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Biological data for south-east and part of central Scotland

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
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Excursion Reports - 2012

Whitmuir Moss Excursion - 24th June 2012

There is a write-up of the Whitmuir Moss Excursion in The Southern Reporter by Corbie, one of the attendees. See:

Whitmuir Moss; a mature semi-natural woodland on the site of a former raised bog.

Posted: June 29th 2012

Yester Estate Excursion - 27th May 2012

It was on a warm and sunny day that a dozen wildlife recorders met at the gates of Yester in Gifford. They included those with a keen interest in plants, mosses, birds, butterflies and snails, as well as those who wanted to learn a bit more about their countryside: all the right ingredients for a successful excursion.

Yester Estate had been surveyed in 1994, when about 240 vascular plants had been recorded. We had high hopes of finding many of these species again. One notable record which we hoped to re-find was for Bird-s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) dating back to 1968.

Yester is a large woodland estate. Unlike some, the woodlands are not harvested intensively, but are managed as an attractive balance of native and policy woodland studded with specimens of exotic species. This has allowed large tracts of native woodland flora to persist across much of the estate. To cover as much of the estate as possible we split into two plant hunting groups and a free-ranging mollusc hunter. One group stalked the woods on the northern side of the Gifford Water, the other searching to the south.

Woodland wildflowers at Yester included Wood Anemone (Anemone nemoralis), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Woodruff (Galium odoratum), Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) and Townhall Clock (Adoxa moschatellina). Unfortunately we did not find the Birds-nest Orchid, although there was suitable habitat for it.

For those interested in exotic trees there was plenty of diversity, including Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca), Japanese Cedar (Crypotmeria japonica), Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris).

As with other large estates in the area, the extensive gardens were a focus of horticultural industry in the past with over 40 gardeners employed at one time. This has had some influence on the vegetation beyond the garden wall. White Butterbur (Petasites albus) grew in glorious profusion alongside its native relative Butterbur (Petasites hybridus). There were a variety of fruit bushes, including Raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) and Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa). There was also the ingenious Pick-a-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii), which sprouts baby plants from its stem.

The hope of reaching the Goblin Ha' for lunch was tantalizing but sadly unachievable given the size of the estate and the diversity of its flora. Instead we met for lunch about half way in and compared notes. It was clear that we had all had a good trip. By the end of the day over 200 species of plant had been recorded in addition to 29 species of bird. Bird noted on site included long-time residents such as Great Spotted Woodpecker and Blackcap, long-time visitors such as Peacock and Pheasant and recent colonisers such as Nuthatch. 27 species of mollusc were also recorded.

Nuthatches have been expanding their range northwards in recent years. This photograph of the bird was taken in Somerset.

Unfortunately, not many people record species of slug and snail. However, towards the end of the day, as people were leaving, we met another free-ranging slug-hunter in the shape of a hedgehog! I wonder how many species it was able to catch.

Stuart MacPherson

Thanks to Stuart for leading the excursion and for providing this interesting and informative write-up on the day's events.

Posted: June 18th 2012

Union Canal - Park Farm to Philpstoun Excursion - 20 May 2012

It was dull and chilly when we met at Park Farm for a recording trip along the Union Canal, but by the end of the day we had discarded our warm clothes and were enjoying a cup of tea in sunshine by the Park Farm bistro.

There have been changes in the canal vegetation since it was dredged and re-opened and periodic cutting of the vegetation began. This has had mixed effects: cutting the Reed Sweet Grass (Glyceria maxima) which previously lined the canal edge seems to have increased the amount of Water Plantain (Alisma) and Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus) but has had a devastating effect on the rare Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora). Common Duckweed (Lemna minor) has survived the increased canal traffic, but Fat Duckweed (Lemna gibba) seems to have disappeared. A little Ivy-leaved Duckweed (Lemna trisulca) was found during this outing, which was exciting; this plant is Local in the context of the Lothians.

A view of the Union Canal

Lots of grassland and hedgerow plants grow along the towpath and we were soon finding Buttercups, both Creeping and Meadow, assorted Clovers - White, Red and Zigzag - and Birds-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Two Lady's Mantles were in flower - the Smooth Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla glabra), which is hairless and the so-called Pale Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla xanthochlora), which is similar in appearance but has hairs on the stalks and the underside of the leaves. Meadow Crane's-bill (Geranium pratense), Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and various vetches were identified from the leaves.

