Saturday, 30 April 2011

A second record!

Ten days ago, Becky found the first record of this handsome ground beetle - Carabus nitens - for Islay (and Jura and Colonsay). Today, I found the second record in a completely different part of the island. It's nice to know there are at least two of them!

REMINDER: "Islay Birds" on Living World, BBC Radio 4 at 6.35 am tomorrow (Sunday). I am assured it will be on BBC iPlayer soon afterwards all you lie-in-a-beds!

Three Red stags - Jo Griffiths

Thrift at the Shorefield

Friday, 29 April 2011

A Wee Drinker

Most of the Drinker moth (Philudoria potatoria) caterpillars we are finding right now are big - but we found this tiny wee thing at Kintra today.

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)

In birch scrub above Kintra Farm.

Becky scoping 'The Walks Programme'

The Trust is going to embark on a new idea this season - offering a series of 'Nature Rambles' or walks around the island on Monday and Friday afternoons from when we open on 23rd May.  Becky has been scoping out some of the best locations for natural history and we will be announcing a full programme soon - please watch this space!!

Emperor Moth

Armin Grewe, over here for the WalkIslay week, has kindly sent us these Emperor Moth images which he took in the north of Islay. He thanks Scott Brown who spotted them.
Unusually, both male and female were present. The smaller, but brighter, male is about 27-32 mm in wingspan, and the larger female 35-41 mm. This beautiful moth is quite common here, found particularly on the heather moorland.
Female Emperor Moth

Male Emperor Moth

Greylag geese - Jo Griffiths

Another classy shot from Jo - from the background I would suggest that this was perhaps taken on the Ard, near Port Ellen...

Brent Geese at Gortan

This is part of a group of 75 Brent geese that dropped by at Gortan last weekend.  I believe that malcolm went down to check for rings - and found one?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Nature Holiday on Islay - Tim, Jo, Alfie and Freddie Madgwick

The Trust was delighted to receive the following email and photographs from the Madgwick family...

We visited Islay for a family holiday last week 16th-23rd April and we wanted to share some of our experiences from our stay.
Watching Bottle Nosed Dolphins off Port Askaig
On Sunday 17th April we were crabbing at Port Askaig harbour, just after the 8pm ferry had cleared its decks of the latest arrivals to the island. It was to our surprise that we spotted 5 dolphin like shapes swimming around in the water close to the ferry. We rushed over for a better look and sure enough they were swimming around enjoying themselves, arching out of the water so that we could see them in all their splendour. We weren't the only people present, another couple were witness to this amazing spectacle. I've attached a photo of the family at Port Askaig with a dolphin fin showing to the right.

Alfie and Freddie Madgwick
The following night, at the same location during another crabbing session we spotted a small head bobbing up and down in the water. It appeared too small to be a seal and it then swam towards us and on to some rocks so that we could clearly see that it was an otter. It was as interested in us as we were in it and appeared to entertain us with his swimming skills. Later the otter (Oscar we named it) ran across the pier right in front of us, having just stolen some clams from a trawler. It then re-appeared a few minutes later from the ramp to the Jura ferry and proceeded to run the length of the pier and disappeared off the end. We shared this incredible show with a gentleman who said he'd waited 55 years to see that sight. He'd spotted the otter from outside the hotel and had run over to enjoy the show.

An action shot of a 'Green Bug' Activity Pack
On a trip to the American Monument the following day, on the advice of the gentleman from the night before, we parked up about a mile short of the car park and after about 10 minutes we spotted in the far distance two huge birds of prey that we soon realised were Golden Eagles. They were enjoying the beautiful day and warm air currents to soar above and around our position. Their size was noticeable from quite a distance and our two boys couldn't believe their luck. This was their 3rd visit to the island and the first definate sighting of a Golden Eagle. The birds gradually disappeared from view as they moved up the valley. It was a very memorable experience.
During our week stay we saw so many amazing wildlife sights, too numerous to list. We'll be back in April 2012 to enjoy the natural beauty of Islay, Jura and Colonsay.
With best wishes
Tim, Jo, Alfie and Freddie Madgwick

Seaweeds - Jo Griffiths

This is the second in a series of photos sent to us by Jo - many thanks for that - another one tomorrow!!

