Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Serenity at Killinallan

The Sanderling was unfazed by our presence; the skies were serene; the Emperor Moth had got on with its emerging; the Marsh Fritillary Caterpillars were napping; the bees were humming; the larks were exalting - all was right with the Islay world!

Bombus pascuorum - Common Carder Bee

Freshly emerged Male Emperor Moth - Saturnia pavonia

The beach at Killinallan, looking towards Gortantoid

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars (sadly with some parasitized)

Sanderling at Killinallan

Friday, 11 April 2014

Juniper Haircap Moss

A new moss for me (or rather one that I have positively identified!) The red 'flowers' are actually the male plants and the 'flowers' are modified leaves that form small terminal 'flowers' at the shoot ends.

Juniper Haircap Moss (Polytrichum juniperinum)

Friday, 4 April 2014

Purple Saxifrage and Marsh Fritillary Caterpillars

I tend to think spring is advancing when I see these tiny black creatures emerge from wherever they've been hiding all winter, make their way to the top of a plant shoot and bask in the warm sun. Little did I expect to see them twisting and turning their pin-sized heads this cold and breezy afternoon on our stroll on the Oa. But there they were - and lots of them. It was fantastic! As if that wasn't exciting enough, Jane spotted first one, then several clumps of brilliant lilac Purple Saxifrage adorning the cliffs. These amazingly coloured flowers know where to grow for safety, for nothing can graze them there! The ones I photographed were the only accessible ones! What a wonderful afternoon!

Marsh Fritillary caterpillars

Each black spot is a clump of caterpillars!

Purple Saxifrage

Purple Saxifrage on the cliffs on The Oa

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


It's so exciting when you see your first caterpillar and beetle at the beginning of a new year. On various walks last week, Paul and I saw quite a few Drinker Moth caterpillars and this large chrysalis which we later identified as an Emperor Moth chrysalis. Why haven't I seen them before? The moth itself will emerge probably later this month. Of course lichens are here all year round, which makes them extra delightful, so I've included a sample of just some that we saw on our Islay travels!
PS The beetle got away photoless!

Drinker Moth caterpillar

Emperor Moth chrysalis

Cladonia floerkeana

Cladonia sp

Fuscidea cyathoides

Downy moss?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

A bit more of spring

The daffodils in Bridgend Woods were shining pretty well yesterday even on a fairly dreich day.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

A bad attack of measles!

A large field at Foreland was planted with young trees last year, a mixture of broadleaved and coniferous, as part of a carbon sequestration project. While the trees are small, they require weeding. This was initially done by hand and now a weed-retardant spray has been applied making the field appear as if it is suffering from a nasty disease!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

More Fenceposts

Here is another set of enticing fenceposts on Duich Moss . . .

Saturday, 8 March 2014

A Celebration of Fenceposts

What better way to celebrate the good news that the INHT can stay put, at least for another couple of years, than to post some posts?!! A few weeks ago I walked across the daunting terrain of Duich Moss and found - well, that it wasn't so daunting after all! Admittedly I didn't wander across to the pools in the centre, but it was still unchartered terrain (as far as I'm concerned anyway) and territory I'd coveted for many years. I wandered cautiously onto the Moss from the 'high' road near Torra and walked parallel to Islay's most beautiful fence (remember I've seen quite a few with which to make comparisons!) I must have photographed nearly every fencepost - each one exquisitely adorned with a bounty of lichen and moss. Here is the first set of photos.

Friday, 7 March 2014

And the Natural History Trust is........

........staying where it is!

The Trust's lease with the Scottish Youth Hostels Association (SYHA) for its Natural History Centre in Port Charlotte ended last summer. The very generous terms of £25/annum for 21 years has greatly helped the Trust over the years, but all good things come to an end, and although the SYHA were prepared for us to stay on for at least two more years, they wanted a much more realistic rent of £1000 a year. The Trustees and Committee reluctantly decided we could not afford this and so announced to our members that we would be closing the Centre and would continue to look for another building (which we have been doing for the last two years without success), or perhaps have a mobile centre - a trailer which could also be a classroom.

