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