Tuesday 24 June 2014

Silver Studded Blues, Scarlet Tigers, Six-belted Clearwings, Large Blues and soggy Marbled Whites - 24th June 2014

I had an unexpected day off from work on the 19th of June and after speaking to Jon we decided to head south to a Silver Studded Blue site near Reading with the hope of seeing Scarlet Tigers near Oxford on the way home. As it was all so close me, Jon and Kirsty waited until midday and headed down to the first stop which was Silchester Common just in the Hampshire border. Information about exactly where to see the Silver Studded Blues seemed to be very hard to find on the internet but as the site looked fairly small on the map we had a good feeling that we should be able to find them. This feeling however was short lived as we arrived just as the sun went behind a cloud! We searched the site from the car park heading to all the likely places but we could see no sign. We walked through the wood and met a local dog walker who didn't know either. It really wasn't looking good and that pessimistic sinking feeling really started to take over the mood but as always we persevered and heading out into another area of the clearing. I had read that Silver Studded Blues can be very communal so if you can manage to find one then you find them all so the speak as the local population can stick to a small very small area and luckily by now the sun had returned so things were starting to look up again. We walked across a more open area and out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of blue. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when the "flash of blue" settled and proved itself to be a Silver Studded Blue! Then we saw another, and another, and another! We spent the next hour or so snapping away at this tiny colony of very nice looking butterflies and for once the weather was in our favour as bright sun gave way to a touch of cloud meaning we could get under and overwing shots. The Silver Studded Blue is definitely one of those things where no photo or picture in a book can do it justice and if you ever find yourself in an area to see them it's really worthwhile taking a look - they really are stunning butterflies! To add an added bonus for our butterfly lifelists this was our 50th British butterfly species seen for all of us.

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common,Hants

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants
Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants
We left here late afternoon and headed to Cothill just south if Oxford to try and see Scarlet Tiger moths. We found the area they were and found them easily but unfortunately they were incredibly flighty and when they did settle they did so at the tops of the trees. Luckily one came down far enough to be able to get a record shot but despite a lot of chasing I couldn't manage any better pics.

Scarlet Tiger, Cothill, Oxon
My next day off wasn't until the Sunday the 22nd June and it was earmarked for a trip to try and see Large Blue. As it was closest to us here in Northants, and the fact that we'd seen pics of them on Twitter the week before,  we decided to go to the reserve at Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire. Jon and Kirsty had managed to see them the day before while I was at work but they very nicely offered to take me with them on a return visit on the Sunday as well. I had been starting very early at work the week before and my body clock woke me up at 4.30am so after some breakfast I headed my local site of Grange Park before getting picked up to head to Daneway. Despite the sun blazing down even at 6am there was still a lot of dew on the grass and some of the still roosting butterflies looked pretty soggy in the damp.

Wet Common Blue, Grange Park, Northants

Wet Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants
As the sun came up they started to dry out and some were quite tame before the sun fully recharged their batteries. One even sunned itself for a moment on my hand.

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants
Time came to head to Daneway and after hearing about Jon and Kirsty's sightings on the previous day I was very excited. We arrived in good time and we shot up the bank to be greeted very quickly by the sight of my first ever Large Blue butterfly! I chased it up the bank before it finally settled and I got some pics. It must be said that photographing these butterflies is harder than it looks as they tend to settle deep in the grass and when they do pose in the open it can be difficult to find a specimen that isn't covered in red mites. With the exception of a lunchtime pitstop for a couple of pints of cider at the fantastic Daneway Inn at the bottom of the hill we spent most of the day there snapping away. The other thing to be mentioned is they hardly ever rest with their wings open and the only open winged shot I achieved has a stem of a plant going across it! I real shame but it's included here as it's the only one I got to show the upperwing pattern. Oh and they really are "large" too, I was surprised at just how big they were especially in comparison to the Small Blues that were also present.

