Friday, 8 July 2011

Speyside - dragon day trips

We had two long dragon-seeking trips to make, one to Glen Affric and the other to Bridge of Grudie by Loch Maree. Between them these two sites apparently represent the cream of Highland dragonfly-watching. We began with a visit to Glen Affric on the Tuesday.

We drove to Inverness, out again, alongside Loch Ness for miles, out west into the hills and finally a long, steep drive up a windy single-track road ended in a car park. The moment I opened the car door, a Chaffinch flew down and landed on the door frame, where it sat eyeing me expectantly. I crumbled a bit of cereal bar into my hand and offered it to the bird, which immediately came down and began to munch the crumbs.

Chaffinch fed, we set off along the 'yellow trail' towards Coire Loch, at first following a lively, rocky river, and then hiking up and away from the river into the glen.

Finally, at the summit of a bracken-cloaked hill, we got our first look at the loch. Perfectly round, it gleamed beguilingly far below us, and we stumbled down to its shore. There stood a lone wildlife-person, with big-lensed Canon around his shoulders. We joined him out at the loch shore, treading carefully on the soggy sphagnum. Numerous emerald dragonflies were doing their thing around the margins of the water. All three emeralds occur here, apparently, but all the ones I got a good look at seemed to be Downies.

Still, they seemed a little easier to photograph than the ones back home. Here is a female, identified by her less waisted abdomen, and the fact that her rear end is wet from recent ovipositing in the water.

These two, though, I think are Northern Emeralds. One of the two key ID features - the shape of the male's anal appendages - is not visible as said appendages are in use. But the book tells me that the yellow spots on the frons are equally diagnostic.

Besides the emeralds, the loch also held Four-spotted Chasers, Large Red Damselflies and Common Blue Damselflies. I found it particularly mind-boggling that the damsels were here, with so much hilly and dry terrain between this and other suitable sites.

Another intriguing sight was this congregation of tadpoles (or are they toadpoles?) in this submerged water lily. The loch was also home to a noisy family of Little Grebes.

 The sunny intervals were becoming fewer and further between, so we continued the walk, seeing not very much on the way apart from this sleepy Common Blue butterfly.

We visited Bridge of Grudie on our last day in Scotland. This was the longest drive of all, almost all the way across the highlands to Loch Maree. With some difficulty we parked in a tiny space next to the bridge and headed off down a sandy track which traversed a huge tract of heathy bogland, punctuated with lots of peaty little pools.

Clouds were rolling overhead, providing intermittent spells of surprisingly hot sunshine. In the first of these, a hawker dragonfly belted past us. I didn't get a great view of it but from Rob's description - 'it was made of blue' - I knew it was our target species, Azure Hawker. Unfortunately it didn't hang around.

I staked out a pool and waited for more dragon action. In the pool was a newt - a Palmate, the default newt species this far north. The sunshine brought Large Red Damselflies out of cover, and then a big dragon appeared and dipped its behind in the water a couple of times, before streaking away and settling close to where Rob was standing.

I yelled to Rob to photograph the dragon and he did so, eventually scaring it away though when he poked his lens too close to it. Looking at his pics, I was delighted to see that it was one of my most coveted species - Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

 We saw another Golden-ringed and a Common Hawker, but no more dragons. Rob wandered off and took this rather lovely scenic, unfortunately falling in the bog up to his thighs on the way to his chosen viewpoint.

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