Friday, 6 July 2018

n b a

So this trip to Burnmouth and the coastal paths in search of the Northern Brown Argus started badly but improved dramatically as the day progressed. It was a led walk by Iain C (the butterfly whisperer) who had already pointed me with incredible butterfly know-how towards much wildlife in this neck of the woods (Small Blues etc.) and I was looking forward to meeting him. 11pm at Burnmouth meant catching a train to Berwick then cycling the 6 miles North to the village hall.

However the jobsworthy guard (below) asked if I had a bike reservation for this 8~10 carriage train. I did not. (I don't think that is an option on (Although there is another online way of doing this or you can book in station 3hrs or more prior.) The guard took great delight in telling me there were 3 bikes reserved and no free spots and I couldn't put my bike on this train. I had arrived early (in order to get 99p filter coffee from Pret) so just about had time to run across the station to the bike lock-up area, padlock my bike, remove the seat wedge tool bag, lights and pump then carry all this (and coffee) back to mr. grumpy and his train.

A couple of points before you say he was just doing his job. I sat in the wheelchair carriage looking at a wheelchair space either side that was unused and could easily accommodate a bike. Berwick was the first station and so if there wasn't 2 wheelchairs at Waverley I would be off before any arrived. And when I got off at Berwick there happened to be 3 cyclists waiting to get on. (There had been no sight of any other bikes in Waverley.) Pretty sure they were the 3 reserved bikes. Also, the info says every LNER train has 3 spaces (a massive THREE spaces on a 400(?) person train) 2 of which are reserveable and one for dafties like myself who turn up on spec. If this guy had wanted to help he could have. Instead he was taking great pleasure in being a right C U Next Tuesday. I tried not to let it colour the day.


So I was now reduced to running. Luckily I had targeted the earlier of 2 trains to do a bit of sightseeing on the way to Burnmouth. But first I wanted to drop off my helmet, seat wedge and pump etc. as I only had a small running back pack. Berwick Station doesn't have lockers but the B&B below: Tweed View House will let you stash your bruck for the day in their reception room (locked) all day for a non-obligatory contribution in their charity tins. They were sweet and helpful and did quite a lot to restore my faith in mankind. My only worry was I'd have such an eventful day I'd be on the train back to Edinburgh and forget to collect my bike stuff.

I have run these coastal paths so often now they are very familiar. I was looking forward to seeing the Small Blues again and pressed on, noticing I wouldn't have much time over to gawp at wildlife, having only an hour to do the 6+ miles and seeing as I wasn't going much faster than 10minute miling over the rough ground in the warm weather. 

smaller heath

Has someone shrunk the Small Heaths? I thought they were larger, was sure they were about the same size as gatekeepers, so wondered what these were (the size of c blues or even small coppers) until it became evident they were small heaths. I wondered at first if I had seen large heaths in the past but on checking they are significantly unlike the small heaths in appearance.

When I got to the famous spot at Lamberton where the Small Blues were last trip, I didn't have any time to do a proper sweep. I took a photo of the common blue above (there were dozens about and SO blue and fresh I wondered if they really were only common blues as they were so uncommonly blue. No sign of cupido minimus.

I hate being late for things and legged the last mile at 6.30 pace so arrived slightly moist at the village hall where I was expecting about 3 other butterfly enthusiasts. To my surprise there were about 20 of us. Nobody under 30 I could see and nearly all carrying cameras and binoculars. I was too late for the laminates (I have all those laminates!) of insects etc. and handouts but was given a free National Insect Week pencil! We headed North on the coastal path towards Eyemouth. There was no strict agenda and folk could do as they pleased; Iain would use his considerable local knowledge to point out likely places to see unlikely species - such as the Northern Brown Argus, a smallish delightful brown chap with a population centred around SE Scotland. Hurray!

Less than a half mile into our walk and Iain had left the path to point out an NBA. I would have just walked right past. Which illustrates the benefit of local knowledge. This is definitely the way to become familiar with the less familiar species, to pursue rarer species with folk who know what they are doing. Right time and right place. Know your quarry. I got chatting to a number of the group and probably spent more time blethering than scrutinising the long grasses for insects. There were lots of flies and buzzing things but until we got to Blaikie Heugh there wasn't an abundance of butterflies or moths.

