Thursday 20 November 2014

A festival of colour on a dull day

A festival of colour on a dull day

RSPB Raised beach walk 20th November 14

It may have been a dull and gloomy type of day with overcast skies, the poor light sucking out the definition in the landscape and Islay on the edge of the fog bank over Northern Ireland, but, as Becky and I discovered on what was essentially a two dimensional featureless landscape, the 'raised beach' on the south side of the Gruinart Flats, there was a wealth of colour and gems forming a Persian rug below our feet.

It has been many years since I walked the 'raised beach' at the back of the 'Flats' at Loch Gruinart, which holds fond memories of watching to pinpoint Hen Harrier nests and checking Buzzard nests for lapwing chick remains for research projects.  My memory was of high quality peat bog.  Becky had not had the pleasure of walking this ground so it was great to take her up there, bag a few Km squares and revisit this old haunt. 
Much of the Calluna heather along the sides of the escarpment is old, and has grown tall and leggy, flopping over to reveal the open area beneath, I remember from old school ecology lessons in succession, that old heather should flop over and the increased light allow fresh new shoots to develop and grow.  I always wondered whether this was actually true as often once exposed the open peat would be colonised by Mollinia grass which would allow little light and inhibit heather development.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see an area of old heather with young shoot growing up in the open canopy of flopped old branches. 

There are bog pools on the top of the raised hill area, the odd deer path traverses the peat, but there is little disturbance to the ground and the peatland vegetation is undamaged and left to thrive.  Underfoot the soft sphagnum mosses provide a spongy carpet, garishly patterned with deep reds, browns, greens and orange.  Sphagnum capillifolium forms red hummocks rising above the flat ground whilst saturated in the bog pools are the soggy 'drowned cat' forms of the green Sphagnum cuspidatum.  On the look out for the less common hummock form of Sphagnum fuscum we did chance upon a small hummock, but not in as good a condition as I have seen before.
Sphagnum capillifolium

Sphagnum fuscum?

Amongst this carpet there were red and black berries like beaded gems, of crowberry and the round and pear shaped juicy fruits of the Cranberry, identified subsequently, a testing taste was wonderful but if identification was as sure when we were actually there we might have tasted more!


The bushes of the gorse have sprung back into colour within the last month or two and the golden yellow flowers brightened up the dullness of the day.  

Meadow Waxcap
A dose of waxcap fungi on some sheep grazed pasture completed the festival of colour in the dullness of the day.

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