Butterflies in the rain

Published: 19th June 2015

Group trying ot photograph chequered skipper at Glasdrum

Butterfly hunters spot their quarry at Glasdrum

The focus of the last couple of weeks in Glen Loy has been mainly on butterflies, or I should really say the weather. It has been unseasonably cold and wet throughout May and as I write June is not a lot better. Plants and midges alike are unseasonably late, although both are making an appearance now. Indeed, the bluebells are not only still out, but at their peak in the glen now.  Normally the first week of June is the peak flight period of the chequered skipper. Ever since the publication of Patrick

Chequered skipper at Glasdrum - the object of desire.

Chequered skipper at Glasdrum – the object of desire.

Barkham’s ‘The Butterfly Isles’, spotting (ticking?) skippers has become increasingly popular, although most butterfly enthusiasts also like to photograph their intended target species. So it was with some trepidation that we looked at the weather forecast for our butterfly break, knowing that the skippers may or may not be flying in our glen. Fortunately we had already had reports of skippers flying at Glasdrum at the tail end of our previous wildlife week, and we had already seen pearl-bordered fritillary there, so this seemed the best bet for seeing both species.  The first skippers had also been seen at the FCS / Butterfly Conservation event at Allt Mhuic on Loch Arkaig two days before (we were there – the ‘pet’ skipper was so cold it did not move from its display perch all afternoon!).

We managed at least one nice day out of three and indeed we did see about seven chequered skippers at Glasdrum, along with pearl-bordered fritillary, green hairstreak, small copper and orange-tip. The latter was still flying on Sunday 14th, as further proof of how late things are. We also had a look for marsh fritillary at Cuil Bay, but by now the wind had increased and the sun had gone in – a possible fleeting glimpse was all that I have managed there this year (the following week), although I have reports of good numbers flying further south of Oban. In search of the sun we made a trip over to Drumnadrochit to look at our nearest dingy skipper site, and managed to find a couple of individuals in short breaks between the clouds, along with “resting” pale-bordered fritillary. The meadows there look superb, and would be well worth a further visit in the event of full sun. Our third day was spent visiting possible skipper sites without really hoping to see them in cool damp conditions, but we did at least see a golden eagle!

The holiday week immediately after the butterfly break produced more sunshine and further skippers, this time at Ariundle and also in Glen Loy. My favourite skipper site produced a mating pair. The single-mindedness of these amorous butterflies was well tested by out photographers, who got increasingly close to their prey. Personally I would have given up long ago had I had a lens thrust within an inch of my privates, but I supposed porn stars are paid to do that sort of thing. We also found a couple of green hairstreaks and the first of the year’s small pale-bordered fritillaries, which I actually managed to catch. I failed, however, to catch an argent and sable that fled in front of me at a rate of knots, although a few people did get a glimpse. Angela and I spent some time

George gets his shot of a chequered skipper

One of our butterfly enthusiasts gets the shot he wanted of a CS

taking pictures of folk photographing butterflies that week.

More skippers were seen along the glen on Sunday, with a total of nine recorded, only two of which were in my BC-designated survey site. I suspect there are better places along the glen for skippers, and large parts of the grass verge I was surveying have scrubbed over, anyway. We did manage to find our first narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth of the year on this site, also suffering from the cold to date. Another BC linear transect along a forest road above Erracht is still only yielding orange-tips, green-veined whites, and the odd raggy peacock.

The last group of guest were treated to my brand new Robinson trap, which, in theory, should hold moths better until we are ready to look at them. Results to date have been a little disappointing, although the nights have still been pretty cold. An elephant hawk-moth saved my bacon, though later in the week we also managed to get some more large colourful moths, including early thorn, scalloped hazel and brimstone. A new moth to the garden was the dark-barred twin-spot carpet. At last the summer moths are starting to fly and perhaps we have seen the last of the year’s Hebrew Characters.