Tuesday 23 June 2020

For the love of Peat

Marsh Fritillary on Marsh Thistle
INHT has been undertaking surveys on SPA (Special Protection Areas) sites on the Rhinns for the CANN peatland restoration project recording breeding birds and the populations of Marsh Fritillary butterflies for the past couple of years.  This has provided extra revenue for the charity and a chance to directly undertake recording of species for our database.  This fine weather (when the wind in not blowing a hoolly!), warm and sunny, has had the butterflies out and it is so nice to see the Marsh Fritillary, one of Islay's prettiest butterflies.  The adults are only on the wing for about 4-6 weeks so there is only a short time to see them and for them to have the right conditions to breed and set forth the next generation which spends the rest of the year as caterpillars.
Marsh Fritillary and Small Heath

Our peat bogs are wondrous places, colourful and with little gems for an observer to appreciate and photograph.  Specialised plants and birds making the most of insects and the limited nutrients the bog can provide.  When you get down low they are really forests in miniature, the Ling Heather and Bog Cotton are the trees and the sphagnum mosses the herb rich layer. 
Bog Bean

Round-leaved Sundew with trapped fly

Sphagnums provide a rich tapestry of colour, and though the species list for flowering plants is not vast is made up for in variety and colour.  Many were only just reaching the point of flowering, Bog Asphodel and Sundews budding and almost out.  The Bog Cotton is being gradually teased from the bud and floating or streaking in the wind to find a new position to set down roots.  Butterwort and the sundews (Round leaved and Long leaved) await unsuspecting midges or even a larger fly to get stuck to their sticky and dew tipped leaves, which gradually digest the insect absorbing the nitrogen released a nutrient not available in the peat where there is no contact with the soil and rock substrate.

Dubh Loch with Bog Bean
Bog Bean
Water Lily

The jewels in the bog are the little Dubh Lochs, often set at the top of the rises and providing permanent water for Bog Bean and water lilies, and midges, that are food for dragonflies (Four-spotted chasers, Golden-ringed Dragonflies and damselflies), Dunlin and other waders like Redshank and Lapwing which have moved off the dry farmland in search of soft water logged ground for insects.

The rest of the bog is scattered with pink Heath Spotted orchid and every couple of hundred metres Skylark ascend to the sky singing their little hearts out a joy to the ear.

Traversing the terrain is hard going for a biped and wings would be so much easier but the little gems are worth the effort and the workout keeps the body in trim, I scoff at the app on my phone which has tracked my passage and tells me I have exerted merely a couple of hundred calories for the days exhaustion!