Summer Butterflies 2017

Published: 26th July 2017

We must have done something right this year, as the sun actually shone in Lochaber during our summer butterfly week! That gave us a great chance of picking up all our target species and keeping our clients happy. In all we managed a total of 13 different butterfly species (this far north that’s pretty good, particularly as there were very few vanessids about), and 9 species of damsels and dragons. To these we added a healthy haul of moths including stunners such as northern eggar, peach blossom and poplar hawk-moth; beetles including bee chafer, green tiger beetle and large-banded longhorn; a variety of bumblebees and a giant wood wasp. All-in-all it was a great week for insects. To these we added some of the usual local specialities including golden eagle, peregrine, red and black-throated divers, red deer, otter, pine marten and red squirrel.

As usual Glen Loy was as good a place as any to start. We found several slow-worms under one of my ‘tins’, the youngsters now rather bigger than they were two weeks ago. First butterflies under cloudy conditions were meadow browns, followed quickly by common blues, as the sun broke through. We also had or first golden-ringed dragonflies surrounded by a family of whinchats. Further along the glen road we managed to flush the first large heath, which everyone managed to see clearly. We also managed to get a glimpse of an azure hawker patrolling one of the runlets that crossed the path. Further large heaths were seen flying across a bog area, in which we also found an emperor moth caterpillar.

Mountain ringlet required a little more effort to find. We drove to Ben Lawers and walked up the steep path through the wooded nature trail. This lovely path produced our first ringlet as well as our first mountain ringlets, although only the quicker members of the group were sufficiently far along to see these before they flitted off. The day was windy, which made butterfly tracking quite tricky. Mountain ringlet are difficult at the best of times as they tend to move around rapidly and do not really nectar. We managed to find a further ten individuals on the open hill, despite there being little else about. All our group managed a good look, and for those that wanted them, some photos of varying quality. We also had some very obliging dark green fritillaries on the descent, a red admiral plus a distant northern emerald. Our group was subjected to some more steep slopes the following day. We explored the stunning limestone crags at Creag Dubh, where the rock-rose was still flowering and the northern brown argus flying in abundance. These were accompanied by a family of peregrines screaming above the crags, and a supporting cast of other butterflies including lots of ringlets, dark-green fritillary nectaring on melancholy thistle and a small heath. We then toiled in the sun up the path above the visitor centre at Creag Meagidh. Butterflies were quite hard to come by, but we did manage to get a further couple of mountain ringlet here, together with several small pearl-bordered and dark-green fritillary and a couple of small heaths.

The rest of the week saw mixed weather and was not as sunny, but we managed to find an early scotch argus, newly emerged, on the last day of the holiday. Another butterfly that can be quite difficult to photograph, this particular argus even stayed at rest with its wings open – probably wishing it had stayed in its chrysalis. This completed the set of Scottish specialities for the week.  As an added bonus we managed a further burst of sun later on near Castle Tioram, with more fritillaries, several speckled woods (the pale Scottish form), and rather bizarrely, the first green-veined white of the week. We also found a pair of busy common hawkers. Better views of a hunting northern emerald were gained in Glen Roy, hawking up to the canopy level, as is often the case. We were also lucky enough to find a young redstart being fed by a cock, a juvenile ring ouzel and a family of spotted flycatchers nearby.

Angela and I added to our tally of dragonflies either side of the butterfly week. We were pleased to find white-faced darters still flying near Glenfinnan in the second week of July. Although we failed to find this elusive species in Glen Loy on a great sunny day this week (24th July), we were more than compensated by the sight of some lovely keeled skimmers, a new record for us here.

Arguably the best day of the holiday week, butterflies notwithstanding, was a trip to Eigg and Rum, on the Sheerwater, taking advantage of a bright, calm day. We hit the tides right and came upon a feeding frenzy of seabirds and cetaceans on the way across to Eigg. We first saw a pod of common dolphins, happy to ride the bow-waves, followed by no less than five minke whales, some quite close to. Thousands of manx shearwaters were gathered on the water, together with feeding gannets, guillemots and other seabirds. On the way across to Rum we saw another minke and puffin. On the return trip an orca was spotted, and although it was not particularly well-behaved we at least got a look at it. Finally, on the home leg to Arisaig we found more feeding minke whales, several porpoise and another pod of common dolphin. Truly a remarkable day and one that will stay with us all for a long time to come!