Thursday, 22 December 2016

Up north, down south, waxwings and Windows 10

The early part of November saw me putting my final modifications to a PowerPoint presentation to be given to the Tain and District Field Club held over from March following my prostate op.  Quite timely because facts and figures for another summer could be added for work with butterflies, orchids and BSBI plant recording.  At the same time, final touches were added to an article on sedge smuts (Anthracoidea fungi) for Field Mycology and arrangements made with Emma at the Boat of Garten Community Hall for the first ever meeting this far south for the Highland Biological Recording Group’s AGM.  A visit to Tulloch on the 2nd saw me in some aspen/oak woodland that had somehow evaded earlier visits, being tucked away behind glacial moranic type topography close to the moor 
Plicatura crispa on dead hazel branch
road.  I couldn’t find any knopper galls on the acorns or anything unusual on the aspens but the hazel bushes had the dainty little bracket fungus Plicatura crispa, but it was the mass of stones at the edge of one field that provided the biggest surprise.  Around many farm fields locally you can find heaps of stones which possibly date back to the late 1700s to early 1800s when the land was ploughed for 
Nephroma parile lichen on field clearance rocks
the first time.  They are often referred to as stone/field clearance heaps.  As ploughing techniques and equipment improved these heaps were probably added to but few that I see have been added to in recent times.  Lots of plants pop up from amongst the stones but this heap was particularly large and not heavily grown into by plants and grasses.  However, it was the tops of the stones that had 
Birch shieldbug
Scarlet waxcap
something unusual: good populations of a lichen which locally I often associate with trees, Nephroma parile.  The lichen handbook states “On bark and mosses, characteristic of old woodlands, also rarely on sheltered, mossy , coastal rocks.”  A good find.  A fallen hazel limb had a birch shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) wandering over it and as I made my way back to the car, a group of scarlet waxcaps (Hygrocybe coccinea) indicated a patch of good, natural grassland.

A couple of days later and I was off early and with a talk in Tain in the evening I thought I would make the most of the day and head a little further north to visit the Spinningdale oak wood.  After sorting out the location of the evening talk in Tain I headed north across the Dornoch Firth Bridge with amazing views inland as well as out to sea.  As I left the bridge the sand dune habitat caught my eye and, with a convenient layby to hand, I pulled in, donned my wellies and hopped over the fence to check the gorse covered dunes.  From the car the habitat looked very similar to parts of Findhorn 
Moor club fungus (Clavaria argillacea)
Peltigera malacea
Bay and with that in my mind I was hopeful of finding something unusual.  With gorse covering large tracts of the dunes though there were few open sandy areas so I wandered back towards the bridge where open sands had been visible.  Despite looking like open sandy habitat from the car the surface was covered with dense population of a common lichen Cladonia portentosa, one of two lichens known as the reindeer lichen, leaving little room for much else to grow.  However, another interesting lichen was found Cetraria islandica but the one I was hoping for couldn’t be found.  As I made my way back towards the road an open sandy area appeared, almost below the road and having first spotted a tall club-like fungus (Clavaria argillacea), something that looked like what I was hoping for, Peltigera malacea was also growing.  The distribution maps show it to be present close to my find but with the whole area being part of the Dornoch Firth SSSI I’ve no doubt it might be present in other areas of suitable habitat throughout the dunes.  However, the oak woods were calling so time to 
An old oak apple (Biorhiza pallida)
Acorns but no knopper galls
move on via the A949.  As I drove along the road I thought there would be lots of areas to pull over on but there wasn’t. Eventually a bit of space became available and I pulled over.  Either side of the road there were mature oaks so I decided to work my way up the slope to start with.  A few fallen oak leaves had spangle galls (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum) and cherry galls (Cynips quercusfolii) on them and occasionally fallen oak apples (Biorhiza pallida) were found, well past their best and with all the tiny gall wasps probably having emerged.  Once again though, no knopper galls were found which was a pity as that would have been the furthest north record for the gall wasp in the UK.  I should really have taken my binoculars with me and tried scanning the trees because there were few 
Schismatomma graphidioides lichen on oak tree
acorns on the ground.  Time to start staring at the tree trunks and, quite quickly, I found the script lichen Schismatomma graphidioides on two oaks.  Would it be new to that area?  Hard to believe but it had been recorded twice before and only from almost the same location!  Crossing the road, I made my way down to the sea shore just in time for the late afternoon fly-past of greylag geese but overall it had been quite a quiet day for birds.  Probably the strangest find on the rocky shore was a big 
Dornoch Cathedral - early evening and all lit up 
tussock of lyme grass, (Leymus arenarius) probably washed there after one of the winter storms but having said that, there are very few records for this plant in that general area with none in the Dornoch dunes visited earlier in the day.  With darkness falling it was time to nip into Dornoch for a bite to eat before heading back to Tain to give my talk

