Saturday, 30 September 2017

A bad month for capercaillie and pine hoverfly

First, the good news – 3 August last visit to the radiotherapy team at Raigmore, a brilliant friendly team and I hope they all enjoyed tucking into Janet’s amazing cake.  A big thank you for all their efforts over the 33 visits and a realisation that there were other patients attending who were a lot worse off than yours truly.  Despite very technical and amazing equipment it wasn’t possible to know exactly where the small area of cancer infected tissue was, so the first 20 visits targeted the general area and the last 13 homed in more closely to where it was thought to be.  The results of the team’s efforts would be known sometime in September.

There are lots of good things to report from the natural history world for August so let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  An email on the 17th informed me that Ian had found lots of fungal balls on the heads of deergrass (the hybrid Trichophorum ×foersteri) by the road between Carrbridge and Furness.  So, the next morning I set off early to check the site and collect a few specimens for forwarding if necessary.  Ian said there were a few but when I got to the site almost every clump of 
deergrass had the black fungal balls present (Anthracoidea scirpi).  I gave up checking after several hundred metres and made my way back to the car, finding more fungal balls on carnation sedge (Carex panicea) and flea sedge (Carex pulicaris).  It was 9.30am and as I drove back along the road I came to the carved stone informing me that I was entering the Cairngorms National Park (CNP).  A 
bit ironic really because I was heading home early in order to attend the Park’s planning meeting where a decision would be made on the continuing farce proposing to build up to 1500 houses on the now infamous An Camus Mor site on Rothiemurchus Estate.  As I wandered down to the Nethy Bridge Village Hall I wondered how many of the folk on the Parks Board would know what Carex panicea was and would they have any interest in knowing that the finding of the fungal balls on Carex pulicaris that morning was just the tenth UK record?  As I have said before the Park should be re-named the Cairngorms Tourism and Development Park for the damaging projects they have agreed to over the years since inception and I was in no doubt as to what the decision would be today before 
the meeting started.  I arrived at the Hall to be met by several local folk holding boards highlighting species which An Camus Mor is important for and just in time to swell their numbers for the visiting press.  Inside a big team from the Park’s planning department were getting everything ready along with the Park Convenor and representatives from Rothiemurchus Estate, RSPB, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group (BSCG) and Butterfly Conservation.  The biggest group (apart from members of the public) was the Park Board, assembled at great expense especially when compared to Highland Councils local Planning Department, and to show how the board works the following was copied from their website:-
“Board members play an important role in representing the National Park and Park Authority by acting as ambassadors for the Park.
19 Members make up the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) Board:
7 members appointed by Scottish Ministers, 5 members are elected locally and 7 members are nominated by the 5 councils in the Cairngorms National Park: Highland (2), Aberdeenshire (2), Moray (1), Angus (1), Perth & Kinross (1).
The members normally serve between 18 months and 4 years and are currently paid a day rate of £205.38 per day for 3 days per month. All Board members serve on the Parks Planning Committee.”
So, the cost of just assembling the Park Board was close to £4,000!  The Parks Planner gave his spiel, the company representing Rothiemurchus Estate did the same – limited to 10 minutes, followed by RSPB, BSCG and Save the Cairngorms Campaign who had to squeeze their combined presentations into 10 minutes!  Didn’t matter really because I knew no-one on the Board would take much notice.  The RSPB presentation highlighted the threat to capercaillie if the development went ahead, 
particularly with Strathspey being the last remaining stronghold for the bird.  ‘Ah, but we will put plans in place to mitigate any problems that develop re caper’ came the response from the Park!  What these people don’t see from behind their desks is the sheer pressure our local area is under ALREADY from the increased number of people/houses and visitors, whether walkers, dog walkers, dog walker businesses and mountain bikers (now developing tracks off the main tracks).  Apart from Abernethy, most of the woods used by caper are also under long-term timber management.  Johnnie Grant made a quote after the meeting to the media where he predicted that “there will up to 5,000 people living at ACM once completed”.  5,000 people!  How on earth can the local environment cope with that number and how would the Park ‘mitigate’ problems with caper and the environment following development.  Perhaps they will demolish the houses???  I departed after the presentations knowing that discussions following over the next couple of hours would be about suitable wi-fi, pavements and a bridge into Aviemore, and then the vote would be in favour of the development 
The Zoological Society of London silver medal as presented
proceeding.  Not one Board member objected and the decision to proceed was carried unanimously.  When you look at the background of some of the board members you would have thought that some would have tried to stand up for the environment – but no, there must be some very strange form of brain-washing which takes place when you enter the realms of this national park.  Isn’t it interesting how things change.  John Peter Grant of Rothiemurchus was awarded the Zoological Society of London silver medal in 1893 in recognition of the efforts made to protect ospreys at Loch an Eilein in the 1890s.  His great-grandson Lt.-Col. J. P. Grant was presented with the RSPB Silver Medal in 1960 for assisting RSPB wardens and volunteers with night watches at the Loch Garten eyrie.  Perhaps the current laird will be presented with an award for causing the demise of Scotland’s capercaillie population.

