Monday, 24 December 2012

Two new habitats

A couple of the best Christmas presents you could wish for - two more of Anne's plates - and as indicated both relating to habitats.
The upper plate represents the title plate for 'arable fields, waysides and disturbed ground'. As I mention in the text for the book this chapter has developed into something of ‘catch all’ section; within it are a variety of habitats, none of them natural, all of them manmade. Of course within this broad category there may be a high degree of overlap. This being the case, some of the wildflowers that are described and illustrated in this chapter are widespread and quite ubiquitous in their distribution - Daisy and Dandelion immediately spring to mind; both species may be found in almost any location.
Anne's plate is set on Flotta looking southwest over Kirk Bay with Switha on the left and South Walls on the right. The field is full of charlock while in the foreground from left to right are Hogweed, Purple ramping-fumitory, Ox-eye daisy, Ribwort plantain, Corn spurrey, Prickly sowthistle and Spear thistle. A Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, momentarily takes advantage of the Hogweed's height, in its constant search for insects.

The lower plate is the keystone plate for 'the peat hill – heath and blanket bog'. The draft introduction to this chapter is as follows:
'Of the ten habitats included in this volume, ‘the peat hill’ covers more of Orkney than any other and it can be found from near the coast to the summits of some of the county’s highest hills. Although peat is far less abundant on some of the north islands such as Sanday and Stronsay and non-existent on North Ronaldsay most of the other islands and parishes still have substantial areas of the peat hill; islands such as Eday, Hoy and Rousay are ‘peat’ islands and parishes such as Birsay, Firth and Orphir are similarly well-endowed. Indeed some of the best peat hills are nationally and internationally important designated sites most notably the Orphir and Stenness Hills, Keelylang Hill and Swartaback Burn, the West Mainland Moorlands and of course, Hoy.'
Anne's plate depicts the Rousay peat hill. We are at Catagreen on the northern ridge west of Kierfea and Whirliegar, overlooking the Cuppers of Vacquoy (the hill to the right).To the left is the Loch of Wasbister and Saviskaill while in the far distance and to the right is the sinuous coastline of Westray defined by Noup Head and Fitty Hill. The plate depicts the two main charactistics of the hill - the dry heath on the left and the wetter/boggy heath on the right. The plants of the drier heath include Ling and Bell heather - in the Scottish Borders known as 'He' heather and 'She' heather. The wetter/boggy heath is illustrated with Hare's-tail cottongrass, Butterwort, Sphagnum and Bog Asphodel.





Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Still surprising and it's December

2nd December - a sunny chilly day with a light breeze from the north. An ideal day to wander the cliffs of South Ronaldsay and take in the spectacle of Orkney's Grey Seal pupping season. And there was plenty of action. We witnessed suckling pups and wallowing pups, moulting pups and mewing pups. Some adults were relaxed, some were anything but and there were moments of high action involving possessive and territorial males intent on maintaining their gene pool. Doting mothers weren’t afraid to bare their teeth as they protected their offspring.

Our walk which took in both the east and west sides of South Ronaldsay also gave us the opportunity to see which of the county's plants were still in flower. We didn't have our noses to the ground most of the time and no doubt we missed a few, but there were a few surprises none more so than on the southwest facing cliffs south of Sandwick.

I make no apologies for including another picture of Sheep's-bit - there it was looking slightly less glamorous than a month ago, but very definitely still in flower.

While we were watching the Scarfies and Fulmars on the cliffs, the telescope also picked out the brown and dead flower-heads of Thrift, but in among them and looking quite vibrant were heads that were as pink as in the summer.

