Inverkirkaig AFC field meeting

June 26th 2024

Inverkirkaig AFC field meeting

The lower part of the valley of the River Kirkaig and its estuary on Loch Kirkaig were explored by twelve members and friends on 19th May 2024, under the guidance of Andy Summers.  The emphasis was on birds (see Summer Outing down the Kirkaig – Birds Galore for photographs of many species), but we did also make a variety of other observations.

Birds

Eastern square (NC0819).  We started from the carpark by the bridge (NC085193) and walked a short distance up the wooded path that leads, eventually, to Suilven.  Blackcap and willow warbler were very audible in the adjoining woodland, but we also had chaffinch, goldfinch, great tit, redpoll overhead, robin and wren.

Retracing our steps, we walked westwards along the road on the northern bank of the river (photo 1), picking up blue tit, a distant cuckoo, a high-pitched goldcrest in a conifer, a family party of long-tailed tits, siskin, swallow and three tree creepers.

Western square (NC0719).  Some time was spent viewing a buzzard’s nest high on a crag on the southern side of the river (in Wester Ross), with a grey wagtail on the riverine shingle.  We then negotiated a rough sheep track along the wooded northern bank of the river, until, reaching its mouth (NC 078193), we settled down for lunch overlooking the beach and the waters of Loch Kirkaig (photos 2-3).

The beach, sandy spits and pools housed a wide range of species including curlew, great black-backed gull (2), heron (3), herring gull (2), hooded crow, mallard, oystercatcher and red-breasted merganser (pair).  There were distant views of a shag and of a couple of divers, probably great northern.  The woodlands and crofts around the Bay also provided records of blackbird, greenfinch, greylag goose, mistle thrush, song thrush and starling, mostly logged by their song.

Eastern square (NC0819).  The highlight of our return, along the road, was a good view of a spotted flycatcher, a species that many of us had not seen for a while. This made the total of 34 birds noted.

Other observations 

A good variety of other organisms were also noted on what was primarily a bird walk.  On the edge of the carpark (NC085193) David Haines found the remains of a slow-worm which had been run over.  This area, which faces south, yields regular records of this reptile, both dead and alive.

On the roadside bank of the carpark the small rosettes of the ground-hugging composite buttonweed Cotula alpina were pointed out (photo 4).  This alien species, hailing originally from south-eastern Australia, is now locally abundant along roadsides and on clifftops further south, around Achiltibuie, and has recently appeared here in Assynt.  It out-competes most native grassland species, including daisies, and is impossible to eradicate once it has arrived, presumably on car tyres (see Aussie invader reaches Assynt ).   

Beetles

In the same area David also noticed, on a stand of apple mint, a colourful beetle, later identified as a garden chafer Phyllopertha horticola (photo 5).  Despite its English name, this is essentially a coastal species in the north-west, with just one previous local record on NBN, at Achmelvich (NC036289), where it was found by Cathleen McGaw on 12th June 2019.  A little further to the west (NC084193) a large number of these chafers were emerging from riverside grassland; their larvae feed on grass roots.

Not far to the west (NC083193) a heap of fresh sheep dung was being buried by a busy cluster of dung beetles, as sustenance for their larvae.  Most were the familiar blue-black moorland species Anoplotrupes stercorosus (photo 6), with the corpses of more examples on the nearby tarmac.

However, a couple were smoother, shinier and with a bronzy-green sheen (photo 7).  These were the much rarer Trypocopris vernalis, another coastal species.  It has been recorded locally, according to NBN, just once before, at Achmelvich (NC395695) on 13th May 2009 by Ann Grubb.   

Willows

Two trees caught our attention because of their showy male catkins.  On the northern side of the road (NC 082194) there was a sprawling tree of almond willow Salix triandra. This was discovered ‘new’ to Assynt and West Sutherland on 31st May 2012 (see An unusual willow at Inverkirkaig).  It has shiny, rather narrow leaves (photo 8).  An ancient introduction to the British Isles, it was once much planted in England for basketry, but is sparsely distributed in Scotland.  This is a very isolated record and we may never know how it reached Inverkirkaig.

A little further west, at the edge of the river (NC081194), there is a very large bay willow Salix pentandra (photo 9).  This handsome species, with glossy rounded leaves, is native to England, but obviously introduced this far north, since all trees are male and nearly always associated with human habitation.

Nearby, a riverside boulder (NC080193) was stained conspicuously dark green by otter spraints containing fish bones (photos 10-11).   

In maritime grassland beside the estuary (NC078194) were the bright pink flowers of dove’s-foot crane’s-bill Geranium molle (photo 12), an uncommon coastal species in Assynt.

The highlight of our lunch break was the sighting by David and Avril Haines of a small group of common dolphins way out in Loch Kirkaig (NC0619).

Other Insects

Other insects noted on the walk included a red admiral (NC078193) and green-veined white (NC078195).  Gwen Richards identified a a brown silver-line moth (NC081193). Finally, we spotted a shieldbug on David’s car at the carpark (NC085193), later identified as a birch shieldbug Elasmostethus interstinctus (photo 13).  Altogether a good haul for a couple of hours leisurely walk in warm sunshine.

For an account of other aspects of the varied natural history of the beach area see Inverkirkaig: an intriguing miscellany.                                                                    

Ian M. Evans

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Recent Sightings

Rosy Woodlouse (Androniscus dentiger)

Single woodlouse, Nedd (Benjamin McTaggart and Ian Evans).  In grass tussocks, garden; first record from Assynt and West Sutherland (18/07)

Sawfly (Tenthredo sp)

Two insects on angelica flowers, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson).  Photo Gallery - Other Insects (17/07)

Silver-ground Carpet

Single moth, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson). Photo Gallery - Moths (17/07)

Common Red Soldier Beetle

Single beetle on angelica flower, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson). Photo Gallery - Beetles (17/07)

Ruby-tailed Wasp

Single insect near flowering plants, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson) (17/07)

Sedge Warbler

Single bird, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson) (17/07)

Straw Dot Moth

Single moth in garden, Achnacarnin (Murray Anderson). Photo Gallery - Moths (16/07)

Slow Worm

Single reptile in garden, Ardvar (Beccy Garvey) (16/07)

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