Feral Goats on the Oa

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Longhorn Beetle

On the Baptist Church walk to Kintour chapel I found this beetle and have identified it as, wait for it,

Rhagium mordax - for once the scientific name might be less of a mouthful than its long-winded English name of Blackspotted Pliers Support Beetle. As we saw it amongst wood bark it might just have emerged? It's a member of the Longhorn beetle family.

Info from :

This is a yellow beetle with brown and black mottling and two eye-like spots on its wing-cases. For a 'long-horn' beetle, it has relatively short antennae.

Adults are seen between May and July on open-structured flowers, particularly hawthorn and umbellifers, and the larvae are found in the very rotten wood of most species of broad-leaved trees, especially just under the bark. This beetle is common in woods and hedgerows in most parts of Britain and is most often seen in garden orchards or hedgerows in country areas.

Wood-feeder as larvae, on very soft decaying, long-dead wood of fallen trees or stumps where they form tunnels, usually just below the bark. Adults feed on nectar and pollen of flowers.


Ivy-leaved Crowfoot (Ranunculus hederaceus )

Shorefield, Bruichladdich

Dung Beetle Aphodius fimetarius - Shorefield

In a cow pat at the Shorefield

Otter at Machir Bay - Video by Armin Grewe

Nice one Armin!!

Beinn Bhàn

On Easter Monday a group of us scaled Beinn Bhàn, oxygen free, topped all three summits and descended intact. If that's not mind-boggling enough, here's a list of things we saw (and heard) en route!

Grasshopper Warbler, two Cuckoos (probably a pair), three Golden Eagles (one solitary on lower slopes and a pair above Beinn Bhàn itself), Drinker Moth caterpillars, dozens of Green Hairstreaks, one Peacock Butterfly, Skylarks, Lapwing, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear, Buzzard, unidentified butterfly/moth (no photo), Dung Beetle, Willow Warbler,  three lizards (at least), plenty of Red Deer - oh, and Pheasant. Also this funghi growing on spaghnum moss which I identified. As usual it's got an unpronounceable name - Lichenomphalia umbellifera. Another fabulous walk.


Eight Great Northerns and a CalMac Ferry - Jo Griffiths

Many thanks to Jo Griffiths for this really unusual shot of a group of eight GNDs and the Hebridean Isles...

Lady's Smock or Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Fame at last!!

My name in Radio Times! Wow!
This programme was recorded last October when the BBC Natural History Unit producer Andrew Dawes came over to record an item on Islay's geese, particularly the White-fronted, for the series 'Saving Species'.  He interviewed James How (RSPB), Craig Archibald (Craigens Farm), Morven Laurie (SNH) and myself. The programme was broadcast in early November and is still available on BBC iPlayer at: 

On the same day, Michael Scott, the presenter, a friend who lives in the north of Scotland, and myself recorded this episode for the series "Living World". 
The good news is that the programme will be broadcast on Radio 4 this Sunday, 1st May. The bad news is that although the time is given as 6.35, that's 6.35 am!  However, it will be on BBC iPlayer for a period thereafter for those who can't wake up in time. We started at RSPB Gruinart overlooking the flats, and then moved up to Ardnave and looked at the birds both on the loch and in the dunes, where some Choughs were very obliging.
I may post a reminder on Saturday! Or I might even phone a few friends at 6.30 am Sunday, though that might make them ex-friends :-))

Tree Sparrows

Fiona MacGillivray sent us these photos of some Tree Sparrows which she saw in her garden on Easter Sunday, having an Easter treat. She's also seen the Magpie around. There's been at least one reported regularly on Islay over the past few months. Thanks Fiona.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Tockmal on the Oa

The old abandoned village of Tockmal on the Oa is about half a mile inland from Soldier's Rock and a couple of miles from Kintra Farm.

Like all of the abandoned villages on Islay it is a bleak place and it is difficult to imagine lives led among these rude piles of stones.

The quality of land round about is very poor - some of the houses are now sitting in bogs, presumably they were artificially drained when people lived in them.

They are now left to the Scottish Black-face sheep - hardy animals.  This lamb can only have been a few hours old.

There are a lot of buildings at Tockmal, many can be seen still standing but there is evidence of many more that have all but disappeared.

In addition to the buildings there are a lot of substantial earthworks such as these parallel walls enclosing a sort of road.  I have no idea what they were used for - but a great deal of labour was involved in building them.

