27 August 2009

Gallant and shaggy soldiers

Yesterday I was very surprised to find this flower growing in the grass verge outside the house of a friend I was visiting. I recognised it immediately as one of the two Galinsoga species, which are very rare aliens in Scotland (though widespread further south). They originate from South America.

I am almost certain that it is Galinsoga quadriradiata, or Shaggy Soldier, as the leaves and stem are very hairy and the leaves are quite strongly toothed.

It was first found growing wild in Britain in 1909. It is recorded in the New Atlas of the British and Irish flora as being currently found in only 5 10k squares in Scotland, and these do not include the square in which I have now found it, so it is a new record.

The most amazing thing about this find is that in 2003 I found the other Galinsoga species, Galinsoga parviflora, or Gallant Soldier, and this was the only current record in Scotland.

The leaves of this plant are clearly less strongly toothed, and the plants was much less hairy, though the best way to tell the species apart is supposed to be by differences in the tiny scales in the flowers and fruits.

Gallant Soldier is also known as Kew Weed, as it was first introduced to Kew Gardens in around 1796 and subsequently escaped from there.

It seems strange that what are possibly the two rarest plants I have found in Scotland happen to be the two species of the same genus.

Identification details:
Key (Digital flora of Taiwan)
Interactive flora of NW Europe - Gallant Soldier
Interactive flora of NW Europe - Shaggy Soldier

More information:
Our website (Gallant Soldier)

25 August 2009

Midge larvae

A few days ago I discovered what appeared to be eggs in a mass of jelly about 2cm long in a tray of water in our garden.

The eggs appeared to be arranged spirally within the jelly.

On examination under the microscope, we could see small creatures inside the eggs.

Three days later, these had hatched out as small larvae.

These appear to be the larvae of Chironomids, or non-biting midges. We'll watch to see how they develop.

Addition to previous blog entry:

Last Saturday I found more star jelly, high up on a Scottish mountain.

18 August 2009

Lake of Menteith

Today I had the opportunity for a botanical excursion to the Lake of Menteith - the only "lake" in Scotland (all the others being referred to as lochs).

Inch Tulla (on the left) is a very small island with a castle, and Inchmahome (on the right) has a ruined priory.

As we had the use of a boat, we had a great opportunity to look at aquatic plants.

Of the three water-lilies that we saw, the least common is the Least Water-Lily (Nuphar pumila). Unfortunately the flowers were already over. The edge of the top of the ovary is scalloped.

Yellow Water-lily (Nuphar lutea) was also present. It is much larger, and the edge of the top of the ovary is smooth and not scalloped.

Its conspicuous flask-shaped fruits are responsible for its alternative name of "Brandy-bottle."

The commonest is the White Water-lily (Nymphaea alba).

There is one other species of Water-lily which is not found on the Lake of Menteith, though it is found nearby. This is the Fringed Water-lily (Nymphoides peltata). It is not related to the other water-lilies. Below is a picture of it which I took on 31st August 2003.

Fungi are now appearing everywhere and we saw some conspicuous ones.

The Lake of Menteith is also a good place for birds.

We saw large numbers of Great Crested Grebes,

...a pair of Mute Swans,

and several Herons.

12 August 2009

Resin and amber 2

Yesterday we re-visited the tree where we found resin last autumn (see Resin and amber).

This time we decided to take a small piece of resin home with us so we could look more closely to see what small creatures had become trapped in it.

The body of this ichneumon fly measured 4mm.

A small mite, measuring about 1.2mm. There were large numbers of these.

Another mite or small spider with a body length of about 1mm.

A small fly

After many millions of years, resin such as this, containing a microcosm of life from our time, would solidify and become amber.

For more information about amber and the creatures found in it, see
"Jewel of the earth," which includes a complete transcript of the David Attenborough programme and many images.

