Butterflies – the good news and the bad

Published: 27th July 2015

The season moves on apace, with two more Glenloy Wildlife holidays completed in the last couple of weeks. The year continues to be unkind, with more cold, wet days, and only intermittent sunshine. At the beginning of July the bluebells in Glen Loy (and elsewhere), were still in flower,  and the orchids were only just beginning to bloom, which means we are at least three weeks behind a ‘normal’ year. Cool, damp weather forced us to look for other things on the first day of our butterfly break, although we remarkably found a torpid chequered skipper hanging on to a bluebell in Morvern. The beautiful demoiselles were

Female banded demoiselle posing on a backpack.

Female beautiful demoiselle posing on a backpack.

also braving the elements that day, and because they were also cold they were extremely biddable, even posing on Mike’s backpack for pictures. Other wildlife included both golden and sea eagles, hen harrier, an otter and even a daytime pine marten, so the day was far from wasted! The supposed best day of the week weather-wise found us wandering up Creag Meagidh, once more in search of butterflies. There was precious little on the wing, other than some very fast-moving (and frustrating) eggar moths, but we did eventually find a few small heath and green-veined white. The intended quarry, mountain ringlet, was not flying and I suspect that it had not yet emerged on the site – a far cry from a visit a couple of years ago at the same time, when even the Scotch Argus had started to appear. Some compensation was gained from some lovely fresh northern brown argus and small pearl-bordered fritillary further down the road. On the next day the sun did not threaten much, so we had to contend ourselves with a nice pair of red throated divers and a pretty cluster of wild pansies to distract us from beachcombing  on the beautiful sands of Camusdarrach. Surprisingly, there was a good haul of moths that morning with over 100 caught of 40 species, including an eggar, close up and personal.

The sunniest day of the fortnight typically came in between holidays, but Angela and I were able to go out and complete a butterfly transect across the glen at Erracht. Considering the year we had a good haul in terms of the number of species (7), if not of numbers (15). These included yet another Chequered skipper (nectaring on red clover, and not particularly worn), several common blues, the first meadow browns of the year and even a newly emerged red admiral. The general dearth of butterflies is somewhat worrying, with few flying in relatively untouched habitat, full of flowers and in strong sunshine.

Sun was also patchy in the following week, but the butterfly hunting went on nonetheless (although a further visit in search of mountain ringlet was abandoned in the light of a poor forecast). Two more ‘new’ species for the year were found near Loch Linnhe during an unexpected spell of warmth – large heath and dark-green fritillary. Large heath were one of the target species for a couple of guests, and we managed to find plenty flying in a burst of late afternoon sunshine in Glen Loy. The lads soon found that it is one thing seeing them and another managing to take good photos! While they chased after butterflies we took the opportunity to scan the upper glen and were rewarded with both golden eagle and a peregrine that circled low round one of the corries. Our butterfly hunters had been treated to a real red-letter day, however, despite poorer weather. We managed to see the ‘Big Five’, including three otters, as well as sea eagle, red-throated diver, a distant porpoise, not to mention our usual pine martens! We even managed a couple of butterflies, including another dark-green fritillary.

Another great day was enjoyed on board the Sheerwater out of Arisaig. There were hundreds of shearwaters on the water, a good indication that the fish are back in the area. The sea was flat calm in the morning, making spotting things easy. We had good views of a couple of minke whales as well as dozens of feeding porpoise.  Common seal pups

Minke whale with Eigg in background

Minke whale with Small Isles in background

stuck close to their mums whilst out for a swimming lesson and grey seals were basking on the rocks off Eigg. Other birds included fishing arctic terns, a pair of red-throated divers, plenty of ringed plovers on Gallanach beach, rasping corncrake (heard, but not seen), drumming snipe (heard and eventually seen) and even an elusive puffin. We managed to miss a couple of storm petrels that Ronnie spotted, but you can’t have everything! On other days we also managed some striking sika stags, nesting Slavonian grebes, a further otter, squirrels and roe deer a-plenty. The black-throated divers were also finally relocated on Loch Eilt, some distance from where they were last spotted (right opposite a bridge replacement project, which we feared had scared them off). The pine martens were also much in evidence, with the kits becoming increasingly independent of their mother and managing to climb up onto the top of the minibus now.