A belated - Happy New Year!
The generally cold weather which kicked off around the 10th December, with a day’s break over Christmas/Boxing Day, carried on through January with the occasional day reaching 4-5 degrees C with a maximum of a 100C late in the month. A slight thaw on the 13th made walking along paths
|Janet and frosty breath heading home|
and tracks very dangerous. A layer of water on top of the ice beneath restricted outings. Occasional falls of snow added to a lack of things to see. Our lowest garden temperatures matched those of the local Strathspey Weather website with minus 9.6 and minus 10.60C twice between the 20th and 22nd, the frost though did create the right conditions for sunshine, with a respectable 75 hours from the weather website. Despite this amount of sun, the ground didn’t really get a chance to thaw but we did manage during one thaw to lift a few parsnips for just the second time this winter, before everything became solid again. Overall, January saw the average temperature at just 10C, the average minimum -2.20C, the average maximum 40C and the rainfall at 31mm. Brrr!
An email on the 1st informed me that the BSBI had, once again, organised a ‘plants in flower’ survey during the few days over the new year, so I started to check when out locally. Under the frosted vegetation in the village I managed to find a few daisies and a dandelion so it became obvious that to
|Shepherd's cress (Teesdalia nudicaulis)|
|Shepherd's cress seed-pods|
find more we would need a day out at the coast. The 3rd was forecast as a dry and mostly sunny day so we headed north to Findhorn and Findhorn Bay. Fortified by coffee (very good), scones and cake at the Findhorn Foundation, we made our way through the dunes towards the sea, recording cock’s-foot grass, groundsel, gorse and an odd little white plant that Janet found which looked like a scurvygrass, so photos and a tiny sample taken (thankfully) to check once home. The walk through the dunes and back along the sea-front added the following: thrift, daisy, slender thistle, ivy-leaved toadflax, sand couch (Elymus farctus), common ivy, red dead-nettle, annual meadow grass, prickly sow-thistle, dandelion and shepherd’s-purse, a total of 15 species. I thought this was quite a good list for so early in the year but when compared with other lists from the deep south it was some way behind, especially the longest list which comprised 114 flowering species! The un-named plant took a little while to confirm once home but, thankfully, the tiny sample, complete with seed-pods helped to confirm that we had found shepherd's cress (Teesdalia nudicaulis), the only UK record linked to the survey, so well-done Janet for spotting. Interestingly, our list contained 7 of the top 10 species recorded nationally.
A few days later I was tempted out for a walk, despite freezing temperatures, and headed up to the Lurg area just south of Nethy Bridge. The sun was out and views over towards the Cairngorms were excellent as I followed the path out towards the River Nethy. As I turned to head towards Lurg Farm I recognised the gent walking towards me as Sandy McCook, also from the village, and the photographer for the Press and Journal. He was heading back to his car because he had lost a piece for his top of the range camera and after a quick chat we both went our different ways. As I headed round towards the farm I could see more of the tops of the Cairngorms and the rapidly sinking sun and, using the sun I spent quite a bit of time trying to get something unusual with my wee camera
linking footprints in the snow and the mountain backdrop. Half a mile further on I met up again with Sandy who had made good progress back from the car to try and get setting sun photos over one of the wee lochs. The rescue helicopter flew by almost overhead and we watched it for a while buzzing around the Northern Corries below Cairngorm as though it was on a training exercise. Sandy’s amazing phone app showed me exactly where it was and where it was heading but with the sun getting ever lower I said I had better go just in case there was the possibility of a ‘weather watcher’ type photo. Photos of the sun and mountains looked good but a little ordinary and it was only as I was heading down towards the farmhouse that I looked back to see a nice group of lone birch trees,
|Kawser Quamer and the sunset photo on Scottish BBC weather|
backlit by the setting sun and with just a hint of the mountains in the background. More photos taken before finally heading back to the track and road to the car. Once home a couple of the photos were loaded up to the BBC Weather Watchers website and that was that. As we watched the end of the BBC national news the weather came on and there was my photo, and, a few minutes later it appeared again on the Scottish weather, a first as far as I know to get it on both weather forecasts! I wondered if Sandy was watching the same weather forecasts! Irrespective of the photos it was a brilliant afternoon’s outing and a good test for the new gloves which had cost me an arm and a leg the day before.
