Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Holey Lenticels, Batman!

Threw back the curtains to be greeted with a snowy vista, which was a bit of a shock seeing as I didn't even know we were due snow today. Here's the view from an upstairs window looking out across the rear of the hotel and the bay beyond. Not too shabby, I've certainly endured worse (yes Tolworth Broadway, I'm talking to you...)

Beeee-aaa-uuuutiful - this makes me happy! 
Anyway, I've only managed one day off work out of the last sixteen. Things seemed blissfully quiet, so I scurried away at 2pm for some "me time". I managed a whole thirty minutes before having to head back to show the plumbers around again. Pfffft. Luckily, during that half an hour, I successfully found something I've recently been looking for, a fungus that grows on the bark of birches. I only learnt of its existence a few weeks ago, though apparently it's dirt common. Even so, I doubt I'd have ever self-found this particular species. It's hardly a stunner!

Bark of a Downy Birch twig
Apologies for the rather crappy image, I should have tried this whilst still outdoors. Anyway, so this is what a Downy Birch twig looks like. This particular twig is about 15mm diameter. See the big, horizontal bands? They're called lenticel grooves. And the smaller, pale-rimmed ovoid bumps are lenticels. I think that's right? Lenticels are a feature of Betula (birches), find a twig/branch/trunk and have a look. In Britain we have Silver Birch, Downy Birch and their hybrid. There are also various non-native birches kicking around in nurseries/gardens and local councils sometimes use these in amenity plantings. A few may become established in time, if they haven't already. Surprisingly (to me), the only naturally occurring birch here on Skye is Downy Birch.

A close (10x handlens) inspection of these lenticels allowed me to find the target of my search, the hugely underwhelming Pseudovalsa lanciformis. It is barely worth scrolling down any further, but seeing as I went to the effort to locate some, you may as well at least glance at it

Woo-hoo, yeehaw baby! (umm, yeah.....righty-ho.....)
Note that these lenticels are somewhat distorted and have blackish circular holes in them. I know, I did warn you! What you're looking at are the remains of the fungal perithecia erupting through the lenticel. To quote direct from Ellis & Ellis

Pseudovalsa lanciformis (Fr.)Ces. & de Not.
Perithecia 0.5mm diameter, in groups of up to 10 immersed in dark brown to black stromata with narrow elongated discs appearing through transverse slits in bark. Common on attached twigs and small branches

So the 'holes' are the basal parts of the fungus packed into the lenticels. The fruiting bodies have fallen off/died, else I'd show you a pic of the spores. This year's fruiting bodies should be up in a few more weeks time, but honestly - don't hold your breath. They're just greyish/blackish blobs that protrude from the surface a tad. Pretty shite, if I'm honest. I'm glad to have encountered it, another fragment of natural history knowledge has been stored away, but it's never going to make sexy centrefold in the Mycologist Monthly, or whatever the equivalent may be. Ali managed a nice pic of the spores on his 1KSQ post, better than my efforts for sure. It's entirely thanks to Ali that I even heard about this fungus (cheers, chap!)

I managed to sneak away again after work, though it was almost dark by then. The Iceland Gull was present again, there are quite a few of them dotted around the Western Isles at the moment, very nice after my complete blank last winter.

Final image is of a really weird cloud, looks as though it's having a bit of a bad hair day!

Music time again. For no reason other than they've both just autoplayed on my YouTube channel, I give you tonight's offerings. As always, enjoy! 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Someone Call a Plumber!

Today was easily the most stunningly beautiful day of the year so far. Sharp frost over the undergrowth, wall to wall sunshine in a clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. It's times like this I'm so glad I live where I do. The air is pure, the noise of birdcalls and the occasional sheep is pretty much all there is to it. Amazing.

Unfortunately for me, I spent the whole of this wondrous day crawling around in loftspaces, peering under floorboards and into voids between walls in what has become a seemingly never-ending quest to track down an elusive leak in the central heating system. The biggest problem is that the building has been extended who knows how many times and nobody has a clear idea quite where the old plumbing runs, nevermind the newer stuff. Plumbers are back in again tomorrow, at least I've helped narrow down the search area.

