News came in on the butterfly grapevine (is that a thing?) that a Small pearl-bordered fritillary had been photographed in Braemar RECENTLY. This is a butterfly that emerges in June and hands in its dinner pail late July if its lucky. Down in South West England there is a partial second generation in August. Could this (and another) sighting signal a small partial second brood in Scotland? Did the butterflies cunningly sense the unusually good conditions this year, emerge early, and, like their English counterparts, push for a second brood?
It is an extremely pretty butterfly (see my blog from earlier this year here) and the possibility of this unusual event passing unnoticed was not to be entertained. The main site for them in the Pentlands is well off the beaten track where few humans pass, and all this could have come and gone easily without notice. I needed to get there and check it out - and quick!
Well actually I had to wait for the sun to come out. Wednesday 29/08/18 looked good. If there were only a handful in a giant field it might be easier to spot them if they are up and flying, as they do on sunny days. I reckoned my chances were about 30% or less. I based that on random speculation and wishful thinking. I was not particularly optimistic. But it's a great place for a bit of a hike and there aren't any other butterfly-breaking-news-stories. And likely won't be any more for about 7 or 8 months.
It has been a splendid year for many butterflies and I have noticed a few species in places locally I haven't seen them before: a Dark Green Frit on the Water of Leith and another roosting on Arthur's Seat. Small Coppers all over the place - in the city, on the JMW at Aberlady, up in the Lammermuirs. Walls also on the JMW. It may be I am paying more attention and have trained myself to slow down and scan certain plants and likely areas when out running and cycling. But it has undoubtedly helped to have had the most sunshine of any year in ages.
I cycled out to Balerno and the Red Moss car park. The first 2 venues are just small patches by the roadside with wildflowers and tussocky grass surrounded by taller shrubs giving a bit of wind shade. When I left Leith there was a bit of a breeze. Up in the Pentlands, even at ground level miles below the high tops, this was a stiff breeze with stronger gusts. However the sky was bright and at times clear of clouds. The wind was keeping everything moving so on one occasion I'd look up to see almost total cloud cover, 20 mins later it would have all blown over and the sun was blasting down again. Difficult to dress for. I cycled there in a t-shirt which was nearly too cold for just walking and taking pics. But when I put on my w/proof jacket it quickly got too warm.
There were no SPBFs on the first venue. Not to worry, there were exactly that many there last time and the third venue was heaving with them. There was a Painted lady and 2 other brown/orange mid-sized jobs flew off before telling me their names. Probably Captain and Mrs. Peacock. There were also some fresh Green-veined whites, presumably second generation.
I pushed my bike over to the second venue on the other side of the road and left it in the shrubs. This was a much larger area and was more forthcoming on the previous visit. I was pleased to see Peacocks and Whites and Red Admirals, all of which gave the feeling I was in the right place. However there was no sign of anything fritillary-like. I took quite a few turns round the whole area and my optimism for the days venture felt more wild-goose-chase than ever before. However I was not downhearted as there was plenty to point the camera at. I also realised while there, tip-toeing through the heather and trying to sneak up on sun-bathing lizards, that I love this kind of wild goose chase - any reason to get out if the weather is good, and go and have a poke about a remote place and see if I can find something fab. It was with mixed feelings, realising this could be one of the last days butterflying this year. How was I going to cope with everything closing up shop till next April? I have to find a Winter compulsion activity that has the same draw as the lepidoptera. A methadone to replace my heroin.
By the way I saw maybe 4 lizards today; possibly an all time high. Given I see one every 2 years or so that is nearly a decade's worth in one afternoon. I say maybe, because they were mostly seen with periphery vision and by the time I had turned my attention, there was just the end of a tail slithering very rapidly into the heather. Best sighting was the whole thing for about half a second before it zipped into the undergrowth from the log on which it had been basking. Not the remotest chance of a photo. On the cycle there just going up the last road to the car park a very deep reddish black/brown furry thing shot across the road in front of me. Like a half sized black board duster, and strangely rectangular it skimmed across the road like it was on wheels. I suspect large vole (small rat size) and I gave it a hearty cheer for making me laugh out loud.