Thanks to those who helped identify the insects in our blog post of 8th August. They were the hoverfly, Volucella bombylans, and a male Heather Fly, Bibio pomonae.

08 August 2009

Butterflies mud-puddling

Yesterday was warm and sunny - the perfect day for butterflies. We walked along a farm track, and at one point there was a large puddle. In several places at the edge of the puddle were groups of green-veined white butterflies "mud-puddling."

Groups of male butterflies may congregate in this way in order to gain nutrients which may be passed to the females during mating.

For further information, see
Mud-puddling - Wikipedia

We also saw a number of Painted Ladies. There was a huge influx of these butterflies from Africa in June, and the ones we are seeing now are the second generation.

Other butterflies we saw today were Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell (below), Ringlet, Red Admiral and Meadow Brown.

In the last few days we have also seen some other insects which we were unable to identify. We aree very grateful to Ben Darvill, Jeanne Robinson and Les Larkman for help in identifying them.

At first I took this hoverfly to be a bee. Its black and white colouration was very striking. It is Volucella bombylans, which confused us because it is variable in colour.

The fly shown below is a male Bibio pomonae or "Heather fly." It is most noticeable when flying, as it dangles its hind legs in flight. It appears to be very common as we see it most days in large numbers.

The very short antennae and the red upper sections of the front and back legs should have made identification easy, but it wasn't in any of our insect books.

04 August 2009

Eigg for a day

At the weekend we decided on the spur of the moment to pay a quick visit to the Isle of Eigg as we hadn't been there for some time.

This is Eigg seen from the mainland just south of Mallaig. At the left (south) end you can see the Sgurr.

On the way we stopped at Arisaig to look for shells. Recent storms seemed to have removed or shattered most of the shells, but just above the beach I found some Wild Carrot (Daucus carota ssp. carota) flowers. There has recently been some discussion in an email forum about this, and what reason there could be for its commonly having one purple central flower in each head.

Among the plants at Arisaig, rather less than half seemed to have this.

The fruiting heads are also rather strange, with the branches of the head curving in on themselves as the spiny fruits develop.

In Mallaig it was a sunny morning and I noticed that my shadow on the water had rays coming out from it. For more information about this effect, see
Color and light in nature by David K. Lynch and William Charles Livingston

Also in Mallaig harbour I met this rather friendly seal...

...and soon after leaving Mallaig on the boat for Eigg, I caught my first glimpse of a Basking Shark.

As one arrives at Eigg, the pitchstone ridge of the Sgurr, seen end-on, looks very dramatic.

We only had a few hours ashore so, while Fred went on a tour of the new electric system, I went to the beach to look for shells.

Unfortunately there was more seaweed than there were shells, but at least the weather stayed dry.

There are many more pictures of Eigg on our website.

01 August 2009

Flowery hills

It's getting towards the end of the flower season now. Most of the orchids are well past their best, as are some of the alpines, but there are some flowers that are at their best later in the season.

Last weekend I managed to visit two promising sites. One was Cnoc Coinnich, which boasts a spectacular view from the summit down the Clyde Estuary if you are lucky enough to get a good day. Last Saturday it was covered in damp mist when we set out, but this had all dispersed by the time we reached the summit.

High up on the hill we found Alpine Saw-wort (Saussurea alpina) which I had never seen in flower before.

The following day I went to Inverlochlarig in search of other late flowerers.

One of the most surprising find was Musk (Mimulus moschatus), which is a rather local garden escape.

On the side of the hill to the west of the track there were a number of huge boulders with trees growing in cracks. They appeared to have rolled down from the crags above, but I wondered how this one managed to have ended up vertical rather than lying on its side. No doubt the crack, already enlarged by the tree, will eventually cause it to fall apart.

The picture below was pure luck. I never even noticed the bee until after I had taken the picture of a white Marsh Thistle against the dark background of the hill beyond.

We followed the river back down the glen, with views of the hill Stob Binnein (often called Stobinian) to the north.