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Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin

Birds and Plants in 2002
by Donald Omand and Ken Butler

Both spring and autumn migrations were very quiet in Caithness last year. However, there were some notable rarities. The county's first Pied-Billed Grebe, an American species, was seen in Harrow Harbour on the 6th May. Another American visitor, Green-winged Teal, was seen at St John's in February - this is either the 2nd or 3rd record for Caithness. Other rarities seen included Black Tern, Gyr Falcon, male Ruffs in full breeding plumage, Great Grey Shrikes, Turtle Dove and a Chiffchaff of the Siberian race. Scotland saw an influx of over 100 Rose-Coloured Starlings in June and July, of which between 6 and 9 were seen across Caithness, with at least 4 being brightly-coloured adults. Previously, the highest Scottish record year was for 35 birds!

The breeding season was quite successful for many species, particularly for Blue Tits and Great Tits on the east side of the county. Buzzards and Goldfinches continue to do well. Rare breeders included Osprey, Golden Eagle, Common Scoter, Barn Owl, and, in the Dunbeath/Langwell area, Pied Flycatcher and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The county bird recorder, Stan Laybourne, is always grateful for any bird records you may have, which can be sent to him at Old Schoolhouse, Harpsdale, Halkirk.

The biggest event in the Caithness plant world was the survey of the Munsary peatland reserve by Plantlife. A team from University of South London, led by Richard Lindsay, carried out a comprehensive baseline survey. This included the discovery of a large colony of Marsh Saxifrage, Saxifraga hirculus. In 1911 a small colony of this plant was found by the Rev. Lillie of Watten near Rangag and this subsequently disappeared or has not been refound. Since the saxifrage is rare in world term, rare in European terms and a Red Data Book species in Britain, there had been a search to refind the plant in recent years. So the discovery of this large colony is an important one.

The Munsary survey also revealed a small colony of the Bog Orchid, Hammarbya paludosa, which is an insignificant plant of quaking sphagnum bogs, easily overlooked and never found before in Caithness.

A change in farming practice led to the appearance of a strange new weed in barley fields around the county. This tall blue weed is Phacelia tanacetifolia, which has been given the English name "Phacelia"; it is a native of California. It is currently spreading across British farms and is also planted by beekeepers to provide bee food.

A colony of the grass Melica nutans was recorded by the drive to Langwell House. It is only the second colony found in the county. It likes to live in shady crevices on cliffs of mineral-rich rock.

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