Large Blue, Daneway Banks, Glos

Large Blue, Daneway Banks, Glos

Large Blue (and obligatory thing in the way!), Daneway Banks, Glos

Eventually the heat got to us and we left and headed back to Northants. Recently during the previous week I had found a small population of Six-belted Clearwings at the Grange Park site so we rounded off the day looking for them and luckily they weren't too hard to find.

Six-belted Clearwing, Grange Park, Northants

Six-belted Clearwing, Grange Park, Northants
It's now time to turn our attention to the woodland species as Purple Emperor, White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks, Silver Washed and Dark Green Fritillaries are all emerging. It's going to be a very busy few weeks!

Saturday 14 June 2014

A Heath Fritillary, a Ringlet and a Marbled White - 14th June 2014

After the fun of the Black Hairstreaks at Glapthorn during the week we couldn't wait for the weekend to get here as the weather forecast was looking good and we'd decided to head to Essex to see one of the rarest of the British butterflies the Heath Fritillary. Waking up in the morning and opening the curtains however showed a different story as the prolonged spells of sunshine had changed to dense cloud with drizzle. I checked the two weather apps I use on the phone and they both promised sunny spells by mid morning so Jon, Kirsty and me made the journey down. I had been sent detailed instructions by a friend of mine of Facebook so we knew we could easily find the location but I have to admit I was getting a bit worried about the weather especially as we drove through a heavy belt of rain just before leaving the M25. I rechecked my phone and now both apps were saying we weren't going to get any sun until at least mid afternoon and this was 5 hours away! We were still hopeful though as this was apparently the best place in this area to see this cracking little butterfly so we parked along a local road and walked into Little Haven nature reserve and headed straight towards the large clearing. Quite amazingly we had arrived during a break in the drizzle and we somehow managed to see a very nice looking Heath Fritillary straight away as it stretched out it's wings in an effort to soak up as much sunlight as it could through the thick cloud. It's wings closed as we approached showing us the incredible underside pattern.

Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex
While we took pics the wind got up and disturbed it from it's perch but luckily for us it didn't go far and it found a resting place on a nearby leaf. We took a couple more pics and went off to explore the area. Jon had found a great looking Ringlet which also sat motionless while we took our pics. Sometimes inclement weather really helps the photographer (so long of course if you can find the butterflies in the first place) as they can sit quite still as you snap away, and if they are disturbed they don't tend to fly far before resting up again.

Ringlet, Little Haven, Essex
Ringlet, Little Haven, Essex
Despite a very thorough search though we simply couldn't find any more Heaths, we looked in all the suitable habitat and even went round round twice but we drew a blank. We did however find some very impressive Wood Ant mounds and despite me getting a nasty nip off one it was fascinating to watch them and they busily marched back and forth with bits if twigs, leaves and insects.

Wood Ants, Little Haven, Esex

We had to wait in the wood for a shower to pass and then decided to return to see if the lone Heath Fritillary was still there and surprisingly it was. It was becoming apparent that this was going to be the only one we would probably see today so we took a few more pics and left the site leaving it on it's leaf. It's funny how you can get attached to such things but I couldn't help feel a little gratitude to it. It was realised that if it wasn't for this single little butterfly our trip would probably have been in vain! The sun did try to poke through momentarily and it opened it's wings and then it slowly closed them again.

Heath Fritillary after the rain, Little Haven, Essex
Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex

Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex
As the rain started to pour down again we decided to cut our loses and head back to Northants to check up on the local Bee Orchids and try and get pics of the Marbled Whites that had recently emerged. The Bee Orchids are still looking great and I can never get tired of seeing them, they do have quite comical faces on the flowers.

Bee Orchids, Northants
We then left the bank at the Grange Park site and was pleased to see so many Marbled Whites on the wing. There were at least 10-15 flying around but getting pics were as always with this species a nightmare as they were very hard to approach but despite this we persevered. Lots of Meadow Browns were also seen and groups of Large Skippers could be seen whirling around together. The Burnet Moths are even more noticeable now as they gradually emerge and cocoons are everywhere so it looks like there's going to be lots at their peak. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers have bred on site which I now feel comfortable enough to mention on here as today I saw their nearly fully grown chick flying around with one of it's parents, and lots of Common Blues are also still present although they are now looking a bit tatty. Eventually after we did one more final walk along the bank we saw a Marbled White trying to sun itself in the overcast conditions and we all managed to get some shots. I do love these little crackers and years ago when I used to birdwatch Twywell Hills and Dales I used to see these at the right times of year and it was the main species that got me into reading about butterflies in the first place and learning their fascinating stories. No matter how many I see I still can't help but feel a little thrill of excitement whenever I see one!

