View from Tokavaig over to the hills of Skye (c) Duncan Hutt
Arctophila superbiens (c) Duncan Hutt
A few showery and rainy days on Skye still gave way now and again to warm sunshine. In these sunny intervals the insects emerged to feed on the flowers of heather, black knapweed, devil’s-bit scabious and angelica that surrounded our residence for the week. A few workers of common carder-bee (Bombus pascourum) foraged for nectar and pollen in amongst the flowers alongside an imposter, a look-alike hoverfly (Arctophila superbiens). This is a western species of hoverfly with little known about its life cycle, though the larvae may be aquatic in bog pools. Also prowling on the black knapweed was a sinister looking predator; an ichneumon wasp was busy laying eggs, presumably on insect larvae deep within the flower.
Leucozona glaucia (c) Duncan Hutt
Ichneumon wasp (c) Duncan Hutt
The flowers of angelica were particularly popular with other hoverflies including wasp and bee mimics such as Eristalis species and Leucozona glaucia, a species of woodland edges in the north and west of the UK. The larvae of the Leucozona feed on aphids of the woodland floor.
Speckled wood (c) Duncan Hutt
There were a few butterflies too. Scotch argus seem to cope well with cooler conditions although enjoyed basking in the sunshine when it did appear. There were speckled wood butterflies too resting on the young birch and hazel particularly in sheltered spots out of the wind. A peacock butterfly managed to put in an appearance, feeding for most of the afternoon on the black knapweed.
And one more insect worthy of note: the midge! There were plenty of these on the mild damp evenings.
Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Climbing Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Even the lesser mountains on Skye look huge. Perhaps it’s the fact that they rise from sea level or perhaps it’s that they are craggy or covered in scree that gives them the sense of being high and impenetrable. Beinn na Callich towers above Broadford and is a large stony mass of a mountain that actually only manages to be 732m at its highest point. The climb is, however, hard going across heather slopes turning to boulder fields with small green patches between. Here parsley fern and alpine ladies mantle grow and bilberry produces food for the ptarmigan that was flying low from rock to rock.
Parsley fern (c) Duncan Hutt
Alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) (c) Duncan Hutt
The route takes in a horseshoe of three peaks from Beinn na Callich, on to Beinn Dearg Mhor, with a steep descent on scree, and finally to Beinn Dearg Bheag. On the rocky tops club mosses such as the distinctive Alpine clubmoss hint at the harshness of this windswept environment. Down below, and back on the lower more boggy slopes, an occasional Scotch argus butterfly braved the relatively cool and breezy weather of the afternoon.
Beinn Dearg Bheag and Beinn Dearg Mhor from Beinn na Callich (c) Duncan Hutt
Marmalade hoverfly (c) Duncan Hutt
There are over 280 species of hoverfly in the UK. Last week Duncan attended a training day on their identification although it’s only ever going to be a brief introduction in one day. There seems to be one species of the 280 with an English name, and this, the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), was hanging around on cranesbill flowers in the garden this afternoon.
At Dukesfield, just south of Hexham, there were a few more species feeding on hogweeds but most of them turned out to be the very common Eristalis pertinax. This is a large ‘bee-mimic’ hoverfly which is relatively easy to tell from its close relatives as it has yellow front and middle feet! There were both male and females of this hoverfly clearly demonstrating the key difference between the genders; the separation of the eyes. In most hoverflies the eyes meet on the male whereas the eyes of females are separated.
Male Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt
Female Eristalis pertinax (c) Duncan Hutt
Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt
Meadow brown (c) Duncan Hutt
At this time of year, on warm sunny days, meadows take on a feeling of laziness, epitomised by the slow flapping flight of meadow brown butterflies. Ringlets also flutter slowly in and over the tall grasses while small skippers are a little more frantic in their flight to find nectar or a mate. The fields by the River Pont in Stamfordam were alive with these as well as some second brood green-veined whites and a few large whites too. A stand of marsh and spear thistles provided a great nectar source for the meadow browns and ringlets. These two grassland species can be a little problematic to tell apart, particularly in flight. The slightly larger meadow browns tend to have a bit of an orange flash although in some specimens this orange is very dark; ringlets have a pale border around the wings which is usually visible even in flight on younger specimens at least. Once they stop to feed the differences are more obvious with a set of eyes on the brown wings of the ringlet and a one large eye on the orange forewing of meadow browns.
