Getting close and personal

… To moss. My hand lens has finally arrived all the way from China. This fact also means it was very cheap but it’s of good quality, despite the writing rubbing off immediately!


This little piece of kit has opened a whole new world to me, probably a few new worlds but I’ve only discovered one of them thus far. This is the minute details in different species of moss!

It’s also made me able to follow keys, as previously the details that they were mentioning were unseeable to my eyes. Now however… Here’s a run-through of a sphagnum that I picked up from a wee patch of bog that I stumbled upon.

  • Stem cortex conspicuous, thickness about 1/3 of stem radius; branch leaf apices hooded >>>

>>> Key 1: Section Sphagnum

  1. At least some leaves, in capitula or on spreading branches, red or pink, or with hint of flecks of red or pink >>>

>>> 2. Pinkish-orange or brick-red colour present in capitula and possibly some branches; capitula a different colour from and darker than branches; stem green or brown; spreading branches long and tapering. Common and widespread, not usually on bogs

= Sphagnum palustre.

Whilst some of these features aren’t quite fitting (not very red/pink, found by bog), this species fits best, plus, the fact it’s shaded by the conifers means it doesn’t develop such bright, obvious colours. Also, S. palustre does occur on bogs, more typically at the edge,  in a ditch or woodland and not typical on intact bog. This fits my wee patch of bog as it’s only about 10m across, has Downy Birch Betula pubescens growing in it, and is in the middle of a conifer plantation! Still an ace wee patch of habitat that I’m going to keep my eye on…

I’ve done a lot of keying over today and yesterday. Here are most of the mosses that I think I’ve managed to ID correctly…

Some help was had from the Bryophytes of Britain and Ireland Facebook group and also on Twitter so check those out.

Whilst out looking at the ground, I inevitably end up spotting other things. These have included Crossbills, a Woodcock, a Harvestman, a (so far) unidentified spider, and some victims of Storm Gertrude.

Another thing I found yesterday when showing a couple course-mates around West Woods and Tyrebagger Forest, was this huge pile of Norway Spruce Picea abies cone remains below, who’d have guessed, a Norway Spruce. This could only have been the work of one animal …


… and today I was fortunate enough to have a pretty close encounter with said creature!


Sciurus vulgaris, the Red Squirrel

I know I’ve already seen Red Squirrel this year, but this one felt far more special than the many we saw in Carnie Woods as they’re fed and pretty tame and all that. So this squirrel was appreciated far more. I actually stood there for about 5 mins just having a wee stare-off with it. The squirrel won as I decided to leave it be.

I’m hoping that at some point I’ll be able to confirm whether there are Pine Martens Martes martes in West Woods/Tyrebagger Forest, almost certainly with a trail camera. Speaking of Pine Martens, we managed to get “our” campus marten into the Press and Journal! I didn’t know it was happening but nice that it has!


A rhetorical question to finish off with, how great was Winterwatch?

Norway Spruce, Picea abies
Getting close and personal

Various things

Firstly, I went to Girdle Ness again on Sunday, ticked off Glaucous Gull Larus hyberboreus and watched the dolphins for 2 hours! All cetacean sightings submitted to the Seawatch Foundation. You can do so using this form.


Next bit of news, I was interviewed, along with a friend and a lecturer, for BBC Radio 4’s program “Scotland Out of Doors.” This was because of our discovery of Pine Martens on the campus so we discussed the spread of Pine Martens in Scotland. It’ll be broadcast between 6-8am on Saturday 6th of February so tune in!…

… And if you’re like me and you like your lie-ins, then it’ll be out on podcast afterwards, which I’ll no doubt tweet!

Finally (a short update this one), I just got back from Lidl and notice a bird fly over me in the dark, thinking at first that it was a Black-headed Gull. Turns out an Oystercatcher has returned to it’s nest site on the roof of Mackie Hall! Alistair, one of the ringers on my campus, has been working with the roof nesting Oycs for a while so I might get to go out and help him with that!

