Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Rubh an Dunain

 I went on the Skye Botany Group walk to Rubh an Dunain yesterday, covering about 10 miles.  It was led by Stephen Bungard, who has already commented on the number of new records that were made and of the more significant finds on his own blog. (Plants of Skye and Raasay)   I have been there before to see the Viking canal, the chambered cairn and the iron age fort, all very close together, but this was principally a botany trip, and in passing any other wildlife of interest.

Everyone looking down - definitely a botany group
Geologically Rubha and Dunain, close to the Cuillin ridge, is a basalt area, with  some significant dykes running through, making the scenery quite dramatic, and interesting refuges for plants away from grazing sheep.

Orchids were just coming into flower.  Many of the Heath Spotted orchids were pure white, with uncharacteristically narrow, unspotted leaves.   Indeed the only reliable characters were the shape of the flower and in particular the fan shaped labellum, and weakly keeled leaves.

We saw the first Northern marsh orchid that any of us had seen this season, while there were also the first cohort of Early marsh orchids.  On the croft 37 are in flower so far.

Certainly a highlight was Wood Bitter-vetch growing in an almost inaccessible place on the cliffs above the sea, facing south east.  There is an excellent species account (Species account - Vicia orobus) on the BSBI website, prepared by Kevin Walker and Pete Stroh.   This is a plant that is uncommon with few records on Skye.  It might be more widespread but because of its preferred cliff habitat it is far from easy to find, and the cliffs to the east of where we found it might contain more plants; another day maybe.

Nearby there was a  one very small Heath spotted orchid with the flowers upside down which is an unusual aberration in orchids, but not unknown.   In some species such as Bog orchid all the flowers look the 'wrong way' up.

We saw lots of birds, including Golden plover, Lapwing, the resident race of Wheatear
with their paler colouring (those we had on the croft were brighter and would be on passage to Iceland and Greenland), Cuckoos  and Common sandpipers.

 There were numerous day flying moths such as Common Heath but also this micromoth which one of the members of the Skye Moth Group on Facebook suggests is Clepsis senecionana. (Skye Moth Group) 

There are four or five places on Skye that are 'must see'.   Rubha an Dunain is one, with unrivalled archaeology allied to the chance of seeing some really interesting wildlife.   Oddly though, despite the seclusion and heavy sprainting here and there, we did not see any otters.

On the way there I stopped at the bottom of Loch Ainort where the pilot whales remain and have now been there for over a week.   Whilst there is probably plenty of fish there usually, because it is a good place to see seals, it is very shallow and slopes gradually.   I have no idea whether any moves are afoot to encourage the whales to a more convivial place.

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