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants

Thursday 12 June 2014

Black Hairstreak at Glapthorn Cow Pastures - 12th June 2014

It is now the start on the annual pilgrimages towards the woods in east Northants and it's amazing how quickly a year comes round! It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed since the Black Hairsteaks from last year but indeed it has and the race to see them has started again. The last few days has seen a few new emergence's with an extra special sighting for me of Marbled Whites at my local patch Grange Park, special because they wasn't know to live here until the 11th of June when I found 3 whirling up and down the bank in the evening which luckily posed for pics as the sun went down.

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northampton

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northampton
 Today though I had a rather unexpected early finish at work and as it for once coincided with some sun I headed over to Glapthorn Cow Pastures to try and see some of the recently emerged Black Hairstreaks. I arrived on site and was quietly relieved to see only a few cars along the lane (it can get packed in here at times) and I entered the reserve. It was actually very hot as soon as I entered as the thick vegetation stopped any of the gently breeze that had cooled things down outside the wood and I could already feel myself sweating before I reached the magic ride! The ride in question is of course the ride with the infamous Dewberry bushes which are seperated from the thick Blackthorn by a thin strip of recently mown grass meaning there's access all around them. This is the place for photography as the Hairstreaks descend from their busy lives flitting in and out the canopy to nectar on the flowers. Previous years attempts at getting decent pics has shown me that it isn't always very easy as sometimes they don't come down for ages - or even at all! So today I was especially pleased when I walked towards the Dewberry aa the first insect I saw was a pristine Black Hairstreak slowly twirling round on it's flower. The Hairstreaks are usually quite confiding when seen, sometimes allowing for prolonged and close up photography and the Black Hairstreaks are no exception. Even when they fly up you can find they land on an even closer flower to the one it was on and as they slowly turn around on the flower they're feeding on it can simply be a matter of waiting until the butterfly composes the shot for you. It was also nice to meet Northants butterflyer Andy Wyles here too. He was standing almost exactly by the same bush I met him at last year and it was great to accompany him along a few of the rides learning about the Black Hairstreaks habitat and the efforts being made to help them. Here is a few of the day's pics.

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pasture, Northants.
Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pasture, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants
Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants.

Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow, Pastures, Northants
 The Black Hairstreaks also of course herald the coming of the ultimate Northants butterfly prize! The Purple Emperors will be out soon and with it the other reason for the pilgrimage to these fantastic woods. Which of course means in the next few weeks I'll be back to see them!

Sunday 8 June 2014

Wood Whites, Common Blues, a Bee Orchid Extravaganza and a Clouded Yellow! - 8th of June 2014

I'll be the first to admit that I don't update this blog as much as I should but in my defence I do tend to spend more time trying to see things than I do writing about them.So when less than 24 hours after the last update I find myself writing a new post today must have been good. Today had been earmarked to help naturalist friends of mine Paul and Carys Brewster to see Wood White butterflies so it started at Sywell Wood just north of Northampton. I arrived just before them so I quickly checked the area out and within minutes of entering the wood I was onto a Wood White flitting around in the undergrowth. A very showy Speckled Wood posed nicely for a photo too.

Speckled Wood, Sywell Wood, Northants
Shortly after they arrived and we explored the main ride running through the wood. Wood Whites were everywhere! Apparently the numbers of Wood Whites this year have been the best for 20 years and it was very much in evidence today as a look in either direction showed loads flitting around the side of the ride. I let Paul get the bulk of the shots as he'd traveled so far to see them but I couldn't resist one as it came down to the ground.

