Nature Notes from Skye
(and occasionally other places)
Fri 13 Aug 2004
Back in Sleat today. Visited Loch Meodal, Loch Mhic Charmhiceal, Loch Ard, Loch nan Uamh and Loch nam Breac Dubha. Incredible number of dragonflies around the loch edges, apart from Loch nan Uamh which has gravelly shores and had no dragonflies at all. Saw mating pairs of three different kinds, and got (rather poor) pictures of two of them.
The first two pictures show a pair of Emerald Damselflies. The male grasps the female's neck with his hind claspers (1st picture) and then they both curve themselves round until she can reach the male's copulatory apparatus which he keeps on his chest (2nd picture) The female here is a recently-emerged one which has not yet attained the green colouration of the mature adult. On the right are a mating pair of Black Darter dragonflies. I also saw Highland Darters mating but could not get a usable picture.
So here instead are a pair of Highland Darters individually. The male on the left and what I take to be an elderly female on the right, owing to the amount of red on what is normally an all-yellow abdomen. She is resting on a piece of discarded sheep's wool, and kept returning to this after leaving it. It seems to be a habit with dragonflies to return to the same spot after being disturbed, even when there are plenty of apparently similar places nearby.
This is a dragonfly that has just emerged from its larval skin, which can be seen above it. When ready to become an adult, the larva leaves the water and climbs up a plant stem, then its skin splits and the adult dragonfly gradually emerges, in a very soft condition, and stays there for a while to harden off. It will not attain adult colouring until some time after it has started flying, so I'm not sure what species this is, but from the body proportions and overall size I think it might be the Four-Spotted Chaser.
On the right above is a moment of triumph. For weeks I've been watching these large, black and blue dragonflies, which I now know to be Common Hawkers, skimming back and forth across the heather, and had never seen one stop to rest even for an instant. This evening I decided to spend some time sitting and waiting, in a place where there were several of them. Their movements became quite predictable, and they flitted within inches of my face on a regular basis, but even with camera at the ready it was impossible to choose the right moment to catch them in flight, as they are far faster than the shutter delay. Then at last one settled on a rowan trunk. As the picture shows, I could not get very close before it moved off again, so it looks like one of the smallest species I've photographed when it is actually the largest. Maybe one day I'll get closer.
After saying the other day that I'd only seen these Broom Moth caterpillars in the Sligachan area, I saw several today, including this one eating the flowers of Cross-leaved Heath. Another was on Purple Moor-grass. Apparently they are not too choosy about their diet. There were also several young Fox Moth caterpillars about, as shown on 1 Aug. Only saw one Red Deer all day, this solitary hind. Also saw a Field Vole which immediately went to ground under the heather. Put up pairs of Red Grouse in two different places.
The Marestail is a rare plant in Skye and rather surprising in these lochs, but having found it there in 1986 I was looking for it and pleased to see that it was flourishing. It's not listed for that square in the 1999 atlas so I'll send the record in. The flowers on the right are those of the Round-leaved Sundew, whose insect-eating leaves are more often depicted, but I show the flowers to celebrate the warm sunshine which caused them to open.
Essential Sleat - Loch Ard, looking towards the Red Hills. The dark green plant fringing the inner part of the loch is Common Club-rush (Schoenoplectus lacustris). This sort of patchwork wetland is a paradise for dragonflies.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer