Monday 31 May 2010

Mute Swan Cygnets

The pair at Crosshouses have hatched six cygnets - always a photo opportunity! It was however rather grey and quite windy so not great for taking pictures.

Yellow Flag Irises

The first Yellow flag iris flowers are starting to appear now - these were at the Crosshouses pool near Bridgend.

Moth trapping

I had good hopes of an interesting catch last night, but hadn't bargained on the temperature dropping so sharply - it was down to just under 5 degrees at the airport - and so I had to be content with just 9 moths, including the (inevitable?) White Ermine. Danny Arnold (visiting moth trapper) commented last week how common it was here. Others were Small Square-spots, Heart and Dart and a Flame Shoulder (photo).

Sunday 30 May 2010

Red Admirals

There were two Red admiral butterflies at Lorgba this afternoon. I also saw what looked like a Fritillary at the Wavegen station in Portnahaven, but it was gone before I could get a proper look.

Speedwell in lawn

I am not sure what this Speedwell is - which grows abundantly in our lawn at Lorgba. It looks similar to Germander, but the stem is very definitely hairy all round, unlike the Germander which has two very definite lines of hairs down the stem.

Frenchman's Rocks

I pedalled round the west to the Wave station near Portnahaven this morning, then walked out to Frenchman's rocks. There were lots of birds moving (see Ian's blog for details), and a flower spectacular. The sea pinks were as good as I have seen them.

Saturday 29 May 2010

Small Heath Butterfly

Saw a Small Heath butterfly yesterday just north of Bunnahabhain

Photo from Wikipedia

Blogging from my mobile

This is a test to see if I can mail a picture to the blog from my Blackberry

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Owl TV

The INHT owl cam, known as Owl TV has a three camera set-up this year. The whole of the nestbox is therefore visible at any one time. The female is currently sitting on a clutch of four eggs and there are large numbers of pellets all round her.

Drinker moth

Mark has been looking after a group of Drinker moth caterpillars at the Centre. They live in a mesh tower and eat the coarse 'cocksfoot' grasses that are their food plants. The caterpillars are quite large and hairy with a small horn at each end. Cuckoos are probably their main enemy in the wild - as most birds will not eat hairy caterpillars.

The caterpillars hibernate through the winter, and apparently give the moth its name because they can be seen drinking dew from the grass.

The adult moths are a rather dull brown with orangish furry bodies and a white mark on each forewing.

Adult drinker photo by Reg the Birder

Friday 28 May 2010

Carnivorous Butterwort

We found our first flowering examples of Pinguicula vulgaris, the common butterwort north of Bunnahabhain this afternoon. These rather weird looking plants live in poor acidic soils and so supplement their meagre diets by trapping small insects and digesting them.

Wikipedia says "In order to catch and digest insects, the leaf of a butterwort uses two specialized glands which are scattered across the leaf surface One is termed a peduncular gland, and consists of a few secretory cells on top of a single stalk cell. These cells produce a mucilagenous secretion which forms visible droplets across the leaf surface. This wet appearance probably helps lure prey in search of water (a similar phenomena is observed in the sundews). The droplets secrete only limited enzymes and serve mainly to entrap insects. On contact with an insect, the peduncular glands release additional mucilage from special reservoir cells located at the base of their stalks. The insect will begin to struggle, triggering more glands and encasing itself in mucilage.
"The second type of gland found on butterwort leaves are sessile glands which lie flat on the leaf surface. Once the prey is entraped by the peduncular glands and digestion begins, the initial flow of nitrogen triggers enzyme release by the sessile glands. These enzymes, which include amylase, esterase, phosphatase, protease, and ribonuclease break down the digestible components of the insect body. These fluids are then absorbed back into the leaf surface through cuticular holes, leaving only the chitin exoskeleton of the larger insects on the leaf surface.

"The holes in the cuticle which allow for this digestive mechanism also pose a challenge for the plant, since they serve as breaks in the cuticle (waxy layer) that protects the plant from desiccation. As a result, most butterworts live in humid environments.

"Butterworts are usually only able to trap small insects and those with large wing surfaces. They can also digest pollen which lands on their leaf surface. The secretory system can only function a single time, so that a particular area of the leaf surface can only be used to digest insects once."

