Thursday, 11 July 2019

stirling moss fallin for big ted

I had a notion to see Large Heaths. There were 2 possible sites; Gladhouse or Wester Moss, Stirling. Without a car Stirling seemed like the easier, as it was only a 3 mile run from the station. I double checked the route on google street plan because last time I ran from Stirling station I ended up on the side of a dual carriageway motorway cursing the sustrans route 76. Pavements all the way to Fallin. Not particularly scenic - the only thing vaguely majestic was a wine warehouse - but a pavement. Cool.

thought of you, Jim

ahh the romance

I think scooby-doo fought crime here

So in a kind of poverty encrusted backwater of Stirlingshire there is this lowland bog. They are quite rare, most having been drained and developed. It is right next to Fallin Bing, a coal spoil heap that has been planted with trees and wildflowers and is now a huge resource for the dogwalkers and naturalists. Most of the visitors I saw were in the Fallin Bing part as it is easier ground with far more wildlife. However it is the Moss, the tussocky swampland, where the Large Heath dwells, and I started my search there.

Fallin Bing

Wester Moss

I met a woman with a large camera and long lens. Butterflies or birds? I enquired and she answered both and everything. She would photograph deer or butterflies whatever she bumped into. She had never seen Large Heaths. (A bit worrying?!) She pointed out a couple of things, where to find them, and we parted company, her up the hill, me over towards the swamp.

The Moss has a thin trail that skirts the perimeter. I decided to do a complete circuit then quarter it in search of big ted (Large Heath.) It was tough going - even sticking to the path, which I wasn't. It was lumpy and uneven underfoot with wet patches where you could step in ankle deep splosh without knowing until it spilled over your shoe. I had known it would be like that so wasn't surprised. But after about 90 mins I was a bit hacked off to have seen absolutely no sign of the butterflies. Lots of small moths and even silver Ys but nothing heath-like. My butterfly radar was telling me to head for the wet bits and the Cross-leafed Heath, a pretty pink flowering heather that the Large Heath liked. It was not particularly sunny at this point but the Butterfly Conservation page suggested they flew above 14' even with no sun. 

Wester Moss foreground, Fallin Bing midground, Ochils background

nope, no idea

I was beginning to get really down. I had even resorted to eating my best snacks to cheer myself up. This worked to an extent but I now had shoes full of wet socks and heather twigs that were jabbing my feet every step. I decided to throw in the towel and retreat to the bing which I knew was hoaching with butterflies and burnet moths. I was 20 yards away from the exit through the bushes when a Large Heath jumped up as if to say okay okay don't get your knickers in the twist. I locked my eyes on it while stumbling over the bumpy ground. I was not going to let it out my sight until I had a decent photo. I took quite a few just as back up in case this was the only one I saw today. Then, sure I had something in the camera, retreated off the bog, breathing a sigh of relief. Mission accomplished. Now the fun can start.

common heath moth (female)

Large Heath (on Cross-Leaved Heath) - at last!

There are some photos online that would suggest there are LHs with more impressive markings than this one. They are not the most striking of butterflies, but I was very glad to bump into this modest version, to see one in real life for the first time. I have seen most of the Scottish butterflies; I think about 7 still to get (including slightly mythical and largely absent ones) but nothing on that list is particularly fascinating or spectacular (except maybe purple hairstreak). But each with its own set of difficulties, whether geographically distant or just perverse in its habits. Good to tick off this one and the real prize was right next door in Fallin Bing....

About the same area as Wester Moss this large park is far easier to get around and has much more to see. You can't tell it is an old coal bing and had while I was there thousands of oxeye daisies. Tens of thousands. The whole palce was sown with these wildflowers and dandelions and buttercups and all manner of smaller flowers growing underneath. There were just hundreds of Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Burnet Moths (6 spots), Painted Ladies and more Blues than you could shake a stick at. It was butterfly heaven! 

First though, let's empty the shoes of bruck. Ahhh that's better!

The daisies made a fantastic background for the butterflies. Mostly the butterflies preferred the lower yellow flowers but occasionally landed atop the white flowers and I would try and get a photo. I seem to have arrived just at the optimum time for everything to be fresh and recently emerged although there were a few elderly specimens. Lots of Blues looking for love although I didn't actually see any  mating couples; lots of chasing going on though. And thousands of Burnet Moths. Lots flying and lots nectaring on flowers. I kept getting distracted by the blues and MBs (I suppose they must be my favourites) and forgetting to get photos of Painted Ladies, Ringlets and the less frequent Red Admirals. A very enjoyable walk among the daisies. I was so delighted, I even opted to have another quick bash round the Moss for Large Heaths.

I'm not sure these add anything much, looking more like an abandoned construction project than any contemporary sculpture(s). But I suppose they are a good spot to on which to post some public information notes. Now if that's not damning them with faint praise..! I'd rather have seen a circle of benches, maybe something with softer edges that blended into the surroundings.

bordered straw moth
quite big and very swift

common heath (male - note furry antlers)

Second trip into Wester Moss was less dispiriting. Having previously found one on the northern edge of the moss, this was the area I covered most. I found another (or maybe the same one again - very similar markings) and gave chase, getting a few more photos. It landed in a small tree. The sun was now out but the place was far from giving up its secrets. There was an occasional fly-by of some extremly fast and large (small bird sized) moth that wasn't even thinking of landing any time soon. (Possibly a Northern Eggar.) 

Large Heath

However the pleasures of the Bing were calling and I left the Moss to get some more photos of the blues. The woman I had met right at the start of the day had mentioned a very small pool or pond where dragonflies could be seen and photographed. She had long gone so I questioned a couple of dogwalkers. They were no help, so I was left running laps of the Bing and taking paths and small trails through the trees looking for a small pond buzzing with odonata. No luck there. I nearly packed it in and went back to the train station a couple of times, but the pull of a wee pond with various dragonflies lining up to have their pics taken got me clambering through the trees and I found myself back in the Moss again. I had another search for Large Heaths but no sign this time. 2 out of three and all that. It was getting on in the day and I decided to leave. Which took another 30 mins as every flower seemed to have a butterfly on top. Eventually I got out and there were considerably fewer distractions during the 3 miles back to the station.

not often you see 2 males having a chat

The gps shows the meandering route I took round both venues. It was difficult to judge the size of the places so I traced off the nearby Stirling Albion football pitch and held it over the venues to gain some sort of scale. The width of the Moss is about 2 football pitches lengthwise and about 8 or 9 pitches in area. The Bing is about the same kind of area. It was exactly 3 miles from the station and I covered 5 miles around the place before returning a further 3 to the station.

I was delighted to find the Bing so full of wildflowers and butterflies and it was far more welcoming than the Moss, which was hard going, underfoot (and mentally!) But the Moss has Large Heaths which was the reason for going there. Great place to visit, hardly any other humans except for half a dozen dog walkers during the 3.5 hrs I was there. Hurray! Get there soon before the daisies wilt!

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