Over the last couple of months I’ve been visiting a possible site for creating a small, but new aspen stand as part of a project linked to the Cairngorms National Park. Following an initial meeting of interested people/organisations in January comprising about 8 people, two of us have led most of the work aimed at protecting small groups of suckers growing from roots of established trees up to protecting just over a hectare of trees with suckers (mentioned in June and September blogs) by increasing the height of an existing stock fence. This fence was initially installed to protect the trees and allow suckers to grow but, with red and roe deer managing to jump over it, very little had happened. Raising the height of the fence should help establish new trees. My recent work has seen
|Canada geese flying overhead|
|Noon fly (Mesembrina meridian)|
me GPS-ing the strainer posts of an existing fence, creating a map, and using this to obtain quotes for again, increasing the height to exclude deer. At this site though, young aspens will be planted to create a new aspen stand. Visiting the site early in November to count the number of fence posts required I heard what I though was a big group of whooper swans approaching overhead, so the wee camera was hurriedly got ready until I suddenly realised they were not swans but 50+ Canada geese! Currently, this is still a rare bird locally, so it was a little worrying to see so many birds in one group. There are enough problems with increasing numbers of feral greylag geese breeding locally without yet another introduced species adding to their numbers. With the fence information collected I spent a couple of hours checking the adjacent unimproved grassland for waxcaps, three species being found along with an unusually marked fly, the noon fly (Mesembrina meridian) a dung feeder. The high-pitched calls of a bird in the junipers had me puzzled until it popped out next to me and it turned out to be a chiffchaff, the latest record, to date, for Abernethy Forest.
A visit to Nairn at the start of the month saw us parking up on the outskirts of the town, walking in to the shops for Janet to top up on sewing threads and materials and returning along the side of the River Nairn. A strange plant caught our eye, and this turned out to be the oddly named ‘common fiddleneck’ (Amsinckia micrantha) a plant linked to farmland we had seen nearby once before. Passing an amazing veg-patch we stopped to talk to the man weeding the vegetables and after
discussing the best way to grow various species he handed us a huge turnip, complete with polybag, to take home! Wandering back along the side of the river Janet spotted a heron on the far bank which was close enough to get a decent photo. As I was firing away the heron walked out into the river, froze, and in an instant down went its head rising to reveal a big fish held in its beak! We assumed this to be a ‘spent’ salmon or sea trout which, having deposited or fertilised eggs, might have been in the dying phase something that happens to many of these great fish after depositing eggs. Thankfully, I had the heron in my cameras view and most of the fishing process was captured over a series of pictures. Having caught the fish, the heron bashed it a few times on the rocks and within just a few seconds, it disappeared down its throat. Despite having just swallowed the fish the heron returned to its original look-out spot possibly looking for more. Phew!
A few years ago, I found a strange looking fungus just up the road from the house, a group of toad’s ears (Otidea bufonia) and this year, it was there again. As I was heading further up the road to look for the green shield-moss, I made a note of the grid reference and decided to return the next day to
|Toad's ear fungus ready for checking|
|Spore (top) and ascus with 8 spores before ejection|
photograph. The local spruce wood produced a few locations for the moss and a roadside location of the cedarwood waxcap (Hygrocybe russocoriacea), new to RSPB Abernethy. As the day ended I realised I had made a huge mistake not photographing the toad’s ear fungus as the outdoor thermometer was dropping to below zero. Next morning the temperature was at -50C and when I revisited the fungus site all the fruiting bodies had turned to mush. Lesson learnt. Thankfully, I had taken a specimen to check so was able to confirm under the microscope that I had the right name. Checking a few of the known sites for the green shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis) continued and the next day I visited an area of mature Norway spruced that had been felled a few years earlier. The
|Green shield moss capsules|
moss was here a couple of years ago and as I searched, a few new locations were found, all close to previously known sites. One site was very unusual in that the moss capsules were all growing on the ground though they might have been associated with an underground root of the nearby spruce. As it started to get darker I finally arrived at the location where over a hundred capsules had been found
|Blueing bracket (Postia caesia)|
previously, but, with an increase in the moss and plant populations most of these had disappeared and just a few capsules were found on the trunk of a fallen spruce. These could only be counted with the help of the wee light in my hand-lens, 12 being the number. A bracket fungus pushing out of the dead trunk looked interesting, a sort of blue colour, and once checked this turned out to be the blueing bracket (Postia caesia) a fungus associated with decaying spruce trees.
Picking up the paper the next day from the Nethy post office/shop informed me that sadly, one of our local, famous characters had died, the Grantown vet George Rafferty. George came to fame in 1980 by being the expert brought in to help re-capture the grizzle bear, Hercules, that had escaped on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides whilst filming an advert for Kleenex, and had been on the loose for three weeks. Darting the bear from a helicopter with a powerful anaesthetic, George was then landed close to the staggering bear, eventually managing to lasso it, and after being dragged around a bit
before he could administer a second dose of anaesthetic, he eventually managed to re-capture it. A few years later George was filmed going about his vet work by BBC TV, the first of any of the now popular vet programmes – real fame at last. We met George occasionally when we had a hand milking cow on a croft in Tulloch and he came to check our cow and other cows owned by the farm tenant, Miss Mac. On one occasion George arrived to castrate one of the bull calves, croft resident Roger and myself went out to help tie up the calf and keep it ‘calm’ whist George did the operation. The ‘operation’ involved George cutting into the calf’s scrotum and, one by one, removing the two testicles. Roger was at the head end of the calf holding the rope and I was at the rear holding the tail and as each testicle was removed George winked at me as he dropped them gently into Rogers wellies! Roger only discovered the testicles when we all returned to the house for a ‘wee dram’, served up by Miss Mac as a thank you. This was typical George, a real character, and it was sad to hear of his passing.