Over the last year I have been visiting aspen woods which were visited by two expert bryologists (moss experts) in 2003 to look for the two rare aspen linked Orthotrichum mosses (Orthotrichum obtusifolium (blunt-leaved bristle-moss) and Orthotrichum gymnostomum (aspen bristle-moss), just to check on the state of the trees and continued presence of the mosses. The rarer of the two, aspen bristle moss, was only found at three of the 36 sites surveyed with blunt-leaved bristle-moss at eight of them. The two mosses were only found growing together at one site on two trees. This is still the case at that site. On a day to test out the new gloves once again, I headed to the River Findhorn
where it was difficult crossing frozen fields due to the quantity of icy ground. The sheep at the site benefitted from additional feed brought in but must have had frozen lips, gums and tongues when eating the remains of last summers grass. I digress. On site I found the first aspen bristle-moss tree reasonably easily from the report photos taken in 2003, but it was the lichen richness that started to take over, recording what I was seeing as I wandered from aspen to aspen. In the end the outing became a lichen recording exercise because I knew what I was seeing was of huge importance, particularly when linked to the sites importance for the moss. The main lichen was lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) but with big populations of Pannaria rubiginosa and Degelia plumbea, and, for the first time for me growing on the ground, Protopannaria pezizoides. The first three of these
|Lobaria pulmonaria on aspen surrounded by masses of|
Pannaria rubiginosa, a rare sight
|Masses of Degelia plumbea and Pannaria rubiginosa|
lichens have their main populations in the west of Scotland, so to find many of the aspens at this location supporting big populations, was important. With lots of aspens to check and a long walk back to the car I got my timing badly wrong and it had gone dark by the time I reached the car. I was a bit worried knowing that Janet was aware I was heading to the River Findhorn and I was even more worried when I found my phone had no battery. Arriving home at quarter to six was timely, “Six o clock and I was going to phone the police!” was the greeting I got when arriving home. The following week I bought a new phone with long battery life guaranteed. As I left the river I realised from the map from the moss report that there was more aspen woodland a little further up river and that some of the trees there had lots of small cushions of the rarer moss. Late in the month Janet headed south to stay with her mum for a week whilst brother Alan was away and, leaving full details
|Degelia plumbea (main lichen with brown apothecia) and|
the black dots of the parasite Toninia plumbina
|Cutting open one of the Toninia plumbina apothecia produced|
an asci (top photo) with 8 ascospores with a single one shown in the
bottom photo. x1000 in oil
at the house as to where I was heading, I went back to the River Findhorn. Once again, the aspens produced the lichen goods with the same lichens as the earlier visit but adding lots of Lobaria scrobiculata populations, Nephroma laevigatum, Peltigera britannica, Peltigera collina, the crust lichen Parmeliella triptophylla and lots more Degelia plumbea but some populations with the black dots of the parasite Toninia plumbina a rare species and something I’d only seen once before. As I made my way further up river to another group of aspens I could see in the distance there was a heavy sleat/hail shower arriving but I could see that these aspens didn’t have the masses of lichens like the trees a few hundred metres down-river, something I see quite a bit. Not sure if this is linked
|Hail shower over a fast flowing River Findhorn|
to the aspen clone, quite often all the trees in one group might have originated from the same parents via the root suckers, or is it the bark chemistry, perhaps something to check if these finds develop into more work via the experts. The first tree though produced a pleasant surprise, cushions of the rare aspen bristle moss and I began to wonder if this might be a new site. To ensure I had lots of details I set the camera up to take a timer photo and pressing the button, ran to the tree to point to where I could see the moss. Once home a photo from the aspen survey report showed exactly the same tree with markers showing the mosses location and taken from just about the same angle. Next time, but
|Aspen bristle moss (Orthotrichum gymnostomum) top and|
me pointing to location on aspen
at least I’d remembered what the moss looked like. I checked the last of the aspens in this group and hopped over the fence to start to head back to the car but as I walked along the edge of the field I could see more young aspens on the edge of a spruce wood along with some quite old hazels, just time to check. The aspens and hazels supported small populations of some of the lichens seen earlier but Nephroma parile was an addition along with a nice wee bracket fungus on some dead hazel
|Plicatura crispa fungus on dead hazel branch|
branches, Plicatura crispa. The first leaves of primroses were also starting to appear as were the foxgloves. Once home Janet rang to ask what I had had for dinner from the collection of tasty items she had prepared and left in the freezer, “beef curry”, “Was it too hot and did you have the rice with it?”. “No it was just right and I had lettuce and tomatoes with it”. There was a muffled ‘yuk’ at the end of the phone but I was being economical and using up what was in the fridge. And, the importance of this bit of the Findhorn doesn’t end here, but more about that next month.
There was also progress with the fence for the new aspen wood mentioned in the last blog. Early in January I saw a 4x4 with trailer loaded with round fence posts pass the house and I wondered if this might be for my fence, but, having asked Davie to let me know when he was going to do the work I thought this must be for something else. Three days later the same 4x4 drove past the house going
|Fence with new deer posts (top) and the view from the fence (bottom)|
back into the village followed by a tractor with post basher attached, and again I began to wonder, but with no phone call to say it was done, I wasn’t sure. Next day I drove up into the forest (Abernethy) and walked to the fence site and was very pleased to see that all the deer fence posts had been installed (adding height to the smaller stock fence) and that it was now down to me to get the wires attached. A few days later and I was in Inverness buying the fence wire, staples and tighteners (radisseurs) and in a moment of madness on the way back decided to drive out to the site and hump all the materials up the hill to the fence – it used to be easy when you were in your 20-30s! Whilst Janet was at her mums I spent two days on site rolling out the wires and stapling them in place but then the snow arrived so everything continued into February. I also needed to find the wire tightening ‘monkeys’ in the RSPB workshop and some additional equipment to support a couple of the corner posts so watch this space.
