Friday, 17 May 2019

east lothian safari

Ages ago (Easter Monday) Michelle, Derek and I went on a nature ramble round a few favourite haunts known for their proliferation of butterflies. Michelle had asked for a butterfly tour and Derek had shown interest, so the 3 of us made our way to Dunbar via Derek's car to East Linton and then a short bus ride. We set off in glorious weather leaving Dunbar on the 10 mile multi terrain route under the A1 then up the hill heading South.

From early on it became apparent that the sun and heat was encouraging the butterflies to fly around looking for love rather than stop to nectar on plants. So while it was great to see so many whites and orange tips at the top of the first hill near the ruined cottage there is little photographic evidence of them.

This is about the only photo I have of all three of us. I was aiming to get the field of rapeseed in the background. You could feel the heaviness of the air from the pollen wafting off the flowers.

Into Woodhall Dean. There had been quite a lot of chat in the car about snakes and the (nearly) spurious adder warnings at Woodhall Dean. I have searched there so many times it has become something of a running joke. But is still worth going there as the surroundings are just so scenic. The bluebells were out and it was baking hot. I chose the right hand route this time since last time I had gone left (and seen that stoat.) My thinking was the south facing slopes might be a better place for snakes.

Just as we were coming towards the boundary fence at the far end I saw - would you believe it - an adder sitting curled on the path. It was about finger thickness in girth and maybe 12" long (possibly more) though tricky to tell as it was not in a straight line. I shouted SNAKE and Michelle let out quite a yell. This was almost a bigger surprise than finding the snake as Michelle is about the toughest, most fearless runner I know and not prone to girly behaviour and yet as the beast slithered off into the undergrowth, the echoes of her outburst still rang around the gorge. I did tell her she would be named and shamed. You have been Michelle! (Sorry but it did greatly amuse Derek and I.)  The adder didn't hang around and I raced to get a couple of poor pics before it disappeared into the long grass. Derek got a snake wrangling stick in case we came across more but no more were forthcoming. Probably chased into the undergrowth by an inhuman shriek! 😜

I was very pleased to finally meet a live snake after about 435 great snake hunts. It was a slight anticlimax. How could anything so long searched for live up to the anticipation. Especially when it, the snake, just slunk off into the grass. I had wondered if I would be unable to resist the urge to pull it back out or interact in a hands-on fashion. However since this incident I have had another opportunity (yes, none for 20 years then 2 in the same season!) to grapple with a snake and am now under the impression that one's ancient lizard brain or caveman instincts very much discourage any close up interaction. And there's not really time to get a snake handling stick: once you have seen the snake it has seen you and will be departing the area pronto. And it is too warm to go wearing snake gloves for a whole run. (Second time I didn't even get photos.) On the upside, various sources (and my 2 encounters) suggest it does seem to be a good year for (spotting) adders.

beyond the boundary of Woodhall Dean
very peeled eyes were kept for large angry cattle beasts!
(none were spotted)

one of the many peacocks spotted today
one of the very few to stop for a photo

Derek had to leave us between Woodhall and Pressmennan in order to meet family obligations. He ran back to East Linton on roads while we continued to Pressmennan, along the lovely lake there then on towards Traprain Law.


Traprain Law

Orange Tip

Exmoor ponies on Trap Law

the christians must have been out with their instruments of execution

Back off Trap Law and down the side of the Tyne in the same way as the Traprain Law hill race goes. I had high hopes of seeing butterflies here but again they weren't landing. It was very picturesque though.

whites in flights

speckled wood

We stopped for a pint of beer in a beer garden in East Linton. Which was very delightful! Then feeling suitably refreshed and slightly light headed decided North Berwick would be a better place from which to get the train than Dunbar. I think it was about equidistant. On the way out of E Linton we bumped into these 2.