Curr Wood, near Dulnain Bridge was mentioned briefly in my June 2017 blog.  At that time, a whole host of issues turned up when local SNH staff were asked, at short notice, to help mark populations of twinflower ahead of some pretty severe felling operations.  It became clear that when a felling licence application was sent to Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS), its consultation procedure failed completely and despite asking RSPB (bird interest) and CNP (natural history interest) for any issues and concerns, when they didn’t receive any replies they assumed they were happy with what was proposed!  The requests never arrived with either organisation but this didn’t come to light until machinery was on site to thin just over 50ha of the wood and to clearfell 4.13ha.  Regular thinning 
The clearfell area
has been ongoing in this wood since 2000 when the wood was first sold but, historically, this wood hasn’t been subject to clearfelling, the management being aimed at thinning but allowing Scots pine to naturally regenerate the site to produce the next crop.  Another damaging action agreed is for the felled area to be re-planted with trees at 2-3 metres spacing, the first nails in the coffin of this ancient wood as it heads down the road to total commerciality.  This wood is/was home to a good population of twinflower and to the very rare pine hoverfly (Blera fallax), currently, the only known site in the UK.  As a wood, 122 ha in size, it became established in 1796 being planted mainly with Scots pines of local provenance.  Thinning fellings started in the 1870s with restocking being by natural regeneration.  In 2014 a forest plan was circulated to locals and the conservation bodies for comment and despite a very detailed reply being sent from CNP, this plan has yet to see the light of day.  In the 

Twinflower growing over remains of tree stump
meantime, with no input from conservationists, a felling licence was granted despite there being lots of woolly words about taking care not to damage the plants and hoverfly interest.  Sadly, when this wood first came to the market in 2000 a bid by RSPB and Plantlife to buy it was not successful and the wood’s natural history importance has been going downhill ever since.  Several thinnings have opened up the wood quite dramatically and this has had a negative effect on twinflower as it is outcompeted by the growth of other plant species.  Despite lots of projects aimed at helping the hoverfly ensuring it is still present, the loss of old, mature Scots pines means the number of natural breeding sites (in rot-holes within the trees) is being heavily reduced.  Felling lots of young rowan trees throughout the wood prior to this debacle has also reduced the number of flowering trees in spring, a source of food for the hoverfly.  I had hoped a meeting mid-month with FCS, CNP and Jim Adam from Bell Ingram might have allowed issues and concerns to be raised, but nothing is likely to change and, within the next 30 years, the rest of the old pines will also have been clear-felled.  When the wood was last sold it was bought by Billy Martin who lives in Ireland obviously as a pure 
Owner and manager given award for 'sympathetic management!"
investment.  He has employed Bell Ingram to manage the site in his absence and companies like this only make money by undertaking work.  Slowly, this wood is being converted to a fast turn-over commercial wood whose sole aim is to make money, a sad end to what was once an important wood historically and which supported important species.  I can’t really pursue the wood’s protection any longer as I don’t have any legal clout and this role now has to be taken on by Park staff.  Sadly, FCS and the owner and managers don’t really seem to care so long as timber is produced for sale, even though they are aware of its importance.  Enough!

Early in the month was the time to check out the local twayblade orchid populations so it was a big disappointment to find nothing at the best site where they have been seen previously, where counts have been between 60 and 120 plants.  There were also fewer at the Speyside Way site, 3 flower spikes and 2 sets of basal leaves.  An adjacent grassland has always looked like a possible site and this year a single flower spike was found.  The nicest surprise though was close to the site badly 
Twayblade survivors
Robin's pincushion gall
damaged by a ‘tidying up’ operation by Revack Estate in 2016, when a bonfire had been made almost on top of where the plants grew.  The site even now though is not ideal and an extensive search had to be made in deep grass before the total count reached 15.  A little more winter grazing (now absent) by sheep would certainly help.  The Speyside Way outing produced a nice surprise, a robin’s pincushion gall on a rose bush.  The gall is caused by the larva of a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae, and despite the books saying common, this is the first one I’ve seen locally.  Whether this is linked to the good number of flowers on the rose plants this year I’m not sure but currently there are lots of rose hips available to anything that eats them.  The important fence to protect aspen suckers mentioned last month got underway early in the month and was completed in three days, a brilliant 
Davies tractor and  new deer fence
job and very professionally done.  This increase in fence height covers about a third of the length of a stock fence installed about 15 years ago to exclude grazing stock to encourage new aspen growth.  In about a third of the fenced area quite a bit of new growth has been achieved over the years and it was to this area attention was turned early in the month – moth trapping.  Several sites in Strathspey, where young aspens have become established in the last decade or so, have been checked in recent 
Dark bordered beauty moth and caterpillar
years for a very rare moth, the dark bordered beauty.  In recent years the moth has appeared at RSPB Insh Marshes and in years gone by I’ve seen it at another site near Grantown on Spey.  However, it would be a real bonus to find it at a new site so I managed to tempt Tom Prescott from Butterfly Conservation, Gabrielle and Mike to try a night’s trapping at my fenced site.  Despite a good catch, the dark bordered beauty didn’t turn up so Mike offered to do a second trap night and on this occasion traps were also installed in a second area of good sucker regeneration.  In all, 4 traps were set out, all 
Moth trap and cousin german moth
lit up by 10pm.  We returned the next morning at 6.30am and worked our way through the sections of egg-boxes which the moths rest on once inside the traps.  Over the two nights 145 moth species were recorded but sadly, no DBBs but cousin german (Protolampra sobrina) a Red Data Book 3 species was a good find.  Having run a moth trap for 2 years on the Isle of Rum and for 5 years later after arriving at Loch Garten it was nice to catch up with a few of the regular species like dotted carpet (Alcis jubata).  Whilst checking out the sites for possible additional moth trapping I came across 
Eriophyes diversipunctatus gall on aspen leaf
several aspens with low branches and this allowed me to check the leaves for galls.  I wasn’t disappointed and found the red Harmandiola tremulae galls on the leaf blades and Eriophyes diversipunctatus, comprising two galls at the joint between leaf stem and leaf.

