Monday, 4 June 2018

in search of the pearl-bordered fritillary

Saturday 26th May.
I had a notion to see a Pearl Bordered Fritillary. Very pretty and kinda rare. I checked the Butterfly Field and Site Guide (Michael Easterbrook) and it suggested various venues including Linn of Tummel, a phrase of exotic and enchanting promise. And more tempting than the nearer Castlemilk or Wishaw. Of course a book is out of date as soon as published (2010) and so I was venturing into unverified territory. But it looked like a nice place to run a few miles and the weather was, once again, unseasonably glorious for Scotland in the Summertime!

high as a kite getting off the train

In order to get the 8.30am train out of Edinburgh on Friday I'd have to pay £36 for peak rate return. I had visited the station on Thursday to bargain hunt and had the first 2 figures of my pin number into the card reader when I realised if I went on Saturday it would only be £23 as there are not peak rates at the weekend. Saturday it was - both days had a great forecast.

The extra day gave me more prep time and I printed out maps bought an OS Explorer map and researched what Bugle looks like online and what the preferred conditions are for the butterflies: south facing sunlit sheltered spot with bracken and bugle (look under power lines at 905603). I put those co-ordinates into OS maps online and they took me to Berwick upon Tweed. Remember the rant about unifying the temperatures, same with maps. I wish everyone would use the same co-ordinate systems and not have all these different options. I never worked out where I was to look on the map but I'd keep my peepers peeled for the power lines. Also I worked out a way to get to Linn of Tummel from the station. 

First cross the bridge over the river. Then, was it left of right? Too lazy to get the map out the backpack I asked 2 of the millions of English tourists was the A9 just over there. Yes they replied with such confidence that I believed them instantly, "turn left and left again". Unfortunately this was horseshit and I should have turned right and then left or left then right. As I got to the next bridge downstream I realised that asking someone was the mistake and I got the map out and headed up the side of the A9. Which is not as bad as it sounds and only goes for about half a mile (with butterflies) before you leave the main road and follow riverside paths to a suspension bridge across to the magical Linn of Tummel. Also I should have gone a completely different way (the route I returned afterwards) but didn't know this until later. It was a learning curve.

even the A9 was looking nice today


bracken loving Brown Silver-line moth
So I crossed the suspension bridge and into a really pretty, I mean spectacularly pretty landscape of riverside singletrack dodging between trees with butterflies flitting in front of me this way and that (whites and speckled woods), but as Chris Tarrant used to say, "we don't want to give you that..."

My butterfly eye (butterfl-eye?) was set to orange-with-black-lacy-pattern. (Underside stained-glass window.) After a very short distant a deer fence hove into view and a massive pylon above, and in the time it took for me to think that'll be the power lines at 905603, an orange, medium sized butterfly flip-flopped past without landing. Well that was easy! 5.5 miles run and about an hour into a long day and I have just hit the jackpot.

Only getting photos turned out to be harder than usual. (I had been warned by fellow enthusiasts on the internet. And, well, you wonder. Many of them present museum quality photos on facebook and elsewhere, and the story of how long it took and how many times blood was spilled and how many fences climbed and shirts caught on brambles, well that stuff doesn't get talked about as much. You just see 3 or 4 perfect photos of the quarry and think they probably rolled down the window on their jag, propped a yard-long lens on the door and while smoking a cigarette (in a holder no less) took a pic in the general direction of the "rare" butterfly exactly on the top of a shrub, took one photo and it was perfect. You do not hear of the broken soldier returning from battle with barked shins, nettle rash in the small of the back and divets of hair missing. Until now.) BTW I picked up a record number of ticks today. Mary removed (tea-tree oil and tweezers) 14 from my legs. (Even through the compression calf guards.) However the final count reached 15 when next day another was removed from my hip. I hate to think where it had been hiding, but it survived a long hot shower.

The P-BFs would appear from who-knows-where, dodge over the purply blue bugle without landing, flit past 3 areas of interest and exit stage left, leaving me either chasing them round in circles or standing at one of the 3 places they were circulating or just stomping round cursing while delighted to be in a lovely spot dancing after very lovely butterflies. I was glad I had come solo as proper runners would not enjoy this as an activity. 

The above photos represent .05% of the time spent with these wee so-and-sos. The rest of the time they were flying. Or luring me over then hiding in the long focus-stealing grasses, before they took off and flew away, laughing. I only got these 5 photos (though took MANY many more) in 45mins or so, then left with a view to going elsewhere then maybe returning later. You never know whether there is another much better venue just around the corner where the subjects fly more slowly and take much longer rests on top of things rather than underneath. Anyway in case you want to check out 905603 I think this is it below. And check out the nest atop the pylon. Never saw who lived there. 

There appeared to be a circuit at Linn of Tummel, one path next to the river, the other inland and through the woods. I took the latter thinking that covered the habitat of the P-BFs more than the riverside. But I left the area without seeing any more despite leaving the trail to flush out anyone hiding in likely places. But none. Fair enough. I then ran up to a main road and wanting to check it was the right road ran a couple of hundred yards in the wrong direction back to the Bridge over the River Garry which is so high they do bungi jumps off it. It was bum-squeaky high.


I then ran back up the road towards Loch Tummel. I had been in touch with Tom Prescott of Butterfly Conservation as his name came up when I googled the area and the species. He had emailed me plans of the wayleave along the North side of the Loch which is (I believe) the gap in the trees allowing power lines to travel the length of the loch. And also P-BFs. Previous years they had been walked and surveyed for P-BFs, but not this year. There was a suggestion but not a request that I might fill that gap. On the google earth map they looked like golf fairways and  reckoned if I was quick I'd get all 8~10 miles of them done before afternoon tea and just in case I made a hitching sign saying "Pitlochry" to hitch a lift back to the train. I fancied myself doing important research for the butterfly community. Only the reality was not so straightforward....

