Tuesday, 23 June 2020

For the love of Peat

Marsh Fritillary on Marsh Thistle
INHT has been undertaking surveys on SPA (Special Protection Areas) sites on the Rhinns for the CANN peatland restoration project recording breeding birds and the populations of Marsh Fritillary butterflies for the past couple of years.  This has provided extra revenue for the charity and a chance to directly undertake recording of species for our database.  This fine weather (when the wind in not blowing a hoolly!), warm and sunny, has had the butterflies out and it is so nice to see the Marsh Fritillary, one of Islay's prettiest butterflies.  The adults are only on the wing for about 4-6 weeks so there is only a short time to see them and for them to have the right conditions to breed and set forth the next generation which spends the rest of the year as caterpillars.
Marsh Fritillary and Small Heath

Our peat bogs are wondrous places, colourful and with little gems for an observer to appreciate and photograph.  Specialised plants and birds making the most of insects and the limited nutrients the bog can provide.  When you get down low they are really forests in miniature, the Ling Heather and Bog Cotton are the trees and the sphagnum mosses the herb rich layer. 
Bog Bean

Round-leaved Sundew with trapped fly

Sphagnums provide a rich tapestry of colour, and though the species list for flowering plants is not vast is made up for in variety and colour.  Many were only just reaching the point of flowering, Bog Asphodel and Sundews budding and almost out.  The Bog Cotton is being gradually teased from the bud and floating or streaking in the wind to find a new position to set down roots.  Butterwort and the sundews (Round leaved and Long leaved) await unsuspecting midges or even a larger fly to get stuck to their sticky and dew tipped leaves, which gradually digest the insect absorbing the nitrogen released a nutrient not available in the peat where there is no contact with the soil and rock substrate.

Dubh Loch with Bog Bean
Bog Bean
Water Lily

The jewels in the bog are the little Dubh Lochs, often set at the top of the rises and providing permanent water for Bog Bean and water lilies, and midges, that are food for dragonflies (Four-spotted chasers, Golden-ringed Dragonflies and damselflies), Dunlin and other waders like Redshank and Lapwing which have moved off the dry farmland in search of soft water logged ground for insects.

The rest of the bog is scattered with pink Heath Spotted orchid and every couple of hundred metres Skylark ascend to the sky singing their little hearts out a joy to the ear.

Traversing the terrain is hard going for a biped and wings would be so much easier but the little gems are worth the effort and the workout keeps the body in trim, I scoff at the app on my phone which has tracked my passage and tells me I have exerted merely a couple of hundred calories for the days exhaustion!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Investigation of the Honeybees Pollen Baskets

In my other role as Keeper of honeybees for the Islay Pollinator Initiative I have come to learn a great deal about flowers and pollination, attentive to what is in flower and the value of each for the honeybee.  There is always a fall off of pollen brought back by the bees and I collect up samples to have a closer look and learn a little more about what they are really foraging on.  Sheltering indoors with Saturday's rainy, windy weather I finally had the chance to look through a scoop of pollen collected from a hive a week or so back that did not make it through the queen excluder the bees were moving through. 

As with all flowers different by colour, shape and texture, so too are the pollen grains they produce.  Each pollen grain is essential for the plants to pass on to other flowers of their own kind in order for fertilisation to occur and new progeny in the form of seeds for plants to perpetuate their species.  Flowers have built a very complex relationship between themselves and various pollinators, butterflies, bees, wasps and hoverflies to name the main contenders.  Pollen is food for some (our honeybees in particular) providing protein and essential minerals and nutrients for the larvae to grow healthy and strong, the flowers provide nectar, a sweet energy rich treat for some and an enticement and reward for the insect which gets laden with pollen to transfer to the next flower. 

Honeybees are very important in this process, each bee concentrates on a particular flower so only visiting flowers of the same species in successive trips and therefore only the right pollen is taken to the next flower visited.  Some is passed on and some the bees pack into their pollen baskets (on their hind legs), each species of pollen has a different colour so by watching what colour pollen they return to the hive with you can get an indication of what flowers they are harvesting.  By observing what flowers are in bloom you can also predict what they might be foraging on at each stage in the year.

This is my collection of pollens in the sample, collected about the first half of May, two shades of yellow/orange a pale green and a creamy/white.  A pollen colour chart can give an indication of pollen colour for the month and by making a microscope slide and looking under magnification, shape and form can be seen and further identification made.
Pollens mixed with alcohol ready for slided
Slide of each pollen type

Individual coffee bean shaped pollen grains
Pollen 1 - pale creamy/yellow and under the microscope looks very much like coffee grains.  Using colour, and knowing what is in flower and checking pollen ID features these are Bluebell, worked hard by the bees as it provides a very good nectar source as well as pollen.

