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 Islays distilleries is soft, acidic and relativly 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-wided 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 Islays 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

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Last chance to visit the sea creatures this season

Our monster - Edible Crab

There is just one more day left of the season for the Islay Natural History Centre, your last chance to see the crabs, lobster and Topknot flatfish before we release them back into the wild.

We will be emptying the tanks on Saturday morning so if you can come and visit tomorrow (Friday 30th) between 10.30 - 4.30 we would love to see you.
Don't mess with me! - Velvet swimming crab

'Greedy guts' - Long-spined Seascorpion 

Cute - Topknot flatfish
Also, .....I can barely bring myself to mention it, but ....if you are already considering Christmas stocking fillers, then we have a great range of cool kids stuff here in the shop!  There I said it ... and Halloween isn't yet passed.

Come see us on our last day!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Coast to Coast talk tomorrow evening 29th October

Join us tomorrow evening (29th Oct) for what promises to be a fascinating talk on the  Coast to Coast walk by Sandy Taylor and Chris Abell - with refreshments, a picture quiz and even a prize! £3 (£1 for INHT members), 7:30pm at the INHT Visitor Centre, Port Charlotte (next to the youth hostel).

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Our Topknot flat fish

A rare underside view
A more unusual view of our big tank resident.  It usually hides upside down tucked up in one of the tubes but yesterday decided to venture out and show us its underside, which Mandy managed to capture on camera at the end of the day!
Our usual view

Seashell ID Workshop - this Sunday 25th October (2-4pm)

I think I may have chosen well looking at the weather - an indoor rAmble this week!

Well be sure to have a gander along a beach before hand and collect up some interesting shells and beachcombing finds of mystery and bring them along.  Our seashell identification workshop this Sunday will aim to give you hints and tips on how to identify your beach treasures.  There will be an array of specimens to compare against, I have collected shells from all of Islay's beaches and have amalgamated records of some 134 species so whether large or small I can help with identification.

There are some interesting stories behind some of the species and what they get up to when living.

Here are some good places to go looking:
Uiskentuie Strand - for big clam species - occasional piddocks and some smaller gastrapods
Black Rock can throw up some interesting smaller specimens, particularly after this recent storm
Big Strand, nr. Knockangle Point - the currents collect a lot of interesting species, Cowries and other sea-snails.
Pheasant Shell
Kilnaughton - look for small and miniature species, and some not found regularly elsewhere
Killinallan and Ardnave - can have a whole range of different species, although you may have to walk further between finds.
Gartbreck - a whole array of medium to small sea-snails gather and wash ashore with the currents, many rarer and more fragile, so a great place for more unusual specimens.
Goose Barnacle

Sea Squirt
 Any west coast beach after the last days winds may throw up Goose Barnacles on floating logs and 'By-the-wind Sailors' at this time of year.

Come and join me on Sunday, only £2 for INHT members; £4 non-members
Fiona MacGillivray

Autumn Woodland Wonders

Autumn Woodland Wonders activity last week was a great experience, the weather perfect, the leaves all changing colour and very enthusiastic little people ready for some woodland exploration.  We set out looking for all the interesting leaves, nuts and seeds, looking for all the signs of Autumn.  The leaves of Sycamore just now are covered in black spots, evidence of the presence of 'Jerking Disc Sawfly'.

The children enjoyed a spell of fun on the rope swing before a game of Poo Sticks off the bridge over the River Sorn and then a hunt for minibeasts amongst the leaf litter and rotting logs.

All keen explorers.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Islay Dolphins

Fantastic sighting of dolphins on way to work today, a pod of 8 - 10 dolphins in Loch Indaal. As I was approaching Port Charlotte lighthouse I saw several animals break the surface heading northwards close into the shore.

On continuing to watch I realised that there was a pod of dolphins spread out close to shore. Pity the film crew working at the lighthouse didn't see it they had better cameras than me.

These maybe the same animals that have been in Kilnaughton Bay for the last two evenings. This is a good pod of mixed animals with large adults, sub adults and small younger dolphins.

There have been great images on local social media pages of the dolphins in Kilnaughton Bay and surrounding area.

