Mountain Flora and Fauna Course
10th – 13th June 2011
HEATH BEDSTRAW & HEATH SPEEDWELL ON BEN VRACKIE
The Team of Christine & Philip Horsley, Denise Power, Granville Williamson, Janet Barnby and Steve Ouditt met for the 1930 meal along with a university group from London on Friday the 10th of June. After the delicious buffet, tutor Sarah gave us the health & safety talk in the Brerachan room followed by the team meeting up in The Stables for a ‘cool’ introduction to the Course.
It was very still and dull on Saturday the 11th of June as we met up at 0745 in the lunch-preparation room before the 0800 breakfast. This over, we gathered in the car park by the ’04 minibus in anticipation of our trip to Ben Vrackie. We made the mandatory stop at the Ardle bridge to look for the Dippers but none were present.
Our first real experience of moorland habitat was when we pulled into a lay-by on Moulin Moor where we watched Meadow Pipit and Wheatear whilst looking for Black Grouse. From here, we drove to Moulin then up towards the start of the Ben Vrackie walk. Spots of rain were just starting to fall at this point. We noted numerous plants along the path through the attractive woodland leading to the moors, including Pignut, Cow Parsley, Ground Elder, Wood Forget-me-not, Field Forget-me-not, Wood Avens, the Wood Avens/Water Avens hybrid, Common Wintergreen, Yellow Pimpernel, Dog’s Mercury, Foxglove, Blaeberry, Bog Stitchwort, Lesser Stitchwort, Pink Purslane, Red Campion, Wild Strawberry, Common Vetch, Bitter Vetch, Herb Robert, Wood Cranesbill, Common Dog Violet, Goosegrass, Alkanet, Bugle, Lady Fern, Scaly Male Fern, Broad Buckler Fern and Hard Fern. Some of the birds included Chaffinch, Willow Warbler, Blue Tit, Dunnock and Tree Pipit before we left the woodland behind to come out to hundreds of beautiful Broom bushes emitting a fine perfume. From here, we could hear a Cuckoo whilst watching Whitethroat, Buzzard and Kestrel. The vegetation changed slightly to Heath Bedstraw, Heath Milkwort, Heath Speedwell, Common Lady’s Mantle, Tormentil, Smith’s Pepperwort, Heather, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Eared Willow, the sweet smelling Bog Myrtle and the insectivorous Butterwort.
BROOM COUNTRY ON THE SLOPES OF BEN VRACKIE
We reached a lovely boggy patch housing Scottish Asphodel, Yellow Mountain Saxifrage, Round-leaved Sundew, Brown Bog Rush (from Loch Tummel), Eyebright, Quaking Grass and a couple of heads of Heath Spotted Orchids found by Philip.
Just beyond this area are two seats; so we made use of these to survey the surrounding countryside. We could see a fair distance although it was cloudy and damp. Denise heard the ‘croak’ from a Raven, and we picked out a calling Curlew standing on a rock. I had walked up the same route the afternoon before with my friend Martin Robinson (East Perthshire plant recorder), and we had spotted a few plants of Chickweed Wintergreen near to the lochan but the eagle-eyed Team spotted more, well before this. A young Meadow Pipit was found on the edge of the track, and a Raven was spotted on the distant hill ridge. We also noted some Stag’s-horn Clubmoss.
When we reached the peaty tarn, it was time for lunch, and we managed to find the ideal spot behind some large boulders with the wind strengthening. As we were munching the Kindrogan packed lunch, Christine heard the calls from a Common Sandpiper, which landed on the path for all to see. Thyme-leaved Speedwell was growing here as was Hare’s-tail Cotton Grass in place of the common one seen further down hill.
Eating and drinking over, we now had the slightly more serious climbing to do in order to reach the base of the cliffs where the true Alpine flowers were to be found. The song of a Ring Ouzel could be heard along with more ‘croaks’ from a pair of Ravens. Alpine Lady’s Mantle and Sheeps’ Sorrel were noted before we left the track for the more precarious slopes below the cliffs. The scramble was well worth it as we found Mountain Milk-vetch, Alpine Milk-vetch, Moonworts, Twisted Whitlowgrass, Mountain Pansies, Wild Mountain Thyme (which encouraged a tune from Granville), and a single head of Purple Saxifrage. There were also some seed heads of Cowslips, and we found an old Wren’s nest.
Steve, Denise & Granville elected to climb to the top of the mountain, Christine and Philip started their decent whilst Janet and I attempted to locate the singing Ring Ouzel. Whilst doing so, we spotted a large clump of Rose Root, and a pair of Kestrels chasing a pair of Ravens as a Carrion Crow ‘cawed’ in the distance. Janet and I waited for the intrepid three whilst finishing off our food, and whilst watching a hunting Buzzard. When Steve, Denise and Granville arrived, they were only too pleased to tell us that they had been watching the Ring Ouzel from the top!
