Scotland/Cumbria trip, Day 2, 21 June 2018 - Allt Mhuic, Bridge of Grudie and Coulags

What a day of contrasting feelings this was! It began with me shitting through the eye of a needle at 4.30am but went on to yield my last needed UK dragonfly species!

Physically I struggled through the day with a bog roll forever handy but it was still a day to remember.

We began by heading SW from our digs at Fort Augustus to Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve on the north side of Loch Arkaig. En-route we scooped with some great views of a pair of Black-throated Divers at the south end of Loch Lochy plus 3 Hooded Crows, Red-breasted Mergansers and a female Goosander with chicks. Here we managed to miss Chequered Skipper that were over and Azure Hawker that we simply didn't have good enough weather for. However we did manage Common Hawker, Dark Green Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Heath, Siskins, Grey Wagtail and Lesser Redpoll. Orchids aboinded with quite a few Heath Spotted Orchids var. alba, 2 Lesser Butterfly Orchids and the usual plethora of Northern Marsh Orchids and Heath Fragrant Orchids.

Black-throated Divers

Red-breasted Merganser

Common Hawker

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

 Heath Spotted Orchid var. alba

Despite the distance involved, spurred on by another chance at Azure Hawker we headed north to Bridge of Grudie by Loch Maree. When we eventually arrived the weather still wasn't what we'd hoped for but undeterred we began serching the areas of boggy heathland around the bridge. Concentrating on a sheltered 'valley' on the north side of the road a Merlin hawked over and then suddenly Sean and I had a hawker, then 2 - Azure Hawkers! Mike quickly joined us but Chris was miles away and despite our shouting was too late arriving. One individual perched on bare mossy mounds 3 times allowing some record shots to be taken. My UK dragonfly list was complete! Luckily Chris did eventually see one after a stressful 20 minutes. Into the bargain Mike found a few Lesser Twayblades in the same clearing but photographing them with a face full of midges proved difficult. Still, it was another new orchid in the bag for me.

Azure Hawker

Lesser Twayblade

Bridge of Grudie

Our final stop of the day was a hillside with boggy seepages near the hamlet of Coulags. Here our target was 'lapponica' Pugsley's Marsh Orchid (formerly know as Lapland Marsh Orchid) of which we found several with pulchella Early Marsh Orchids also there and some lovely Greater Sundews. The day still had one more treat in store as we drove back - 2 owls flew along the road towards us in the half light and we got a brief view in the headlights. Thinking it strange we stopped only to hear young Long-eared Owls calling by the roadside where they went on to show in flight a couple of times. A very welcome yeartick indeed!

'lapponica' Pugsley's Marsh Orchids

'pulchella' Early Marsh Orchid

        Greater Sundew

Scotland/Cumbria Trip, Day 1, 20 June 2018 - Orton Pastures and roadside

The first day of our orchid extravaganza to Scotland via Cumbria.

Mike Waller, myself and Chris Hazell had met to Sean Cole's house in Kidderminster the evening before. Sean and his wife Trudie had very kindly put us up so we could make any early start the following morning. So after a quick coffee to wake us up we headed north up the M6.

There was a lot of travelling during the day to get up to our digs near Fort Augustus but we did have a date with local botanists in the Cumbrian village of Orton on the way up. Meeting them in the village a short walk later we were in the SSSI of Orton Pastures feasting our eyes upon big numbers of Northern Marsh Orchids, Heath Spotted Orchids and Heath Fragrant Orchids. We spent a good while on the site carefully examining anything looking interesting - our host Alan indicated where we should concentrate our search and we soon found several Pugsley's Marsh Orchids and a couple of Marsh Fragrant Orchids but it was the hybrids that stole the show - we identified no less than 4 hybrid combinations. The prize went to a lovely Pugsley's x Heath Fragrant with Northern Marsh x Heath Fragrant, Common Spotted x Northern Marsh and the relatively frequent Heath Spotted x Northern Marsh. Examining the Heath Spotted Orchids I was amazed to see how much they vary. All extremely eductional!
Into the bargain plenty of other plants were seen. The amazingly rare Leafless Hawkweed at it's only UK location, Hybrid Monkeyflower, numerous Birdseye Primrose, Mountain Everlasting, Bog Asphodel, Butterwort and Eyebright sp. Chimney Sweep moths were common and there were a few Common Blues about.
Moving into the area in the middle of the pasture we found incarnata and pulchella Early Marsh Orchids to add to the growing species list.

Northern Marsh Orchids

Heath Spotted Orchids

Heath Fragrant Orchids

Pugsley's Marsh Orchids

Pugsley's Marsh x Heath Fragrant hybrid

Northen Marsh x Heath Spotted hybrids

Birdseye Primrose

Eyebright sp

Hybrid Monkeyflower

Chimney Sweeper

Mountain Everlasting

Orton Pastures

Just down the road on the way out of the village we were keen to stop and look for Frog Orchids and found some really stout plants of both red and green varieties easily. There was also a good candidate for the var. longibracteatum with really long bracts. Here there were also plenty of Northern Marsh Orchids, a few Heath Fragrant Orchids and then Sean hit gold - a simply awesome Frog Orchid x Northern Marsh Orchid growing amongst it's 'parents' right on the roadside. Research has shown this to be only the 2nd English record and the first one for 64 years - just wow!
The wildflower list also continued to grow with Fox and Cubs, Melancholy Thistle and Monkshood all seen on the verges.

Frog x Northern Marsh hybrid 

Frog Orchids

Frog Orchid var. longibracteatum

Northern Marsh Orchid

 Orton roadside