So keep a look out for them and enjoy the sights of these beautiful animals.

Sorry no images couldn't zoom my tablets in close enough.


Monday, 19 October 2015

Birding at Carnain yesterday

Gary led a small group of dedicated birders yesterday to see what was about the shore of Loch Indaal at Carnain.

Beautiful calm conditions
Out on the loch were a raft of scaup, with a couple of slavonian grebes in amongst them and a couple of red throated divers nearby. Nearer in to the shore between us and Blackrock were numerous red breasted mergansers, and behind us between us and the road a kestrel was hovering. Nearby on the gorse we saw a pair of stonechat, and on the strandline several pied wagtails were trotting around. Also active on the shore was a great black backed gull which had just caught a very large starfish!

Out towards Bridgend were many barnacle geese, ringed plovers and oystercatchers, and many smaller waders that had been pushed further away by the crossing cattle making identification difficult, but there was a large flock of golden plovers over on the shore towards Bowmore that looked beautiful in the sun.

Highlight of the afternoon though was the sight of these two long-tailed ducks, looking beautiful on the calm loch.

Long-tailed ducks, photo by Gary Turnbull
Sightings list 18/10/2015 Carnain:
Mute Swan; Red Throated Diver; Great Northern Diver; Grey Heron; Cormorant; Shag; Common Gull; Herring Gull; Black headed Gull; Red breasted Merganser; Scaup 35; Eider; Mallard; Teal; 
Common Scoter; Long tailed Duck 2; Slavonian Grebe; Kestrel; Curlew; Oystercatcher; Golden Plover; Ringed Plover; Bar-tailed Godwit; Turnstone; Pied Wagtail; Meadow Pipit; Goldfinch; Starling; Stonechat

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Saligo's super geology

15 people joined us on Dave's geology walk at Saligo on Sunday, which turned out to be a fascinating and informative afternoon. Dave started off by a quick resume of basic geology including the 3 categories of rock - igneous (has cooled from molten rock), sedimentary (formed in layers) and metamorphic (changed from one form to another) - which in itself was a good start for a novice like me! We then headed down onto the beach for a closer look at the amazing rocks down there.

Dave pointing out the chilled margin of a 55 million year old igneous dyke. This is made of dolerite and trends NW-SE and probably originated in the Blackstones Bank volcanic centre about 40 miles to the NW. These dykes are part of the process of the opening of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Throw it! THROW IT!

The rocks to the south of the beach dipped to the left (SW), the ones to the north dipped right (NE), indicating that the rock layers had folded due to compressive forces (like when continents collide). Dave taught us that a convex-upward fold is called an Anticline (like and Arch) and a convex-downward fold is called a Syncline (like a Saucer).

The rocks here were turbiditic sandstones deposited by turbidity currents in deep water, and Dave reminded us of the school experiment we might have done, filling a jam jar with water, mud and rocks, shaking it up and letting it settle. The bigger bits sink to the bottom and the fine mud setlles out slower - leaving a deposit that 'fines upward'.

A small anticline fold in bedded turbiditic sandstones of the Colonsay Group (deposited about 750 million years ago and folded about 470 million years ago).

another smaller dyke

Many thanks to Dave for a fascinating talk/walk, and to all those who came along!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

A migrant moth

I caught this small, 19-mm-long, moth last night. It is a Rush Veneer Nomophila noctuella which is an annual migrant to Britain from southern Europe, sometimes in large numbers. This the first I've caught and the first on Islay since one was caught at Gruinart in July 2009. There have been 14 earlier records, 9 of them in July 1996 which must have been a good year for them.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Geology walk at Saligo this Sunday 11th October

Next in our series of Sunday afternoon rAmbles is a Geology walk at Saligo Bay on the 11th, and if the previous geology walks are anything to go by this should be a cracker! I love looking at the rock formations at Saligo and am looking forward to hearing, amongst other things, how they were formed and what they're called from our expert Dave Webster who'll be leading the walk. Co-author of the recently published and fascinating book "A Guide to the Geology of Islay" (available in the INHT shop, now open until end October!), Dave has a wealth of knowledge to share so this is one not to miss! Meet at the gate for 2 pm - parking is limited in this area so please park responsibly. There is a small charge for this walk of £4 for adults, £2 for INHT members, and £10 for families. Sorry no dogs. See you Sunday!