All that aside, is this a sign that spring is on its way? Fingers crossed!

Also, don’t forget to tune into Winterwatch on BBC 2 tonight at 8! Same for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 🙂

Various things

Girdle Ness produces yet again

ANOTHER awesome day at Girdle Ness on Thursday. Here’s how it went…

Into town on the bus, added Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus to my Patchwork Challenge patch on the way past Lidl. Once in town I headed straight for the coast, passing the docks and stopping only to get my scope out my bag. The first year tick came in the form of some lovely Redshanks Tringa totanus by the River Dee, on which sat a Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, my second year tick of the day already. Not hard to do I suppose, given I hadn’t been coastal at all before this trip.

In fact the year ticks kept coming at this point. Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus bickering, a Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus quite far before I usually see them, and a mammal year tick stuck its head up above the water as it swam past, a Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus. The day was going pretty well thus far!


More tideline ticks with Turnstones Arenaria interpres, Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Curlew Numenius arquata and Eider Somateria mollissima all being pretty easy to spot chilling or feeding as the tide went out.

The Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo were joined by a couple of Red-throated Divers Gavia stellata and Red-breasted Mergansers Mergus serrator which had to avoid being hit by a ship coming into the docks.

Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima remained out on the rocks where I could see them, but actually didn’t think I had photographed successfully when first reviewing my pics. Turns out they just have very good camouflage!

Dunlin Calidris alpina and Guillemot Uria aalge were added so after and I continued my way around to the headland where I planned on doing some seawatching for white-wingers and anything else that decided to pop by.

Getting along the paths was actually quite difficult because if there wasn’t a massive slab of ice in your way…


… then there’d be a landslide that you had to traverse to get to the other side.


Anyway, once that was all out the way I was walking along beside the coastal road when I noticed something moving about on the rocks below and brought my bins up to my face only to be greeted by this smiley character.


A Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina (I refuse to call them common) was my second mammal year tick of the trip, soon to be followed by another! I was taking pictures of this happy chap when another head pops up out of the water, this one much smaller than the seal’s blubbery noggin.


Whilst not terribly clear in that pic, it was my third ever Otter Lutra lutra. I watched this animal for probably around 45 minutes as it fished around the rocks, successfully caught what I suspect was a Cod Gadus morhua (check one of the pics posted below), and then disappear into the rocks, only reappearing once it had finished its meal. Afterwards it headed in towards the docks. And I followed because my hands were frozen solid and it was getting a tad dark.

Yet more excitement was to come though because I spotted a gull out on the walkway bit to the lighthouse at the Dee mouth. It stood out amongst the Herring Gulls Larus argentatus due to the darkness of its plummage and the slightly smaller body size.

I reeled off a few shots before my camera decided to run out of battery, at which point I resorted to my iPhone to get some record shots of what I thought was probably just a dark Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides, but later found out might’ve been something far more interesting after a discussion on Twitter with a bunch of people.

Turns out it probably wasn’t the Thayer’s Gull Larus thayeri that has been at the River Don mouth recently, but my gull hasn’t been spotted again since…

This one goes down in a new section on my life list…


After that I was treated to yet more mammalian brilliance as both Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus and Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena put on a show just inside the Dee mouth, one of the porpoises breaching almost completely! Awesome to see, and it makes me really want to get up to Orkney or over to the Hebrides in hopes of more cetacean stupendousness!

One thing I’ve forgotten to mention is the lichens I decided to grab pics of whilst at the coast, due to the fact they were coastal species that I wouldn’t see elsewhere. So I’ll leave you with the pics I got of those.

Oh and also, I picked up what turned out to be a Puffin Fratercula arctica wing from the beach which I’m going to attempt to make into some sort of display. The main problem being I haven’t found anywhere nearby that sells large bags of salt. It’s starting to smell a bit so I’ll be out tomorrow wandering off to Tesco I suspect… Cheers again @lizardschwartz for guidance on what to do!