The 'pinks' are there if you peer hard enough!

but nothing like this - taken at the Shapinsay slip 'at the proper time of year'

We also saw Wild Angelica at Windwick, Common Catsear all over the coastal heath, Ragwort and Devil's-bit Scabious at Olad Brae, Meadow Buttercup in many places and Bell Heather at Halcro Head.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sheep's-bit - a November surprise

I couldn't believe my eyes in South Ronaldsay today......well it is 10th November - Sheep's-bit in flower. It's a rare plant in Orkney and by all accounts occurs solely on South Ronaldsay, Eday and North Ronaldsay. According to Elaine Bullard's 'Wildflowers in Orkney' it is restricted to 'sea banks on red sandstones only'. Its rarity within the county means that it won't feature in 'The Book'!!!!!

Sometimes it is called Sheep's-bit Scabious but it does not belong to the scabious family, it is one of the bellflowers.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ruithy Girs - Corn Spurrey

And here is Orkney's other 'spurrey' - 'Ruithy Girs'; arguably it has always been far better known than the two saltmarsh spurreys due to its historical importance as a famine crop. However it is nowhere as abundant as it formerly was; it may be found in arable crops or more likely in set-aside. In bygone days it was harvested and the Orkney landscape would have featured extensive areas of the crop. I came upon such a field on Wyre in 2010. And here's the field southwest of Cubbie Roo's castle.



The draft text for this vanishing plant reads something like this:
Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis)   Campion family       Ruithy Girs

Height to 15cm; flowers July to September. Widespread and scarce in Orkney (22/28); not easy to find.

Often where it does occur, it grows in great abundance and it is not uncommon to see whole arable fields covered. It is an annual that can flourish in open and recently disturbed ground such as ploughed fields especially where the soils are light. In agricultural circles, a profusion of Corn Spurrey indicated the need to apply fertiliser. Despite its generally fragile appearance it is a plant with a robust and important history. There is evidence of its use as human food during Roman times and there is also speculation that in Orkney it may have been a key food source during the neolithic period. We know for a fact that Corn Spurrey has been grown as a fodder crop in Britain for centuries and in times of poor crop yields and shortages, its seeds were mixed with the crop grain and ground for flour. When not feeding humans it was more usually given as feed to hens.

The leaves appear dusty and are thin, blunt and furrowed below. They are thread-like and arranged in conspicuous whorls. Brittle stems support tiny, white, five-petalled flower-heads which are often turned down almost bestowing a shyness to this delicate and now declining plant.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Orkney's Sea-spurreys

Just before the end of September I found Lesser Sea-spurrey in flower at the northern end of Kirkwall's Peedie Sea. I've spent a fair bit of time looking for examples of Lesser Sea-spurrey at many locations in the county and invariably it's the Greater Sea-spurrey that I bump into. Elaine Bullard's 'Wildflowers in Orkney' describes Lesser Sea-spurrey as occasional and local, while Greater Sea-spurrey is deemed to be frequent and local - I think  can agree with that. Elaine indicates that Lesser has been recorded in 18 islandised squares and Greater in 23 islandised squares.

Note the differences in petal colour and how the petals are bigger than the sepals for Greater and smaller for Lesser.

Lesser Sea-spurrey

Greater Sea-spurrey


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Maybe I was a little presumptious..

Following a visit to saltmarsh in early September I'd pretty much convinced myself that we were in the thick of autumn; thankfully it  was refreshing to see that I'd been a little 'too soon' in my thinking. I took a walk into the nether regions of Holm last Saturday and found plenty of wetland plants still in flower and providing food for late summer bees. This peaty wetland was still full of Marsh Ragwort, Marsh Willowherb, Marsh Thistle, Lesser Spearwort and most surprisingly Ragged Robin. That'll teach me to be too presumptious - I'm off to find more late this space
Ragged Robin

Marsh Ragwort

Marsh Thistle with Carder bee

and again

Marsh Willowherb

Lesser Spearwort

Thursday, 20 September 2012

the localities for Anne's latest plate are:
top left - Crowberry - Tafts, Rousay
top middle - Goldenrod - cliffs below Fillets, Graemsay
top right - Carnation Sedge - Inyana Hellia, Costa, Birsay

bottom left - Devil's-bit Scabious - Carlin Geo, Stronsay
bottom middle - Glaucous Sedge - Head of Work, St Ola
bottom right - Common Sorrel - west side Auskerry