Gotta love a random 3" nail banged through the floorboards....

Between the original external wall (now an internal wall) and the new wall. Bit of a tight squeeze!

Hope nobody wants through that door in a hurry...
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I've categorically discovered a great many places where the leak isn't (good job we've got a whole five days before re-opening to the public...)

By the time I finished failing to find the leak it was getting dark. I scrambled up the hill and faced west towards the open sea

Despite missing most the day, this makes me happy
Right, I'm in a mood for daft and meaningless music that'll get my head a-bobbing. Luckily, I know just the fella....enjoy! 

Friday, 2 February 2018

Dead-nettle Surprise

Yesterday, whilst en route to the shop for vino, I spied what looked to be a single Red Dead-nettle plant flowering in a garden border. Hmmm, I couldn't recall ever seeing dead-nettles before in the square, or anywhere else on Skye for that matter. Could it actually be a 'decent' plant to find up here? Surely not. Anyway, I emailed the vice county BSBI Recorder who immediately wanted to know if I'd ruled out Northern Dead-nettle, Cut-leaved Dead-nettle and even Henbit Dead-nettle. Um...I decided I needed to go back and take a pic!

Today the weather was lovely; hardly any wind with not a sniff of rain, sleet or snow. There was even a great big bright yellow thing in the sky, possibly a yeartick in itself! I've had to pick up an extra day at work tomorrow (somebody needs to let the contractors in and babysit them whilst here). So, at 1pm I thought buggerit - I'm off down the beach! I'll more than make up for the lost hours tomorrow. 

First the Red Dead-nettle. I leaned as far over the garden wall as I could and managed three crappy shots, all massively over-exposed. Here's the best one, which I've adjusted so that you no longer need sunglasses to view it. 

Bog standard Red Dead-nettle Lamium purpureum, I reckon. 
Happily the BSBI Recorder agrees. This constitutes the first ever record of Red Dead-nettle from my monad. An adjacent square has an earlier record though. From 1968 - that's FIFTY YEARS AGO!!!! Incredible how this "common urban weed" (as it was where I lived in London) is such a good plant up here. I bet it's more widespread than suspected, maybe the backstreets of Portree would be the place to check, or around the dump maybe? 

Down at the beach I spied a very distant immature Iceland Gull, waaaay out at the water's edge. The tide really was pretty darn far out today, I should have taken a pic, but I was too busy lifting stones for starfish and crabs and other cool goodies to think about that. 

Disappointingly, the only starfish I saw was fast disappearing down the neck of a Herring Gull, not my best views ever. No sea slugs, the only anemones were Beadlet Anemones. The only fish were a Shore Rockling and about ten Butterfish (including three with eggs!) and the only crabs were Green Shore Crabs. A few pics for you

Lots and lots and lots of Dog Whelk Nucella lapillus eggs on the undersides of rocks
Mystery chiton species. All of my chitons are mystery species. I may have to address this one day soon.
No idea!!! Possibly a Serpula, I need to drag one out and key it through. Cool tube though, whatever it is
Final pic is something I've seen here loads of times, yet never really paid much attention to. It's common as muck on both the undersides and lowersides of many rocks at the low tide mark

Spirobranchus lamarcki - a very common tubeworm
I assumed that this was going to be Spirobranchus triqueter, which I've seen before. But clearly these tubes have the raised ridge running along the midline of the tube plus a ridge running along each shoulder of the tube, you can see this quite well on the uppermost, large tube in the image. These extra ridges mark this species as Spirobranchus lamarcki, which is a new one for me - happy days! It tends to occur in shallower water than S.triqueter, though both are common around the coasts of Skye. 

I think I need to spend a (warmer!) day studying these animals, undoubtedly there are several other species present and it would be nice to compile a photo gallery of each. Let's face it, they aren't exactly hugely mobile so I should do alright with the camera set up in macro mode. I'll have to find some that are already submerged and grab images of the animals themselves, not just the calcified tubes. 

At the end of today, I'm at 325 species for the square this year. Ali is really storming ahead on the 1000 in a 1KSQ Challenge, he's on 341 already and has 500 in his sights for his end of Feb total. Totally bonkers, and somehow he blames me! Ha, we shall see. I doubt I'll top 400 by end of February, I shall tell you why later...

