Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Red Deer in an Islay landscape

I surprised this Red Deer hind near Foreland yesterday where previously I've only been used to seeing Roe Deer.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Our first nature ramble at Bunnahabhain

What a relief our first nature ramble was this Monday and not last Monday in the gales!

We had gorgeous weather at Bunnahabhain and enjoyed fantastic views all round. Amongst our sightings were Green Tiger Beetle, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Sandpiper, Small Heath Butterfly and this thistle, which I think is a Marsh Thistle. This lovely spider was making its home in its spiny leaves.

The next nature ramble is at Killinallan on Friday. Please phone 01496 850 288 for more information and to book.


The carnivorous Common Butterwort

The Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) which I photographed flowering near Bunnahabhain yesterday is common across Islay while its relative the Pink Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica) is rarer. Both have the same outspread rosette of pale leaves covered in a sticky secretion from tiny glands. Small insects landing on them become trapped, the leaf edges roll inwards, and the insect's juices are digested. Both plants grow in poor quality soil and so use this method to boost their nutrient intake.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A new moth for Islay

My observant son-in-law spotted this on the track just outside the Bunnahabhain forestry today. He has only a passing interest in natural history but thought this sufficiently different to call me over to look.
It is a Red-necked Footman (Atolmis rubricollis) and, according to the new 'Provisional Atlas of the UK's Larger Moths' recently published by Butterfly Conservation and containing records up to July 2010, it has not been recorded on Islay before. There is a record in the Atlas for Colonsay but I've been unable to find the details. It has not been recorded from Jura. Well done, Jim!
Its habitat is deciduous and coniferous woodland and it has been spreading north from south-west England and Wales into northern England and southern Scotland. There are now a few records for Central Scotland.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

INHT "Nature Rambles" programme announced

Storm damage

Summer gales on Islay (and the wind reached over 70 mph in gusts last Monday) plus the salt they carry badly scorch young leaves at this time of year or, in the case of many sycamores and ash trees, strip them right off. The apple trees in my garden just make me want to weep! Here are three examples of wind damage from near Foreland.
Hawthorn bush

Oak, birch, sycamore and beech

Rowan tree

Friday, 27 May 2011

Snakelocks Anemones

The greenish coloured anemones on top of the pipe are Snakelocks Anemones, a different species than the red Beadlet Anemones. I added them to the tank today and took advantage of the rare prowl of the Wrasse and appearance of the Squat Lobster to take a photo of our big tank today.


Stoat Photograph

Thanks to Richard Wells who sent us this beautiful photograph of a stoat taken at Gruinart in April.


Thursday, 26 May 2011

Carabus glabratus - Smooth Ground Beetle

Flicking through last year's photos I found this one of a beetle I hadn't identified, but have now! It's Carabus glabratus, which I think means Smooth Ground Beetle. It's very common. Its wings are fused together so it can't fly, but  I was reading that apparently some ground beetles within the same species can fly whilst others can't! Interesting.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Poplar Hawk Moth

Thanks to Bob Davidson for bringing in this female Poplar Hawk Moth which he rescued after the storms on Monday. She promptly laid some eggs, visible in picture, which we're now rearing in the Centre, although we released the moth shortly after Bob brought her in.


Port Charlotte Primary

Port Charlotte Primary pupils at the Centre

Emperor Moth

Here's a photo of a beautiful Emperor Moth seen on the Oa a few weeks ago. I had seen many big brown butterfly like insects flying past me on several walks, but they never seemed to land, until we nearly trod on this one near Glen Astle. Its feathery antennae are amazing!


Yellow Flag Iris and Islay House

Iris pseudacorus

Alien invasion in Argyll and Bute

Council Press Release
Argyll and Bute has been invaded by several new species – of plants! Many of our gardens have been greatly enriched by the introduction of plants from abroad but a small number like rhododendron, Japanese knotweed, Skunk Cabbage, Gold Deadnettle, Himalayan or Indian balsam and Parrot feather are highly invasive.
They are a big problem in the wider environment threatening our habitats and native species and they can be an issue in the garden too. It’s difficult and expensive to control these species but many are widely available with little indication of the damage they can do if they are allowed to escape into the countryside or disposed of carelessly. The threat to our biodiversity, native species and habitats from these plants is very serious.
You should always be aware of what you are buying and growing and make sure you avoid using plants know to be invasive. There are always alternative plants better suited to gardens. If a plant is unfamiliar to you make sure you do some research. Be wary of any labels which use terms like ‘vigorous’, ‘spreading’, ‘fast-growing’, ‘self –seeds’ and ‘good ground cover.’
If you are exchanging plants with friends you should think about how what you are offering could spread. Much of the problem with Himalayan balsam is down to gardeners donating seeds. Watch out for introducing an alien species as a ‘hitch – hiker’ as many invasive pondweeds in particular as introduced to gardens this way. It’s a good idea to quarantine newly bought pond plants to see what else might come with it. Garden waste should be composted to provide organic matter to feed your plants and cut down on costs. If you’re buying topsoil it’s always a good idea to try and see it before you buy it as this is how many alien species make it into our gardens.
Japanese Knotweed in Port Charlotte.
You can find some useful web addresses on the council’s website at http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/

