Sunday, 29 July 2018

hopes and fears

Hopes: snakes. Fears: no snakes. 
Great snake hunt number 527. 14/07/18. Results: lamentably similar to previous. Has St Patrick been through here? 

I can't remember how we came to the conclusion it was time for a visit to the Lammermuirs again, but it was glorious weather and my optimism was not diminished by the previous fruitless snake hunts. OK I didn't expect to see any but I felt I might. Or have a nice run while failing to see any. This was snake weather (maybe a little warm) and snake place. All that was missing was snakes.

I think that was the day we called in past the Lanterne Rouge Cafe and got take-out coffees and cakes. And bumped into Toby and A who were sat inside, having already been running (was it 18miles? I checked, and it was!): much more than we were going to be doing. Again another late start. 

Somehow I persuaded Mary that maybe we could check out the snakey side of the reservoir - much prettier single track (and with more shade) than the main dirt trails round the South side(s) of the reservoir. Despite the signage there were zero snakes in evidence, along with surprisingly few butterflies, dragonflies and things at which to point a camera. However it was very scenic and very pleasant to be out. (Tell that to the snakes.)

By way of compensation this dark green fritillary sat atop a thistle jabbing it's long tongue into the purple flower. I can't recall ever seeing any in the Lammermuirs before, and it is an example of how far and wide the species has spread its wings this glorious Summer, almost becoming common-place! I actually saw one in Holyrood this week at intervals and held the team up while I took a couple of pics. A dgf on Arthur's Seat! Imagine that!


I was so absorbed by this and a Small Tort that was threatening to land on flower-heads but never actually resting long enough for a photo, that Mary got a good distance ahead. There is a strava section that starts on the flat around here and doesn't stop till maybe the gate half a mile on from the top of the big hill. So Mary likes to concentrate around here. Which means push on through without me, coked up on caffeine, blethering in her ear about butterflies and the gossip on facebook this week. Till she gets to the gate. However she got such a lead I think it might have been all the way to the fence before I caught her up and brought her up to speed with the relevant butterfly info and chit-chat. It's quite a substantial hill.

The view from Lammer Law, up and down the Forth was great but the photos don't do it justice. I feel there should be snakes in the rocky summit mound of Lammer Law but have never seen any so I am probably not justified in those thoughts. I was just recalling to Mary that there had been wasps on the previous trip there months ago, quite a large group of them collected near one of the uppermost stones. And sure enough they were still there, quite a number. They seemed to be building an Insect Museum and had the first 2 specimens: a Red Admiral and a Small Tortoiseshell. Difficult to say why they were all gathering there. Maybe a gap in the market since the snakes vacated the place. 

Mary noticed we were combining to make a pair of eyes and nose.

back down again

the heather was superbly purple against the green foliage of the blaeberry bushes

Although I couldn't persuade Mary to take the more snakey single track paths on the return journey, the wider lochside tracks were very pleasant on the south side as well.

A while ago the photo card reader I was using expired. I popped into a "computer shop" going up Leith Walk to replace it and the above item was the only card reader/uploader they had. I asked if they had anything of better quality. They didn't but reassured me they used one themselves and it worked fine. The wheels are usb ports and micro card readers and yes those front and back lights really light up. I am slowly warming to its low cost charms. (£5 - totes vfm!)

About 10 miles
Sadly the only snake was the route we left on the map which looks a bit like a snake (which has swallowed a boomerang.)

Sunday, 22 July 2018

st abbs - patron saint of awesome

I had postponed a trip West to look for wing├ęd delights this week due to the weather (there) not being quite as splendid as it has been. That said it was not bad here, and perhaps the lack of work (currently on holiday/sabbatical) spurred me on to seek other adventures. When I noticed that a small team from Butterfly Conservation were doing a moth trap at St Abbs overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday a crazy thought flew into my head. That I could cycle there through the night and arrive about dawn. The forecast was terrific and the wind seemed favourable for a cycle East. St Abbs is one of these special places that is always worth a visit. And there would be 2nd brood Small Coppers. Let's do it!

