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.

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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.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

One of my friends came over from England to visit and we went walking in the Kilpatrick Hills. We walked from Duntocher to the Fyn Loch and then through the forestry plantation to the Greenland Reservoirs.

Our first find of the day was a large Oiceoptoma thoracicum (burying beetle) which we found at Little Round Top.

We stopped for lunch at the Trig Point above and to the West of the Greenside Reservoir and were just settling down to eat when we noticed a cloud of smoke advancing towards us across the moor beyond the Humphrey. We watched as the cloud drew nearer and we could hear the roar of quadbikes and see a flock of crows following the commotion. The quadbikes continued up the hill before us until they had reached the spot at which we were sitting.
The bikers; who were wee high school neds; got off their quad-bikes and formed a circle around us whilst we ate. I was waiting for some kind of 'Pure Goff/states of yew' type comment but they just stood silently watching us eat. We persistently refused to make eye contact or aknowledge them and they eventually got bored and left.
Most neds I've seen in the countryside have been friendly enough, but I don't fancy being escorted across the moors

As we walked past the Humphrey Reservoir a Brown Hare started up just under our feet and raced through the fluffy white seed heads of cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.) which were dotted about everywhere.

kilpatrick hills
Looking towards the Black Linn Reservoir
fyn loch
The Fyn Loch

There was only a pair of Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) on the loch. On the banks of the loch I found a profusion of flowering Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides), which I'd never noticed before.

mossy saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides)
Mossy Saxifrage (Saxifraga hypnoides)

The word 'saxifrage' comes from the Latin 'saxum' meaning stone and 'frangere' to break, refering to the ability of plants of this genus to colonize and eventually break apart rocks by bioerosion.

Also flowering at the Fyn Loch was Pond Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus).

water lilies
Pond Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus)
water lilies
Pond Water Crowfoot (Ranunculus peltatus)

Walking through the forestry plantation around Brown Hill we spotted a flock of 6 Common Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) feeding on the pine cones.

The Greenland Reservoirs seem to hold a richer array of dragonfly species than other water bodies in the Kilpatrick Hills; possibly due to the close proximity of trees and shrubby vegetation to the water's edge. Around the Greenland Reservoirs we saw Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), Common Blue Damselflies (Enallagma cyathigerum) and Four Spotted Chasers (Libellula quadrimaculata).

libellula quadrimaculata
Four-Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)
libellula quadrimaculata
Four-Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) 

The scientific name Libellula quadrimaculata translates as 'Little book' (Libellula, from Libellus: refering to the horizontally held, open wings) and 'four-spotted' (quadrimaculata). I love the intricacy of the multi-faceted wings: thousands of little tinted windows, symmetrically mirrored on each pair of wings. The whole insect has such mechanical precision and stream-lined structural perfection!

On the way home we found an unusually tame young rabbit near the farms at Gavinburn. On closer inspection the rabbit had an area of swollen skin round its eye - probably an indication that it has contracted Myxomatosis (Myxoma virus).

rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)