schedule) both way past their normal emergence time, as were lots of garden flowers still in full bloom.  July data entry was also completed.  Day five saw me clearing up the leaves from by the chalet ready for Janet’s pop-up-shop and the walk up the road extended as far as SNH’s Norway spruce wood where the notebook was out again to list a few of the fungi still growing, in quantity, amongst the trees.  An email also arrived from Gus saying he had found something unusual on leaves of the pinewood orchid
Fly agaric - Amanita muscaria
creeping lady’s tresses (Goodyera repens) in the local wood threatened by a housing development.  So the walk the next day saw me heading out to School Wood, gently wandering up and down the pines trying to find the wee marker Gus had left by the orchid.  In local pinewoods the orchid is quite a regular plant and, as its name suggests, if you find one rosette of leaves you are likely to find more as the plant “creeps” about the forest floor.  With a bit of GPS help the marker was found and sure enough many of the leaves of the plant had dark patches covered with little yellowish spots (sori) of possibly one of the Puccinia fungi.  Photos required so the back and knees were tested as I knelt on the ground to get low enough to see what I was photographing.  A well-populated leaf was also removed
Creeping lady's tresses leaves & Pucciniastrum goodyerae
for checking once home.  A bit more wandering found a few more groups of orchid leaves (flowering being well passed) and just as the afternoon light was fading I came across another  set of fungus covered leaves, the photos taking 20 seconds each to complete as it was getting so dark.  Photos taken, sample collected and back a bit sore but still okay – brilliant.  Back home a couple of the tiny spore bearing “spots” were removed, squashed and checked under the microscope.  Thankfully, despite it being late in the season, there were lots of spores to see and typing “fungus on Goodyera leaves” into Google produced a link to British fungi and to a fungus called Pucciniastrum goodyerae.  Interestingly, the fungi website showed there were only 6 records currently known for the whole of the UK, so Gus’s
 Pucciniastrum goodyerae spores x1000
find looked like it was something quite important, particularly when the website listed its Conservation Status as: Vulnerable / D2 (Red Data List).  What a pity the date for objections to the planning application for houses in the wood had passed.  More about that later.  A couple of emails confirmed that I probably had the right name and with so few records/samples Kew asked if I could forward the dried material once finished with.  It was just as well I had had a good “back” day because an urgent phone call the next day saw me dashing off to grandson Finlay’s school (15 miles away) to pick him up and take him to the doctors after squashing a finger in heavy classroom doors.  Despite Finlay’s painful day everything healed well and he was soon back to his normal self, proudly showing off his blackening nail!

The same day an email arrived from Brian at Kew, apologising that it had taken just over a year to identify/confirm some specimens I has sent south in September 2013.  These guys at Kew are incredibly busy, Brian more so having actually retired a couple of years ago but still retaining a “seat” in Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory and dealing with all sorts of queries.  Me, I’m
Exobasidium pachysporum fungus on northern bilberry leaf
just grateful to receive names of species however long it takes, knowing myself just how much time can be spent on “any chance you could just check” requests from a wide range of folk.  The news though was worth waiting for and was linked to my outing to the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms last September, the initial aim being to re-find a patch of arctic bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpinus) but being tempted to make a return visit to look for plant galls on patches of northern bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) which I had noticed as being plentiful in places (see October 2013 blog).  The first find that day was something I have found a couple of time since, Exobasidium sydowianum fungus growing on the leaves
Exobasidium pachysporum fungus on underside of leaf
of ordinary bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).  At the time this was just the third British record.  I was quite keen to know if I had managed to identify the other fungus, found on leaves of the northern bilberry, correctly, and this was confirmed when I saw the name Exobasidium pachysporum in the email, this one being just the second British record.  The only other record of this fungus was from Cumberland in 2008.  Well worth waiting for and nice to be able to add some fresh material to the Kew collection.  A big thanks also to Brian for his help.

