July was a month dominated by our pine martens: mum plus two kits, and their regular visits to the garden. Janet had been leaving a few peanuts out each evening on the deck by the windowed garden doors and the ‘gang’ arrived to grab some food there before heading over to the two squirrel feeders by the chalet. The young martens were obviously in the early stages of learning how to forage and soon learnt that by lifting the squirrel feeder lid there were lots of peanuts to be had. However, mum wasn’t too happy when the youngsters sat on top of the lid whilst she tried to feed, and as with previous years, the youngsters managed to tumble from the trellis but somehow grabbed a-hold of the golden hop leaves and stems before hitting the ground. We also became aware of one young marten
making a constant ‘squeaking’ sound and seeming more interested in playing and tumbling around rather than concentrating on feeding. This went on for the whole month and we began to wonder if there was something wrong with it. Via a series of photos, I could see one youngster seemed to have something wrong with its eyes which, when closed, seemed slightly swollen. In addition to the family we also seemed to be getting visits from at least one more adult which fed exclusively in the squirrel feeders. As the days progressed it was obvious that the family weren’t too bothered about us moving about in the house when feeding on the garden deck and over time Janet quite happily watched the group tucking in to the peanuts and raisins with the house door open. Some nights one
or two hedgehogs were also feeding on the lawn as the martens were feeding on the deck and on one evening an inquisitive kit walked across the lawn to see the hedgehog which promptly rolled itself into a ball. At no time was there any attempt to attack or see off the hedgehogs. When our grandsons visited for an over- night stay they were able to sit by the doors and watch the martens and when Laura’s cat came to stay for a couple of weeks, cat and marten family seemed quite happy to co-exist despite the inquisitive cat getting up close to see which other animal was sharing its garden. By late in the month the marten group had reduced to mum and the squeaking youngster which made us more certain that there was something not quite right, particularly when it still seemed more interested in play-fighting with mum rather than tucking into the food. By the end of July, the visits had just about ended so hopefully all the family is now living independently of each other.
Completing the wider countryside butterfly surveys have been a bit of a test this year with the lack of regular days of sunshine. A survey on the 8th had to be called off half-way as the sun disappeared but not before a speckled wood had been seen, confirming a new location becoming established following a sighting in 2016. Slowly, this butterfly is moving inland from the coast. A riband wave
|Riband wave - (Idaea aversatawas)|
|Choke fungus (Epichloe baconii)|
moth (Idaea aversatawas) was also seen as was another location for the choke fungus on Agrostis grass stems - Epichloë baconii, so not a bad set of records despite the weather. The survey was completed on the 13th but in less than ideal conditions with green-veined white (2) and ringlet (10) being the butterflies seen. With sunny skies and warmer conditions arriving on the 18th I just had to do the survey again and though there were less g-v white’s (1), ringlets increased (29) and common blue (1) and small heath (1) were additions. It was the confirmation of speckled wood once again that was the most satisfying with 1 in the first section but with 3 together in section 5 confirming the
butterfly really is becoming established. The butterfly survey follows the same route as my BTO breeding bird survey where a 1km OS map square is split into 10 recording sections, each 100 metres in length, the first 4 being in commercial forestry followed by a nice 100m section of bog, before crossing the 1 km square to completing the second 5 sections along a minor road with a mix of farmland and woodland habitats. With the thermometer showing a temperature of around 270C, this was one of the better weather days for looking for butterflies. However, the days recording effort wasn’t complete and after a friend reporting good numbers of helleborine orchids at a known site near Tomintoul, I hopped in the car for an additional evening outing. The first photos I have for this site
|Dark-red helleborine, group and close up|
are from 1984 when the mix of broad-leaved and dark-red helleborines were much higher, the reduction probably being linked to pollution from an adjacent road combined with past verge cutting and an increase in the local rabbit population going off the number of flower-spikes currently being nibbled. However, it was nice to find eight dark-red helleborines (x9 being the highest recent count) along with a good number of broad-leaved. In an adjacent woodland, the choke fungus Epichloë typhina on a stem of cock’s-foot grass (Dactylis glomerate) was a first for me in this area. It is a bit difficult to know whether this is new to the area or not because over recent years this fungus has been ‘recorded’ but when checking the records the grass species is not always correct. The most up to date guide is as follows:
Epichloë baconii on Agrostis capillaris and A. stolonifera
Epichloë bromicola on Bromus erectus
Epichloë clarkia on Holcus lanatus and H. mollis
Epichloë festucae on Festuca rubra
Epichloë sylvatica on Brachypodium sylvaticum
Epichloë typhina on Anthoxanthum odoratum, Dactylis glomerata, Deschampsia caespitosa, Phleum bertolonii, P. pratense and Poa spp
All a bit complicated but the above list was created by B. M. Spooner & S. L. Kemp after checking many of the species in the RBG Kew collection.
