Thursday, 29 July 2010

Pappert Hill, West Dunbartonshire

I was invited to join West Dunbartonshire's Over 50s Walking Group on a walk over Pappert Hill to Pappert Well - the site of a natural freshwater spring.

Although the morning had been rainy, by the time we picked everyone up and assembled at the back of Bonhill, it had fairly brightened up.

On our ascent of Pappert Hill we crossed an area of mixed meadow and boggy marsh (flanked by the Pappert Well Community Woodlands) in which flourished wildflowers of every colour: golden patches of Bog Asphodel, lemony-yellow Tormentil, white Grass of Parnassus and Corn Spurrey mingled with magenta Redshanks and pale pink Common Spotted Orchids.

Grass of Parnassus Parnassia palustris
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)
Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris)

The Anatomy of a Grass of Parnassus:

Delicate transparent veins (nectar guides) groove the white petals surrounding a set of 5 cream-coloured fertile stamens (whose anthers produce pollen) and a set of 5 green infertile stamens (known as staminodes) which bear yellow spherical glands.

These yellow glands are fake nectaries, making the flower more visually appealing to pollinating insects, but don't actually produce any nectar. Although they are somewhat misled, the insects don't lose out entirely: nectar is instead produced from two inconspicuous glands at the base of the staminodes.

Print from Flora von Deutschland Ă–sterreich und der Schweiz (1885), courtesy of 
The phylogeny of Parnassia is still disputed, as they display several morphological 'oddities'. Recent genetic evidence has placed them within the family Celastraceae alongside the disimilar, moss-like Lepuropetalon (amongst the smallest flowering plants on earth) and Ruptiliocarpon (large South American trees).

Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)
The leaves and shoots of Redshank can be eaten cooked but are said to taste rather bland, for those interested: Redshank & Aubergine Spring Rolls Recipe - from

Red Bartsia (Odontites verna)
Corn Spurrey Spergula arvensis
Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis)
We saw a number of butterflies including Small Coppers, Ringlets and Meadow Browns. Pappert Well is surrounded by the dark coniferous Nobleston Wood - we followed the track to the clearing where we observed the clear water bubble through the sand at the underground spring.

Underneath shadowy pines I found a Cortinarius species mushroom: the cap was sticky brown and resembled a toffee-apple.

Cortinarius sp. mushroom

Near a crumbling dry-stone wall, we found a pile of scats (containing fragments of lizard skin) and some small burrows. We came to the conclusion that they probably belonged to either a Stoat or a Weasel.

Leaving the woods behind, we climbed over a barbed wire fence, and came upon a cairn and the Hill of Standing Stones, where we heard the distant cronking of Ravens over Knockshannoch moor.

Barred Straw Eulithis pyraliata
Barred Straw (Eulithis pyraliata)
The Barred Straw (Eulithis pyraliata) is a common species whose larvae feed on Cleavers & Bedstraws - its scientific name is Latin for 'Good-stone of-fire' (Eu = good + lithis = stone, pyraliata from pyralis = of fire/also a mythological winged insect which was supposed to live in fire).

Taking the gritty road which cuts between forestry plantation and the steep Murroch burn (on the return to Bonhill), we encountered a mating pair of gleeming Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) scuttling along the path! This is the first time I have seen them in West Dunbartonshire.

Further along, we disturbed a female Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) which had been perched in a pine to the right of the track. She flew up as we passed, weaving agilely through the pines and disappeared from view.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Brucehill Cliffs - proposed LNR, West Dunbartonshire

Brucehill Cliffs is a site on the banks of the River Clyde which includes inland cliffs (sandstone), regenerating forest and wild grassland - it is a proposed Local Nature Reserve (SNH). I visited the site for the first time today as part of a group making a 'bioblitz' style survey of the invertebrates & flora (though to be honest, I spent most of my time gabbing away to folk!).

The weather conditions were not ideal for capturing insects - a haze of drizzle hung over the Clyde and the vegetation was saturated. House Martins (Delichon urbica) swirled above our heads, filling the air with their musical chirping.
A multitude of little crambid micro-moths fluttered weakly through the wet grasses: we attempted to catch some but the moths stuck to the sides of our catching jars.  Based on later identification of photos, I think most of these were the very common Agriphila tristella. The froghoppers Cicadella viridis and Neophilaenus lineatus were both very abundant.

Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris)

Wild Angelica is a very attractive umbellifer with pinkish umbels, stout purple-blushed stems and toothed leaflets.

The aromatic leaves, shoots and stems can be cooked into stews & soups, though they are said to be rather bitter-tasting. The seeds can be used (fresh or dried) to add flavour to pastries and the stems are traditionally eaten in candied form.

How to make candied Angelica stems:
candied angelica -

Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus) female

Common Green Grasshoppers are extremely variable in their colouration: usually they are pea-green and varying degrees of brown, but magenta-pink variants are sometimes found.

