Lochs Stroan and Skerrow, 15th September 2018

Trust me to choose a difficult area to survey, although this was partly determined by a desire to cover the two lochs and the rail bed. The area covered 5 monads (1×1 km squares) falling within 4 different tetrads (2×2 km squares), which made recording a bit difficult as we wound our way between them. For once we actually covered all the ground I had targeted, the first time since the group began! The day was really confined to looking at two lochs and the rail bed – we didn’t venture into the adjoining fields, marshes or moorland.

The first problem was Loch Stroan, all we could see was Yellow Water Lily Nuphar lutea and Common Club Rush Schoenoplectus lacustris close at hand – the water level was too high to reach the other aquatics so we scrambled onto the rail bed and the viaduct. This delighted us with 3 ferns – Maidenhair Spleenwort Asplenium trichomanes, its smaller companion Wall-rue A. ruta-muraria and the small tapered fronds of Brittle Bladder-fern Cystopteris fragilis. Then, among the Hawkweed Hieracium agg., one of the group spotted the 3 inch high Small Toadflax Chaenorhinum minus still in flower – 9 plants in all. This is a VC73 rarity, apparently confined to old rail beds here, and a single small plant of Sticky Groundsel Senecio viscosus which lived up to its name.

Further along the rail bed and on some of the slopes of cuttings we found frequent Heath Dog Violet Viola canina, with its more pointed and narrower leaves – surprisingly the commoner V. riviniana was still in flower. The edges of the rail bed gave us two of the smallest flowering plants in the UK – Allseed Radiola linoides and Chaffweed Centunculus minima, both unusual and rare in the VC and both flowering.

We spent some time reinforcing the identity of various rushes, both by looking at the pith (or lack of) and the presence of joints in the leaves, as well as the form of the flowering head. Compact Rush Juncus conglomeratus with its dense head and slightly offset bract; Jointed Rush J. articulatus with its numerous cross joints in the leaves and shiny black fruits; Slender Rush J. tenuis with its long bract extending well beyond the flower head, and Heath Rush J. squarrosus with its deeply channelled leaves and stiff, erect flower/seed spike. In the wetter ground we found frequent Bristle Club Rush Isolepis setacea, the occasional Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia and Common Butterwort Pinguicula vulgaris. The drier ground had Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris while on the way back from Loch Skerrow, Jim spotted a single lanky, flowering plant of Sheep’s Bit Scabious Jasione montana , a species more commonly associated with dry mineral ground at or very near the coast.

Loch Skerrow is set amid acid wet ground so Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea, Deer-grass Trichophorum germanicum and Hare’s-tail Cotton-grass Eriophorum vaginatum were all frequent. The loch itself held very little and again Jim, the only one with wellies, ventured into the water to retrieve a single stem of a small water weed. Debate came to no definite conclusion as to Shoreweed Littorella littoralis or one of the Quillwort Isoetes spp.

Once home, I found the leaf cross-section had 4 circular open channels – Quillwort I. lacustris.  Despite a binocular search of the islands in the loch for Juniper Juniperus communis, I could see nought but Bog Myrtle Myrica gale and Willows Salix spp.

One of the old rail buildings here held another fern Asplenium spp., Hart’s Tongue Fern A. scolopendrium, with its undivided leaves. Staying with ferns, we found another 6 species along our route – Beech Fern Phegopteris connectilis with its two lowest pinnae down-turned; Lady Fern Athyrium filix-femina with its delicately divided fronds; Lemon-scented Fern Oreopteris limbosperma with its J-shaped sporangia and slight lemon scent when crushed; and three Dryopteris spp.

The day was only briefly marred by a dreich hour just before and over lunch when midges arrived in droves, but overall it was excellent and added considerably to the VC database – 180 species, with 355 records in all, spread over all 5 monads (range 68-109 per monad). Plus another 3 spp. in a very small part of another monad we briefly crossed. Grateful thanks are due to Val for once again doing all the recording, in what was an exceptionally difficult task.  And thank you all for the help in finding and identifying the plants and for the company and of course for the photographs. I hope it wasn’t too demanding in view of the (too) numerous species.

David Hawker

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