Monday, 23 May 2011

Wave - Port Charlotte earlier today

That was a very wild day indeed.  Most unusual for May.  Much calmer now and the power is now restored after having been off on the Rhinns most of the day...

A Day in the Dark

After anticipating the opening of the centre for so long, we switched everything on this morning only to have it all go out on us almost immediately with a power cut that lasted all day.

Undeterred, we remained open with several folk braving it through the doors, including one intrepid cyclist who reported having heard a Corncrake at Gearach - despite the wind! There were also several 'ghosts' as the door kept being blown open all day due to the strong winds. I cannot recall ever having this problem at the centre before, or in fact the winds being so strong in May on Islay. It really has been vicious and unpleasant, but we've soldiered on . . .

And so have the caterpillars, which are getting bigger all the time, leaving skeletons of nettle leafs in their wake.

We hope for calmer weather tomorrow!


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Butterfly Pavilion Update

I was very excited this morning when I went to check the caterpillars we'd put in the pavilion last night because not only were they crawling all over the place and looking lovely and healthy, but, wait for it, there were some eggs that I'd not noticed before. The top picture shows what I think are Peacock butterfly eggs because they look a bit like miniscule gooseberries.

The bottom picture shows both Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars (stripey) and Peacock caterpillars (black) in our pavilion.


Owl TV is back - Cheers Michael!!

Many thanks to Michael Thompson at Bruichladdich for once again reaching out beyond the call of duty to get Owl TV back on the air.  We will not bore you with the long and involved story about the various technical and operational issues involved but patience and hard work have  finally paid off and we are rolling again...  Suffice to say that the box of tricks controlling it all was probably hit by lightning...

Check it out out...  Owl TV

She appears to be incubating - hopefully on some eggs!!  We would be grateful if anyone who sees her get up for a stretch could let us know how many...


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Shorefield Project - Am Boireannach a Dh'ith Bò (The Woman Who Ate A Cow)

A documentary about how to cook and eat an entire cow is Caledonia TV's latest commission for BBC ALBA. 'Am Boireannach a Dh'ith Bò' (The Woman Who Ate A Cow) will feature Islay born artist and cook, Heather Dewar, as she reveals how previous generations ate animals from head to tail, never wasting a scrap of meat. Today, only half the meat from a carcass ends up on the supermarket counter - but not so long ago meals made of offal were welcomed by hungry families. The programme will follow Heather as she selects and buys a Highland bull, sees it slaughtered and butchered, and cooks all the parts that modern diners turn their noses up at.

We are very pleased to say that Heather has chosen to go with one of the beasts from the Shorefield Project for the programme, and today was the, frankly uncomfortable day, when the animal was taken to be slaughtered at the Avonvoggie Abattoir on Islay. The producers of the programme are keen to portray as realistic and honest a view as possible of the process that culminates with meat on our plates.

The beast to be featured was taken with one of his fellow Highlanders early this morning on a short, stress-free journey to Avonvoggie in a 'float'. Both were completely calm and had no idea about what lay ahead. John and Tim, the two slaughtermen and Beth the vet, were totally professional and the deed was done instantaneously and humanely. Heather, who is truly passionate about the quality and provenance of her food in general and her meat in particular, was in attendance throughout.

Caledonia TV Producer Les Wilson filming one of the beasts in the lairage at the abattoir.

Heather watches John preparing to dispatch the beast.

Les filming John and Tim removing the hide prior to evisceration.
Once the carcass has been prepared it is split in half using a powered bandsaw
Veterinary surgeon Beth stamps the carcass once her inspections have been completed.

Heather discusses the cooking of offal and some of the less fashionable parts of the beast such as ox-tail

Peacock Butterfly Caterpillars

The rock pooling was impossible today due to high tide, but we followed Malcolm's advice and searched through the nettles at Port Mor, looking for Peacock Butterfly eggs which I told everyone looked a bit like tiny gooseberries. Darcy was the first person to find them, but they weren't eggs anymore, they had just hatched into tiny black caterpillars, lots of them. It was a very exciting moment.

