Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tinto Hill, South Lanarkshire - SSSI

Tinto Hill (707 metres), is an outlying peak of the Southern Uplands and is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) due to the presence of subalpine heath and Quaternary geology.

In terms of geology, Tinto Hill is a good example of active periglacial stone stripes (freeze/thaw sorting of stones: resembling a ploughed field) and is composed of volcanic felsite and Old Red Sandstone.

Characteristic flora of the subalpine dry heath on Tinto includes Stiff Sedge (Carex bigelowii), Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) and Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus).

To get to this location, my mum and I got a train from Dalmuir to Lanark (1hr 20mins, £12.30) and then we caught a 191 bus from Lanark to Thankerton (15 mins): the bus station in Lanark is right next to the train station. Also, watch out for the neds: Lanark is teeming with them :(
The path up Tinto Hill is obvious and well-maintained and there is a cafe (Tinto Hill Tearoom) and public toilets at the foot of the hill.

Thankerton is surrounded by fields of cattle, I was glad that these cheeky chaps were behind a fence:

On our way to the top, we could hear Curlews curlew-ing and the squeaky pee-peet-ing of Meadow Pipits. Below the summit, by the side of the path, clumps of Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) were flowering.

Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) with Bilberry flower (Vaccinium myrtillus
Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus)

Cloudberry is a dwarfed, mountain-dwelling relative of the Raspberry and produces edible amber coloured berries in autumn. Unusually, this plant is dioecious: individual plants are either male or female and cannot self-pollinate.

The view from the top of Tinto was incredible, particularly if you look towards the bleak Southern Uplands. As we sat and ate our lunch we spotted our first Red Admiral of the year:

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Most Red Admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) are migrants to our shores from central Europe.

We got lost on our descent of Tinto and began to walk down the rough scree at Pap Craig: we saw a Raven and a pair of Wheatears. When we realized we were heading the wrong way (we were supposed to be following the Scaut Hill path), we turned back.

Just at this point I heard falling scree behind me, looking round I saw a startled Mountain Hare tripping over the loose rocks in its attempt to get away! Its fur was frosty-grey and it had notably shorter ears than the Brown Hare.

As we made our way to the Scaut Hill path we crossed an area of heath which was scattered with clumps of angora-soft, white hair: Mountain Hare hair! I collected the moulted hair to add to my collection, I will photograph it at some point.
Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) unopened flowers
Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is a relative of Cranberry and produces very tart, red berries which can be used in recipes. The leaves contain arbutin, a glycosylated hydroquinone, which inhibits tyrosinase and prevents the production of melanin (it is used in skin whiteners).
Circular Hillfort on Tinto
The circular mound in the middle of the above photo is a circular hillfort with a series of concentric ramparts. At the very summit of Tinto Hill there is also a Bronze Age circular cairn.

The Scaut Hill path crosses a field of cattle which looked docile enough but the nearby strip of fenced-in coniferous plantation allowed us a safer route.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

My dad and I were meant to be going on an organised walk to see the March Stones in the Kilpatrick Hills...
We arrived at the meeting place (Cochno waterworks), but seeing no one there, we thought that perhaps the group had left early. We speed-walked up the road to the Greenside but were unable to find anyone: presuming that the walk had been cancelled (as was the case last year), we decided to head out on a walk of our own.

On the way up to the Greenside Reservoir we saw a Carrion Crow's nest in one of the trees near the Loch Humphrey Burn. Small Heath butterflies flitted about, landing briefly on the gravelly path ahead of us. Approaching the Greenside dam we saw a male Whinchat.
Common Sandpipers are nesting on the banks of the Greenside, not far from the dam.

We walked round the Eastern edge of the Greenside (lots of Mossy Saxifrage flowering) and at the point where the river feeds in from the Cochno/Jaw, we stopped to watch a male Reed Bunting collecting reeds to build his nest. He was very adept at clipping the long reeds (much longer than himself!) and carrying them to a nearby stunted Hawthorn tree.

Metallic-purplish click beetles (Ctenicera cuprea) were abundant:

Click beetle (Ctenicera cuprea) male
Click beetle (Ctenicera cuprea) male
Click beetle (Ctenicera cuprea) male
This common click beetle is associated with upland heath/moor and the long-antennaed males fly on sunny days from May to July (females are more secretive and have shorter antennae).

