SOUTH-WEST OF THE GREAT GLEN, SCOTLAND, 28 MAY - 1 JUNE 2011
Saturday 28 May
Touched down at Inverness through rain at 10.50 in a cool 10°, met up with David and duly headed for the 90 minute journey down the Great Glen, past Lochs Ness and Lochy then to Invergloy House B&B. It rained nearly all the way. Margaret Cairns, and her husband Jimmy, were on hand to greet us into their excellent accommodation isolated amongst 50 acres of wild wood and moss. Tea in crockery with shortbread completed the welcome after which David and I wandered the sodden grounds for 10 minutes or so until the rain started again.
The plan for this evening was to find a pub with TV (Champions League) and food, the Stronglissit pub in Roybridge fitting the bill. Discovered that mobile phone coverage hadn't yet arrived in this part of the world.
Sunday 29 May - Loch Arkaig and Clunes Forest
Up just before 8am to the steady purr of rain on the glass. Porridge and poached eggs for breakfast, perfectly cooked. Undaunted by the rain, we set-off at 9.30 stopping briefly at the Commando Monument to grab a few photos in the cold wind, passing through Gairlochy, over the Caledonian Canal, and on to Loch Arkaig heading for the UK's main Chequered Skipper site. In light rain we scanned Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta and bracken tips in vain until heavier rain forced us back into the car. We drove a bit further along the loch to explore another spot and spent 10 minutes there to no avail. The brisk, cold wind was coming straight down the loch creating white horses on the water.
Ready for a coffee and a light lunch I drove back towards the monument stopping at Old Pines: butternut squash soup and a bowl of chips kept me going. It had been raining pretty much all the time. Was that new snow atop Ben Nevis? We decided to look at Clunes Forest because it looked as if it might be in the lee of the wind so we retraced our route over the canal. It wasn't particularly sheltered. But in a temp of 13° we saw our first butterfly of the trip - a Green-veined White, Pieris napi. Passing through the gate we took the path immediately to the left and followed it uphill, scanning the edges. Several moth species including Red-necked Footman, Atolmis rubricollis, Speckled Yellow, Pseudopanthera macularia were seen along with a fully grown Northern Eggar larva, Lasiocampa quercus var callunae, a Garden Tiger larva, Arctia caja and an adult Argent & Sable, Rheumaptera hastata hastata. With 'nothing else doing' we turned to go back. Then a Fritillary blew past us going in our direction and crashed onto the path: it was a Small Pearl-bordered, Boloria selene. Whilst David was busy photographing I was subconsciously in scanning mode, my eyes suddenly alighting on another Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, this time roosting on top of Gorse flowers, Ulex europaeus. More photos!
Before setting-off we explored a nice meadow by the car park but only managed to disturb the Green-veined White again. Back to Old Pines for a cuppa and a slice of cake! Returned to the B&B around 6pm after another photo shoot at the monument. Still raining. Had dinner a short way up the loch at the Letterfindlay Lodge Hotel and enjoyed the evening, having good fun with our Lithuanian waitress. In reasonable light at 10pm we returned to our digs and sorted out the route for the hoped-for Marsh Fritillaries that we would take on Tuesday. The sky seemed to be clearing…
Monday 30 May - Clunes and Loch Arkaig revisited
Some pre-breakfast sunshine promised more than yesterday. Set-off at 9.15 making a short detour towards the Letterfindlay to get a mobile signal for a text to daughter Alice wishing her a happy holiday in Kenya. Passing the monument it looked like fresh snow on Ben Nevis on our way back to Clunes to see whether the gorse Small Pearl-bordered Frilillary was, in fact, Small. Inspection of the wind-blown specimen appeared to be Pearl-bordered Friltillary upperside but Small underside and we were curious to see whether #2 was any different. But #2 had gone - either predated in the night or moved on in the early morning sun that caught its location. Rain swept in again as we left, though it was not windy. On to the Arkaig site again with the temperature showing 10° where David found a Chequered Skipper, Carterocephalus palaemon as I was busy photographing some moths, a couple of the pale Scottish variant Pebble Hook-tips, Drepana falcataria scotica and a Silver Hook, Deltote uncula. We both lost the skipper as it buzzed away. Midges were becoming a real pain but after 20 minutes or so the rain swept back in and we sheltered in the car, temp gauge reading 7° now as the windows steamed up. Another car arrived containing a Geordie bloke and his young son in pursuit of Chequered Skippers.