I enjoyed meeting up with someone committed to doing something positive.  Bill Bowman, North East Scotland List MSP is the species champion for twinflower and following an invite from Gus and Tessa of BSCG, he came over to Nethy Bridge to see the plant and the type of woodland habitat it occupies.  Accompanying him was his Organising Secretary Victoria Ramsey.  Our first visit was to a nearby population of twinflower where it can be seen growing in its typical forest habitat comprising a fairly closed canopy stand of Scots pine with a nice mossy understorey.  At this site, there has also 
The group in Curr Wood
be a bit of experimentation taking place where cuttings of plants from other populations had been planted to try and assist cross-pollination allowing the plants to produce more seeds.  As a comparison, we made our second site visit to Curr Wood to let him see the effect recent tree fellings were having on the plants.  At this site, we had a job to find the plant under deepening heather and at one site could actually see the plant dying out due to the intense competition. We hope he found the visit informative and able to fight the plants corner a little more when populations come under threat.

The butterfly survey took a bit of completing this month and was only achieved on the third visit, the other two having to be aborted due to a change of weather after arriving on site.  The weather has been highly changeable with warm sun one minute and heavy downpours the next.  One of the aborted visits though did produce something special only because I was hanging around waiting for 
Hare's ear fungus top and soggy green shield moss botom
the sun to re-appear.  Having walked this transect for a number of years now I have been telling myself that I need to make a repeat visit to check the areas of Norway spruce for my favourite green shield-moss.  Looking into the trees from the track the under-storey looked very similar to a small area of woodland in the Dell Wood NNR – shallow plough-lines with the raised tree roots covered in mossy peat where the moss has been growing.  I first found a few small fungi similar to Dell Wood; hare’s ear (Otidea onotica) and Cudonia circinans.  A good start.  After checking several typical roots, a group of eight green shield-moss capsules were found, followed by a couple more a few metres away, my hunch was right and with little chance of the sun appearing it was time to drive the 9 miles back home.  The next day, after checking for tooth fungi at the An Camus Mor development site (2 species) I called in to the ex-arboretum by the B970 to see how this year’s population of heath cudweed plants had performed.  During the winter part of this site had been used as a repository for power pylons being taken down after the cables were re-routed underground.  The pylons were 
Heath cudweed top and field digger wasp bottom
‘chopped up’ to make them easier to transport away but this meant that some of the site would have been quite heavily disturbed, not a bad thing for the plant in the long-term.  With tally counter in hand I worked my way around the site arriving at a figure of 2900 plants, several hundred more than 2016.  A forestry track just outside the ex-arboretum produced another 300, so not a bad overall total for this nationally declining plant.  At the far end of the site a group of sand based ant nests caught my eye so a single sample was captured to be sent for identification turning out to be Lasius niger, the small black ant and only the second record for this 10km grid square.  A digger wasp nearby was identified 
Bankera violascens - just one group
as the field digger wasp (Mellinus arvensis).  The annual count of Bankera violascens (spruce tooth fungus) was also made the next day and once again the plantation site near Forres produced a huge population - 2500 fruiting bodies.  This compared with 1800 in 2016, 2015 no count, 95 in 2014, 10 in 2013 and 1170 in 2012 when first found.  A map with count details was sent to the Estate the next day.  It will be interesting to see what turns up at the Deeside site.

