Sunday, 24 July 2011

Ardmore Point, Argyll and Bute - SSSI, SPA & Ramsar Site

The shore areas covered on this walk along the Clyde (from Cardross to Ardmore Point) form a part of 3 different designated protected sites: the Inner Clyde Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI), the Inner Clyde Ramsar Site and Inner Clyde Special Protection Area (SPA).

This section of the River Clyde shoreline is an SSSI because it contains saltmarsh (intertidal vegetation such as eelgrasses) and because it supports significant numbers of wintering birds, in particular: Eider, Cormorant, Goldeneye, Oystercatcher, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver and Redshank.

Around 2100 Redshank feed here outside the breeding season (this being the reason for both SPA and Ramsar Site status).

Recent reports of Quail in central Scotland sparked predictions of a 'quail invasion' and tempted me to walk along these coastal arable fields, knowing I'd be lucky to even glimpse one.

Ardmore Point
Ardmore Point at low tide

I got a train from Dalmuir to Cardross (£6.60 return) and followed the footpath along the water's edge to Ardmore Point. In Cardross bay at low tide, House Martins collected mud from the shore for nest-building.
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium) grows in large mauve-flowered clumps on the beach near Cardross saw mill.

Dougal Winchburg brick

The African savannah? Or Scotland on a sunny (!) day?

fields Cardross
Fields near Cardross

fields Cardross
Fields near Cardross

Between Cardross and Ardmore Point the upper shore is rock/shingle, separated from the muddy lower shore by a band of slippery green algae and dark fucoid seaweed. Not the prettiest of shorelines, but the mud is packed with invertebrates and provides excellent feeding grounds for the veritable 'motorway' of birds channeling through in autumn/winter.

A rich variety of wildflowers, encompassing every colour of the rainbow, flourish on the edge of the arable fields: some are coastal species, some are arable weeds and others, garden escapees or naturalized exotics.

Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium flower
Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Hedge Bindweed Calystegia sepium bud
Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) unopened flower

The delicate white, gramophone-esque flowers of Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) poked their trumpets through the bramble bushes. It actually belongs to the same family as Sweet Potatoe (Convolvulaceae) but is known to have purgative effects (hence, inedible).

Red Campion Silene dioica
Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Canadian Goldenrod Solidago canadensis
Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Canadian Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is a widely naturalized, North American relative of our native Goldenrod (S.virgaurea).

The two can be distinguished by their flower arrangement:-
  • Canadian Goldenrod has smaller-petalled 'tufty' flowers which form a distinctly PYRAMIDAL pannicle (arrangement). 
  • Our native Goldenrod has loose, narrow pannicles of larger, fewer-petalled 'daisy-like' flowers
The leaves of all Solidago species contain a latex which Thomas Edison (the inventor of the lightbulb) used to manufacture rubber during a series of experiments beginning in the late-1920s (with the aim of discovering cheaper, home-grown alternatives to Indian rubber). There is an interesting page on this story here - with photos of the Goldenrod rubber.

Green Alkanet Pentaglottis sempervirens
Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis Sempervirens)

Another non-native, Green Alkanet (Pentaglottis Sempervirens) is a strikingly beautiful plant nonetheless. As you might expect from the colour of its flowers, it's closely related to Borage and Forget-me-nots (Boraginaceae).
Its scientific name, a mix of Latin and Greek, means 'Five-tongued always-green' (Penta = five + glottis = tongue: from Greek glōtta, Attic form of Ionic glōssa, semper = always + virens = to be green/verdant: Latin).

Greater Sand Spurrey Spergularia media
Greater Sand Spurrey (Spergularia media)

There are other very similar Spergularia species but Greater Sand Spurrey (Spergularia media) can be identified by these 3 key features:

1) Hairless.
2) Flowers have petals LONGER than sepals.
3) 10 stamens.

Pale Toadflax Linaria repens
Pale Toadflax (Linaria repens)

Pale Toadflax is a naturalized non-native which mostly grows in dry, rocky waste ground habitats.

Sea Aster Aster tripolium
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium)

Sea Aster Aster tripolium
Sea Aster (Aster tripolium)

Despite looking a lot like the common garden-escapee Michaelmas Daisy, Sea Aster is one of our 2 native Aster species. It's a saltmarsh and maritime specialist able to tolerate high salinities.

Sea Aster Recipes: 

Buttered Sea Aster
Sea Aster Fish Bake
Sea Aster and Tomato Soup

Inland from Ardmore south bay (near Ardardan), I had excellent views of a singing Sedge Warbler. Also, flocks of Starling and House Sparrow. Ardmore north bay was filled with Curlew.

lichen white

Aspen bark
Aspen bark

Ardmore point cattle

Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

When crushed in the hand, Mugwort releases a strong and deliciously medicinal aroma, reminiscent of absinthe. In fact, it belongs to the same genus as Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): the chief flavouring in absinthe.

Unlike most members of the daisy family (Asteraceae), it has wind-pollinated flowers.

Mugwort has been used for centuries worldwide in traditional herbal medicine, particularly for treating worms, menstrual cramps and digestive complaints. It was also used as a flavouring in beer (before hops) and food (especially in Asian cookery). Experiments show that it has insecticidal (mosquitoes and beetles) and antihelminthic properties.

