Friday 23 February 2018

Botanising in Scotland June 2017 Part 1: The Agony and the Ecstasy!

At the very beginning of June we were in Scotland for the Chequered Skipper at Glasdrum Wood but also on our agenda was to search for Diapensia lapponica a rare plant which only grows on the top of one mountain near Glenfinnan. It flowers from the middle of May to early June and so we were hopefully going to catch it in time. I had in my possession a description of three different route options to the summit of Fraoch Bheinn and I’d decided on the shortest. Unfortunately it was also the steepest, following a ridge all the way to the summit. It is classed on hillwalking websites as a moderate climb but I reckon it was the hardest walk I’ve ever done! It was horrible! It started with a really steep climb through waist high midge infested bracken, I got eaten alive! Then it got steeper still and very craggy. When there were slight downhill sections they led into pathless impassable bogs. I fell into one of these, twice! We were also treated to several false summits and a torrential shower or two! Then just over yet another false summit, there it was! Just a single large cushion with four white flowers. I’m not ashamed to say that I actually cried, with relief as much as anything, it was a joy to behold!

I wiped away the tears and took this photo of my first Diapensia flowers.
We weren’t yet at the summit. You can see the way up to it in background of this photo. 

Single flower of Diapensia lapponica

We also saw some nice plants of Trailing Azalea in this area. It has leaves which are almost identical to those of Diapensia and the two would be difficult to tell apart if not in flower. Both have small tough leathery leaves densely packed to prevent dessication and create local warmth I should imagine.

Trailing Azalea - Kalmia procumbens

When we reached the summit there were cushions of Diapensia everywhere, hundreds of them. Most of the flowers had already finished but there were still a good few blooms and best of all the sun came out for a bit and made for some excellent photo opportunities. The scenery was breathtaking too.

Summit Cairn 

A view from the summit 
(white specks in foreground are Diapensia flowers) 

Diapensia lapponica on the summit of Fraoch Bheinn

The rocky terrain of the summit plateau. 
A small cushion of Diapensia visible in right foreground.

A photogenic group of flowers with the summit of neighbouring mountain Sgurr na Utha in the background.

And in the sunshine simply exquisite...

And worth every tortuous step!
Diapensia lapponica on Fraoch Bheinn June 3rd 2017.

All too soon we had to think about getting back as looking to the west the sky was worryingly black. A storm was approaching. A mountain top known to have magnetic rocks didn’t seem a good place to be in a thunderstorm! I felt rather reluctant to leave as I knew chances were extremely remote that I would ever see this beautiful mountain flower again. Although downhill obviously, the journey back was still pretty arduous going and when the threatening storm did indeed hit and we were stuck in the midst of it with no shelter. The bogs got boggier and the grass got slippery. Just before the rain got really heavy we stopped to take photos of the first Dwarf Cornel we’d seen in flower.

 Dwarf Cornel - Cornus suecica

As we reached the lower slopes the storm had passed, the sun came out again and we saw a lone female Chequered Skipper which was a lovely distraction for a short while. When we eventually reached the car at Glenfinnan station it was certainly a great relief! The climb had been hell but the flowers were heavenly!

The following day it was off to Skye for yet more punishment. Well actually climbing up to the Trotternish Ridge was a doddle after the trials of Froach Bheinn. We were looking for another very rare mountain flower, this time Tufted Saxifrage, which had been discovered on the Trotternish Ridge just a few years ago in 2014. Most of the sites for this plant are extremely remote and difficult to get to so the chance of seeing it here was most welcome. I’d been given some excellent directions by the County Recorder but it was still very difficult to find!

The spectacular Trotternish Ridge and Sgurr a Mhadaidh Ruadh.
 Tufted Saxifrage is up there somewhere.
 At least the climb will be easy-peasy!

View from high on the ridge to the north.
We saw some nice mountain flowers on the way up to the Tufted Saxifrage site.

Roseroot - Rhodiola rosea

Moss Campion - Silene acaulis

Another very rare plant recently discovered here is the fern Alpine Woodsia
Alpine Woodsia - Woodsia alpina

We found a few small plants in a steep gully. There may have been more in the vicinity but it was all rather treacherous and inaccessible. 

Thoroughly delightful little plants they are too! 