As the industrialisation of our remoter, wildland areas increases it was well done – almost, to the John Muir Trust.  A year ago I joined the John Muir Trust (JMT) to support their efforts to stop a wind farm development in the heart of the Monadhliath Mountains near Loch Ness/Fort Augustus.  But to start, let’s wind back the clock to 2013 when Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) produced a draft Consultation Paper covering the Core Areas of Wild Land 2013.  One of the ‘wild land’ areas comprised a part of the Monadhliath Mountain area where, a year later, an application for the Stronelairg wind farm would be made.  Something very strange then occurred.  When the final Wild 
An accurate map of the Stronelairg windfarm recently given planning permission.
Turbines red dots and tracks in brown. Courtesy of John Muir Trust Journal
Land map was produced (Wild Land Areas 2014) the area comprising the wind farm application had been removed because the then Scottish Government Energy Minister Fergus Ewing, had approved the application.  Can you start to smell something?  The SSE wind farm application made national news when it was made because of the sheer scale of what was being proposed, 67 turbines, mostly 135m high and covering an area of around 35 square kilometres in a remote Highland landscape.  The original application had been for 83 but Highland Council planning officials made a recommendation that no objection would be lodge but only on condition that the development was reduced to 67 turbines!  Had Highland Council objected to the application a Public Local Inquiry (PLI) would have been triggered and this would have brought in to play a more serious assessment of the environmental impact.  The smell is getting stronger!  At that time, in 2013, the JMT initiated a judicial review against Highland Council but unfortunately were refused a Protective Expenses Order (PEO) meaning they could have been left with a huge bill that they just couldn’t afford.  At the time of the application there were many objectors, including the Scottish Governments nature conservation arm, SNH which you would have thought would have produced a PLI.  But no, and on 6 June 2013 the Scottish Government approved the application.  Pass me that peg!  Having found what they considered several flaws in the application and decision making process JMT took out a judicial review against the Scottish Government.  However, the developer, Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) joined the case as an ‘interested party’ meaning JMT would have to face two sets of lawyers increasing the financial penalty should they lose the case.  Again, an application for a PEO was turned down.  To progress, JMT issued an appeal for funds and due to the generosity of its campaign supporters was able to continue with the case.  In December 2015 the judicial review judge found in favour of JMT.  Amazing!  There is though a ‘BUT’.  SSE and the Scottish Government appealed the ruling and JMT once again asked, unsuccessfully for a PEO to contest the appeal and, five months 
Same OS Map as above but without the industrialised landscape
The black rectangle shows the windfarm location on a smaller scale map
to try and give a reasonable impression of the remoteness of the site.
later, the judicial review decision was overturned and the plan to industrialise one of Scotland’s wild and remote areas of land was again on the cards.  More pegs please because something really does stink!  The Stronelarig Estate at the time of the application was owned by Charles Connell, who sadly died of heart failure in 2015, and may still be owned by the family.  When permission for the wind farm was given the go ahead in 2014 the Sunday Times revealed that the development would bring in up to £60million in profits to the estate.  Having followed this saga over the last few years it was quite interesting to see a comment in our local Strathspey and Badenoch Herald paper by Local Highland councillor Bill Lobban (SNP).  Currently, local folk have been objecting to two wind farm applications that will impinge on the ‘wild land’ area around the picturesque Lochindorb, and lying within the Drynachan, Lochindorb and Dava Moor Special Landscape Area.  One is still in the wind-mast trial stage but the other, despite the application being rejected by Highland Council and with 161 local objectors including the community councils of Carrbridge and Dulnain Bridge, the Scottish Government Reporter gave it the go-ahead.  Councillor Lobban summed up what many folk locally have been thinking.
"This decision is yet another insult to democracy.  Quite simply the planning process in Scotland is broken.  Allowing decisions to be taken by a single government employee rides roughshod over the democratic process and it is now high time that the Scottish Government realised that fact and made drastic changes to the whole system.  There is no point bleating on and on about local democracy when the views of local people and their democratically elected representatives are ignored time and time again."  Thank you Bill but pass me that gas-mask please.