North of Bunnahabhain

After listening to the ever excellent Skerryvore at the Bunnahabhain Open Day, we walked north up the coast on a stunning afternoon. You cross a burn after a short while, there is a bridge, and then the best thing to do is to keep to the shore. There was not much in the way of birdlife around, but we still heard a Blackcap in the birches, and watched a Great tit plus both Meadow and Rock pipits foraging on the shore. Wheatears were singing, and a Common gull was nesting on the rocks among some pinks - too far away for a picure unfortunately.

Some common seals were more obilging, lying out on the rocks long enough for us to get a couple of shots before splashing into the sea. Seals are great drama queens however, and their curiosity always gets the better of them, once they are in the water they have to try and sneak up to us for a closer look.

Basking sharks

Keep your eyes open around the coasts as unusually large numbers of Basking Sharks have been seen off the Donegal coast in the last week. Over 100 of them have been tagged. You can find more information at:


Full Moon

Full moon tonight - and feels almost frosty

Thursday 27 May 2010

Germander speedwell

I am not sure I ever really knew how to tell one speedwell from another. This would appear to be Germander speedwell because it has two lines of hairs down the stems rather than being uniformly hairy all over.
The picture was taken on the Kilchoman road but it is very common.

Birds foot trefoil

We used to call this "eggs and bacon" when we were kids. I used to be able to recognise a good number of wildflowers, but getting out and about today I realise just how rusty I have become. This blog may well provide me with the excuse to do a crash-refresher course


I have just added a counter to monitor the number of visitors to our new blogspot.

The Slow Worm from John Hume on Vimeo.

A visitor to the Centre this morning reported seeing a huge adder up at Beinn Bheiger yesterday. This started us thinking of reptiles you can see around Islay. We found this home video footage of a slow worm; they are only found on Jura so if you are over there this summer, keep your eyes peeled!

A Gratuitous Photograph

Seeing as it is raw, grey, cold and showery out I thought I would include a gratuitous picture of the view from the top of the cliff at Jura House garden on Monday this week, when the weather was rather better.


Wednesday 26 May 2010

Compact digital cameras

My DSLR has only just returned after five weeks at the camera hospital, so had to use Jan's wee Canon compact - amazing the results that you can get. A couple of snaps of a GND off Bruichladdich pier plus one of Whin and another of pinks. All with a point and shoot....

Change in the wind

The cold, bright, north westerly airstream of the past few days is goping round to the south west and there is rain on the way. A Shag has pulled out onto the rocks outside the Wildlife Centre and is drying its wings and preening.

Wildlife Centre wildlife...

There was a Cinnabar moth flitting around the lab this morning, to go with the Great Tit who took up temporary residence behind the office radiator the other day. The mother owl on the Barn Owl webcam laid her first egg on the 29th April, so fingers crossed for a healthy chick popping out in the next few days

Tuesday 25 May 2010


Walking back to Lorgba from the Birdnerd inaugural this evening, there were a number of bats, almost certainly Pipistrelles, flying around the trees along the burn.

Large Red Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly (female I think) seen at the pond in Jura House Garden today.

Red deer on the Rhinns

We encountered the usual group of red deer close to the road between Heatherfield and An Gleann while returning from Portnahaven tonight. Difficult to see how many there were but we have often seen up to 20 animals. It would be interesting to know just how many reds are on the Rhinns now. I regularly see the An Gleann group who seem to be quite resident, but last Thursday there were fourteen hinds feeding close to the house at Octomore. I also have reports of a group of thirty plus that are regular at Cladville. Does anyone know of other groups?

Monday 24 May 2010

Song thrush fledgling

Encountered my first Song thrush fledgling of the year while on my bike travelling through Ballygrant on Friday. It was sat astride the white line in the middle of the road, all beak and eyes and spotty breast, no tail and not much in the way of brains either. I wheeled round and returned to shoo it away, getting there just before the oncoming traffic. It flew away quite strongly, crash landing into a wire fence surrounding a garden. I felt quite the hero of course...

Jura House Garden

The walk through the woods down to the shore and then up through the garden was a mass of wildflowers - the bluebells are at their best right now and there were some truly magnificent stretches of aromatic wild garlic.

Red Admiral

One in the garden this afternoon. The first I've seen this year. It could be an early migrant or one that over-wintered.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Lark Rise

What a glorious day. Just been up to feed the chickens wading through a sea of field buttercups, daisies and speedwell. Makes you feel like a character from a Flora Thompson novel.

