Target Species - Chequered Skipper and "Scottish' Green-veined White thomsoni with chance of 'Northern' Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary insularum.
Wednesday - 2nd June
Managed to leave Epsom a little after 3am and, apart from fog from London into the Midlands, we had a trouble-free journey. Arrived early afternoon and headed straight towards the Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve (OSRef NN121912) Along the way Sam spotted a Black-throated Diver in full breeding splendour on Loch Lochy followed by a female Goosander with 9 small ducklings on Loch Arkaig. A Common Sandpiper burst out of the trees next to our car and flew down the road scant feet from the front of the bonnet, we clocked it at 22mph!
Neither of us had been to Allt Mhuic before. According to Adrian Riley's book the trail is well-marked with leaflets available. From the carpark we immediately went through the gate, up the slope and entirely the wrong way!!! Eventually we found ourselves back at the carpark and walked another couple of hundred metres west along the road before finding the correct trail, complete with wooden marker posts, each with a butterfly outline painted on top...this looked much more promising!
The trail skirted the edge of oak/birch woods before cutting across open terrain. Halfway up is an impressive gorge with waterfall. Unfortunately for us the total cloud cover and freshening breeze hindered our chances of locating the strong population of Chequered Skippers rumoured to abound here. A couple of noisy Hooded Crows caused us to scan upwards, just in time to gawk at an immature Golden Eagle sweeping somewhat majestically overhead! Sam cursed her fortune, she'd changed back to her 18-55mm lens. I handed her my 10x bins and took a few shots of the fast disappearing eagle with entourage. A very pleasant and unexpected diversion! We clambered uphill before noticing another chap on the path far below us. We waited and eventually he caught us up, introduced himself as Roger, seemed a bit disbelieving at the news of the eagle (until we produced the pics!) and told us the skippers were back down the bottom of the slope. About turn! Halfway down Sam somehow glimpsed a Green Hairstreak hidden in the grass which pleased Roger immensely, he'd only seen his first ones ever on his birthday the previous week! More pics quickly ensued.
We criss-crossed the lower slopes, concentrating on the area between the trees and the stone walls. Masses of bluebells, tormentil and other small flowers grew amongst the new growth of bracken. Purple Moor-grass, the larval foodplant of the Chequered Skipper, dominated the lower slopes wherever they weren't already covered in bracken, bog-myrtle or heather. All we saw flying were numerous Brown Silver-lines, Common Heaths, tortrix moths, flies, bees and large craneflies. No butterflies at all. A large Drinker Moth larva and Common Frog were minor diversions.
After quite some time quartering the slopes we were beginning to feel just a tad disheartened. Suddenly Sam cried, "I've got one!!! I've got one!!!" I quickly scrambled over, hoping she was correct and keen to check. No need to panic, for there - almost at her feet - perched a roosting CHEQUERED SKIPPER, halfway up a grass stem and really rather obvious. Fantastic!!! Thanks to the cool weather we felt certain it would stay settled and not flush away across the meadow. In fact, it barely moved at all allowing us all to admire this lifer. I was quite keen to see the upperwing markings so gently huffed warm breath onto the insect. Within a minute or so it slowly spread its wings and, with much grinning, we took more pics. By this time we hadn't moved for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. The fearsome West Coast Midge had found us and had brought all of his mates too. Within moments we were engulfed by a cloud of teeny tiny biting fangs, and no amount of swatting could clear them from our arms and faces. Bloody things! In sheer itching desperation we eventually beat a hasty retreat back to the carpark where we promised to email Roger some of our pics. In return he offered us a stay in his guest house on the Black Isle and local site info for several butterfly species. Excellent! So, only one Chequered Skipper, but the weather forecast promised that tomorrow was going to be a glorious day. I felt we had unfinished business with our chequered friend.
We tried to find a cheap hotel, but everywhere was full thanks to an international outdoor biking championship event taking place this week. Eventually we found a really nice B&B called Inverour Guest House in Spean Bridge. The lady there is into wildlife and has a nature sightings report on the wall and bird feeders in the garden. Plus it's only two minutes from the famous Commando Bar inside the Spean Bridge Hotel, where we soon settled in nicely, Stella AND Guinness properly poured. Happy days. Sleep, that night, seemed to come ever so easy....zzz...zzz...
