15 July 2009

Orchids in our garden

Soon after we moved here we found some orchid plants appearing in our lawn. These turned out to be five Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) and one Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera chlorantha). We were very excited to have such beautiful "weeds," and stopped cutting our lawn in the summer in an attempt to encourage them.

The numbers always rose each year, but slowly at first. Then, after 5 years, the numbers started rising much faster. That year (2002) we had 57 Common Spotted Orchids, though only 2 Greater Butterfly Orchids. We assume that it takes a little longer for the Butterfly Orchids to mature from seed as the number did not begin to increase until 2006 when we had 5.

This year the number of Common Spotted Orchids has risen to 594, though strangely 115 of these are growing in our alpine tubs, having seeded themselves there and not planted by me. As you can see, there has also been rather a large increase in the number of buttercups!

Meanwhile the number of Butterfly Orchids in flower has risen to 11, with a number of non-flowering plants also present.

In 2006 I was clearing some wood at the side of our house when I discovered that I had broken off two spikes of Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) which I hadn't noticed. Fortunately they reappeared the next year and have had 4 flowering spikes every year since then.

13 July 2009


Someone has asked me about the difference between the Scottish Asphodel and the Bog Asphodel.

The Scottish Asphodel - Tofieldia pusilla - is a rather small plant with greenish-white flowers. In the UK, it is restricted almost entirely to high ground in Scotland.

Bog Asphodel - Narthecium ossifragum - is a much taller plant with yellow flowers, and is also much more common. It is found at all altitudes throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in the west of England.

The Latin name Narthecium ossifragum reflects the belief (incorrect) that sheep would become brittle-boned after feeding on it.

Both species are members of the Lily family and have long narrow basal leaves which are flattened into one plane.

12 July 2009

Ben Lawers

A few weeks ago I went for a hill-walk up Ben Lawers. That time I went to the summit, but yesterday I went back with a guide from the National Trust for Scotland to see some of the rare plants that grow on the hill. These included some that I had never seen before in Britain and which are found in very few other places. The following are some of the rarest. Their names are followed by the number of 10km squares in which they are found in the UK.

All the photos were taken on Ben Lawers.

Alpine Gentian - Gentiana nivalis (3)
This tiny gentian opens only when it is sunny, so we were very lucky to see it.

Mountain Sandwort - Minuartia rubella (5)

Alpine Forget-me-not - Myosotis alpestris (5)

Alpine Fleabane - Erigeron borealis (6)

Rock Speedwell - Veronica fruticans (16) - see pictures from another location

Net-leaved Willow - Salix reticulata (17)

Cyphel - Minuartia sedoides (41)
This photo was taken on my previous visit to Ben Lawers.

Alpine Mouse-ear - Cerastium alpinum (46) - see picture from Ben Lawers

Thyme-leaved speedwell - alpine form - Veronica serpyllifolia subsp. humifusa (60)
This photo was taken on 14th July 2006.

Sibbaldia - Sibbaldia procumbens (82)

Scottish Asphodel - Tofieldia pusilla (106)
This photo was taken on 26th June 2007.

Holly-fern - Polystichum lonchitis (123)

Three-flowered Rush - Juncus triglumis (134)

Hoary Whitlowgrass - Draba incana (139)

Moss Campion - Silene acaulis (180) - see picture from Ben Lawers

Purple Saxifrage - Saxifraga oppositifolia (217) - not in flower now, but see pictures from another location.

Mountain Sorrel - Oxyria digyna (225)

Alpine Bistort - Persicaria vivipara (299)
This photo was taken on my previous visit to Ben Lawers.

Mossy saxifrage - Saxifraga hypnoides (315)

Least Willow - Salix herbacea (320).
Our smallest tree. The plants in this picture have galls.

We were also lucky enough to spot a ring ouzel carrying food for its young.

05 July 2009

Jumping jackdaw

This is the champion peanut-catching jackdaw! I took on the challenge today of trying to capture him/her in action. Not so easy, as I had to throw the peanut reasonably accurately with my left hand while trying to hold the camera steady with my right. Also the jackdaw had to catch the peanut, though this was the least problem since (s)he rarely misses unless my aim is terrible! The following sequence took several attempts before we got it right.

More about this jackdaw (I think it's the same one) on our blog.

04 July 2009


Today we went to pick bilberries (or blaeberries) at a place in the Trossachs where we can usually find good numbers. When we returned to our car, a huge insect kept flying round and alighting on the car. At first glance I thought it was a wood wasp, but soon realised that it was a fly. It is the horse fly, Tabanus sudeticus. Pictures don't convey its actual size, but it was the largest I have ever seen. The length of its body was 25mm.

It seemed a most unlikely place to find interesting wildlife, but insects often seem to be attracted to the car and it's a good place to look for some interesting ones. After a closer look, I also discovered this little fellow, only half the length of the other one.

It is Haematopota sp. - probably the Common Clegg - but the eyes are particularly striking.

Thanks to Jeanne Robinson for help with the identifications.

03 July 2009

Two moths

Yesterday Fred spotted this colourful Brimstone moth on a cotoneaster bush in our garden.

I also found and photographed one of these on 13th May 2007.

We tend to think of moths as being rather drab in colour compared to butterflies, and flying only at night, but there are some notable exceptions.

Last week we saw this Six-spot Burnet which had just emerged from its chrysalis.

The Burnets are also brightly coloured moths which fly by day.

The chrysalis is attached to a grass stem.

For an excellent picture of emerging Burnet Moths, see Colin Jacobs' blog