Wednesday 29 August 2018

September Nature rAmbles!

It's the last month coming up, before our nature centre sadly closes for another Autumn and Winter, so come along to the last of our Nature rAmble walks for the month of September. We are starting out with a wander around the shoreline of Ardnave, to observe the birds and other wildlife in the area. We will also be adding back in a walk through Bridgend woodland to have a talk about the mythology and folklore of woodland trees, plants and other wildlife, which was unfortunately canceled in August due to poor weather conditions, however we have luckily picked this walk back up for September! We Will finish off with a walk along Sanaigmore bay for some seashore foraging and the possibility of some cake in the Outback Arts Gallery. Sanaigmore was one of the first walks carried out way back in June...I wonder how much it's changed over the season! Our walks start at 2pm on a Sunday and usually last between 1.5 and 2 hours. All are welcome!

Saturday 25 August 2018

A migrant moth - Convolvulus Hawk-moth

Following the migrant butterfly from the USA comes a Convolvulus Hawk-moth from the south which I caught in my moth trap last night. This is a rather worn female specimen and only the fourth I know about for Islay, past records being in c.1950, 1989 and 2015. Similar to the Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies, this moth lives in North Africa and, early every spring, migrates across the Mediterranean into France and Spain where it breeds, with the offspring moving further north and, more or less annually, reaching southern England, while in some years, perhaps helped by southerly winds, some reach Scotland, even as far north as Shetland. They are large moths with a wingspan up to 100 mm and length of about 55–60 mm. The male is more boldly marked with black streaks and bands.

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Migratory Monarch Butterfly Blown Off Course!

Islay has been gifted with a lucky sighting this weekend by Jane Taylor, who spotted this Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) near Bridgend! This exquisite pollinator is a migrant, most likely arriving from either North America, Western North America, Southern Canada, Florida or Mexico and will travel thousands of miles on migration. When migrating south along the east coast of the USA, they can get picked up by westerly winds and blown across the Atlantic, just as happens with several species of birds.

This butterfly is unmistakable by its size compared with any British butterfly, with a wingspan of 3.5–4 inches (8.9–10.2 cm) and by its orange upper-wings, with multiple black veins and margins, being narrower and lighter in the males. There are a series of white spots near the wing tips and wing borders. It can also have orange spots at the tips of the forewings. The underside is similar but with a yellow-brown colour on the forewings and hindwings instead of orange.The white spots also appear to be larger in size. The Monarch will alter its aesthetic before and after migration, starting off as a brighter red with longer and narrower wings, then fading and shortening towards the later migration stage. The male is often slightly larger than the female and will have either a black patch or dot on the androconial scales of the hindwings. The females have thicker wings than the males to compensate for their smaller body size and to help reduce energy loss during flight.

If the Monarch butterfly is ever seen within the UK, like Jane has seen near Bridgend, they are usually accidental migrants, not turning up every year, and so are a treat to spot! This species is found on agricultural land, pasture land, prairies, gardens, woodlands and roadsides. Monarchs use mountain forests in Mexico to migrate to for their winter habitat. The main threat to them lies in the forest also being a natural asset and resource for human use. Climate change will also affect their migration flight such as wintering grounds becoming colder and summer breeding grounds becoming warmer, thus shifting the migratory pattern.

The Monarch butterfly is unfortunately decreasing in population due to the above threats and the use of herbicides and pesticides on land. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently undergoing research to decide by 2019, if the species should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. In Ontario, Canada, the species is listed under Species of Special Concern; however, in 2016 it was proposed to move the species into the endangered list for Canada, due to the drop in population.

There are, however, efforts being made to conserve this species and its habitat. The restoration of appropriate habitat in woodland glades for increased herbaceous ground cover for host and nectar plants, providing monarch-friendly seed mixes such as milkweed and controlling the timing of habitat management such as mowing to reduce compromising the species. These are only a few efforts among many more strategies. Fingers crossed for their conservation status change and an increase in population trend!

Although not common to find in the UK, keep your eyes pealed for any unfortunate Monarchs blown off the migratory path! In years when one is seen, it is usual for several others to turn up in different places.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

For only the third time that has been recorded, a Cuvier's Beaked Whale has washed up on Islay's shores. A very dead specimen turned up a few days ago on the Big Strand. The previous ones were in 2000 and 2008. And exactly the same as in 2008, other specimens have turned up at the same time in the Outer Hebrides. This is an uncommon species in British waters, very rarely seen alive, though strandings occur more frequently, if not annually. This is a deepwater species which prefers warm waters, so is seen more regularly in the Mediterranean and around the Canaries. It has been suggested that the species is particularly adversely affected by the sonar used by submarines and other naval vessels, perhaps to the extent of causing the strandings.
I've taken specimens of the skin, blubber and muscle which have been sent away for analysis by the Scottish Strandings team in Inverness. They will be checked for pollutants as well as having the DNA analysed to see if related whales have also been stranded.