Tufted Saxifrage - Saxifraga cespitosa

Saturday 17 February 2018


For the last few weeks I've been sieving leaf litter and moss hoping to find a Pseudoscorpion. I've seen lots of fascinating creatures, but not the one I was after. Well until today that is, on my fifth attempt when I found not one but two. I was so thrilled to finally see one! They're really amazing little creatures. Quite fearsome looking but only 4mm long, they are a type of Arachnid and inject their prey with venom from their pincers. I tried to get some photos which was a bit of a challenge with them being so tiny and always moving. I managed it though. Not brilliant photos but I'm amazed how much detail I could get. I think these are a common Pseudoscorpion called the Moss Neobisid

Moss Neobisid - Neobisium carcinoides

Thursday 15 February 2018

A Selection of Inverebrates from Last Year

A quick break from all the botany today with a selection of invertebrates that I've photographed throughout last year but haven't put in any blog posts yet. It wasn't all butterflies. They are from all over the country so I'll just put them in categories and state the location with the photographs.

Caterpillars and Eggs

 This Puss Moth caterpillar was on a sallow tree on Bovey Heathfield Industrial Estate, Devon 

Puss Moth - Cerura vinula


Privet Hawk Moth - Sphinx ligustri
Studland Village, Dorset 

Orange TipAnthocharis cardamines

Ranscombe Farm Kent.

Orange Tip Egg. Ramshorn Down. Devon
On Hedge GarlicAlliaria petiolata

Northern Brown Argus eggs. Grantown on Spey. Scotland
On Common Rock-rose - Helianthemum nummularium

Peacock - Aglais io
These were at Studland, Dorset, and on 23rd August were very late too 

Marsh Fritillary - Euphydryas aurinia
 at Alners Gorse 

The Drinker - Euthrix potatoria
At Upton Fen Norfolk

Small Eggar - Eriogaster lanestris
Green Down Somerset

The Wormwood Moth Caterpillar has the most amazing camouflage

Wormwood - Cucullia absinthii on  
Wormwood - Artemisia absinthium
 Portland, Dorset 

Dragonflies & Damselflies

Emperor Dragonfly - Anax imperator
 Female at Bovey Heathfield , Devon

Small Red Damselfly - Ceriagrion tenellum
mating pair on Stoborough Heath, Dorset. 

Red-veined Darter - Sympetrum fonscolombii
Compton Bay Undercliffs, Isle of Wight.

Northern DamselflyCoenagrion hastulatum
Abernethy Forest, Speyside, Scotland.

Again in pools in Abernethy Forest. It was brilliant to see a newly emerged 
dragonfly for the first time. In this case a Four-spotted Chaser. 

Four-spotted Chaser - Libellula quadrimaculata


Ruby Tiger Moth - Phragmatobia fuliginosa
Mating pair at Lankham Bottom, Dorset.
Pyrausta nigrata at Denge Wood, Kent

White Spotted Sable - Anania funebris
Glasdrum Wood, Argyll, Scotland.

Rannoch Looper - Macaria brunneata
Tulloch Moor, Speyside, Scotland. 

I was fortunate to see one of my 'most wanted' moths at Portland Bird Observatory, the stunning ....

Crimson Speckled - Utetheisa pulchella


Or spider to be more precise. There were lots of lovely big female Wasp Spiders on Ballard Down,Dorset this summer. Feasting on Adonis Blue butterflies amongst others things.

With Bumble Bee

With Adonis Blue

 Wasp Spider - Argiope bruennichi

Flies, Wasps and Ants

Tenthredo temula a sawfly, Branscombe Undercliff, Devon

A Hairy-eyed Cranefly - Pedicia rivosa
Tulloch Moor, Speyside, Scotland. 

We were fortunate enough to see quiet a few Hornet Robberflies last summer especially at Ballard Down. We even saw a mating pair.

I see he has to grip onto her eyes!
It makes me wonder if he's saying "Guess who!"

Hornet Robberfly - Asilus crabroniformis

This is the Heath Bee-fly a very rare species which can only be found in the Purbeck area of Dorset. This one was seen on Hartland Moor. They have a very high pitched buzz and you can usually hear one well before you see it.

They are really quick but fortunately they seem to love Hawkbit flowers and will visit everyone in a patch. So getting a photo isn't too tricky.

Heath Bee-fly - Bombylius minor

This is a female Heath Sand Wasp. She progressively provisions her nest with caterpillars, resealing the entrance after each caterpillar is added. She couldn't fit this caterpillar into the hole and is seen here carrying away some sand that she as just excavated from the hole. Eventually she managed to carry the paralyzed caterpillar down into the nest and filled the hole in again. It makes you wonder how on earth they know where the nest is when they return!

Heath Sand Wasp - Ammophila pubescens
Narrow-headed AntFormica exsecta
  Chudleigh Knighton Heath, Devon in its only site outside of the Scottish Highlands.


There was a bit of a plague of these Froghopper nymphs in the bushes at Dungeness. No idea what species they were but probably Aphrophora Sp.

This fairly large Bristletail was on limestone rocks at Gait Barrows, Cumbria.
I think it's a Dilta Sp.

Bristletail - Dilta hibernica possibly?