Following the publication of a joint article on the black fungal balls on sedges at the end of the 2016 recording season I thought a bit of targeted searching might be beneficial this year.  In producing the article lots of information came to light about other finds, mostly from the distant past, and using this information I thought I would target the estuarine sedge (Carex recta) and dioecious sedge (Carex dioica).  The best population of the estuarine sedge is way up in Wick, 130 miles away so I opted for a smaller known population about 45 miles away on the Beauly Firth.  As its name implies, this sedge grows in areas where rivers run into the sea and is influenced by fresh and salt water, so with just a couple of grid references to work with, I headed north.  I parked up just by Beauly Priory, and made 
River Beauly
my way through a gate onto the riverbank but onto a ‘path’ that was seldom used!  After recent rain on went the waterproof trousers, an essential item as I pushed my way through tall grasses, bracken and broom.  One very positive bit of work had been undertaken by evidence of lots of ‘dead bodies’ of giant hogweed, but the mass of japanese knotweed would take a lot more effort to eradicate.  Purple loosestrife and sea aster flowers provided lots of colour as did speckled wood, peacock and red admiral butterflies.  The first location was reached after about one-kilometre but, whether affected by the tide I’m not sure, to get from the river bank to the sedge and Phragmites area by the water’s 
Speckled wood
Knopper gall on acorn
edge took quite a bit of negotiating and the water was almost over the tops of my wellies a few times.  A fleeing water vole must have wondered who this madman was.  The sedge population was quite small and even worse, only two sedges had flowerheads reducing to zero the chance of finding the fungus.  Time to check out the second site but with dwindling confidence.  Quite a few oak trees were passed along the river bank and nearly all of them had good populations of acorns. Many of these were topped by the hat-like knopper galls.  A calling bird passing overhead allowed osprey to be added to the species list.  Bracken and broom started to get so dense that I thought I was going to 
Osprey overhead
have to turn back but eventually I reached the second site where a couple of crack willow trees had leaves covered in galls – one to ID once home (Pontania proxima the willow redgall sawfly).  Despite my information telling me there were ‘thousands’ of estuarine sedges, the site was impossible to access due to a very high water level.  Time to battle my way back to the road via a farm track – once reached, and then to walk back into Beauly.  Along the edge of the pavement there was a row of ancient oak trees and on the ground below the trees were more knopper galls and quite a few oak apples (Biorhiza pallida).  Some ‘hairy’ unformed acorns had me scratching my head but these were from a turkey oak (Quercus cerris), and were the normal form for these acorns.

The second outing took me over the mountains to Deeside to the Morrone Birkwood in Braemar to the dioecious sedge site.  It was here that Dave Batty had found the sedge/fungus combination twice in 1980.  The grid references were at 100m scale so there was a search area rather than a specific location to search so it would be a case of searching along small runnels of water bent over quite a way to try and find this small sedge.  The fungus was found on glaucous sedge (Carex flacca) in a 
Carex dioica sedge
couple of places but the hoped for big population of the dioecious sedge failed to materialise and just small populations of the sedge were found but sadly no fungal balls.  A plant not seen very often turned up (minus flowers now long gone) Scottish asphodel.  After several hours of bending over staring at the ground I decided not to visit the second potential site, that will have to wait for another time.  As I left Deeside light rain started to fall and driving over the tops wasn’t too bad, but the rain after Tomintoul back to Nethy Bridge was horrendous and had all the cars driving along at about 20 miles an hour, particularly through the impressive streams running down the road at Bridge of Brown.

As I type autumn is upon us, the robins are having one last session of singing and currently, the last of the willow warblers seem to have gone.  My last couple of curlews passed overhead on 20 August and throughout August the multi-coloured blackbirds (moulting adults and youngsters) arrived in numbers when Janet put out a few tasty raisins.  The pine martens though have been very scarce.  As flowers reach the end of their growing season attention turns to the fungus season and, with a fairly damp summer, lots have been appearing.  Chanterelles have been popping up all over the place and 
Devil's tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii)
the tooth fungi have also appeared in good numbers.  A visit to one of the local aspen woods produced a very nice surprise due to its sheer size and this involved the giant funnel (Leucopaxillus giganteus) a fungus growing to a size I’ve not seen before.  Initially I thought I was looking at a group of white polybags and it was only as I walked over to them that I realised they were fungi.  Having taken a few photos I realised that there were more a few metres away and yet more even further away and it was only as I walked up a slope in the rough grazing field to look down on them I realised they were part of a very large ‘ring’.  After taking lots of photos I paced out the distance 
The giant funnel fungus with the half circle in bottom photo
from the ones at bottom of photo to right and beyond telegraph pole
across the ring and found that it was about 60 metres, though only half of the ring remained, a bit of ground disturbance and tree growth possibly having affected the other half.  I can only assume that this is quite an ancient site for the fungus and when I mentioned them to the farmer he said that they appeared every year.  When close up, wee beasties could be seen on some of the fungi the tiny flies probably the appropriately named fungus gnats a group responsible for laying their eggs in the caps and stems of fungi resulting in lots of larvae hatching out surrounded by a plentiful food supply. 
Fungus gnat
Nearby a group of wood ant nests were checked to see if the tiny guest ant was in residence ahead of trying to show it to folk as part of a rare invertebrate project being run jointly by RSPB and Buglife so fingers crossed I find something in time for next month.

