Monday, 20 June 2016

Geology Walk at Saligo

18 brave souls turned out on a dreich afternoon to learn more about the wide range of geological features exposed at the bay. However, the rain wasn't as heavy as we had first feared and the dunes gave us some shelter from the strengthening SE wind.

There's so much to see in a small area - from Silurian-age (440 million year old) igneous rocks (a biotite-diorite stock) intruded into 700 million-year old turbiditic metasandstones and metamudstones themselves folded 470 million years ago in the Caledonian mountain building (orogenic) event. And for good measure, a 60 million-year old 10m thick gabbroic dyke with chilled and baked margins evidencing the initiation of the opening of the North Atlantic ocean.

Hunting for flint glacial erratices was very sucesful now that all that horrible sandy stuff has been washed away exposing all the wonderful rocks! The highlight for some folk was the audience-participation bit where Dave had 'volunteers' strung out across the beach in a time-line from the big bang to the stone age.

Friday, 17 June 2016

News Flash - The lobster has grown!

Old skin - can you believe it pulls itself out of this
 all squishy and soft before hardening its new skin
I came into the centre this morning, went round all the tanks to check all the creatures were happy.  Saw tentacles poking out of the lobsters tube - all fine. Then I noticed a half buried lobster body in the sand, a moment of confusion before the realisation that our fella must have shed its coat and grown.

I haven't seen its full new size yet, the claws look big but it still fits in the tube, so that's good, but will feed it this afternoon and see how big it is.  The creatures are all doing very nicely this year, so well worth a trip to the centre to have a look at all the little creatures that happily live off Islay's shores.
Fiona MacG
Lobster with its fresh new coat!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Dune Delights at Sanaigmore

Last Sundays rAmble at Sanaigmore 12th June 2016

Germander Speedwell
A dune walk, always a chance for a delight of colour.  Buttercup and Birds-foot Trefoil with the wonderful bright blue of Germander Speedwell puncturing through the yellow.  A number of mermaids purses empty, dried and light as a feather scattered on the grass where they had been blown from the shore.  Thrift in flower and Lady's Bedstraw and Thyme just bursting forth with blooms that will be busy for the next couple of months.  Around the rocky outcrops and on the inland side Heather, wind pruned to a tight cropped carpet was interspersed with Lousewort and the first spikes of Heath Spotted Orchid, the dry weather of late had not suited the tiny Stonecrop with one flower clinging to existence in a tiny pocket of soil in a rock crevice.
Heath Spotted Orchid

Marsh Orchid?
Marsh Cinquefoil
The once wetter areas had Marsh Pennywort, Ragged Robin, Marsh Marigold and Forget-me-not.  The wind was a bit brisk for butterflies but a nice Green-veined White obliged for a photograph. 
Green-veined White
A large hawker dragonfly zoomed past but wasn't for identifying and one of our party saw a Painted Lady.  Painted Lady's are migratory pushing up from the continent, I hear the weather in the south is wet so they have bypassed the soggy places for sunny dry Islay.

The small Common Gull colony had 5-6 chicks perched a top the pebbles, with peeping Oystercatchers.  Good views of Ringed Plovers, Wheatear, we watched the Skylarks sing on the way up and the meadow Pipits sing as they parachuted down.

A first and a highlight of the afternoon was a shrew, bold as you like scurrying across the heather and into the longer grass.

Flowers: Birds-foot Trefoil; Thyme; Lady's bedstraw; Thrift; Tormentil; Germander Speedwell; Marsh Cinquefoil; Ragged Robin; Forget-me-not spp; Marsh Pennywort;
English Stonecrop; Heath Spotted Orchid; other hybrid spotted orchid; Lousewort.

Birds: Oystercatcher; Ringed Plover; Wheatear; Meadow Pipit; Skylark; Pied Wagtail; Common Gull, 5 Common gull chicks; Gannets
Birds heard: Snipe; Corncrake; Dunlin
Insects: Green-veined White; hawker dragonfly; Painted Lady
Mammal: Shrew

Sunday ramble - Solam 'plague' village 5th June 2106

A report on our walk to Solam our first Sunday ramble of the season, better late than never!