Once the rain had eased we began the search again, this time with four sets of eyes. No activity. Then the lad spotted a Chequered Skipper on a bluebell and we all took turns to get some great shots. David found a Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi also nectaring briefly on bluebell until it too zipped off and was lost. Such was the absence of butterfly activity that I began to recognise individual bracken fronds and bluebells! The absence of sun was a real problem and time began to drag though I thought I might have seen a Chequered Skipper in flight but was by no means sure. Suddenly I almost stepped on a roosting specimen - no, it was a pair in cop - wow, wonderful!!! Loads of photos later and with sodden knees we showed the Geordie couple the catch and walked back to the car, the sun now mostly gone and a cold wind getting up. There was still time for David to find another palaemon = more good photos. We reckoned to have spent 3 hours at the site and averaged one Skipper every 30 minutes - dedication, madness or what?
A late soup lunch (2.45pm) at Old Pines was enjoyed again as rain obscured the Nevis range completely. Even so, we decided to visit the Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia site recommended by Tom Prescott at Toclundy just our side of Fort William and got there through road re-surfacing work just as the rain stopped. We had been amused to see an ambulance drive along the newly laid tarmac ripping it up much to the dismay of the watching workmen. Tom's site had plenty of wet marsh but little sign of Devil's-bit Scabious, Succisa pratensis and no sign of any Fritillaries. In order to avoid the roadwork's convoy and queues on the A82 we took the parallel 'B' road alongside the Caledonian Canal turning uphill at Brackletter to rejoin the main road near Spean Bridge getting back to Invergloy by 5pm. Lovely sunshine ended the afternoon, for a while at least.
Our dinner destination would be Spean Bridge which offered several choices and we ended-up at the busy Old Station Restaurant where we had an excellent time and booked for tomorrow evening as well. A Lagavulin apiece completed the meal and David kindly raised a toast to my late Dad, Lagavulin being his favourite wee dram. Back at Invergloy by 10pm we chatted a while to Margaret and went our separate ways half an hour later.
Tuesday 31 May - Appin peninsular
Breakfast at 8.15am today negotiated with Margaret to give us a bit more time for the 40 mile drive south-west to the Appin peninsular in search mainly of Marsh Fritillaries. We set off under cloudy skies but it was calm and not raining and the sun was trying to get through. Arriving at Glasdrum Forest by 10.30 - a lovely birch and pine wooded hillside - Chequered Skippers were soon in evidence, somewhere in the region of a dozen overall. Also seen during the 2¼ hours we were there were singles of Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria a worn Peacock, Aglais io, a small number of Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, Boloria euphrosyne, several 'Smalls', three Small Coppers, Lycaena phlaeas and 2 or 3 Green-veined Whites. This was by far the most productive site of the trip.
Lunch was found at the Airds Hotel and Restaurant at Port Appin overlooking the estuary where I had a chowder and chip meal whilst David went for the risotto. The venue was very proper and formal, a bit church-like, with a 50's feel to it: food was nice but I wouldn't be tempted back there again. The light rain didn't last.
Back up to the A828 turning right and then second right stopping almost immediately at Inverfollac Farm, the home of Alec McCorquadale a recipient of grants for bird and butterfly friendly-farming. We drove into his yard to make our presence known, finding him fiddling about at the back of his pick-up. Asking his permission to roam he said 'I can't stop you' which struck me as being totally wrong in that a farmer should be able to stop anybody trampling over his land/livelihood. Anyway, we trudged his sodden fields and found plenty of Devil's-bit scabious but no Marsh Fritillaries. A solitary roosting Chequered Skipper was the only find. By now it was very windy, cold, and sunless. Moving down to the coast and another piece of his land was no more productive, except that it did yield a solitary female Orange-tip, Anthocharis cardamines. Around Ledgfianach we stopped to watch a deer and, as is often the case when doing something else, David spied another Skipper atop a bluebell = yet more photos: this was to be our last butterfly of the trip. The weather conditions had set-in and the afternoon was getting on so we began the return journey but not until a cuppa and slice of cake had been consumed.
In steady rain we crossed the water at Ballahulish and thence to Fort William arriving tired at Invergloy around 6.30pm. An hour later and we were back on the road to the Old Station Restaurant where we enjoyed another 'just right' evening capped by a bit of live music in the bar (mainly a lad on electric cello).
Wednesday 1 June
Margaret had set the table for cereal and fruit and by 7.30am David was behind the wheel heading up the Great Glen towards Inverness airport in heavy rain, another short trip feeling successful despite the generally poor weather.