A day in Fochabers produced a couple of nice surprises. We parked in the town and decided to walk out to Gordon Castle and just as we left the car I heard a couple of waxwings, my first of the winter. We decided to go for our lunch at the castle café and once back at the car head off to see if we could re-find them. Walking back down the drive I spotted some nice stands of Norway spruce so just had to check if there were any recently fallen cones. Nothing fell out when I tapped the first dozen or so and as I was exiting the second wood I thought any chance of finding the spruce cone beetle (Gastrodes abietum) were receding fast, particularly as Janet was disappearing off round the next
|Spruce cone beetle top and common flower bug (Anthocoris nemorum)|
bottom found together once again in the same spruce cone
corner on the track. One cone when tapped started to drop lots of springtails and usually this is a good sign and sure enough, out popped the beetle – a first for Morayshire. Eventually we got back to the car and despite a fairly methodical walk round various streets/roads we couldn’t re-find the waxwings so a very disappointing waxwing winter this year compared to last. With a bit of time to spare we headed out to Spey Bay but with a strong, cold wind blowing there was just time for a quick scan of the bay and to watch lots of gulls diving into the water where fresh water from the river runs into the sea and wondering what fish or other food might have been there in abundance. Time for
|Spey Bay gulls|
home. Another visit to the coast found the riverside paths by the river at Nairn just as frozen as the ones at home. Interestingly, some of the plants found flowering a few days earlier at Findhorn were also in flower at Nairn but too late to add to the list. The water around the harbour was well frozen despite the power of the sun and after last year’s experience with the brent geese we wondered if they were around again this year. As we walked along the sand and rocks we could see the first of the geese in the distance despite the passage of regular walkers and dogs, and, with lots of ice between beach and walkway we had to walk slowly past where the birds were feeding. From their actions
|Nairn Brent geese and close up photographer|
most seemed to be feeding on seaweed attached to the rocks and so long as we walked slowly they didn’t take off. Despite only having the small Panasonic Lumix camera lots of decent photos were taken and from several of them it was possible to get details of the leg rings three of the 48 geese were carrying. The colour rings on the birds left legs were the same colour as those seen last year (yellow with a black X) so I assume they were attached by the Highland Ringing Group, but I’ve yet to get any details back as to when or where the birds were ringed.
On the occasional milder day, I’ve started checking the fence posts close to the River Spey for stoneflies, particularly for the first northern February red (Brachyptera putata). The first two outing failed to find any but the last one on 27 January found the first one to be seen in 2018 by the Spey at Boat of Garten. Whilst checking a fence line near Grantown on Spey there were no stoneflies but a small weevil was on the top of one of them and, being next to aspen trees I wondered if this was the
|Dorytomus tremulae weevil with distinctive 'spur' on front leg|
same rare one found a couple of years ago near Newtonmore. Photos were sent to expert Stephen who asked if I had a decent photo that showed the beetles legs, accurate identification depending on a protrusion on the internal face of the front tibia. Having deleted most of the poor photos I had to go into the recycle bin to see if there was one and sure enough, I had taken enough to ensure one had a view of the front legs. Without a body (which I wasn’t happy to take) Stephen couldn’t be 100% but
|Toothed jelly fungus - once again!|
most likely this was another sighting of the rarely seen Dorytomus tremulae. The toothed jelly fungus (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum) kept up its appearance again this month, with two more sightings, the last one appearing in numbers on an old sawdust pile at the ex-Forest Lodge Sawmill. When I found these, I wasn’t too sure it was this fungus, until I turned one over, and there were the ‘jelly’ teeth hanging down.
A meeting with my ex-boss at RSPB but now Head of Conservation at the Cairngorms National Park early in January left me with a bit of work to do involving orchids and waxcap fungi. Several times I have now tried to make a case for the Flowerfield orchid site being recognised as nationally important and someone taking up the case to ensure protection or designation. With there now being no possibility of the site being given SSSI status Scottish Natural Heritage is likely to keep a watching brief over it, so it will be down to the CNPA to work with owners etc to ensure its future should any threats arise. So, I’ve been asked to draw up details of how important the Flowerfield orchid populations are in a Park, Scotland and UK context, with particular attention being given to the lesser butterfly and small white orchids. A few hours have been spent so far drawing together all the records re locations and dates and these will be put into a short paper to answer this request. The waxcap details will be much more difficult to assemble and this will take well into February to try and sort and present. I just hope all the effort is worth it and we manage to arrive at a positive outcome for these key species within the Park.
The first great spotted woodpecker was heard drumming on the 23rd and a few birds started singing on 26th. As I type we have snowdrops in flower and bright splashes of yellow winter aconites. The birds are singing and we are, thankfully, heading back into another breeding and growing season.
That’s it for another month, enjoyed the read.
Stewart and Janet
BSBI New Year Plan Hunt
Firwood Cottage blogspot February re aspen mosses checks
Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group
Mapmate recording database
Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI)
BSBI – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland
BBC Weather Watchers
|Sparrowhawks continue as regular garden visitors with 2 appearing|
during the RSPB Garden Bird Count on the 28th.
|Sorry Janet, I didn't realise it was quite so late|
Photos © Stewart Taylor