Mugwort Recipes:

Mugwort Rice Cakes
Korean Injeolmi Rice Cakes

Note: It's very bitter-tasting and contains thujone (toxic in large doses) so consumption should be avoided by pregnant women.

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Tansy is a petal-less member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), belonging to the same genus as Feverfew. In the past it was frequently cultivated as a medicinal herb and was valued as a treatment for worms and external parasites, for repelling insects, to control menstrual bleeding and to induce abortions.

Like Mugwort, Tansy has a strongly medicinal scent, is very bitter and contains thujole (pregnant women should avoid eating it). 

Both the leaves and the button-like flowers yield a pale yellow dye when boiled.

Dyeing with Tansy: (Showing the effects of alum, tin and rhubarb mordants). (Showing the effects of copper, iron and alum/cream of tartar mordants).

Sweet Cicely Myrrhis odorata seedpods
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) ripe seedpods

Sweet Cicely can be identified by the following features:

  • Strongly and sweetly scented. 
  • Leaves and stems covered in DOWNY HAIRS. 
  • White flowers. 
  • Whitish, splash-like markings at base of leaves. 
  • Seedpods = ridged, linear-oblong (canoe-shaped!), becoming shiny brown when ripe. 
As both its common and scientific name attest, all parts of Sweet Cicely have a pleasant anise-like fragrance and sweet flavour. It was traditionally used to treat coughs and to aid digestion.

Sweet Cicely Recipes: 

Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Pudding (
Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Pudding (
Sweet Cicely Custard (

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Well known for its powerful sedative effects, Valerian also contains the alkaloid actinidine; a powerful cat-attractant, and may provoke a response in cats unresponsive to catnip. More info can be found here.

Yarrow Achillea millefolium pink
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow Achillea millefolium white
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Two species of crucifer were growing along the edge of the path: the white flowered Garden Radish and the lemon-yellow flowered Sea Radish.

Garden Radish Raphanus sativus white flowers
Garden Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Sea Radish Raphanus raphanistrum maritimus yellow flowers
Sea Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum maritimus

Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum), the native ancestor of the Garden Radish, lacks the swollen root of its domesticated relative but is just as edible!
I *think* the Wild Radish pictured above is the subspecies maritimus, known as the Sea Radish, but I could be wrong. There's lots of variation within Raphanus and Wild Radish can have yellow, white or mauve flowers.

The most reliable way of separating them is to look at their seedpods:
  • Consists of globular BEADS, EASILY BROKEN at joints and has long BEAKED tip = Wild Radish. 
  •  Consists of globular BEADS, NOT EASILY BROKEN at joints and has long BEAKED tip = Sea Radish. 
  •  UNBEADED = Garden Radish.

Dark Mullein Verbascum nigrum
Dark Mullein (Verbascum nigrum)

The densely packed, pale yellow flowers (with a slightly waxy appearance) and dark red, hairy stamens of Dark Mullein are very distinctive. It also lacks the coating of silvery hair found on most mulleins.

Dotted Loosestrife Lysimachia punctata
Dotted Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)

Dotted Loosestrife (Myrsinaceae family) is yet another non-native and despite its name, it's not closely related to our native Purple Loosestrife (Lythraceae family).

This plant doesn't produce nectar, instead the flowers produce fatty oils in order to attract specialist pollinators: Macropis sp. 'oil bees' (which are absent from Scotland).

Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis
Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

Perennial Sow-thistle Sonchus arvensis
Perennial Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

Set amongst brilliant blue skies and waters, the fireball flowers of Perennial Sow-thistle burn brightly in the sunshine. These sunbursts are savoury too! The slightly bitter leaves and flowers can be eaten raw or cooked and a coffee substitute can be made from the roots.

Sow-thistles exude a milky white sap when damaged - much like Dandelion's.

Sow-thistle Recipes:

Sauteed Sow-thistles (from
Sauteed Sow-thistles (from
Sow-thistle Lasagne
Chinese Vinegar Peanut Salad (with Sow-thistles)
Stir-fried Sow-thistles and Pork

In terms of nutrition, Sow-thistles contain at least as much vitamin C per gram as oranges, have a high 'omega 3' fatty acid content and, like other leafy greens, are a rich source of minerals.

At this time of year the shore is quieter, though I did see a large (easily disturbed) flock of Oystercatchers and some Curlew.

Oystercatcher Starlings flock
Oystercatchers (below) and Starlings (above)

I walked around Ardmore Point peninsula, where there are impenetrable thickets of hawthorn, golden-yellow gorse scrub and silvery-barked Aspens.

From the path, I saw a male Whitethroat singing prominently from a hawthorn - what a handsome bird! Warm sunlight caught the suffusion of pink on his breast and lent his white-rimmed eyes a reddish tint.

Common Blue butterflies were frequent on the upper shore (Ardmore Point).

On my return home I spotted a Turnstone and later, a Commic Tern*, both on the lower shore between Ardmore Point south bay and Cardross. There was also a flock of Goldfinches flitting about close to the path.

