Despite the rain…a walk to Loch Uidh na Geadaig

December 16th 2018

The forecast for 30th September 2018 did not look good, but we thought we would take a chance.  We wanted to round off the season’s botanical recording with a local square and Gwen’s collie Jess also needed a walk.  The choice was NC1425, which encompasses Loch Uidh na Geadaig on Little Assynt and also the old road south of the A837.

We parked down by the pool (143253) and started by listing its rich flora, which includes beds of common spike-rush Eleocharis palustris turning a most attractive orange (photo 1), the bootlace-like leaves of floating bur-reed Sparganium angustifolium, and a number of other aquatics and waterside species.

From the pool we followed a well-marked path to the north-east as far as a gate in the deer-fence and then westwards parallel to the fence. This took us into some fairly wet ground, especially after a rainy September.  A tiny glistening jelly-like fungus was spotted by the side of the path (photo 2); it is unlike anything we have ever seen, but has, so far, defied identification.  There were substantial areas of white beak-sedge Rhynchospora alba, sporting somewhat contradictory reddish-brown fruiting heads, and close to the fence, an even wetter area, dominated by a sedge with waving whip-like leaves.  From a few remaining hairy fruits, we were able to confirm this as slender sedge Carex lasiocarpa, a distinctive species of mires, often somewhat base-rich ones (photo 3).

A more distinct path then led us to the easternmost bay of Loch Uidh na Geadaig, which is dominated by a large stand of great fen-sedge Cladium mariscus, a robust plant rising a metre above the water (photos 4-5). Its leaves are protected from grazing by a fearsome array of small tooth-like spines which can cut to the bone if handled carelessly.  It occurs in scattered localities across Assynt and gets its name from the fens of Cambridgeshire, where it was once cut for thatching.

In a brief sunny interlude we worked our way west above the shore of the loch, clambering down to the water’s edge where a single downy birch was rooted in some heather-capped boulders (photo 6).  Dead birch twigs bore glistening growths of one of the jelly fungi Exidia repanda (photo 7).  Hanging heather stems and the faces of the boulders were covered in places by an impressive foliose lichen Platismatia norvegica (photos 8-9).  This has very attractive grey thalli edged in brown and bearing what look like sharp beaded ridges, the beads being asexual propagules called isidia.  It has been found in only a handful of sites in Assynt, usually on rocks near water, often in gorges.

Showers persisting, we decided to return to the car along another well-marked path on the edge of the Blar nam Fear Mora, with just two stops. The first was where the path crossed a runnel marked out by greyish tussocks of black bog-rush Schoenus nigricans, indicating slightly base-rich water running off nearby gneiss outcrops.  This was, obligingly, accompanied by most of the suite of other species commonly associated with it, including dioecious sedge Carex dioica, tawny sedge C. hostiana, marsh arrow-grass Triglochin palustre and, in a small pool, Nordic bladderwort Utricularia stygia.

The second stop, in a gleam of sunshine, was by a gneiss outcrop not far from the carpark. This was plastered with pale-grey coral-like lichens, including Stereocaulon cf. dactylophyllum, covered with glistening dark-brown apothecia (photo 10)

The score for a damp but enjoyable couple of hours was some 75 higher plants, the lichens and other fungi mentioned and a couple of moth caterpillars, the large hairy oobits of the fox moth and a much smaller brilliantly-coloured early instar larva of the drinker moth (photo 11).

For completeness, we can report that a further 62 species of plants were recorded along the old road in a couple of hours after lunch, with somewhat kinder weather.  They included wildthyme Thymus polytrichus in abundance along the edge of the tarmac and still in flower, autumn gentian Gentianella amarella on the verge, and sanicle Sanicula europaea in a small area of birchwood on the riverside (145252), which also contained a single hazel.  Optimism justified and a good end to the botanical recording season.

Ian Evans and Gwen Richards

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