I had a two day window between work shifts in which to try for Mountain Ringlet in its short flight period. Mountain Ringlet is the last mainland species of resident butterfly that I've still to see. I've tried for it twice before, but missed both times. Would this be third time lucky? I didn't really fancy ticking this elusive beast at one of its English sites so decided to head on up into the fittingly spectacular countryside of my ancestral motherland - and that meant Ben Lawers! I was busy on the Friday morning so couldn't set off until after lunchtime. Stupidly this meant travelling north on a Friday afternoon, undoubtedly the worst time ever to undertake long motorway journeys. I sat through possibly the worst traffic I've ever encountered being held up for mile after mile after mile, finally reaching Ben Lawers at 1am!!! I set my alarm for 5am, clambered into the back of the van and instantly fell into a coma.
5am found me yawning and wondering if the Yellow Rattle I was blearily peeing over was the same as the Yellow Rattle I see in lowland England (it is, but it's a different subspecies). A quick drink and I was off up the mountain. The weather forecast had promised fine weather for the morning with Armageddon arriving from the west sometime in the early afternoon. I needed the blue skies to stay long enough to warm the air temperature to the required 15 degrees C (15 degrees C being the point at which Mountain Ringlets become airborne) and Armageddon to hold it's Four Horsemen in check until I was done. So saying, I've seen Scotch Argus (another supposed warmth-lover) bouncing across a meadow whilst my breath plumed ahead of me in the chill air - so I had high hopes for Mountain Ringlet activity even if the magical 15 wasn't quite attained.
But at 5am it was far too cool for butterfly activity, so I concentrated on the plants. My knowledge of montane plants is pretty sketchy (bit like my knowledge of non-montane plants really...) so I took my time and tried to name anything in flower. Heath Bedstraw is abundant across the lower slopes of the Edramucky Trail and it didn't take me long to notice the reddish warty galls on many of the flowerheads. I split a few galls and through a 10x handlens I saw - nothing! Hmmm. Through a 20x handlens I suddenly saw movement and there was a mite, clear as day! I later did a bit of internet searching and discovered the culprit to be Aculus anthobius, restricted to the Central/Western Highlands of Scotland, according to the NBN Gateway! Good start, bet Jonty doesn't have that one! Lemon-scented Fern was my next lifer, although I'm certain to have seen it before. Crushed fronds confirmed my ID. Sweet, been a bit of a tart's tick that one! Alpine Bistort was present in good quantity in wet flushes, my third new species and still only half a mile from the car park. Common Butterwort and Bog Asphodel were everywhere but no sign of Scottish Asphodel yet. Alpine Cinquefoil and New Zealand Willowherbs were noted before I stumbled across my next two lifers - Mountain Pansy and Roseroot, what a couple of stunners! The pansies were all of the purple flowered form apart from one yellow individual. The Roseroot concerned a single plant spotted high above a deep stream channel, it took a bit of careful clambering before I stood before it. What a great plant! It remained the only one I saw all day.
It was finally starting to warm up (unless it was all the climbing getting to me) and I noted a few flies at the Wood Cranesbill flowers. No butterflies yet though. Another new plant for me was Marsh Hawksbeard with its distinctive black glandular hairs and clasping leaves, it too attracted many small flies. Redpolls and a Ring Ouzel made themselves known and I settled down to watch one area that "felt" good. The sun continued to shine, it really was getting warmer! Suddenly a brown butterfly flitted out of long grass - it was a Ringlet. Damn.. Then a pair of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, chased by a Dark Green Fritillary! Things were looking up. More Ringlets and then a Small Heath. C'mon!!!!! A Golden-ringed Dragonfly (unusually NOT eating a wasp) flew by as more and more butterflies took to the air. Male Common Blue next, more Small Heaths....when, when???? Then the clouds came over and the rain started to fall. DAMMIT!!!!!!! Not again? *sigh*
With bowed head and a heavy heart I began the trudge back down the mountainside. One day I'll find a Mountain Ringlet. One day. I was back in Southampton by 9pm and up for work at 5am the next morning. Still - you don't try, you don't get.