A very sunny, warm day for our first walk of the season up to the old village of Solum.  Our small band of ramblers travelled our way through farmland, woodland, still vibrant with the colours of spring flowers, bluebells and pignut, the leaves bursting forth on the branches.  Hazel, Birch, some Oak, Alder and Sycamore the main tree contingent.  The grasslands were attracting Small Heath butterfly, Green-veined White and a fast flying russety orange type which didn't sit still to see, but a Fritillary I assumed perhaps Marsh Frit.  The heat of the day gave all the butterflies a speed I could not match with my small net!  We saw two Clouded Buff (day flying moth) a nice addition to the list.  Above the woodland, patches of wet heath with a bountiful flourish of cotton grass over slightly de-hydrated sphagnum mosses with butterwort and sundews vying for nutrient full midges to entrap.

Clouded Buff

Heath speedwell

Round leaved Sundew with entrapped midges
We sort out the rock carvings, perhaps created by the shepherd who once inhabited the old steading, supposedly, 'Rabbie Burns' and the profile of the lady.  We discussed the legend of the plague village, where lies the truth and the fiction of a good tale. 
The lady in the rock

Carpets of Bog Cotton (Cotton grass)

The old walls and rocks of the older village dwellings emerge from the grassland blanket that hugs and wraps around the rocks with nature finding niches in all the nooks and crannies, lichens and mosses and tree saplings finding a roothold in the mosses and rock crevices.

English Stonecrop

Foxglove and Tormentil

Rowan sapling

Lichen and moss hugging the rocks
2 Golden Eagle were seen soaring on the hot thermals of the day in the distance, circling high, and a lovely yellowhammer sat perched singing on top of the old shepherds house.

A great first foray into Islay's wondrous nature of 2016, hopefully the first of may a pleasant, sociable walk with local Islay folk and visitors and showing them the beautiful, interesting and unexpected delights that Islay's natural history can provide.

Birds: 2 Golden Eagle; Yellow Hammer; White throat; Buzzard; Willow warbler.  Butterflies: Small Heath; ?Marsh Fritillary; Painted Lady; Peacock; Green-veined White; Clouded Buff (moth).

Flowers: Birds-foot Trefoil; Pignut; Bluebell; Tormentil; Butterwort; Round leaved Sundew; Heath Speedwell; Germander Speedwell; Lousewort; Heath Bedstraw; Cotton grass; Hazel; Downy Birch; Alder; Oak; Sycamore; Willow

Friday, 3 June 2016

Next Nature Walk - Solam, Plague Village, Nr. Ardbeg

Sunday Nature rAmbles start again this Sunday at 2pm
We will walk through field, wood, wet heath to the old village of Solam taking in the very varied plant life and wild nature, with a bit of history and find the hidden faces in the rocks.  A walk a little longer than our usual but well worth the effort, there were many Marsh Fritillery caterpillars at Easter so hoping we might see some butterflies out now, the sun looks to be set to shine so join us for a nature fest.  Everyone is very welcome. Meet in Ardbeg distiller car park.
£4 per person, families £10; INHT members £2

In search of Spring Squill

In search of Spring Squill - Becky discovered this flower in 2010 on one of her Islay coastal walks.  I remember seeing in on Oronsay many years ago and being captivated by its small beautiful blue star shaped flower and squiggly curling leaves.  It has taken me 6 years to finally find time to go in search of the Islay Squill.  With only one recent record of it south west of Saligo it is a relative rarity for Islay despite a general wide distribution through the nearby Hebridies.  The weather of late has been one of a perfect typical Islay Spring, dry and sunny, not like the rubbish cold and wet springs of the last couple of years, so long walks are a joy and with an excuse to get out Mandy (our centre manager) and I went on a quest.  There is so much to see, soon we saw a Marsh Fritillary butterfly, these are just beginning to emerge so look out for them over the next few weeks.   I will be looking forward to our first summer Sunday Ramble this weekend to Solam, near Ardbeg as we may get to see Marsh Frit.s too as I saw many caterpillars there at Easter.  Many flowers are out to enjoy, here's just some of the wonderous colour of last Sunday afternoon.


Small Copper butterfly on Trift


Common Dog Violet

Bird's Foot Terfoil (in bud)

Bird's Foot Terfoil (in bloom)

Cluster of Littorina saxatilis (rough winkle)

Finally after much walking I stumbled upon the perfect little blue flower on close cropped coastal pasture, 7 small flowering spikes only 6-7cm tall, then another 8 spikes on a separate patch.
Finally excitement, the treasure in our quest amongst the Tormentil and sheep dung

Spring Squill (Scillia verna)

A grand afternoon enjoying Islay's wonderful wildlife and weather.
Fiona MacG

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The sea-tanks are filling up....

