Tuesday 31 August 2010

A short video clip of the sea hare we caught during the rock pooling session last Friday.

Walk to An Cladach

Fiona and I walked from Storakaig to An Cladach bothy on the Sound of Islay on Saturday night, returning on Sunday via Lossit Farm to Ballygrant. We saw lots of wildlife on our travels, including this parasol funghi (edible) and  lots of Small Copper butterflies. I liked the copse of natural woodland down Glen Logan, which was mainly birch and oak (good place to look for Purple Hairstreak next year!). We disturbed an otter on the Sound so it only just gave us enough time to photograph it before it darted back to safety in the sea. Still a glorious moment though! Any ideas what the flower is anyone?


Monday 30 August 2010

Basking Shark video

Basking Shark 1 from Gill on Vimeo.

For  those of us who may have never seen a Basking shark, and may not spend all that much time scuba-diving, I thought it might be useful to show this excellent little bit of video from "Gill", which is very characteristic.

This has been a quite remarkable year for Basking sharks around Islay - it would be nice to think that this is the start of a positive trend but it is more likely that we ought to be making the most of it because it is never going to be as good as this again!!


Basking Shark video - taken by Dan Burton off Cornwall

Basking Sharks 2009 from Dan Burton Photography on Vimeo.

Basking Shark Breaching

This photograph shows a Basking shark at the moment of breaching off Bunnahabhain.  It was sent to us by Gordon Homer - who runs the well known whisky-oriented site http://www.spiritofislay.net/  Many thanks Gordon, photos of these sharks breaching are, as you can imagine, quite unusual to say the least...

There is some debate as to why the world's second largest fish, normally the most laid back of creatures, should suddenly wish to launch itself clear of the water, but they do so quite regularly apparently.  Some believe it is to do with attempting to rid themselves of external parasites such as lampreys, others believe it is part of a mating ritual - all part of trying to impress the ladies (or gentlemen I suppose - we mustn't be presumptuously sexist, even about Basking sharks). 

Truth is of course, we haven't a clue why they do it...

Basking shark fans should check out


Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea)

There were quite a few of these big dragonflies around the Lilty Loch near Dunlossit yesterday.  They are quite noisy, with very clattery wings.  This is a male - it has a black abdomen and a constricted waist.  The females are usually browner.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

These butterflies were very common in the woods around Dunlossit House and along the lanes to the Lily Loch and Loch Allen yesterday.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Hoverfly (Leuconza glauca)

Near the Lily Loch, Dunlossit.  This is a male - holoptic eyes....


Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

This small but very handsome dragonfly was very common around Loch Allen today - and many were most obliging when it came to having their photograph taken.

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

Young Swallows and House martins are sitting on the wires outside one of the windows at Lorgba this morning, tucked in close to keep out of the wind, thus providing some excellent photo-opportunities.  This was taken using a Canon SX200IS compact - the same model of camera that the INHT has just purchased.

Saturday 28 August 2010

Quote of the week - Michele Hanson in 'The Guardian'

"In June, a fox entered a house in Hackney and attacked the two baby Kouparis twins.  It was a terrible thing for the parents and babies.  In 2008-9, 5,021 people were treated in hospitals for dog bites, but one fox bit two babies and we had uproar."

Sea Hare (Aplysia punctata)

Another great find from Becky! This Sea Hare was found near Port Mor yesterday at the Rock Pooling session. Sea Hares are a type of large, herbivorous sea slug. It's a strange looking creature, for sure. There are two tentacles at the end of the head and a pair of shorter rhinophores just behind them. They live amongst and feed on a variety of seaweeds, adapting their body colour to match their diet and as such are very difficult to spot. This is a still from a video Becky took, we'll upload the video as soon as the "technical problems" I'm having are resolved!

