22nd July 2014 - Scotland for Mountain Ringlet...again!

Another two day window of opportunity between work shifts and, unlike the previous attempt, the weather was forecast to be utterly beautiful over Ben Lawers on both days. I couldn't afford to ignore another attempt for Mountain Ringlet. This had to be the time I skore, I mean it simply had to be - didn't it? Read on.....just read on.....

This time I did things sensibly. I finished work and hit the motorways after rush hour was done and dusted. I made it into Lancashire before finding a quiet spot and kipping in the back of the van once more. The back of that van feels like a proper home from home now! I woke fresh at 5am and headed into Scotland. First stop was the southern shores of Loch Lomond. John Martin had tipped me off that Scottish Dock grows around Balmaha boat yard. I've wanted to see it ever since realising I'd pretty much ambled right past it whilst walking Land's End to John O' Groats a couple of years earlier. That sucked, now I was back for the kill.

I parked up in Balmaha and realised that I could catch a boat across to one of the islands in Loch Lomond and have a go for the Red-necked Wallabies that have been there for some decades now. Sod's Law the islander boats weren't running that day. Grrrrrr...your time draws ever closer, wallabies. I shall have you yet! So I trundled around the general boatyard area, much to the annoyance of a particularly noisy hound, but couldn't see anything resembling Scottish Dock. Hmmm. I did find a Common Figwort absolutely smothered in Grypocoris stysi and Cionus cocoons (no adults though). Then I found an obvious garden escapee shrub with big blousy pink blooms. No idea, I took various pics of any part I felt could be useful in IDing it via internet searches before moving on. (Turned out to be Spiraea salicifolia aka Bridewort - I'd never even heard of it before, but it was new for me).

I followed the shore of the loch for quite a way seeing lots of Yellow Loosestrife but not much else. Back at the boatyard area I decided I wasn't leaving any patch unchecked and soon found a lone Scottish Dock hidden between trees and the water's edge. Hurrah! I took lots of pics of the leaves, seeds, head, whole plant etc and have hopefully ruled out a hybrid plant. At about 6ft tall it was by far the largest Rumex I saw at Balmaha. Creeping Yellow-cress along a pathway was also new for me.

Right, back to that mountain again! The dashboard thermometer was reading 17 degrees already. I contemplated the Edramucky Trail but decided against it due to the masses of walkers that were bound to be all over it. This would be a moment to savour, just me and the butterflies. Or so I hoped. I parked up by the reservoir dam and clambered up the mountainside to await sunshine. The cloud cover was only 3/8ths but annoyingly those 3/8ths were positioned over the sun and were in no hurry to move off. I was in the right habbo, the temperature was about right too. I just needed that sunshine to burst forth and fill the air with little brown wings. Meanwhile I figured a low-lying flush looked particularly promising for more montane plants. My two big targets were Scottish Asphodel and Pale Butterwort. But the first to give itself up was Alpine Meadow-rue. Can't argue with that, smart little plant and a lifer too so that was a good start. I found good numbers of sundews amongst the masses of Common Butterworts. Pale Butterwort never did show for me but amongst the ranks of Bog Asphodel I noticed a miniature splay of iris-like leaves. Scottish Asphodel? I struggled to convince myself that one half of the blade was toothed. Hmmm...then I found some in flower - yay! Scottish Asphodels all over the place!!!!! I was a very happy bunny, I've been after this ever since I learnt of its existence. One very nice wee plant indeed. Then the sun peeked out and I raced to the top of a nearby vantage point and started scanning for butterflies. The sun disappeared again. Humph...

After an hour of watching a far slope bathed in sunshine whilst I sat in the shade I decided to shift. Some considerable time later I was sweating my tits off when I walked into glorious sunshine and saw a small, dark butterfly skimming the mountainside above me. I ran. Like, I mean I really ran. It disappeared. My lungs actually burst through my ribcage and slapped me around the face. I was sweating like a beast! Several hours passed before I could stand again. I saw another small, very dark butterfly way way above me. No.... then another one quite close and on a level with me...hell yes!!! I bounded and skipped gazelle-like across the fragile habitat until I saw the butterfly again. It didn't stop - and neither did I. This Will o' the Wisp led me halfway across Perthshire and yet I didn't take my eyes off it for a second (apart from once when I plunged into a wet hole, but I was straight back to the chase). Then it simply disappeared WHAAAAAAAAAT!?!?!? The realisation that I'd need my net to ever 100% secure an ID hit me hard. It was in the van. Far, far below me. I didn't cry, but I may have made a strange whimpering noise in the back of my throat. I started my descent.

Many (many...) upward strides later and I was back in The Zone. I had my trusty net, I was ready for action. And a cold shower. And a tonne of deodorant. And maybe a beer...no, the butterflies were still to be formally identified! I already knew they were Mountain Ringlets but had to see one properly to prove it. Much darker than a Ringlet and about half the flippin' size too, one was briefly chased by a Small Heath and I'm certain the Small Heath was the larger of the two! How didn't I know they were this small??? Anyway, with net in hand (and no-one to see) I set off stalking my quarry. Five minutes later and Bingo! Butterfly in the net whoop whoop! I held the net up to the light - nothing. I stuck my head inside the net - nothing. I held the net open - and a butterfly sped off out of the mouth and across the mountainside! I had to laugh. Second swipe was just as confusing - it had fallen into the grasses to hide as my net dropped on top of it. I managed a glimpse of orange spots  on a chocolate background and it was gone, but the ID had been confirmed - MOUNTAIN RINGLET IS ON MY LIST AND I'M A VERY HAPPY CHAPPY!!!!!! 

After that I saw several more but no longer felt the need to net them. I now know that Mountain Ringlets will fly FOREVER without stoppping even though they tease you by loitering near a Tormentil or Heath Bedstraw flowerhead and pretend they're about to stop. I also know that I'm capable of remarkable bouts of athleticism if mahoosively enthused and that I sweat like an absolute beast when doing so. As an aside, there's a beautiful grass-veneer up there called Catoptria margaritella which is well worth seeing. I saw loads. The dashboard thermometer read 23 degrees C at ground level. It was easily 40 degrees up that mountain though. I drove back to Southampton in a good mood. Life feels just a little better again.