I also managed to make a second visit to the small cow-wheat site to see if the plants were producing seeds after the guidance covered in the last blog.  I wasn’t disappointed and whilst some plants still had flowers, most had seeds or had already ‘dropped’ them.  A few plants had also disappeared probably due to deer grazing.  By the track in the now felled plantation next door I had seen a small 
Small cow-wheat flowers, seeds and wood ants and seed
but active wood ant nest and out of interest I thought it would be good to see how the ants reacted if a couple of seeds were placed on the nest, so a couple were ‘borrowed’.  Initially, one or two ants checked out the new arrivals but within a short time lots of ants were ‘attacking’ the seed (I could see their jaws working on the white part of the seed) or possible they were trying to pick it up to carry into the nest.  The white bit of the seed is known as the elaiosome and to quote from the SNH Small Cow-wheat paper “the elaiosome is rich in fat and protein, which provides a reward for ants that carry the seeds back to their nests. The ants remove the elaiosomes, then take the seeds from the nest and deposit them intact as refuse.“  I stayed with the ants and seeds for about 15 minutes watching very similar behaviour and confirming that they were interested/attracted to the seeds which is all I could do in the time available, so I left the seeds with them in the hope that something good would come from the encounter.  What an amazing symbiotic relationship.

That’s it for another month enjoy the read.

Stewart and Janet

An Camus Mor
CNPA Board Members
Curr Wood
Parkswatch
Small cow-wheat species framework document
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
 
Another photo made it to BBC Weatherwatchers
 
One man and his dog!

Janet's amazing crop of onoins
 Photos © Stewart Taylor

Thursday, 31 August 2017

All done by the 27 July – thankfully!

July was a month dominated by our pine martens: mum plus two kits, and their regular visits to the garden.  Janet had been leaving a few peanuts out each evening on the deck by the windowed garden doors and the ‘gang’ arrived to grab some food there before heading over to the two squirrel feeders by the chalet.  The young martens were obviously in the early stages of learning how to forage and soon learnt that by lifting the squirrel feeder lid there were lots of peanuts to be had. However, mum wasn’t too happy when the youngsters sat on top of the lid whilst she tried to feed, and as with previous years, the youngsters managed to tumble from the trellis but somehow grabbed a-hold of the golden hop leaves and stems before hitting the ground.  We also became aware of one young marten 

making a constant ‘squeaking’ sound and seeming more interested in playing and tumbling around rather than concentrating on feeding.  This went on for the whole month and we began to wonder if there was something wrong with it.  Via a series of photos, I could see one youngster seemed to have something wrong with its eyes which, when closed, seemed slightly swollen.  In addition to the family we also seemed to be getting visits from at least one more adult which fed exclusively in the squirrel feeders.  As the days progressed it was obvious that the family weren’t too bothered about us moving about in the house when feeding on the garden deck and over time Janet quite happily watched the group tucking in to the peanuts and raisins with the house door open.  Some nights one 
or two hedgehogs were also feeding on the lawn as the martens were feeding on the deck and on one evening an inquisitive kit walked across the lawn to see the hedgehog which promptly rolled itself into a ball.  At no time was there any attempt to attack or see off the hedgehogs.  When our grandsons visited for an over- night stay they were able to sit by the doors and watch the martens and when Laura’s cat came to stay for a couple of weeks, cat and marten family seemed quite happy to co-exist despite the inquisitive cat getting up close to see which other animal was sharing its garden.  By late in the month the marten group had reduced to mum and the squeaking youngster which made us more certain that there was something not quite right, particularly when it still seemed more interested in play-fighting with mum rather than tucking into the food.  By the end of July, the visits had just about ended so hopefully all the family is now living independently of each other.

