Saturday 1 July 2017

Lochan Lodge (IV)

My 500th blog of all time - nearly six years of running around with a camera. I have no idea of how many miles travelled or how many photographs taken but I can say that it has been a whole heap of fun. Special thanks to my wife Liz who supports my ventures and to my birding buddy Martin, who has put up with me for most of this time. My best picture? - The one I am going to take tomorrow.

This year we spent two weeks at Lochan Lodge, each year we get progressively later in the season as I target different species to be seen and recorded, This year the emphasis was to be on Dragonflies, with three new species to be found and two species where I had  previously failed to record them on camera. Alas the weather was poor for dragonflying, grey clag, low temperatures and lack of sunshine conspired against us. Did we give up?  No - we turned our attention to other species


Our first visitors were a pair of Barnacle Geese, very late for migration but they were carrying blue Darvic rings, 7I and 7n, so I wondered if they could be genuine. Not a bit of it, ringed to prove a link between the feral populations in Wales and the Lake District. Well I can report that after a wash and brush up and quick snack they got down to doing what all ducks and geese do at this time of year. It looks as though there will be a Spey Valley flock in the not too distant future.

Of course the Ospreys take centre stage, this year they were not so obliging, we had several visits from "EJ", the resident bird at Loch Garten. A twenty year old bird and she didn't take kindly to being interrupted by a photographer. Previous birds here, such as "Osvaldo" totally ignored you and just got on with the job of capturing a tasty trout. When I stuck the lens up at "EJ" she just flew straight at me and gave the most piercing glare I have seen. As always, difficult to capture when the bird remains up sun of the camera.

Blue FL1 was a different kettle of fish, coming in the early morning whilst we were still in bed. I had counted the Oystercatcher roost that night as 92 birds, normally if an Osprey approaches they take to the air in alarm and you get plenty of time to prepare. Well, I awoke the next day at 0555, it was ominously quiet and the sun was up but I had the feeling something was going on. Osprey!! I leapt out of bed, forgot my glasses, grabbed my camera, put shoes on the wrong feet and managed to capture this - my only half decent Osprey record of the holiday.

The feeders were well attended, Siskins in the majority with Goldfinches and Chaffinches with young broods being fed with peanuts and other goodies. This year, for the first time, we recorded Lesser Redpoll visiting, normally we have seen them only in the pines.

Reed Bunting (f) made a change

In the second week two Great Spotted Woodpeckers turned up, adult and juvenile and from then on dominated, most small birds being intimidated by their aggressive behaviour.



Another oddity was regular visits by a Red-legged Partridge, a somewhat shy bird that would scuttle away when disturbed but would immediately turn round and creep back again.


Steph has done a great job of feeding the Red Squirrels, we counted a maximum of three on the feeders at once, though most of the time they just argued amongst themselves.


Pine Marten

From when we arrived I had been strategically placing peanuts in some old rotten logs beneath the squirrel feeders in the hope that we might attract a Pine Marten. I have to say that each day I inspected the site and found no sign. Then one morning I noticed that the logs had been ripped to pieces, either the squirrels were on steroids or we had something a little stronger. Then on the morning of our 2nd Monday, just as we had packed all the camera gear in the car for a trip west, I spotted a dark brown object bounding through the long grass, it paused, it stuck up its head and I was being eyeballed by a drop dead gorgeous Pine Marten. That night I set the trail cam and returned a failure, the next night success, just two clips but none subsequently.



There is no doubt for me which plant dominates at Lochan Lodge, Heath Spotted Orchids, Dactylorhiza maculata grow in huge quantities. Now I am no botanist and I struggle a bit with orchids, especially as this particular species comes in many hues and of course hybridises at the drop of a hat. This is what I have recorded - if there are any errors I would love to have them corrected.


A Northern Marsh Orchid, Dactylorhiza purpurella

Nice to find Marsh Cinquefoil.

Butterwort, difficult to capture as a whole plant, so like everyone else I captured the flower head separately. This plant is an insect eater, capturing hapless flies on the leaves rather than in the flower.

Chickweed Wintergreen - a very delicate plant.

Marsh Thistle - an important food source.


On our first day we discovered that there was a colony of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries just 100 metres from the door. As long as the sun shone they were active, any amount of cloud then they closed their wings and dozed off, normally on the top of a thistle or other tall plant.


Female upper, male lower.

We also recorded Green-veined Whites but only one Common Blue




One afternoon we were sitting looking out of the window, the skies were leaden and a low wet clinging mist hung over everything, nothing worth photographing then. Suddenly Liz shouts "Stoat!" Sure enough a Sid, as my anthropomorphic side has decided that all stoats are called Sid, was stalking young rabbits on the lawn. A short time after disappearing into some cover at the base of a pine tree, a rabbit bolted with Sid in hot pursuit, just ten feet behind. After a couple of gyrations round the lawn Sid was closing and it looked like curtains for the bunny. I knew that Liz was rooting for the rabbit but inside I was thinking "If he catches it and eats it on the lawn I could get some really good shots", such is the thinking of people whose hobby is nature photography. Anyway I am happy to report that, amazingly, the rabbit escaped, as Sid turned up a couple of minutes later looking completely cream-crackered.

The distance from the knot to the white spot under the tail is just 11"

Never mind just two days later I snapped him leaving Steph's veg patch with a large Field Vole, more of a snack than a meal I guess.


Up and Down

To break the journey North and South we usually stop near Trinafour, just off the A9 above Blair Athol. Parking up just off the Old Military Road for lunch and a brew and to photograph some of the wildlife.

This time on the way up I managed to record Golden-ringed Dragonfly and Water Avens, a new plant for me. Several Whinchats were on their territories but as we were shrouded in a light mist I tucked away a reminder to capture them on the way down. Huge day-flying Lappet Moths were thundering round but none stopped for a snap. 


On the triangle at the junction just before the A9 a great stand of Northern Marsh Orchids, seems a good year everywhere for Marsh Orchids

On the way down I was delighted to catch up with the Whinchats and to capture a nice looking Pearl-bordered Fritillary nectaring on wild Thyme. Whilst I was scouring the stream valley Liz saw at least fifty Red Deer running over the hills in front of her.


Then sadly it was all over and we had to head off south for our overnight stop just outside Carlisle.

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