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica)

I think this is Sneezewort - quite common here in roadside ditches

Friday 27 August 2010

Tree Planting at Port Mor

A couple of images from Port Mor. The first is simply some seed heads from Yellow flag irises, the second shows how a small plantation of Alder and ash trees are growing up in the little valley through which the burn runs, separating the campsite/Community Park area from the "environmental area" to the north. A colleague and I planted the trees seven years ago as tiny twigs, placing the Alder in the very boggy ground among the irises with ash slightly higher up the bank. They have since grown up into substantial saplings, but their heads have not really pushed up above the level of shelter afforded by the bank - and it will be interesting to see if they are ever able to do this or whether the winter winds will always keep them pruned down to that height.

It is good  to see that they have become favourite resting places for a number of small birds, with Siskins, Goldfinches and Linnets being often seen in them and feeding on the thistle heads that cover the rough ground to the north.

We originally planted some 700 tiny trees - but all those on the north side of the burn were wiped out when Scottish Water bulldozed the area during the construction of the village sewage works. Another group planted down on the bog closer to the sea were unable to become established at all.


Wildlife Photography Competition - Zoe Heywood

Thanks to Zoe for this picture of Loch Gruinart seconds before a November hailstorm

Wildlife Photography Competition - Gavin Power

Thanks to Gavin for this shot of a hedgehog

Thursday 26 August 2010

Port Charlotte beach

Common Cockle (Cardium edule) and Sea Mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritimum)

Michal on the Seychelles - tonight

Just a wee reminder that it is Michal's talk this evening down at the centre.  He will be telling us about the six months he spent workingin the Seychelles.  Hope to see you there.

Unknown Caterpillar

Does anyone know what this caterpillar is?  It was found on upland grassland above Kilchiaran.


Wednesday 25 August 2010

Stormcats Tope Fishing Festival

The annual StormCats Islay Tope Fishing Competition took place on Lochindaal last weekend. Conditions on both days were variable,with heavy swells to start each day and weather including rain, mist, wind and sunshine.
Seventy anglers took part on 22 boats over the two days. The £20 entrance fee is donated to charity split between the RNLI and the Islay & Jura Sick Childrens’ Fund. The majority of anglers are local to the island but there are regular competitors who travel form different parts of the UK to fish. 
Lagavulin boatbuilder StormCats owner Gus Newman donates a prize of £400 for the heaviest tope caught over the two days. Other prizes are donated by local distilleries and businesses.
Altogether eleven tope were tagged and released over the two days and this is a new record for this competition. Many more were lost beside the boat, there were lots that got away and extended tales of close encounters! 
The smallest tope caught was 25lbs and unbelievably the top prize was shared between two that weighed in at 44lbs each. The next size down was 43 lbs, all very close in weight. In previous years, we have had fish to over 60 lbs.
All tope were in excellent condition and returned unharmed. 
Having made contact with the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network through James Thorburn (Sharkatag Officer at SNH), some of the Islay anglers are planning on taking part in the Sharkatag weekend next summer.

Photos from top: 

 Lyle Heads with his fish - dad and grandpa proudly looking on. 

 Fraser Stevenson with his Tope

Tony Mitchell with his winning fish

Joint winners Tony Mitchell and Gilbert Maclellan accepting their prize.

The Stevenson boys and James Thorburn weighing their Tope

Jackdaw, cinnabar moth caterpillar and a yellow lichen

The Jackdaw was taken in Bowmore, the caterpillar in Bruaich Jerich and the lichen on the old pier at Ardbeg.

Monday 23 August 2010

August talk

This month's talk will be by Michal Sur, assistant warden for the RSPB's Islay reserves. Michal spent last winter in the Seychelles on Aride and Dennis islands as a conservation officer working on a variety of bird and wildlife projects. He is also a fantastic photographer, and so came back with some brilliant pictures of his time there.

Michal's talk, "Six Months in the Seychelles - A brief journey into nature conservation in the Seychelles", will take place at the Natural History Centre in Port Charlotte on Thursday August 26th at 7:30pm. All are welcome, and refreshments are included in a small entrance charge. INHT members get in free! We hope to see you all there.