Saturday, 1 September 2012

September comes

We appear to have been thrown into autumn very, very suddenly. The wet meadows of Meadowsweet have lost their creamy frothy flowers and the flower-heads are now blackened. The salt marshes which barely a fortnight ago were resplendent with Sea Aster are now blasted and the lilac flower-heads have been thrown into disarray and confusion. On a more personal level, the Sycamore leaves are now piling up in the front garden and this week I've seen children playing helicopters with Sycamore wings.
Sea Aster at its best 
Talking of salt marshes, I went to the Ouse in Finstown in preparation for a wildflower walk this weekend and looking at the Sea Aster mentioned above, it was clear that autumn had stepped across the threshold. It hadn't taken long for the combination of high tides and autumn winds to turn the salt marsh into a bit of a mess with seaweeds and detritus draped across the sea-washed turf and its plants - Sea Plantain and Sea Arrow-grass were festooned with marine bunting.

Perennial Sowthistle
There were some plusses though. At this time of year the Perennial Sowthistle lights up the backshore with golden yellow orbs. And it's worthwhile peering into the marsh or among the shingle for two of the salt marshes understated jewels - Glasswort and Sea Blite. Along the shores of the Ouse I managed to find a few plants resplendent in their autumn colours.

Glasswort and 'blasted' Sea Aster
lilac flower-heads have been thrown into disarray and confusion
Sea Blite

Monday, 13 August 2012

two gems of the links

                                Autumn Gentian and Fragrant Orchid - two gems from recent classes

Just a few notes regarding Anne's last three plates. The localities  are as follows:

Wetland plate
Monkeyflowers - Tormiston Mill, Stenness
Marsh Cinquefoil - Mill Dam of Rango, Sandwick
Early Marsh Orchid - Como, Rendall
Amphibious Bistort - Loch of Ouse, Deerness
Mare's-tail - Loch of Ouse, Deerness

Sea cliffs - i
Spring Squill - Brough of Deerness, Deerness
Eyebright - Roseness, Holm
Sea Ivory - Head of Geo, Wyre
Mountain Everlasting - Lobust, Rousay
Alpine Meadow-rue - Orphir Bay, Orphir

Sea cliffs - ii
Scottish Primrose - Inga Ness, Sandwick
Cat's-ear - Stephen's Gate, Eday
Wild Thyme - Holm of Burghlee, Shapinsay
Autumnal Hawkbit - Hyndgreenie, Papa Westray
Roseroot - Brough of the Berry, Hoy

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A wetland and two cliffs plates

Here's the last 3 months' plates.....

The first painting in the set is the last of the wetland flowers plates.
Plate 1:From top left clockwise we have, monkey flower, marsh cinquefoil, heath spotted orchid, northern marsh orchid, amphibious bistort and mares tail.

Following this are the first two of the clifftop flowers plate.
Plate 2: From top left, clockwise, the flowers are spring squill, the lichen -  sea ivory, eyebright,
alpine meadow rue and mountain everlasting.
Plate 3: From top left, clockwise, the flowers are scottish primrose, wild thyme, cat's ear, roseroot and autumn hawkbit.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Shore, dunes, links and dry grassland

Shore, dunes, links and dry grassland

                                                        Sea Bindweed

We were able to see how dunes and links were formed by following the plants and wildflowers that stabilised the shifting sands. At No4 this succession takes place over a distance of at least 150 metres whereby the shore sand is stabilised firstly into yellow dunes, usually with Lyme Grass, and subsequently into grey dunes which are often characterised by Marram Grass. At Eastside the process takes place over a much shorter distance and the three stages can be found over a width of less than 30 metres.