The major pastime for July has been daily weekday visits to Raigmore for my radiotherapy treatment, departing home at 7.45am, returning by about 11 – 11.30am. Meeting the mix of folk going through the same procedure has been an interesting experience with John all the way from Stornaway, Christine and Sandra from almost across the road from the hospital, Connor with his amazing tales
|Raigmore Hospital from A9|
and broad Irish accent and Alison who had to delay her bike ride from Land’s End to John-O-Groats to undergo the treatment to mention but a few. Throughout the month the Radiotherapy staff have been brilliant, always happy and encouraging but a little mystified by my “where are you off to today” replies of orchid counting, butterfly survey and looking for fungi! When I asked Jane if it
|Treatment underway and the impressive '£2m machine'|
would be okay to take a photo of the ‘linear accelerator’ treatment machine, she offered to take the photo of machine complete with yours truly in situ and with my modesty intact! However, the daily visits to the hospital started to develop into a typical Taylor recording event. To ensure the body was in the right state loo-wise, when going into the waiting room, I got to the hospital by 9am to enable time for a walk round the hospital grounds for about 40-45 minutes. On the first walks, I saw plants that were quite different to my home area so the notebook came out and wee lists started to develop along with the occasional plant sample heading back down the road to be properly identified. After a couple of days of casual recording I changed to systematic recording complete with rucksack and
|Fumaria muralis top left and Fumaria officinalis top right|
confirmed by flower length F. muralis 12mm and F. officinalis 6-8mm.
specimen bags and GPS for accurate location details for those more unusual plants. With so much land linked to roads and buildings lists of disturbed ground species grew but was I dealing with common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) or common ramping-fumitory (Fumaria muralis), flower size turned out to be the key ID factor. Marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) I realised had leaves without stems whilst its commoner relative hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) had leaves with stems. A very abundant plant by a small burn to the east of the main building looked familiar, one of the umbellifers, but could this be the one that made me feel ill after handling it whilst on holiday in South Uist – hemlock water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata)? It sure was, so one to remain quiet about
when chatting to hospital staff! The same water body was also home to a row of very healthy looking elm trees along with the best mix of plants from the hospital grounds, tutsan, tansy, white campion, purple toadflax and wood avens, to mention just a few. An ID query with Vice County Recorder Ian alerted me to an old record for round-leaved cranesbill (Geranium rotundifolium), a plant he had seen a few years earlier. So, every cranesbill was checked carefully but all I found initially was doves-foot cranesbill. Ian had a good grid reference for the last find location and a careful search of the general location confirmed that the plant was still there, in a very non-descript location by a tarred path! This is its only location in the north of Scotland. Day by day the list grew and many days saw me arriving home with a few plants to check. A couple of plants had fungi growing on them and these were identified and a single lichen made it to my notebook – Peltigera didactyla in gravel around a road sign. By the middle of the last week of visits I was finding it difficult to find more plants that I was
|All gone. Poppy flower and seed-head remains bottom photo.|
confident in identifying and recording really did come to an end when, on the 28th, the ground staff emerged with their strimmers and lawn mowers and cut down everything growing on level ground leaving heaps of grass some of which was coloured with the remains of purple fumitory and red poppies! Phew, wasn’t I lucky and my list of 93 plant species wouldn’t have been possible if my treatment had been a few weeks later. By the 31st of July I was almost at the end of my treatment,
with just a few more visits to make. My walk round the grounds that day found swallows all around a muddy pool collecting nest material and in the clover-rich grassland around the Heli-pad bees were busy visiting the flowers. Hopefully, this area would be spared the mowers. Once home I printed off a card and photo to assemble as a thank you card for the staff for the last visit.