Wood White, Sywell Wood, Northants
One of the great things about macro photography is the way it makes you try and notice everything in the undergrowth and it was while searching for bugs I noticed this little critter. I approached it with the camera and it clamped itself down onto the leaf like a Limpet! Paul text me later to say he'd identified it as a Green Tortoise Beetle and I can see why it's called as such. I eventually got it on my hand and it's legs and antennae popped out just like a Tortoise coming out of it's shell but when it's on the leaf it's amazingly camoflauged.

Green Tortoise Beetle, Sywell Wood, Northants.

Other butterflies very much in evidence were the Common Blues. They do add a welcome splash of colour as they go whirling passed and a pair in cop was to good a photographic opportunity to miss.

Common Blues, Sywell Wood, Northants.
After we'd got the pics we'd wanted we left and went to a nearby location I know of that's good for Brown Argus butterflies. Unfortunately we didn't see any ones we could get pics of but luckily Paul did see one shoot passed in flight. A huge surprise though came as we walked across the area and Paul suddenly exclaimed "there's a Bee Orchid!", we looked around and couldn't believe our eyes! A quick count found a total of 34 Bee Orchid spikes right infront of us and completely out in the open. We took a number of pics and I have to admit we simply marvelled at the spectacle. I couldn't believe what I was seeing considering I had driven all the way to Twywell Hills a Dales yesterday to see just one!

Bee Orchid, Twywell Hills and Dales
Unfortunately Paul and Carys had to leave to head back home but I quickly rang a few people and returned with Ian Pretty who lives locally to me. We had a bit more of an exploration of the area and managed to find another load about 50yds from the original ones making the total tally a whopping 46 Bee Orchids! Here's a few pics of the spectacle.

After admiring the Bee Orchids me and Ian went to explore the bank at the Grange Park site. Quite amazingly Ian picked up a yellow butterfly which we eventually stumbled upon again as we left. A pristine male Clouded Yellow was whizzing up and down the bank!! I did have a dream all winter that last years batch would survive the winter but after a chat with the county recorder Doug Goddard on the phone the realization hit me that this probably wasn't a survivor but more likely a new migratory one, the fact that it was June and we had seen 3 Silver Y's migratory moths today and a Painted Lady had been reported elsewhere in the county earlier in the week only enforced this. It also was behaving as Clouded Yellows often do and simply wouldn't stop for a pic. Never mind it was a great sighting for us and I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing one, there is always something special about seeing a butterfly that you know has been through quite a journey to get where it is, and me and Ian were lucky enough to see it! We capped the day off nicely with a pint of cider in the local pub. 

As a footnote a few days later on the 10th of June I did another more thorough count of the Orchids as another friend of mine (Stuart Mundy) wanted to see them. We found a couple of other groups of Bee Orchids at the site further east to the main group bringing the total count of Orchids found to a huge 68!! 

Saturday 7 June 2014

Chequered Skippers, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries, Pine Martins and a King Eider - Another Scotland Trip, 7th June 2014

