Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Last of the wildflower walks

'Los afficionados'
We had our last wildflower walk of the season on Saturday 20th August. The classes had been looking at Orkney's various habitats and today's turn meant that we would be heading off into the hill to look at 'heath' and 'dale'. Our journey into the hill took us along the Bigswell Road which was lined with the lilac flowers of Devil's-bit Scabious. It really seems to have had a sudden blossoming in Orkney in the last two weeks.

Our route took us alongside the Burn of Russadale and up to the quarry. The hill was at its colourful best with Ling and Bell heather covering the slopes. The 'dale' still looked lush with swathes of Rosebay Willowherb and patches of Valerian still in flower. The large round leaves of Water Avens were still very obvious but most of the flowers had seeded. We found a couple of clumps of Blaeberry heavy with fruit. At the quarry the little clusters of Fairy Flax had lost their white bonnets and been replaced with brown round seed heads.

Bell heather


Blaeberry heavy with berries

Rosebay Willowherb

Water Avens - seeding; Devil's-bit Scabious

Fairy Flax - 14 days ago

The same patch of Fairy Flax 14 days later

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Elaine R.Bullard (1915 - 2011)

Elaine slipped from this world on August 10th after a short illness and long life. She has been a guiding light. Self-taught, she was active for fifty years in the county and held the post of plant recorder until she was 93. A full obituary will appear in the local press in due course but until then Prof Sam Berry's simple eulogy says it all - 'Miss E.R.Bullard, botanist and doyenne of Orkney naturalists'.

The picture is of Elaine on her 95th birthday with my daughter Eleanor at Yesnaby.

Elaine wanted to see her beloved Primula scotica,

and here it is next to a High School Musical sneaker!

Monday, 15 August 2011

The gem that is Graemsay

One of the most important aspects of the Orkney Book of Wildflowers is for the flowers that are depicted to be set in an appropriate location. We have to be truthful - the illustrated flower must occur in the location that forms the backdrop to the plate. However it can be long-winded process to find the perfect site. The chosen background must be visually strong and depict an Orkney view that is recognisable. You also have to take into account the welfare of the artist - she doesn't want to fall asleep at her easel. She needs the right and stimulating combination too. So it is with those ideas in mind that I set out to the various islands and parishes to search for what at times appears as elusive as the Holy Grail.

On Tuesday it was Graemsay's turn. The island is a gem with a splendid array of wildflowers and Tuesday's visit provided me with locations for at least five of the flowers that will be included in 'the book' - Creeping Willow, Sneezewort, Shepherd's Purse, Goldenrod and Lousewort. The verges were a delight with Eyebrights everywhere and though the Twayblades were over, they would have been a tremendous sight a month ago. One of my favourite hoverflies, the 'large and silent one' (Sericomyia silentis), indulged on the sprays of Wild Anglica. I was particularly pleased with the display of Goldenrod along the eastern side of the island which has caused me to change my original location for this flower's location (Nowt Bield, Hoy) - it will now be Graemsay with Hoy High lighthouse as the backdrop.

My six hours on Graemsay were a tonic. Not only did I manage to find some target flowers,  I also bumped into an Otter. While leaning on the bridge at the Burn of Quoys ruminating over the day's successes I heard a great deal of heavy splashing sounds coming up the burn - you would have thought a Water Buffalo was on the charge such was the din - a few seconds later a dog Otter appeared and promptly launched itself into the deeper waters near the bridge. I obtained one image - body submerged, tail raised and a ribbon of bubbles streaming from its nostrils.

Creeping Willow's view of Hoy from Graemsay

Granite outcrop with Cuilags behind

Eyebrights and Sea Plantain on granite outcrop

Goldenrod view of Hoy High lighthouse



Willow curtain at the quarry

Sericomyia silentis on Wild Angelica

'Up periscope' - dog otter at Burn of Quoys

Monday, 8 August 2011

A couple of things.....

1) In mid-July Anne removed the Banner. The Vat of Kirbuster on Stronsay was the setting for the 'Sea cliffs, Coastal grassland and Coastal heath' section of the book. It has been replaced by the habitat plate for 'Sand and Shingle Shores - the soft coast' (try saying that quickly). The setting for this habitat section is Sanday - more specifically the curiously named bay called Groanies adjacent to Start Point - you can see the lighthouse in the background.
Anne has painted typical wildflowers to be found there: Curled Dock, Perennial Sow-thistle, Sea Sandwort, Sea Rocket and Oysterplant.

2) Anne's latest plate, the fourth dealing with the 'Links and Dry grasslands' section features some very familiar and some less familiar wildflowers. The familiar ones are of course Bird's-foot Trefoil (Bay of Creekland, Hoy) and Self-heal (Birsay links). The less familar links plants are Bulbous Buttercup (Sand of Rothiesholm, Stronsay), Curved Sedge (Bu links, Burray), Sea Bindweed and Lesser Meadow-rue (both at the northern end of Newark Bay, South Ronaldsay).

Anne has done a super job with all of them and there is just one more 'Links'plate to do which will feature Red Clover, White Clover, Hardheads, Ragwort and Bugloss.