Thursday, 30 August 2018

excellent waste of time

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. 

venue 3

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.

cinnabar caterpillar


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. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

holibags pt2

Since Mary had a week off last week it seemed inappropriate to go back to work. So we had a few adventures. 
24/08/18 One was a run to Telferton to pick up some supplements Mary had bought on the dark net. So 4 bottles of pills rattled round the rest of the run, which went up over Arthur's Seat and then back through the centre of town, which Mary has been calling the Heart of Darkness since the festival began. It lived down to that epithet.

Bernie says this platform is measuring water quality near Seafield.
I bet it's as clean as the local air - and the delightful Seafield Stench.

we got a good look at the nearby downpours from up A Seat

fish ponds looking good at Scottish Widows

Through the meadows then over into the Grassmarket. Things got busier and the streets more and more rammed with (hungover) tourists buying shit at stalls and stopping to point cameras at things. (God forbid!) By the High Street it was intolerable, with floating yodas on opposite corners. I felt this underlined the massive amount of low-end shit that comes with all the highbrow culture, which is largely priced outwith my budget. So I get the bad without much of the good. Which is why I am not a big fan of the festival.

yoda's cash cache was chained to his staff
it would seem you can't trust the force the days

We dropped down to Princes St (Holland and Barrett for more supplements!) and it was another degree of horrible yet. I know the town is supposed to benefit from increased sales but largely it's the pubs who benefit. The whole thing is just an excuse for a piss up till 3am every night under the guise of arts festival. Jesus knows this which is why he hoses it down on the poor hungover tourists every August. He doesn't approve, clearly. I'm rarely on his side, but this once I agree - it's just too decadent.

too many people

I went to a grand total of one show. An orchestral version of Martyn Bennet's 1998 album Bothy Culture at the Playhouse. My nephew Ryan had bought tickets for him and his dad; but Ryan's ticket was up for grabs as he had won the post of official photographer for the Festival. I was very pleased to go along without having to spend the £35 ticket price. That's half a pair of running shoes that is. 

The concert was interesting. When it was good it was outstanding. I am a fan of Martyn Bennett, at least some of the stuff he has done. And he was a very gifted instrumentalist. Sadly he died in 2005 aged just 33. Before that he put out a handful of albums. I really like parts of Bothy Culture his second album. Much less so Grit, and the more traditional folk stuff. I was a bit concerned that all the stuff I really like on Bothy Culture is in the first 5 tracks and from there onwards I lose interest. And they played it in order. However when it got a bit dull I passed the time by counting the members of the casually attired orchestra, who seemed to number in the high sixties. (3 on percussion alone.) There was lighting and the orchestra swayed about quite a bit so it made counting tricky.

The music is very intricate. Martyn B was amazingly accomplished in fiddle, pipes and techno, so the musicians really had their work cut out. And they rose to the occasion, and on minimal rehearsals, from what the dude said. The conductor/arranger Greg Lawson did a brilliant job of translating the album into a score mimicking/interpreting the tracks as closely as possible. The concert started a bit muffled and drum heavy but by track 2 they were nailing it. And proper actor David Hayman made a very decent job of reading Sorley Maclean's Hallaig, while the orchestra did justice to the same. The best track (at the concert) in my opinion was track 5, Ud the Doudouk which grew in repetitive swirls and phrases into a maelstrom of barely controlled chaos, everyone on stage giving it laldy, the whole place caught up in the stomping rhythm.

Unfortunately it never regained those heights, and the next 4 tracks were less good, ending with a dirge-like pibroch on the highland pipes after the rather dreary Waltz for Hector. After that, was the obligatory encore. We had been told to applaud sufficiently and we would be rewarded. Of course the sycophantic audience, who laughed uproariously at every mild quip and clapped furiously at every opportunity, encouraging your man to speak longer than strictly required, got their encore. Unfortunately it was Blackbird, a track off Grit, and I waited patiently for it to end, counting performers. They then played track 6 again (should have been track 5) and Chanter, off Grit.

While I enjoyed the concert it reminded me I prefer to be able to choose what I listen to, and that the atmosphere does not make up for sitting among a large crowd of festival goers. The festival is hugely overpriced these days and a constant crowd scene. More and more it seems like a celebration of alcohol, rather than culture. I much prefer being outdoors, away from large numbers of humans. I mean all the crap on the News these days, and there seems to be more than ever before, that's all humans, making trouble. Apart from the occasional natural disaster, all that bad news, that is just people squabbling. Can't help thinking the world would be much better off if there weren't so many.

It is probably just the end of Summer and the thought of 7 months of crappy weather till life is on the improve again, making me cranky. I wasn't even feeling much like going for a cycle with Mary on Saturday. 25/08/18. As I stepped out the door around midday it felt like a hellish long day to be aiming at Kincardine Bridge and back. But it proved to be worth the effort and apart from Grangemouth, really quite pleasant.

Didn't take many pics till past the bridges. This honeysuckle in the grounds of Hopetoun House and the buddleia beside it had me stop. Pretended I'd stopped to take a photo of Mary in her newly found specs, (and not the butterflies behind her). If you dropped them in the grounds of Hopetoun just tell Mary the 25 digit serial number on the leg and she'll return them! They were useful as there were loads of bugs about and a strong headwind.

Very nice paths round Hopetoun and beyond to Blackness Castle. After Blackness I was reluctant to follow the coastal route 76 as I thought it might end up a dead end, however it went all the way to Bo'ness and was really pretty good. Good tarmac for bikes. We were largely following the sustrans route 76 although I have mixed feelings about it. Last time I ran from Stirling to the Forth Bridges back in May 2015 it mis-led me on at least one occasion. So I don't trust it will always keep me right. I had programmed the Suunto sat-nav to follow what looked like the best route and hadn't seen this option on the map.

Mary vision

Between Blackness and Skinflats was the worst section of the day. Route 76 took us into the Kinneil Estate then dropped us. (Told you.) We back-tracked and yet still could not see any signs saying where to go after the big house. So we threw caution to the wind and followed the awful main road (A904) into and through Grangemouth. Happily there was not too much traffic. But it was hellish ugly after the quiet cycle paths round the coast. Things greatly improved around the prettily named Skinflats (haha) before a pavement option to and over Kincardine Bridge. Here we met the start of the Fife Coastal Path, which we would follow to the bridges.

buzzard on pylon

So the last time I came through here was 2015 and I was on foot. Interesting to see some very similar photos. Like the powerstation above. I had been trying to remember the name Longannet since seeing it from the other side about 15 mile ago and eventually the cogs had turned and I recalled the name. It closed in March 2016. Not sure if its 600ft tower, like Cockenzie, is doomed to be torn down. It has an impressive presence and dominates the landscape for miles.

From that point things just get better and better. The coastal path runs alongside the railway line presumably used to get coal into Longannet. You then come into Culross (pronouced coo-riss) which is like a museum preserved village of quaint architecture and orange pan-tiled roofs. We were long overdue a cafe stop and there seemed to be a few options. We went into the Admiral which was great. Not sure if it was because I was super-hungry or the service was lightening fast but it was defo what the troops needed. Mary threw her bike down on the market square thingy and would have dashed into the place had I not suggested she use her padlock, since we had actually bothered to bring it.

That same Audi was parked there in 2015!

The Admiral - excellent and highly recommended

I had a cheese scorn and flat white, Mary had some cake. Could have eaten the entire menu. Felt much better afterwards and shoved down a Holland and Barrett flapjack as we left. Good heavy stodge - and only 99p - which kept me going.

Now if it had only had Red in the title it would have been perfect.

The track continues to be lovely, right up to the point it hits the MOD ground.

you are obliged to go inland here

Couple of big hills to climb and 2 brief stretches on a bigger road before dropping back down to the coast at Limekilns. And then along the foreshore on pretty paths. Then some larger roads as you get near the bridges. The cycle across the old road bridge (which was empty of traffic) was fun but can make me feel a bit of vertigo. Always glad to get off the other side.

taken this photo before too
(underside of road bridge)

We cycled through S Queensferry and kept going onto the trails through Dalmeny. Along to the big house on the tamac and stayed on it for the remainder to the path up to Cramond Brig. Back home on the northern line cycle-paths. About 66 miles which took over 7hrs as we went at a leisurely pace and that included the cafe stop and the wander round the Kinneil Estate looking for the way. Much better on a bike than running. Nice to have the wind on our backs on the way home!