Lots of excitement on the 14th when, walking back from the shop that familiar sound of tinkling bells sounded overhead – waxwings!  Daughter Laura had told me that there were a few hundred in Elgin but these were the first to be heard locally and when I caught up with them there were about 50 sitting at the top of a larch tree at the end of our road.  As I pointed them out to a neighbour the whole lot flew overhead and carried on in the Firwood direction.  I dashed home and in the hope that they 
Tree-top waxwings
And what they should look like courtesy of Craig Bell - wow!  
might be attracted, I cut up some of the fallen apples and laid them out white-side up on the lawn.  Nothing!  Next morning there were about 10 at the top of a tree across the road but that was it.  Our old rowan tree was hanging thick with berries but they weren’t tempted and it was a few days later that the redwings, fieldfares, blackbirds and the odd mistle thrush started to attack the crop.  No 
waxwings but lots of fun trying to get a decent photo of the thrushes devouring the rowan berries.  Watching the comings and goings it was interesting to list just how many birds were feeding on the berries.  There were the four species above plus a female brambling, chaffinches, bullfinches (2), goldfinch and, trying to feed on them a sparrowhawk.  The waxwings were found again near the Dell Road church and, with a hedge full of cotoneaster berries I had hopes of a low down rather than bright sky background photo.  No luck there.  During this period a new laptop was ordered and despite trying to stay with Windows 7 it wasn’t to be and the new machine arrived with all the junk 
Unlucky sparrowhawk - on this occasion
that accompanies Windows 10.  The simplicity of the older versions of PowerPoint and Publisher have been overtaken by newer ones which are trying to think for you and might eventually be learnt.  Word, excel and the email side seem to be okay but all with new quirky was of doing things and I’ve yet to get the Mapmate database moved over successfully.  I contacted Nikon to see if they could supply details as to how to install their pretty good NX2 photo software but they don’t do that for W10 and there is now a less powerful NX-D which doesn’t do the same tweaks that the older version did.  Why?  Currently the overheating old laptop continues with the Mapmate database and the old Nikon software and if that really does pack up and PC Specialists can’t mend, where do we go?  Both laptops were used to produce the last blog.

