Bob’s Butterfly and Bird Blog: Chequered Skippers from Scotland.

Bob’s Butterfly and Bird Blog: Chequered Skippers from Scotland.

 Lisa and I have just returned from a great trip to the Isle of Mull. As our timing was spot on for some of the northern butterflies, that Lisa had never seen, and I have only seen most of them once before, we decided to add a few days at both ends of the trip, to give us the chance of seeing and photographing them.

The first 4 days we were based in Fort William, the mecca area for Chequered Skippers. This species became extinct in England many years ago, although it has recently been re-introduced from continental stock. However, to see the genuine British butterflies in their home is for me, and Lisa, much more appealing. We decided on allowing 4 days just in case the weather was not looking good, and it is just as well that we did, as the forecast for all 4 days was for heavy cloud and rain, with just the odd sunnier intervals. At least it wasn’t windy though.

We arrived in Fort William late afternoon in cloudy conditions, but with the odd sunnier bit, I suggested we should get over to Glen Loy, the most local site straight away, as it could possibly be the best weather of the 4 days. Already it was a bit late in the day for butterflies to fly, as it had got a bit chilly in the dull conditions. As we started to walk along the riverbank we did see plenty of insects, but they were all midges!!

After about 15 minutes of searching, I spotted our target, roosting on a reed. What a moment it was, seeing a Chequered Skipper just sitting there asleep. Lisa was thrilled as this was the first of a possible 4 new species for her.

Sleeping Chequered Skipper.

We really enjoyed the moments photographing this beautiful Skipper.

Lisa, being Lisa, really wanted to find her own butterfly. Fortunately, the sun actually made a short appearance, which woke the original butterfly up. She flew a bit before opening her wings briefly, before the sun quickly went behind more clouds. However, in that short window, Lisa did spot another Chequered Skipper that took to the wing. This one too was a very fresh female.

Female Chequered Skipper.

Lisa also found a very nice Green-veined White at roost. The Scottish Green-veined Whites are much stronger marked than the English butterflies. This showed up very well when I was able to photograph it with the sun shining through the wings, in a short window of brighter conditions.

Green-veined White.

We shortly departed back to our superb pod, that we were staying in, so pleased with what we had achieved so early in the trip. Lisa though, had so many bites on her forehead from the midges. She almost looked like she was suffering from chickenpox!!

The 2 Skippers we had found were asleep again when we left them that evening. The following day, the weather was actually a little better than forecast, so we decided to go back to Glen Loy to see if we could find any more Skippers and to see if the females from the evening before were still there.

One of the females from the previous evening was still in the same position, so we left her in peace, hoping that when the sun came out, she would open her wings wide for us. Meanwhile we set about hunting for more along the river. 

Eventually, we started to find some males. These were much more worn than the females we had found. In fact, during the whole 4 days we didn’t see any fresh males, whereas every female we found was in fantastic condition. Most of the males were roosting very near to the water, and generally they were sleeping on Bluebells.

When, at last the brightness turned up, we were ready near the female from the evening before. First with some under-wing shots, and then as she gradually opened her wings to gain some heat we managed some nice open wing shots.

Female Chequered Skipper.

We also had our first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries of the trip, and Lisa had one of the best finds of the whole holiday, with an emerging Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, but more of both of those in later posts!!

Just after photographing the butterfly in brighter conditions, the heavens opened and we took shelter for some time in the car. Lunch was had further along the valley where we had been told a Whinchat was showing well. There was no chance of seeing that as we couldn’t even see out of the window in the torrential rain. Eventually the rain did stop, and a bit of exploring in the new area gave us another Chequered Skipper.

The following day, we woke up again to poor weather, well, poor if you want to go looking at butterflies!! With the possibility of slightly brighter conditions later, we decided to go and check out the Neptune’s Staircase, which is a group of 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal, just on the outskirts of Fort William. We had started to walk along the canal above the locks when the sun briefly appeared. Straight away, a few Damselflies appeared, and then just a few hundred metres beyond the highest lock, I spotted a Chequered Skipper. I never knew that they could be found along the canal. I guess it was a wanderer from a colony not too far away.

Moments later, it started raining again!!

After getting back to the car, wet again, we headed along past Glen Loy, to Allt Mhuic, a Butterfly Conservation nature reserve. Whilst we were at Allt Mhuic, the weather did start to improve slowly. Not far into the reserve we started to see lots of Chequered Skipper. Mostly males battling over territory. We also had a few dragonflies, including a splendid Golden-ringed Dragonfly. As we climbed up the hill beyond a gate, we had another great session with another beautiful female Chequered Skipper. After following it for a short distance, I managed to get a couple of nice pictures as it opened its wings fully, sitting on some foliage.

Female Chequered Skipper.

After a while we headed back to the area near the entrance, where all the battling males had been seen. They were still very active, and Lisa got some great video of them nectaring and battling away.

I then disturbed another female Skipper that flew to the far end of the area and started to roost sitting on a tall seed-head. Meanwhile, I had spotted a Green Tiger Beetle that was hunting on a large rock. I rarely get photos of these very active beetles, but this one was staying loyal to the rock, so for once I could get some close shots of it, showing off the gorgeous colours of green and purple.

Green Tiger Beetle.

Lisa then found a male Chequered Skipper roosting high up. This, although not particularly fresh, was probably the best of the males that we saw, so I have included one shot of him here.

Male Chequered Skipper.

As the afternoon went on, blue sky appeared in the distance. It seemed to take forever to come nearer, but eventually we were actually standing with the sun beaming down on us. By now time was getting on, but it was enough to get the butterfly to once again, gradually open her wings.

Female Chequered Skipper.

The following day, we went to Glasdrum Woods, the most well known of the Chequered Skipper sites. Although we saw a few skippers here, most were well past their best, so I didn’t take any photos of them here. It was still a very worthwhile visit though as we did see a few other delights, that will be in a later post.

All in all, we were absolutely delighted with our Chequered Skipper moments in Fort William. My only sightings of this butterfly before was when Nigel and I visited the area in 2015, so another visit was definitely due. The weather on that trip was much better, but despite the rain and cloud Lisa and I surpassed our expectations!!

More from our Scotland trip soon.

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