From venue 2 I cycled to near the Red Moss boardwalk. There is a place near the path where you can padlock and leave a bike and it's invisible to the passing hordes of bicycle bandits! To get to venue 3 you take the boardwalk to the wee pond then leave it going north and climb the barbed topped fence. There is maybe a mile of walking over difficult ground, heading SW although I was pleased to find it was still dry underfoot. By this point I was pretty sure there would be no SPBFs but was prepared to be proved wrong.
I followed a similar line to the one Victor had taken us back in June. There were dozens of butterflies back then flying up out of the grasses as we walked forward - I think we counted upward of forty in one pass. But none flew up today. There also seemed to be very few flowering plants and sources of nectar. There were also no peacocks, PLs, and Admirals and only the occasional white. But there were sufficient distractions to keep spirits up, including this toad who pretended he didn't want to be friends to start with, but quite enjoyed the elevated view when he got there.
I was tempted to try to circumnavigate the pond. It's really the end of Threipmuir Reservoir where it sneaks under the bridge at the bottom of Beech Avenue but the maps refer to it as Bavelaw Marsh. That title implies a knee deep swampy bit, whereas I'm fairly sure it's at least 6' deep (and 2' of mud and bird poop below that) and has a large stream coming off the one side. It was this that persuaded me to return the way I came if I wanted to keep feet dry and mud off my camera. I spent a while edging toward the waterside, partly to get a view across the pond and partly to check for dragonfly action in the bullrushes. There was little sign of any and I only kept going on the thin trails (presumably made by the local deer) until I heard the squish of waterlogged ground under my feet and retreated. I was quite a distance from the waterside when I disturbed these Black Darters doing their wheel of life dance. Nice to see a female - possibly the first this year. (And ever.) They flew off but I watched where they landed and approached with caution.
beyond the bullrushes to the bridge at Beech Avenue
the limit of dry feet
It was a distance back to Red Moss boardwalk and I took a different line to keep it interesting. Lots of fungi about. And just about warm enough to encourage loitering. I let the gv whites lead me a dance across the landscape keeping my eyes peeled for lizards. Back where the boardwalk starts there is a drab little waterhole and I took a few steps off the path to check it out for dragons. To my surprise I flushed out a mating pair of Hawkers (possibly Common Hawkers?) who then had the decency to land on a leaf nearby and stay still for a quick photoshoot which was really appreciated. They then took to the air and I watched them for 800 yards buzzing about like a twin rotor helicopter before they disappeared over the horizon. I sent thank you vibes in their direction, though I think their focus was on more pressing business.
d'you find the blood runs to your head when you do this?
I retrieved my bike (unmolested) from the bike shrub-shed and would have gone home but it was too lovely and I was having too much fun, so I went past venues 1 and 2 again as they are on the way home. Not to check for SPBFs but just to see what bugs and beasties would pose for pics. There were some bright green fly-bottles (not my field of specialisation) on the flowers who, in the absence of butterflies, were happy to stand in as models. They sensed I was just practising until something else with wings like paintings came along, although I do love their shiny green bonnets and bodywork. They gave me a resigned look of "yeah we know."
probably the best shot of the day
although I didn't see the spider till much later (but don't tell)
The wind made for some excellent blurry background stuff but also made the long stalks of flowers sway and flap in the breeze. I'd be squatted in the tick-rich grass (of course shorts, it's August) with my camera elbow on my knee timing shots with the penduluming butterflies as they swung into and out of shot. No suprises to hear it was a high delete ratio today, and I had to bin many otherwise nearly excellent shots.
As I approached this delightfully fresh Red Admiral - crisp and desirable as a new tenner - it took off and flew 30 yards away to land on a patch of lichenous heather. I crept up and took the first pic then noticed the sun had gone in. I waited, doing a fine impression of patient and stoical, until the sun crept out from behind the clouds and properly lit the little beauty for the close up! Gotcha!
As I returned to my bike this peacock was perfectly placed to get a picture with bike parts as background. I tried to coax it up on the saddle or handlebars but it was quite rough ground on which to learn to cycle, so we left it at that.
So no small pearls were found. But a great butterfly hunt was had and I got a couple of hours of cycling thrown in for free. If this was the last day's butterflying of the year then it was a very good one. Hopefully the Reds and the commas and the whites will hang on for a bit, and there's always the butterfly farm for emergencies; while since I've been there.