Weather.  13.80C on 15th and with a couple of night-time -70C, all day frosts and some snow on high ground.  It was cold enough towards the end of the month to freeze over most waterbodies and create amazing frost-scapes on some days.  Despite the day staying below freezing I managed to re-visit a section of the River Findhorn near to Logie Bridge to find the most amazing area of very old hazel 
Ancient ash and lungwort lichen
Leptogium saturninum lichen on ash tree
trees in amongst ancient ash and oak trees, all hanging thick with lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) and smaller numbers of textured lungwort (Lobaria scrobiculata), Degelia plumbea and two local rarities Collema fasciculare and Leptogium saturninum.  Some of the hazels have to be the oldest I’ve seen locally.  Perhaps the strangest pursuit though involved whisky and their distilleries!  A couple of months ago I was alerted to the fact that there was something called the ‘whisky fungus’ a Baudoinia species and that it was linked to the black, sooty deposits found on buildings and trees all around some distilleries.  Despite having been aware of this phenomenon during all the years driving past the distilleries I had never thought beyond the deposits being linked to the steam billowing out from the buildings during the whisky distilling process.  Murdo at the Highland Biological Recording Group alerted me to the fact that despite several studies having been done to confirm and identify the 
A typical steamy distillery - but don't blame the steam!
fungus, there was only one UK record!  He had visited a couple of distilleries north of Inverness, had collected some ‘soot’ and had had the fungus identity confirmed by an expert mycologist.  Close to home there are several distilleries in the Aberlour and Dufftown areas and it was to the first location that I set off to see what I could find.  The first site was Glenfarclas a few miles before Aberlour and despite being closed to visitors it was possible to drive up to the visitor car parking area and scan the buildings and trees, but no obvious deposits could be seen.  Just before Aberlour is the Carron 
The soot-like fungus found on hawthorn twigs at Aberlour distillery
Distillery, almost on the south bank of the River Spey and despite lots of steam pouring out of one of the buildings again, no deposits could be found.  So, on to Aberlour where the distillery is at the bottom of the hill as you reach the edge of the village.  I drove into the car park area and bingo, some bushes, trees and building were covered in the black deposit, so carefully I cut a bit of hawthorn twig complete with a mass of deposit and scraped a bit more into a plastic tube.  Every tree over quite a distance from the buildings was also covered, something typical of other sites I’d driven past.  Onward, this time to Dufftown and on the approach to the town all the trees were black.  This town is very well off for distilleries with five all within a mile or so of each other so possibly they all combine to create more deposits?  I parked the car and wandered along the road looking for suitable 
Baudoinia compniacensis (whisky fungus) under the microscope x400
Whisky fungus x1000 oil
deposits to take home to check by wandering between the Glen Fiddich and Diageo distilleries.  Despite the trees all being pretty black the deposits were nowhere near as thickly encrusted as at Aberlour but were plentiful enough to collect a couple of samples.  Job done, off home to see what the deposits looked like.  What I found under the microscope matched the details available on the internet so it looked like I was dealing with Baudoinia compniacensis.  As I was about to email Murdo with my results, complete with photos of the fungus and the steaming chimneys of the distilleries I thought I should read a little more about its history and recent research and it was only then that I realised that the fungus has got nothing to do with the steam!  When the distilling process is complete and the whisky is in the barrel (previously used oak Spanish sherry barrels are used at Glenfarclas for instance), to obtain the title of Scotch whisky, by law, the new spirit must be matured in oak casks, with a capacity no greater than 700 litres, in a warehouse in Scotland, for a minimum of three years.  This is known as maturation.  During this process 2% of the alcohol is lost due to evaporation via the pores in the wooden barrels and is known in the industry as “the angels share” and it is this airborne alcohol/ethanol that is responsible for the fungal growth.  Despite, until recently, there only being one UK record of this fungus, work on its identity started in 1872 by the French pharmacist Antonin Baudoin who checked the black, sooty growth found on the walls and roof tiles of buildings near distilleries in Cognac, France. Fascinating.

