Tuesday, 26 April 2016

First mossies and ticks ahead of British Summer Time!

The diary entries for the 1st March reminded me that the weather must have been mild because the following were all singing: treecreeper, dunnock, robin, mistle thrush and song thrush and also a great spotted woodpecker drumming.  I was also feeling energetic enough to be dropped off by Janet near the Loch Garten and Mallachie car park to make my way back to the house, visiting some seldom 
Orange fruiting bodies of Lachnellula subtilissima
visited areas of Abernethy woodland along the way.  Nothing too unusual was found apart from the wee orange fungus found on dead Scots pine twigs last year (Lachnellula subtilissima), reminding me that I needed some better photos of it if I could find a good population which I did later in the month.  The last entry in my diary that day was that Pipsy, our dear old cat, wasn’t looking too well, breathing heavily and not eating very much, but I’ll spare you the details about loo problems.  There was no 
improvement at 7am the next day and her breathing was getting worse, so we agreed to phone the vets. By the time the vet arrived at lunchtime I had already prepared her last woodland resting place. So ended an association going back 17 years.  We miss you Pipsy.

The next day I did the ‘long’ walk through the Dell Wood reserve to go and get the paper and arrived back just in time for an unannounced visit from the District Nurse to see how I was getting on and she seemed pleased with my progress.  After lunch I got a bit carried away and with camera and 

Rugose fork-moss (Dicranum polysetum)
tripod slung over my shoulder went off to Grantown to see if I could re-find the scarce rugose fork-moss (Dicranum polysetum) where last seen for the one and only time in November 2009.  The ‘starry’ appearance of the moss is what I was looking for and with the aid of my GPS it wasn’t too long before I re-found it, about five small populations within a few square metres.  A search of several well established grey sallow bushes nearby failed to find any large willow aphids (Tuberolachnus salignus), a species that has totally eluded me over the last couple of winters.  However, a few more scale insects were found on the willow twigs but by now my body was telling me it had had enough and it was time to stroll, slowly, back to the car.  The brilliant Laura Trott provided the evening entertainment as she once again claimed gold for Great Britain in the scratch race at the Track Cycling World Championships at Lee Valley VeloPark.

Early on the morning of the 6th I was aware of some movement out in front of the chalet and a big pine marten wandered into view – complete with a radio collar.  Sadly it didn’t hang around long enough for me to get my camera out but a few checks locally informed me that it had been caught 
Frond of hard shield-fern
nearby as part of a yearlong tracking programme by RSPB staff, so one to keep an eye open for in the future.  It has only been seen once since.  My outing to find the snow flea at Slochd in last month’s blog had also produced another find which took a few days to confirm – the hard shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum).  At the ferns location there were just short sections of the fern, possibly as a result of deer grazing, making my first identification a little more difficult.  For some reason I hadn’t taken a grid reference of the location, requiring another visit which I didn’t mind as there 
Peltigera britannica lichen 
might have been more snow fleas.  No snow fleas but a couple more locations for the fern were found with ‘whole’ fronds present, a new location for the fern with few records nearby.  A few ancient willows higher up the slope looked interesting so I slowly made my way to them just as the Tesco 'LESS CO' liveried freight train rolled past below.  The willows didn’t disappoint with a good population of Peltigera britannica on rocks and tree base, the yellow/green Psoroma hypnorum on 
Spot the hare tracks!
mosses on the trees along with lots of Nephroma laevigatum with the nearest records by yours truly from about six kilometres away.  Plants that could be identified were also recorded and once back on the track towards the car I followed a brilliant set of hare (mountain?) tracks in the snow nicely lit by the late afternoon sun.

