Monday 31 October 2011

Contractor appointed for new Marine Science Park at Dunstaffnage

Ambitious plans to create a multi-million pound marine science park in Argyll have taken a step forward following a European-wide procurement process.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has appointed the infrastructure, support services and construction group, Robertson to deliver phase one of the European Marine Science Park at Dunstaffnage, near Oban.
Frank Reid, Regional Managing Director for Robertson said “Robertson are delighted to have been awarded the contract to build this prestigious Science Park building, and we look forward to working in partnership with HIE over the next year.”
The development will include 20,000 sq ft of laboratory and office space in a high-specification sustainable building in a stunning location, aimed at supporting Scotland’s growing Life Science sector and supporting up to around 125 jobs.
Situated adjacent to the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), it is anticipated that the Science Park will be particularly attractive to start-up businesses, spin-outs and SMEs interested in the combination of an outstanding marine environment and world-class scientific expertise on hand. First-class business support will be available to tenants from HIE and Scottish Development International (SDI).
Douglas Cowan, Area Manager for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said “HIE is delighted that work is set to begin on the site. Argyll and the Islands already has a strong reputation in the Life Sciences sector, with businesses such as GlycoMar Ltd and Aquapharm Biodiscovery Ltd, occupying laboratory space at Dunstaffnage and achieving international recognition for cutting edge research and development work."
“The Scottish Association for Marine Science at Dunstaffnage is one of the UK’s leading marine research institutes with around 140 staff, and is a founding partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Existing and new businesses located in the Science Park will benefit from the proximity of world leading research and facilities on their doorstep, together with tailored business support from both HIE and SDI.”
“Argyll’s marine resource is a fantastic asset, and is particularly well placed to exploit once in a generation opportunities in marine life science activity and in renewable energy. The construction of the Science Park is designed to act as a catalyst for these growing sectoral opportunities.”
In August 2010, the HIE Board approved an investment of £7.5m to create the first phase of the Science Park on the site next to SAMS at Dunstaffnage. HIE will contribute £4.5m of its own grant-in-aid budget from the Scottish Government, and has attracted the remaining £3m towards this first phase from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Computer generated graphic of Marine Science Park

Sunday 30 October 2011

Puffballs and Fencepost at Knockdon

Puffballs do not have an open cap with spore-bearing gills. Instead, spores are produced internally in a sort of stomach which then explodes (to use the scientific term!) to release the spores and hence reproduce.

Puffball - pre-explosion

Puffballs - post-explosion

I also thought I'd add a photo of another amusing fencepost I saw today at Knockdon. I wish the lichenologists were around to identify the lichens!

Saturday 29 October 2011

Basking Sharks off Ellister - Jane Dawson

Many thanks to Jane Dawson for these photos of Basking sharks taken in Loch Indaal back in the summer.  Jane said: "I counted 23 sharks from my office window on 26th August and more at Wester Ellister and Rhinns Point (along with a Minke); most of the photos were taken from the boat on 31st August when we estimated there were at least forty in Lochindaal.

"The one that came closest had a malformed dorsal fin and was not far off the same length as the boat which is more than 7 metres long."

Dew Moth - Andrew Greenwood

Dwe Moth - Dew Moth Setina irrorella and Caterpillar. Taken in May 2010 below the American monument, on narrow ridge south of monument.

Dew moth caterpillar
Many to Andrew for these shots...

Friday 28 October 2011

Hector lands a fine Sorn Salmon

Watched by his sister Emily, Hector Inglis hooked his first salmon while fishing the picturesque lower Sorn near Bridgend yesterday.

After an exciting struggle lasting around 15 minutes the fish was finally netted by Hector's father Willy, prompting a quick celebratory text to alert the world...

The fish was a handsome cock salmon of 4 to five pounds in weight.  It was well coloured, indicating that it had been in the river for a week or more.  Fresh run salmon are silver.

Willy informed me that it has been an excellent salmon fishing season, probably because of the high levels of rainfall.  The Sorn, like Islay's other salmon river the Laggan, are spate rivers, with the fish only running when the water is high enough . 
Islay Estates have a catch and release policy, with over 90% of fish returned to the water.  This handsome fellow lived to fight another day and hopefully beget more of his kind.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Coprinus comatus, the shaggy ink cap, lawyer's wig, or shaggy mane

On the footpath alongside the road through Bridgend Woods today.

Keppols to Bunnahabhain

Fiona MacGillivray and I went for a long walk today. We were celebrating the long-awaited return of that warm, yellow ball in the sky. It made a welcome appearance yesterday to remind us what it looked like and today it teased the cumulus clouds (yes, I know you've all missed my cloud naming!), casting wonderful shadows and fantastic light on the autumnal colours of our landscape which I have so missed in recent weeks. We breathed in deeply of this rich air for, I don't want to depress you, but . . . . well, let's just make the most of it while it lasts!

