The mixed sun-and-cloud forecast of Thursday encouraged me out with the new camera to Dalmeny. Partly because it is fairly local, but the subtext was Small Copper, a superb butterfly that I had seen along the shore there. I tried to tell myself that the season was probably over and I was unlikely to see any; that it was still a great venue to enjoy the shoreline, the gulls, the views to islands and lovely trails zig-zagging between mature trees. Forget the Small Coppers. Radiant, dazzling, iridescent Small Coppers.
I cycled 8.5miles to the Cramond Brig (more sensible route this time following the cycle path past the RHS and Barnton Avenue) and down the West side of the Almond to park up hidden in the trees near the shore. On the walk to the path I climbed over a tree trunk with 50 little fungi globes with funnel mouths - when you poked them with a stick they emitted a smoke of spores.
While trying not to rush directly to the haunt of the Small Coppers, I passed some thistly flower-heads that were getting the benefit of both the sunshine and some hoverflies. I nearly ran on but thought it wouldn't do any harm to practise zooming in for close ups, especially as they were perfectly lit. Glad I did as they provided some of the best shots of the day, the hoverflies looking like sportscars of the insect world.
scaffolding off Barnbougle Castle
So taking the right hand side of the stream that runs down to the shore I waded through the long grass to reach the area I had first seen the coppers back in late July (Blog here.). I was so stoked on the first unexpected encounter that it would be hard to match the perfection of the insects in the sunlight. But conditions were similar. However within 10 minutes of arriving and not seeing so much as a Small White I was bracing myself for disappointment. I passed the time taking photos of the delightful surroundings. Flowering wild roses heavy with rose hips, bulldozer loads of scalloped white shells on the shore, insects and teasles, all basking in the bright light.
It becomes a zen process. How long do you wait for something that probably isn't going to happen? Are you in the right place? The conditions are perfect but it could be a month since the last copper's beat. My eyes scan the ground. Sorrel, particularly Sheep's Sorrel is the plant of choice. A most unprepossessing broad leaved weed favouring sandy soil. But without Sheep's or Common Sorrel you won't find Small Coppers. So everything is in place, except the glittering star. Thirty minutes pass and although I am in heaven, there is a hole in my heart. How long do I walk in circles, fruitlessly? The sun is warm. It's not going to happen today. I resort to experimenting with different tactics and bribes. Like trying to see something by not looking at it directly. Immersing myself in the landscape until I become the landscape. Maybe then it will reveal it's secrets. Widen the circle. Accept the absence, embrace the absence, spin around quickly and maybe spot the absence. I also tried visualisation methods. These are touted as ways to mentally improve your running prospects and are invariably less productive than the traditional physical training we employ. So I mentally endeavoured to visualise a tiny iridescent orange matchbook between the marram grasses. After about 40minutes of nothing but pleasure, I decided to leave the area and explore further along the shore, heading East. One peacock had flown by but didn't stop long enough to get a decent shot, and I had overdone them yesterday anyway. It just wasn't a day for butterflies.
And then an orangeybrown moth flies by. Maybe a small skipper? It lands and transforms into a Small Copper. I daren't blink, taking a shot from afar then slowly slowly I creep forward taking photos as I advance with the stealth of a glacier holding it's breath. I get a decent shot (below) but the sun is momentarily behind the clouds. I stop still, waiting for the sun before taking more photos and moving in closer. The shimmering creature obliges by sunning itself on the beach grass before fluttering over to some flowers. They are very quick and erratic flyers and it's easy to lose sight of them. But this one seemed not to be in too much of a hurry and gave me ample opportunity to follow it for a couple of minutes before it jumped into the air and vanished.
love the contrast of blue grass and orange wings
then the sun came out
Note the hint of blue dots in the trailing edge of the hind wings. The last visit here I got photos of a specimen with the full caeruleo-punctata 4 blue dots aberrant form. This one just has a hint. Also it is most likely a female. The female is larger than the male and the black dots on the upper fore wing more isolated. The forms change quite a bit. As my experience of these small wonders grows I am noticing there seems to be a more pronounced difference between individuals. More so than other species which can be like clones of each other. I had thought the illustration in the butterfly bible of the male and female next to each other - identical except a smidge smaller/larger was a bit of a joke. However having seen quite a few this summer, I am beginning to recognise variations between individuals.
I should have been ecstatic. While I was very pleased; really pleased to have searched for and found one of my all time favourite butterflies, I wasn't just quite as cock-a-hoop as last time, when I unexpectedly bumped into a copper. I checked my photos and realised there were enough decent shots. Far fewer to delete than last time, and most with decent focus. So why was I not throwing my hat in the air and dancing a jig? I pondered this while doing a last circuit round the area, still enjoying the sunshine and beauty, the sea air and the lovely surroundings. I think it was the unexpected nature of coming across a real treasure last time. This time I anticipated it and although the trip eventually delivered the goods, it was expected, or at least wished for. And somewhere between that first interview with the copper and this one, I might have hyped the whole experience in my head so that nothing could quite live up to the marketing. Like seeing a film that blew you away the first time. Next time lacks surprise and perhaps you have the distance to see any flaws that passed you by first screening. It wasn't a big deal and didn't make me regret going there. In fact during the long saunter waiting for the appearance of the little orange delighter I had braced myself for disappointment. It was just a curious feeling - or lack of the anticipated junky's rush - that took a moment or 2's reflection to understand. (I also had some assistance talking it through with my therapist, Mary, later.)
On the way back to the trail, I scoured the area I had seen the copper but there were no more flutterings. I did wonder had I brought it about through wishful thinking and powers of concentration alone, and the phantom had only materialised for so long. Until I came across another over by the beach. I set off in pursuit but was saddened to find this one was definitely a bit old and knackered - not flying with the vigour of youth, but limping from stance to stance on faded, ragged wings. This was what I thought might be the case; the only remaining end-of-season specimens, and I left it unhassled, rather than chase it for a close up.
So another fab day out taking pics on the new camera. I am really pleased with the results: what appears to be more than just a step up from the TZ35. I have a lot to learn about how to work the beast and get the most out of it, but so far, so good. It has been relatively easy to pick it up and use on Automatic and get really good quality shots for a compact. It is quite heavy, but has a well made feel, and light enough to run with in my hand. Lots more fun to be had, though I might think twice about taking it over the midwinter Pentlands without adequate protection.
(taken from nearly exactly the same spot as the image of same on last blog)
(also note almost exactly same bike stashing spot and photo.)
there's always one!