Monday the 2nd of June - Glasdrum and Allt Mhuic
I've been wanting to see Chequered Skippers for years now but as the only place you can see them is in the area around Fort William in Scotland I haven't quite managed it. A couple of months ago a trip started to come together though to put this right and on the 2nd of June I caught the 7am flight from Luton to Glasgow meeting Matt Whitelocke at the airport and Jon and Kirsty at the train station. Matt lives in Fort William and I've been admiring his fantastic photos of the Chequered Skippers for years. He had very kindly offered to take us to see them and any other Scottish specialities out at the same time so we had planned to stay for the week and see what we can see. Straight from leaving the airport we headed up to the easiest place to see them - Glasrum Woods near Oban. we had to wait a short while for a shower to stop and we headed up to the reserve. We managed to find a Chequered Skipper very quickly despite the overcast conditions and admired it as it fed on a Thistle before flying to a nearby leaf. Fantastic the target for the week was already in the bag! Unfortunately it was a slightly tatty specimen so I won't post the pics of it but it was certainly a great sight to see. We also saw a few Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries too which posed for a few pics but as the next day's weather was forecast to be significantly better than today I decided to leave the bulk of the photography until then. The weather then took a real turn for the worse and a prolonged period of rain set in so we drove to Fort William to touch base and get the luggage out of the car. After a quick break we took a drive to Allt Mhuic along the shores of Loch Arkaig but despite thoroughly searching the area we couldn't find any Chequered Skippers so we left to have a scan of the Loch. We drove about halfway down before we could see the weather was once again setting in further north so we got out of the car and scanned the surface of the water. A few Red Breasted Mergansers were seen and Kirsty nipped off to explore the area and it wasn't long before she came round the edge of a large rock to exclaim excitedly that she had found a Skipper! We went round and was greeted to the sight of a very dapper Chequered Skipper clinging to a blade of grass after being disturbed from it's roost. We then headed back to Fort William admiring a Loch side Dipper, Tree Pipits, Whinchats and a Common Sandpiper along the way. We had a meal and a few beers in the local pub and it was decided that as the weather was forecast to be so nice we'd head back to Glasrum to get some better pics.

Tuesday the 3rd of June - Glasdrum Wood, Shian Wood, Oban Harbour and Glencoe
The weather was significantly better this morning and the clouds were high and nicely broken with prolonged spells of sun coupled with the occasion cloudy patch - perfect for butterfly photography! We headed straight to Glasdrum Wood and after waiting for another shower to pass (well this is Scotland!) the sun came out and the place became alive with Chequered Skippers and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries. It was great to be able to spot them sunning themselves in the undergrowth and both species were very approachable.

Chequered Skipper, Glasdrum Woods

Chequered Skipper, Glasdrum Woods
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Woods

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries, Glasdrum Woods
 I was very pleased to even get a photo of a Chequered Skipper and a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary on the same bunch of leaves!

Chequered Skipper and Small Pearly Bordered Fritillary, Glasdrum Woods
A Green Hairstreak and numerous Green Veined Whites provided a supporting cast but the real highlight came though when I saw Matt chasing something that was flying through the grass. It eventually rested up and seemed to drink from a small drop of water. It was a scarce White Spotted Sable moth and despite the grass I managed to get a clear shot at it. What a stunner!

White Spotted Sable Moth, Glasdrum Woods
After taking lots of pics we reluctantly left, it can be hard to leave somewhere when everything is showing so well but we realised we'd got the shots we wanted so we then headed to a local Marsh Fritillary site called Shian Woods. Marsh Fritillaries hadn't been reported here yet but we thought we'd give it a go as the weather was so good. It wasn't long before we found a suitable clearing and Jon with an epic "spot" managed to find a Marsh Fritillary in the long grass! We were very happy with this as it was a lifer for Matt but unfortunately it then flew and vanished from sight. We headed into the woods and caught up with a very showy and vocal Wood Warbler and then managed to see a Speckled Wood. I was very keen to see these Scottish Speckled Woods as the species is very variable throughout their range in Britain. I was amazed at how pale it is compared to the ones we get in Northants. I've included pics of both to illustrate this - the other being taken at Grange Park in Northampton last weekend.

Scottish Speckled Wood, Shian Wood
English Speckled Wood, Grange Park, Northampton
We then walked back toward the clearing to try and find the Marsh Fritillary again and by an amazing piece of luck it flew up and attacked a passing Dragonfly and I managed to see where it landed. Unfortunately it landed in the long grass so I could only manage a record shot.

Marsh Fritillary (record shot), Shian Wood
It then did it's disappearing act again and couldn't be found but a large Beetle could be seen flying about so I chased that instead. Eventually when it settles it turned out to be a very nice looking Dor Beetle which is a type of dung beetle. It was a superb colour of blue underneath but it wasn't very keen on that position for the photo so I had to take it the normal way up instead.

Dor Beetle, Shian Wood
 By now it nearly mid afternoon so we decided to head into nearby Oban for some of the best fish and chips I've had in years and then checked out the harbour for Black Guillemots. It wasn't long before we found one on the far side and then as we walked round we could see a small group of four Black Guillemot near the road so we went to get a closer look. They were almost oblivious to us being there and swam around in their little group just off the shore. Here's a short video.