The Darwin Awards - Islay area

We have a pair of Little terns that seem determined to nest on what is perhaps Islay's most popular dog-walking beach again this year - and an Oystercatcher has laid in the middle of the greenest of green fields, very close to the road and surrounded by cattle and sheep.


I ran my moth trap in my garden last night, catching a modest 14 of 5 species. I haven't run it many times yet this year because it's been so cold at night. and even last night there was a very heavy dew, indicating the temperature had dropped considerably. Still, it was a better catch than a week ago when I caught just 3 moths of 3 species. The names of moths are almost as attractive as the moths themselves. Last night I caught White Ermine, Heart and Dart, Marbled Coronet, Pebble Prominent and Emperor (photo of this last attached - though not the one I caught as it wouldn't sit still enough.
And for those who hoped the hard winter would have done for the midges - I caught lots and lots!

Friday 21 May 2010

Our very own Ansel Adams

I must add my own thanks to those of Malcolm for Becky's talk last night. Fascinating, funny and the photography was simply stunning....

How many tons of lugworms?

Loch Indaal is absolutely brilliant for birdwatching, which means of course that it is absolutely brilliant for birds. Whiich means it must be brilliant for the things that birds eat. The current low tides give us the opportunity to see just how fertile the top of the loch is. Doubtless someone has worked out how many millions of lugworms are out there by counting the casts, and then extrapolating from that to work out the tonnage of wormage. It must be a lot.

Last night's talk

We had a great evening yesterday, when Islay resident and Natural History Trust assistant, Becky Williamson, gave us a talk at the Centre on her visits, some very recent, some several years ago, to the four Small Isles: Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna. Her enthusiasm for Scottish islands, her humourous commentary describing not just the islands themselves, but their history, natural history and the local (noticeably hospitable and friendly) people, and above all her inspiring photography entertained an audience of over 50, several of whom, one felt, were already thinking about visits of their own.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Roe Deer and Hares

At the talk this evening, I was speaking to Mary Merrall and her grand daughter Mary who live down at Portnahaven. On their way to Port Charlotte, just outside Portnahaven, they had seen a Roe Deer along with its newly born calf.
On our way home from the talk, in a barley field at Rockside there was a large group of 11 Hares.

Bruichladdich beach

Hmm, I did a carriage return having written the title and the message was promptly posted! I'll try again.

There are particularly low tides at the moment. Right down at the edge of the water were three Dunlin this afternoon, all in summer plumage with black bellies and red-brown on their backs. They were very tame, allowing me (and my dog) within a matter of a few feet. Islay's breeding pairs will be busy by now, so these are presumably still on their way to the arctic.
The last few days, Red-throated Divers have been making their wailing calls out on the loch.

Bruichladdich beach

The Pool at Crosshouses

The pool at Crosshouses near the top of Loch Indaal is a great place to climb off the bike and simply watch and listen for a few minutes during the daily commute to and from Bowmore. A Mute swan is on her nest at the moment with the cob not far away. A couple of Moorhens were tripping about in the reeds and a Snipe was calling. Swallows were constantly coming down to drink and there had been a hatch of what looked like Green-veined white butterflies, although I did not get close enough to one to really check the ID.
It seems to have been an unusually good year for flowers of Lady's Smock and their pale mauveish/ pink flowers provide quite a carpet round the periphery of the pool at the moment.

Arctic Skua

Peter Roberts reports an Arctic Skua was harrassing some gulls at Bruichladdich yesterday. A couple of visitors to the Centre this morning have seen 125 species of birds in the past 2 weeks, a new record for their regular trips to Islay

The Art of Noise

I was greeted by a wall of bird noise as I walked up to let the chickens out this morning. The rookery was in full cry and an escallonia bush was full of House sparrows rioting in that sparrow-like way. Two Willow warblers were in full song injecting a bit of class into the racket and our cockerel was doing his thing....

Garden Funghi

Another grey morning - in fact it has started to rain. This rather splendid toadstool is in my lawn under the pines. Does anybody have any idea what it might be? The gills are white and quite deep

Red Deer

A red deer stag was by the roadside near Heatherfield (Portnahaven) this evening, with two hinds also at the roadside at the top of the Octofad Brae

Wednesday 19 May 2010

A good way to start!

A pretty grey and damp day, but brightened by reports of a Chequered Skipper butterfly at Islay House Square, this is the first recorded instance for the island.

Welcome to the Islay Natural History Trust blogsite!