Kirkcudbrightshire Botany Group at Loch Urr, 25/08/2017

On the previous visit in September 2016, we’d got washed out by rain after 2 hours then – sound familiar to those who came this time?  I promised a return to the site to cover ground that we didn’t cover then. At least we managed 3 hours this time around and actually got to the loch edge.

The usual time spent on the road edge getting the common species out of the way and then onto the bog and marsh leading down to the loch.  First up was Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum still surprisingly in flower and showing its finely divided leaves, much like Yarrow Achillea millefolium but brighter and lighter green.  The marshy bits gave us three rushes, Soft Rush Juncus effusus, Compact Rush J. conglomeratus and Sharp-flowered Rush J. acutiflorus, followed later by Jointed Rush J. articulatus in the shallow vegetation.  As the marsh gave way to bog proper, Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccus  became frequent, some bits of the creeping stems showing their relatively large, bright red berries.  There were areas of bog moss Sphagnum spp. amongst which were scattered Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia with red glandular leaves and fruiting stalks; the upright seed stalks and light green scythe-shaped leaves of Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum; various small sedges and then stalks of a sedge with nodding seed heads on longish stalks.  My first instinct was that we had that VC rarity, Tall Bog Sedge Carex magellanica, but caution dictated that we consult the BSBI Handbook. Leaves more than 1mm wide? – yes, in fact 2-3mm; bract exceeding the inflorescence? – yes.  Both facts distinguish it from the commoner, but still VC73 scarce, Mud Sedge C. limosa – we had indeed come across the Tall Bog Sedge in a spot not previously recorded. It was in a very wet Sphagnum area, amongst short vegetation – the book says it doesn’t like standing water, but this site may only have been that wet because of the rainfall in the past week.  11 fruiting stalks in all, looking definitely bedraggled, as one does in wet weather.  We’d tried to find it at a previous known location last year which was at least 500m away from this new site, but got the grid ref wrong and had been looking in the wrong place.  Persistence vindicated!

Then a difficult walk through or over this uneven ground,  despite the ATV tracks, of tussocks of Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea and Heather Calluna vulgaris bog, picking up other characteristic species such as Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica and Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia in both its normal blue- and less common white-flowered forms.  We aimed for the willow carr beside the loch and there found not only the purple flower spikes of Common Reed Phragmites australis, but the paler yellowy spikes of Canary Reed-grass Phalaris arundinacea.  But better still were the long stems of the purple-blue flowered Skullcap Scutellaria galericulata poking above the Molinia; Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria and Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris; scattered Marsh Cinquefoil Comarum palustre (previously Potentilla palustris!) with its five-armed leaves, and Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata.  But the next surprise was to find another rush, this time with widely spaced and distinctly yellow-green florets which diverged from each branch more or less at right angles.  Both these characteristics define Blunt-flowered Rush J. subnodulosus, a species far inland from most of its coastal or near coastal sites in VC73. Then another  two sedges, the fine leaves of the relatively tall Slender Sedge C. lasiocarpa scattered amongst the much wider and taller shoots of Lesser Pond Sedge C. acutiformis in which you can see the individual cells on the inner side of the leaf if peeled back below the ligule.  About 1/3 of the loch lies in VC73, the rest in VC72 (Dumfriesshire) for which there are no records of the first of these two.

Lunch was beside the loch beside water lilies with large oval leaves, Yellow Water Lily Nuphar lutea, and a single detached small round leaf which I took to be Least Water Lily N. pumila. Once home with this tattered specimen, I decided that it corresponded to the species, not the hybrid N. x spenneriana which had been recorded here previously.  Small leaf 8.5 cm long & wide, 14 lateral veins on each side, lens-shaped petiole cross-section with two slightly angled corners.  But since it was only the vegetative characters, I need to return to the site when the plant is in flower to verify the record as a first for this site.

By this time the mist and rain had begun and only a brief walk northwards along a short section of shore was possible.  I had thought the loch edge would be sloping and probably rock-based, but it turned out to be a steep rather unstable peat bank of perhaps two metres, dropping sharply into water too deep to wade into. The water held Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata, Water Horsetail Equisetum fluviatile and Common Spike-rush Eleocharis palustris, with, on the edge, the relatively large yellow flowers of Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus, the clusters of purplish flowers at each leaf node of Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria, and Amphibious Bistort Persicaria amphibia growing upright out of water here.  No pondweeds or other aquatics were either visible or washed to the loch edge.

And that was that, with a quick wet walk back to the cars.  By the time we got back to Corsock the rain had largely stopped while the roads near Gatehouse were completely dry!

Other things seen included three geese flying off the loch, probably Greylag Geese, three or more black, with narrow bands of yellow, Fox Moth caterpillars, one white and tufted Drinker Moth caterpillar and a Common Frog or two.  And some small very prettily coloured toadstools and variously yellow or red parasols.

Numbers – 93 plant species, including one possible new species Nuphar pumila, one VC73 rarity Carex magellanica, and one VC73 scarce species Juncus subnodulosus.  I also picked up a small shoot of an unidentified umbellifer which I need to send away for identification.

David Hawker

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