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.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Fried Mars Bars

My last full day on Skye and the county botanical recorder was coming over from Raasay to show me some of the interesting plants that can be found at this time of year. Not only that but he did all the driving as well. What thoroughly nice people naturalists are (apart from birders obviously). After a quick diversion to check out a report of American Skunk-cabbage Lysichiton americanus which sadly turned out to be correct, we headed out to Oisgill Bay.

The first task was to look for Carline Thistle Carlina vulgaris which had been reported in the area but not seen for many years. As we worked our way towards the reported area the ground got steeper and steeper and eventually it got to the point where I decided that wellies, wet ground and my fear of heights dictated that a search of the scree lower down for Wood-sorrel Oxalis acetosella (which had never been recorded in this 10km square) was in order. It wasn't long before Seth and Stephen returned, having been unsuccessful. I was a bit concerned that they had aborted their search early because I had wimped out, when I was actually quite happy doing what I was doing. It was only when we moved round to the other side of the bay that the reason for their early reappearance became apparent.

Slightly tricky ground for searching for Carline Thistle
The terrain on the other side of the bay was fortunately somewhat easier and Stephen took us to an area of boulders where Downy Currant Ribes spicatum bushes were able to grow away from the attentions of the resident sheep. They weren't exactly looking their best ......

Downy Currant asleep
Shortly after, he pointed out Roseroot Sedum rosea which was similarly 'resting' but did at least give a vague indication of how it acquired its name.

I look forward to returning at some point in the future to see these plants looking a bit more impressive. It didn't take long though before Stephen called us over to the species I was really looking for.

Purple Saxifrage Saxifraga oppositifolia
Purple Saxifrage is unlikely to be flowering at times when I would normally visit Scotland so it would have been frustrating if I had returned without using this opportunity to see it. This was undoubtedly my highlight of the day but I suspect that Stephen's highlight came as we walked back to the car, when Seth spotted some Common Duckweed Lemna minor in a trickle of water. Apparently this is quite a scarce plant on Skye.

We headed off to a stream just outside Dunvegan, I can't remember if we were looking for something in particular but it gave me an opportunity to look for stoneflies. A search under the bridge produced an exuviae of Perlodes mortoni - a valid record but frustrating as it would have been a new species for me. Having spent a while looking round the site, we came to leave and Seth spotted something crawling up Stephen's cheek - Perlodes mortoni!

Male Perlodes mortoni (Photo taken after it was removed from Stephen's cheek)
The males are flightless and this is the main reason why it is now considered a separate species from the continental one P. microcephala and therefore a UK endemic.

Our final stop was at a quarry just outside Dunvegan which had been used as something of a dumping ground. At the entrance Seth turned over some dumped material to reveal something that he got very excited about.

What is this rather gross thing? It is a New Zealand Flatworm Arthurdendyus triangulatus. You may have heard of it as there was a lot of media attention regarding this species a few years ago. As its name suggests, it is a non-native species and it is also a predator of earthworms. The media line when it became established in the wild in Britain was that it would 'wipe out' native earthworms, causing massive knock-on problems with things like soil fertility, and loss of species like thrushes which feed on earthworms. The media reaction obviously had an effect on some people, apparently there is someone on Skye who has killed over 30,000 New Zealand Flatworms! I am sceptical. We keep on hearing this sort of hype (e.g. Harlequin Ladybird) and I'm afraid that the little boys are crying wolf too often for my liking. An interesting article in the latest BSBI News showed that the impact of non-native plants on rare native species was much lower than a number of other factors, including invasive native species such as bramble.

The quarry held a number of alien (dumped) plants, including a couple which had evaded identification thus far. We also saw a couple of Field Voles Microtus agrestis. They're huge, I reckon they've been on the fried Mars Bars. On the way out I saw my second ever Water Cricket Velia caprai in a horribly polluted puddle, somewhat ruining my image that they inhabit the backwaters of pristine mountain streams.

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