Yesterday was the anniversary of the day I arrived here in Whalsay more than 10 years ago. In the intervening years I’ve seen all manner of wonderful wildlife from the house – sometimes literally on my doorstep. As I sit and write this in the kitchen I’m looking out at the gatepost on which the only Pied Wheatear I’ve seen in Shetland landed when first we identified it in October 2004. From there it flew to perch on the back doorstep of the house.
Since then I’ve seen all manner of other rare and interesting birds; I’ve watched dolphins and porpoises feeding so close to shore I can hear the whoosh as they exhale; I’ve had an Otter use one of my byres as a holt (and my chickens as a snack-bar, sadly); and I’ve gradually found all manner of interesting flowering plants, including new species for the island. And all this seen either from the house itself or in the fields of my croft.
This morning I’ve added a new species to the house list – the delightfully named Dog Vomit Slime Mould Mucilago crustacea. I glanced out of the kitchen window an hour ago and there it was on the lawn – a fairly substantial pale yellow patch of… goop. Closer inspection revealed something that looked faintly like scrambled eggs (this is a commonly used alternative name for it, Scrambled Egg Slime Mould) or, indeed, dog vomit.
I’ve never seen this before here, and a walk around the lawns revealed several more quivering lumps of it. Apparently it’s quite widespread on the UK mainland and further afield too. In Norway folklore had it that this was the vomit of trollnøste or troll cats – cats created from hair, woodshavings and blood by local witches in a pact with the devil for the purpose of stealing milk and cream.
I’ve either got a trollnøste wandering about the place looking to nick the cream from the fridge or this is a new arrival on the croft. Alternatively it may have been here, overlooked, all along – perhaps this recent mass emergence is related to the unusually cool and damp summer we endured in Shetland this year?