Friday 10 August 2018

A Glorious Day At The Islay Show!

The Islay Show was a great success yesterday, with the sun shining and the rain that was promised...absent! We had a great turnout at our Islay Natural History Trust stand. The activity in and around the stand, shop display and activities was buzzing with life.

Our games consisted of 'The Great Bird Race', featuring a Chough, Corncrake, Lapwing and Mallard, of which were selected by their players and raced against each other for the prize of a INHT lanyard. Our other game sent the children fishing in 'Fishing Jackpot' and they had to pick an animal to help (Gannet, Otter, Grey heron or Puffin) catch a pair of fish with matching numbers. There was the opportunity to win sweets and more depending on how many matching numbers were found...It's safe to say that our sweet jar was very much empty by the end of the day! Although these attractions were very popular with the children passing by, there were also a few keen adults who could not resist!

One of the more popular attractions of our stand this year with both adults and children was our 'Find the Islay Otter', of which the public had to guess which grid square on the Islay map, the otter may have been hiding. Each square had a number and at the end of the day, all of the chosen numbers were raffled and a winner was chosen! Our prizes consisted of a Kilchoman Machair bay and Sanaig Whiskey gift set (for the adults) and one of our cuddly toy otters! Well done to Eva who successfully found the otter and has won our prizes!...and a thank you to David Webster and Bernard Hannett for helping out for the day and Bernard for being a brilliant mascot for showing off our wonderful prizes.

The day was glorious and a big thank you to anyone who came along to visit our stand and who took part in any of our activities! Make sure to pop along to our centre in Port Charlotte, where we are open from Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm. All are welcome!

Monday 6 August 2018

A weekend of pollinators.

The weather although a bit cloudy has been fair and warm which has been great for pollinators.  I spent a nice afternoon on Saturday walking the road from Sanagimore to Kindrochid finishing off a pollinator survey.  Despite the verges having been cut earlier in July the margins beyond the cut were still prolific in flowers knapweed, the bramble bushes and meadowsweet providing the main focus to bumblebees and butterflies.  Near the Islay Development apiary site the honeybees have been mainly foraging on bramble and the meadowsweet too, the latter made obvious with a build up of green pollen in the bee's pollen sacks.  Observation indicated bees were focusing either one or the other, not mixing visits between flowers.
Green-veined White

Tachina grossa

A large fly called Tachina grossa  has been a frequent sight these past few weeks, black and the size of a medium sized bumblebee, soldier beetle, along with other flies it was favouring the umbelifers, in this case Hogweed.

Soldier Beetle

At the Islay Development apiary site there is a patch of hedge woundwort in front of the hives, although some of the honeybees can be seen visiting the flowers the main interest is from the bumblebees (the longer tongue of the bumbles able to access better the tubular funnel of the flower), primarily Garden bumblebee and Carder bees.  I counted c. 35 in total at one tally.  
Wasp visiting Figwort

Sunday's Killinallan dune walk was not attended by anyone this week, but I walked through the dunes anyway to see what was out and about.  There were plenty of butterflies: Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Grayling, Small Heath, and Dark Green Fritillary.  Flowers now showing were Devil's Bit Scabious, Harebell and Autumn Gentian with many of those out a month ago setting seed and on the wane.

Snowy Inkcap on cattle dung

Dark Green Fritillary

My end goal was to reach the beach at the point, below me down the dune was a fantastic patch of Sea Rocket in full bloom and on closer inspection was a very busy place, 4-5+ white-tailed Bumblebees on each bush and then lots of smaller bees which when I got in close up all turned out to be the small mining bee Colletes floralis, hundreds of them!  I spent ages with camera aiming for the perfect shot, and scanned up and down all the clumps to see what other bees there were.  A red tailed individual caught my eye, bees with red tails are not at all common here, I never did get a great shot of it but my first Mountain Bumblebee, there appeared to be only the one amongst the....195 white-tailed bumblebees, yes I counted them, give or take 5 or 10?  I got very excited by a very yellow looking bee, so took lots of pics, for ID later, it has turned out to be a male white-tailed bumblebee, in all the surveys I have been doing this is the first one I have knowingly seen, quite distinctive and different from the female queen and workers.  I so wanted it to be a great yellow bumblebee, but alas no big fanfare, that would be a first for Islay!

