Thursday, 5 July 2018

Liquid lunch

The general rule on holiday (if I may be so prescriptive as to say that there should be rules for holidays) is that one should do things differently to normal. Less humdrum, more sun fun. With our week near Cairngorm turning out to be rather hot, this was certainly true, as we moved the outdoor seating around the garden of the cottage to seek both shade and a breeze. Very different to life at home!

Each morning, we were awoken to a glorious soundscape of bird song, and I spent those waking minutes sleepily figuring out each of the performers in the avian orchestra. A Willow Warbler sang his song from a nearby copse, a Tree Pipit called from forest across the meadow, whilst Swallows, House Martins and Swifts happily twittered, burbled and screamed respectively. The occasional skirl of a Curlew reminded us of home, as did the gentle chirruping of House Sparrows from the roof. Other performers included Wren, Sedge Warbler, Yellowhammer, Blackbird and Meadow Pipit. It all felt quite symphonic. Oddly, the counterpoint to all of this aural loveliness was a Reed Bunting, who would perch on a wire fence in the field adjacent to the cottage, and give the world the benefit of his repertoire. Now, when it comes to musical bird song, it would be fair to say that the Reed Bunting quit after one half hour session of Beginner's Piano. However, he stuck to what he knew and gave it everything, so he received a 10 out of 10 for effort.


The particular morning in question, I had woken up at 05.30, so even after a leisurely breakfast routine, we were ready to leave the cottage for the day by 08.30. As our first port of call was to be a Post Office, we needed a temporary distraction until opening time. Cue a visit to the bog pools and lochan at Garten to look at some early morning odes. It was so warm that insects were very active even at this hour, but we watched some White-faced Darters perching on the wooden boardwalk and generally concerning themselves with the propagation of the species. At the lochan, we found a sunny, sheltered spot where Common Blue Damselflies were basking on the woodland floor.




Once our postal task was completed, we headed to Insh Marshes, an RSPB reserve a little further south. For us, this site is usually just a quick pitstop on the headlong dashes either north or south, so it was pleasant to be able to take our time wandering about the place. We didn't meet another soul, and happily pottered along previously unexplored paths, looking at flowers and insects. We had been struggling with the ID of a small, dark butterfly which was plentiful in the meadows and verges of the area. The previous day, we thought we'd nailed it down to a female Small Blue, though in hindsight, maybe not all of them would be female? However, at Insh Marshes, I spotted a pair of them mating, and they were both dark, whereas we would've expected the male to be blue. Now, I'm as liberal about these matters as many folk, but even I realised that this would've been strange goings on. There's nothing wrong with parthenogenesis, but I don't think this is how it operates! We now know they were not butterflies at all, but were Chimney Sweeper moths.


It was so warm that I was struggling with the heat and had to request a shorter walk, so we turned back earlier than anticipated. This route took us through a meadow with sheep in it, and not wanting to disturb them unnecessarily, we headed on a slight detour around one edge of the field. Serendipitously, this brought us alongside a previously unseen brook, gently flowing through grassland on its route to the River Spey. Here, we spotted a couple of Large Red Damselflies, and then put up a large dragonfly which promptly headed off downstream. More cautious progress brought us within camera range, leading to some stunning views of a male Golden-ringed Dragonfly. We watched him for a good long while, both as he was roosting and also patrolling his territory.


Shortly after leaving the meadow, another dragonfly landed on the wire fence beside the path. This turned out to be a female Golden-ringed, and whilst the surroundings weren't so picturesque, we were able to have prolonged views at quite close quarters of this large and spectacular insect.


At this point, we weren't to know, but the Aviemore area was building up to being the hottest place in Scotland that week. However, we now looked for somewhere cool to eat our picnic lunch and headed to the Invereshie and Inshriach nature reserve to take our chances with the midges and clegs of the birch and pine forest.


Whilst standing on a wooden bridge over a burn, Our Lass suggested that we make use of the shade cast by the structure, which is how we came to be perched on a rock watching frogs and fish in the crystal clear and cool water. On the opposite bank, at the base of a gnarledy old tree, a clump of moss looked as though it might have been a nest, perhaps of a Dipper. I remarked upon this to Our Lass, who looked up to follow the direction of my pointing finger, and promptly lost half her sandwiches to the stream. As she went to rescue a particularly fine chicken salad combo, her bag of crisps dived into the water too. Sharing the remains of our picnic, we watched various bits of salad floating off into the distance.

Back in the harsh glare of the sun, we climbed up through the forest until we had a view out over the treetops. But it was too hot for me, Mr Narrow Temperature Tolerance Window. 


As we descended back into the shade of the trees, we found this huge caterpillar, which I think is that of a Northern Eggar moth. It was over 3 inches long and hanging precariously to a fern frond. I couldn't help but think of those Looney Tunes cartoons where one of the protagonists saws off the branch they're standing on...


In the evening, back at the cottage, my eye was drawn to a small, but very geometric, triangular orange shape which could be seen on the mesh windproofing of the garden fence. This resolved itself to be, I think, a Yellow Shell moth.


And so, we ended the day as it began, listening to birdsong and the hum of an occasional foraging bee.

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