Friday, 3 October 2008

Machrie to Drumadoon Bay, Isle of Arran

I went to Machrie Moor to have a look at the very impressive stone circles. It was gloriously sunny and warm for October. The wild grasses were in autumnal golden hues and wind-beaten, lichen-encrusted Hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna) were thickly laden with pillar-box red berries.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Of the many standing stone circles on the site, the most impressive are three red sandstone slabs; ranging from 3.7 to 5.5metres in height; which were erected nearly 4000 years ago. At the time these stones were erected, Scotland was a very different place wildlife-wise. Much of Britain's long-lost megafauna still roamed the wilder areas: species such as Moose, Aurochs (now extinct worldwide), Boar, Lynx, Brown Bears, Wolves and Beavers.

I visited the abandoned cottage nearby and disturbed a male Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) which appeared to be injured.

Roof slates
Machrie Bay

I walked along the coast from Machrie Bay to Drumadoon, and on the way I found a collection of stacked pebble sculptures, stopping briefly to make some of my own.

Cleiteadh nan Sgarbh with The Doon in the distance

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

On this walk I took the train from Dalmuir to Bowling and then walked up through the woods surrounding Overton House. I followed the woodland Eastwards from Rigangower to Little Round Top/Craigleith and Duntocher.

Light rain made the grass damp and soaked through my trousers. At the Lang Craigs I spotted a pair of Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus).
There was an incredible variety of colourful fungi and I have tried my best to photograph and identify them. Strangely, people here in the UK have a phobia of fungi and don't like to touch them, nevermind eat them. If any toadstools dare show their heads on a neatly clipped lawn they are quickly stamped on and eliminated! It seems in stark contrast to the continent, where (in many countries), people go mushroom collecting and a greater variety of mushrooms are to be encountered in the shops.

Armillaria sp.

Armillaria species, also known as honey fungi, are parasitic on their hosts and cause 'white rot' which kills healthy trees. These fungi are edible when cooked but should be eaten in small amounts as some specimens may cause stomach upsets.

Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis)

The Pink Waxcap (Hygrocybe calyptriformis) has the waxy texture, bright colouration and conical, splitting-at-the-edges cap characteristic of many Hygrocybe. This grassland species has declined in numbers in recent years and is now labelled as at 'Low Risk' under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. In terms of edibility, it is described as being 'edible but not worthwhile' (see Roger Phillip's 'Mushrooms' - an excellent book!). I photographed this specimen below the Lang Craigs, above Overton House.

Plenty of Birch Polypores (Piptoporus betulinus) in the narrow strip of birch forest stretching from Rigangower to the Hill of Dun. The fruiting bodies are too tough to be edible but are known to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties.

Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) young specimen

Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) older specimen

Between Auchentorlie Glen and Glenarbuck there is a small, shallow, unnamed reservoir with a collapsed platform and what looks like a metal water filter(?). The perforated nozzle of the filter was covered with oily-irridescent rust. Old abandoned man-made structures hold a special fascination for me!

Many vibrant-red Vermillion Waxcaps (Hygrocybe miniata) were present on the grassland below Lang Craigs and near the river below the Test. This species is of unkown edibility (this is candy for the eyes only!).

Vermillion Waxcap (Hygrocybe miniata)

In the meadows below the Mohican woods there were a few lemon-yellow Hygrocybe vitellina.
I crossed paths with a Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) which tried at first, to play dead when I approached. They are usually nocturnal so I guess it must have been in a hurry to fatten up for its winter hibernation.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)
Four-spotted Orb Web Spider (Araneus quadratus) female

The abdomens of gravid Araneus quadratus females can be ridiculously plump and spherical - looking as though they've been inflated. There is much variation in colour: I have seen olive green and brick-red specimens. All individuals have the 4 distinctive white spots which give the species its scientific name (quadratus means four, Araneus means spider).

Friday, 8 August 2008

St. Andrews, Fife

Not a wildlife-orientated trip as such, but in a coastal city there is always something to be seen. I went on a day-trip to St. Andrews and spent the day looking around the quaint cobble-stoned streets and unusual specialist shops that are only to be found in a city with wealth. After the obligatory visit to the ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral, I went to an old fashioned bakery and bought some tasty pastries which I ate at the harbour though I had little peace from wasps. In the water below, a family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) cruised by.

Surely the pun was noticed when this street was named?

At the Harbour there were stacks of brightly coloured lobster pots and piles of mooring ropes. These items, along with fishing nets and floats, always seem to be the same two colours: either cyan or pinkish orange. I love this colour combination: it's unusual but very photogenic.

I wandered down to the sandy shore (West Sands) and found a place to sit and eat. On the stony embankment separating the golf course from the beach there was a small foraging flock of Linnets (Carduelis cannabina). Down at the beach it was rather windy and I soon experienced the gritty sensation of sand in my food!

Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) squabbled over the possession of my, as yet, unabandoned feast. Once they had flown off in search of easier pickings, a sole Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) turned up.

Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) in winter plumage

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Lochranza to Glen Catacol, Isle of Arran

I thought that Richard and Kath might like to see some Adders and Red Deer so we took a bus to Lochranza (which pretty much satisfies every Scottish stereotype, scenery-wise). Sitting down at the bay near the castle, we shared our sandwiches with some Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos). Further out a female Merganser (Mergus serrator) was busily diving in the sparkling water.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) female
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) female
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) female

We didn't have to look far for Red Deer - this hind was so unbothered by our presence that she continued to graze as we stood a metre away: in fact we were unable to get a picture of her head! So, despite feeling like a pervert - a hind (in both senses of the word!):

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) hind

We took a gentle walk up Glen Catacol (to compensate for the previous day's death march), keeping our eyes peeled for Adders. Despite our best efforts we were unsuccessful in that respect. We did, however, closely approach a basking Slowworm (Anguis fragilis). For me this was better than an Adder as it is only the second time I have seen one! These legless lizards have very boxy heads and are almost cuboid in cross section.

According to the Herpetological Conservation Trust this species is 'widespread throughout the British Isles' and 'probably the most frequently encountered British reptile'. Personally, I have not found this to be the case but it may just be scarce in the Central Scotland area, or maybe I'm unlucky.... Years ago, I found a Slowworm between the Test and the Greenside Reservoir in the Kilpatrick Hills. Despite much searching I have never seen one in this area since.

Amongst the boggy patches were Great Sundews (Drosera longifolia) and plenty of Gold-ringed Dragonflies (Cordulegaster boltonii) - one was happily chewing on a wasp!

waxcap (Hygrocybe persistens)

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Lamlash to Kildonan, Isle of Arran

This week I went to Arran with Richard and Kath and we stayed at Aldersyde Bunkhouse in Lamlash.
When we arrived we had problems finding the bunkhouse as the only indication of its presence was a wheelie bin with 'bunkhouse' written on it (we later discovered that this was due to a land dispute between the owner of the bunkhouse and the owner of the inn next door). The bunkhouse was nice enough although the kitchen was very cramped and the showers looked a bit unhygienic. The rooms were also mixed gender (which I'd avoid if travelling alone).

Before we left the owner informed us that we would be sharing our room with 'missionaries': which led us to jokingly speculate whether our room mates would be missionaries of the holy evangelical bible-bashing sort or violent satanic anti-missionaries.

At the bus stop we found out that we'd be waiting more than an hour for the next bus, so I suggested we start walking towards Kildonan. The road was more dangerous than we imagined with plenty of blind corners and no pavement. Turning a bend we came across a crashed car, upside down, in the middle of the road. Next to the car were a group of young touristy-looking people on phones - luckily everyone had managed to escape unscathed. This convinced us to get off the road as soon as possible and at Largymore we were able to follow a path to the shore.

Shortly after this, whilst walking through a shoreside field, we were chased by a large horse: an incident both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.
The beach was a scree of boulders backing onto a cliff and proved difficult and time-consuming terrain to cross.

We briefly stopped at Port na Gaillin, where the beach flattened out. The boulders here were profusely covered with a variety of wildflowers including Larger Bindweed (Calystegia sepium), Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

It was late evening by the time we reached Kildonan and we soon found out that we had misread the bus timetable and had missed the last bus. The only option was to walk via the main road to Whiting Bay and then catch a bus to Lamlash.

Ailsa Craig
By the time we got back we were absolutely knackered and too tired to eat anything, so we made a pot of tea. One of our room mates had arrived back: a beefy, skin-headed man who looked exactly like Chewin' the Fat's 'The Big Man'. We made the mistake of offering him a cup of tea. Once the man opened his mouth he wouldn't shut up.

It was impossible to find a breathing gap in the conversation to politely announce that we were going to bed. The conversation began to take a sinister turn: our room mate Dave began calmly to tell us about the people he had severely beaten up, his youth spent in borstals and mental homes and how religion had changed him (despite this he planned to smuggle a gun in order to kill someone). The 'missionaries' turned out to be an Orange Order group :(
We were afraid to cut off the conversation with dave in case he got angry but we were so tired that our eyelids were closing involuntarily.

Then, during the night Dave woke up Richard to tell him that the toilet was broken (something that could really have waited to the next day *sigh*).

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Abernethy Forest - National Nature Reserve, Aviemore

This week I went camping in Abernethy Forest with my friend Richard. We carried our heavy rucksacks from Aviemore to Abernethy as we weren't sure the bus would stop there. In the distance the Cairngorm peaks were still patched with snow. Exhausted, we reached a forestry plantation at the edge of Abernethy and had to set up camp as it was getting dark. As we got ready to prepare our dinner we realised with horror that we had forgotten to bring a lighter with us and were unable to light the gas stove: leaving us with little to eat and NO TEA!! In vain we tried to make tea with cold water but it wasn't happening.