The scientific name Ctenicera cuprea means 'Comb-horn coppery' (Cten = comb + cera = horn, from Greek; and cuprea = copper, from Latin).

This beetle is very variable in its colouration: it can be yellowish-copper with a darker head, it can be completely metallic-green, or completely metallic-purple (like those photographed above).

At the Dirty Leven river (between Humphrey and Greenside), my dad demonstrated the art of 'guddling' for Trout: we very nearly managed to catch one too!

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica) grows near the Dirty Leven. Marsh Lousewort (Pedicularis palustris) also grows in the Kilpatrick Hills, especially around Burn Crooks reservoir.

Lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica)

We walked to the Humphrey Reservoir (where we saw the usual Greylag Geese, Mallard and Tufted Ducks) and crossed the reedy field at Boglairoch.

In this field we followed the cricket-trilling of a Grasshopper Warbler which disappeared mysteriously, as they always do, like a will o' the wisp, as soon as we got close, only to re-appear futher away.

I never understand how they manage to change location without appearing to fly the distance in-between!
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Water Avens (Geum rivale)
Water Horsetails (Equisetum fluviatile) at Curling pond
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile)
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile)
At the Eastern side of the Mohican Woods we saw a Spotted Flycatcher darting about in the Oak trees. Looking through our binoculars we noticed a nearby treehole with a recently constructed moss cup clearly visible: a Spotted Flycatcher nest!
Woodpecker holes
Tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae)
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
Wild Strawberries produce tiny aromatic fruits that are sweeter and more strongly flavoured than shop bought strawberries. The scientific name means 'Fragrant to-feed' (Fragaria, from fragro = fragrant/scented, and vesca = from vescor, to use as food).

Day-flying Brown Silver-line moths (Petrophora chlorosata) fluttered about the bracken.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire

It's been swelteringly hot and humid for the past few days. I didn't want to push myself too hard so I spent the entire day at Little Round Top, where I could shelter from the sun in the woods.

The Bluebells are flowering (at last!).

Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
A flock of Starlings were busy feeding their brown-feathered young in the grass: the squawking juveniles chase their parents unrelentingly, begging to be fed. Meanwhile, a Roe buck grazed not far from where I was sitting. Small Copper butterflies are just beginning to emerge.

Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys)

Colours of Bugle (Ajuga reptans)

Bugle comes in a number of shades - here is the normal, violet-blue variety:

Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
This is the white variant, notice that the leaves are yellowish-green rather than the usual red-purple tinged:

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) white variant
Bugle (Ajuga reptans) white variant

Here's the pink variant:

Bugle (Ajuga reptans) pink variant
Bog Stitchwort (Stellaria uliginosa)
Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)
Bluish-green lichens make this Hawthorn bark resemble dragon-skin:

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) forms a lush forest of leaves: an ideal habitat for damselflies & dragonflies.

Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus)
Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus)
The Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) reaches peak numbers (here at least) in late May and early June and emerges long before the Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) is on the wing.

Males are a paler, less vibrant blue than E.cyathigerum and have very broad black antehumeral stripes. The second abdominal segment is marked with a black, flat-bottomed U shape. The 8th abdominal segment is entirely blue and the 9th is blue with some black towards the rear.

Females come in two colour forms: blue and green (both are heavily marked with black). It's hard to tell the females apart from other Coenagrion species, looking at the shape of the pronotum of the thorax can aid identification: http://www.habitas.org.uk/dragonflyireland/femaleblues.htm.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) female
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) female
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) female
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) male
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) male
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) strobilus 
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile) strobilus 
Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile)
Orange-tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) had laid a bright orange egg on every Cuckoo Flower I looked at:
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) egg

Orange-tips lay their eggs singly, one egg per plant, because the larvae are cannibalistic. This egg will take 1-2 weeks to hatch and the pale green larva will first eat its eggshell and then feed on the developing seed pods of the Cuckoo Flower.

Mother Shipton Moth (Callistege mi)
The day-flying Mother Shipton moth (Callistege mi) is so-named because its wings are said to bear the image of the English soothsayer Mother Shipton, aka Ursula Southeil (1488–1561). If you look at the wings you can see the mirror-image portrait of a hag's face in profile, with a punch-and-judy-style chin & nose, a mouth and an eye.