Monday, 5 October 2015

October opening!

We're pleased to say that this year we're open throughout October during weekdays, so why not come along for a visit? Lots to do and see here, including a new poster on the Drift Bottle Project, as well as the newly-moulted shell of our Velvet Swimming crab! We'll be running more rAmbles and talks too, so keep and eye for more details to follow. See you soon!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015


After a poor summer for butterflies in my garden - none appeared on the flowering buddleia earlier on - it was good to see three species today on the michaelmas daisies.

Red Admiral

Small Tortoiseshell

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A wealth of fungi waiting to be discovered...

Thanks to Alistair we found many different fungi on our INHT rAmble last Sunday at Loch Skerrols. The area itself is beautiful, with the loch looking picturesque in the calm conditions...

...and we headed into the woods to see what we could find.

The range of size, colours and smells of the fungi was amazing, and the more we looked the more we found, as is ever the case when looking at nature. Here's Alistair describing what he's seen to the group...

One of my favourites was Splitgill (Schizophyllum commune), the name describing how underneath the gills are split (that's what I love about mycology, there's always a clue in the name!) - I think they look like tiny white furry paws! AND it's a relatively new record for Islay so well done to Alistair for finding it.

Splitgill (Schizophyllum commune)

Another interesting one for me was the Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum) - the fungus rather than the mammal! Again the name comes from what it looks like underneath, which is this...

Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)

 As you can see it looks quite spiky, which you can see in this photo too...

Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)

I find identifying fungi quite difficult due to their changing appearance throughout their life cycle, and it seems I'm not alone, as suggested by the name of the next one, the Deceiver (Laccaria laccata), so called because it changes so much it can be mistaken for other things. 

Deceiver (Laccaria laccata)

At least another one, the Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina), is lilac coloured, making it a little easier to identify.

And then there was the Earthfan (Thelephora penicillata), a strange-looking fungus that forms rosette-like clusters among mosses on the forest floor. One feature of them is that however good a specimen it is, it always looks like it's been trodden on!

Earthfan (Thelephora penicillata)

It often pays to look really closely at the forest floor too, and you may see something like this Stagshorn fungus (the yellow one)...

Calocera spp.

...and this one which could be Hare's Ear (Otidea onotica).

Hare's Ear (Otidea onotica)

Here's a list of what we found on the day, with more photos to come no doubt! Many thanks Alistair for hisvexpertise, to Fiona for taking the photos and to everyone for their pleasant company on our fungi foray! Mandy

Tawny Grisette (Amanita fulva)
Bay Bolete (Boletus badius)
Stagshorn (Calocera spp.)
Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus)
Webcap (Cortinarius spp)
Ganoderma (possibly Ganoderma applanatum or Artist's Bracket)
Hoof Fungus / Tinder Bracket (Fomes fomentarius)
Common Rustgill (Gymnopilus penetrans)
Poisonpie (Hebeloma spp)
Wood Hedgehog (Hydnum repandum)
White Fibrecap (Inocybe geophylla)
Laccaria spp
Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)
Deceiver (Laccaria laccata)
Mild Milkcap  (Lactarius subdulcis)
Brown Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrum)
Bonnet (Mycena spp)
Hare's Ear (Otidea onotica) or Tan Ear (Otidea alutacea)
Porcelain Fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)
Deer Shield (Pluteus cervinus)
Brittlestem (Psathyrella spp.)
Pink Brittlegill (Russula)
Winecork Brittlegill (Russula adusta) or Crowded Brittlegill (Russula densifolia)
Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula claroflava)
Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha)
Sickener (Russula emetica)
Geranium Brittlegill (Russula fellea)
Beechwood Sickener (Russula nobilis)
Ochre Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)
Splitgill (Schizophyllum commune)
Urchin Earthfan (Thelephora penicilliata)
Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)
Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum)
Soapy Knight (Tricholoma saponaceum)
Velvet Bolete (Suillus variegatus)