Driving over to Kincraig to do the Friday pick up of the grandchildren from school, I had popped into Kinrara Estate along the way to have a re-check of aspens and birches first visited several years ago.  This area was also one I managed to get access to for the Ancient Tree Forum and Woodland Trust members to survey and measure some of the really big trees, and on the pre-visit outing I myself 
Leptogium saturninum lichen on aspen
realised that some of the trees higher up the hill were worthy of a visit.  This was me eventually getting round to it!  Confusion over which black leafy lichen I was seeing saw me going back for a day’s recording.  In this area there are two species rarely seen locally, Leptogium saturninum and Collema furfuraceum, but both are present on some of the aspens so this was a chance to try and fix 
Collema furfuraceum lichen on aspen
their differences in my mind.  The first surprise was bumping into Ern Emmett from the Highland Aspen Group, sitting on his bum whilst digging up aspen suckers (roots) for propagating in the Groups tree nursery, with permission from the estate of course.  A quick chat and I was off to check the trees, recording and photographing the two lichen species as found whilst working my way up through the wood.  A live, but heavily leaning aspen didn’t have any of the target species but a good 
population of a tiny pinhead lichen, Sclerophora pallida along with piles of feather evidence of a couple of sparrowhawk kills on the main trunk of the tree.  About this time a strange pain started to develop in my legs so time to sit down and have lunch by which time it had eased allowing the last 
Sclerophora pallida pinhead lichen and taking its photo top
Sclerophora pallida purple reaction to potassium hydroxide (KOH)
few aspens to be checked.  Sorting through the photos in the evening the leg pain returned requiring a quick visit to the local health centre the following morning.  Legs checked for blockages and all found to be okay and after discussing current medication it was agreed to stop taking the pills started just four days earlier.  A bit of botanising along the Dava Way near Grantown in the afternoon seemed to ease the problem and the aches all cleared up after a couple of days.  A pity really because it would have been interesting to see what the effect of taking Viagra for a month would have had.  All linked to the recent operation – honestly!

A week earlier an email arrived to say one of the Forestry Commission staff had found what looked like an old capsule of the green shield-moss on a fallen grand fir near Loch Ness.  A photo of capsule and tree accompanied the email and eventually a grid reference was also obtained.  If correct the tree species would be new for the moss so a trip to the site was made a few days later.  Thankfully, the 
Poor photo of old capsule of green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis)
woodland was on the quieter Foyers side of Loch Ness allowing the car to be parked by the road just below the hill-side where the tree was located.  As the grid reference point was getting closer I entered a real jungle of fallen trees, mostly grand firs and I had to crawl under some huge trunks and walk all the way round others too heavily branched to climb over.  The ‘Go To’ on my GPS was telling me I was close to the original find but, with so many trees lying on their sides it was becoming difficult to know which one might be home to the moss.  Many trees close to the grid ref. were checked and most looked like they could have supported the moss, but none was found.  In the end I switched off the ‘Go To’ facility and walked, carefully watching the figures linked to the OS National Grid until I was as near the reference given as possible.  The nearest tree was searched but nothing 
View over Loch Ness
was found.  Thankfully, the capsule finder had taken a photo of the tree but without the capsule location being shown, and by finding the fence shown in the background of the photo I was able to find the tree.  All GPS machines vary in accuracy and what I found was the reference given was a whole tree away from the actual one!  After three searches of the main trunk I was about to give up, but that ‘one last search’ paid off and I found what I was looking for and a new host was noted and photographed for the record.  In my Field Bryology article way back in 2010 (see link below) 12 hosts were identified for the moss plus one unidentified tree species.  Since then, 2 more hosts were found, oak and juniper with the Grand Fir (Abies grandis) being the last to be added to the list.  As I made my way back down the hill I could see lots of skyward pointing branches of aspen trees close to where my car was parked so a quick visit was made before the energy levels ran out.  Despite many of the aspens being quite young most were heavily endowed with lichens – hanging leafy ones and those growing on the trunks – the result of being a bit further west than Strathspey and growing close 
Rear-view mirror close up of the Billy Bowie tanker!
to the shore of Loch Ness.  Thankfully my bit of re-visiting at Kinrara Estate paid off and I was able to name the Collema’s as I went from tree to tree.  I also had an interesting experience as I drove back down the A9, just after the dual-carriageway at Slochd summit.  As I was driving along at the legal limit of 60mph, and with the average speed cameras monitoring my every move, a large tanker artic drove up close and started to tailgate me despite supposedly having a speed limit of 50mph.  As I pulled off for Carrbridge the tanker roared by and I could see from the advert on its rear that it was a Billy Bowie tanker from either Kilmarnock or Leeds.  Did they reply to my complaint – no chance.