Girdle Ness produces yet again

Spiders and Cladonias

‘Tis chilly! There’s frost everywhere. Almost all stagnant water is frozen, I slipped on some, much to the amusement of my mates… Therefore, spiders are all hiding from me. A few have been found under logs and such though, and I’ve been semi-close at identifying them correctly, i.e. to family.

This first one is a spider I see quite often in the house or in leaf litter.

Lace Webbed Spider – Amaurobius fenestralis

And it gets the prize for being the first spider I identified with my new field guide! Yay! The other two aren’t quite so easy to ID though as they are both Money Spiders, of which there are many! But they look nice…

I did find another spider on that outing but it was so small I figured it wasn’t worth identifying. This next spider, another Amaurobius sp., I found a couple days ago under another log.


It best fits Amaurobius fenestralis again, however, not quite enough for me to confirm it as that. As far as I understand, each species of spider has very specific markings on its abdomen, making most species stand out from one another. My field guide doesn’t cover all the spider species in the UK so I’m not sure what this is. It’s down as just Amaurobius sp. on my Flickr page at the moment and I suspect that’s what it shall stay as!

Well, that’s not really enough for one blog post, so I’ll have to direct you to my Lichens album on Flickr where I’ve uploaded a bunch of pics of Cladonias. Cladonia is probably my favourite lichen family due to how it looks and the fact that it can be pretty variable. Makes it challenging to ID whilst also being easy to find as a family! Many thanks to Brian Eversham (aka Cladoniophile) who has corrected my mis-identified Cladonias (of which there were surprisingly few!) before I stick them up here for you all to look at, or not look at. It’s up to you!

A mat of Cladonia on an old tree stump
Spiders and Cladonias

Glen Tanar NNR Volunteering

One of the regular activities we have as part of our Rural Skills club is volunteering at Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve. I’ve only been twice but plan on going as often as I can from now on.

Last time I was there we helped clear paths and did some high level pruning (here’s the post I did covering that) and this time we did more work on the paths, only we were actually fixing the paths due to the recent flooding that had shifted a bridge, washed away a section of path, and made a few sections quite boggy.

First good bit of the day though, I woke up before my alarm! Have to cherish these moments, it means there is hope…


I hitched a lift with Alan, one of the other volunteers with the John Muir Trust work party. When we arrived there was 8 of us, plus Eric and Mike, the rangers at Glen Tanar. Once we’d all got the tools together and Mike had brought us a nice truck load of dirt, we headed off along the riverside path to a spot that needed some maintenance.

We actually stopped first at a wee bridge that had sort of floated off it’s supports in the flooding, and had rested back down in the wrong position. A wee bit of shoving and shunting, and it was good as new.

Onwards along the path, we realised it would be quite a distance to come with a full barrow of dirt. The truck was moved closer, and we began work on this wee section.

Me being me, I got distracted from the task at hand a few times… A Buzzard went over (no eagles), a few Pheasants were about by the roads (no Capercailles), a Siskin was in an Alder by the river (no Crossbills), and a couple Dippers went up and down the river (no Penguins). There’s also a load of lichen everywhere but I only photographed these common species…

Parmelia saxatilis and Pseudevernia furfuracea, both very common in the area
Ice crystals

Right, here are the finished results of a day’s labour! Plenty wheelbarrow-loads of dirt, lots of stamping and shovelling, and a great day out in the fresh air.

We pretty much resurfaced the whole area, put in a couple of drainage channels so as to let run-off from the fields get to the river without running down the path, and filled in that big chunk that was missing when we arrived. A good job well done, even Mike and Eric agreed!

One last thing, I also noticed the height of the debris in the trees along the river bank and most of it was around my shoulder height (I’m 6ft)! That’s a lot of water to be flowing towards Aberdeen and into various bridges. In fact the bridge at Aboyne was shut so we had to go around that.