But there was more to come when Darcy (again) called over that she'd found more caterpillars that looked a bit different. This time they were Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars which also feed on nettles. I was ecstatic! The ones shown above are the Peacock caterpillars; the Small Tortoiseshell ones didn't come out but I'll try again tomorrow.

We have taken a few of each species to put in our butterfly pavilion at the centre. Do come and have a look when we open next week.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bug Hunt

The rain and midges didn't stop us enjoying our bug hunt in Bridgend Woods this afternoon - thanks to all those intrepid bug hunters! We were also looking for Peacock Butterfly eggs (which look like tiny gooseberries) on the underside of nettle leafs. We want to put these in our butterfly pavilion and watch them hatch and go throw the four stages of a butterfly's life cycle. Instead we found a yellow parasite called nettle rust (Puccinia urticata) - yuk!

The goods news is we found LOTS of things for our bug tank - millipedes, centipedes, a shield bug, ground beetles, wood lice, snails and spiders. It was great fun. Here's a photo of us hunting and a photo of some beetle's eggs in the soil - I'm not sure which species.

Tomorrow is meant to be rock pooling, but if the tide is in we'll do a bit of a beach comb/peacock butterfly egg spotting instead. Meet at 4.30 pm at Port Mor car park, Port Charlotte.


Scottish deer consultation begins

Red deer hind at Cattadale, Islay

A public consultation has begun on a new code for deer management in Scotland.
Anyone with an interest in deer management is being encouraged to give feedback on the Code of Practice on Deer Management, developed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).
The purpose of the code is to help all land managers and land owners, whether in the Central Belt or the Highlands of Scotland, to manage deer sustainably. The code supports the current voluntary approach to deer management. The consultation runs until 1 July.
Andrew Thin, SNH chairman, said:
“Wild deer are an important part of Scotland’s ecology, economy and culture. Deer are managed in certain parts of Scotland to protect crops, trees and protected natural areas, as well as to reduce road accidents. Deer stalking also provides a valuable source of income to many fragile rural economies throughout Scotland. Balancing these different objectives presents a real challenge.”
The code provides guidance on how to manage deer sustainably and outlines the main environmental, economic and social actions associated with deer management. The code also sets out when SNH may intervene in deer management for the public interest.
SNH has developed the code with input from a range of organisations and people involved in land management. The code arises from the Wildlife and Natural Environment (WANE) (Scotland) Act, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament earlier this year.
Alastair MacGugan, SNH’s wildlife management manager, said:
“I’d encourage anyone involved in managing deer to look at the code and let us know their thoughts. This guidance will help all of us to manage Scotland’s deer sustainably in a cooperative way – so it’s important we get input from all those involved to develop a workable and clear code.”
For more information and to respond to the consultation see:
http://www.snh.gov.uk/land-and-sea/managing-wildlife/managing-deer/code-of-deer-management . Hard copies of the consultation can be supplied by contacting Scottish Natural Heritage,
Deer Code Consultation, Great Glen House, Leachkin Road, Inverness, IV3 8NW.

Biodiversity week in the Highlands and Islands

Spotting corncrakes and learning about nettles are all part the celebrations taking place across the Highlands and Islands for Scottish Biodiversity Week from 21-29 May.
Organised by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and partners, "the week has events for every taste, including a walk to search for corncrakes and other birds at Benbecula, learning about the many uses of nettles in Applecross ,and a one-day festival celebrating the forests of the Cairngorms in Aviemore."
For more information on these and many other events across Scotland, see

Scottish Biodiversity Week organiser, Zeshan Akhter, said:
“We live in an extraordinary country where people can enjoy nature easily – whether it’s at a city park or on a remote western isle. So this week is a great chance to get out and enjoy the brilliant nature on our doorsteps.”
Scottish Biodiversity Week has been held every year since 2001, starting as a local initiative in Fife in 2000 and growing into a national event. Many organisations put on events, including park ranger services, councils, environmental charities, botanic gardens, businesses, schools and community organisations. For more information and event listings, see www.snh.gov.uk/biodiversityweek.
The theme for Scottish Biodiversity Week in 2011 is "Biodiversity is Life - Biodiversity is Our Life", emphasizing the critical links between humans and our amazing, complex world. Biodiversity, the variety of life on earth, is crucial to sustaining ourlives. It produces air for us to breathe, food to eat, water to drink and even medicines to cure our ills. It also provides value to us through activities such as walking or birdwatching and inspiration for art. We need it for our overall health, wealth and wellbeing.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Geometrid Moth Caterpillar

