31 August 2008

Skye coral beach

Near Dunvegan, in the north-west of Skye, we visited a beach composed of what looks like coral.

This is not coral at all, but broken pieces of calcified red seaweed known as maerl. For more information about maerl, see the UK Marine SACs project website.

Among the maerl fragments are many seashells such as those below:

top: Clausinella fasciata (Banded Venus), Trivia monacha (Spotted cowrie), Hinia incrassata (Thick-lipped Dog Whelk), Gari tellinella (Sunset Shell).

centre: Gibbula opercularis (Flat Top Shell), Gibbula cineraria (Grey Top Shell), Tectura virginea (White tortoiseshell limpet).

bottom: Parvicardium exiguum (Little cockle), Lucinoma borealis (Northern Lucine), Aequipecten opercularis (Queen Scallop).

Below are some larger shells, clockwise: Gari depressa (Large Sunset Shell), a piece of Maerl, Dosinia exoleta (Rayed Artemis), Venerupis senegalensis (Pullet Carpet Shell), Circomphalus casina, Mya truncata (Blunt Gaper).

For more about seashells, see our UK Seashells website.

28 August 2008


Last Saturday, while I was out walking in the hills to the south of Glasgow, I collected a sample of water from a boggy area for Fred to examine under his microscope. The water looked like green soup.

Under the microscope, we found that it was full of desmids. These are single-celled green algae. They can be seen among the strands of a filamentous alga in this image.

Algae are primative plants and include the seaweeds.

27 August 2008

Insectivorous plants

Whilst on Skye, we found some other carnivorous plants in addition to the Bladderworts.

The Pale Butterwort (Pinguicula lusitanica) is found in the west of Scotland. It traps insects on its sticky leaves.

The Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) is found throughout Scotland and has bigger, deeper-coloured flowers.
The Common Butterwort (left below) has much brighter green leaves than the Pale Butterwort (right).

The Great Sundew (Drosera anglica) has long narrow leaves which trap insects with sticky hairs. It is found in the west of Scotland.

This plant is probably a hybrid between the Great and Common Sundews (Drosera x obovata).

For more about Sundews, see the Sundew page on our website.

26 August 2008


While we were staying on Skye I was on the lookout for Bladderworts, as Fred and I have been trying to sort out the different British species.

The Bladderworts (Utricularia) are aquatic carnivorous plants which have small bladders in which they trap microscopic animals.

There are 6 British species, but most of them are impossible to identify accurately without microscopic examination unless they are flowering. Only Utricularia minor flowers freely in Scotland.

This picture shows Utricularia stygia growing on the margin of a loch on Skye.

From the loch there was an excellent view to the Cuillins.

The commonest species on Skye was Utricularia minor, but I did not find any in flower. The following pictures were taken in Glen Coe on our way home.

The small pool where it was growing was surrounded by a bog and, as you can see, it was raining.

Most of the flowers were in the middle of the pool, but this one was near enough to the edge for me to get a close-up.

Under the microscope, it is possible to see the structure of the hairs surrounding the mouth of one of the bladders.

An introduced Utricularia species, possibly U. macrorhiza, grows close to our home, and this photo taken under the microscope shows the bristles on the sides of the leaves, which are also present on Utricularia stygia. In the picture above, you can see that Utricularia minor has no such bristles.

The most reliable way of separating the species is by microscopical examination of what are known as quadrifid hairs, which are inside the back of the bladders. We have used a stain to show these more clearly.

The first picture shows U. stygia, in which the hairs form an X.

In U. minor, the shorter pair of hairs hang down almost alongside the longer pair.

In the introduced Utricularia, the shorter pair have an angle of almost 180 degrees.

For more pictures of bladderworts, see the Bladderwort page on our site.

25 August 2008

Skye flowers and butterfly

The Scotch Argus butterfly is quite common in many parts of Scotland, and was the butterfly we saw most on Skye.

Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) is a common plant growing in the edges of lochs.

Bur Reeds (Sparganium sp.) also grow around the margins of lochs, and sometimes also in deeper water. This one is probably Least Bur Reed (Sparganum minimum).

We found Field Gentian (Gentianella campestris) in the shorter grass near the sea.

Also growing in the short grass were Heath Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza maculata ssp. ericetorum).

This Greater Sea-spurrey (Spergularia media)was growing just above the high tide line.

Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) grew along the top of the beach.

Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) is often a mountain plant, but we found it growing at all levels. Here, it was overlooking a stream.

Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) is one of the most beautiful flowers, and one of my favourites.

A close-up view shows the sterile stamens branched into little semicircles of glandular hairs between each fertile stamen.

For more information on the flowers of Skye, see Skye Flora

24 August 2008

Skye pictures

Last week we visited Skye.

On the way we passed Eilean Donan Castle.

On Skye there are many views to the dramatic Cuillin Hills.

This view was taken at Glenbrittle...

...and this from just north of Carbost.

Parts of Skye are very boggy, and I was particularly interested in looking for some of the insectivorous plants that grow there. I'll be writing about some of these in the next few days.

This roadside ditch was full of beautiful flowers.

Two more views to the Cuillins from Elgol.

Soon after we left Skye, the mist was rising on the hills opposite the castle.

21 August 2008

Out of season primrose

On 18th August, while visiting the Isle of Skye, I found this primrose in flower.

In Scotland, primroses usually flower between March and May.

14 August 2008


Today, while we were out for a walk, I came across a rather small newt.

The way to tell a newt from a lizard is by counting the toes. On the front feet lizards have five toes while newts have only four. On the other hand, if you can count the toes at all it must be a newt. Lizards don't hang around to wait while you count their toes.

13 August 2008


As soon as I went outside this morning, Clonk!, the jackdaw arrived on the fence, waiting for his breakfast.

He (or is it she?) is the head of the jackdaw heirarchy and obviously regards me as lower in rank than him. He eats peanuts, currants (but not sultanas or raisins) or dried cat food. But he will reject any of these at any time by tossing them away with a flick of his beak. Otherwise, he'll catch them almost every time unless my aim is particularly bad.

He will approach to within about half a metre, but never any closer.

Here's a picture of him earlier in the year when the fairy foxglove was flowering on our drive.

We have other jackdaws that visit the garden and who have also learnt to catch food when it is thrown, but none seem to have quite as much personality.

For more information about the birds in our garden, please see our website.

12 August 2008


A few days ago we had a lot of rain. Afterwards I found this strange insect drowned in a bowl of water in our garden.

It took me some time to identify it as a froghopper. It is unusual to see one with its wings outstretched.

Below is a photo I took of a froghopper in August 2006.

11 August 2008


On 2nd August, while visiting a local country park, I spotted this pair of mating damselflies.

It reminded me that, on a visit in May, I had seen a less fortunate damselfly which had been caught by a spider.