Travelling the A9 road on a daily basis you start to realise the heavy casualty rate caused by passing traffic. One stretch of road, just two lanes but with a very wide verge on one side, was home to a breeding pair of oystercatchers with recently hatched chicks seen during my first trips north. Slowly and inevitably most of the family ended up dead with decaying bodies lying in the gutter for the duration of my trips north. Roe deer were regular casualties along with the odd hedgehog and, over the weeks three dead badgers were seen. I was very surprised one day to see a gang of about ten greylag geese feeding on a verge but all having disappeared the next day apart from a dead one lying by the road. There were occasional rabbits and, near the high-point of Slochd Summit, an occasional mountain hare. Small birds were occasionals as was a single red squirrel. Common gulls made the most of some of this free food but not without one or two not taking off quickly enough. Verge cutting also took place but at some horrendous cost; a single machine on or close to the verge with a convoy of at least three wagons all warning of ‘verge cutting ahead’!
In early July, I used my visit to Inverness to see how the only local population of small cow-wheat (Melampyrum sylvaticum) was getting on. Since my last visit in June 2011 the adjacent plantation of exotic conifers had been clear-felled but some of the tree stumps were covered with climbing corydalis (Ceratocapnos claviculata) and on the root-plate of a wind-blown tree was a clump of trailing St John's-wort (Ceratocapnos claviculata) a plant I don’t see too often near to home. A deer fence had also been installed but once over it I headed over boggy ground to a drier knoll where the
cow-wheat was still growing. The small, egg-yolk yellow flowers (free-range yellow of course!) identifies the plant from its widespread cousin, common cow-wheat, and before lying down to take a few photos a quick count arrived at just over one-hundred flower spikes. Little seemed to have changed, the number of flower spikes were about the same, the tree cover was similar and the flowers covered no more than a couple of square metres, a slightly vulnerable population. Reading the SNH Species Action Framework (SAF) paper (link at end of blog) I realised the plant relies to a degree, on wood ants which help to spread the seeds about and that quite a bit of work had been done on monitoring populations and seed had been collected to try and establish new populations in new areas. Having wandered around the site I was aware that there wasn’t an ant nest to be seen, so little
|Trailing St John's-wort|
chance of the plant expanding its population. In addition, the plant is an annual, relying on good seed production each year to ensure the following year’s population. Vulnerable indeed! Andy Scobie, one of the authors of the SAF paper, was also helping me with the Flowerfield orchid count for a few years and when I asked him about the ants and seeds he confirmed that few of the sites he had visited had good populations of wood ants. If I wanted to see the unusual seeds, I would need to re-visit the plants in early to mid-August, just at the time the seed are dropping from the plants.
Another outing saw me heading off to count the bog orchids I’d found at a new site a few years ago, a good boggy area with usually a few other things of interest. Large heath butterflies were the first interesting finds and a Formica exsecta ant nest turned out to be the same one recorded from exactly the same location many years ago. As I stopped to record stuff I noticed a small moth resting on my
|The 'rucksack moth'|
|Brown china-mark moth|
rucksack, irrespective of whether it was on my back or not. It stayed with me for most of the afternoon and turned out to be Lozotaenia forsterana one of the largest of the Tortricid (micro) moths. Another moth also made itself known in quite an obvious way by resting on the water surface of peaty pools. This was the brown china-mark (Elophila nymphaeata) a moth I had seen in this area
|Bog orchids top and Cruet collar-moss bottom|
previously and they are quite unusual in that their larvae are entirely aquatic, feeding on water plants. The bog orchids didn’t disappoint and between flower-less bulbils and flowering spikes a count of 76 was made. Whilst carefully moving around the orchid site I also spotted an unusual moss growing within a patch of sphagnum - cruet collar-moss (Splachnum ampullaceum) so called because of the unusual swollen neck of the capsules. Although I didn’t see any the moss grows on animal dung in boggy areas and as I wandered around more of the bog I found a second cushion.