Tranent 1.30am

Of course the daytime exuberance can fade by bedtime, especially if it replaces bedtime. Mary rolled her eyes and asked me to text if I made it there alive, and wasn't lying broken and crumpled by the roadside, victim of a languorous lorry driver. I set off at an eyewatering midnight fifty with minimum kit trying to travel light and swift, no backpack, just one pannier bag, loaded with extra clothes in case it was cold. (It was!) I took the speediest route largely shadowing the A1 from Musselburgh to Cockburnspath. I knew it was about 50 miles. I had foolishly thought about 3hrs. It took 4hrs 11mins but that included maybe 25mins for photo stops and kit change and comfort breaks. And there wasn't much comfort tbh.

Eh6 > Musselburgh > Tranent > Haddington > E Linton > Dunbar > Coldingham > St. A

Haddington 2am

The initial stretch was quite hard knowing each mile was taking me further from my lovely cosy bed into a mild but chilly darkness. How can it be mild and chilly? The roadside thermometer before Porty showed 14.8' and it was dry. But the constant buzz of cool air past my ears and fingers had me stop at Haddington and put a jacket on over the woolly Helly, light full-finger gloves under the cycle-mitts, and a buff round my ears.

Also here's a thing: everyone who did the Scurry to the Sea Race on Sunday was to some extent fairly crippled the next day or 2. I had done a 2k outdoor swim Monday eve and this helped loosen things off, but my legs were much more stiff than usual. It must have been the hill stuff particularly the fast descent off Allermuir. Everyone who had run was now walking poorly (or not at all!) This added to the biking joys but didn't slow things down too much.

Riding the brightly lit areas was fine, the dark unlit countryside roads, pretty hellish! I had 2 front lights and a helmet headtorch but if doing it again would wear my much brighter running headtorch (which was in my pannier.) If I'd had a serious mechanical or puncture the plan was to put on all my clothes and duvet jacket and lie in a field until sun-up.

Dunbar 2.53am

nicely clad and lit church on road out of Dunbar

dark satanic mills


There is a section of the sustrans cycle route 76 that does the pavement alongside the A1. I was not looking forward to it. (In daylight it would be too close to the whizzing filthy traffic.) And yet it was actually pretty nice: well lit, and Torness looked surreal against a backdrop slash of pre-dawn sky. And I had to wait to get a photo of an occasional lorry or car on a largely empty road. The section leading into East Linton had been far worse, a small twisty road that insisted on going slowly, lined with brambles and nettles and never knowing what was around the next corner. A ghostly rabbit running alongside with a human face on it, snapping at my heels, can that be right? Stuff of nightmares, and like swimming out into deep water you have to turn your imagination off and try to keep the heid. Of course back in the daylight that all seems laughable.

I knew the biggest difficulty on the way out was after Pease Bay. You descend into that Bucket of Turds and right at the bottom there is a ford just to catch you napping; then you have to get on the granny ring and crank up out of that ditch from 36 feet above sea-level to (Suunto says) 784' over the next 3 miles. The upside: by that time it was after 4am and the sky was getting lighter. I put my lights off shortly after and began to realise I was slightly behind schedule. However after the summit at Dowlaw Rd it was mostly downhill into Coldingham. 

There is a charming road from Coldingham to St Abbs. I could see the sun was going to get there before I did and so took the photo below while cycling. You come to a junction where there is a choice of going into St Abbs, the picturesque harbour town, or left to the nature reserve which has a gate you have to open and continue on single track road reminiscent of the highlands. I think it said private but not sure how much this is enforced. At 4.45am it isn't, although there was a Bioblitz marshal there when I left, mid-morning.

