Tuesday, 27 June 2017

butterfly hunter

Sunday turned out to be one of the best runs of the year. Time was running out for June's Tynecastle Bronze, or as Mary called it, Newcastle Blonde. The weather looked ok (turned out glorious) so I charged the camera battery and headed off to Waverley to catch the 10.33am to Longniddry with a return ticket to North Berwick. Fairly unambitious plan, to run along the coast to NB then do my favourite NB circuit in reverse as the wind would be behind me all the way to Tyninghame beach then I'd return inland with tree cover to NB. About 33 miles of great trails. I had originally thought about finishing in Dunbar but the trains from NB are, like myself, cheaper and more regular.

I'd fished around on facebook for company, but no takers. Probably just as well as I dicked around trying to get photos at certain parts, long past the patience of most runners, then sped up frantically at the end. I started the run feeling a bit tired from a long week. There was a decent recovery day on Saturday (Mary was at a conference the whole weekend so missed the usual Saturday outing) which I spent fixing up my bike and doing other chores. So I was deliciously free to wander wherever I fancied. However the residual weariness inclined me to a local route and one I could manage pretty much blindfold. I knew there was an unused war memorial at NB Harbour that Nick noticed recently. And plenty shops in NB (14 miles in) to replenish stocks.

Off the train and down to the coast. A strong breeze had brought out the kitesurfers but the place was also alive with purple and yellow flowers. Thistles were flowering and bees and insects filled the air. It was bustling! I had filled my backpack reservoir with a litre of water, some flavouring, a sprinkle of Tailwind and a can of Emerge, my favourite red bull alternative. I suspect it was the high caffeine juice that was racing through my bloodstream urging me to take dozens of photos of everything. It wasn't just the insects buzzing. I regretted not bringing the extra camera battery and spent the whole trip watching the charge indicator go from 3 bars to 2 bars to one. I could tell it was going to be good.

I wasn't even out of the Bents car parks before I got my first first-sighting-of-2017 butterfly. The Ringlet, a modest brown job, was tricky to snap as they flutter about then disappear into the long grass and are reluctant to settle. Females lay eggs by either sitting high on a blade of grass and squirting eggs into the air, or letting go during a stuttering flight. "Bombs away!" This was the first of several seen, but due to their erratic flutterings, the only one I "captured".

The magic forest was transformed with a ground covering of ferns and bracken; and above, the sun dappling through a canopy of leaves.

Just before the trail hit Aberlady this fine Speckled Wood flew up then settled on the wall. Their undersides are pretty and this one was kind enough to pose for long enough for me to get a shot. Apparently adults seldom live longer than a week, which is quite sobering given the paucity of ideal conditions, sunshine and lack of wind, in any given week of a Scottish Summer.

Second first-sighting-of-2017, a Common Blue. These are considerably more scarce than their moniker would suggest. Like the Ringlets these are buggers for jumping about, deep in long grasses while your camera focusses on the wrong thing. Then leaping up onto the breeze, covering a football pitch, landing, and doing the same again. Happily this one was so busy struggling in the swaying grasses it didn't notice me jamming my camera up close. They are small but shimmer brilliantly in the sunlight. I would have spent longer getting better pics if I had known it was to be the only sighting all day. Their undersides are so different from uppers it's like a different species, and camouflages them well on the ground.

fritillary alley

It's difficult to convey the joy I get around here - or maybe the shortening of breath is just hayfever. But the grasslands before the beach; savannah, meadows, machair, call it what you will, is just brilliant at this time of the year. Currently the grasses are colouring it dusky pink; but you get an explosion of flowers and the whole area radiates a new shade of beauty. Each week a different preponderance of plant that colours the landscape underfoot. And as the flora take their turn, so do the fauna. I had been waiting the appearance of the Dark Green Fritillary, a strikingly orange and black favourite, that I have only ever seen around here. They zip by and are gone. Just after the left turn towards the nesting grounds, one lit up from the path where it had been sunbathing and branded it's amazing patterns onto my brain and heart before flying a zig-zag 8 yards, closing it's wings and disappearing. I circled the area for 10 minutes with only a crappy photo of an orange smudge in flight, eventually giving in, hoping I'd come across another, later. 

