Thursday, 20 November 2014

A festival of colour on a dull day

A festival of colour on a dull day

RSPB Raised beach walk 20th November 14

It may have been a dull and gloomy type of day with overcast skies, the poor light sucking out the definition in the landscape and Islay on the edge of the fog bank over Northern Ireland, but, as Becky and I discovered on what was essentially a two dimensional featureless landscape, the 'raised beach' on the south side of the Gruinart Flats, there was a wealth of colour and gems forming a Persian rug below our feet.

It has been many years since I walked the 'raised beach' at the back of the 'Flats' at Loch Gruinart, which holds fond memories of watching to pinpoint Hen Harrier nests and checking Buzzard nests for lapwing chick remains for research projects.  My memory was of high quality peat bog.  Becky had not had the pleasure of walking this ground so it was great to take her up there, bag a few Km squares and revisit this old haunt. 
Much of the Calluna heather along the sides of the escarpment is old, and has grown tall and leggy, flopping over to reveal the open area beneath, I remember from old school ecology lessons in succession, that old heather should flop over and the increased light allow fresh new shoots to develop and grow.  I always wondered whether this was actually true as often once exposed the open peat would be colonised by Mollinia grass which would allow little light and inhibit heather development.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see an area of old heather with young shoot growing up in the open canopy of flopped old branches. 

There are bog pools on the top of the raised hill area, the odd deer path traverses the peat, but there is little disturbance to the ground and the peatland vegetation is undamaged and left to thrive.  Underfoot the soft sphagnum mosses provide a spongy carpet, garishly patterned with deep reds, browns, greens and orange.  Sphagnum capillifolium forms red hummocks rising above the flat ground whilst saturated in the bog pools are the soggy 'drowned cat' forms of the green Sphagnum cuspidatum.  On the look out for the less common hummock form of Sphagnum fuscum we did chance upon a small hummock, but not in as good a condition as I have seen before.
Sphagnum capillifolium

Sphagnum fuscum?

Amongst this carpet there were red and black berries like beaded gems, of crowberry and the round and pear shaped juicy fruits of the Cranberry, identified subsequently, a testing taste was wonderful but if identification was as sure when we were actually there we might have tasted more!


The bushes of the gorse have sprung back into colour within the last month or two and the golden yellow flowers brightened up the dullness of the day.  

Meadow Waxcap
A dose of waxcap fungi on some sheep grazed pasture completed the festival of colour in the dullness of the day.

A talk about Galapagos and the amazing wildlife there

Sunday, 16 November 2014

It's November, so it's time for the December Moth!

Trapping last night after a gap caused by the wild and wet weather we've been having, I caught a December Moth, my fourth and Islay's fourth! I caught one in November 2010 and two in November 2013. I like its thick winter coat! I have, though, still not managed to catch a November Moth, which fly in September and October. I hope to get the trap out a few times from now on, because I've never caught a Winter Moth, for which there are no Islay records, though two on Colonsay, and then look forward to the March Moth, which flies from late January and for which there are no Islay records, yet the books say it occurs in the Inner Hebrides! A bit of optimism required, I feel, and reasonable weather.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Sunstar near Bunnahabhan

 This lovely picture of a sunstar found by Lee and Aileen Thickett during their visit in October. "25 years ago (we have been visiting Islay for 33 years) while rock-pooling near Bunnahabhain on 25th Oct 1999 we found a Sunstar Starfish on Rubha Bhachlaig at NR 420747. Despite rock-pooling all over the inner isles and Western Isles we have never found this animal on the inter-tidal anywhere else. Due to a bit of good planning we arrived at the same site on 9th October this year at a time of extra low tide during the main part of the day. We were gob-smacked to find a Sunstar again!!!!! What are the odds against it?"

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Late emerging Red Admiral

On a walk round Kinnabus this week we were delighted to see lots of Fox Moth caterpillars, one Ruby Tiger Moth caterpillar, one teeny Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar and this beautiful freshly emerged Red Admiral. I'm not sure I've ever seen an Ileach Red Admiral before! Born and bred here that is!

Asabus on the Oa

Freshly emerged Red Admiral

Very tiny Garden Tiger Moth caterpillar

Garden Rose Tortrix

I caught this tiny (6–9 mm long) micro-moth in my garden a month ago. I was fairly certain of its identification (unlike many micro-moths, there aren't lots of other species all looking very similar), but have waited for confirmation from the ever-helpful expert, Danny Arnold. Although common and widespread across Britain, this is only the third record for Islay, the previous two dating from the early 1970s. Its caterpillars feed on the leaves of roses, and members of the rose family like bramble, hawthorn, blackthorn, apple and pear trees.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fungal Foray

It seems to have been a good year for fungi and our local enthusiast, Alistair Hutchison has been digging up some wonders of the fungal world. It's got to the 'you've lost me' stage with the weird and wonderful names he comes up with - but who needs names when you can feast your eyes (but definitely not your taste buds) on this lot?!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Free-ing the fishes

Cuckoo Wrasse and crabs
Now the centre is closed for the winter, it was time to set the creatures from the tanks free back into the sea.  Five dedicated soles came to scoop out creatures, clean pumps, pump out the water and scoop out the sand.  The fish, crabs and lobster all got a feed of prawns before getting fished out and released off the pier.  It took a while to catch many of the little fish in the touch tank, they were so quick to dodge the net!
Our lobster of the season
The Centre will now be closed until June 2015.  We will hopefully have some talks and other events on over the winter.  We will also be very busy organising and planning for next year and development for the future.

Monday, 29 September 2014

This moth uses a calendar!

On 30th September 2010, I caught this attractive moth, the Green-brindled Crescent, in my garden in Bruichladdich. It was the first record for Islay. On 28th September 2013, I caught another - the second record for Islay. Now, on 29th September 2014, I have caught my third (and Islay's third). I find the coincidence of dates quite remarkable.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Free for Kids day!

