Sunday, 26 June 2022

tremendous tentsmuir


12th June
I filled this weekend with slightly more activity than advisable. The day before I cycled 48 miles to Haddington and beyond to photograph broad-bodied chasers. The headwind return journey was a real slog. Then I was up early-ish on Sunday because the weather was a bit better. I'd been planning a trip to Tentsmuir for a while. Well, ever since I failed to photograph small pearl-bordered fritillaries over in the West the previous weekend. They are a small delicate butterfly that doesn't hang around all season and I didn't want to do the usual trip to Balerno (11 up-hill cycle miles) and a long damp tussocky walk out the back of Red Moss to find them, hiding in the long grasses, which makes taking photos less than joyful.

I recalled a lovely trip to Tentsmuir a few years back. I'd found them totally by surprise in the swamps between Leuchars and Kinshaldy car park. Numbered wooden boardwalks (1 ~ 7) cross the swamp and I was able to photograph a couple on flowers beside the trail without even getting my feet wet. It was the same year as a frustrating trip to Balerno when I'd turned up too early and the buggers weren't even out. And it kind of restored my faith in SPBFs, a species that otherwise seemed often to be taking the michael. 

skylark on boardwalk 1

After a relatively painless train journey I quickly covered the first couple of urban miles across Leuchars and onto the dirt trails of the Fife Coastal Path. I was carrying the camera (always the bridge camera these days, never the compact of previous years) in my back pack. I was also aware that this means unless you have second sight you always miss the first good thing. (While you fumble getting the camera out the back pack the first good thing shifts uneasily, and then as you raise it the subject flies off or scuttles down its hole or leaves the flower and flip flops over yards of thick bramble and beyond an unclimbable wall.) Just as I turned the corner I had been considering all this. And there was a skylark sitting on a fence post, itching for a photo. 

I dropped to a squat, took the backpack off, unzipped it, unzipped the camera case removed the lens cap and (surprise!) the skylark hadn't yet flown off. Almost unheard of. Although I was quite some distance away. I felt it was a good omen. The camera stayed out for the next 20 miles.

red necked footman moth

I had seen pals post photos of red necked footman moths so recognised this one when I saw it. Distinctive, and of the vampire/darth vader cloak and solemn pose they make good subjects especially on a uniform grassy background. I was already in the zone and off the boardwalks, hoping to see SPBFs around the edges of the swamp. They were one of 2 main reasons I'd come here. The whole place is beautiful and often has many lovely things to see but the 2 items top of my wish list were small pearls and common blues. Both were out and about elsewhere (folk posting their photos on East Scottish Butterflies fb group) but I hoped I could catch both here, and maybe a few dragonflies over at Morton Lochs too. I hadn't bothered to check dates from previous years, I just saw the forecast and thought "that should do it." And booked a train. 

And it worked! Around the 6th boardwalk I slowed to walk. An orange shape passed in front of me and fluttered onto a flower. I got a distant record shot and it was off. But they were here! I left the boardwalk and climbed the fence on the right, skirting round the edge of a bog. I saw one more, then another. They were in much better shape than the previous time I'd seen them here - they looked like they were virtually brand new - showing no signs of wear and tear or shredded wings. Perfect!

At first I opted to keep dry feet. If a specimen floated into the middle of a wet sploshy bit I'd let it go. Not worth it mate! But then you edge forward, into the long spiny grasses, tempted by a beauty 2 yards beyond where you can reach and as you step forward you feel the cold water edge up and into your shoe. First time it happens you retreat. Next time you sigh oh well and take another step nearer the perfect photo. 5 minutes later you are stomping across the middle of the swamp making a half-hearted attempt to jump from tussock to tussock feet now squelchy as f+ck. And still 20 miles of running to go. 

I was a bit annoyed to have let the moment overtake me and got sodden shoes. I had contemplated carrying swamp sandals then bagging them and changing back into dry trail shoes but it all seemed like too much hassle and too heavy a weight to carry round the rest of the day. If I had thought about it I could have concealed them at this point on the trail and collected them on the way back to the station. It was around the 3 mile mark. Idiot! I also reckoned many of the best SPBF photos came from the dry edges of the swamp and it was just the rush of foolhardy excitement seeing the butterflies, that got me unnecessarily wet feet. As a younger person I'd not have bothered as much. I spent many days out on hills with sodden feet after squelching through a swamp or failing to jump a stream. I hoped it wouldn't result in blisters or discomfort over the next 20 miles. (Sort of did but nothing that bad.)