Thanks to rock pooling sessions and local donations (thank you Paul Rennie and Steve Wrightson), the Centre's sea tanks are filling up nicely with an array of amazing creatures to see - here's just a few of them! Why not come down to the Centre to see what else you can spot?
Common Sun Star saying hello to the new Sea Slug
The Lobster and the Edible Crab...
A Shrimp!
One of a few wee fish darting around...
Can you spot a shrimp hanging on to the seaweed?

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

2016 Walk Programme

Summer Walks are held each Sunday at 2pm.
Stout footwear and dress for the weather; sorry no dogs.
The walk costs £4 per person or £10 per family (2 adults plus children), members of the Islay Natural History Trust £2.
Full programme being finalised, but some advance info:
5th June: Solum Plague Village - meet at Ardbeg Distillery
12th June: Sanaigmore - meet at Outback Art Gallery
19th June: Saligo (Geology Walk) - meet at gate
26th June: Castlehill - meeting point tbc

3rd July: Killinallan - meet at gate
10th July: Dun Nosebridge -  meet at Humpback bridge
17th July: Ardnave - meet at parking area at the loch
24th July: Kilchiaran (Geology Walk) - meet at chapel gate
31st July: Currie Sands - meet at parking area at Claddach

7th August: Killinallan - meet at gate
14th August: Fungi Walk - location tbc
21st August: No walk - Kilchoman Gala Day
28th August: Giants Grave (Archaeology Walk) - meeting place tbc 
4th September: Ardnave - meet at parking area at the loch
11th September: Fungi Walk - location tbc
18th September: 'Snowball Earth' (Geology Walk) - meet at Port Askaig car park
25th September: tbc

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

'Whisky on the Rocks' ramble at Port Ellen.

As part of whisky week we ran a whisky themed geological ramble around Loch Leodamais at Port Ellen on the 24th May. We started off with some geological principles, then examined 600 million-year old mudstones and siltstones which had been metamorphosed and folded into shiny, crenulated phyllites about 470 million years ago when these rocks were part of a mountain chain of himalyan proportions. A dolerite dyke crossing the bay was then encountred - it is an igneous rock intruded about 60 million years ago just before the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean. We constructed a time-line in the sand extending from the 'big-bang' to the stone age and put Islay's rocks into a chronological context. Finally we walked out onto the Ard and examined the metabasite sills that were intruded into the mudstone sequences about 600 million years ago and are related to the new oceanic crust that formed in the Iapetus Ocean basin as it opened.

Finally we got round to talking about Whisky!

The water used in fermentation in most of Islay's distilleries is soft, acidic and relatively salty and is sourced from peat lochans close to the distilleries and has little chance to interact with the rocks. However water used in Bowmore and Bunnahabhainn is river and/or spring sourced and is a little 'harder' and has had chance to react with the bedrock (which in the water source areas has a lot of limestone) and this water difference probably creates slightly different chemical reactions during fermentation (which also takes a longer time) and results in spirits which (at least to my taste!) appear to be sweeter.

Whist most distilleries world-wid use de-ionised water for 'cutting' cask spirits down to bottling strength, some on Islay (eg Bruichladdich) use local spring water which contains a wide variety of chemicals - some derived from the ancient 2 billion-year old bedrock - which are thought to give these whiskies extra peaty and salty flavours amongst others. Particular mention of Bruichladdich's 'Mayor of Islay' bottling was made as it is possibly the only whisky with a geological map on the label - celebrating the visit of the mayor from the peruvian village of Islay. Part of Peru has a similar geology to the Rhinns of Islay and both areas were close together until about 600 million years when the Iapetus Ocean separated them. 

We concluded that more analyses (and tastings!) are required to fully develop the links between Islay's geology, its water and its whisky.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Wild Saligo exposed!

A trip down to Saligo beach on Monday revealed huge swathes of rock that aren't usually visible - tons of sand must have been moved by the waves to expose some amazing geology - the power of nature is truly amazing!