Nearly forgot - music! What do you fancy tonight? Really??? Tough, you can have this instead. Enjoy!

Far better than the original (I don't like AC/DC - never have. Live with it...)

AMAZING band, I need to start listening to these guys again! 

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Life and Death on a Hill

Managed another couple of hours out on the hills before scurrying back to work again, my quest to attain 334 (or 337) species this month draws to a close, but I still have my work cut out. No more spare time during daylight hours until February, currently I'm on 315 species with a small backlog of stuff (mosses, mainly) in pots. It's gonna be tight...very tight indeed!

The weather forecast was for torrential rains and wind all day today, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the forecast had changed overnight to moderate breezes and no rain until mid-afternoon. Right, back to it, I headed up the hill and to the highest point of the square to see what I could find.

It's a sad time of year, in one respect. Spring is just around the corner yet the old, weak or diseased animals often just can't survive the remainder of the lean months, even though the worst is over. Today I found this once fine fella, crumpled in an undignified heap at the foot of a slope. It may have been blown over by the winds, it may have quietly headed off to die out of sight from the rest of the flock. We'll never know, but without fail old sheep succumb at this time of year. 

Ex- woolly maggot
The carcass is situated right at the very edge of the open hillside, beneath the trees that mark the outer boundary of Uig Wood. I'm not sure scavenging Ravens will feel particularly secure feeding that close to cover, hence this carcass could be here for a long time yet. The eyes have gone and something has managed to pull out a small length of what looks like stomach lining through a hole, other than that it seems intact. Could be rich hunting grounds for blowflies and the various beetles associated with dead animals once the weather warms up a bit.

I've been looking at the birches up here in search of Pseudovalsa lanciformisa fungus that is supposedly ubiquitous on birch twigs. No luck for me so far, but I did manage to find another fungus of interest

Exidia repanda - a birch specialist
I recognised it as an Exidia, but had to wait until back indoors to discover which one. Happily, it's a new one for me and quite a decent find too. Exidia repanda (aka Birch Butter or Birch Jelly) is, in a British context, almost exclusively found in the Scottish Highlands. Fort William northwards, plus a smattering of sites in northern England down towards the Midlands. There's a nice webpage that explains a bit about it here and the NBN distribution map can be viewed by clicking here.  As can be seen, I found it growing on a slender birch twig, which happened to be laying on the ground. Precisely the habitat as mentioned in the link. 

Finally for today, Hazel catkins are very much in evidence at the top of Uig Wood. Still no sign of any poxy Hazel Gloves Lichen Fungus (thanks, Steve!), despite the presence of Glue Crust Fungus with which it is apparently associated. I'll find it one day!

And so the cycle of life, death and rebirth continues.
It struck me that I've been a bit remiss with the ol' songs of late. So, for no particular reason other than I haven't played it for a while, here are The Toadies with Possum Kingdom. Love this track!!!

And here you go, in keeping with the hairy mammals theme *ahem*... have a bonus track on me. No worries, you'd do the same for me, I'm sure   :) 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Mystery Gnats & Aquatic Hypho-thingies...

Managed to dodge the worst of the weather today, a quick couple of hours out and about resulted in a mere three minutes or so of stinging rain, hurled into my face by the strong winds just as I reached the house again. Could have been a lot worse.

But first up, I need to go back to last night. A scan of the laundry shed ceiling and walls after dark revealed a number of "gnats" buzzing around the all-night security light. I potted a couple, wondering how do-able (or not) they would prove to be. I haven't attempted keying them yet, other than to the point of saying that I think they belong somewhere in Mycetophilidae (fungus gnats). Both specimens are currently languishing on pins in a storebox. Here's a bunch of pics, any pointers appreciated! Length approx 6mm or so. I was quite taken by the funky legs, why are the femur and tibia so very enlarged?

EDIT: the fungus gnat Mycetophila ornata has been suggested - looks good, but there are quite a few in that genus. Need a key! 

[Blogger says "you may upload multiple files at once" which I just misread as "you may upload multiple flies at once"... oh dear, is there any hope for me?]

