Sunday 15 July 2012

Dragon hunting, Part 2

Monday proved to be a warm, sunny day, so the Admiral and I set off early to visit Slattadale on the southern shore of Loch Maree. Even at this latitude, there were dragons on the wing at 09.30, Common Hawker and Golden-ringed Dragonfly mainly.

There were a few sightings of possible Azure Hawker, but nothing at rest and nothing confirmed. Our disappointment was short-lived, however, as there were a few other creatures to be seen that are not resident back home...

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene
Northern Emerald, Somatochlora arctica
We then drove around to the Torridon region, arriving in time for an early lunch at the shop/cafe in the village of Torridon. The proprietress recognised the Admiral from his visit 2 years ago, "The dragonfly man!" Following our tasty soup and toasties, we headed further west, as the single track road wound steadily upwards into ever more spectacular terrain.

We parked at a viewpoint to admire the geography and I was pleasantly surprised to find a 3D interpretation board of the surroundings.

Touchy-feely scenery!
Can you feel the fresh air?
We continued along the track to its end at Diabaig Bay, a sheltered harbour with a few cottages at the bottom of a steep and winding hill. All was peaceful, save for the gentle lapping of the waves on the rocky shore and joyous bird song from a nearby wood. Somewhat incongruously, a burnt out trawler was beached on the shore, but this too was a wildlife haven. Swallows swooped in and out of the wheelhouse and a Twite perched on the remains of the bow. The Admiral even managed to spot a Golden-ringed Dragonfly hawking for insects in the lee of the vessel.

At the fringes of the woodland, there were several clumps of umbellifer-looking flowers. I am not 100% sure of the ID, but my best guess is Hemp Agrimony.

Hemp Agrimony, Eupatorium cannabinum?
As we returned over the hill to Torridon, a strident call brought us to a halt, next to a small roadside pool. The piercing, high-pitched notes echoed around the valley, making it difficult to focus upon their source. Eventually, the Admiral came up trumps and pointed out a Greenshank perched on a rock. It was probably protecting a nest site or chicks, so after a few photographs we resumed our journey.

Greenshank, Tringa nebularia
Predictably, we ended up at the cafe again and I can heartily recommend the carrot cake, not just because it was absolutely delicious, but also as I wrote in the Visitors' Book that the food would figure highly in the essay of "What I did on my holidays."

Walking along the shore at the head of the loch, we encountered plenty of wildlife. Common Sandpiper, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Ringed Plover and a family of Shelduck. The path meandered alongside meadows and verges full of Bog Asphodel, Milkwort, and even a few late Bluebells.

Shelducklings, Tadorna tadorna
We happened upon a sign to a wildlife hide and as we didn't have much of a plan, we followed the arrow along a path between tall hedges. A sudden sound of movement to our right gave us a start, but by quietly accompanying the unseen rustlings as they continued through the vegetation, we were eventually rewarded with views of a Red Deer. Presumably not truly wild, but having a rare old time of it within the lush surroundings of a nature reserve.

Red Deer, Cervus elaphus
Once ensconced in the hide, a fairly new construction with lots of glass giving it an airy, open feel, we watched the various comings and goings of waders on the shore and smaller passerines in the hedges and scrub. In fact, I had my best ever view of a Redpoll, a male in full breeding plumage, the bright red on his breast indicating that he was probably a visiting bird from Scandinavia rather than the drabber UK-based version. I was so startled by the vividness of his plumage that by the time I thought to take a photo it was too late. Gah!

Here's a photo I did manage to take, one of several Meadow Pipits that were perched on fence posts and machinery beside the path.

Meadow Pipit, Anthus pratensis
The return trip to Gairloch was only memorable for the erratic driving of a car we followed from Kinlochewe. I was reluctant to overtake it, as it randomly veered over the white line, but in hindsight maybe I should've taken the opportunity sooner. On the approach to a cattle grid, it suddenly veered the other way, churning up a section of verge before narrowly missing the post on the nearside of the grid. This led to much debris being thrown up into the air, including a sizeable stone that scored a direct hit at the top of my windscreen. For the remainder of the holiday, we watched in fascination as the resultant crack grew steadily longer and longer.

That evening, we walked up the hill to the east of the village, where a trail had been laid out showing the footprint of various circular structures, thought to be round houses from the Pictish period or earlier.

All in all, a cracking day.

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