Mid-month saw me heading north to Strathpeffer for the HBRG AGM. As always when heading so far north, I set off early to spend an hour or so checking out trees, plants etc near Rogie Falls. I found the aspens here had good populations of rare lichens a few years ago but on this visit I crossed the
|Rogie Falls (top) and Dutch rush|
bridge to see what trees were on the other side of the river. Nothing too unusual so I dropped off the track to look for any green shield-mosses, a species that had been recorded here on two fallen birch trees several years ago. There was a lot of fallen deadwood to check so progress was slow but, in the distance, I could see a large patch of a green plant which looked a bit like a rush. Eventually I arrived at the plant and was delighted to see it was Dutch rush or rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), a plant with a scattered, local distribution. I was running out of time, having to get back for the AGM by 10.30, so a few quick photos, a GPS grid ref, and, just as I was about to go I noticed a strange,
|Jelly tongue fungus (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum)|
white fungus on a fallen spruce tree. Turning one of the fruiting bodies over I could see lots of ‘teeth’ (not gills) hanging down, so this had to be the jelly tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum), just time for a photo before heading off. A couple of locals who were attending the AGM didn’t know of any Dutch rush populations locally and once home I found that this was a new site and a new 10km square record.
As I got out of bed on the 13th I could see we were getting our first real snow with heavy showers covering the ground. The birds were very active on the hanging feeders as well as visiting the big, home-made fat-cake on the ground. I paused breakfast to try and get a good photo of the blackbirds around the fat-cake but with completely black birds against a totally white background I wasn’t having too much luck. Coat tits and great tits didn’t hang around too long when perched on snow covered branches of various bushes with the photos mostly blurred. Similarly, a robin bobbing about in the veg-patch proved too elusive, but I then spotted a woodpigeon, perched high up in one of the birch trees, and these photos looked more promising as the bird just sat there with the snow-flakes creating a nice feature as it was snowing. At about the same time a red squirrel visited the peanut
|Philip Avery and Simon McCoy with red squirrel back-drop|
feeder and as I looked for more bird/snow photos I realised the squirrel was heading up the telegraph pole just below the woodpigeon. From the house window I was just about able to zoom-in and find it as it reached the top, but, instead of leaping off into the birches and away, it decided to sit in the snow at the top of the pole. Despite the falling snow flakes it remained quite visible allowing a few photos to be taken. Then it was off. When I finished my breakfast I wondered if any of the photos of the woodpigeon or red squirrel would be suitable for uploading to the BBC Weather Watchers site and after checking, one of each was copied over, along with the usual temperature and air pressure details. Via the ‘photos near you’ section of the BBC site I could see that a couple of local people had already been active with one of them having captured a nice snowy bird table/garden scene. When I walked down to the shop for the paper I popped in to see if neighbour Rita wanted her bird feeders topped up and mentioned the photo I’d taken of the squirrel. Over lunch Janet and myself watched the BBC news and on the Scottish weather bulletin the bird table and snowy garden photo from just up the road, was the presenter’s selection to highlight the snow fall. Mid-afternoon and the
|The one that didn't make it!|
phone rings with Rita saying the squirrel had just been on the national BBC weather report and the presenter, Philip Avery, had said it would be on again on the next bulletin to highlight something! Half an hour later we were ready and prepared with camera all set, just in case it appeared again. Not only did it appear but it was the main backdrop as Phil was chatting with news reader Simon McCoy about the snow and as he did the weather bulletin my squirrel photo was the lead-in to say the cold weather was bringing in hawfinches from the continent! Amazingly, it was still popping up on the evening bulletins and also appeared on the Scottish weather bulletin, the best yet for Weather Watcher Hydnellum. The phone rang again about 5pm and this was chalet guests Sid and Jenny phoning from Braintree in Essex to say they had seen Hydnellum and Nethy Bridge on the weather bulletin and just checking that this was me. This is about the third time they have rung following a national weather bulletin now aware that Hydnellum leads to yours truly!
