Poor old Gilbert is getting restless. Despite the fact that there is more interest in wildlife than ever before, it seems that most of the so-called conservation organisations are losing interest in species. Instead they prefer to babble on about landscape scale conservation and ecosystem services (whatever they are). Could this be because most of their staff don't have any knowledge about species if they don't have four legs?
This is my attempt to encourage an interest in good old-fashioned natural history.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Skye - Monday

My first full day on Skye but Seth had to work so I headed off to look for Purple Saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia as he didn't need to see it and it was the one flowering plant that should be looking its best at this time of year. I had a recommended 1km square, supplied by the County Recorder, so headed up the mountain towards some likely looking bare rocks. I hadn't quite bargained on how steep the ground would become and my fear of heights started to kick in. I sat down to contemplate my next move and spotted a sawfly crawling through the grass, then another one. I suspect they were Poodolerus aeneus as this is a spring species that I have found at high altitude before but I haven't had time to key it yet. Even given previous experience of this species, I was still stunned to find a sawfly at altitude at this time of year, especially as it was too cold for it to fly.

The only flowering plants I had seen so far were the Hazels at the base of the mountain.

Hazel flower
Given that, and the fact that I hadn't seen a hoverfly yet this year in southern England, I really wasn't expecting to get my first by sweeping along a little stream half way up a mountain on Skye but that is what happened. It was Melangyna lasiophthalma which we went on to find at several other sites during the week.

Melangyna lasiophthalma (Photo: S. Rae - Wikipedia Commons)
An indication of the level of under recording on Skye is that our records of this species during the week more than doubled the total number of records on the island ever according to the Hoverfly Recording Scheme.

Despite checking out loads of rock faces and scree I failed to find any Purple Saxifrage, although it was good to reacquaint myself with Fir Clubmoss Huperzia selago.

Fir Clubmoss
I headed down the mountain but as Seth was still working I stopped off at a river to look for stoneflies. One Leuctra hippopus on a fencepost by the river appears to be the second Skye record but I then swept the very common planthopper Empoasca vitis from some young conifers - new to Skye.

Empoasca vitis (Photo: Tristan Bantock www.britishbugs.org.uk )
Leaving the river to head back to Uig, I had a Flying Barn Door (aka White-tailed Eagle) over the car. Back at Uig we headed down to the woods where I added 13 new species; lichens, fungi, a snail and a liverwort. 

The lichen Pyrenula macrospora showing the black lines along the boundaries between the colonies.
Perhaps the best find of the day was still to come though. Seth had told me how rare ants were on Skye. I think he said he'd only seen ants once during his 15 months on the island - fairly amazing for someone who spends so much time turning over rocks, logs, etc. Walking back down the road behind the hotel, he turned over a rock and there were some ants. I took one specimen, it's a bit tricky to interpret the key with this one but if I'm right it will not only be new to Skye but only the third record for Scotland. I await verification or correction.

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