Blaikie Heugh marks the top of the hill above Fancove Head, a folded section of steeply rising rock. If you follow the coastal path to the highest point (before it drops down by the golf course into Eyemouth) there is a gap in the wall which descends to a sheltered shelf that was a-flutter with several highly desirable species. Just about every step threw up another small butterfly or moth and I spent possibly an hour taking photos of my new best friends including NBAs, Large skippers (both new species to me seen for the first time), Small blues , Common blues and a few moths I wasn't terribly excited about but that were causing a stir with those in the know.

NBA - differs from the Brown Argus (the English version) 
by having these white wing spots (and is vastly superior!)

Small blue

I was a bit disappointed by the small blues. I saw them for the first time earlier this year on these coastal paths and they were amazing: freshly emerged and having a dusting of sparkly blue glitter with white borders. As they age they lose their white border and blue shimmer and get a bit tattered. This (above) was the best condition I found one in, although it's not a great photo. I had been so pleased to find them a while back, so it was a bit sad to see them in this deteriorating state. 

To make up for that the Large skipper was the unexpected star of today. Still quite small for something with that first name, this skipper is not considerably larger than the small skipper and much the same to my inexperienced eye. A bit more brown shading round the wing edges. But still the same distinctive stance, a chunky furry body between the angled wings. Relatively happy to sit still for photos, a quality that gets my vote!

more small heath

Care had to be taken as the ground was uneven and this relatively narrow edge was on the top of a long fall down steep rock. It would be easy to back up taking photos and go for a long drop.

uncommonly blue

nba - the females have more pronounced orange chevron 
detailing round the forewing border

aye aye skipper!

Iain is revealing the eggs of the Small blue (white specs) in flowerheads.
I couldn't see these with the naked eye and only saw them later, on the computer screen

looking towards Blaikie Heugh at the top of the hill

I believe the group went on to Eyemouth seeing loads of lepidoptera on the hill down beside the golf course. I had a different plan and left them after the treasures of Blaikie Heugh. Huge thanks to Iain for showing us so much more than I would have noticed on my own, it's a real education being out with someone who knows their stuff. I walked and ran back (2miles) to Burnmouth, then making sure I had plenty fluids by calling in at the pub for a swift pint and to refill my back pack reservoir with iced water, I headed out the road towards Chirnside.

George from Chirnside, a really knowledgeable wildlifer (and fellow runner), had spotted Banded demoiselles at Bluestone Ford. My ears instantly pricked up. They are a totally fabulous and near mythical damselfly in metallic colours, pretty much the largest in the UK. They are mostly limited to South of the border, and over on the West coast. I googled Bluestone Ford, put the route into my Suunto sat-nav and found myself running down sweltering backroads (that I should have been cycling, angry red-faced emoji) 6+ miles inland to get to this spot. Would they be there???

Meadow brown on the way

This was the idyllic spot and I knew it was well worth the effort before I even saw any odonata. Kids and mums were paddling, and being so hot I was tempted to strip off and jump in the water. I called George and he turned up in a couple of minutes. I had already seen a couple of demoiselles before he arrived, flitting along more like the undulating flight of larger floaty butterflies than the fast dragonflies that zip along and buzz Saltoun ponds.


We went downstream wading through quite dense undergrowth to check out a couple of spots where George had seen lots of activity. However, not seeing an awful lot there, we returned to nearer the footbridge and ford where I managed to get some photos. Being a dazzling colour they are not easy to miss, and they really sparkle in the bright sunlight. They look way more tropical and science fiction than the usual uk species although most dragon- and damselflies are fascinating when you get close up to them. (As are most insects.) They are extremely well adapted and have been around since dinosaur days. And exude something of that primeval nature in their appearance and habits. Also I am a sucker for bright and exotic insects and these are the dog's biscuits!

couldn't ask for better surroundings

female is golden green without bands on wings

an elderly but still lively small copper

male banded demoiselle

Interrupted mid house painting.

Huge thanks to George for giving me the heads up about these fabulous insects. And thanks for the lift back to the station, which saved me a 9 mile run! I think I still managed about 18~20 miles. Difficult to say exact distance as I only remembered to switch off the gps a mile down the road in George's van. (Fastest mile of the day!) Superb day out with many, many treats. (I even remembered to collect my helmet and kit from the guest house, before catching the train back to Edinburgh!!! Whew!)

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