Wetland plants, apart from those already mentioned, included Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) and the related Large Bitter-cress (Cardamine amara), which has white flowers and conspicuous purple anthers. Leaves of Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) and Greater Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus) were also identified, while those of broad-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton natans) floated on the water.

Wetland plants identified along the canal included Cuckooflower (flowering in foreground) and broad-leaved Pondweed (background).

A Moorhen and some Mallards were also floating on the water, while Swallows were taking flies from the surface. Other birds seen or heard included Blackbird, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Yellowhammer and Goldfinches as well as a family of Chaffinches.

We saw St Mark's Flies and Carder Bees, and once the sun came out both Green-veined and Small White butterflies took to the wing. A Brown Hare crossed a nearby field and we watched fascinated as a Horse Leech eased itself under some vegetation in the canal.

The Reed Sweet Grass had its usual Smut Ustilago longissima which produces black lines of spores on the leaves and prevents flowering, while Oak Apples (Biorhiza pallida) were noted on a hedgerow Oak. These galls, which are soft and pinkish and can grow to the size of a small apple, are less common than the harder, smaller Marble Galls, but neither seems to cause the tree much harm.

Apart from having to dodge the cyclists engaged in a charity run it was a most enjoyable and interesting outing.

Jackie Muscott

Posted: July 18th 2012

Denholm Dean Excursion - 19 May 2012

A party of 14 met at Denholm, near Hawick, in the Scottish Borders for the fourth TWIC outing of the season. Our destination was Denholm Dean; classic dean woodland on Old Red Sandstone. The dean cuts through the sandstone leaving a series of unstable cliffs and scaurs which are often permeated by water and form a very suitable habitat for ferns in particular.

After our leader, Michael Braithwaite, had given us an introduction to the history of the site and briefed the party, we split into two groups; the first group headed to the most northerly part of the site, while the second headed to the woodland on the east side of the dean. I was among the second party.

A short walk up the lane took us to the eastern entrance to the site. On the way we pleased to see a healthy clump of Goldilocks Buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus) growing in the verge.

Once within the site boundary, we started making our species lists for the site. Parts of the woodland were obviously planted, with a mixture of Oak, Sycamore, Beech, Ash, Hybrid Larch and hybrid poplars. However, I understand from Michael that some of the Ash is native as is some of the Alder and there are notable populations of Bird Cherry and Guelder Rose, as well as some good stands of Hazel. The birch is almost all Betula pendula, probably introduced and naturalised. Wych Elm is now making a comeback, after the ravages of Dutch Elm disease. Sitka Spruce is being phased out.

The ground flora was varied with dominance oscillating attractively between Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Wood Anenome (Anemone nemorosa) and False-brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum). We also saw further Goldilocks Buttercup (Ranunculus auricomus) in the woodland itself, plus Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Sanicle (Sanicula europaea) and Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina). The alternative common name for the latter species is Town Hall Clock. This relates to the structure of the plants inflorescence, which consist of 5 flowers: one four-petalled flower facing upwards, and four five-petalled flowers facing horizontally.

Close to the burn, there was abundant Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) and Wood Stitchwort (Stellaria nemorum), with some colonies of Butterbur (Petasites hybridus). It was on the shingle river beach that we stopped for our lunch break.

In the afternoon we continued southwards along the river bank and met the other group on the other side of the burn. They had seen the more localised Alternative-leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) as well as abundant Hart's-tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium) and Hard Shield Fern (Polystichum aculeatum) on the cliffs and some steep wet banks. Luke Gaskell had also spotted the local rarity, Brittle Bladder fern (Cystopteris fragilis). This fern has been recorded in between 2% and 5% of 1km squares in the Scottish Borders. Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), known here in the nineteenth century, was also re-found, but only as one poor bush on the face of a cliff.

However, it was Adrian Sumner who made the best find of the day when he identified the Three-toothed Moss Snail (Azeca goodalli) on site. This was only the second modern site for the species in Scotland! The other site is Kippenrait Glen near Bridge of Allan, Stirling.

The find of the day; the rare Three-toothed Moss Snail, Azeca goodalli. (c) Adrian Sumner

Less welcomed finds were the introduced species Leopard's Bane (Doronicum pardalianches) and Common Blue Sow thistle (Cicerbita macrophylla). The former has naturalised extensively at the foot of the dean from material dumped from village gardens, while the latter is a more recent arrival by dumping.

I would like thank Michael Braithwaite for a very enjoyable outing.