Colletes floralis

Mountain Bumblebee

Male White-tailed Bumblebee, the only one amongst the 195 others

Fiona MacGillivray

Sunday 5 August 2018

Bowmore Seashore Safari

A nice session of fishing for sea creatures near Bowmore Battery was rewarded with lots of little fishes and crabs.  The children netted opossum shrimps, brown shrimp, a lovely little flat fish, a very small pipe fish, lots of fry, hermit crab and finally a big shore crab was found lurking under the seaweed.  They learned about crabs shedding their old coat to make a new one and how anemones catch and eat little fishes!
Hermit crab, with pipe fish and a fish fry above

Spot the sand shrimp

Studying our finds with avid interest

Two and a half cm flat fish

Common Shore Crab

There is no Mini Wildlife Adventure this Thursday as we will be at the Islay Show (with games and activities), but more seashore adventures are available on the 14th at Killinallan 2pm.

Monday 30 July 2018

Come and Visit Our Nature Centre!

If you are in need for a plan for the day, pop along to the Islay Natural History Trust for a good look around our detailed displays on Islay's natural environment, and even gain some inspiration for your daily adventures around the island. We are open from 10:00 am to 16:00 pm from Monday to Friday and tickets allow valid free entry for a whole week!.
We have an array of locally collected wildlife skulls, skeletons, shells, geology and more, all kindly donated to the trust. There is something for everyone!
Up to date wildlife sightings are also available within the centre, and our staff are more than happy to answer any queries or questions that you may have. Get a hands on experience in the centre, not only with our variety of natural objects, but with our marine touch tanks, where we hold fresh water species such as sea anemones, star fish and our newest member...the Spider crab!
We also have a variety of activities for all age groups to take part in whilst having a wander round the exhibits. Our extensive library collections are also accessible throughout opening hours and a great place to go for reference when undecided about a tricky species!
Feel free to have a look round the shop on your way out, which caters for all ages. We stock all things nature including wildlife packs for our beginner wildlife enthusiasts and a variety of Field Studies Council identification guides. We are currently stocking a select supply of unique craft, jewellery, art and photography pieces from our local artists, so come along and have a look and see if anything takes your fancy!

Wednesday 11 July 2018

The Pollinator Initiative Verges Project

The Project
            As the sky remains blue over Islay and the spring rolls on into summer, the fields are now speckled with vibrant colours and abuzz with insects.  The non-stop sunshine, lack of rain and light winds have provided the perfect conditions for pollinators to dine on the island’s banquet of flowers.  Both the plants and animals are in full swing, and so to is the INHT’s Verges and Pollinator Project, requiring the team to bring out the high-vis waistcoats and lather-up on the sun cream. 
            The initiative aims to gather data on Islay’s pollinator-plant community this summer.  Naturally, it consists of two parts: (1) identifying the butterflies, bees and flies which are present and on which plants they are feeding and (2) recording the number of plant species and the density of flowers along the 112km of road currently chosen for survey.  Knowledge of where certain plants are flowering can, through management, encourage more plants along the road verges.  Increasing the diversity and abundance of food resources available to pollinators can increase their chances of persistence.  This is particularly relevant since some pollinators are declining globally.
The Botanist
            The initiative requires a botanist (unfortunately, not the one brewed in Bruichladdich, but The Botanist Foundation are funding this project) to survey the road verges for flowering plants.  This is left to me, Rowan Hookham, a recent graduate from the University of Glasgow to search the island’s damp roadside ditches for illusive plants – a task which I oddly enjoy.  Although I graduated with an M.Sci. Zoology, I spent my final years of education researching plant-insect interactions, where I learnt floral identification.  The Islay Verges and Pollinator Project is a great way for me to spent the summer brushing up on these botany skills and to explore the island and its community a little better.
            As a child I explored much of the Hebrides with my family and I have always loved the exposed island wildernesses.  Islay especially has a mix of different habitats: dunes, heathland, salt marshes, grassland pastures and cliff edges making it the perfect place to study plants. 
            So until August I’ll be wandering the roadside gazing into the vegetation.  Many people already have been curious and have stopped to ask what I’m up to; this is one of the best parts of my the job as I get to discus with both locals and tourists as to what they have seen.  Some even believed, with the strange equipment I had, I must have been looking for oil or using it as a divining rod; however, I am not interested in the black or the blue, just the greenery.  So, if you see me on the road give me a wave or stop for a chat.