Completing the wider countryside butterfly surveys have been a bit of a test this year with the lack of regular days of sunshine.  A survey on the 8th had to be called off half-way as the sun disappeared but not before a speckled wood had been seen, confirming a new location becoming established following a sighting in 2016.  Slowly, this butterfly is moving inland from the coast.  A riband wave 
Riband wave - (Idaea aversatawas)
Choke fungus (Epichloe baconii)
moth (Idaea aversatawas) was also seen as was another location for the choke fungus on Agrostis grass stems - Epichloë baconii, so not a bad set of records despite the weather.  The survey was completed on the 13th but in less than ideal conditions with green-veined white (2) and ringlet (10) being the butterflies seen.  With sunny skies and warmer conditions arriving on the 18th I just had to do the survey again and though there were less g-v white’s (1), ringlets increased (29) and common blue (1) and small heath (1) were additions.  It was the confirmation of speckled wood once again that was the most satisfying with 1 in the first section but with 3 together in section 5 confirming the 
Speckled wood
butterfly really is becoming established.  The butterfly survey follows the same route as my BTO breeding bird survey where a 1km OS map square is split into 10 recording sections, each 100 metres in length, the first 4 being in commercial forestry followed by a nice 100m section of bog, before crossing the 1 km square to completing the second 5 sections along a minor road with a mix of farmland and woodland habitats.  With the thermometer showing a temperature of around 270C, this was one of the better weather days for looking for butterflies.  However, the days recording effort wasn’t complete and after a friend reporting good numbers of helleborine orchids at a known site near Tomintoul, I hopped in the car for an additional evening outing.  The first photos I have for this site 
Dark-red helleborine, group and close up
are from 1984 when the mix of broad-leaved and dark-red helleborines were much higher, the reduction probably being linked to pollution from an adjacent road combined with past verge cutting and an increase in the local rabbit population going off the number of flower-spikes currently being nibbled.  However, it was nice to find eight dark-red helleborines (x9 being the highest recent count) along with a good number of broad-leaved.  In an adjacent woodland, the choke fungus Epichloë typhina on a stem of cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerate) was a first for me in this area.  It is a bit difficult to know whether this is new to the area or not because over recent years this fungus has been ‘recorded’ but when checking the records the grass species is not always correct.  The most up to date guide is as follows:
Epichloë baconii on Agrostis capillaris and A. stolonifera
Epichloë bromicola on Bromus erectus
Epichloë clarkia on Holcus lanatus and H. mollis
Epichloë festucae on Festuca rubra
Epichloë sylvatica on Brachypodium sylvaticum
Epichloë typhina on Anthoxanthum odoratum, Dactylis glomerata, Deschampsia caespitosa, Phleum bertolonii, P. pratense and Poa spp
All a bit complicated but the above list was created by B. M. Spooner & S. L. Kemp after checking many of the species in the RBG Kew collection.

The major pastime for July has been daily weekday visits to Raigmore for my radiotherapy treatment, departing home at 7.45am, returning by about 11 – 11.30am.  Meeting the mix of folk going through the same procedure has been an interesting experience with John all the way from Stornaway, Christine and Sandra from almost across the road from the hospital, Connor with his amazing tales 
Raigmore Hospital from A9
and broad Irish accent and Alison who had to delay her bike ride from Land’s End to John-O-Groats to undergo the treatment to mention but a few.  Throughout the month the Radiotherapy staff have been brilliant, always happy and encouraging but a little mystified by my “where are you off to today” replies of orchid counting, butterfly survey and looking for fungi!  When I asked Jane if it 
Treatment underway and the impressive  '£2m machine'
would be okay to take a photo of the ‘linear accelerator’ treatment machine, she offered to take the photo of machine complete with yours truly in situ and with my modesty intact!  However, the daily visits to the hospital started to develop into a typical Taylor recording event.  To ensure the body was in the right state loo-wise, when going into the waiting room, I got to the hospital by 9am to enable time for a walk round the hospital grounds for about 40-45 minutes.  On the first walks, I saw plants that were quite different to my home area so the notebook came out and wee lists started to develop along with the occasional plant sample heading back down the road to be properly identified.  After a couple of days of casual recording I changed to systematic recording complete with rucksack and 
Fumaria muralis top left and Fumaria officinalis top right
confirmed by flower length F. muralis 12mm and F. officinalis 6-8mm.
specimen bags and GPS for accurate location details for those more unusual plants.  With so much land linked to roads and buildings lists of disturbed ground species grew but was I dealing with common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) or common ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis), flower size turned out to be the key ID factor.  Marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) I realised had leaves without stems whilst its commoner relative hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) had leaves with stems.  A very abundant plant by a small burn to the east of the main building looked familiar, one of the umbellifers, but could this be the one that made me feel ill after handling it whilst on holiday in South Uist – hemlock water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata)?  It sure was, so one to remain quiet about 
Hemlock water-dropwort
Round-leaved cranesbill
when chatting to hospital staff!  The same water body was also home to a row of very healthy looking elm trees along with the best mix of plants from the hospital grounds, tutsan, tansy, white campion, purple toadflax and wood avens, to mention just a few.  An ID query with Vice County Recorder Ian alerted me to an old record for round-leaved cranesbill (Geranium rotundifolium), a plant he had seen a few years earlier. So, every cranesbill was checked carefully but all I found initially was doves-foot cranesbill.  Ian had a good grid reference for the last find location and a careful search of the general location confirmed that the plant was still there, in a very non-descript location by a tarred path!  This is its only location in the north of Scotland.  Day by day the list grew and many days saw me arriving home with a few plants to check.  A couple of plants had fungi growing on them and these were identified and a single lichen made it to my notebook – Peltigera didactyla in gravel around a road sign.  By the middle of the last week of visits I was finding it difficult to find more plants that I was 
All gone.  Poppy flower and seed-head remains bottom photo.
confident in identifying and recording really did come to an end when, on the 28th, the ground staff emerged with their strimmers and lawn mowers and cut down everything growing on level ground leaving heaps of grass some of which was coloured with the remains of purple fumitory and red poppies!  Phew, wasn’t I lucky and my list of 93 plant species wouldn’t have been possible if my treatment had been a few weeks later.  By the 31st of July I was almost at the end of my treatment, 
with just a few more visits to make.  My walk round the grounds that day found swallows all around a muddy pool collecting nest material and in the clover-rich grassland around the Heli-pad bees were busy visiting the flowers.  Hopefully, this area would be spared the mowers.  Once home I printed off a card and photo to assemble as a thank you card for the staff for the last visit.

Travelling the A9 road on a daily basis you start to realise the heavy casualty rate caused by passing traffic.  One stretch of road, just two lanes but with a very wide verge on one side, was home to a breeding pair of oystercatchers with recently hatched chicks seen during my first trips north.  Slowly and inevitably most of the family ended up dead with decaying bodies lying in the gutter for the duration of my trips north.  Roe deer were regular casualties along with the odd hedgehog and, over the weeks three dead badgers were seen.  I was very surprised one day to see a gang of about ten greylag geese feeding on a verge but all having disappeared the next day apart from a dead one lying by the road.  There were occasional rabbits and, near the high-point of Slochd Summit, an occasional mountain hare.  Small birds were occasionals as was a single red squirrel.  Common gulls made the most of some of this free food but not without one or two not taking off quickly enough.  Verge cutting also took place but at some horrendous cost; a single machine on or close to the verge with a convoy of at least three wagons all warning of ‘verge cutting ahead’!

In early July, I used my visit to Inverness to see how the only local population of small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) was getting on.  Since my last visit in June 2011 the adjacent plantation of exotic conifers had been clear-felled but some of the tree stumps were covered with climbing corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata) and on the root-plate of a wind-blown tree was a clump of trailing St John's-wort (Ceratocapnos claviculata) a plant I don’t see too often near to home.  A deer fence had also been installed but once over it I headed over boggy ground to a drier knoll where the 
Small cow-wheat
cow-wheat was still growing.  The small, egg-yolk yellow flowers (free-range yellow of course!) identifies the plant from its widespread cousin, common cow-wheat, and before lying down to take a few photos a quick count arrived at just over one-hundred flower spikes.  Little seemed to have changed, the number of flower spikes were about the same, the tree cover was similar and the flowers covered no more than a couple of square metres, a slightly vulnerable population.  Reading the SNH Species Action Framework (SAF) paper (link at end of blog) I realised the plant relies to a degree, on wood ants which help to spread the seeds about and that quite a bit of work had been done on monitoring populations and seed had been collected to try and establish new populations in new areas.  Having wandered around the site I was aware that there wasn’t an ant nest to be seen, so little 
Trailing St John's-wort
chance of the plant expanding its population.  In addition, the plant is an annual, relying on good seed production each year to ensure the following year’s population.  Vulnerable indeed!  Andy Scobie, one of the authors of the SAF paper, was also helping me with the Flowerfield orchid count for a few years and when I asked him about the ants and seeds he confirmed that few of the sites he had visited had good populations of wood ants.  If I wanted to see the unusual seeds, I would need to re-visit the plants in early to mid-August, just at the time the seed are dropping from the plants.

Another outing saw me heading off to count the bog orchids I’d found at a new site a few years ago, a good boggy area with usually a few other things of interest.  Large heath butterflies were the first interesting finds and a Formica exsecta ant nest turned out to be the same one recorded from exactly the same location many years ago.  As I stopped to record stuff I noticed a small moth resting on my 
The 'rucksack moth'
Brown china-mark moth
rucksack, irrespective of whether it was on my back or not.  It stayed with me for most of the afternoon and turned out to be Lozotaenia forsterana one of the largest of the Tortricid (micro) moths.  Another moth also made itself known in quite an obvious way by resting on the water surface of peaty pools.  This was the brown china-mark (Elophila nymphaeata) a moth I had seen in this area 
Bog orchids top and Cruet collar-moss bottom
previously and they are quite unusual in that their larvae are entirely aquatic, feeding on water plants.  The bog orchids didn’t disappoint and between flower-less bulbils and flowering spikes a count of 76 was made.  Whilst carefully moving around the orchid site I also spotted an unusual moss growing within a patch of sphagnum - cruet collar-moss (Splachnum ampullaceum) so called because of the unusual swollen neck of the capsules.  Although I didn’t see any the moss grows on animal dung in boggy areas and as I wandered around more of the bog I found a second cushion.

