Published: 21st May 2011
Another wet week in Lochaber, while much of the rest of the country continues to bathe in sunshine. On the positive side the greenery is very lush, and there are spectacular displays of plants. The stitchwort and bluebell are now fully out and vying for attention in the woods and verges. A chance encounter with a local naturalist saw us on an expedition up Loch Arkaig to follow up various tips. The journey started well, with the location of a singing Redstart, which we managed to view, giving it all from the top of a conifer. These beautiful birds are all-too rare nowadays, and every sighting is an annual bonus. Continuing our drive we also heard several Wood Warblers, and were lucky enough to see a pair flitting in the branches overhanging the narrow loch road. At least two other males were trilling away as we continued up the glen. At the next stop we were able to find one of the Arkaig Osprey nests, complete with bird perched on the edge. I have long wondered where this was, and now I know it is not difficult to see why a bit of insider knowledge was needed. For good measure, the Sea Eagle was also perched out on a prominent branch. Exploring a fast-flowing burn to a series of impressive waterfalls, swelled by recent rain, I came across a couple of torpid lizards. One of these was a large, heavily pregnant female. It was too cold for butterflies, but we did find some interesting larval webs, complete with tiny, spiky black caterpillars. These seemed far too small for possible Marsh Fritillary, so their identity remains an intriguing mystery. Add plentiful Tree Pipits and a further Osprey to the list, and this was a cracking couple of hours. Hope the next set of guests are as fortunate!
Chasing the sun, we headed west on what proved to be the driest day of the week, in search of a very local butterfly, the Dingy Sjipper. We explored a site new to us, near Drumnadrochit, and were fortunate to catch some genuinely warm sunshine, which brought all sorts of insects out alongside a forest track.The first butterflies seen were Speckled Wood, of which there were several, but numerically, the commonest butterfly was the Pearl-bordered Fritillary. There were at least 25-30 flying alongside the path edges. Some already looked a bit faded and worn, so obviously the weather must have been rather better over here. This rare butterfly seems to flourish on a number of Forestry Commission sites, so obviously they are doing a good job for it here. The target species, Dingy Skipper, was also behaving itself nicely, and we must have seen at least 8, including individuals obligingly sunning themselves, a pair of scrapping males and a mating pair. These rather drab-looking butterflies turned out to be quite nicely marked on closer inspection. They very much favoured the barer edges of the path, with plenty of open ground and Bird's-foot Trefoil. Great to see, but probably a trip too far for the general wildlife guest. We also picked up Green-veined White and Peacock for good measure. We were fortunate enough to see newly emerged Gold-ringed Dragonflies, still resting on a log and attached to their exuviae by their breathing tubes. Angela has posted pictures elsewhere. In the pool below them were a number of Palmate Newts, one at least of which was wrapping her tail around vegetation and presumanbly depositing eggs. In addition to the above the path was also alive with beetles and bees. The former included an Orange Ladybird, as well as several Green Tiger Beetles. Not bad for a potentially dull forest track. That evening it snowed on the tops and Aonach Mor was white to below the gondola station!
Dodging showers the next day, our local BSBI recorder came to have a look at our single Goldilocks Buttercup. I found this last year on a rock in the Loy. How it got there, or where it came from remains a mystery. This is a rare ancient woodland indicator in these parts, and it looks to have a fairly precarious existence at this site. Hunting a little further we found plenty of Globeflower in bloom or starting to bud, and were also able to confirm the presence of Wood Speedwell. Just as we returned to the Lodge there was a heavy hail shower – I'm glad we have left the bedding plants well alone so far.