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!!

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