Pollen 2 - khaki green and under magnification distinctly triangular with circular features at the corners, ID features suggest Rosaceae family, and as there is an apple tree at the apiary and the colour matches, so it is from our apple tree which will bear lots of apples hopefully at the end of the summer, if this wind hasn't ripped all the blossoms off!
Individual triangular pollen grains of apple blossom

Pollen 3 - colour, a dull orangey yellow, looking at the colour charts I might have put these last two the other way around, however under magnification (although my cheap none-too high tech microscope shows none to clear) definition is not that great, the small round, poorly defined grains I put to be Dandelion.
Small circular pollen grains -projections on grain surface not discernible in image

Pollen 4 - deeper orange/brown and under magnification the grains were sometimes rounded and some rounded/triangular which clearly seemed a feature of Gorse from the guide.  I may be wrong and there was possibly some contamination of this last sample with some other grains mixed in.  Gorse is one of the most important flowers for our bees on Islay it flowers very early in the year (flowers even right through the winter) and the bees will visit them if the weather is suitable to fly out, late January this year we had a 'warmer' dry few days and the bees were bringing back Gorse pollen.
Gorse (?) pollen grains

Such studies bring another level of understanding to the complex relationship between flower and pollinator.  Once the current restrictions abate and normality ensues (whenever that will be?) we will have our microscopes available to look at pollens in the Nature Centre and we will get a more high resolution camera to take better pictures of the samples than my bargain Aldi/Lidl purchase of a few years back doesn't do justice to!
Fiona MacGillivray

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Climate Change Talk 23 Sept 2019

A fantastic talk this evening by Alasdair Skelton explaining the science of climate change in such a concise and easily understandable way.

 A full house in the lecture room with locals and Alasdair's students who have come to Islay to learn about the Earth's historical climate changes.

Alasdair also gave this talk to the students in the High School .

Alasdair has helped us better understand and appreciate the problems and the possible solutions we can all adapt to to make a difference.

A link to a video of the event (on youtube) is below:

Download a copy of the talk

The android version of the smartphone app he mentioned to enable you to caculate your own CO2 footprint is available in the google 'Play Store'. Search for 'onetonnefuture'. A link is here

The offsetting technology that Alasdair mentioned which involves converting CO2 to rock (and other CO2 recovery technologies) can be seen at climeworks.com 

This website has a link to their climeworks.shop site where you can pay an appropriate monthly amount to offset your emissions.

Seaweed Foraging & Cooking - 22 July

Wonderful morning of Seaweed at the Nature Centre for Taste Islay & Jura today. Lovely to see so many visitors and locals coming along.

We ended up running a second cooking demo and info session as more folk turned up in the afternoon. Happy days

We also sold lots of Copies of our new leaflet which we have just had printed on Seaweed foraging and preparation. These can be purchased for £3 in the Nature Centre.

Calmac Community Fund

We are very happy to announce that we were successful in our application to the CalMac Community Fund to the tune of £1993.20. 
This will help us to deliver both our Children & Families Activity programme next season and also work with local youth groups throughout the year focusing on Bushcraft type activities. 
We are looking forward to planning these activities and will be announcing more details in the coming weeks. @CalMacFerries #calmacferries CalMac Ferries

Friday, 26 July 2019

Talk by Islay Energy Trust 23 July

Lots of local interest for Kirsten Gow's talk on heat pumps and whether a sea-source system in Loch Indaal could heat the hostel building and possibly others in the village.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Geology Walk at Kilchiaran 21 july

A very wet but enjoyable geology walk at kilchiaran today. 10 people braved the rain as we peered into the billion-year gap, saw glacial striations and marine moraines and pebble-hunted for flint and red and green apples (pink gneiss and green metagabbro).

Bug hotels and shell mosaics - 18th July

Great photos from our morning spent with Islay & Jura Youth Action earlier this week, what a busy time we had with a keen, fun bunch of kids. It really was a pleasure to help them build a lovely bug hotel in an old whisky barrel and do some shell mosaics.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Otter Detectives 13th July

Scorching hot afternoon for our first ever Otter Detective Walk looking at otter habitats, tracks and signs and learning about otter ecology. Thanks to everyone who came along. Happy otter spotting