Michal's website is at www.michalsur.sk if you would like a preview of what he can do!

Rock pooling

Back to the natural history, after the brief dalliance with the worlds of sport and aviation. The below picture was taken on Port Charlotte beach while I was poking around in the rock pools looking for things for the ever-hungry INHT lobster to eat.

The Common periwinkle (Littorina littorea) is probably the most commonly found mollusc around the shores here on Islay, along with the Dog whelk (Nucella lapillus). Scotland alone exports over 2,000 tonnes annually. It is mainly found on rocks and in pools around the high and middle tide zones, and feeds on algae and barnacle larvae. Some can live up to 10 years.

Lichens occur in one form or another in almost every environment, and thrive on rocky sea shores, of which Islay has plenty. Lichens are a combination of a fungus and an algae growing together. The fungus element makes up most of the body of the lichen but it is the algae component that provides its nutrients through photosynthesis. I think the example below is Caloplaca thallincola, but I'm happy to be corrected by any lichen experts out there!


That's really strange because the day after Malcolm saw his Tiger Moth down at the Air Show, I saw this Cricket at Port Mor...


Sunday 22 August 2010

Balulive to Bunnahabhain

It was a glorious day for a walk yesterday (as well as for the air show) and I saw some beauties on my walk from Balulive to Bunnahbhain. Here is my first Islay toad, Red Admiral, Dor Beetle and a funghus which I haven't identified. I thought it was Jew's Ear fungus because it does look kind of like an ear, but that apparently grows on elder branches and this was growing on the ground. Any ideas anyone?


Another new moth

I couldn't resist adding this picture of a Tiger Moth to the blog - taken at yesterday's Islay Airport Open Day!


Friday 20 August 2010

Heather - or Ling (Calluna vulgaris)

The flowering tops of ling heather are brewed into wine and used to flavour ales (including the commercially available Fraoch produced by the Heather Ale Company). They can also be dried and used as a pleasant substitute for tea.
Beehives are moved to heathery areas in the late summer for the production of heather honey.
Heather produces a green dye, traditionally used in the Harris Tweed industry. It has also been used for tanning leather.
Heather has many other traditional uses, including bedding, rope and thatch. It is still occasionally used for the last of these.
Heather tea is taken to treat urinary infections. It can also be used as an exteral wash for eczema. An armful of heather added to the bath is said to relieve rheumatic pain.

So now you know....  This particularly lush bunch of heather flowers was found on the side of a ditch above Kilchiaran


Thursday 19 August 2010

Wildlife Photography Competition - Juergen Boehm

Thanks to Juergen for sending us this splendid aerial entry of a group of Grey seals basking on a rock.


There are a number of gullies, clefts in the hillside running down to the sea on the south side of Kilchiaran Bay.  One of them has around half a dozen Fulmar's nests on its south side - and it is narrow enough to be able to sit on the north side and take pictures.  The well grown chicks were all on their own today (unfortunately), the adults all being away at sea.  The last time I had been the adults were wheeling about, coming up to the nest and turning away again, as Fulmars do.  There was even a very graphic display of an adult feeding the chick - but of course I did not have the big lens with me then....

I sat and waited for the adults to appear for an hour or so - but no sign.  A Chough came down and landed nearby, and a Wren kept me company for a while, both of which were just within range of my 400mm lens.  There was a Grey seal mooching about in the next bay along, and a series of Rock Doves hurtled by, but as there was still no sign of any adult Fulmars putting in an appearance I decided to move on to Portnahaven to see if the seals were on the rocks in the harbour. But not today.


Wednesday 18 August 2010

The Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus)

The marmalade hoverfly is relatively small (9–12 mm) - a member of the Syrphidae family and found all over the world. It can be found throughout the year in various habitats, including urban gardens, visiting flowers for pollen and nectar.  The larva is terrestrial and feeds on aphids.

Males can be easily identified by their holoptic eyes, i.e., left and right compound eyes touching at the top of the head (the one in the pictures is a male, taken today in Bruich Jerich)