Thursday - 3rd June
We eventually finished a rather hearty breakfast and, following directions from the kindly B&B owners, headed into Killiechonate Woods in search of butterflies.
To access the site we parked in the Spean Bridge Golf Club's car park and headed uphill through the trees on the Circular Woodland Walk, pausing just long enough for Sam to take a rubbishy pic of a singing Wood Warbler, ok - a 'record shot' of a singing Wood Warbler!
Within moments two SCOTTISH GREEN-VEINED WHITES subsp thomsoni flew past us. I netted one in order to properly view the extensive dark veining. We saw many more throughout the day, most exhibiting extensive dark veining but some - presumably males - had underwing veining similar to those found in southern England. Orange-tips were commonplace flitting through the rides, whereas back in Surrey they are now quite uncommon and approaching the tail end of their flight season.
We continued up the trail until it abruptly stopped at a T-junction at its summit. A sign to the right indicated the track was a dead end. We headed right anyway for maybe half a mile noting a Peacock, several Large Red Damselflies and many Green Tiger Beetles on the track ahead of us. Scottish Green-veined Whites and Orange-tips remained numerous. The track terminated at a dark pine plantation. A heather patch had formed in a grassy clearing just downslope from us. I scanned the vegetation through binoculars and within minutes had located a Chequered Skipper sunning itself on a flowerhead. Hurray, I'm counting that one as self-found! We closed in for pics and disturbed a second skipper, more pics! A flock of Crossbills and the only Large White of the trip flew overhead as we explored the clearing more fully. No more skippers so we clambered back up to the trail, finding three Chequered Skippers chasing each other or nectaring on small blue flowers.
Backtracking past the original trail we continued onwards for another half mile or so on level ground. One small patch of gorse held three Green Hairstreaks defending their territories. We bumped into John and Sue Kemp from North Uist (now there's a place with potential for finding your own stuff!!!) who told us they'd seen a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk here yesterday. No such luck today although we found small numbers of Adela cuprella dancing over sallow bushes, a good moth record indeed.
We noted another four Chequered Skippers in the verges before continuing along the trail and entering a much more open area, the scene of much plantation removal. Water-filled ditches provided us with several Four-spotted Chasers and more Large Red Damselflies before we entered the wooded area once more. Here we stumbled across a bluebell glade in the shade beneath spreading oaks and counted fourteen Chequered Skippers in an acre of bluebells!!! Stunning. More than satisfied, we left the woods and walked along the river noting Common Sandpiper, a pair of Dippers and a few more skippers too.
Feeling a bit adventurous, we 'wild-camped' beneath the trees before setting off to The Commando Bar once more for food and beers. Tawny Owls, a Woodcock and a gazillion midges welcomed us back to the tent...
Friday - 4th June
Woke up to the sound of birdsong and the desperate need to pee! That done we broke camp and began the slow journey back south. A quick stop at Corran Ferry gave us Black Guillemot and Eider on the water and Scottish Green-veined Whites and Orange-tips over the grassy areas. These two species were noted all the way back south, through Glen Coe and right up until the approach to Glasgow. Jumping the motorway we sped southwards to the news of a Marmora's Warbler in Gwent. Heavy traffic and the need to rest conspired to keep us out of Wales. There's always another time...!
To round-up; our primary target species was the Chequered Skipper. This we found at Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve on our first day and commonly encountered in Killiechonate Woods on our second day.
Green-veined White subsp thomsoni was our second target species, we saw a good many on our second and third days including one with abberant vein markings.
Our final target species was Northern Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary subsp insularum. Due to the slow start to the season we failed to locate this insect. We hope to connect with it on our next Scottish trip which is scheduled for early/mid July.
Had we have failed to locate the Chequered Skipper on this trip we would have failed to locate all of the British butterflies this year. Phew...we live to fight another day!
This page is still under construction (photos still to be added, obviously!!)