small pearl-bordered fritillary

not the brightest

The shoes I am wearing (below alpkit gaiters) are Hoka Speedgoat 5s. The latest edition of a trail shoe I have been enjoying since the Speedgoat 2. The first one was a bit hit-and-miss, the second was a huge improvement. The third was even better and I had maybe 4 or more pairs before the fourth edition wasn't quite as good - you know the parabola of improvement which inevitably peaks then the next variation is either much heavier or less comfy or just comes in really horrible colours. Anyway the fifth edition is back to light and comfortable and when I saw a very positive review on the Ginger Runner youTube channel I quickly bought a pair. Right enough they are a great trail shoe for days like this - chasing butterflies up or down steep grassy slopes, climbing fences and miles of sandy trails. Top shoe! Alpkit gaiters help keep bits of bracken or grit out - after 18 miles, stiff legs mean taking a shoe off just to remove a tiny stone is a pain.  

not many small coppers about

The next mile is through some very pretty meadows along the Fife Coastal Path, before hitting the tarmac road to Kinshaldy car park. I always enjoy these surroundings and easy running on dirt trails and I was hoping to see common blues and dark green fritillaries here. They never materialised, possibly a little early right enough. I was still very pleased about the small pearls and could forgive pretty much anything at this point. The sun was shining and it was all going very well. 

The car park at Kinshaldy was busy. I took photos of what looked like a mistle thrush hopping around on the grass. I also took a photo of this cabin / cafe. I should have thought more carefully about provisions for the day. It was really warm and although I had a full reservoir of drink it was only about a litre of fluid. Possibly slightly more. I also had sandwiches and snack bars. The photo below was going to come to mind quite a bit later on today. Particularly the A frame board below the counter with the opening times! More later.

As you travel North from the car park things improve dramatically. You can follow the trail through the trees, but I prefer the sandy trails that skirt the edge of the trees and go along the dunes. You can't see much of the beach but it is not that much of a beach to look at. But the wildflowers of the dunes attract loads of butterflies and sometimes there are large puddles of water where dragonflies zip by. I took some pics of 4-spotted chasers but they were busy chasing each other and looking for females and not sitting still. 

I was pretty sure there would be common blues about. So sure that when I didn't see any just North of the car park (in 2 weeks this place will be busy with dozens) I slowed to a walk and started kicking through the rougher ground off the path to try find some. I got out my first sandwich of the day knowing the best stuff always appears when you have a sandwich in one hand and can't work the camera properly. It worked almost immediately and one appeared. The sun was behind clouds and the actual butterfly refused to sit properly for photos. I chased it for a bit but wasn't impressed with results. Much better was to follow. I kept moving on as I had a meeting to attend.

thousands of yellow flowers but very few blues

not dandelions but very similar

stonechat (m)

stonechat (f)

There was plenty birdsong in the air but not that much to point a camera at. I was pleased to see this pair of stonechats as they are very good for perching on top of things making themselves visible. I think they were unhappy about my trampling through their area. They prob had a nest nearby and were scolding me for coming close. I took their photos, thanked them, and moved on.

delightful scenery

There is a little inlet which I always check for dragonflies. There was an older couple there (telescope for birds and butterflies) and we chatted briefly. I was saying how I'd seen broad bodied chasers the day before near Haddington and the woman said yes, you get those in Devon. Which reminded me of my grandfather's old chestnut, "If we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs." In as much as you get a lot of things in Devon if you are there, which clearly we are not. So instead of any further tales from the dementia ward, I chased after this very active common blue which was sprinting between but actually settling on dandelions round the edge of the watery inlet. It provided more interesting photos in the bright sunlight than the previous model or the 4 spot chasers which buzzed about randomly. I felt they were the first decent common blue photos of the year I'd taken.

There is a wooden gate/stile to climb over just where the dune area meets the DGF meadow before the Ice House. On the stile was a very attractive iridescent beetle making its way along a wooden spar. It was small but the colours it reflected made it rather marvellous.

helpfully it pointed the way

I love this mad shed on legs - presumably a hide

Also still love this well designed info centre which I have raved about before
and how well it sits in the area without being an eyesore.

Although all those wood parts prob need a coat of varnish sometime fairly soon. I say that every time I see wood outside. I think it is because I have varnished stuff for a living and don't particularly enjoy doing it. It should be wire-brushed or sanded, then washed/wiped, allowed to dry then painted with 2 coats. All that work and it won't look much different afterwards but cost loads if you use a decent quality varnish. Downside of using wood which does give a lovely natural looking finish. Fail to varnish/protect and it will fall to bits or crack and split in no time at all. 