Anyway, last week, discussions took place with Bruichladdich Distillery who have offered to sponsor the Trust for a period of two years, thus enabling the Trust to continue to operate its Centre instead of having to pack up and leave. SYHA have agreed to draw up a new lease for the Trust covering the next two years, during which negotiations will take place between them and Bruichladdich Distillery.  The latter have some as yet unformed ideas about a public display area, possibly relating to the history of distillation on Islay, and/or possibly relating to The Botanist, the distillery’s Islay dry gin. The use of so many native Islay wild flowers in the gin makes an obvious synergy with the Trust’s work on displaying information about Islay’s fauna and flora and its maintenance of a database of natural history records. There is at this point no commitment by either party beyond the two-year sponsorship. 

The Natural History Trust are extremely grateful to Bruichladdich Distillery for their sponsorship. Details of this summer’s opening period and hours, and also of other activities, like natural history rambles and family activities, will appear in due course.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Persecution of raptors in Scotland

Please go here:

And please read what Islay resident, John Armitage, has written in the last three days, and then sign the online petition.

Thank you.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Geese and my dog

I was trying to get my labrador to be as interested in geese as I am, but he was keener on the different smells in the field. The whitefronts (and one Barnacle) were not that bothered by him, nor by me in full view only about 30 yards away.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


That's better!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Spring is coming!

Or at least the snowdrops are coming out!

Friday, 17 January 2014

Lichens in the sun

We've not had many sunny days recently, but here is a lichen-covered willow positively glowing in the sunshine.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Wild flowers in 2013

After the usual start to the year with the carpets of snowdrops decorating Bridgend Woods, the cold spring delayed a great many flowering plants so that, when the BSBI (Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland) held their annual Scottish recording week on the island for the first time, and had chosen the second week of June as a good time of year to come, it turned out to be probably about two weeks earlier than would have been optimal. However, whereas I usually require a flower to be fully out to help me identify it, the experts included in the visiting dozen botanists seemed just as happy with buds or even just leaves! Assisted by generally very good weather, planned visits to under-recorded parts of the island went very well and, later in the year, I was sent a spreadsheet containing a magnificent 7,949 records which represented an increase in total wild flower records for the island of just over 20%!
The highlights of the year were undoubtedly the orchids, most of which flowered in much greater abundance than usual, especially the Greater and Lesser Butterfly and the Marsh Helleborine. The very rare Narrow-leaved Helleborine also had one of its better years, with 15 spikes, the most since the small scattered colony was first found in 1998.
Pyramidal Orchid

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

Marsh Helleborine
Narrow-leaved Helleborine

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Moths in 2013

After a very poor year for moths in 2012, the year just ended was *much* better. My own garden total was 2,934 moths of 124 different species from 59 trapping nights. Last year's figures were 1,034, 101 and 52, respectively. My 2013 total included two new moths for Islay - the Miller (see photo) and one of those pesky little micros which the very kind and knowledgeable Danny Arnold, who is a regular visitor to Islay, identified for me. He also identified a new micro for Islay caught by Becky Williamson, who traps in Bowmore, and another caught by Dave Wood, who traps on the RSPB's Oa reserve.
It will be, as always, interesting to see what the coming year will bring. In the meantime, a very Happy New Year to everyone who reads our blog.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Glaucous Gull

This first-winter Glaucous Gull turned up yesterday on the grass strip between the road and shore immediately outside my house. This got covered in debris in the storm on Tuesday last week and the bird spends its time pecking through it. They are irregular visitors here from the arctic - breeding in Iceland, Svalbard and arctic Russia. Some winters we only get one or two (as this winter, so far) but in January 2012 there were an exceptional 25–30 present on the island.

Sunday, 29 December 2013


The wintering Scaup flock spends most of its time somewhere out in the middle of the loch between Blackrock and Bowmore, but every so often some of them come close to shore, as here.

Friday, 27 December 2013


Yesterday, the wind dropped to nothing, the sun came out, and here's a Chough enjoying life, as usual.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

A Happy Christmas to our readers and many thanks for following us. We hope you enjoy what we offer you here about Islay's fabulous natural history, even though the flow of new posts has been somewhat intermittent of late.
This was the view from our house this morning shortly before 9.00 am. The gale to storm force winds of recent days have veered from S to W and so the sea outside looks almost calm when looking east, as here, whereas yesterday the waves were washing debris across the road in a number of places round the loch.
And if you want some natural history, spot the two gulls!