Monday, 15 May 2017

Islay's Floral Dandelion Bonanza

It may have turned a bit dramatic and wild on the weather front today but the rain will be most welcome to all those invertebrates that thrive in the wet soil and many birds, now with chicks, that rely on them for food.  These dry few weeks although delightful and warming and providing a sunny vista can be tough for wildlife. 

 Others however are adapted to cope, the deep tap root of the dandelion reaches far under the hard baked surface soil to reach the moister depths and these seem to have thrived during this sunny spell.  The flowers are laden with nectar and pollen providing a wonderful blast of yellow along the verges and a plentiful supply of sustenance for bee's and butterflies.

These flowers are one of the earliest flowers to produce seeds which is very important for seed eating birds like the goldfinch which can be seen feeding around the seed heads at this time of year, just in time for their hatching chicks.

We may overlook these more common and familiar plants but they all have their important niche and role to play in the seasonal bounty of the wildlife year.
Fiona MacG

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Our next Natural History Talk

Ramblings from Dorset to Islay

Our next talk - Tuesday 16th May
Becky Williamson is on a visit to Islay and has agreed to give us a talk.  She will enthuse us and provide some insight into her ramblings around the footpaths of Dorset and Somerset.  A whole host of wildlife and good habitat is available to see in these southern counties and we look forward to finding out all about them.

Becky has persuaded her walking group from Dorset to come and sample Islay's delights so hopefully the good weather will last and they will get to see all the wonderful scenery and wildlife Islay has to offer and of course sample the fantastic friendly hospitality of Islay folk.

Please do come along to the talk, everyone is welcome @ Islay Natural History Centre, Port Charlotte, Tues 16th May, 7.30pm.  Admission £3.50, INHT members £1. Tea and Cake as always will be available after.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Islay's Nature Centre Sea Tanks are filling up!

Islay Natural History Trust's Nature Centre in Port Charlotte is now open for the season, and our sea tanks are quickly filling up with new residents! Last week members of Port Charlotte fire crew kindly helped us to fill the tanks with sea water, ready for the start of the season, and now our volunteer Steve has made several trips to and fro with new creatures that will make the tanks their home for the season.

So far we have 3-spined Sticklebacks, Sand Gobies, Shannies, a Sea Urchin, Sea Anemones, Barnacles, a Limpet, Prawns, Shrimp, Hermit Crabs, Shore Crabs, Periwinkles, Carpet Shells, Dog Whelks, Mussels, Bladder Wrack, Sea Lettuce, Toothed Wrack, Bean Weed and two lovely intricate red seaweeds.

The periwinkles have been making some interesting patterns in the shallow part of the touch tank!

Come down and see us soon! The Centre in Port Charlotte is open Monday to Friday, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm - lots to see and do whatever the weather!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Port Charlotte Fire Crew fill the sea tanks

We are open from Monday 1st May

Members of Port Charlotte fire crew helped us to fill the sea tanks ready for the season this week.

Hopefully over the next week Steve will be busy finding creatures to put in them.

We are open from Monday (1st May) until the end of September, so come and look around and have a try at our hands-on displays, they are not just for the kids. we have a very challenging geology quiz.

Bring the kids if you are stuck for an activity this holiday Monday.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Seasonal job vacancies at the Centre

The Islay Natural History Trust is looking for an enthusiastic individual to help run its visitor centre and activities this summer. 

We are looking for someone enthusiastic in talking to visitors, some wildlife knowledge is desirable but not essential.  The centre is open from the 1st May, Monday to Friday 10.30-4.30, hours/days will be negotiable, we are looking to fill 2-3 days, maybe more with the right applicant, some weekend activities may require assistance.  

Apply by sending us your CV, email your interest and for more information to or contact Fiona (Islay) 850607

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Seaweed Foraging a Success

We at the Islay Natural History Trust had an amazing weekend (8th & 9th April) learning about the seaweeds on the shore.  I am so glad we finally managed to arrange this and discovered the expertise not so far away on Easedale with Duncan (Slate Island Seaweeds Ltd).  Two seaweed workshops over last weekend attracted 31 participants all eager to discover what bounty the seashore could provide.  We learned that there was more to seaweeds than meets the eye, not just a slimy mass of algae that when past it's best creates 'stinky corners'! 