A few firsts for the year occurred mid-month, the first mosquito was on the wing on the 19th, we saw our first frog spawn on 17th and I had my first two ticks on 22nd, a few days after Janet had one whilst working in the garden.  Oystercatchers were by the River Spey and we had the first small 
Common frog with spawn nearby
First small tortoiseshell butterfly 10 April in Nairn
tortoiseshell butterfly in Nairn.  As the snowdrops came into flower I did a survey of the number of clumps along the River Nethy between the Spey and the village.  Some may have become established by being washed down the Nethy and others, growing with daffodils and crocuses had probably been planted.  Plants with single and double flowers are all recorded as Galanthus nivalis, but in the village there is a clump of green snowdrops (Galanthus woronowii) identified by having much wider leaves and slightly different flowers.  A few plants, still standing and with seed-heads, of figwort 
Green snowdrop in centre with normal snowdrop left and right
were spotted by the Nethy and as I walked back through the village a big group of (probably) opium poppy heads caught my eye as most were covered with circles of a black fungus, probably a mould, which, to date, has eluded identification.  Perhaps another one for the ‘to do’ pile at Kew.  The same day (24th) a heavy cold started to develop, not helped by me spotting a new group of mature aspens by the old railway line on the edge of Grantown on Spey the following day.  The aspens looked 
Poppy head and fungus to be identified
interesting so I just had to visit but not having set out to go recording, I was a bit under-dressed, lacking the heavier Paramo jacket and dressed in just a lightweight waterproof.  The visit though was very worthwhile producing a new location for some of the rarer lichens and finding one of the biggest population of the rare Fuscopannaria mediterranea lichen on one tree.  With the cold getting worse I stuck around the house for the next few days but was tempted out to attend the first plant recording 
Fuscopannaria mediterranea lichen
black crust with yellow patches
outing with Ian on the Saturday.  This was to visit the River Findhorn near Forres to check out the known sites for the yellow star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea lutea) the plant I looked for a year previously to try and find the leaf fungus Vankya ornithogali.  The fungus was one of the species highlighted by the Kew ‘Lost and Found’ project and when I did find it last year at just one of the many plant locations visited, I think this was the only UK record in 2015.  Would it be there again this year – I just had to forget the cold and join Ian et al to find out.  Being quite early in the season there were few plants in flower, but the list grew as we wandered along and totalled almost 60 species for the day.  First find was actually the common star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum subsp. campestre) with 
Yellow star-of-Bethlehem flower and Vankya ornithogali fungus on leaves
white flowers and as we walked it was the Alliums that tested everyones identification skills as most clumps comprised just the leaves, the flowers having yet to appear.  There was ramsons, keeled garlic and few flowered leek or garlic. In places, the first flowers of moschatel were appearing.  The patches of Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem started to accumulate as we walked but all lacked the leaf fungus and out of the 16 patches found only the one that had the leaf fungus last year was displaying it again this year.  Another good outing – thank you Ian.  That night the clocks moved forward by an hour, and with the cold no better the last few days of March were spent close to the house and catching up with getting my records into Mapmate.

The month ended with the retirement from RSPB Abernethy of another of the long-term members of staff with everyone gathering on the 31st to say thanks and cheerio to Desmond Dugan.  Desmond 
arrived as the warden of the Forest Lodge section of the reserve in 1988 ahead of the amalgamation of Loch Garten, Forest Lodge and Upper Glen Avon to form the current Abernethy Forest Reserve (NNR).  So, important times as new faces appear to take up the new challenges that lie ahead.

Also on the 31st I received an email informing me that there appeared to be some fellings taking place in the important aspen and hazel wood by Spey Bridge on the edge of Grantown on Spey.  What I found on the 1 April has taken up a lot of my time since and is one of the reasons why this blog is a little late in appearing.  The horrors of what I found will be covered next month and, despite the date, there was no joke.

Enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet

Highland Aspen Group (HAG)
Buxbaumia viridis in Abernethy Forest and other sites in northern Scotland by Stewart Taylor.  Field Bryology Volume 100
Billy Bowie tankers
Lost and Found Project (see Project Reports and Archive)
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

Tooth fairy time for Archie

The long wait is over!

Honey bees collecting pollen from Janet's crocuses

Photos © Stewart Taylor