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.