Foraged fresh and sustainably and with the right know-how in how to cook it, it is a wonder to the pallet.  There are the green seaweeds, similar to terrestrial plants, the reds, mid to low shore, a whole host of tender edible varieties and the brown seaweeds a group all themselves and none of them perilous to eat unlike fungi. So we were treated to alfresco cooking in the lovely weather, on the beach at Sanaigmore and in the Youth Hostel garden in Port Charlotte.

Cookery demonstration in the SYHA garden

Purple Laver grows in profusion on many of our shores coating rocks in a shiny black film.  This is the basis for laverbread and the noki used in sushi, but dried and baked in the oven makes amazing crisps, far better than potato crisps and so much healthier!  Pepper Dulse has an amazing flavour, though not according to my daughter! Although our younger participants on the Sunday were first in the queue trying all the flavours that were presented to them. 

taste testing on the beach

Traditional Carageen pudding went down very well, and Carageen was used as a thickening agent for egg-less pancakes.  

False Irish Moss (alternative to Carageen) thickening milk for eggless pancakes
Wild garlic and pepper dulse pesto
Dulse on cooking tastes like ham and Oar-weed (kelp) provided us with a fantastic tagliatelle alternative.  There were even a good number of adventurous folk prepared to sample cooked limpets off the BBQ.  We also used some of the terrestrial 'weeds' in our recipes including wild garlic and hawthorn leaves.

So hopefully it has inspired many of us to consider being a little more adventurous in our cooking, it certainly has for me, I came home and cooked nettle soup for my tea.
Saturday foraging crowd:
Taste testing everything

Eager students

The best finds on the lowest turn of the tide

Velvet Horn

Smooth periwinkle enjoying Pepper dulse too!
Peering into pools

Our eager participants on Port Charlotte beach on Sundays Workshop

Sunday's foraging:

Lovely crowd for Sunday's workshop

Eager to try wild garlic and pepper dulse pesto

George Jackson sampling Duncan's seaweed treats

Considering the interest and enthusiasm of all who took part I am sure we will introduce some of these teachings into our Sunday nature walks over the summer and organise more workshops in the future.

Fiona MacG


Friday, 31 March 2017

Highlights in the Darkness

Our next natural history talk:  Bitterns and other nocturnal birds

The science of conservation, knowing what birds need and how they use their habitat is essential for good conservation and comes from detailed observation in the field, recording and analysis.  Gillian Gilbert has been working for RSPB in its conservation science department for many years, involved with learning and advising on species management for many species.  This talk concentrates on some of the more nocturnal species.  Bitterns were once a struggling species until detailed science discovered what they needed and changes in management to suit those needs have seen a complete turn around in fortunes for this once rare red data species.  Hopefully Gillian will shed some light on what role science has played in its comeback.

Join us for this interesting presentation on Tuesday 4th April, 7.30pm at the Natural History Centre, Port Charlotte.

Everyone is welcome. Admission £3.50, INHT members £1 inc. Tea & Cake and a chance to chat. 

Friday, 17 March 2017

Seaweed Foraging Weekend, April 8/9th 2017

Islay Natural History Trust - in conjunction with Slate Islands Seaweed - are running 2 workshops on seaweed foraging and cooking on Islay over the weekend of 8th and 9th April.

Thanks to a kind donation from Sarah Daniels we are really excited to bring you the opportunity to join one of our seaweed foraging workshops during the Easter holidays.  So if you have ever wanted to know what are the most palatable algae on the shore and how to cool and prepare it, this is your chance.  We will be guided by Duncan from Slate Islands Seaweed, based in Easdale and Fiona MacGillivray of INHT.  There will be two chances to participate over the weekend: 

Saturday 8th April (9am till 1pm):  Low tide will be c.10.30. 
Meet at Bruichladdich (by Mini-Market) for foraging along the shore and then heading (shared transport available) for Sanaigmore.  You will learn to identify seaweeds and find which are the best for foraging.  You will be guided on foraging techniques, how to harvest in a sustainable way without damaging the growth of the algae and we will be cooking with our foraged harvest.
Places are limited, please book in advance...
Charge for event £20 per person