They then came up onto one of the stone walls and started to preen infront of us.

By now it was reaching late afternoon so we decided to head up into Glencoe to admire the scenery while the weather was good. We also got a nice (if not distant) view of a immature Golden Eagle flying across the valley on the way there. Both of the below pics were taken with the IPhone 5s using the panorama function


We then decided to cap the day off nicely with a couple of pints in one of the best pubs in the country (in my opinion anyway). At the western end of Glencoe is the supern Clachaig Inn, they serve great real ale and they have one of the best looking beer gardens you can sit in. To add a nice touch we looked up and while enjoying our drinks we watched a Spotted Flycatcher in the tree above us busily zip in and out as it fed.

Clachaig Inn, view from the beer garden, Glencoe

Wednesday 4th June - King Eider in the Ythan Estuary
As the weather looked a bit ropey today we had earmarked it for birding instead of butterfly photography. With the good looking drake King Eider being reported for the previous few weeks it proved to be too good an opportunity to miss and we made the trip right across the country to see it. A fantastic effort by Matt driving us all the way over there and back in the same day! We arrived at the mouth of the estuary and climbed the bank to be greeted by the sight of lots, and I do mean lots, of Common Eider! I do actually really like this kind of birding, I've got no idea why but I actually find sifting through loads of wildfowl to find a rarity quite theraputic. Despite how distinctive the King Eider looks it's surprisingly hard to find in amongst the large flocks and as they were spread all along the shoreline. I split up from the group and walked along the top of the dunes towards the sea while the others checked the birds heading inland, there were so many it looked like having eyes looking in different directions was the best way of finding it. I had noticed around the corner that a lot of Eider were feeding off the shore near the Seals that were rowed up snoozing away and it wasn't long before I found it. It looked amazing as it fed amongst the Common Eider and I rang the others to get them on it. Soon we were all standing on the beach with a cracking looking King Eider right infront of us feeding and preening without showing any signs of concern about our presence. I digiscoped a vid of the bird below.

After enjoying the bird for a while we headed to the RSPB reserve at Abernethy to try and see Crested Tits but unfortunately we dipped. We searched the area for ages but it seems they are mid breeding and keeping quiet which was a shame as Kirsty had really wanted to see one. It was also nice to meet David Lindo there but he had dipped as well so we decided that it was best to leave it until winter when they are easier to see in amongst the winter flocks. We did though have a nice time taking pics of the local Dragonfly specialities as Matt took us to a couple of small ponds right in the middle of nowhere! It's lucky he had detailed directions otherwise we would never have found them. After a bit of searching we found several female White Faced Darters on the vegetation around the pond with a couple posing nicely. There was also some nice looking Sundew along the waters edge.

Sundew, RSPB Abernethy

White Faced Darter, RSPB Abernethy

White Faced Darter, RSPB Abernethy

Thursday the 5th June - Strontian and Pine Martins
Today was one of those days that was as randomn as it was special. I have been wanting to see Pine Martins for years but despite having my eyes peeled on every trip I have made in the last 10 years I haven't been lucky enough to see one. Last year I relented and paid to go in a wildlife watching hide where it marketed as a great place to see them and despite spending two evenings in it I failed again! It was beginning to feel like I wasn't ever going to see them - luckily that all changed today! We had intended to spend today up exploring the area around Stontian as Golden Ringed Dragonflies had been seen to emerge a couple of days before. We stopped off at the bay where me and Matt had found the Black Duck earlier on the year but unsurprisingly there was no sign of it today so we headed up into Ariundle Oakwood to try and see the dragonflies and we found tantalising evidence for their presence as their larval cases could be seen on the grasses. We also found a very nice looking Large Red Damselfly in the tall grass near a ditch and also a Chequered Skipper on a Bluebell that rather annoyingly shot off before I could get a shot.