Remembrance Sunday morning was spent in a mixture of old pines and birches within younger pine plantation in an area of Abernethy Forest.  The peacefulness of this sort of area seems just right for two minutes of silence at 11 am.  The day was a bit damp with quite a bit of low mist, and stopping to photograph dripping twigs and grasses seemed to take for ever. 
Macrotyphula fistulosa var. contorta
Pipe club fungus
This autumn has been excellent for the weird contorted pipe club fungus growing in quantity from dead birch branches.  Years ago I searched for ages to find this fungus but this year – locally it’s everywhere.  Occasionally the sun would burn through the mist again testing out the camera when pointing into the sun.  My aim this day was to re-visit one of the oldest, largest rowans I’ve seen in this area – goodness knows how old it is.  Following the visit of the Ancient Tree Forum members back in June I had promised to visit this tree and photograph it so that they had details of its location and size for their database.  Job done I checked several local willows for the large willow aphid, one of the species being looked for
The ancient rowan
via the Highland Biological Recording Group.  It wasn’t found, something becoming familiar to me despite lots of hours of searching.  Visit the HBRG website below to see details and click on the Large Willow Aphid link at the top of the webpage.  As I emerged from the trees onto an old croft field I could see the sun was breaking through (in the south) and that something strange was happening behind me in the mist to the north.  Just like the sun and rain create a rainbow the sun and mist on this occasion were creating a “mistbow” (if that is what it might be called).  My timing was just right because within quarter of an hour the warming sun had burnt off much of the mist and that was the end of the mistbow. 
My "mistbow"
Overnight we had the first heavy frost to minus 4.5 degrees and saw the first council gritter wagon go up the road spreading salt.  Maps were also sorted for the ongoing ground truthing of local aspens trees and stands for John Parrott and the Highland Aspen Group.  The prepared large scale, A4, coloured OS maps show areas coloured blue where aspens are known to be, though small sites are checked in passing, and red numbered sites where the location has to be visited to see whether aspens are present.  The maps were created from aerial photos and an ash tree can look just the same as an aspen from the air.  Similarly dead Scots pines and larches are often found as having appeared like aspens on the aerials.  With map in hand, I set off mid-month to spend nearly five hours checking out the red spots on my map with some nice groups of aspens located but also many false alarms.  If time allowed I checked the aspens for lichens and other things, one of the more unusual finds being a
Micro moth - Narycia duplicella larva & case
small caddis like insect moving, very slowly, on the bark of one aspen.  Something similar was found earlier in the year on fallen Scots pines when looking for the timberman beetle, so this one was also carefully collected, along with a bit of moss, for forwarding to Stephen to see if a name could be supplied.  To me it looked the same as the earlier find but Stephen’s reply informed me that on this occasion I had found Narycia duplicella, another micro-moth, with just a couple of know sites in Scotland.  Visit the UK Moths website below for more information.  With all my usual messing about the last few red dots on the map were checked in the dark!  Once again, this sort of work takes me to sites I would never normally
Hygrocybe cantharellus waxcap in sphagnum
visit and in trying to take what I thought was a short-cut mid-morning, I came across an amazing area of bog woodland, some of which had been used by locals to supply peat for fires over many, many years.  Several tiny orange spots caught my eye as I crossed the bog and, to my amazement I found I was looking at waxcaps – in sphagnum in a bog!  I’m awaiting confirmation but they look like Hygrocybe cantharellus a bonny wee species and one which had been found close by in earlier years

I’m sorry to be including my wee green shield moss (Buxbaumia viridis) again this month but two significant events really means I have to.  The first was a meeting with staff from SNH to visit their local Dell Wood NNR to discuss the possibility of leaving the Norway spruces on site rather than clearing them as part of an exotic species removal programme aimed at creating a woodland of native species.  I have been finding the wee moss regularly in this small area of spruce and in some very unusual locations, for example on the mossy surface of shallow plough-lines (created at planting time), on live tree roots as well as the
Possibly a Mycena also found in the SNH spruce wood
usual deadwood habitat.  The wood comprises Scots pines and birches as well as spruces so I was suggesting, that with time, the spruces would die out, leaving the natives as the natural woodland.  Any new spruce seedlings appearing outside the wood would be removed.  The potential for removing an adjacent area of slightly better grown spruces, with very few moss locations, would be possible with little effect on the smaller area with the moss.  It was a good meeting, the SNH staff had part of a day out in the field, and seemed fairly positive to my proposal.  The major hurdle to overcome was the fact that other landowners (including neighbours RSPB) with conservation designated lands are being asked by SNH to remove exotic tree species and they would have to have very good reason for going against their own advice.  Watch this space.

The second “event” was linked to me having found several small and one large population of the “wee” moss in woodland in School Wood (October 2013 blog), the one with a planning application hanging over it for conversion to houses.  In my last objection to the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) I had pointed out that these sites would be lost, as the spruce areas where most had been found were included within “compensation” woodland
CNPA Board members site visit School Wood
for the areas of trees that would be clear-felled.  The “compensation” was detailed as removing the spruces and “creating” native woodland.  However, I recognised that there might be a problem with this proposal because the moss has been designated as a protected species under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  Oops!  The moss hadn’t been found during the ecological surveys and this, along with several errors in various sections of the ecological survey, had provided a strong case against planning permission being given and, on 21 November, the Park Board voted unanimously to reject the application.  However, a decision by a Scottish Government reporter who was reviewing all the local development plans within the national park had decided that part of the woodland site
The brown shield moss (Buxbaumia aphylla) has also been found
in School Wood
rejected on the 21 November will remain suitable for housing – so it looks like there will be much more work to do to try and ensure the wood’s future.  I am still trying to get my head round why housing on the whole site can be rejected unanimously in the morning by the Park Board only for the Park Planning Convener to produce a press release in the afternoon saying the Park “will work positively with all interested parties to see housing delivered on the site”.  The Park folk continue to be the biggest threat to the future of areas important for biodiversity in the National Park and probably are unable to operate independent of the Scottish Government.  The Goodyera leaf fungus mentioned earlier is within the area retained for housing!