We had lots of children visiting us today at the Natural History Centre in Port Charlotte. Everyone enjoyed feeding the fish and lobster, holding the starfish and crabs. It's been a busy and fun season and we look forward to seeing you all again next year. Don't forget to tell your friends!


Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Art Exhibition

The Islay Natural History Trust is proud to be the host of a small Wildlife Art Exhibition for this week only. Paintings on display are mainly by local artists, George Jackson and Robert Davison, and are for sale. Fifty per cent of the money raised will go towards the INHT. Come and see some excellent portraits of some of Islay's beautiful wildlife.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

More moths

This is my 6th year of moth trapping in my garden, and I have been surprised at how many new species I keep getting, including two this week, the Black Rustic for which there are eight previous records on Islay, plus further records on Colonsay and Jura, and Setaceous Hebrew Character, with just four previous records, all on Islay. The former is indeed very blackish, while part of the wing markings of the latter are supposed to look like a character in Hebrew.
Black Rustic
Setaceous Hebrew Character,

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust on tour!

On Monday just gone the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust gave a great talk at the ICCI as part of their tour of the Islands. Sightings Officer Connor Ryan told us about the natural history of whales and dolphins in the Hebrides, and about recent research results from the area. He also emphasised how important (and easy!) it is to report sightings to them, and showed us how to identify the different species we might see here. I've already submitted my sighting of a Basking Shark off Frenchman's Rocks in August! If you missed the talk they'll be visiting other Islands throughout the month, so if you happen to be there it's well worth attending. Tonight they'll be giving the talk on Coll, followed by Tiree tomorrow, and then Easdale and Seil, Arisaig and Mallaig, Canna, Eigg, Elgol and Dunvegan - see for dates and details. I'll certainly be keeping a lookout on my next ferry trip! Mandy.
Bottle-nosed Dolphins

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

More photos from Sunday's rAmble

Here are some more of the photos from Sunday's rAmble to the Lily Loch.
Bearded Lichen

Slug eating a Russula

Broom Moth caterpillar


Grey Coral Fungus

Hard Fern

Pleurotellus porrigens

White Helvella

Finding fungi was fun!

Well what a beautiful afternoon it turned out to be for Sunday’s Lily Loch rAmble. Blue skies above, fungi at our feet, what more could you want? Thanks to Alistair’s IDing prowess, plus the eagle-eyed spotters in our merry band, we saw lots of different fungi, some we’d never seen before! Here are a few photos of what we came across including Artist’s fungus, so-called because if you score the underside it turns dark so you can ‘draw’ on it…

Artist's Fungus

Other things spotted were non-fungal but equally interesting – a Bearded Lichen, a Broom Moth caterpillar, a Hard Fern, lots of dragonflies and a stunning hoverfly… and the lovely Lily Loch on my first but not my last visit to this area. More photos to follow. Thanks to those who came along! Hope to see you on next Sunday’s rAmble from the airport to Knockangle point.


Friday, 5 September 2014

A wee taster for the walk to the Lily Loch on Sunday.

I had a quick wander down the path on Thursday to see what might be waiting for us on the INHT's rAmble this Sunday 7th September. 

So to spark your appetite for the walk, the heathers are in bloom full spectacle and lovely, other late summer flowers too, in the wood tit flocks and lots of calling goldcrests. 

At the loch the lilies are lovely with moorhens paddling amongst them.  To top it a peregrine flew from the trees, obviously just fed with a bulging crop. 

I went in hope of fungi, and a few specimens were available, this rain today may just wet the ground enough to encourage a few more for Sunday.

Come along for a pleasant wander and social appreciation of the natural history.  We will meet at 2pm in the big layby between Caoila road end and the top of Port Askaig hill.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Frosted Orange

I've commented before on the sometimes very appropriate and sometimes downright weird vernacular names given mainly by the Victorians to our moths. One I caught last night definitely belongs to the former category, even if it does nowadays sound rather like a delicious sweet! The Frosted Orange moth may not be a sweet but its name is a fitting description of this very attractive little insect. This is only the sixth record for the vice-county (Islay, Jura, Colonsay) and the fourth for Islay. The first two were trapped on the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve in September 2010, then one was caught on Colonsay in August 2011, followed by another there in August 2013. In the same month, David Wood trapped one on the RSPB's The Oa reserve here on Islay.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Sunday rAmble - 24th August - Geology walk at the Oa

After a long run of wet and windy weekend weather our programme of Sunday rAmbles have been severely washed out. So this weekend with hopefully dry weather we are hopeful that this Sunday's fascinating geology inspired walk around the monument at the Oa and Dun Athad will attract interest from many quarters. David Webster led a fascinating walk at Kilchiaran last month and will interpret the billions of years of rock formation, some of the oldest rocks in the world are on Islay, formed over the South Pole!
Come along, meet at the RSPB Oa car park at 2pm on Sunday.
Cost £4/person; £10/family; £2 INHT members

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Killinallan family activity 08/08/14

So it was a blustery and rainy day last Friday but against the weather the family activity continued. Although pollinators were few on the ground (although one common frog was very happy with the weather) in the rainy weather we were able to find many wildflowers still showing well, including eye bright, ragged robin, water mint, meadow sweet and harebells.

Out in force in the short grass were the grass of Parnassus flowers bobbing in the wind and looking none the worse for the rain. Although my ID skills helped me through most of the plants on offer at Killinalan I was lost for a few names to species I now remember so to correct that here are a few photos with their names below, forgive the image quality it was a rather miserable day and so I could only do the best that I could.
Silver weed


Self Heal
Sea Plantain