Large Red Damselfly, Ariundle Oakwood

Large Red Damselfly, Ariundle Oakwood
We searched higher up and eventually I saw a large shiny wing in the undergrowth. Further inspection found it to be a freshly emerged Golden Ringed Dragonfly still in the process of drying out.

Freshly emerged Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Ariundle Oakwood
A Common Toad was also nearby having complete confidence in it's camoflauge as it stayed totally still while I took its pic in the grass.

Common Toad, Ariundle Oakwood
During our visit we bumped into a very nice couple who were out taking pics and enjoying the wood's birdlife. I struck up a conversation with them and we talked about our sightings during our previous week and while doing so I mentioned that I still hadn't managed to see a Pine Martin despite all these trips up here in the past. They then looked at each other and said that they've got loads around the place they're staying and seeing them is almost guarenteed as they put food out for them in the evenings. I'm not going to lie but I think my body went into an involuntary spasm which was repeated when they said that we were more than welcome to pop over later in the evening and see them! We took the directions and I then spent the rest of the afternoon on edge wondering what the evening would be like. Please forgive me for not disclosing the location but it's a private site and a great deal of trust was given in allowing us to visit which is something I wouldn't want to abuse. We drove down the road through an incredibly dense Pine forest and arrived at their cottage and straight away Jon exclaimed "I can see one!", I looked up just in time to see one jump off the cottage roof and land on the lawn. It looked at us briefly before darting off toward the hedge row. I was almost in shock! At last I'd seen a wild Pine Martin!! We could see the couple (called Clive and Joanna) at the door so we parked up and walked in to a superb welcome. Joanna had even cleaned the windows for us so we could get good shots through the glass and she then went out with the food for them which she scattered in the grass, on stumps and along the window sill. It wasn't long before one arrived and fed busily infront of us. I couldn't believe just how close we were to it and I managed to get lots of pics and a short video.

Pine Martin

Pine Martin
Pine Martin

Luckily they do have small distinguishing features so you can tell if different the ones you see are the same of different ones. The first Pine Martin shot off after grabbing a huge mouthful of food but it wasn't long before it was joined by another which came from the bottom of the garden. It was frst seen just behind a large tree before it bounded over the lawn and ran round the house to feed right by the back door before jumping up onto one of the window sills. It was quite an experience to literally be inches away from such a normally secretive wild animal.

Pine Martin - bottom right of tree

Pine Martin

Pine Martin on window sill
A third Pine Martin arrived after the second one left and put on a real show as it fed for ages underneath us before bounding to the back of the garden and disappeared.

Pine Martin

Pine Martin

It was a real joy to see the Pine Martins so close as to do it in the company of such a nice couple. I am so pleased we met them when we did as this wasn't just a wildlife sighting it was a life experience. We had a few drams of Black Grouse whiskey while we watched them too which added to the lively mood. What a night!

Unfortunately that also was the end of the trip as the following day I had to catch the flight home. I did think a certain tiny little insect did remain slightly left out in the photography over the previous few days so on the last day I decided to put that right. I am of course talking about the Scottish Midge which were really out in force over the course of the week. I was covered in them when taking pics of the Golden Ringed Dragonfly and despite Avon and Smidge they still got through and bit me several times. But in my opinion (and it maybe an unpopular one) they've got just as much right to be there as us so on the evening of the night before I left I took some pics of ones roosting near a light. On the following day I didn't wear any repellant so I got get a pic of one in action so to speak. Apologies for poor quality of pics but they are tiny and the light wasn't very good.

Scottish Midge

Scottish Midge
Scottish Midge having a snack on my hand
 The last day did get an interesting bug though as we had a morning walk at a nearby reserve and we found a Red-breasted Carrion Beetle.

Red-breasted Carrion Beetle

Red-breasted Carrion Beetle
So that's it, it has been another amazing trip up into Scotland and the wonderful wildlife there didn't let us down. Thanks to Jon and Kirsty once again for joining them on their holiday and of course special thanks to Matt Whitelocke for putting me up and driving us around a huge area. Finally I've seen a Pine Martin!!