Anyone staying in the chalet during a normal June might have been lucky enough to visit the important orchid site known as Glencairn or Flowerfield, adjacent to the B970.  This site has been superbly looked after by the owners Jane and Jeremy over the last decade, especially by ensuring the right level of grazing takes place, mostly through the winter months, but also throughout the year.  I used to look over the roadside fence each June to see masses of flower spikes of lesser butterfly orchid, and, having started to count the number of flowers at another nearby site, I thought it would be sensible to try and make an accurate count of the
The famous Flowerfield lesser butterfly orchid meadow
Flowerfield site as well.  In 2008 I approached the owners to see if I could undertake a “walk over” count and with their agreement arrived at an amazing total of 650 flower spikes.  I also noticed a healthy population of small white orchids, thousands of fragrant orchids and quite a few heath spotted orchids.  In 2009 I was determined to undertake a much more accurate count and, over two days, using marker canes to walk a logical grid of counting blocks, 1288 flowers were counted.  By 2010 The CNPA had employed Andy Scobie as their Rare Plants Officer with the lesser butterfly orchid as one of the target species, and from 2010 until this year the two of us have used the cane/grid method to ensure accurate counts continued to be made.  The table below gives details.
Year
Flower spikes
2008
650
2009
1288
2010
2800
2011
800
2012
970
2013
4345
2014
1225
We claim that this is the best site in Scotland, and possibly the UK, for this orchid whose population continues to decline within Britain.  On the 28 November I received a very worrying phone call from the owners.  The neighbouring landowner was proposing a planning application for several luxury chalets, one group of which, would be adjacent to the orchid meadow.  Whilst the chalets themselves might not be damaging, the potential for the un-fenced boundary between the two properties becoming fenced would be.  Currently, grazing cattle move between the richer grasslands close to the River Spey and the orchid
The key to maintaining the orchid meadow - correct grazing levels
meadow and, because the orchid site is mainly heathland, the grazing pressure isn’t intense but obviously just right for the orchids.  Interfering with this casual grazing pattern could be disastrous and currently a great deal of effort is being deployed by myself and others to gather as much information as possible about the site so that should a planning application be forthcoming the Park Authority (the planning authority) are aware of what could be lost.  Currently SNH though involved, have passed the responsibility for what will happen to the CNPA.  So it looks like there will be plenty to keep the volunteer recorders and guardians of the natural heritage locally busy over the coming months.  Once again, watch this space.

Enjoy the read and with all best wishes for Christmas and 2015
Stewart and Janet

British Fungi (FRDBI)
UK Moths
School Wood planning application.
if that doesn’t work try typing 2013/0119/DET into Google. Or try typing the following:
2013/0119/DET | Erection of 58 houses, associated roads & footways | Land At School Road And Craigmore Road, Nethy Bridge.
Highland Biological Recording Group
and how to join HBRG

Rain drops on grasses
Great spotted woodpecker
not bad for the wee compact camera
Sunset Loch Mallachie

Photos © Stewart Taylor

Monday, 24 November 2014

A bit of Cairngorm delivered to the “Auld Acquaintance” cairn

There were two big events during October, daughter Ruth flew out with Lewis to the US of A and we spent a week in Lancashire (recovering!) with Janet’s mum.  Ruth’s holiday was a much delayed birthday present from back in May but suitably timed to match school holidays and a week where grandparents were available to look after “the boys”.  As Ruth flew out we took the boys to Grantown to select a couple of books to read before having a walk up to Castle Grant where sticks to fence with and cones to throw were readily available.  Back home for the evening an ambitious meccano project was started involving batteries, motor with pulley, string and lots of nuts and bolts.  A lots of effort went into “Finding Wally” in the books purchased earlier before donkey rides carried tired
Singing dipper River Nairn
grandchildren to bed.  An outing to Nairn the next day saw sticks and logs floating down the River Nairn, a dipper singing on a rock in the river, six-inch twigs becoming “magical” and something we had never heard of but linked to the Minecraft games oddly named a “foam pickaxe”!  How we could have used the real thing a couple of hours later.  On the way home we thought a visit to Ardclach Bell Tower would be good fun, lots of steps to climb and count before ascending the stone steps within the tower itself.  The tower dates from 1655, and the
hill on which it stands gives excellent views out over the River Findhorn, via the climb up 70-odd steps to the impressive single door giving access to the tower.  Finlay tried unsuccessfully to unlock the door with the big key, but with a bit of help we in and all at the top of the tower peeking out through the slit shaped shot holes in the walls.  Back down the steps we visited what looked like a small dungeon set down in the basement.   As I photographed Archie perched on the edge of a tiny windowsill we suddenly heard Finlay informing us that we were “locked in” with him on the outside.  Knowing that Finlay had been unable to unlock the door on our arrival I wondered what our next steps would be having walked up to the tower leaving bags, phones etc. behind in the car!  As notable lines
Phew, after "the event"
from Dad’s Army flashed through my mind “don’t panic” and “we are all doomed, doomed” I tried unsuccessfully to instruct Finlay on which way to turn the key but from inside the locked door.  A small gap close to the lock allowed me to get a finger to the outside, pointing which way to turn the key.  At the same time I realised that the bolt bit of the lock was visible on the inside and with Finlay trying to turn the key on the outside and me pushing the bolt on the inside there was immense relief when the key turned and the door opened.  Phew!  Back at the car Finlay informed us that there were 164 steps on the return trip between gate and tower.