Our visit coincided with the first trumpet blooms of Sea Bindweed – this is its only location in Orkney and grows no nearer to the county than Montrose in the east and the Hebrides in the west. By contrast the Lesser Meadow-rue was at its best and over the years I have never seen it looks so well. It is an understated plant and one which occurs only on South Ronaldsay, Sanday and Deerness.

                                              Lesser Meadow-rue

Shore: Orache, Sea Sandwort, Sea Mayweed
Yellow dune: Lyme Grass
Grey dune: Marram Grass
Dump: Colt’s-foot, Groundsel
Cliff: Hedge Bindweed, Red Campion

Track: Lady’s Bedstraw, Yellow Rattle, Field Forget-me-not
Links: Lady’s Bedstraw, Eyebright, Red Clover, White Clover
Shore: Oraches, Sea Sandwort, Oysterplant, Sea Rocket
Yellow dune: Sand Sedge, Lyme Grass, Sea Couch
Grey dune: Ragwort, Angelica, Hogweed, Sea Bindweed, Lesser Meadow-rue, Red Bartsia,
                   Yarrow, Spear Thistle, Smooth Sowthistle, Creeping Thistle, Eyebright, Bird’s-foot Trefoil,      
                   Lady’s Bedstraw, Field Forget-me-not

Birds and invertebrates:
Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Large White, Sand Martin

Acknowledgements: thanks to Martin Moncrieff for the Lesser Meadow-rue images

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Primula scotica

Tuesday 26th June 2012                                                                        
11.00 – 14.00
Weather: little breeze, warm and plenty of sun.

Coastal Grassland:
Initially it appeared the grassland was dominated by Sea Arrow-grass and Sea Plantain but as soon as you got down on your hands and knees that closer look revealed all the plants that you would associate with coastal grassland. Sea Plantain came in all shapes and sizes; much of the path is composed of the tiniest of tiny plants – a sward of glossy green and fleshy leaves.

The Primula on the higher ground was barely in flower, this was in complete contrast to the more sheltered and sun-trap southeastern slope which was peppered with these minute gems. In ten days time the Primula show should be breathtaking.

Although we saw plenty of Spring Squill in flower, we saw far more of it in its seeding phase. It was a week or ten days too early for Grass of Parnassus – we saw a few ivory white flowers complete with their nectar guidelines. Wild Thyme was prolific in the areas of the thinnest soils and Martin found a white example for us to drool over.

Sea Plantain, Ribwort Plantain, Buck’s-horn Plantain, Spring Squill, Primula scotica, Sedges, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Wild Thyme, Common Milkwort, Heath Milkwort, Crowberry, Grass of Parnassus, Thrift, Common Mouse-ear, Kidney Vetch, Eyebright

A lot of overlap here between the Coastal Grassland and the Saltmarsh. Plants on both habitats have the ability to tolerate saltwater drenchings. Little hollows in the coastal grassland revealed a few typical saltmarsh plants. The big surprise were the two Greater Sea-spurrey plants on salt drenched rocks in the Noust of Bigging.

Greater Sea-spurrey, Sea-milkwort, Sea Arrow-grass

                                                             Greater Sea-spurrey

Sea Mayweed, Perennial Sow-thistle, Cleavers, Orache, Sea Campion

Disturbed ground:
Hogweed, Common Sorrel, Chickweed, Spear Thistle, Creeping Thistle

Yellow Flag, Reed Canary Grass, Water Mint, Ragged Robin, Marsh Cinquefoil, Northern Marsh Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid, Lesser Spearwort, MarshPennywort, Marsh Ragwort

Coastal Heath:
The heath is yet to flower. The Bell Heather was just beginning to get serious but the Ling was a long way off. Most striking was the abundance of Mountain Everlasting plants – it must find the granite soils to its liking. The stems, leaves and unopened buds of Slender St.John’s-wort trailed through the heath and will be in flower in a couple of weeks time.

Ling, Bell Heather, Crowberry, Tormentil, Wild Thyme, Slender St.John’s-wort, Mountain Everlasting, Yellow Rattle

                                                               Mountain Everlasting