Butterfly Weather!

Published: 12th June 2018

Well, what a couple of weeks we have just had in the West Highlands! – wall to wall sunshine and temperatures up to 29oC. All sorts of insects on the wing, not least of which were butterflies, which was very timely for our chequered skipper break. The only problem we had was that the butterflies were so warmed up that they rarely rested and were quite tricky to photograph. Chequered skippers were everywhere and were easy to find at Glasdrum. Angela even managed to achieve the holy grail of photographing a mating pair.  Pale-bordered fritillary were also flying, but these rarely settled, and were even flightier the next day at Chia-Aig. On the first day (29th May) we found our first freshly emerged marsh fritillary of the year, along with several small heath. Green hairstreak accompanied the skippers up our glen, but both were upstaged by the phenomenal number of striking argent and sable moths that were on the wing – more than I have ever seen. Sword-leaved helleborine in flower and osprey on the nest were a bonus in the afternoon.  More skippers were found at Ariundle along with a few speckled woods and orange tips – these appear to have had a lengthy season and were still on the wing at the weekend. Some nice micros were also seen, including white sable moth and scarce purple and gold, as well as striking plume and longhorn moths.

On the last evening of our break Barry found the first small pearl-bordered fritillary of the season locally in Glen Loy (31st.). They have emerged in numbers since and are now abundant. A more surprising find was a very early large heath, found on wet moorland near Mallaig on 2nd. June.  A few days later we also had them in Glen Loy. As we normally expect to see them in July, we hope that they enjoy a long flight period this year! Accompanying the butterflies in the glen have been hundreds of northern eggar moths, which have emerged on masse, and are whizzing around the hillsides at rate-fantastic. We also took the opportunity to attend the Butterfly Conservation Open Day at the nearby Allt Mhuic reserve. Fritillaries were flying well that day, but we were more impressed by the huge haul of macromoths that had been caught in overnight traps – far more than we ever seem to manage. The reserve is under threat of development from a hydro-electric scheme, and it was useful to let members know a little about this proposal. Given the millions that have been spent in reintroducing (Belgian) chequered skippers to Northamptonshire, it is ironic that the only BC reserve for skippers is being threatened by Forestry Commission dogma.

Dragonflies have also appeared with the sun.  Golden-ringed dragonflies have joined 4-spot chasers and large red damselflies as the most ubiquitous species. There was a probable azure hawker sighting at Allt Mhuic, and northern emeralds have also been reported locally. We continue to add to the species list in Glen Loy, by finding a very welcome white-faced darter in our favourite boggy area (nice male identified from a photo snapped by David Jenner before it flew off). We also found blue-tailed damselfly in the same location. Preparing for our first dragonfly holiday, we aim to focus on these charismatic insects in the next couple of weeks.

A returning guest also put in a request for some of the rarer northern orchids. As our usual location for small white orchid drew a blank we had to search hard for it in other likely places along Glen Loy, and successfully found a couple of different sites. We also had a fine spike at Allt Mhuic. Lesser twayblade have been a bogey species for me, and I have never previously seen it in flower. We searched hard for it in Puiteachan, but failed, so were forced to seek out some recent records kindly supplied by out local recorder. We were successful in finding the twayblades in a most unpromising looking site along a forest path on the way up to the north face of Ben Nevis. I’m not surprised we have overlooked it in the past as it was tiny. We were pleased to point Quentin in the right direction for these orchids, as well as coral-root, and he was able to complete a very successful orchid hunt.

Our pine marten family has led us a merry dance of late. Mother moved her kits, and somehow the two youngsters managed to find their way into the attic, where they were heard squeaking piteously. Mum seemingly could not get at them. We dutifully retrieved the two kits, which came surprisingly quietly, and carried them downstairs and out of the Lodge, posing for pictures on the way. Both were impossibly cute (Angela looks quite pretty too!). We were able to reunite both with their mother, who carried one, at least, straight into one of the pine marten boxes. A few days later she finally led them out to the feeding station in front of the house, much to the delight of guests.