Debris in the branches

I think next time we’re at Glen Tanar we’re going to be (hopefully) getting rid of some Rhododendrons, maybe cleaning out some drainage pipes that go below the paths, and some more general path maintenance plus whatever appears to need done between now and then!

In other news, my hand lens may have arrived, but I won’t be able to get it until Monday 😦 Nevertheless, I think I’ll head out for spiders again tomorrow…

Glen Tanar NNR Volunteering

BSBI Guest Post

Just a quick post to direct you to BSBI’s blog where I did a guest post as a prize for doing the most plant hunts over the New Year Plant Hunt! Click here to go and read it. It was a joint first place between me and James so go and check his post too!

I’m off to bed now as I’m clearing up after the floods at Glen Tanar tomorrow morning and I don’t want to miss my lift! I’ll do a post on that tomorrow, and maybe a post on spiders at some point as well. Actually, I’ll wait until I’ve found a few more before blogging about them.

BSBI Guest Post

West Woods Walk

Just a wee wander in a nearby woodland, looking at various things that took my fancy.

I started out heading out the back of our campus, past the spot where we left the trail camera over the winter break. Unfortunately, some low-level scum has knicked it. I’ll just leave it at that and let you gauge my level of anger at that fact.

Along the road, then bearing right I walked across where the new Western Peripheral Bypass will be at some point, and started to have a look at the various gulls in the fields. This time, it was actually mainly Herring Gulls Larus argentatus as opposed to the usually large flocks of Common Gull Larus canus that sit in the sheep fields. No Iceland Gulls present, I continued on along the road, spotting Sorrel Rumex acetosella in the roadside verge. Road the corner, Map Lichen Rhizocarpon geographicum on the stone dykes and the wee group of Feral Pigeons Columba livia that live in one of the farm buildings flew overhead.

A few Fieldfares Turdus pilaris  were joined by a couple of Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorus in one of the trees by the farmland.


I continued along the road to the carpark at Brimmond Hill, where I turned right to cross Craibstone Golf Course and head into West Woods. A frsot had frozen all the still water along the path, and every step I took made a crunch. No footprints of interest in the mud this time, but I have had Squirrel sp., Red Fox Vulpes vulpes and Roe Deer Capreolus capreolus here before. I’m just waiting for the day I get Pine Marten tracks!

I came to an open area where all the Bracken Pteridium aquilinum had a layer of frost on top, just begging to be photographed.

Plus, this Cladonia-covered stump always makes me take a picture.


I was heading for a spot in amongst the confer plantations that I knew had a lot of mosses and a large pool of stagnant water where I was hoping I’d find something of interest. The first moss I noticed was a Sphagnum, and one that I’ve already seen when up in the Moorfoot Hills: Sphagnum palustreor Blunt-leaved Bog-moss. Then there are a few that I could not identify (except Common Haircap Polytrichum commune), and I couldn’t get any decent photos of as they were frozen solid. I’ll head up again some other time.

One plant that caught my eye was what looked like some sort of stoloniferous rush. I took a few pictures and picked up a sample, then headed back to campus. On my wander back I brought out my pen knife to take apart a rush just to ensure it was only a Soft Rush Juncus effusus, studying the continuous pith and the cross section of the stem.

I eventually got back to my room where I got out my field guide and started searching. At first I was drawn to pondweeds but found nothing there, and then checked crowfoots briefly, returned to pondweeds, then into rushes and sedges, and eventually to Facebook where someone pointed out Bulbous Rush Juncus bulbosus, which is exactly what I’d found. A nice wee walk resulting in a few nice species.

I’m hoping my spider guide arrives by Friday along with my hand lens so I don’t have to use my binoculars for close-ups (look through the wrong end and move the object close to the other end, it works!). And I’ve got a lift to Glen Tanar NNR on Saturday where I’ll be helping with the tidy-up job after the recent flooding. A great opportunity to show off my Muck Boots! Might even see a Capercaille Tetrao urogallus if I’m extremely lucky!

West Woods Walk