The area immediately beside the info pavilion has been planted well to attract wildlife. There were a couple of stands of viper's bugloss which I double checked for butterflies but only bees by the dozen, and a silver Y moth buzzed about. I have taken to being scornful about silver Ys. They are medium big and promise much, but deliver little, rarely holding still, often trembling wings making for blurry photos. I have chased my last. 

viper's bugloss - choc full o bees

a perfect speckled wood

There were some people sat at the Ice House picnic tables. They asked did I know anything of the twinflowers? I said I didn't and they explained someone else had passed by looking for these perhaps rare-ish twinflowers. I said that google was an excellent remedy to find out more about that sort of thing and my wish list was more about butterflies, birds and bugs. Sure enough if you google twinflowers and Tentsmuir you can read about this wildflower (found in Tentsmuir) here

found a hitchhiking ladybird on my arm


I ran across to the bird hides at Morton Lochs. Just as I arrived there was a red squirrel feeding at one of the tree feeders. I was pleased to get some photos as we don't get these in the Lothians, although Fiona McQ seems to know some in the borders. They are very cute although this one did not have the tufty ears. Keith later informed me they molt at various times and grow the ear fur back at other times, which I neither knew nor entirely believed. I googled it later and he seems to be right. It is sort of cheating to put food out for wildlife and then photograph them, like shooting fish in a barrel. However I kind of approve of this cheating as long as it does not become the sole source of food for wildlife. Morton Lochs is getting well known for attracting jays, woodpeckers and red squirrels to the hides. They also reported having banded demoiselles although I didn't see any while there. I was dubious that they could have made their way there without being found at other spots along the way but Keith mentioned another place in Fife where they had been spotted so maybe it wasn't just someone taking a bootload of nymphs or offspring from further South and dumping them in Morton Lochs. 

I had arranged to meet Keith at the drainage ditch just North of the hides. Like the last time I had texted him while travelling on the train to say I was on my way there if he wanted to meet. The last 2 times I had said 2pm and been late on both occasions. So I suggested 3pm this time and was actually early, arriving at 2.30pm. Keith and Jackie turned up at 3pm. There wasn't much happening at the drainage ditch other than four-spotted chasers and damselflies. 

It was great to catch up with K&J and we mostly chatted about wildlife and where we had seen it. Jackie produced a tupperware box of lemon drizzle cake which was very welcome. And gave me a enough of a boost to not be daunted by the run back to Leuchars. I had enjoyed the extra time to dawdle across to Morton, stopping to take photos if I saw anything good. And didn't feel as knackered as last time I had to retrace the 12 miles back. In fact I took a short cut on that occasion - the shortest possible line back to the train. 

common blue damselfly

this 4 spotter not fully emerged


azure damselflies

large red


four-spotted chaser

Jackie's lemon drizzle cake!

red admiral on way back to car park

Jackie and Keith

Although I was not enjoying damp socks from the swamp earlier, I wasn't feeling too rough for the run back to Leuchars. There was one small issue and that was: I was running out of water. I could feel there were a couple of sips in my back pack reservoir and that was about all. It was pleasantly warm and about 4.40pm. It was a few miles back to the car park at Kinshaldy and the Salt and Pine Cafe who sold lovely cold bottles of water. Now they had to shut at some point on a Sunday but when? I didn't fancy stopping to check but wondered if it would be possible to see on the earlier photo I took of the cafe and that A frame board, to see what the opening hours were. If I jogged slowly I could do the last 8 miles without water, if I ran fast I'd sweat tons and really need a drink. What to do? I took a photo of a red admiral and then later a green tiger beetle (fantastic creatures) but still didn't take the time to check the cafe photo. My best bet was 5pm closing - any earlier I was doomed.  I climbed the stile of the iridescent beetle about 4.45 or later and really had no idea if I was 10mins from the cafe or 30. But I was quite enjoying the race and enjoyed working up a sweat. If the cafe was closed there were toilets nearby although I was pretty sure there would be notices saying DO NOT DRINK THE WATER! I continued at pace, recognising all the places I had passed earlier but not knowing how far to go.

green tiger beetle

I even took a second to take a last photo of a common blue that landed just ahead and posed for a photo. That could have cost you the difference between the cafe being closed or open I said to myself, although by now I was pretty sure there was no way I'd be getting a lovely cold water. Then all of a sudden I was round the corner and there was the car park and cafe. IT WAS OPEN! I approached the counter and the girl said they were closed for meals and only open for COLD DRINKS! Never heard such good words. It was 3 minutes to 5 and they closed at 5. I bought 3 bottles (one fizzy juice, 2 x water) and sat sweating at a picnic table. I mixed them into my backpack reservoir and drank half before I had even left the car park. Delicious! If you want to taste the best drink run 15 miles in warm weather. 

I also visited the toilets - mostly to see if there were signs saying do not drink this highly poisonous water. There weren't, although it was pretty grim and stinky. 

The camera went away and I jogged the last few miles back to the station. I had specified the train I was taking and so was keeping the time - a bit after 6 - in mind. And made sure I did not arrive late or leave myself with a dash to the line. I arrived in plenty time although I was disappointed to note the train was absolutely heaving and there wasn't room to sit any distance from other people. Like them, I didn't bother wearing a mask. Nobody coughed in my face or was sneezing or coughing but it was probably the combination of a fairly taxing weekend's activities and the amount of humanity crammed onto this train that left me testing positive for covid by the following Friday. 

Apart from that I really enjoyed the day in Tentsmuir. Brilliant place!

23+miles plus 2, to and from Waverley.