Natalie Harmsworth (with exerts from Michael Braithwaite's site report)

Posted: July 3rd 2012

Cockleroy Reservoir - 21st and 22nd April 2012

A party of 8 arrived at Cockleroy car park on a damp Saturday evening to meet Gary Hovell of the Lothian Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG) for the first part of this 2 day excursion.

Our destination was the nearby Cockleroy Reservoir. The reservoir is situated a few miles south of Linlithgow, West Lothian and was originally listed as a Wildlife Site due to the presence of breeding amphibians. However, when Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) surveyors visited the site 4 years ago no newts were found, despite the habitat being deemed suitable for them. Wildlife Sites have since been superseded by 'Local Biodiversity Sites' or LBS. The site is on the list of proposed LBS. However without supporting amphibian data, the site cannot be assessed to see if it meets the criteria for an LBS. Thus, the purpose of this excursion was to check the status of the site for amphibians.

In the car park, the group got to work on constructing the 13 bottle traps, before setting out to the reservoir.

View north-west across Cockleroy Reservoir

Putting out the traps. Photo courtesy of Mike Beard

On arriving on site, the first obstacle to our plan was a pair of angry swans, which were nesting in the area! We kept a respectable distance from the nest and made our approach to the water's edge with care. The 13 bottle traps we had made were soon all in place, albeit with a slight delay with placing one or two in situ (parts of the reservoir floor put up a resistance to the canes and snapped off mine quite effectively!). The water body was large, so we were not able to cover all sides with the traps. Searches of the marginal vegetation for eggs and the under-sides of stones for adults followed with no success. The group parted, with the anticipation of the morning to come. A few of us stayed on to do some botanising along the grassy banks of the reservoir and in the marsh and willow scrub.

Sunday morning arrived dry and the group once again set out to the reservoir. The traps revealed a good number of Three-spined Sticklebacks, but unfortunately no newts. Sticklebacks can be significant predators of newt larvae, when present in large numbers, so their abundance here was not promising. Nevertheless, the survey revealed the presence of both the Common Frog and Common Toad, which were both new species for the site.

Several breeding birds were noted during the visit, including Coot (nesting), Mute Swan (nesting) and Willow Warbler (territory). Little Grebe, Moorhen and Mallard were also present. Several clumps of Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuschsii) in the marshy grassland were also a nice find.

Overall, the event proved interesting and despite not finding any newts we did build on existing knowledge of the biodiversity of the site. Early next season, LARG hope to re-visit the site and do a more intensive trapping session, along with netting and torching, to try to cover more of the reservoir. So watch this space!

Natalie Harmsworth

Posted: May 15th 2012

Three-spined Sticklebacks were found in large numbers in the bottle traps

Girrick Meadow Excursion - 14th April 2012

This excursion took us to Girrick Meadow; a grassland site situated 4 miles north-west of Kelso in Berwickshire Vice County.

It was very windy at the curiously-named Hundy Mundy car park where we met, but a short walk took us to Girrick Meadow where we were more sheltered and in sunshine.

The Meadow is an interesting place combining marshy areas and dry slopes with rocky outcrops. So although it was early in the year, we managed a good plant list and had a lot of fun identifying plants from their leaves or seeds.

On the slopes Parsley Piert (Aphanes arvensis) and Changing Forget-me-not (Myosotis discolor) were coming into flower and the Field Woodrush (Luzula campestris, alternative name Good Friday Grass) was well out. We identified a number of leaves including Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), Rockrose (Helianthemum nummularium) and Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata) - the latter confirmed when we came upon some of the beautiful white flowers in a sunny corner.

Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata)

In wet areas Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) and Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) were well out, though it was a bit early for sedges. While for me the find of the day was a patch of Marsh Valerian (Valeriana dioica) just coming into flower.

Other wildlife was not neglected. Specimens of mosses and fungi were borne away for later identification. A Chiffchaff was singing in a patch of woodland and there were Linnets in the Gorse bushes and a Buzzard overhead. But it was too windy for many insects - apart from the Yellow Dung Flies on fresh cow pats.

(I should perhaps mention that we shared the field with a small herd of black cattle including 2 calves and 2 bulls, but they seemed completely unperturbed by our presence, and we returned the compliment!)

Thanks to Natalie Harmsworth of TWIC and Michael Scott from Harestanes for a most enjoyable trip.

Jackie Muscott

Posted: May 8th 2012

The group botanising on a grassy knowe at Girrick Meadow. Photo courtesy of Michael Scott.

View across Girrick Meadow

TWIC is a company limited by guarantee - registered in Scotland No. SC234339. A recognised Scottish Charity SC034113. This project is supported by NatureScot.