This species can be identified by the gently incurved side-keels on the pronotum (the paired lines on the grasshopper's thorax, when viewed from above).

Shaded Broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata)

The Shaded Broad-bar is a moth of open grassy habitats (the larvae feed on clovers and vetches) and is easily disturbed from vegetation during the day. Its scientific name means 'Dark-winged Goose-footed', the latter part may refer to the moth's wing shape (Scoto, from skotos = dark + pteryx = wings: Greek, cheno = goose + podiata = footed: Greek).

Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris)

Marsh Woundwort is a member of the Labiatae family (mints & dead-nettles) and, as its common name would suggest, was highly valued in the past for its wound-healing properties (it is both antiseptic and staunches bleeding). The edible roots are said to have a mild, nutty flavour.

glass snail, possibly Arianta arbustorum ?
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Duntocher, West Dunbartonshire

Kilpatrick Hills Kilpatrick Hills at dusk

Darkness falls on the nearby Kilpatrick hills, and though the sky burns vivid orange-red, the air is humid and the vegetation still moist from recent heavy rainfall. Humid, windless nights like this are best for trapping nocturnal insects.

A Gallery of July Beetles:

Beetles are amongst the most frequent non-moth visitors to fluorescent lighting (which attracts far more insects than incandescent light bulbs due to the higher ultraviolet ouput). Other common nocturnal visitors are midges, crane flies and caddis flies.

Beetles tend to be very restless, rarely staying still for even a second, which makes them difficult to photograph: my solution is to place them inside a white plastic bowl which is too smooth for them to easily climb up and stalls them long enough to take photos.

The first of our usual suspects is a beetle whose varied talents include using its head as a spade, eating poo and singing!

Aphodius rufipes (Dung Beetle - family Scarabaeidae)

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes - showing the (normally hidden) membraneous hindwings

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes

Aphodius rufipes

A wide shovel-shaped head, cylindrical body, small antennnae, and claw-like extensions on the tibia of the front legs, are all adaptations to a burrowing lifestyle.Both adults and larvae spend most of their lives feeding and burrowing in the dung of herbivores.

The club-shaped antennae are composed of lamellae which can be compressed into a ball or fanned out (in order to detect odours).

When the adult dung beetles arrive at a fresh cow pat, the males quickly set about courting the females - producing complex songs using their abdomino-alary stridulatory organs (which means they produce sounds by rubbing their wings against their abdomens).
Only the males sing, although the females possess identical stridulatory organs and have the ability to produce disturbance sounds when threatened.

Each song lasts from 10 to 20 minutes and is composed of a series of syllables produced in pulses, with each Aphodius species having its own unique song.

More info on the singing of Aphodius dung beetles can be found here: Vibratory Communication in Dung Beetles (Scarabaeidae, Coleoptera) by Julia Kasper & Petra Hirschberger, chapter 31 of Insect Sounds and Communication - Physiology, Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution (CRC Press, 2006).

Otiorhynchus porcatus (Weevil - family Curculionidae)

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus porcatus

Otiorhynchus weevils have fused elytra (wing cases) which renders them completely flightless: this individual still managed to make an appearance indoors - I imagine its fast marching gait could traverse almost any terrain!

The nocturnal adults feed upon the foliage of a variety of plants, whilst the larvae feed underground on the roots.

This is one of the easier Otiorhynchus to identify - no other species has such deeply ridged, boxy-looking elytra.

Rhagonycha fulva (Soldier Beetle - family Cantharidae)

Rhagonycha fulva

Rhagonycha fulva

Rhagonycha fulva

Rhagonycha fulva

Rhagonycha fulva

Rhagonycha fulva

Soldier beetles are a classic example of aposematism (when an organism is both brightly coloured and distasteful to predators - predators learn to avoid them) and produce bitter-tasting secretions from their prothoracic and abdominal glands.

This common species is mostly diurnal and congregates in large numbers on the flowerheads of thistles and umbellifers, where it feeds on flower pollen, nectar and smaller insects. The larvae are ground-dwelling and prey solely on other invertebrates.

These beetles often seen in mating pairs as they have a prolonged copulation - also known as mate-guarding - in which the males prevent females from mating with competitors.

Soldier beetles have soft, leathery elytra due to the larger amount of time spent air-borne than most beetles.

Identifying Soldier Beetles:

Rhagonycha fulva is easily identified by the testaceous (brick-red) colouration of the head, pronotum, legs and wing cases (the latter are black tipped). The antennae, mouthparts and tarsi (feet) are black.

For other species, there is a handy identification key available here (PDF document):
Cantharidae - Key to the Adults of the British Species (Original keys by Mike Fitton, 1973. Additions & ammendments by Brian Eversham, 2006).