The most surprising birding event was least expected.  On one of the days that Janet wasn’t running her ‘pop-up-shop’ in the chalet, we headed for a day out at the coast in Nairn.  Our walk circuit took us from the town centre and out to the shore where we stopped for a few minutes to watch a partial 
Pale-bellied brent geese feeding and the locally ringed bird
rainbow develop over the sea.  Below us a group birds flew in and landed before starting to feed on the rocks, “they’re brent geese” I shouted to Janet, a bird I have very rarely seen previously.  As we watched the birds feeding more arrived, adding up to 47 in total, and as one group flew in I fired off a few shots of the camera to get a figure just in case the birds didn’t stop.  They did, and as I checked the photos on the camera I realised one of the birds coming in to land had rings on its legs.  As they were feeding they moved quite quickly along the rocky shore heading in the Ardersier direction.  A few enquiries once I got home dashed my hopes of the bird having been ringed in its breeding area (northern Greenland, Spitsbergen?) when the leader of the Highland Ringing Group informed me that a small number of birds winter each year along this part of the Moray coast and that they were responsible for adding the rings!  No matter, a very pleasant surprise on our day out.

Early in November we received the sad news that my Uncle Rob had died and mid-month I travelled down to Morecambe to be with other family members and friends to say cheerio to a man who had dedicated quite a lot of his working life to Scotland’s railways and latterly at the ferry port in Heysham.  The tiny station at Drumoak on the then Aberdeen to Ballater line is one of the places 
where he worked close to the Toll-gate cottage where he grew up.  Before its closure in 1966, the Royal Family were regular passengers as they made their way to Balmoral.  As a boy scout camping in Inverness and having travelled up from Lancashire, I was able to pay a surprise visit to Dalwhinnie where he was station master for many years, and when myself and Janet toured Scotland in our good old Ford Poplar, we again dropped in unannounced when he was doing the same job at Annan.  Our thoughts are with Grace, Shona, Graeme and family at this sad time.

With best wishes for the festive season and 2017

Stewart and Janet

SNH Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map Consultation Paper see Site 17 Monadhliath
Bill Lobban and Strathy article
Tain & District Field Club
Dornoch Firth SSSI
Dufftown Distilleries
Baudoinia compniacensis the whisky fungus
Mapmate recording database
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG

Green shield-moss capsules as seen on the HBRG AGM outing
Hydnellum (ST) on BBC Scotland weather but
still a long way behind daughter Laura's successes!
It has been mild but also very frosty

Nethy Bridge old kirk sunset
Have a good Christmas
Photos © Stewart Taylor and © Craig Bell waxwing

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The mystery of the castles “What Window?”

Welcome to the 150th Firwood blog.  Enjoy the read.

The early part of October saw me once again trying to get organised, but this time it was bringing together my records of fungal smuts (Anthracoidea) found over the last three summers.  Along with fellow recorder Paul, the lists of finds, numbers, locations and photos would be needed as we both 

Spring sedge (Carex caryophyllea) with smuts - the start of the search
put pen to paper to write a joint paper of our finds for possible inclusion in ‘Field Mycology’.  If we could get details of our finds published we might tempt a few more people to go looking, adding to the picture of the smuts UK distribution and, more importantly, finding out which are rare or common.  By mid-month the basic shape of the write up was 90% complete and by the end of the 
month draft number nine was with the Field Mycology editor along with accompanying photos, for consideration.  What has been interesting is bringing together, for the first time, regularly found species like those on star and carnation sedge, and those which have been rarely found on mud and pale sedge.  A table of my finds to date is given above – should you be tempted to go looking!

A very rare event, nay a first, occurred mid-month – a dog came to live with us!  Daughter Ruth and family were off to Legoland, an amazing birthday present for Finlay whose years in numbers had reached double figures – 10.  After several ‘secret’ discussions between Ruth and Janet it was decided that Murphy dog was just too old to go into kennels whilst they were away, and Janet had 
offered to suggest to me that he would come and stay with us for five days when Ruth was away.  Help!  I needn’t worry, Janet said she would do all the walks and pick-ups and I would just need to sort out morning feeds, and with that Murphy arrived.  To be honest, I needn’t have worried and for most of the time it was hard to know that there was a dog in the house but no, we won’t be getting one!