The road twisted round a few corners and my view of the sunrise was blocked. But I could see from the changing colour of the sky something impressive was happening. Eventually in the last half mile there was a reveal between the clifftop crags and I saw my first sunrise in years. Mary and I have on occasion made a night-time dash to the Pentlands or Lammermuirs to witness dawn, but last couple of sunrises were so lame we gave that up. (I am a night owl not a early bird.) This one however was spectacular. A clear horizon made for the following pics, taken just behind Mire Loch. It made the cycle there worthwhile. 

sunrise; 04.48

what is the sun, if not a giant lightbulb?

Having watched the sun climb out the sea I cycled the last half mile to Pettico Wick Bay where Iain and Barry had set up the moth traps. When I arrived I met Barry who introduced himself. Iain was up the hill directly above taking pics of the sunrise and a family of 4 peregrines we watched playing and cavorting in dawn's first rays. One folded its wings together in that fast dive position they adopt and went screeching past, claws extended having presumably spotted rabbit shaped breakfast down in the bay. I took a photo but it just looks like an unplucked chicken tossed into the sky. After 4 hrs on the bike (instead of a night's sleep) this was all a bit dream like. I changed out of damp cycle gear into warm duvet jacket and dry t-shirt. 

The moth traps are in essence a strong light run off a small generator and the moths, attracted to the light, fall into a bucket underneath traditionally lined with egg boxes as they like this material and can crawl into the nooks and crannies. I am not a huge moth fan though I can see their subtle patterns and colours have a restrained beauty. There are some large and exotic moths as well but most of the stuff at St. Abbs was medium to small size brown and beige jobs. Barry and Iain emptied out the contents of the first trap - that was down nearer the loch. While they oo-ed and ahh-ed over myriad small brown strangers I watched the cliffs along the way start to glow in the morning light.

top left and middle are antler moths - the moth that appeared most in traps

pinion-streaked snout

While Barry went off to meet his wife and maybe have breakfast, and Iain was busy with his trap I was left to play with a Garden Tiger - the largest and most spectacular of the night's catch. Billy M had come across one recently and I had encouraged him to check out the dazzling underwear below the brown and white dressing gown. The site was still in shadow of the hill behind so photos aren't great.

on my gloved hand

Then about 6.30 I remembered about Mary's request for a texted confirmation of survival. There was no reception near Pettico Wick Bay so I climbed up towards the lighthouse where there was three bars. (Reception not pubs.) And dozens of butterflies. All sunning themselves in the long grass damp with dew, the noise of the seabirds wafting up from the crags plunging vertically into the water below. It was very lovely and I went from enjoying the meadow browns taking off in front of each footfall to noticing the occasional small copper sparkling in the sun's rays. Lots of whites and an occasional blue. I wandered without thought or care for nearly an hour as a text or 2 winged their way back and forth to early morning Edinburgh and the sun slowly climbed into the sky behind.

small copper

ab. caeruleopunctata: blue spotter

meadow brown

common blue

meadow brown (female here has more orange)

small copper

Barns Ness lighthouse about 15miles as the crow flies, back up the coast

Barbara and Barry

There was little left to do on site with the moth traps, so Iain and I went for a walk round Mire Loch, the small and marvelously scenic lochan that nestles in the centre of the reserve. Every shrub and wildflower was crowned with butterflies and beetles and it was mesmerising. Hard to move on from one spot to the next, I had to stop myself from filling my sd card with more and more of the same. We probably passed a hundred small coppers. Compare that to a recent trip to Dalmeny where I felt blessed to see 2! We both prized the blue spotted abberation caeruleopunctata most highly although my eyes are such that I found it tricky to identify the blue spotters with the naked eye and would have to check on the camera screen to be sure. I began to walk past small coppers without taking pics - unheard of! Only taking photos of ones on spectacular backgrounds or on flower tops and within easy reach. 

blue spotter

the male meadow brown with lustrous sheen

green veined white

I was lining up this small tortoiseshell when in blows a dark green fritillary. It is late in the season for DGFs and some were looking a bit tired and frayed. Happy to report both oblivious to the other. We could learn from this.