Back to today's antics. We've had a lot of rain recently, hence the river is running high. I spied a pile of scummy froth caught up in a small eddy and was instantly reminded of Ali's post on the 1000 in 1KSQ blog from a couple of weeks back. I have to say, I've potted up some pretty weird and wonderful stuff in my time, but this was a first! 

And some went inside the pot too! 
Back indoors I gleefully whacked it on a slide and immediately started scanning for signs of aquatic hyphomycetes, something I'd never even heard of until Ali's post. Rather surprisingly, I found some! Firstly, you should know that they are microscopic and secondly, my microscopic photography technique is something I need to refine. Basically, what I'm saying is that the following pics are shite. But hey, you're used to that by now - right? I also have no idea what they are, but they look kinda cool. If you squint.

It's the thing with long, pointy 'arms' - possibly Alatospora acuminata. Possibly...
Another example of the same sort of thing. Maybe...
Ooh look - it's a cactus with wings! Could be Tetracladium setigerum? Potentially...
And a fork with wings, with a slightly different version alongside. Both Tetracladium spp???
I've never seen these things before, I'm a complete aquatic hyphomycete virgin (hmmm....never been called that before!) and I'm not sure I can do much with them either. If I bump up the mag to the next setting on my compound microscope, everything goes dark and the working depth of field reduces to about zilch. These things are just too damned small. But it's a small bit of knowledge that I didn't have beforehand and I can hopefully find them again in the future. 

Despite the weather being an arse, day length is steadily increasing and spring really is just around the corner. There are snowdrops flowering in the hotel grounds (untickable for my square, but there should be some in the woods too, with luck) and I saw a crocus in bud on somebody's lawn. Daffodils are thrusting forth and Opposite-leaved Saxifrage is just about to burst into flower too

Daffs emerging in a sheltered suntrap. I couldn't find the Daffodil Fly last year, maybe this year?
Slender Speedwell with Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus and a mystery photobombing invert
Talking of Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus, I'm well aware that January is supposed to be my Bryophytes Month. I've not really done very well with The Plan so far, so I have had a wee think about it and have come up with a minor adjustment. March was meant to be Springtails Month. I'm not going to bother with that any longer. Mainly because I think I need a proper 1000x oil immersion lens and a graticule for the eyepiece before attempting the collembolans. I just don't have that kit.

So, I've renamed January as List Building Month, February will now be my Bryophytes Month, March will be my Lichens Month (instead of February). March will still be when the light trapping begins, April onwards will be as originally planned. Hopefully. I think I was fooling myself that January would be anything other than getting the 2018 PSL off to a flying start. I crossed the 300 mark a couple of days ago and would really like to finish January with 334 species on the tally, fully a third of the way towards the  1000 in a 1KSQ target. On the other hand, 337 is quarter of the way towards my own 1350 species target for this years NG3963 tally, so maybe I ought to be aiming for that. It needs a very big push on my part, and I'm still pretty darn busy with work at the moment, but it's definitely possible. Just. 

An immature Iceland Gull was back amongst the loafing gull flock today, the first immature I've seen here in 16 days. The wind was buffeting me too hard and the distance too great for me to say whether it was a first or second winter individual, I simply reported it as "immature" to Skye Birds, I'll let Bob pick the bones out of that. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Birthday Mega...almost

Yep, today is my birthday, as seems to happen pretty much every year. I thought I'd gotten away with it this time but no, I was found out. Anyway, birthday lunch in an hour so just a quick blog for y'all today. 