Diptera sp. pollinating Thrift (Armeria maritinum)

Thrift at Kintra (Armeria maritinum)

Took a walk to Soldier's Rock on the Oa today - starting out from Kintra Farm and walking via the old ruined village of Tockmal.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Common sunstar - (Crossaster papposus)

Photographed in the sea life tank at the INHT Centre in Port Charlotte this is the ventral surface of a Common sun star.  Sun stars are omnivorous, they will eat pretty much anything organic they come across, ranging from plant life to other starfish, which are eaten whole.

Yellow Pimpernel - (Lysimachia nemorum)

Port Charlotte

Alkanet - or Common Bugloss (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Pink Purslane (Montia sibirica)

Pink purslane was originally from North America but has been naturalised in the UK since the early 19th century.  It is common around Port Charlotte in damp shady places.  Apparently it is good to eat in salads or even boiled as a vegetable - but I have not tried it yet...

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and European Honey bee ((Apis mellifera)

Dandelions are very lovely flowers

This shot of a Euriopean honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a dandelion is the perfect illustration of why they are such good pollinators

And without insects, we would not have Dandelion clocks - which would be a shame...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

A few records from Alistair Hutchison - thanks Alistair...

Alistair tells us that on the night of Sunday 17th April he heard a Corncrake ‘calling’ from the vicinity
of Kilarrow House / The Glebe … whilst standing at his back door at 23.40 hours ….

Corncrake - image from RSPB
He also saw his first Swallow on the 10th April and ‘noted’ a Bat on the wing  at his back door on 18th April.  Sadly, a Willow warbler flew into one of his windows and perished - also on the 18th April...

Some Natural History Records from Crystal Maw

Aphodius sphacelatus

Belted beauty moth 8/4/11 Ardnave dunes NR734296
Silpha atrata 9/4/11 Gruinart grassy area behind RSPB office NR676276
Oiceoptoma thoracica 17/4/11 Heathery slope above Aonan nan Uan NR763426
Adder 17/4/11 In dry grass near Bagh an Da Dhorius NR787409
Aphodius sphacelatus 11/4/11 100s in sheep dung in fields NR6940
Geotrupes stercorarius 5/4/11 Glenastle valley, amongst heather NR455286

Thanks Crystal

Beadlet anemone (Actinia equina)

Thanks Paul!! - Scorpion Fish (Scorpaena Porcus)

Port Charlotte fisherman Paul Rennie and his crew have brought us pehaps the best collection of sea creatures we have ever had for our tanks to get us going this year.  Many thanks to him.  The tanks look really good because the water is so clear.  Getting clear water for the tanks is very difficult as there is usually some turbulence near the shore but we certainly seem to have hit the jackpot this year...

This spectacular specimen is a Scorpion fish (Scorpaena porcus).  Their spines are poisonous and will give you a nasty sting if you tread on one...

Friday, 22 April 2011

Carabus nitens - a new ground beetle for Islay

Becky's find of the spectacular ground beetle Carabus nitens while on a Walkislay outing has been confirmed as a first for Islay, Jura and Colonsay.  Nice one!!


Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus)

This group of Whoopers dropped onto Loch Indaal last weekend for a short while during the course of their migration north from their winter feeding grounds, probably in Ireland.

Dates of Opening

Just to clear up any confusion, the Islay Natural History Trust Visitor Centre is open this weekend (Fri, Sat, Sun), and then closes again, reopening on Monday 23rd May. It will be open weekdays between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm, and closes for the season at the end of September.


Thursday, 21 April 2011

Not a mammoth

As a follow-up to Carl's post of Norrie and his "mammoth tusk". There were actually two of them and indeed they weren't tusks of any kind but, much more mundanely I fear, they were horns. And just as mundanely, they weren't "buried deep in the peat", but were found, in March 1999, when a ditch was being cleaned out close to the Machrie Hotel! A possible suggestion is that they were once mounted and displayed in the hotel (or in the original farmhouse which became the hotel) and then thrown out perhaps on some change of ownership. They were taken to the National Museum in Edinburgh and identified as some kind of Indian/Asian cattle. They are presumably still there. Here are a couple of very poor photographs of the two of them after they had been washed. The tape measure is extended to approx. 3 feet (90 cm).