We saw some fantastic things, starting with an otter which disappeared into the grass next to a passing place which we pulled into to allow a huge lorry to pass (we might not otherwise have seen it). We also saw male and female Bullfinches from the same passing place. Other highlights include Barn Owl at Staoisha Eararach and Crossbill in that woodland and male Blackcap near the military bridge at Bunnahabhain. Here's our list:

Buzzard, Kestrel, Raven, Hooded Crow, Blackbird, Dunnock, Coal Tit, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Rock Dove, Song Thrush, Barn Owl, Crossbill, Pheasant, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, Barnacle Goose, White-fronted Goose

Lots of fungi and lichen

Otter, Red Deer

Fox Moth Caterpillars (galore!)

Two fenceposts which caught my eye


Tuesday 25 October 2011

Record Wildlife on Islay, Jura and Colonsay

While many of the different kinds of the abundant and varied wildlife of Islay, Jura and Colonsay are well recorded - as a look at our online database will confirm - just as many are poorly recorded, including some of the commoner species of birds. Thus, we have over 50% more records for Golden Eagle than we do for Robin!
In order to improve the recording of the commoner small birds, as well as some other groups that are relatively easy to see and identify, the INHT, with a gratefully acknowledged grant from SNH, have published this new (free) 12-page booklet, which is being distributed in shops, schools and other outlets around the islands. It includes colour photos and brief descriptions of the small birds of gardens, farmland and woods, as well as all the mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and dragonflies that you are likely to see on Islay, Jura and Colonsay. It also includes a form for you to fill in and send us your records; further forms can be downloaded from the database website.
Below are a couple of pages from the booklet. You can download the whole booklet as a PDF file by clicking on the header "Download Recording Wildlife booklet" at the top of the page.
Becky and Malcolm

Monday 24 October 2011

Saturday 22 October 2011

Fairy ring

This was growing in the grass close to the shore near Glenburn today. It is quite small, not much more than a metre across, and made up of small fungi. I'm not sure which species, but probably a Clitocybe. Perhaps Carl can identify it - he borrowed my best fungi book quite a while ago!!

Pectoral Sandpiper - Mick Durham

Thanks to Mick for this shot of a Pectoral Sandpiper taken a few weeks ago, at Gruinart I believe.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

From Islay to the Masai Mara - tonight's talk

A reminder about tonight's talk by Nigel Pope and John Aitchison! Should be great. 7.30 pm at the Visitor Centre.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Frogs in the Garden

It's been simply ages since my last post and I'm back from Cape Clear, Sanday (Orkney) and Dunkeld. The most exciting wildlife-wise was Dunkeld with Red Squirrels and Salmon leaping (both were in fact leaping). I was amazed to see Chough on Cape Clear (SW Ireland - home from home), but disappointed not to see anything different. Same with Sanday.

Anyway, Richard Russell sent us this photo of one of his garden residents. Thanks Richard!


Aeshna juncea - - The Common Hawker by Kate Hannett

Stunning photograph of a Common Hawker by Kate.  Many thanks....

Monday 17 October 2011

Loch Indaal Yesterday

Donegal from the High Road yesterday evening

Carraig Fhada Lighthouse - The Oa

Could not resist posting these shots of Carraig Fhada lighthouse guarding the entrance to Kilnaughton Bay and Port Ellen.  Perhaps one of Islay's prettiest, and most photographed, buildings...

Hooded Crows - Kilnaughton

Hooded Crows are usually extremely wary, but this pair on the rocks of Kilnaughton Bay near Port Ellen were obliging enough to allow this picture to be taken with a point and shoot camera - which shows how close they were....

Shorefield Cattle

The Shorefield bullocks have come on well over the summer.

Highland Beef from the Shorefield Project

Sunday 16 October 2011

Barnacle Geese at the head of Loch Indaal

Geese at Sunderland farm

Wild geese feeding on stubble below Rock Mountain.  The birds to the right are Greylags, to the left mostly Barnacle while the ones at the rear are Greenland Whitefronts.

Loch Gorm from Rock Mountain yesterday.  I think the island in the loch is a crannog, i.e. man made, probably during the Iron Age.

Whooper Swans at Rockside

The big flock of Whooper Swans is still gracing the stubble fields at Rockside.  It will be interesting to see how long they stay before moving on to their traditional winter destinations in Ireland.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Big Funghi - any ideas?

On the roadside verge near Sunderland farm today.  There were two of them.  No idea what they are.  Does anybody know?