We saw this tiny caterpillar on the Oa and watched it 'loop' its way across my rucsack. I was fascinated to read the explanation for this behaviour in wikipedia:

The name "Geometridae" ultimately derives from Latin geometra from Greek γεωμέτρης ("geometer, earth-measurer"). This refers to the means of locomotion of the larvae or caterpillars, which lack the prolegs of other Lepidopteran caterpillars in the middle portion of the body, with only two or three pairs at each end. Equipped with appendages at both ends of the body, a caterpillar will clasp with its front legs and draw up the hind end, then clasp with the hind end (prolegs) and reach out for a new front attachment - creating the impression that it is measuring its journey. The caterpillars are accordingly called loopers, spanworms, or inchworms after their characteristic looping gait.


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Two of the Shorefield Bullocks will be slaughtered this week

Two of the bullocks from the Shorefield Project will be slaughtered at the Avonvoggie Abattoir on Islay this week.  One of these will be used by Caledonia TV in the making of the Gaelic TV programme Am Boireannach a Dh'ith Bò (The Woman Who Ate A Cow) which has been commissioned by BBC Alba.

After hanging for 21 days, the carcasses will be butchered and each beast split into four equal quarters, vacuum packed into freezer-ready portions.  We already have customers for these, but more will be ready before long, so if you fancy adding yourself to the waiting list please let us know!!

Herring Gull Banging at Window

Our, frankly rather irritating, Herring Gull is back.  I think it was round about this time last year that he (she?) first made an appearance, banging loudly on one of our our bedroom windows at Lorgba.  All very friendly (even vaguely amusing) at first, but the novelty soon wears off, and it is really irritating if it starts at five in the morning...

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Lesser Swallow Prominent

Another lovely name for a moth and very suitable for this handsome fellow I caught last night. There are a number of records for it on Islay but only one (in 2003) for its larger relative, the Swallow Prominent.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Common Seal - James Deane

Thanks to James for this rather splendid picture of a Common seal....

Snail update

Just to confirm that the River Snail I reported earlier has been confirmed as that species and that it is a first record for Scotland. However, I have also been told that it is commonly supplied to aquarium keepers from aquarium shops and that this is the most likely origin - someone on Islay had one or more in an aquarium, maybe several years ago, and for whatever reason released them in Loch Skerrols.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Persecution of Scotland's birds of prey

This programme is being shown on BBC2 this Tuesday evening (10th May). Islay used to have a terrible reputation for persecution of birds of prey stretching back decades, but thankfully it all ceased over 20 years ago and now our eagles, buzzards, hen harriers, etc. all flourish unmolested. Very sadly, this is still not the case in several areas of Scotland, mainly those where grouse shooting takes place, and this programme explores why it still happens. The chief executive of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association (it used to be, more simply, the Scottish Landowners Association) has already called on the new Scottish Government to allow the "control" of birds of prey such as buzzards because of the alleged damage they do by taking grouse chicks. The inference is that, if this were permitted, then the totally illegal poisoning and shooting of not just buzzards, but golden eagles and hen harriers as well, which goes on in Scotland would stop. Is he to be believed? I personally don't think so. It has been shown by very good science that the populations of golden eagles and hen harriers are being prevented from increasing by persecution. Indeed, it has been estimated that the current hen harrier population of under 700 pairs could be more than doubled if they weren't being prevented from using all the suitable habitat that exists across the whole of the UK.

A new snail

 You can forget about beetles (!), how about a new snail, and not just new to Islay and the other islands, but perhaps even new to Scotland! However, that said, it was almost certainly introduced to Loch Skerrols where Hugh Campbell found it yesterday. It is quite widespread in England, but only as far north as Yorkshire with scattered records further north, but none that I've found so far in Scotland. I have enquired of the relevant experts who are going to check and let me know, but in the meantime we can pretend it is the first Scottish record - until told differently.
It is a River Snail Viviparus viviparus, and nearly 40 mm in total length. It is now residing in the freshwater aquarium at the Natural History Centre in Port Charlotte. The first photo is of it in the water, walking around on the side of the tank. For the second photo, I had taken it out in order to measure it.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

More Beetles

 I think these two are the same - Ctenicera cuprea - Click Beetle.

This one is Carabus granulatus, a ground beetle. They don't fly, but they're very fast on the ground!

This one does fly. It's the Green Tiger Beetle, really beautiful.