As we welcomed Ruth and Lewis back it was time to complete my letter of objection to the Cairngorm Park Planners regarding the house plans for our local School Wood.  Errors in the ecological surveys where quite mind-boggling and these formed the major part of my
The major find - 140 capsules on one root
objection and whether the finding of a tiny, protected moss, no more than a few millimetres high, in areas to be felled and built over would have any effect, would be determined in late November.  The tiny green shield moss also produced another stunning display, this time in RSPBs Abernethy Forest.  A single Norway spruce root buttress of a felled tree produced a count of around 140 capsules, definitely the biggest count anywhere to date and quite an
Part of the biggest count to date
amazing sight the scale of which is very difficult to capture on camera.  The day after saw me visiting the doctor again with a red-ringed tick bite and being given another 14 day course of antibiotics to combat the possibility of Lyme Disease.  Just one of the hazards of tramping through the undergrowth recording things.  With the tablets working and energy levels returning an outing was planned to follow up reports of waxcaps in a field at Glen Brown near Tomintoul.  This amazing glen displays all the remains of life as it was about 100 years ago, large areas of grazed pasture with ruined remains of farm houses and steadings backing on to higher moorland.  The area though is slightly lime-rich, so you can never be too sure what you will find.  Juniper bushes were checked, without luck, for unusual lichens, but quite quickly a few waxcaps were encountered by the track with more in the grazed pasture.
Glen Brown - ex lime quarry (centre) and kiln up and to left
Red grouse were still quite vocal and the odd raven passed overhead. Lunch was taken by one of the ruined farm buildings.  Scanning the opposite hillside through my binoculars I spotted what looked like an old lime quarry and a little further up the hillside, what looked like a limekiln – an obvious target for the afternoon.  In areas, a few plants of quaking grass (Briza media) appeared and as I crossed the burn and headed towards the possible quarry, more was encountered.  My guess about the quarry was correct and more waxcaps were found along with white and yellow spindle fungi (Clavaria fragilis and Clavulinopsis helvola) and after having been recording plants for several weeks of the summer I was
Having fun with Intermediate lady’s mantle
tempted to have a go at identifying a couple of the small-leaved plants of Lady’s mantle.  Checking for the amount of hairs above and below the leaves and on the leaf pedicels (stems) Alchemila filicaulis (hairy lady’s mantle) and Alchemila xanthochlora (intermediate lady’s mantle) were identified, quite an achievement for me!  The quarry was not good for lichens which was the main reason for checking it and as I made my way up to the kiln the rain started, and, having spotted an ancient aspen growing close to one of the ruins, I headed in its direction, sheltering for a while in one of the safer parts of the tumble-down building.  The rain eased for a while so a quick check was made around the aspen, no doubt
Ancient aspen and ruin in which to shelter (left) Glen Brown
getting a few folk scratching their heads when they receive my records from what is normally classed as a tree-less area!  As the rain increased to a steady down-pour on went the waterproofs and up went the umbrella and with little possibility of further recording I headed off back to the car.  Having lost track of the date I realised once home that it was wedding anniversary time and with the shops now shut the evening was spent finding a nice photo and suitable card from Janet’s store in preparation for the morning.  Brain getting worse!

During the approach to referendum day we had heard a little bit about a cairn being built right on the England/Scotland border at Gretna by people from across Britain.  The “Auld Acquaintance” cairn was the idea of Penrith and Borders MP Rory Stewart, with the aim being to get people who wanted the UK to stay united to bring their own stones, some with messages, to build it.  As we were heading south, and with the M6 passing a few hundred metres from the cairn, we thought it worth a visit and to place our own stone as a thank you
Cairngorm/Loch Morlich rainbow
to the people of Scotland.  But this wasn’t going to be any old stone.  Via contact with the Mycological staff at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, I had become aware of the “Lost and Found” project as detailed in last month’s blog, and having visited the website realised that one of the “lost” species could possibly be lying undiscovered in the nearby Cairngorms.  So, on the day before we headed off to Janet’s mums I thought I could kill two birds with one stone (no pun intended), go and see if I could find a long-lost fungus and whilst on the side of Cairngorm, select a stone to take to Gretna.  In Nethybridge it was fine and almost sunny but at the Cairngorm car park it was blowing almost a gale and there was constant drizzle in the air.  The rain from Cairngorm did, at times, head down the hill with regular rainbows appearing showing that there was actually sun shining a couple of miles down at Loch
Could this be Sporomega degenerans on
Vaccinium uliginosum?
Morlich.  Undeterred I set out along the path towards Coire an t-Sneachda knowing that within a couple of miles the damp runnels coming off the slopes would provide populations of the plant I was seeking - bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum).  In 1907, at a site in Perthshire, thuis fungus was found on the stems of this plant and hadn’t been recorded since.  My hope was that the fungus, Sporomega degenerans, would be present on one or more of the plants I might find, and that the Lost and Found project would have done its job and one of the target species was known to still be alive and well.  That was the theory!  Plants of dwarf cornel were found and a search along the same tiny burn produced my first Vaccinium plants, thankfully, just before they were about to lose all their leaves.  The only guidance I had was that the fungus (stromata in this case) erupted through the bark of the plant so stem after stem was searched.  Parting some of the live stems revealed that some stems were dead or dying and there was also dead twigs attached to live ones.  A quick “hello” was exchanged with a group of folk heading right up the mountain on the path above
Cairngorm stone and lichen "Auld Acquaintance" cairn Gretna
me, and having passed, they probably had an interesting discussion about what they thought I was up to.  Some of the bigger clumps of the Vaccinium seemed to offer more mature live and dead stems to search and it was on one of these that a series of small, longitudinal splits was encountered, looking reasonably like the picture I had printed off from the Kew website.  In all, four collections were made of whatever it was I was finding on the plant stems, all found during about an hour and a half of searching.  Another collection was also made from a good population of the plant close to the car park.  Just time to select a nice pink bit of Cairngorm rock, complete with lichen, for the Gretna stop, before heading back to the car.  The evening was spent carefully removing a couple of the “splits” so that sections
could be checked under the high-powered microscope.  From the description of the fungus I knew I was looking for quite long spores, but despite lots of searching, nothing was found.  Knowing my collection would need to go to the experts at Kew to be checked I was reluctant to remove too many “splits” and after a couple of days of drying, the collection was packed and posted in the hope that Paul would have better luck than I.  The first email was quite encouraging in that the “splits” looked correct, but like me, no spores could be found with the suggestion being that the fungus was effete (worn out, exhausted, finished) and the spores had gone or, more likely, they had been parasitized, infested by another organism. 
Another search would have to wait until 2015, and also be a little earlier in the season.  Watch this space.  Next day we were up bright and fairly early to head south, reaching Gretna just in time for lunch.  Several people were visiting the cairn which was right on the Scotland edge of the River Sark, as near as feasible to the Scotland/England boundary.  People had come to the cairn from all over Britain to place “their” togetherness stone in the run up to the 18 September, and no doubt some like us, had adding their contribution following the vote. 


