Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dragon hunting, Part 1

You may recall, dear reader, that Our Lass spent a pleasant week in Orkney at the beginning of May. This was a work placement, but she did have the opportunity to fit in a little sight-seeing and wildlife watching, so was able to regale us all with tales of her adventures upon her return.

The upshot of this was that whilst I was free for our annual late Spring holiday, Our Lass wasn't. This opened up the possibility of a pilgrimage to the north west of Scotland in the attempt to see a few of the rarer dragonflies of these isles.

Having booked a cottage on the shore of Gairloch Bay that slept four, it seemed rude not to share the opportunity, so I was accompanied in my sojourn by the Admiral, Second Born and Her Lad.

The trip began on a Friday evening, when we journeyed north as far as Lancaster, stopping briefly to drop off Our Lass for a girlie weekend with First Born in Littleborough. On leaving the hotel at 7am the next morning, the first sound we heard was the piping of Oystercatchers, a constant theme in countless late Spring holidays over the years! Following a long day on the road, we finally made it to Gairloch in Wester Ross at 6pm, and unloaded the cars in the rain.

Travelling west from Inverness, here's the view towards Loch Maree
Sunday morning dawned damp and drizzly. The Admiral and I donned waterproofs and walked around the bay to Gairloch harbour. When we returned to the cottage three hours later, we were somewhat damp around the edges. However, the sun decided to put in an appearance and we decamped to a restaurant for lunch, in the hotel located over the road from our lodgings.

The bay was now a-buzz with life...

Red-breasted Mergansers, Mergus serrator
Black-throated Divers, Gavia arctica
In the afternoon, we drove to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve to begin the quest to see a few dragons, but at this point the sun went AWOL again. After wandering along several paths, all we had to show for our endeavours was a solitary Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

There was plenty else to see, amongst the wet flushes and bog pools...

Slender St. Johns Wort, Hypericum pulchrum
But what this trip needed was the eponymous emblem of I&T, an Azure Hawker, Aeshna caerulea. I had convinced myself that it wasn't so important to see this talismanic species, but in a flurry of activity brought on by several minutes of warm sunshine, we recorded 3 more Golden Rings and an oh-so-brief sighting of a female Azure Hawker.

Azure Hawker, Aeshna caerulea
I had to admit, the relief and emotion at the sighting of this dragonfly took me by surprise. This wasn't just a life tick, this validated my email and blog addresses. Cue hugs and handshakes!

Buoyed up by this success, we stopped off at another possible dragon site, the Bridge of Grudie. Here, we were only to see a singleton Four-spotted Chaser, two Large Red Damselflies and one Common Blue Damselfly. However, the scenery more than made up for the lack of odes.

Bleached branch on shore of Loch Maree with Slioch in the background
Spot the Common Sandpiper, Actitis hypoleucos
We returned to the cottage and ate our evening meal on the shore, watching waders and generally appreciating the space and fresh air.

View across the bay - sunny!
The small garden of the cottage was right on the shore
As there was still plenty of daylight and fine weather, the Admiral and I wandered along the bay, taking in the sights until driven back indoors by the infamous Scottish midges.

Grr! Wrong lens! Merg with approximately 17 chicks
Local radio doesn't come much more local - 200 yards from our cottage
The other discovery of the day, after the Azure, was An Teallach ale, a pleasingly dark brew. Cheers!

6 comments:

holdingmoments said...

Congratulations on the life tick. Must have been a magical moment.
That looks a stunning place to stay Graeme.

Imperfect and tense said...

Thanks, Keith. Yeah, it's a nice area and we were fortunate to find accommodation right on the shore. Could've sat there for hours (some of us did).

Janells said...

Hello Graham - your Wappenham friend here. Sounds like a fantastic place. Great photo of a red deer too!

Jane

NB There's a recent article in the Saturday Independent travel about Torridon area and seafood...

Katie (Nature ID) said...

I've been enjoying catching up with your (and your friend JD's) travel exploits. So, how is it that you originally named your blog after a dragon you just now have seen? Congrats, btw!

Imperfect and tense said...

LOL! Daft, isn't it? Perhaps it was an aspirational thing. The mission is still active, I would really like to photograph Mr Azure, so a return to the north west is not out of the question.

Imperfect and tense said...

Jane, Many thanks for the tip about the article, which I presume is...

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/scotland-forage-and-feast-in-wester-ross-7873681.html

An interesting read.