Possibly the beer but the 7 or 8 miles of JMW into North Berwick floated by very pleasantly. Unfortunately the trains, mismanaged by Scotrail, had decided not to bother to run on Easter Monday so we had to catch the bus back into Edinburgh. It wasn't that bad and Michelle was able to get off along the way to catch a connection back to Ormiston. It was a great day out on a highly recommended route, just a shame the weather was too good to get photos of many butterflies along the way. Thanks to Derek for running us to East Linton.

25.9 miles of sunshine

Saturday, 4 May 2019

tentsmuir revisited

Sunday 21st April
Nick was going up to St. Andrews to see his son who attends the university there. He suggested I come along and show him round Tentsmuir, which is just beyond St. Andrews. The forecast was good and I hoped for a few butterflies along the way. 

Rather than park at the main Tentsmuir car park I suggested to Nick we park on the outskirts of Leuchars round the back of the airstrip as there are a couple of miles of excellent trails on the Fife Coastal Trail through meadows and pretty fields (often home to butterflies) that make it worth the extra couple of miles. No butterflies; probably too early and a little cold.

new development half way up the coast

We ran through the car park then up the coast, taking a line next to the trees. Often I have run through the dunes but today I wanted to see if there was any signs of Green Hairstreaks. They used to be advertised on signs around here. Although there are still signs telling of their presence they are less prominent. I think this might reflect their diminishing numbers at this site. I have never searched for them, nor seen them here: it always seemed too needle-in-a-haystack. Green Hairstreaks are small and easily missed so the chances of just coming across them in this 21 square miles of forest and beach seemed remote. (It says 50 square miles on the wikipedia site but as it is about 6 ~ 7 miles tall by 3 wide I can't see how it is even half that.)

The sun reluctantly made an appearance as we got to the north shore. Nick was a little hungover and quieter than usual, but we both enjoyed the muted beauty of the forest and beach with the hazy sun streaming through the trees. I was a little frustrated about the lack of butterflies - there really should have been more signs of them - but tried not to let it taint the glorious run in fabulous surroundings.

Without any stops to photograph butterflies we made very good time round the perimeter of the forest. We saw, in the far distance, seals below the tide line, hauled out on the sand. I had seen reports of folk at Tayport getting too close taking photos and causing stampedes of whole colonies into the sea.

We went round to Morton Lochs. I had hoped there might be an early season damselfly or 2. I thought at first I might have seen a couple but may have been mistaken as a thorough examination of the Drainage Ditch only turned up Green Tiger Beetles. I say only, but they are superb and dazzling iridescent colours in the sun. Every time I see them I think they should be larger as they are larger characters in my mind. There was little of note at the lochs although we saw loads of the usual suspects butterfly-wise near the first of the hides - Orange Tips, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells, Whites etc but they were all fired up by the sunshine and reluctant to sit still for a photo.

I was surprised and saddened to see the trees that surrounded the bird feeding stumps had been removed. I later learned that it was due to storm damage and not land management. It is a shame as it has ruined the spot for seeing wildlife. There were still a few birds visiting but much fewer than last time when the place was surrounded by a dense tree cover giving the woodland creatures a feeling of security and instant shelter if they felt spooked. 

Nick chilling at the drainage ditch.

Green Tiger Beetle

As we ran across the forest back to the East side
hundreds of these flew up off the path ahead of us.

strong runners, strong fliers

With the day warming up I felt there might be more chance of butterflies on the return route and suggested we run back over to the East shoreline and double check it for hairstreaks. I was surprised I couldn't even see any blaeberries and looked for alternative foodplants and similar shrubs they might inhabit. Still nothing doing. 

We checked out these plants near the car park. A few days later I would find Hairstreaks on these same shrubs at Red Moss in the Pentlands. But here, today, there was no sign. 😢 We had a cold drink from the mobile kiosk then headed back the same way we'd come. It really is a lovely part of the world.

ducks near Jack's place in St. Andrews

21 fabulous miles
Big thanks to Nick for the run there and the pizza!