Whizzed off down to the beach in search of yesterday's White-billed Diver. No luck, a single Great Northern Diver being the sole bird of interest in the bay. (As an aside, I later wandered out of the square and down to the pier in case the WBD was hiding on the seaward side - no luck there either). A quick scan through the handful of gulls present revealed a distinct lack of white-wingers, though I did wonder if I'd hit the jackpot when I first saw this beast

The kind of face only a partially-sighted mother could love...
Whoa...Great Black-backs have pale pink legs, this thing had pale yellow legs!!! Must be a Kelp Gull was my immediate (and, frankly, rather ridiculous) thought process. The bill looked pretty damned hefty, it looked butt ugly with that beady eye, prominent white trailing edge....except it was HUGE! Way too huge, in fact. It quickly swam into the sea before flying off. I managed a further handful of images

Absolutely flippin' massive! 
I've seen Kelp Gulls in New Zealand, and this didn't strike me as anything other than a GBBG with odd coloured legs. Back home afterwards I consulted the books, finding many useful hints and tips in the brilliant Helm Guide to Gulls. Seems that there are a small number of Great Black Backs that exhibit pale yellowish legs. Judging by the monstrous size of this beast, it must surely be a male bird. Nice, I've learned something new about a species I see on a daily basis. 

Anyway, no joy to sea so I headed up the hill and cut across the sheep pastures. It was just a tad blowy and quite bitter in the wind. Horizontal snow stung my face whilst a distant Golden Eagle refused to come closer than half a mile from my square's airspace. 

Namby pamby woolly maggots, sheltering from the wind
Anyway, I made it through another year and I've dindins with the bosses in an hour's time from now. Woodpigeon was the only yeartick for me today, so that's me on 298 for the square this year. Cool. 

I was gonna add a metal version of Happy Birthday, but they're all far too awful to endure. Metal just isn't meant for such dross. So here's a fave of mine from me to you. Enjoy! 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Bananabill in the Square!!!

I'd just finished work for the morning and was halfway through my lunch (a Pot Noodle, food of the gods...) when my boss rang, saying that my 'fanclub' was on site and asking for me. My fanclub consists of Nick and Martin, both local naturalists. Anyway, turns out it was Martin. He shouted up to me from the car park, "Grab your bins and camera and come with me!" Needless to say, I ran. I didn't even finish the Pot Noodle, this better be good!

Jumping into his car I threw a barrage of questions at him - what, where, when, in my square type stuff. "You haven't found another Ivory Gull have you?" I asked. "Um no, but not far off" was the exciting reply. We drove down Cuil Road and pulled up at a layby. Shit, it WAS in my square - whatever it was. I scanned, finding the usual suspects, a few divers, Eider and Black Guillemots and turned to Martin for a clue. "White-billed Diver, was with a couple of Great Northerns earlier. I'd been watching it for half an hour and thought I ought to come and get you" Shit a brick!!! Fkkn right he ought to come get me! I immediately resumed scanning and soon found a likely culprit, though we needed Martin's scope to confirm things. Yup, I was looking at a winter plumaged White-billed Diver, slowly motoring around the bay and gradually coming closer and closer. Excellent!!! I tried taking pics through Martin's scope but it was too shaky and I couldn't get anything in focus. So I sped off, found a fencepost and rested my bins on that, hand-holding the camera to the eyepiece. 

Just to warn you, the distance was too great to result in anything other than massively cropped, out of focus images. These are, believe it or not, the best out of (very many) bad ones. Maybe pop a headache pill before squinting at this lot. 

HUGELY cropped final image, but just look at the banana on that! 
Pretty duff set of images, I agree. But hopefully good enough to satisfy the Highland Bird Recorder. I looked up to see an adult Iceland Gull flying across the bay, we watched it settle in the river mouth where it quickly started to wash and preen. Sweet, it's the very first adult I've seen here. 

Martin had to shoot off again, I thanked him once more for coming to fetch me. One final scan, all divers had disappeared with the arrival of the incoming ferry, and I quit the scene. 

This is the second White-billed Diver in Uig Bay that Martin has found (he also found the Ivory Gull) and the first one hung around for a couple of weeks. The theory is that they move into the waters around the Western Isles to moult, then head north during April and May. Be amazing to think they may be regular migrants to Uig Bay. Must get a boat out there sometime soon and have a proper exploration.

White-billed Diver is species number 297 for the square so far this year. I've only ever seen three of them before from Skigersta, Lewis (two breeding plumage adults, self-found at a known location whist pissing off a clifftop (!), April 2006) and an immature bird in Cornwall (twitched, March 2007) so it's been a good while since I last clapped eyes on one!

There was only ever going to be one song to follow up today's star bird. Please, enjoy.