An outing during this period also found something unusual, but not for the first time.  During plant recording outings to General Wade’s Military Road area west of Carrbridge, an old croft-type field, by the track, had several waxcap fungi on it, so worthy of another visit.  The track produced a few records of tooth fungi but the field, despite quite a bit of searching, had lost its waxcaps.  Grasslands, rich in waxcaps, are usually good indicators of natural, not messed about with habitats, and worth noting.  However, this one had previously been planted with conifers and whether in recognition that this shouldn’t have happened or the tree crop failed, I don’t know, but if left to grow on naturally, it 
Trembling brain fungus (Tremella encephala)
could once again be quite an important habitat for waxcaps.  Another thing I was doing as I wandered was checking fallen deadwood and sections of deadwood on live trees in the hope of finding the alternative habitat for the rare stump lichen (Cladonia botrytes).  Lichen experts agree that somewhere out there is the natural habitat the lichen occupies, it can’t rely solely on man-created stumps.  It has been found on dead heather stems and, on a dead pine twig in Sweden, but so far, I’ve not been lucky enough to find any away from the stumps apart from on one fallen dead pine.  Obviously, not going to be as easy as finding the alternative habitats for the green shield-moss.  The track eventually reached the Allt Lorgy river where an old gravel quarry was searched for anything 
Musketball as found
interesting, eventually paddling across the river to check out a few fallen pines on a steep bank.  The damp weather had brought out one of the jelly fungi Exidia saccharina, on dead pine branches but a more interesting and a less encountered fungus was the hard, white, brain-like fungus Tremella encephala (trembling brain), a parasite of another fungus on dead pinewood, Stereum sanguinolentum (bleeding conifer crust).  This blog is starting to sound like a hospital operating theatre!  An upright Scots pine stump looked interesting and as I searched a small, grey circular shape caught my eye.  An old broken branch, a pebble from the river or possibly something else?  A light was starting to pop on in my head and when I touched the object with the sharp blade of my pen-knife the light came on fully and I realised that it was lead and that I was possibly looking at a musket ball, having found one a few years previously in a mole hill!  I assumed that it had been fired at the stump, possibly when it was a live tree(?), and the section I was seeing was quite flat, probably caused by the impact whilst the other part of the ball, once the item had been extracted, still displayed its original round shape.  From a chart, I managed to find on the internet, the musket 
Musketball sizes, bottom photo compares sizes of the two finds
ball was about 17 bore, weighing in at 27g and measuring 18mm in diameter.  Could there be a link to the General George Wade’s road?  This road was built in 1728-29, after the first Jacobite rebellion in 1715.  Muskets were known to be in use from about the early 1700s.  There was also the Jacobite Rising of 1745 which would have seen lots of movements through this area.  However, muskets/musket balls were used by ordinary folk, a bit like shotguns are used today, to shoot deer and other prey, and this would have seen their use through to the mid-1800s.  Looking at the Roy Maps (Roy Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-1755) and the OS six-inch series 1843-1882, there are no obvious buildings to indicate someone was living or farming close to the find location.  This might indicate a military link or possibly a local doing a bit of target practice whilst out hunting.  So, a bit more work for someone in the Highland Council archaeology department to do at some time into the future.  General George Wade (1673-1748) was born in Ireland and looked like quite an amazing man and this wee extract from the internet gives a bit more information about what all he got up to in Scotland:
“During these sixteen years in Scotland (1724-1740) he was responsible for founding and constructing two new forts, Fort George (Inverness) and Fort Augustus, and upgrading several others, including Perth, Ruthven, Edinburgh and Dumbarton.  He was also responsible for constructing about 40 bridges and over 250 miles of roads between these forts, particularly along the Great Glen, and from Dunkeld and Crieff to Fort Augustus and Inverness.  He also had plans for further road developments, many of which were carried forward by his successor, William Caulfield, after 1740”.  Amazing.