Saligo rocks usually covered by sand

Thrift (Sea Pink) starting to flower

Friday, 18 March 2016

New moth for Islay

I found this Pale Brindled Beauty in the public toilets at Bridgend on Tuesday (15th), appropriately in the gentlemen's side of the facility as this is the male of the species. This slightly blurred photograph was taken on my iPhone. As someone has since commented, taking photographs in public toilets is something to be rather cautious about and I decided not to go back in with my camera! The female moth is distinctively different, but I had to reply "no, I didn't" when asked if I had checked for one in the ladies' side!
There are no previous records for Islay for this species, which flies between January and March, though there were three records on Jura back in 1980, which have to be regarded with suspicion as they were all in early September with no mention that they were pupae, which is the stage the moth would be in at that time of year. So this may well be the first record for the vice-county, i.e. Islay, Jura and Colonsay.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

New Zealand Flatworm - Islay distribution - quick poll

On the back of our next talk the irony of the world exporting its wildlife to this remote island ecosystem.  New Zealamd wildlife is giving payback - the New Zealand flatworm.

The irony is that for all the introduced species sent in their direction New Zealand has a problematic species export of its own now increasing its distribution here.  Visit the Islay Natural History Trusts Facebook page if you have the New Zealand Flatworm in your garden and let us know where you have seen it in our quick poll into its current distribution on Islay.  It may have been present quite a few years now but I have only recently met one on these unpleasant creatures. Why are they important? well they like to eat our native Earthworms that do an important job of mixing up and aerating the soil, and provide food for a whole host of bird species.
Fiona MacG

Next Talk 22nd March - New Zealand - Ecological Mayhem!

 It seems to have been a popular destination for Islay folk this past winter, but not all the visitors to this ancient country returned home or left without making a significant impact on the islands inhabitants.  Pete Roberts gives us some insight into the impacts of introduced species on an isolated island population, the next talk at the Islay Natural History Trust (see advert in this issue).

New Zealand separated 70 million years ago from the other ancient landmasses of Gondwanaland. It had no land mammals and the fauna evolved in almost total predator-free isolation. A wonderful range of flightless birds evolved, including the famous kiwis and the giant ostrich-like moas. Then, very recently, humans arrived and inevitably began causing rapid mayhem! Our hunting, introduced animals and ensuing habitat losses have driven much of New Zealand’s unique birdlife to extinction. 58 species of birds – over a quarter of all the unique species originally found there have been lost in just 800 years. Now an estimated 10% of the world’s endangered birds are found here.

But New Zealand is indeed a beautiful country when viewed from other perspectives with quaint towns, productive green farmland, and stunningly dramatic landscapes.  Happily the tide of extinctions and losses is turning and New Zealand has perhaps the most pro-active and drastic government conservation policies of anywhere in the World. This has saved at least some of its very special wildlife from the brink and, in some ways, made it surprisingly easy for birdwatchers to see what remains.

Come along and discover the impacts that new species can have when they don't complement the native wildlife.

Monday, 8 February 2016

AGM and Seychelles Talk

Join us this Tuesday 16th February at 7:00pm for a brief (we promise!) AGM followed by what promises to be a fascinating talk by Michal Šúr on Aldabra in the Seychelles at the INHT Centre in Port Charlotte (next to the youth hostel). Admission is free, as is the tea and cake, although donations are always welcome!

Michal is a fantastic photographer, so his images from Aldabra promise to be stunning. Aldabra itself is the second largest raised atoll in the world, and the largest in the Indian Ocean. Amongst many other important features, it has the largest frigatebird colony in the Indian Ocean, the last flightless bird in the Indian Ocean, the largest population of giant tortoises on the planet (100,000), is a UNESCO and Ramsar site, and is an important site for nesting green turtles. It is part of the Seychelles, about 1000 miles from the main island, and has a human population of about 15 researchers. Michal spent 2 winters there doing research, surveying frigatebirds and the flightless rail, monitoring nests of passerines, and undertaking many other surveys. If you can't wait until the talk, you can find out more about this amazing place and Michal's photography (spoiler alert!) at . See you on Tuesday!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Wildlife Crime talk this Thursday 26th November

Join us this Thursday 26th November at 7:30pm for what promises to be a fascinating talk by Gary Turnbull on Wildlife Crime, at the INHT Centre in Port Charlotte (next to the youth hostel). Admission just £3 (£1 for INHT members) including tea and cake!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

All done for another season

The centre was a hive of activity on Saturday morning, finding all the creatures in the tanks and putting them back into the sea.
Careful searching for every last beastie

The tanks and sand were emptied and a good general tidy up.  Great work from all our helpers.

Fishes and crab ready for release
Lobster ready for the sea
The season has been a good one with over 1600 visitors and sales and admissions up on the previous season.

We will be back open in the Spring