Nursery web spider (c) Duncan Hutt
Nursery web spider’s nursery web (c) Duncan Hutt
Elsewhere in the field were some tent type constructions of a nursery web spider, the spider itself was nestled at the base of its home. The female spider will have carried her batch of eggs around for some time and then constructed this tent into which her tiny offspring have been released. The baby spiders will stay in this guarded nursery until they are large enough to venture into the outside world; she will stay with them until they have all departed.
Scorpion fly, (Panorpa sp) (c) Duncan Hutt
Other creatures in the meadow included a female scorpion fly, some narrow bordered five-spot burnet moths and, by the river, large red damselflies and a newly emerged common darter. The large red damselflies were vying for territories along the slow flowing river; the common darter was lying in wait for an easy meal.
Swollen female dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) (c) Duncan Hutt
Normal sized dock leaf beetle (c) Duncan Hutt
The dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) does exactly as its English name suggests and are found on docks and related plant species, often in damp areas. These beetles are fairly common and widespread and are a shiny metallic green, often looking golden and sometimes bluish. Perhaps the most distinctive feature is the fact that the females get an extremely swollen abdomen full of eggs just before laying. The beetles are only about 5mm long and they tend to drop off if threatened although the swollen females sit tight.
Above Old Rookland (c) Sally Hutt
Small heath butterflies (c) Duncan Hutt
As you travel up the Coquet past Rothbury the land suddenly changes at Alwinton from rolling productive countryside to steep-sided grassy hills split by deep V-shaped valleys. This sharp edge of hills can be followed from here to the north around the Cheviots. About 3km north-east from Alwinton along this hill edge is the tiny community of Biddlestone and it was from here we struck out on a walk to get two more hills for Sally’s ’50 hills challenge’.
The first top was Gills Law climbed across rough damp grassy land grazed with sheep and cattle. The song of skylark accompanied us on the walk and small heath butterflies flitted up from the path just in front of us.
Old Rookland (c) Duncan Hutt
Wood tiger (Parasemia plantaginis) (c) Duncan Hutt
We dropped from Gills Law down past the abandoned and ruined farmstead at Old Rookland, then down over Rookland Sike before climbing steeply up Silverton Hill. The northern face of this hill was swathed in a carpet of heather with bilberry and the occasional hard fern. It was here that a strikingly coloured wood tiger moth (Parasemia plantaginis) flew past, perching moments later in the vegetation. This is a slightly misnamed species preferring moorland, heathland and scattered trees rather than woodland.
Hard fern (Blechnum spicant) (c) Sally Hutt
From Silverton Hill it was an easy walk back to our start point near to the rather unusual Biddlestone Chapel. This former Roman Catholic chapel was built on the remains of an old pele tower and was once attached to a hall which has since been demolished.
Biddlestone Chapel (c) Duncan Hutt
Bloody cranesbill after rain (c) Duncan Hutt
Hound’s-tongue (c) Duncan Hutt
The Northumberland coast has long stretches of dune helping to protect the shore from the North Sea storms. This dune strip is home to a variety of specialist plants including bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) which has been chosen at Northumberland’s county flower; it’s currently in full bloom providing a purple carpet over some large areas. Elsewhere other plants typical of the coast are also out in flower such as the uncommon hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale), a member of the borage family: the dark red flowers contrast with the greyish leaves. Dyer’s greenweed was also out in flower but others like rest-harrow will bloom a little later.
Hybrid between common spotted and northern marsh orchids (c) Duncan Hutt
Many orchids are now providing some impressive colour too. At Linton lane nature reserve the common spotted and northern marsh orchids readily hybridise giving rise to some impressively large flower heads varying in colour from pale to dark purple. Here too some ringlet butterflies had newly emerged and will be augmented by many more over the weeks ahead with meadow brown appearing a little later in the year. The section of the reserve to the north is a little visited part of the site but there is a wealth of wildlife in this young but developing woodland.
Ringlet (c) Duncan Hutt