Iain on the hunt for hay fever.

at the far end, beside the trees a few specklies

We met some other naturalists, there for the Bioblitz, and specialising in... was it freshwater molluscs and bats and small mammals? Not sure but there were more specialists than there were members of the public. I was surprised by this given the headline act turning up after 9am. The other side of the loch was just as heaving with butterflies and bugs especially down close at the edge of the water. I saw only 1 small damselfly which is something of a mystery, I would have expected loads (and dragonflies) in the reeds next to the water

how many creatures on top of this one flower?

6 spot burnet

 2 cantharid beetles shamelessly put on a show for a small copper

just a hint of blue spots

surprised and pleased to see a grayling here

Small skipper (above) - I should have paid more attention to them. I really love the small skippers but they were being skittish today and I only got a couple of pics. Kept flying off. Wouldn't have posted this one except look at all the beetles stuffed into that thistlehead!

grayling! hurrayling!

I might try and work that into the other lines referencing this year's most abundant species...

The Ringlet is Kinglet
But the Meadow Brown wears the crown

If the Red Admirals come out tops again like last year I am snookered.

small tort

only reasonable small skipper pic

this was a rare beauty apparently, can't remember what sort
must pay more attention in class and not yawn so much!

We returned to the moth traps and Barry and Barbara. I was there in body, less in mind: just a bit too frazzled from the missed sleep to be in good form. There are just too many types of moth and a lot that look small and similar. Chris off the telly and his entourage turned up. I was impressed that it wasn't 2 van loads of camera equipment and a load of luvvies from the BBC, just a car and maybe 2 assistants and a driver. The only person filming was Chris himself on his iPhone, a quick interview with Barry about the significance of moths and butterflies as an indicator of the health of the wildlife landscape - actually I could be mistaken, I didn't want to evesdrop and so kind of tuned out - and was chatting to some actual public who mistook me for knowledgeable about the moths because I was standing next to them. 

Chris - we are not facebook friends, yet, but he did post a photo with me in it - seemed nicer if anything in real life than on the telly. And very confident and used to strolling about meeting strangers and behaving naturally. Being short of sleep and bracing myself for the return leg of the cycle, the whole thing washed past me like a pleasant dream. Had I been a bit more alert I should have told Chris that the title of his autobiography "Fingers in the Sparkle Jar" is inspired. The rest of it is not bad either. Well worth a read if a bit harrowing or too honest at times. But instead I just stood around like someone who was short of a night's sleep. Barbara presented Chris with a photo of her cat (watching tv) who always perked up when Chris appeared on it. Refreshing levity on a day of serious-minded eco warrioring. I think the mission statement was...

“I want the 2018 UK Bioblitz Campaign to be a detailed and complete wildlife audit, a ten day snapshot of the state of our wild places and what lives there. It will celebrate some conservation successes but also reveal some of its failures. It will show that nature reserves are not enough and it will prove we need a healthier wider environment. A healthier countryside .” 

more garden tigers - stars of the show

crowds came from miles around!

Since the sky had clouded over it felt about time to be heading back up the road. I had the option of a train back from Dunbar or N Berwick, or cycling the whole route again. I called in at Coldingham and bought a sandwich for breakfast. This was a good move as I was running out of fuel. That got me to Dunbar where I bought another sandwich for breakfast number 2. That also improved things. I couldn't be bothered with trains or hanging around in stations as I knew the minute I stopped cycling I would fall asleep. Also, being in no hurry I could take it easy. I got home after about 4 and a half hours including stoppage. I stayed up till normal bedtime then slept for about 12 hours. I felt a bit spaced for a day or 2 and missed Thursday intervals just because.

me and other experts on Chris's facebook page!

I think Barbara must have taken this pic - thanks Barbara!
Iain on the ground doing moth stuff, Barry chatting to the talent.

Excellent day for butterflying high!
53 species of moth, 13 species of butterfly