Sunday 9th April (a later start!) 10:00 to c.12.30:  We will concentrate our foraging around Port Charlotte, this will be a less intensive event.  Fiona and Duncan will guide you in basic identification and foraging skills with some cooking back at the centre. 
There will be up to 20 places available, children are welcome. 
Light refreshments will be provided. 
More spaces available but booking advisable
Charge for event £10 (children £3)

(no unaccompanied children please)

If you're interested in coming along then please get in touch to reserve your place.
Email: or phone Fiona 850607

For more information about seaweed visit Slate Islands Seaweed

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Next talk - Brazil in my Bedroom Slippers by Steve Wrightson

Join us on Wednesday 18th January 2017, 7:30 pm at the INHT Centre, Port Charlotte, for a vibrantly illustrated talk by local naturalist  Steve Wrightson as he takes us on his journey through Brazil, including the Iguaรงu and Anavilhanas national parks, the Rio Negro and the Amazon. Enjoy the amazing diversity and stunning colours of Brazil's flora, fauna and fungi as we wend our way through river and jungle, followed by tea and cake! Admission £1 for members and £3.50 for non-members (although you can join on the night!), including tea and cake. See you there!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

AGM and film presented by Gordon Yates Weds Nov 2nd

All are welcome to attend our AGM next Wednesday 2nd November at 7pm which will be followed swiftly by Gordon Yates presenting his last film entitled "Birdlife over 40 Pennine years". There are some unique sequences and surprises in this film so don't miss this rare opportunity to see it! Please come along to this free evening which includes tea and cake ;-)

Friday, 21 October 2016

Next talk at the Trust - Insects!

Please join us this Monday evening (24th Oct) at 7:30 pm, when Hunterian Honorary Research Fellow Geoff Hancock will be talking about why insects are so successful and why they are so abundant. He'll also tell us about some of the project work he has been involved in to unravel complex insect life cycles, from Scottish woodlands to South American forest systems. For what promises to be a fascinating illustrated talk, come along to the INHT Centre in Port Charlotte - £1 for INHT members or £3 for non-members, including tea and cake!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Red Sword-grass

I caught this moth last night giving a remarkably good impression of a dead twig. The Red Sword-grass has two flight seasons, the main one in September to November and then some adults overwinter and re-emerge in March to June. This is just the third record for Islay (with none for Jura or Colonsay), the previous two being in 1999 and 2013.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Big skies at the Big Strand

What looked likely to be a washout turned into a lovely walk under blue skies along the Big Strand on Sunday for our last rAmble of the season. Our group of three (we who don't take any notice of the weather forecast ;-D) set off along the beach toward Knockangle Point to see what we could find, and we weren't disappointed.
Sunshine after the rain

Under the big blue sky
The best part (besides the cake at the half-way point) was looking through all the tiny shells to be found on the rocky shore, including Arctic and European Cowries, Sting Winkle, Hungarian Hat and Tortoiseshell Limpet (to name but a few!). The range of colours and shapes is incredible - if you've never sifted though a seashore of shells, I'd highly recommend it :-D



More treasures
A very pleasant afternoon's stroll in good company - looking forward to next season's rAmbles already!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Snowball Earth rAmble at Port Askaig and Bunnahabhain

Another rainy geological walk. Five hardy souls braved the weather to join Dave to look at Islay's classic 'snowball earth' deposits. First up was the world-famous Port Askaig Tillite - a sequence of silty rocks with a large number of varying sized 'stones' - mainly of granite - embedded in it. Dave explained the two competing theories about its origin: either it was deposited on land as a melt-out of an ice sheet (or a series of ice sheets) or it was deposited in the sea from dirty floating ice. We looked at some alleged 'dropstones' near the lifeboat station - it could be that these did in fact drop off the base of the floating ice and penetrate into the sediment - or that the laminations wrapping around the stones are diffracted cleavage planes (i.e a later metamorphic event).