The next morning I managed to get lost in the forest and couldn't phone Richard to let him know where I was (no phone reception) took nearly 2 hours to find my way back :(

Later in the morning as we set off for Abernethy Forest, we came across a Red Squirrel cautiously stealing nuts from a bird feeder.

Once in Nethy Bridge we bought supplies (and a lighter!) from the local newsagents.

Along the forest edges were flowering Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) and Chickweed Wintergreen (Trientalis europaea).

In Abernethy Forest we were finally able to stop for a long awaited cup of tea and a hot meal. Annoyingly persistent Wood Ants (Formica sp.); ubiquitous in Abernethy; insisted on swarming over us to investigate our food - I love them, but they are infuriating!

Four Spotted Chaser dragonflies (Libellula quadrimaculata) were zooming about a nearby bog and whilst chasing them (camera in hand) we found an huge female Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) carrying a spherical egg-cocoon beneath her body.

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) female with eggs
Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) female with eggs

Raft Spiders have a scattered distribution in the UK and are confined to boggy habitats. These spiders sit at the water's edge and dart across the water to capture insects, tadpoles and small fish. They have the ability to submerge for short periods of time when threatened.

ARKive logo

Raft spider feeding on fly and fishRaft spider feeding on fly and fish

We visited Loch Garten to see the nesting Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus). Peanut feeders outside the centre attract lots of Siskins (Carduelis spinus) and some very bold Red Squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris).

Striped Ladybird (Myzia oblongoguttata)

We left Abernethy the next afternoon as the weather was so unfavourable and the constant torrential rain was starting to seep through our tents (we ran out of dry clothes too). Also, at night the temperature was so low that I was unable to sleep as my toes were getting really cold (I need to get a 4 season sleeping bag for Scotland). After a frantic death-march to catch the last bus, we ended up getting the steam engine to Aviemore (great fun!).

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

I took another walk over the Kilpatrick Hills with a friend and this time we walked from Duntocher to the Jaw Reservoir (via the Test), then to the Kilmannan Reservoir, to the Whangie and eventually to Carbeth: where we caught a bus back to Glasgow.

At Little Round Top, amongst the few Hawthorns still blossoming, we found this specimen with unusually pink flowers.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Wild Pansies (Viola tricolor) are in full flower on the grassy hill near the Test. We disturbed a Brown Hare at the Test: it loped along slowly, crossing the small river and disappeared into the heather. In the heather I found a Stoat's skull, which I took home to add to my collection :)

Water Avens (Geum rivale) were flowering in the marshy area between the Greenside and Cochno Reservoirs.

Water Avens (Geum rivale)

The fragrant root of Water Avens can be boiled in water to produce a chocolate-like drink which is strongly astringent due to its high tannin content.

Near to the Jaw Reservoir we saw numerous Small Heath butterflies (Coenonympha pamphilus) - a common species whose larvae feed on grasses.

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

At the Kilmannan Reservoir there are both Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella). The Northern Marsh Orchid can be easily distinguished by its unspotted leaves and magenta-red flowers with diamond-shaped unlobed/shallowly lobed lower petals that are marked with irregular lines and dots.

Northern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza purpurella)

The dried bulbs of Dactylorhiza genus orchids can be ground into a nutritious flour called Salep (which contains the polysaccharide glucomannan). Salep flour can be used to make the beverage salep and is a key ingredient in the Turkish ice-cream dondurma:

Along the Audmurroch Burn near the Kilmannan Reservoir, there were many bright orange Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria selene) feeding on thistles. This species is very similiar to the Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) but the main differences are its smaller size, greater number of white pearl markings on the underside of the hind wings and its slightly later flight period. The larvae of both species feed on Common Dog Violet and Marsh Violet.

Boloria means 'fishing net' in Latin and describes the chequered patterning of the wings; selene is the name of a Greek titaness/moon deity.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) female

The moorland around the Whangie was covered in candy-pink Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus) flowers - I'll have to wait until late summer to pick the berries.

Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus)

We followed the A809 from Queen's View to Carbeth: a dangerous road with speeding vehicles and without a pavement. Walking along this stretch of road requires you to press yourself against thorny hedges and walk through patches of nettles and brambles :(

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) female
Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) female

The Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) is an impressively large moth whose larvae feed on Poplar and Sallow. Adult moths are sluggish, slow-flying and do not feed. The hind wings are held in front of the fore wings at rest - this unusual wing posture is part of the moth's dead-leaf camouflage.

Before we got the bus home from Carbeth we had something to eat at the Carbeth Inn: a friendly place full of motorbikers which serves cheap greasy food.