*Not a tern trying to be funny...birder-speak for those which can't be positively identified as either a Common Tern (Sterna hirudo) or an Arctic Tern (Sterna paradiseae).

Friday, 22 July 2011

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

I walked from Duntocher to the Test again, taking the longer route above Little Round Top Wood to avoid the boisterous bullocks in the fields below. This route is short yet encompasses a wide variety of habitats (Ash/Hazel woodland, gorse scrub, dry grassland, damp flower-rich meadows, moorland and reedy willowy marshland).

Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus
Marsh Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus)

Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus
Marsh Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus)
Despite receiving lots of bad press, both Marsh Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus) and Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) are native plants and are a vital food source for many insects (for example, the plume moth Platyptilia isodactylus feeds ONLY on Marsh Ragwort).

Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)

Meadowsweet is a sweet scented, non-toxic plant with analgesic (pain relieving) and antiseptic properties. Salicylic acid extracted from Meadowsweet was used by chemists at Bayer AG to synthesize a new painkiller - acetylsalicylic acid - which they named aspirin (derived from Meadowsweet's old genus name rearranged: Spiraea).

Yarrow white Achillea millefolium
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow white Achillea millefolium
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow has flat-topped clusters of potently aromatic flowers coloured either milky white or various shades of pink (from pale candyfloss to a deep raspberry icecream).

One of the most highly regarded plants in herbal medicine, Yarrow is antimicrobial/antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, choleretic (increasing bile secretion), vasodilatory and promotes the healing of wounds.
Its feathery leaves are mentioned in its other common names Milfoil and Thousand-leaf and also in the species name millefolium (mille = thousand + folium = leaf: Latin).

There were plenty of Meadow Brown butterflies on the wing and I managed to photograph one with its wings open for a change, revealing the foxy-orange patches and black eye-spots.

Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina female
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) female

This individual is a female, males are a darker brown with much smaller orange patches.

Harebell Campanula rotundifolia
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)

In late summer the moorland is at its most vivid: heather is freshly magenta-purple or lilac and the wild grasses have dried to a crispy gold. Above the Test there is mostly Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) with some Cross-leaved Heather (Erica tetralix) in the boggier parts.

moorland grasses golden heather

I followed the old track (overgrown with Gorse) that leads down from the Test southeast to Little Round Top. At a marshy point to the side of this path I discovered a plant which I have never seen before: Knotted Pearlwort (Sagina nodosa).

Knotted Pearlwort Sagina nodosa
Knotted Pearlwort (Sagina nodosa)

Knotted Pearlwort Sagina nodosa
Knotted Pearlwort (Sagina nodosa)

The key features identification features of Knotted Pearlwort are:

  • Stubby bunches of leaf shoots which form 'knots' along the stems
  • Completely white (unnotched) petals twice as long as sepals (the green flaps underneath petals). 
  • 5 white centrally-placed styles surrounded by 10 white stamens.  
Knotted Pearlwort's scientific name translates as 'Fodder, knotted' (sagina = fodder, nodosa = knotted: Latin).

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

The route I followed on today's (short) walk was: Duntocher to the Test (OS map grid reference: NS 475 743) via Little Round Top Wood (NS 476 735), this time crossing the marshland meadow above it.

Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara
Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara)

Bittersweet (also known as Woody Nightshade) was growing through a hedge at the side of Beeches Road (field boundary near crossroads).

Bittersweet is a close relative of Potato, Tomato and Aubergine (all these plants belong to the genus Solanum and all have poisonous foliage). Unlike its partially edible relations: all parts of Bittersweet (including the attractive fruits) contain the glycoalkaloid poison solanine and cause nausea and stomach cramps if consumed.

I found 3 Six-spot Burnet moths in the rough grassland above Little Round Top Wood, they all looked a bit worn (probably the end of their flight period).
These day-flying moths produce cyanogenic glucosides and can also sequester those produced by their foodplant (Common Bird's-foot Trefoil). When broken down, the cyanogenic glucosides release poisonous hydrogen cyanide: their crimson-spotted wings are an aposematic warning to predators.

Six-spot Burnet Zygaena filipendulae
Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

Hairy Thyme Thymus praecox
Hairy Thyme (Thymus praecox)

Surprisingly few bees around at the moment - I've scarcely seen any this summer, even the dense clumps of thyme were empty.

At the Test I found a Sparrowhawk kill: a clump of feathers which probably belonged to a Meadow Pipit.

I also found this large female Drinker moth:

Drinker moth Euthrix potatoria female
Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) female

Drinker moth Euthrix potatoria female
Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) female

Drinker moth Euthrix potatoria female laying eggs
Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) female, laying eggs

Drinker moth Euthrix potatoria female laying eggs
Drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria) female, laying eggs

Difficult to photograph due to the blustery wind!
The irritatingly hairy caterpillars of this moth feed on wild grasses and reeds: these eggs will hatch in a month's time and the larvae will spend the winter in their larval stage (pupating the following summer).

In the sheep-grazed grassland south of the Test, I found the diminutive white flowers of Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum): a non-edible, wild relative of Flax (the plant from which linseed is obtained).

Fairy Flax Linum catharticum
Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum)