Scotland, Jun 2017

In relatively recent history, we haven’t been in the UK during June. However, there was a couple of species that I was missing from my UK catalogue that really needed hunting in June and early July. These were the Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum) and Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea), both limited to Scotland in our sceptred isle. So, this year I planned to remain on home turf for June/July and take a camping trip into the highlands of Scotland seeking to plug those gaps.

I used the NBN Gateway to research locations for both species. Happily, I did so in the first quarter of the year before the NBN Gateway, which I thought to be an excellent tool, was retired in favour of a lesser tool [IMHO], the NBN Atlas. Why is it that other folks’ idea of progress so often seems like a retrograde step to me? Anyway, using the submitted records of more recent years, I picked three locations to use as bases. I planned to give myself three weeks in all, one week at each base, hoping that I would then have half a chance of getting at least some sun in Scotland.  My somewhat extended visit was due to my very limited track record vis-a-vis Scottish weather being pretty dreadful.

My bases were:

  1. Glenmore Forest, near Abernethy and Loch Garten:  target = Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum)
  2. Loch Maree: target = Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea)
  3. Cannich/Glen Affric: target = Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea),  stretch goal – possibility of a Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica)

Entirely coincidentally, a friend and fellow odo-nutter, currently the Hampshire dragonfly recorder, Paul and his partner, Sue, had also planned an overlapping trip to the Loch Maree vicinity in search of the Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea). This was good news, we could pool information and eight eyes are better than four. The more the merrier. We arranged to hook up when they arrived.

Summary.

The weather was, in a word, pitiful. My track record with Scottish weather did not change; the conditions were essentially pants for the 3-week trip. During the whole time, we had one very pleasant day and one reasonable day. Outside of this, we were “treated” to just a couple of individual 1-hour windows of brightness, always in the later afternoon, while we were out odo hunting. These two 1-hour windows proved critical. The  first was on our very first full day near Loch Garten, when we succeeded in finding the Northern Damselfly/Spearhead Bluet (Coenagrion hastulatum). The second of these windows  was almost two weeks later beside Loch Maree when we found the Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea) and this was, I’m happy to say, a particularly memorable encounter.

We never saw a hint of a Northern Emerald but I have seen them in France. I was essentially a happy camper for having found my two targets. I was even happier when I actually drove back out of Scotland and into some decent weather. I have tired of people telling me how wonderful Scotland can be “when the weather is good” since I have never experienced anything like it being good. I’m a realist and was prepared for some rain and wind. What I was not prepared for was rain and wind at a high of 13°C in the middle of summer and, I should note, in the middle of a so-called heat wave 500-miles south, at home, where temperatures were hitting 30°C. Now that is one heck of a temperature gradient. 😉

I would consider late June and early July to be the height of dragonfly season. The largest number of species we saw at a site was five and numbers of individiuals were generally low. A poor showing, I’d say.

Here’s my usual map of indexed locations worth mentioning, followed by individual details for each.

Large Boardwalk Pond, Loch Garten, 19 Jun [#1]

Our first full day in the Aviemore region staying at the Glenmore Forest campsite beside Loch Morlich. At lunchtime we were “enjoying” 12.5°C and occasional drizzle but we decided to investigate possible locations for the Northern Damselfly (Coenagrion hastulatum). A very helpful young lady at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre reception directed us to two separate dragonfly ponds. This was the first and larger of those ponds.

J17_1770 Northern Damselfly maleWe first arrived mid-afternoon and found two other locals on the boardwalk. It was still cool and overcast but they’d seen some damselflies hunkered down in the horsetails, quite distant. Nonetheless, I grabbed a couple of shots. We took a tea break, whereupon conditions brightened a little. We returned between 16:00 and 17:00 to enjoy spells of sunshine and warmer conditions (16-17°C). Now there was more activity, including in cop pairs, and I found a spot where I could get closer for some decent shots. Day #1, target #1 achieved.

There were a coupe of other odos here to entertain us, as well, but I was very focused.

  • Ischnura elegans (Blue-tailed Damselfly/Common Bluetail)
  • Coenagrion hastulatum (Northern Damselfly/Spearhead Bluet)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Larger Red Damsel)
  • Libellula quadrimaculata (Four-spotted Chaser)

Uath Lochans, 20 Jun [#2]

This was our good day in Scotland, weather-wise. It having brightened briefly the evening before at Loch Garten, I might have begun to think that my Scottish weather demons had left me. [I would have been very wrong.] A contact had mentioned Uath Lochans as looking “interesting” so we went to investigate.

J17_1851 Common Blue maleWe discovered a small roadside pool with two species, both included in the list below, before taking the correct turning to the car park. On finally  arriving, another visitor asked if we were looking for the Northern Damselfly. “Yes”, I replied, always prepared to see more even though we’d found it yesterday. Thus primed, I was a little taken aback staring through the lens at my first Bluet thinking, “that’s surely a Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum)”. And so it was, though it did look somehow different – darker.  There does seem to be more black on these northern Common Blue Damselflies. This was the only species of Bluet we saw here.

Uath Lochans was a pleasant enough environment with odo-hunters being helped by Wellington boots to cope with the marshy ground at loch-side – you need to get off the main paths, which are substantial, to get close enough to the odo habitat. We wandered a decent distance but saw no more than the following, all three of which we’d seen closer to the car park.

  • Enallagma cyathigerum (Common Blue Damselfly/Common Bluet)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Larger Red Damsel)
  • Libellula quadrimaculata (Four-spotted Chaser)

Small Boardwalk Pond, Loch Garten, 21 Jun [#3]

The forecast was dreadful but rain held off and a possibility of brightening appeared. We went to check out the second and smaller of the two ponds indicated to us by the young RSPB lady. This pond proved tricky to find, even when you know it’s there, especially when directed to the wrong side of the road. 😀

J17_1867 White-faced DarterFind it we did, though. It’s actually two very small ponds separated by a very short boardwalk – more of a platform – of about 5m. As we approached, there was a little brightness. A White-faced Darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) zoomed off, as did the brightness shortly thereafter. We waited and another bright spell brought the White-faced Darters back again. That spell of brightness lasted only about 10 minutes and that was the end of the odo-hunting weather for the day.

  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
  • Libellula quadrimaculata (Four-spotted Chaser)
  • Leucorrhinia dubia (White-faced Darter/Small Whiteface)

Laide Wood, 27 Jun [#4]

Now staying at the Inverewe Gardens campsite in Poolewe, we used an indifferent morning to wander around Inverewe Gardens itself, offering ourselves as a mobile snack to some of the the west coast midges. I found it a bit like the weather, dull.

Our day brightened when Paul and Sue found us and we shared coffee and lunch. Paul and Sue had been directed by the local tourist information office to Laide Wood as being a likely odonata hunting ground. I was impressed that the tourist information included this speciality wildlife knowledge. Laide Wood is where we spent the latter half of the afternoon. It even has a car park and an information board/map. Sure enough, two ponds were shown. We took a stroll.

Before hitting either of the ponds we’d spotted a couple of damselflies. These included the ubiquitous-in-Scotland Large Red Damsel (Pyrrhosoma nymphula). Life got more interesting, especially for Paul for whom it was new, when we stumbled across a “Highland” Darter female. These may have been shown by DNA to be a dark form Common Darter but they do look considerably different. Paul immediately noticed the lack of light stripe on the femurs.

_17C5229 Common Hawker maleWe drew a blank at the first pond but the second was more productive. Keeping us amused in the dull conditions was a hung-up Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii). The sun was beginning to put in a few appearances before dipping back behind clouds. During one such appearance, a Hawker appeared and hawked along a tree line before disappearing along with the sun. Excitement soared – it had a blue appearance. The sun returned and we saw a Hawker again. This time it settled just long enough for Carol, in pole position, to grab a shot. We assumed we’d got our first Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea). WRONG! What we’d got was a Common Hawker/Moorland Hawker (Aeshna juncea). [Admission time: I didn’t actually notice my mistake until much later, studying the pictures more closely.]