Late in the month we headed south to Lancashire to visit Janet’s mum whilst at the same time popping my laptop in to Barrie’s shop for repair.  The drive both ways was blessed with good weather as was our stay.  My morning leg-stretch saw me doing a short circuit of the adjacent park, keeping a list of bird species as I walked (24 species) to send to BTO Birdtrack.  As with Nethybridge, most trees still had a good covering of leaves and many flowers were still in bloom.  On the first day out I was guided expertly by Janet’s mum along the country lanes to Longridge for lunch the return run taking in views over Longridge Fell with Pendle Hill whale-like in the distance.  An odd marked ladybird on our return to the flat turned out to be a harlequin.  Our next outing saw us in Ribchester visiting one of the properties shown on TV during last winter’s floods as the bar and dining room disappeared under water.  Everything had recovered well and a good meal was had by all.  With a bit 
Great horsetail (Equisetum telmateia)
of spare time late that afternoon I zoomed down to one of my childhood haunts, ‘the Dunk’ or the Dunkenhalgh/Mill Wood for a wee wander.  This rather damp wood has a good mix of tree species but it was the oaks that received my attention first and straight away knopper galls were found on fallen acorns along with spangle (Neuroterus quercusbaccarum) and silk button galls (Neuroterus numismalis) on fallen leaves.  A dipper on the Hyndburn Brook shows just how clean these once heavily polluted rivers are now, but I missed out on a kingfisher on this outing.  In Mill Wood lots of great horsetail plants (Equisetum telmateia) had me reaching for the GPS to record location, a plant I had obviously missed in the past.  A vivid red plant by a bridge over the river had me scratching my 
Red bistort
head – red bistort (Persicaria amplexicaulis) but the fern growing from the wall was easier, hart’s tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) something I would see quite a bit of during this short wander.  Lots of conkers were found under the horse-chestnuts, one of the reason for visiting this wood when a lot younger, and still not able to stop the urge to pop a few in my pocket!.  At the top of the wood the reservoir held no surprises so I decided to drop down through the trees to the old mill by the river.  
Wall lettuce & graffiti!
Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) seeds
This amazing building (once a papermill?) is made of the famous red Nori bricks, made just a couple of miles away, but with the building having been empty now for many years the walls supported good populations of hart’s tongue fern, but a small dandelion-like plant also growing from between the bricks had me puzzled and it was only once back home I found it was wall lettuce (Mycelis muralis).  The invasive weeds Indian balsam and Japanese knotweed were everywhere and a wee plant by the road was petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus) though I had to take a bit home to be sure.  When I checked this plant, I found that the small holding tub was full of odd-shaped what looked like seeds, thankfully confirmed via the web.

Next day saw us in Skipton where lots of folk were setting off for trips on barges on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, which reached its bicentenary this year with Janet’s brother, Alan, travelling the whole 127-mile length of the canal over two weeks in his narrow boat as part of the celebration.  Lunch over, we made our way up to Skipton Castle and whilst standing on the slope leading into what looked like the gatehouse debating whether to pay to go in, I pointed out to Janet an unusual window 
Skipton Castle window  - oval in centre of photo
above the gatehouse arch.  It was a ‘bull’s-eye’ type window, oval in shape and surrounded by wedge-shapes bricks and worth getting a photo to check later.  Decision made, we paid to go in and, with tickets bought, a guide was in the gatehouse arch to welcome us and give a bit of guidance as to the best route to follow.  “Can you tell me anything about the unusual window above the arch” I enquired.  “Which window” came the reply, and with that I showed him my photo and went back outside to point it out.  Our guide called over a second one to ask if he knew and again we got the 
'The Window'!
response “Which window”!  In addition to my photo below you will see it also is visible on several photos on the official website.  The guides promised they would make enquiries in case anyone else asked.  The entry fee was well worth it and there was lots to see.  Outside we saw more harlequin ladybirds along with a 10-spot.  The visit ended with a walk up through the Woodland Trust’s Skipton Wood where we heard both kingfisher and nuthatch.  The next day we headed back north getting to Aviemore in time to collect the laptop to get on with catching up with entering my records before the end of the year.  Now up to June but the laptop wasn’t happy and with the horrors of having to contemplate a new one was starting to become a reality (one reason for this late blog).  Help!