The next week was spent visiting several lunchtime dining spots with Janet’s mum and family and friends.  Favourites are the pub in the old Roman village of Ribchester, a new café at the ex-railway station at Longridge and the brilliantly impressive Stoneyhurst College
Stoneyhurst College always impressive
at Hurst Green where Janet had timed it right for their Christmas Fair.  Strange things are also happening in the countryside around the Ribble Valley – an ivy take-over.  The plant is climbing up fence posts, telegraph poles, buildings. Even hawthorn hedges have become ivy dominated.  An empty ex car showroom in Accrington resembles something from the day of the trifids, with walls covered and the roof starting to disappear under a carpet of green.  Brother John reported an unusual, large, yellow plant growing by a nearby road which
Ivy on the march
turned out to be evening primrose, a rare escapee in that part of Lancashire.  We also had five days without hearing anything about the Scottish “neverendum”! 
The journey home encountered the A9 average speed cameras for the first time, switched on the day after we headed south.  Not only do these cover the “notorious” Perth to Inverness section, but also the duelled section between Dunblane and Perth.  Welcome to the Highlands!  I also arrived home to be greeted with the news from expert Mike that a couple of spiders I had found in the house during the last few months had been identified.  The first was one of those giants of the house Tegenaria saeva, the giant house spider, which was found in the kitchen sink way back in early August.  Whether it was a coincidence or not but looking after a set of antique drawers for daughter Ruth might have had something to do with its appearance. There are two species of giant house spider, the one mentioned above
The giant house spider Tegenaria saeva
along with its close relative Tegenaria gigantean and they can only be told apart by the experts.  The one found at Firwood is the one regularly found in the north of Britain whilst its close relative is found mainly in the south.  This impressive spider measures about 8cm across its outstretched legs and, having a hairy body is probably the one species folk who are terrified by spiders ever want to meet!  The second spider couldn’t have been more different, tiny by comparison and a “jumper” to boot.  It’s not found in the house all the time but one or two of these bonny wee spiders had been putting in an appearance every few weeks, mostly in June.  The one that allowed me to take its photo actually appeared on the desk
Jumping spider Pseudeuophrys lanigera
next to my computer and eventually I caught up with it for just long enough to get a decent photo which local expert Hayley identified as Pseudeuophrys lanigera, confirmed a few days later by Mike.  Sadly, many species of spider can only be identified from a collected specimen.  This spider was only recorded in Britain for the first time in 1930, in Devon, an arrival from the continent.  Since then it has spread north with just a few records, to date, in Scotland.

Redwings appeared early in the month and joined blackbirds devouring rowan berries on the tree in the garden.  The predominantly mild weather throughout the month saw all the birds finding enough natural food to almost stop using the peanut feeders.  Sunflower hearts were utilised, but some days even these feeders weren’t emptied.  Pine martens appeared almost daily, much to the delight of our last chalet guests for the year.  Fallen bits of
Common pinmould fungus on bird seed
sunflower hearts provided us with an unusual surprise on our return from Lancashire, a carpet of something black growing from the lawn under the feeder.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a mould and making a guess it was linked to the bird food I typed “fungus on fallen bird food” to see if it was a known feature of bird feeders.  Yes it was, and something experienced a lot by folk according to the RSPB website.  However, I had to do a bit more delving to find out it was called common pinmould (Phycomyces nitens) another species whose distribution is spreading north no doubt due to the increased use of sunflower hearts as bird food.

Enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet

Ardclach Bell Tower
The Auld Acquaintance cairn Gretna
British Arachnological Society (BAS)
RBG Kew “Lost and Found” project
Highland Biological Recording Group
and how to join HBRG

One of my first whooper swans by flooded field Carr Road
Where's Grandma?
Late afternoon Ryvoan Pass and Cairngorms


Photos © Stewart Taylor

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Thank you Scotland

September 2014, a month in our lives that I hope we will never have to go through again.  Even now, writing this, I feel very emotional as I re-live the weeks, days and hours leading up to the 18 September 2014.  Exactly how Janet and myself were feeling as the day drew closer was summed up brilliantly by Melanie Reid in her article in The Times on 16 September “My grandfather, a crofter, would think this is madness”, where she talks about
the changes felt in her local community as September approached, the feeling of being “wretched, scared and absolutely powerless” as those of us who were “emotionally British” contemplated “divorce from the UK”.  Everything we had worked for during our lives houses, pensions, jobs and savings as honest citizens of the UK seemed no longer secure particularly when what was being offered was jam tomorrow.  “Political fantasy” summed up pretty well what many folk were thinking.  A note in my diary on the 13th said “feeling a bit off colour” perhaps after watching the Last Night of the Proms and wondering if this would be the last time this would be a national event with live links to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.  The “off colour” entry continued to appear over the next few days not making the obvious link that the 18th had something to do with
About 5am in the morning
it.  We both went down to vote quite early on the 18th and, very oddly for me, I completely ignored the “good morning” welcome from the Yes representative at the door.  I was feeling there was very little good in the potential break-up of the UK.  I spent the rest of the day away from radio and TV in a bog I had helped to restore for RSPB Scotland in the biggest of the UKs National Parks.  The thousands of records I had collected over the years were aimed at showing why Abernethy and other sites visited locally were important to the UK and I was trying hard to see whether I would have the same motivation if this was just for Scotland.  Scotland is brilliant, but brilliant and key to the
The saviour of sanity Mycena
importance of the UK.  The link was highlighted very well by the fact that I was in the bog following up a request from the Mycologist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to look for something growing on a sedge that was thought to be extinct.  It wasn’t found but a bonny wee red Mycena fungus found in deep, wet sphagnum moss kept my mind occupied through the evening, arriving at a name at about the time the polls closed at 10pm.  We stayed up all night getting to bed at 6.45am knowing that 55% of the people voting had opted for Scotland to remain part of the UK.  No running up and down the street waving flags, no champagne, just hugs and a huge sense of relief.  The following day Janet put our money back in the bank!