The jury is still out, but nevertheless there is a considerable thickness of undoubted glacial deposits which are about 650 million years old and it is possible that they correlate with similar deposits in other parts of the world and - if they are of the same age - they could be evidence that the Earth was indeed entirely ice-covered. Again the jury is still out because we can't date these tillites here very accurately but we do think that Islay was probably in the tropics at this time so so much ice deposit would be unusual!
Then onto Bunnahabhain to look at the Bonahaven Dolomite - a sequence of carbonates that overly the Tillites and are purported to be a 'cap carbonate' which is quite typical of these glacial deposits in other parts of the world and are believed to be evidence of dramatic changes in ocean and atmospheric chemistry as the world recovered from the snowball event. The rocks contain stromatolites - evidence of bacterial activity in (probably) warm water - ie the usual conditions you'd expect in the tropics - they were the coral reefs of their day (before corals were invented!).
Then back to Dave and Isobel's van for lashings of tea, ginger cake and whisky to warm us up!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A pleasant Ardnave rAmble 4th Sept

It was a lovely afternoon, gone the morning showers and a bright afternoon unfolded, perfect for a Sunday rAmble.  9 enthusiastic visitors keen to explore.  We marvelled at the scenery, Loch Gruinart had been emptied of the sea and the distant haze of cloud gradually lifted through the walk. We stared out viewing north east to the islands of Jura and Scarba, Oronsay and Colonsay were in plane view, the sun shining brightly on the farmhouse on Oronsay.  Mull gradually became visible and to the north west the lighthouse of Dubh Artach.

Our aim was primarily birds, and the chough flock did not disappoint, about 25 birds in a loose flock probed the dune slopes and searched through cow pats.  A look over a  well worked pat revealed large juicy dung beetle larvae, perfect chough food.  We were able to get good views through the telescope and clearly see their red legs and bills, and their scolding calls highlighting their presence.

A pair of Buzzard soared over the cliff on Knave Island and the song of seals could be heard and on closer scanning we saw many hauled out on the low tide rocks west of the island. A Great Northern diver was spotted flying high.  During our walk back we took in the neat beauty of a couple of Wheatear and a Skylark only a couple of meters away oblivious or just not bothered by our group on the path ahead.

Birds: Chough (c.25); Raven; Starlings; Gannets; Great Northern diver; Skylark; Meadow Pipit; Shag; Greylag Geese; Buzzard; Wheatear; Oystercatcher

Flowers: Grass of Parnassus; Self Heal; Ragged Robin; Autumn Hawkbit
Mammals: Seals (Grey/Common); Hare; Rabbits (lots of Myxamatosis)

All in all a pleasant walk in pleasant company.
Fiona MacG

Our next Sunday outing takes us on a Fungi Foray with Alistair to Skerrols Loch, Bridgend.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A most adventurous nature Ramble to the Giant's Grave archaeological dig.

A keen band of 24 adventurous souls set about the long walk through the forestry with the guidance of Steve Mithen to the archaeological dig of the Neolithic burial tomb known on the OS map as the Giants Grave. 

A nice rest after the climb
In previous talks many of us had heard about the findings from last year and this was an opportunity to see the dig in progress.  The large megalith slabs of stone which make up the remaining structure are impressive and to think were moved into position by ancient peoples without the modern lifting devices of today.  The painstaking work of the staff and students removing the peat and soil debris of thousands of years to uncover the clues of the ancient past and the ability to read these and surmise and predict what went before is an impressive undertaking.

The views which once could be seen from the site and the impressive nature that the original structure would have afforded on the landscape is now obscured by a forest of Sitka Spruce.  Deer move along the rides and bright red toadstools (The Sickener - Russula emetica) grow under the thick canopy.  Goldcrest and Coal Tit could be heard in the canopy and the late flowering Devil's Bit Scabious provided a peppering of intense purple/blue. 
Devil's Bit Scabious
The Sickener (Russula emetic)

Lichens and mosses have taken hold on the Megaliths too.

It is not until the decent out of the trees and the view south across Laggan Bay that you can appreciate something of what the views from the site might have been like.
Thank you to all those who came along and hope the footwear dries out soon!