Bird news.  I had my first ‘autumn’ woodcock by the road early in the month, probably a new arrival.  A chiffchaff calling up the road from the house on the 7th was followed up a few days later 
Deer ked
with one in the village.  A brambling was seen on the 18th, the same day snow was visible on the tops of the mountains.  There have been a few redwings knocking around but not fieldfares.  The numbers of deer keds this year has been huge, annoying flies which are quite difficult to get hold of.  On some days there have been dozens meaning quite a bit of time devoted to catching and squashing.

Following a visit to Firwood by Brian and Sandy Coppins I am going to declare the old wooden bench in front of the chalet an unofficial Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  For some time now I have been aware of the good number of lichens that have made their home on this bench but, not being expert enough to identify them, I’ve just admired them in passing.  Brian put his vast knowledge of lichens to work and whist here made a list of all the species present and arrived at the impressive total of 22, one of which (Micarea coppinsii) bares his name as he was the first person to 
find and describe it in 1992.  Not sure if the number of species is linked to the quality of the oak wood Burma teak making up the bench but it was bought by us way back in 1973 when we moved to work and live on the Isle of Rum when it was installed, with plenty of cushions, in the house as our ‘setee’!  It moved with us to Loch Garten where eventually it became our outside bench and has followed this life ever since, moving to its present home in about 1990.  For a wooden bench to survive so long living outside (38 of its 43 years) and still be strong enough for me to stand on occasionally when cleaning the chalet windows seems pretty remarkable and is probably the reason that so many lichens have made it their home.  Details below:-
Bacidia neosquamulosa, Bryoria fuscescens, Buellia griseovirens, Evernia prunastri, Hypogymnia physodes, Lecanora farinaria, Lecanora pulicaris, Lecanora symmicta, Lecidella carpathica, Lepraria incana s. lat., Melanelixia subaurifera, Micarea coppinsii, Ochrolechia microstictoides, Parmelia saxatilis, Parmelia sulcate, Placynthiella icmalea, Platismatia glauca, Protoparmelia oleagina, Trapeliopsis flexuosa, Usnea subfloridana, Violella fucata and Xylographa parallela.

Doreen Owen
Early in October we received some very sad news which brought to an end a friendship dating back to our work at Loch Garten in 1977.  The sad news was that Doreen Owen had died just a few months after her husband John.  See the Firwood blog link below which covers the amazing things John and Doreen did to add to our knowledge of beetles and other insects living on the reserve.  During the last couple of years Doreen had been most helpful in chatting over some links to their work as an RSPB work colleague worked through the immense task of writing a book about the history and natural history of Abernethy Forest.  Doreen’s passing also brings to an end perhaps one of the most remarkable eras of voluntary work on Abernethy Reserve and possibly across many other RSPB reserves.  At the same time that John and Doreen were visiting, another UK expert, Peter Orton visited the reserve, annually, to record fungi.  John’s beetle list topped 900 species and Peter’s 750, both totals only achieved by regular, dedicated visits.  Will their likes be seen again?  Our thoughts are with David, Robert and Tom at this sad time.
Stewart and Janet

General Wade
OS six-inch series 1843-1882
Roy’s Maps
Malaise trap and other collecting/recording equipment
John and Doreen Owen
Leeds and Liverpool Canal bicentenary
Skipton Castle
Mapmate recording database
NBN Gateway
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
and how to join HBRG
River Feshie - but who is the man in the bubble?
Pink-feet overhead
Accrington Pals display - Broadway Accrington
"We will remember"
Photos © Stewart Taylor