Quite a lot of September was spent checking for species of interest on two important areas for biodiversity but both threatened by housing developments.  The local one in School Wood, Nethybridge has featured before in this blog and you get the feeling that the folk behind the application keep re-applying in the hope of wearing down the locals who have made the effort to object on more than one occasion.  The second one is also a long-
Sarcodon sqamosus the size
of dinner plates
running affair based on a very important grassland in Carrbridge with the development also requiring several hectares of woodland to be felled.  The reason for getting involved in both is to try and get long-lasting protection for both sites but also to highlight the inadequacies of the folk employed by the developers to undertake the biodiversity surveys.  These surveys do seem to be written trying to show why the development should go ahead rather than just report on what is there and the importance of any species found.  Carrbridge was the most urgent and the local conservation group
Not quite so big
Sarcodon glaucopus
(Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group - BSCG) had asked for help in recording species and for help with identifying some of the fungi found.  The woodland, mainly Scots pine of planted origin, was re-checked for tooth fungi, several of which had been found prior to an earlier application.  Several were found, the most amazing being the good numbers of the dinner plate sized Sarcodons, both S. squamosus and S. glaucopus, many associated with the areas of old badger diggings.  As the month progressed the focus turned to the natural grassland (fields that have never been ploughed or fertilised an increasingly rare habitat in the UK) to see which waxcap fungi were emerging, the main indicators of the quality of the grassland supporting them.  Waxcaps featured in last month’s blog but the big problem is not the finding, of which 6 species were found, it’s the identifying.  One or two are very obvious but the red and yellow species need microscope work as do
Clavulinopsis corniculata - Meadow coral
the darker coloured species.  An hour in the field lead to two nights work with the microscope and the realisation that more experience is needed with gill edges and cap trauma to be really happy that the ID is 100%.  The field also produced both yellow and white “spindles”, Clavulinopsis helvola and Clavaria fragilis, yellow meadow coral and the oddly named and multi-coloured parrot waxcap – Hygrocybe psittacina.  A group of grey coloured round “stones” turned out to be one of the brown
Parrot waxcap - Hygrocybe psittacina
puffball, (Bovista nigrescens) the one you tend to find later in the year, the “ball” having detached itself from the ground and often to be found blowing around in the wind shedding its spores as it goes.  None of these species featured in the developer’s survey possibly not too surprising when a botanist undertook the survey rather than an experienced mycologist.  Perhaps the most amazing bit of the fungi survey report was that a fungus found was 90% a Hydnellum but only 70% sure it was ferrunginium!  In my recording world a species either is what you see or it’s not, no if’s or but’s.  If the surveyor had been correct, it would have been the first ever record of a Hydnellum growing from
The stone-like puffball Bovista nigrescens
a tree root.  Thankfully Charles Darwin didn’t have this problem!  A second visit to School Wood produced a few nice surprises.  Several sites were found for the green shield moss with one root-plate of a blown Norway spruce having a population of 48 “new” capsules from this growing season, all well developed and the highest count of whole capsules found to date at a single site.  It is unlikely they will all survive to maturity (May 2015) once the predator (still unknown) of capsules finds them.  One to follow up in the coming months.  Close checking of mossy roots and fallen trees lead to the finding of a population of small black balls on the tips of one of the common woodland mosses Mnium hornum.  Photos were taken and a small section of moss with balls taken home to check.  It
Didymium minus on moss
was obviously a fungus so the first thing to do was cut a ball in half and squash it under glass to check under the microscope.  The outer shell was so hard that the extremely thin glass cover-slip broke before it was possible to squash it, but with a bit more care a squash was achieved and lots of round, brown spores were seen.  I had a suspicion that what I had found was a young slime mould and without the UK’s slime mould expert living not too far away, I probably wouldn’t have bothered taking the sample.  Photos were emailed to expert Bruce and back came the name Didymium minus, with few records on the fungal database, probably reflecting more on the lack of folk like me, bum in the air, poking around the bases of spruces!  With expert mycologist Liz incredibly busy I made a trip over to Deeside to undertake a count of the number of fruiting bodies of the spruce tooth (Bankera violascens) at one of only two known UK sites.  The other site featured in the August blog and my
Didymium minus spores x1000
notebook lists 85 fruiting bodies seen in that wood but a full survey would have shown there to be well over 100.  The Deeside site is on Forestry Commission land and during the last thinning of the trees, the sitka spruces close to the track where the fungus grows were left un-thinned to ensure the habitat remained suitable for it.  A walk along both sides of the track produced 50 fruiting bodies, many of which were quite small possibly reflecting the dryish summer.  Lunch by the River Dee showed just how high the river had been during the big rainfall of the night of 10-11 August.  Standing on the shore the debris stuck in the trees overhead showed this big river had been 2-3 metres higher than normal. 