Friday 14 October 2011

Whooper swans killed by overhead wires

Louse Muir of the RSPB on Islay is seen with one of two young Whooper swans that were killed yesterday following collisions with overhead wires on Sunderland Farm.  Power companies have installed high visibility discs on their cables in some areas that are particularly susceptible.  On Islay, that should probably mean eveywhere that cables cross open fields. 
Reducing the number of collisions ought to make commercial, as well as ethical, sense because wires are quite often brought down.  This can cause significant power outages which are of course, very expensive to fix.

Rare Pygmy Sperm Whale strands on Seil Island

A pygmy sperm whale, a very rarely sighted cetacean in UK waters, has stranded near Ellenabeich on the Isle of Seil, south of Oban, prompting scientists from the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) to investigate. Pygmy sperm whales are rarely sighted and identified alive at sea, and therefore studying the carcass allows scientists to find out more about this elusive species. Since the Natural History Museum started keeping records of stranded cetaceans in 1913, only ten pygmy sperm whales are known to have stranded in the UK previously; three of which were in Scotland, the first reported in 1999. The stranding was spotted on 6th October by Brien and Liz Dickey, who informed John Gordon, a deep-sea fish biologist who is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences (SAMS) in Oban. He in turn contacted Nienke van Geel, a PhD student at SAMS studying cetaceans on the west coast, who next day made the positive identification and contacted SAC. “We were all astonished, that what at first was reported as a porpoise or dolphin, turned out to be such a rare specimen”. With help from staff from the local Seafari boat operator the whale was removed from the beach ready for collection by SAC. Easdale ferryman, Alan MacFadyen, added, “For my part it was a sad sight to see and thankfully rare. It looked beat up, with surface wounds but no major wounds. It attracted quite a crowd. Seems to have been a few whales spotted about the west coast lately.”

A necropsy, an animal autopsy, was conducted by Andrew Brownlow at SAC’s base in Inverness and preliminary results suggest that the whale, a sub-adult male, was in healthy condition; the blubber layer seemed to be of good thickness; there were hardly any parasites found in the stomach and lung, in fact the whale had been eating shortly before being beached as there was still an undigested squid in the stomach. Results from the necropsy indicated that the animal would have stranded alive. Nienke, who attended the necropsy, said, “It is unknown what caused the animal to strand. Although we are still waiting on histology results, all signs point to a healthy individual.”

Pygmy sperm whales share some common traits with their cousin, the sperm whales; they too have a spermaceti organ in their heads, allowing for echolocation and aiding deep dives to hunt. The main difference is the size; while sperm whales can reach lengths of 18 metres, pygmy sperm whales will reach a maximum of 3.5 metres. Olivia Harries, Biodiversity Officer at HWDT (The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust), commented, “To put the size of the pygmy sperm whale in context; the individual that stranded on Seil weighed about 150kg, the heart of the fin whale that stranded in South Uist weighed about 130kg.”Pygmy sperm whales favour continental shelf and slope regions and deep water so it’s rare to find this species in inshore waters. Their range stretches as far south as New Zealand, whilst Scottish waters represent the most northerly limit of its distribution.

SAC coordinates the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme with support from DEFRA and Marine Scotland. If you find a stranded animal that has perished please contact SAC on 01463 243030. Moreover, if you find a stranded animal that’s still alive, please contact the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMRL) on 01825 765546. BDMLR are fully equipped to attempt re-float stranded animals, please note that you should never approach a stranded animal without proper training. Sandra Koetter, HWDT’s Sightings Officer, adds, “While it’s sad to find marine mammals on the shore, either alive or dead, by reporting the find you can help to discover more about the species and also what might have caused its death.” This report follows a spate of recent unusual strandings and sightings; a sighting of a live sperm whale in the Sound of Raasay, the fin whale that washed ashore on South Uist and more recently a live sperm whale in Kirkwall Bay (Orkney) and a dwarf sperm whale off Penzance, which might be the first live record of this species in UK waters. If you spot a cetacean, in its natural environment at sea, please report it to HWDT online at

Thursday 13 October 2011

298 Whooper Swans on the Rhinns

I counted a total of 298 Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) between Rockside and Sunderland Farms on the Rhinns this afternoon.  201 were in a big flock on the half-cut barley field at Sunderland (top photo) and 97 on stubble at Rockside.

Big Battalions of Barnacle Geese

You may be subjected to a number of snaps of the Big Battalions over the next while.  I can't resist taking them...  These were over Loch Indaal earlier today...

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Otters - Mick Durham

Two wonderful shots of Islay otters taken by Mick Durham who gave such an excellent presentation last month.  Many thanks Mick...

More of his shots can be enjoyed at....

Arrival of the Barnacle Geese

Three snaps of just a small proportion of the big flocks of Barnacle Geese that have arrived on Islay from their migration staging post on Iceland over the past two days.  Around 25,000 are here now, with the majority on the reserve at Gruinart, but also good numbers at the head of Loch Indaal (pictured).