A request from Stephen Moran at the HBRG AGM set an amazing ball rolling. During his presentation about the rare spruce cone beetle (Gastrodes abietum) he stopped and asked me to stand up. On the screen was a photo of two beetle recorders from the late 1800s and Stephen used the link between them, me and Stephen himself to highlight that all the current Scottish records for this beetle had been found by just these four people! My find was from earlier this year after I’d collected fallen Norway spruce cones from the village and managed to get one beetle to drop out. The spruce cone beetle feeds and hibernates inside the spruce cones and Stephen was asking for HBRG members to go out, pick up a few freshly fallen cones and tap them, pointed end down, gently on a rock or something hard, and see if any beetles fall out. About a week after the request I was heading for a group of aspens by the River Spey at Grantown when I spotted a small plantation of Norway spruces,
|Fluted bird's nest fungus (Cyathus striatus)|
so just had to pay them a visit. I was looking for the fallen, but current seasons cones and, with few places to tap them easily available, I popped 20-30 in a couple of poly bags and took them home for checking later. Back on the path by the Spey a small stack of logs attracted my attention because I thought I could see candlesnuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon) popping up. Sure enough they were there but at the start of one of the long-dead logs I could see something that I had long hoped to see – one of the bird’s nest fungi. There must have been about 50 of the cup-shaped growths with the spore bearing ‘eggs’ clearly visible inside them, the grooved shape of the cup leading me to think of the fluted bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus striatus). An individual fungus was about 10mm high and about 8mm diameter at the top. To ensure I was able to correctly identify the species a few of the fungi were collected to check later. It was only when I checked later that I realised what a complex fungus
|A single 'egg'- peridiole (top) and spores x1000 oil (bottom).|
Spores measure 12-21 x 7-12 microns
this is. In Britain 4 species of bird’s nest fungus have been recorded with the one I’d found being the most common with over 800 records. Worldwide, just over 50 species have been recorded. The one thing they all have in common is the ‘eggs’ (peridioles) are the reproductive part of the fungus, but this is where it starts to get quite technical and also amazing. Despite the peridioles looking round, they are actually disc-shaped, measuring about 1.5mm across and within are the spores. They are attached to the ‘nest’ part of the fungus with a short stalk within which is a long but coiled cord which is attached to the peridiole. The peridioles are ejected by raindrops splashing into the ‘nest’ shattering the short stalk but releasing the coiled cord which stretches out, often wrapping itself around adjacent grass stems or other plant material. It is thought that the peridiole containing the spores is then ingested by grazing animals with the spores passing, unharmed through the animal to be deposited in their dung elsewhere! It’s worth clicking on the Wikipedia link below to see
|Norway spruce cone (top) spruce cone beetle (middle),|
snake fly larva (bottom) & distribution map below
drawings of this structure. Our local Badenoch and Strathspey Herald carried a half-page article I wrote about this amazing wee fungus. The spruce cones didn’t disappoint either and once home I tapped the cones as advised and 3 beetles dropped out of one cone and 1 more from another providing Stephen with another location. The beetles were returned, along with the cones to the wood where they were found. Interestingly, a couple of larval stage snake flies also dropped out along with a pseudo-scorpion and a common flower bug (Anthocoris nemorum). Searches in two other Norway spruce woods failed to find any more so the search goes on.
An early morning outing to try and see Venus and Jupiter close together failed miserably. When the experts said they would be very low and close to the horizon, they weren’t joking. I went to my usual sky viewing site near Broomhill Steam Railway Station and sat a little while to see if there was anything obvious close to the horizon. I then started to realise that the area of the sky where they might be visible was hidden behind one of the low hills so I guessed there would be little chance of them appearing, particularly as they disappeared below the horizon at around dawn. Sadly, when I
got to my viewing location I didn’t set up my camera and tripod straight away, because, as I looked up I could see the Space Station gliding overhead and though I couldn’t have got a photo of it, a long exposure would have let a white line intriguingly appear across my photo. However, there was a partial moon so I fired a few shots off at it as well and the council gritting lorry, driving through Nethy Bridge with its orange lights flashing – just an orange line on my photo. A couple of days later and it was grandson Finlay’s birthday. Having fun trying to light all eleven candles using matches, without getting his fingers burnt, I nipped out to the bike shed and dug out a couple of fir-candles, slivers of Scots pine wood heavily impregnated with resin and something that has appeared in an
earlier blog (April 2015). Despite lots of smoke, they worked, and once again ancient methods came to the rescue. Janet was also busy during November with three craft fairs in Nethy Bridge, Aviemore and Grantown, so lots of sewing to keep up with and after helping Janet to set up in Nethy Bridge I managed to catch up with checking a row of aspens by the River Spey, trees I’ve driven past for years. Nothing too unusual but interesting to see lupins (wild) still in flower, a stonefly which, going
|Pipe club fungus (top) and contorted pipe club (bottom)|
off photos of its wings, was Leuctra fusca, the late needle fly. Despite it being November I also came across a couple of pipe club fungus (Macrotyphula fistulosa) growing from buried deadwood in the grass but then followed that up by finding its tree growing variety contorted pipe club (Macrotyphula fistulosa var. contorta). The Latin name for this fungus is ‘just what it says on the tin’. Macro = large and typhula = smoky, fistula = pipe or tube and contorta = tangled/complicated.
As I type, thankfully the winter solstice and the shortest day is past, I can see why people now, and in the past, danced around standing stones to celebrate!
Enjoyed the read and all the best for Christmas and 2018.
Stewart and Janet
Fluted bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus striatus)
Blog April 2015
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
|Spey lupins still in flower|
Photos © Stewart Taylor