The pine martens have been a regular feature in the garden this month, one visiting the squirrel feeder at one-o-clock in the afternoon, but mostly in the evening.  Daughter Laura passed through mid-month to leave her cat with us for a few days and around the same time Janet put an additional plate
of currants out on the garden decking, viewable through our glass doors.  Laura’s marten luck held, and as we all sat chatting at about 8pm her cat was very interested in something on the decking – a visiting marten!  As everyone watched the cat watching the marten I grabbed the camera to try and get an unusual photo of cat and marten.  At the same time our own cat joined the watchers and with a bit of difficulty I fired off a few shots of cats and marten though house lights and outside darkness
Pine marten via the wee Lumix camera
produced a photo but not of the best quality.  We are fairly certain that one or two martens are currently visiting every evening/night much to the delight of our chalet guests.  An outing with members of the BSBI to record plants in and along the shore of Lochindorb on Dava Moor on 14th provided two viewings of a fishing osprey, long after the Loch Garten birds had departed.  The aim of the outing was to check if plants recorded previously, up to two decades ago, were still present in or on the shore of the loch.  Amazingly, the day was very calm which was just as well, many of the plants were being looked for by paddling along the edge of the loch peering down into the water.  This loch is quite unusual in that along the shores we were visiting, the loch is quite shallow, often for many metres from the shore, though visitors to the loch must have wondered why up to a dozen
The Lochindorb searchers
folk were “paddling”, well out from the shore, and peering down into the clear waters.  Having spent very little time studying aquatic plants it was quite useful having expert Ian as leader and very quickly plants like shoreweed (Littorella uniflora), alternate water-milfoil (Myriophyllum alterniflorum) and the rarer plants like quillwort (Isoetes lacustris) and water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) were found as washed up specimens on the loch shore.  In all about 150 plant species were recorded, re-finding several species that hadn’t been seen at the loch for quite a while.  Phil, who had travelled up from the Lake District for the outing, also gave us a useful tip for identifying
The striped ladybird Myzia oblongoguttata
the three short-leaved aquatics many of which are only found as parts of plants on the shore-line.  Shoreweed leaves when cut have a solid core, water lobelia has two tubes/holes visible on the cut sections and quillwort has four holes, a very useful guide when externally the leaves of the three species look very similar.  The latter is also a spore bearing plant closely related to the clubmoss family.  A visit to a wee burn flowing into the loch produced a single ladybird perched on a sedge which turned out to be the striped ladybird (Myzia oblongoguttata).  A good day out and I just hope the names of the new plants “stick” so as to help with visits to other local water-bodies. 


Early in September an email from Martyn at Kew brought some interesting news – “Good news about your little smut haul from 2013!”  This followed quite a bit of sedge checking, just a year earlier, when I had been finding the black fungal balls of Anthracoidea fungi.  At the time of the collections the carrot had been dangled that not a lot was known about this group of fungi and that
Anthracoidea inclusa on bottle sedge
any collections would be welcome and some might possibly be new to the UK!  With generous financial support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Kew has embarked on the Lost & Found Fungi Project following up on species of fungi with only one or few recent records.  Are these fungi genuinely rare or simply rarely recorded?  This funding allowed my collection to be checked and the correct name given to the fungus associated with each sedge.  Amazingly, the smut found on one of the commonest sedges locally and nationally, bottle sedge (Carex rostrata), was the first known British record of Anthracoidea inclusa!  A less common sedge, slender sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) also
Anthracoidea lasiocarpae on slender sedge
produced a first, Anthracoidea lasiocarpae.  Brilliant.  Both collections were made from the extensive sedge beds associated with Insh Marshes and they produced the perfect outcome to a nice wee project.  The next carrot though has been dangled which might not be too easy to find.  A small fungus of the family Puccinia has been recorded once on the leaves of the slender sedge and is now thought to be extinct.  Sedge beds have been visited but with the big flood on the 10/11 August many of the sedges are covered in mud and debris and though collections were made these will have to be held over until further searches can be made in August 2015.

After involvement going back to 1977, I walked my last Loch Garten butterfly transect on the 23rd before hanging up my net, in what has been quite a good year, though it didn’t feel that way as each
Butterflies and anything else on last transect
walk was completed.  Just two walks were missed, the first two in April due to weather.  For many of the walks just 3 or 4 species are seen with the last two having just 1 species per week.  The biggest counts occurred during late July and early August (max 264 on 5 August) and the highest number of species on a single walk was 9 on 22 July.  Speckled wood was a new species for the transect and green-veined whites were the most regularly recorded species with 585 individual contacts.  The table below summarises the 2014 season.

2014






Species
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
Small White
0
0
0
1
0
0
Green-veined White
221
151
113
125
307
585
Orange-tip
15
8
20
17
7
20
Green Hairstreak
20
18
33
6
2
10
Northern Brown Argus
0
1
0
0
0
0
Common Blue
6
5
3
2
3
8
Red Admiral
5
0
1
0
0
4
Painted Lady
2
0
0
0
0
0
Small Tortoiseshell
15
11
17
14
29
16
Peacock
5
1
1
2
0
2
Small Pearl-bordered Frit
28
22
22
5
9
9
Dark Green Fritillary
20
7
5
4
5
7
Speckled Wood





1
Scotch Argus
136
442
299
759
420
515
Meadow Brown
12
4
2
2
1
6
Ringlet
115
231
105
108
83
284
Small Heath
11
20
15
20
21
96
Large Heath
2
4
2
1
0
0
Total butterflies
613
925
638
1066
887
1563
Number species recorded
15
14
14
14
11
14
Weeks walked (out of 26 max)
23
20
21
23
23
24