Not sure what this chap, giving me the eye, was. Like an orange legged sanderling, probably a relative of the sandpiper. Info anyone?

had the whole place to myself

despite the wind every bright bloom had a friend on top
This dude seemed anxious to give me his best side.

another Speckled Wood, further along his seven days

Just before the woods between Gullane and Archerfields this Fritillary made my day. Third of the first-sightings-of-2017 and less skittish than the earlier one, it struggled through the long swaying grasses allowing me to get at least closer, although not an ideal shot. Love the orange headlamps and dazzling plumage.

generally the problem with trying to get a shot through obfuscating grasses
however I liked the colours and composition, even though this shot won't make the butterfly manual

It has been a couple of seasons since any tree trolls appeared in the woods. They build nests like this one and like the butterflies and deer they are secretive creatures and don't enjoy interaction with humans.


This handsome specimen is an Ichneumon wasp (Ichneumon sarcitorius?)
 and will lay eggs on butterfly and moth pupae, the naughty blighter.

Air Force memorial with Bass Rock in background. I went to the co-op in NB and bought a chicken & bacon sandwich (despite the probably 3000 trashy calories I was already carrying in my backpack) and stuff for the reservoir. I swithered about another can of Emerge as I reckoned you can emerge so far there is no way back. Bought it anyway and tipped it in thinking it would be slow release as I mixed it with nearly a litre of water. I then continued down the coast skirting the golf course and doing a couple of bays climbing up to the road around Canty Bay.

spot the wee Bass Rock in the corner - nice accident

view back to NB from the end of East Beach

Pretty as this looks it was pretty unpleasant as I had to climb up the steep slope, hands and shins deep into nettly thistly undergrowth.

Past a mile or 2 of tarmac, the views out by Tantallon and the Rock, past Tam Bides Here and the choice: to go down to Seacliff beach and along the coast or follow the concrete road through the fields and down to the bridge across the Peffer Burn. I opted (initially) for the beach, (happy memories of kayaks and booze as a teenager), and was immediately rewarded with a tunnel of Red Admirals out sunning themselves on the (£3 now for vehicles) road down to the beautiful bay. I had been forming a theory about the butterflies, how a species (like a flowering plant) appears for a couple of weeks or months but will then disappear and let another take it's place. Where are the Peacocks and Tortoiseshells that dominated late Spring / early Summer? But the Red Admirals knocked that on the head. They appear earlyish and now mid Summer and I have snapped one in late October on the outskirts of the Pentlands. So that theory needs some fine tuning. The butterfly bible has calendar diaries for each species, but like so much, it is anglo-centric and tends to generalise about English sightings, dates and frequencies.

I ran along the beach for a while. I usually go inland here as it is rockstrewn and ankle twisty. Going round a headland I got high-tided but the inland scramble was littered with jaggy bushy so I got damp socks where the water met the cliff. A short while later I clambered up into the fields and ran along to Seacliff settlements tip-toeing through farm and transport buildings (aware there might be savage farm dogs around any corner of this sleepy industrial hollow.) Then out onto the concrete roads (Tam of Tam Bides Here layed that concrete) I recognised and along to the Peffer Burn Bridge. 

tide was in at Tyninghame

I took the route inland going past the log cabin. (No photos as there was an event going on - I wondered if I just sauntered in and helped myself, how much cake and champagne I could freeload before being shown the door!) But I had Star Bars, Double Deckers and Emerge; what more could a boy want?

I usually complain about the mile long plus tarmac straight line of Limetrees Walk. I had sort of forgotten about this fabulous alternative, which I took as something of a shortcut as I was well ahead of the 30 mile schedule. It runs parallel to Limetrees but maybe half a mile north. There are signs from happy Harvest Holidays threatening torture and hanging if caught trespassing but otherwise it is greatly preferable to a mile and half of dull road. You turn right at the Almost There sign which is pointing back to the the Log Cabin. Then round left onto what would be a long gravelly forestry trail. But then hop through the trees on your right to find an unmarked bridle way that is no more than a quad bike path through avenues of trees either side.

You are now in the Lost Valley of the Butterflies. While many hunters seek out the elephants' graveyard (in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, before the ivory trade lost its shine!) this is the lost kingdom of lepidoptera. Maybe it was the second Emerge kicking in, but a combination of the sun blasting through the tall trees and the tornado of dancing Red Admirals and Speckled Woods, landing on the flowering rhododendrons, flying in 2s, 3s and 4s in circling, rising whirlwinds; well for about half an hour or more I was entranced, lost in an ecstacy of butterflies.