Laide Wood enjoyable habitat with good access and five species, the highest count we achieved in Scotland.

Here’s the correct list. 🙂

  • Ischnura elegans (Blue-tailed Damselfly)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Larger Red Damsel)
  • Aeshna juncea (Common Hawker/Moorland Hawker)
  • Cordulegaster boltonii (Golden-ringed Dragonfly/Common Goldenring)
  • Sympetrum striolatum nigrescens (Highland/Common Darter)

Beinn Eighe, Loch Maree, 28 Jun [#5]

[Hardly worth mentioning; I debated leaving this out but relented.]

J17_1989 Common Goldenring maleNow staying at the Caravan Club’s site in Kinlochewe, we spent another half-day with Paul and Sue, who checked out a couple of sites before meeting us but drew blanks. We met them at the Beinn Eighe visitor centre, a subdued weather stroll and slight climb from which revealed a couple of subdued Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) at a modest pond and a subdued Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) sheltering from the very stiff breeze part way up the mountain.

We did try another area of Beinn Eighe, the so-called woodland walk, which had suitable habitat but unsuitable weather, and that drew a total blank.

  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
  • Cordulegaster boltonii (Golden-ringed Dragonfly/Common Goldenring)

Slattadale, Loch Maree, 28 Jun [#6]

Continuing from Beinn Eighe with Paul and Sue, the more western end of Loch Maree looked brighter so we headed in that direction. We called in to Slattadale, supposedly good for Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea) to see what we could find, if anything.

J17_1993 Azure Hawker maleDull at first, between 16:30 and 17:30, this became the second of our 1-hour bright windows that I mentioned in the introduction. We began by disturbing a couple more Golden-ringed Dragonflies (Cordulegaster boltonii) beside the small stream. Paul had been told to look for a small glade with logs. Eventually we found something that might have fitted the bill.  I was looking at a it when a Hawker appeared and landed on the end of one log. This was undoubtedly a fine male Azure Hawker (Aeshna caerulea). Bearing in mind that, at this point, I thought Carol had snagged one, I was still thrilled because now I had. This fellow was a showman and delighted us all for almost an hour, even landing on each one of us in turn. We were ecstatic. (There was a second individual about but with a slightly distorted abdomen – a slight curve to the left.)

We were also very lucky ‘cos this turned out to be our only encounter with target #2.

Goal achieved despite the blasted weather.

  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula (Large Red Damsel)
  • Aeshna caerulea (Azure Hawker)
  • Cordulegaster boltonii (Golden-ringed Dragonfly/Common Goldenring)

Coire Loch, Glen Affric, 5 Jul [#7]

Our final move was crossing from the west coast of Scotland into the central highlands at Cannich to investigate Glen Affric, where we stayed at Cannich Woodland Camping. The helpful campsite owner directed us to Coire Loch on a walk from Dog Falls. Then I realized that Coire Loch was mentioned in the Smallshire/Swash field guide as a haunt of the Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora arctica). It hadn’t been one of my considered targets but it would’ve been a great addition since I am yet to snag one, though I have glimpsed one very briefly at Thursley Common.

_17C5580 Downy EmeraldIt is a delightful spot and wonderful looking habitat. Here, Carol and I spent a reasonably sunny 90-minutes standing in Wellington boots beside the mossy waters edge trying to snag flying Emeralds. Eventually Carol managed a flight shot and one did settle in the heather behind her, face on but a little obscured. It was a Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea). Just a little gutted since we were 500 miles from home but have a colony of Downies just 2 miles from home. No matter, it was entertaining.

  • Enallagma cyathigerum (Common Blue Damselfly)
  • Pyrrhosoma nymphula  (Large Red Damselfly)
  • Cordulegaster boltonii (Golden-ringed Dragonfly/Common Goldenring)
  • Libellula quadrimaculata (Four-spotted Chaser)
  • Cordulia aenea (Downy Emerald)
Posted in 2017, Scotland, Trip reports

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