Just as everything was kicking off about the possibility of chlorinated chicken from the USA making its way to the UK after Brexit, I read an interesting article in The Times (22 July 2017) reinforcing why I don’t eat farmed salmon.  I made this decision several years ago when on holiday in North Uist and saw an enormous boat, laden with huge bags of food for feeding the salmon being reared in a farm just off shore – fish being fed to fish, in huge amounts.  I was also aware of the damage these farms are having on the native wild salmon populations and to sea-life and loch-life in the areas where they are located.  The article appeared at about the same time as one of the outdoor TV programmes showed a fish farm in action and salmon being hovered up and spewed out of a pipe into a waiting boat.  Little did I know what else takes place in the salmon rearing process.  One of the fish farms mentioned in the article had seen production fall for the first time in years due to the combined effects of flesh-eating parasites, algae and amoebas.  At this farm, a Norwegian well boat had just hosed up 16,000 fish at the end of a two year long growing cycle from egg to plate.  The next bit of the article though was the most worrying.  “By the time the adult fish were on board the Norwegian well boat they had been doused in hydrogen peroxide and flushed through tanks of fresh water to 
Lochmaddy in North Uist with fish farm just off shore
treat amoebic gill disease.  Their food had been spiked with a chemical known as Slice and they had been bathed in pesticide to rid them of sea lice which can eat them alive.  At a farm in Loch Leven wrasse and lumpfish are put in the pens to eat lice off the salmon.”  At the same time articles appeared in the press and on TV about the over exploitation of the wild wrasse populations to be shipped off to fish farms to try and tackle the sea lice problem.  The scale of this exploitation was made clear on a TV news item on 21 June 2017, “BBC Scotland understands that about three million wrasse are needed to support the 60 million salmon produced in Scotland, but only about 600,000 come from [wrasse rearing] farms.  The rest are caught in creels and transported to fish farms.”  A few additional bits from The Times also gave the following information.  “Across Scotland last year the average weight of fish fell from 5.6kg to 5.2kg because the longer they were left to grow at sea the more lice levels increased and other diseases inhibited growth.  Mortality rates also doubled from 7% in 2014 to 14% in 2016.  According to Salmon and Trout Conservation UK about 20 million fish died on farms in 2015 and last year.”  And the fish pumped into the well boat?  They made their way to the mainland in chilled tanks, were pumped off to be taken to the slaughterhouse and then to a factory to be smoked, sliced and packed ready for the shops.  No thanks.

When doing the butterfly orchid count in Tulloch in late June I noticed the keeled garlic plants were again growing well and when farm owner James said the ‘other’ group of plants was doing even better this year, I thought I had better have a look.  My count of 70 plants at the first site was a bit low and just on 100 were counted.  A new site by the cattle pen produced another 70 and the site close to 
Dasineura aperines gall in centre of a cleavers seed-head
Dasineura aperines gall distribution map
the sheds had an amazing 470 giving a total of 645– quite a sight.  Making my way between locations a fungus on some willow leaves caught my eye but looking down the rampant stems of cleavers/goose grass looked like they had been attacked by something so time for a few photos and a small sample to take home to check.  The Plant Galls book led me to a gall, caused by a wee midge, called Dasineura aperines, something I’d not seen before and with few records in the UK.  In the same area, there is also hugely important progress to report – we have a contractor lined up to modify the stock fence round one of the aspen stands to deer height.  Despite lots of toing and froing Davie and son Danny are all set to undertake this work early next month following a site visit at the end of July. 

Late in the month there was a Highland Biological Recording Group outing to the River Dulnain near Carrbridge.  It was well attended and had a good cross-section of expertise to record species of interest as we progressed along the Sustrans Route 7 from the road to the river.  Early on a gall on the leaves of several young birches by the track was something I’d not seen before containing the larvae 
Anisostephus betulinus galls on birch leaf
The exquisite one-flowered wintergreen 
of the gall midge Anisostephus betulinus.  On the river shingle tiny plants of eyebright were covered in an orange fungus which, when checked once home, turned out to be the same one that infects colt’s-foot leaves as well as Scots pine needles - Coleosporium tussilaginis.  Golden ringed dragonfly was also seen by the river.  I also made a return visit to the one-flowered wintergreen site near Grantown just to get my head around just how many plants were popping up all around the ex-rhododendron sites.  There were certainly hundreds of basal leaved rosettes and every so often small groups of flower stems with the distinctive hanging single white flower, hence its Latin name Moneses uniflora.  This will be an interesting site to watch over the coming years.

So, despite the mornings being taken up for 20 days of this month with drives up and down the A9 a few outings were also possible but perhaps the inquisitive wee moth was wondering why there was an important loo roll in my rucksack!

That's it for another month, enjoy the read

Stewart and Janet

Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey – Butterfly Conservation
Small cow-wheat species framework document
Salmon and Trout Conservation UK
Cruet Collar-moss (Splachnum ampullaceum)
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
NBN Atlas
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
 
Sawflies on willow tree possibly Nematus pavidus
Gassy webcap (Cortinarius traganus)
The large hoverfly bee-mimic Volucella bombylans
 Photos © Stewart Taylor