I tried to capture some in flight. The obvious difficulties are they are small, the dappled light is tricky, and they move in all directions very quickly. I have posted some pics not because they are good photos but because they capture something of the spectacle and comedy although, really, you had to be there.

The Red Admirals had this thing they would do. Presumably territorial, courtship ritual or just competitive: one would swoop after another, they would chase each other in circles for a while then hover close to each other, usually one just above, wings beating like a humming bird, stationary in the air, while some sort of argument was settled, then fly off. Inevitably I got only smudges of orange or just a blurred photo of background foliage. (The one above is the exception.) The b-bible says nothing of this but does mention they are strong fliers and almost defy their heavy weight with their flying ability, notably with the "Weis-Fogh clap-and-fling" a vortex inducing mechanism that allows rapid air circulation capable of lifting much heavier bodies than is achievable from conventional leading-edge vortex effects. Reading between the lines I think this means basically "we don't know how they do it but it works damn well." Many photos taken, few used. 

Speckled Wood and R Admiral together.
Largely they stuck to their own but occasionally would fly together or land near each other.

more blurries

three together?

I emerged as out of a trance. Coming to the end of the clearing I realised it was time to push on. One last shot and one of the best of the day, of a S. Wood with closed wings. The bright light made for excellent detail and the surroundings were nearly perfect. What a day!

My mind then turned to the remaining trail. I don't usually run it in this direction and so had trouble estimating the amount remaining - through Binning Woods, Newbyth Woods onto the JMW and through a few fields back towards NB Law and down to the station. It was after 4.30 and the next train was 5.20pm. I felt my cup overfloweth in the photo stakes, and was keen to get home and check out the results on the large screen. I put the camera away.

I switched into turbo mode and wondered if I could make the 5.20. The next train after was the 6.20 so if I was likely to miss the 5.20 I should just take it easy and maybe saunter up the Law, (it was turning out to be a beautiful day.) But the caffeine spoke loudly and I moved up a gear, trotting through Binning Woods (mentally shouting good evening to Alastair) then cantering through Newbyth and along to the JMW then realising the impossible just maybe possible if I took a few shortcuts - out onto the road (rather than the JMW) and began galloping, seeing the sign to North Berwick 2.25 miles. What part of town did that refer? The harbour? Certainly not the station at the other end. I was thrashing up the middle of the road and had to pull over to let a car past.

I kept flip-flopping between I can do this and no way. I looked at my watch every 2 minutes and counted off each mile as I got closer. Mile 28 I ran in 7.35, 29 was 7.16 and mile thirty at 7.21 might have been slower because I was running round the back of the Law on trails with knee deep grass swishing past my shins. I was like a thing possessed and yet still couldn't tell if I could make the 5.20 or not. I couldn't remember the distance once I got out the Law car park. How much tarmac (most of it down hill) to the station. (For future reference it is exactly a mile from the Law car park and it took about 6 mins.) I pushed even harder the sweat now pouring down my face. Please not the long hour wasted waiting on the next train! Looking at my watch as I crossed the car park I really didn't know what I'd see on the platform. It was 17.20 on my watch but I was hoping for injury time (the cumulative build of small delays throughout the train's back and forth and most trains are late by a minute or 2 aren't they???) I hammered across the car park and saw the train (HURRAY!) pulling out (BOO!). 

Is that 17.20 and 15 seconds, talk about punctual, (unsmiley emoji)

Oh well it had been excellent training, sprinting from mile 27ish to 31.5ish and I was quite surprised how much I had left in the tank - I couldn't have done that over the first 4 miles. In something of a trance - nearly dizzy from the excitement I wandered round NB. I went past Alison and Ben's but of course they were out. I wondered if I knew anyone else but my brain stopped short of remembering where George lives. So I went back to the co-op, Suunto off, walking slowly, and bought water (fab), cider (middling) and a large punnet of cold strawberries out the fridge (beyond excellent). I walked slowly back to the station and it probably was better for my legs than if I had got the 5.20 and sat with freshly trashed legs not warming down. This is what I consoled myself with. I ate all the strawberries in one go, drank all the fluids and felt rather pleased with my day out. It doesn't get any better than this.

attractive but not a patch on a fritillary

train home.