This was where the wayleave started. Old brown bracken under new growth bracken and not on fairway ground but lumpy tussocky steep ground that was quite stiff walking and running was virtually impossible. I had thought it might be tricky and wore compression socks under my normal socks which I now rolled up to cover my shins and give protection from nettle stings and general jabbing and biting. It is not a look I am planning on adopting regularly.

I saw a P-BF (or was it) in the distance at the top of the first rise. However it may have been a Speckled as there were more of them round that area nearby. And yet I had recently got my eye in for P-BFs so I was 50% sure. I though I would count the unsures as halfers and every second one would make a whole. I needn't have bothered as I didn't see any more for the next 2 hours. The going got worse in places and I began to get the feeling there might be a reason this wasn't being surveyed by volunteers this year. Especially as it didn't seem to be the sort of area a P-BF would live. Just pass through as a green corridor. Records showed lots in the area. Maybe I was too early in the year? 

The going got tougher and I wimped out of trying to descend the gorge below climbing through dense shrubbery and over fences into mudslides and wrestling grizzlies, when a 2 minute detour round the path would do. Also I was never absolutely sure what entailed the wayleave. Was it the whole green corridor or was it strictly following the power lines? I was tired and sweaty and filthy and getting sunburnt and eaten by buzzy things. I knew the Queen's View (shop/cafe/more cuddly toys) was nearby and so decamped to review my position over a bowl of soup and to wash the back of my neck.

The view

The Queen's View is a pretty nasty venue for spending money though not as steep as I feared it might be. I can't remember feeling ripped off so it can't have been awful but I didn't enjoy the company of too many tourists all selfying away in front of the admittedly joyous view. Imagine the view above and me panning back to reveal lots of people with kids and dogs and most of them not doing any walking further than the car park to cafe and back. I tried to stay positive but it was a blessing to get away from the noise quickly and back to birdsong and butterflies.

After the food and a big drink I felt renewed and rather than follow the road I saw the power lines through the trees and made my way back towards them. It was heavy going until I came across this path (below). I know it doesn't look like much but all of a sudden I was walking cheerfully through the woods and look, just there, a Pearl-Bordered Fritillary. Now that's better! Unlike the wayleave (but quite near it) this was much more like the habitat. Sheltered sunny woodland with bugle and less bracken. There were 2 P-BFs within short distance of each other. I felt I could give a bit more energy into the wayleave survey but that soon (after another mile?) I'd turn around and retrace my steps back past the first venue and see if things were still ticking over there.

wtf! snow on what hills?
It was scorchio here all day

I saw no further P-BFs for the next while but got onto some forest trails that made the going turn from a horrid chore to a runnable delight. And there were lots of photos to take of flowers and butterflies. I felt a bit disloyal about dumping the wayleave project but reassured myself I was here primarily to spot butterflies and have fun. That I did.

The forest trails were really pretty and I ran to about 13 miles and just beyond before turning. (I didn't get the second transect of the 4 finished. Sorry Tom!) I ran back the easiest way possible although sometimes that was still the wayleave. Just as I got to the end, within sight of the road, I saw, much to my surprise, a Pearl-bordered and even got a few photos. It was later in the afternoon and I wondered if they slowed down towards the end of their day? I would check this out back at site 1 under the pylons.

I had the chance to use a new product today. The Katadyn BeFree Filter soft flask. A foldable bottle you fill from a stream then screw on a cap containing a filter which filters out the impurities. The water tasted like whisky without the alcohol, which is to say peaty. But quite cold and welcome on a HOT day. So far I have not died from pond bugs and dead sheep poisons!

lots of wildlife

love a green tiger beetle

lots of speckled woods


the last P-Bf on the wayleave

So I ran back to Garry Bridge and took the Linn of Tummel riverside path below it. There were some fine views and everything was looking splendid in the afternoon sun. No sign of any P-BFs before the pylons, but when I got there, there was quite a lot of activity. And, in line with my theory they were moving less skittishly than before with a female or 2 scouting out roosts for the evening and settling down for the night (how can I know this) with attendant males in search of a last dance at the disco (I am now making this up!) and the females brushing them off. Meanwhile I took a zillion photos, taking advantage of the more settled subjects. Then at 4.35 precisely an invisibe clock struck and they all vanished. I was now sunstroked and talking out loud, "show's over? thanks for the photos!"

I looked at the watch. I had 40+ minutes to get 5 miles to the station for the 5.33 to Edinburgh. (Had they continued flying I might have gone for the 7.07). Eight minute miles (having already done 20.) Ok that's a fun challenge. I set off at a gallop. 

scenery was just outstanding

last chance, last dance

back over the suspension of belief bridge

On the way back I noticed this bridge below which allowed foot passengers to cross the river just as the A9 does next door. It took me into Pitlochry in a more direct way and I even had time to call past a wee cafe and buy a litre of ice cold water. I arrived at the station 10mins early but the train was delayed an hour. Which gave me time for a pint in an overpriced bar which was also very delicious. By the time the train crossed the misty Forth and back to Edinburgh I had just about returned to earth from butterfly heaven.


  1. Pete that was fantastic and you've some cracking images as a reminder. Post some on the butterfly fb page and be proud. Now where's the keys to the Jag?