Having retained annual totals over the 38 years it is interesting to see how the species recorded have changed with 2 species lost in the 1980s (dingy skipper & pearl bordered fritillary) but with 3 new-comers during the 2000s (peacock, speckled wood and ringlet).  Clouded yellow appeared just once in 1992, the year of the big invasion.  Whilst the table below shows what appeared when and how often, a little caution is needed in that during the period 1990 to 2002 there were two years with few transects walked, and three years with none at all.  It can be seen though from the table that 2014 was the best year to date for contacts of green-veined white and ringlet and also for the highest number of contacts made for all species.  My own involvement covered 20 years with the biggest benefit coming from all the other species recorded for the Abernethy Reserve, in addition to the butterflies.  The last record locally for the small dark yellow underwing moth (Anarta cordigera) came from the transect
Exobasidium sydowianum on bearberry leaves
along with several shield bugs, a rare tooth fungus, several fungi including just the 7th UK record for one on bearberry leaves (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) during this September and the occasional plant.  Hopefully, RSPB will be able to find a suitable person to keep the survey going despite the commitment of one walk a week from 1 April to 26 September.  It has been great to have been a part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and when you next hear about the ups and downs of our butterfly populations nationally, it is this scheme which is providing the data.  Currently there are over 1,000 sites being monitored annually and since its inception in 1976 recorders have made about a quarter of a million weekly visits at more than 1500 different sites, walking over a third of a million miles and counting over 16 million butterflies.
1977 to 2014





Species
max count
year
years recorded
first
last
Dingy Skipper
28
1978
8

1987
Clouded yellow
1
1992
1


Large White
26
2006
13


Small White
4
2006
10


Green-veined White
585
2014
35


Orange-tip
22
1977
32


Green Hairstreak
33
2011
32


Small Copper
23
1989
17


Northern Brown Argus
13
2006
4


Common Blue
150
1984
31


Red Admiral
65
2004
18


Painted Lady
28
2006
6


Small Tortoiseshell
99
2004
35


Peacock
22
2006
10
2004

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
118
1978
28


Pearl-bordered Fritillary
11
1984
10

1989
Dark Green Fritillary
26
2006
22


Speckled Wood
1
2014
1
2014

Scotch Argus
759
2012
34


Meadow Brown
54
2006
33


Ringlet
284
2014
10
2005

Small Heath
109
1978
32


Large Heath
20
1984
28


Maximum count in a single year
1563
2014



Transect started                     1977
Total possible years                  38
Total years walks completed   35

During September swallows and house martins were gathering in preparation for heading south.  Whilst visiting daughter Ruth near Aviemore I had been seeing increasing numbers of swallows on the fences and overhead wires and as the family parties met up I was amazed one day to see what looked like over 100 birds flying round her house and occasionally landing in a nearby half-dead
Ruth's swallows
tree.  I quickly grabbed the wee Panasonic camera and waited to see if they would land again, which they did briefly.  I think the photo shows up to 90 birds in or around the tree.  Despite waiting for them to repeat the tree visit they scattered and landed in various places.  The possibility of a lot of these birds having bred or hatched on the estate where Ruth lives is quite feasible with so many older buildings and barns around the place with open windows and doors allowing easy access to lots of nesting sites.  With many fields having been harvested there were additional feeding opportunities for
other birds and the local rooks and jackdaws have been wandering the fields in big numbers.  A visit to Cawdor saw cereal harvesting in action with the crop being deposited into the drying areas attached to the local distillery and with the sun shining no doubt the combine would have been working late into the evening.  A little worrying though was the quantity of fertiliser sitting in the
Heath cudweed seed heads
adjacent farm-yard ready for the ploughing and sowing of next year’s crop – 140 one tonne bags of the stuff, probably indicating why the plants of rest harrow and field speedwell were only found on the field margins.  Heath cudweed (Gnaphalium sylvaticum) plants featured again this month though not in record numbers as in July.  A visit to an ex-garden cum nursery near Boat of Garten to check
Ouch!
for plants and lichens lead me to the first group of plants, mostly producing their fluffy seeds, with just over 100 plants in the group.  The old car park produced another 200 and the other tracks and visitor areas a few hundred more adding up to 660 plants in all, a not insignificant count.  Old tracks and car parks are ideal for this plant and if the site remains as it is, the population should grow a little before other plants take over.  Whilst lying down taking photos I was aware of lots of mosquitoes buzzing around with the occasional one penetrating my skin for a pre-breeding snack.  I’m not sure whether it’s me or the mozzies bites not being as itchy/inflamed as usual, but despite lots of bites

during the summer, few have created the itchy lump that would normally appear.  Feeling a bit sadistic I got the camera ready and held out my hand waiting for the next mozzie to land and, with fly in focus I waited for the bite, the proboscis to go red and for the body to fill with MY blood.  As usual the mosquitoes back leg was in the air as its body filled with blood and I managed to get my photos.  To see how much blood I’d lost I gently squashed the fly and the back of my hand looked like it had suffered quite a bit of trauma, and yet again no itchy lump developed!

Enough.  That’s it for another month 
Enjoy the read from a very relieved
Stewart and Janet

Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group
RBG Kew “Lost and Found” project
Esmée Fairburn Foundation, funder of Kew Project
UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme
BSBI
Highland Biological Recording Group
and how to join HBRG

One of 30 turnstones flicking stones at Findhorn Bay
Findhorn Bay
Pinkfeet arriving mid-month
Couldn't resist one of Harry -"up and running"

Photos © Stewart Taylor