Just as everything was kicking off about the possibility of chlorinated chicken from the USA making its way to the UK after Brexit, I read an interesting article in The Times (22 July 2017) reinforcing why I don’t eat farmed salmon. I made this decision several years ago when on holiday in North Uist and saw an enormous boat, laden with huge bags of food for feeding the salmon being reared in a farm just off shore – fish being fed to fish, in huge amounts. I was also aware of the damage these farms are having on the native wild salmon populations and to sea-life and loch-life in the areas where they are located. The article appeared at about the same time as one of the outdoor TV programmes showed a fish farm in action and salmon being hovered up and spewed out of a pipe into a waiting boat. Little did I know what else takes place in the salmon rearing process. One of the fish farms mentioned in the article had seen production fall for the first time in years due to the combined effects of flesh-eating parasites, algae and amoebas. At this farm, a Norwegian well boat had just hosed up 16,000 fish at the end of a two year long growing cycle from egg to plate. The next bit of the article though was the most worrying. “By the time the adult fish were on board the Norwegian well boat they had been doused in hydrogen peroxide and flushed through tanks of fresh water to
|Lochmaddy in North Uist with fish farm just off shore|
treat amoebic gill disease. Their food had been spiked with a chemical known as Slice and they had been bathed in pesticide to rid them of sea lice which can eat them alive. At a farm in Loch Leven wrasse and lumpfish are put in the pens to eat lice off the salmon.” At the same time articles appeared in the press and on TV about the over exploitation of the wild wrasse populations to be shipped off to fish farms to try and tackle the sea lice problem. The scale of this exploitation was made clear on a TV news item on 21 June 2017, “BBC Scotland understands that about three million wrasse are needed to support the 60 million salmon produced in Scotland, but only about 600,000 come from [wrasse rearing] farms. The rest are caught in creels and transported to fish farms.” A few additional bits from The Times also gave the following information. “Across Scotland last year the average weight of fish fell from 5.6kg to 5.2kg because the longer they were left to grow at sea the more lice levels increased and other diseases inhibited growth. Mortality rates also doubled from 7% in 2014 to 14% in 2016. According to Salmon and Trout Conservation UK about 20 million fish died on farms in 2015 and last year.” And the fish pumped into the well boat? They made their way to the mainland in chilled tanks, were pumped off to be taken to the slaughterhouse and then to a factory to be smoked, sliced and packed ready for the shops. No thanks.
When doing the butterfly orchid count in Tulloch in late June I noticed the keeled garlic plants were again growing well and when farm owner James said the ‘other’ group of plants was doing even better this year, I thought I had better have a look. My count of 70 plants at the first site was a bit low and just on 100 were counted. A new site by the cattle pen produced another 70 and the site close to
|Dasineura aperines gall in centre of a cleavers seed-head|
|Dasineura aperines gall distribution map|
the sheds had an amazing 470 giving a total of 645– quite a sight. Making my way between locations a fungus on some willow leaves caught my eye but looking down the rampant stems of cleavers/goose grass looked like they had been attacked by something so time for a few photos and a small sample to take home to check. The Plant Galls book led me to a gall, caused by a wee midge, called Dasineura aperines, something I’d not seen before and with few records in the UK. In the same area, there is also hugely important progress to report – we have a contractor lined up to modify the stock fence round one of the aspen stands to deer height. Despite lots of toing and froing Davie and son Danny are all set to undertake this work early next month following a site visit at the end of July.
Late in the month there was a Highland Biological Recording Group outing to the River Dulnain near Carrbridge. It was well attended and had a good cross-section of expertise to record species of interest as we progressed along the Sustrans Route 7 from the road to the river. Early on a gall on the leaves of several young birches by the track was something I’d not seen before containing the larvae
|Anisostephus betulinus galls on birch leaf|
|The exquisite one-flowered wintergreen|
of the gall midge Anisostephus betulinus. On the river shingle tiny plants of eyebright were covered in an orange fungus which, when checked once home, turned out to be the same one that infects colt’s-foot leaves as well as Scots pine needles - Coleosporium tussilaginis. Golden ringed dragonfly was also seen by the river. I also made a return visit to the one-flowered wintergreen site near Grantown just to get my head around just how many plants were popping up all around the ex-rhododendron sites. There were certainly hundreds of basal leaved rosettes and every so often small groups of flower stems with the distinctive hanging single white flower, hence its Latin name Moneses uniflora. This will be an interesting site to watch over the coming years.
So, despite the mornings being taken up for 20 days of this month with drives up and down the A9 a few outings were also possible but perhaps the inquisitive wee moth was wondering why there was an important loo roll in my rucksack!
That's it for another month, enjoy the read
Stewart and Janet
Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey – Butterfly Conservation
Small cow-wheat species framework document
Salmon and Trout Conservation UK
Cruet Collar-moss (Splachnum ampullaceum)
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of the British Isles
Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG)
|Gassy webcap (Cortinarius traganus)|
|The large hoverfly bee-mimic Volucella bombylans|
Photos © Stewart Taylor