The rain went off for a while on the way back, and we were able to detect the calls of a Common Snipe, which made a brief appearance. The complete Team was back together as we wandered through the woodland and back to the car park with the rain back on again. We had hoped to have time for a stop at the Scottish Wildlife Trusts’ reserve by the roadside in Strathardle to have a closer look at the Globe Flowers but time was running out; so we just pulled in at the side of the road for a quick look. I had spotted a male Whinchat as we were crossing the Moulin Moor.
Another wonderful chef Sarah meal was devoured, and this time with even more university students. We met in The Stables at 1945 for a round-up of the day’s events plus a slide show of some mountain plant and bird species.
It was a much, much better day on Sunday the 12th of June as we carefully fitted ourselves plus baggage into the 7-seater Zafira as the students were requiring both the minibuses today. Janet & Steve martyred themselves to the back seats. The mandatory stop still did not produce a Dipper as we headed for Glen Shee and Glas Maol. The odd Roe Deer was spotted en route. Martin Robinson had told me about a beautiful Pansy bank along the way, and navigator Granville was on the lookout for it and the adjacent car park, but I was so keen for a quick look at these flowers that I passed the lay-by. As it was on the other side of the road, we decided to stop there on the way back.
We reached the café and loos after about 50 minutes, and then drove to the start of our walk. From the car park, Steve spotted a Mountain Hare and a Red Grouse up the hillside on the other side of the road. Christine and Philip started out at their own pace before the rest of us got underway, but we were sure that we would all meet up quite soon. Alpine Lady’s Mantle was seen from the outset, and after a very short distance we came across Mountain Pansies and Alpine Bistort. Meadow Pipits were to the fore as we made way for a Land Rover before we came across some Stag’s-horn Clubmoss. Before too long, we were watching more Mountain Hares and finding patches of the mountain variety of Thyme-leaved Speedwell with the odd Starry Saxifrage as well as several clumps of Fir Clubmoss. We reached a small peaty tarn containing tadpoles, Pond Skaters and a Whirlie-gig Beetle with several Cloudberry plants in flower.
The long slog took us to a plateau but I had still not managed to catch up with Christine! I did catch up with Philip who was waiting to show me a delightful patch of Trailing Mountain Azalea amongst some Crowberry. Steve found a herd of around 150 Red Deer for us. The end was almost in sight now as we clambered up the remaining steep slope, spotting Least Willow, before the terrain became gentler, and led us to the summit of Munro Glas Maol. There is a boulder shelter at the top and this is where we had our well-deserved lunch, and this is where I met Christine for the first time since we had set off! As we munched, a Wheatear and a Dunlin appeared not too far away.
OUR GLAS MAOL LUNCHING SPOT
Lunch over, we wandered over to the adjacent scree-covered slopes in search of Ptarmigan, and it was not too long before we came across a pair as well as a couple of Mountain Hares. As usual, the birds walked away from us rather than take to their white wings. The next target was Dotterel; so we scoured the green grassy areas in the hope of finding a feeding bird but to no avail. It is probable that the males were still incubating, and that the females had taken off for pastures new! Steve spotted a smaller herd of fairly distant Red Deer which we thought may have been Reindeer as their coats were pale and their heads looked dark, but it must have been a trick of the light as the only Reindeer are either in the Cairngorms or in Glen Livet! A Dunlin was accidentally disturbed at its nest, and feigned a broken wing. In our travels, we also heard a Golden Plover, and as we were descending, we came across another pair of Ptarmigan drinking from a small stream lined with Marsh Marigolds.
During our walk down, Denise came across a family of Red Grouse, and she also found a single Moonwort. We pointed out all the plants that some people had missed on the way up. Once we had left the café area, we headed down Glen Shee making for the Violet patch we had passed on the way up but there was a shout of “female Hen Harrier” from the Zafira: so we pulled in to an opportune lay-by to have a look. Curlews were bubbling away and a couple of Kestrels were hunting the opposite hillside but we did not find the harrier. What we did see was just as good, and this was a Short-eared Owl, which hunted around for ten minutes before we had to head on.
We had no trouble finding the Violet spot, and pulled in for a closer look whilst three Buzzards wheeled and squealed nearby.
‘HARE LUGS’ MOUNTAIN PANSIES
We still just had time for a quick stop at the Kirkmichael bridge where Granville and Denise had seen Dipper and Spotted Flycatcher a few days before but not this time. However, Granville spotted our very own Dipper from the Ardle bridge. We were back in time for the last of chef Sarah’s wonderful meals followed by our meeting in The Stables where we chatted about the Course plus many other topics.
Most people were travelling onto adventures new on Monday the 13th, and I hope that everything worked out well for them. The Course was a success not only for the flora & fauna seen but for the excellent company of the Course members. I hope to see you all again before too long.
Russell G Nisbet – June, 2011.