Stephen Burch's Birding & Dragonfly Website
Gairloch area of north-west Scotland
9- 16 July 2011
By Stephen Burch, England
They offered a meet and great service on arrival, which worked well. There was however something of a drawback on the way back in that the car had to be left in the long stay carpark which was a fair walk from the terminal (not good in pouring rain, even having dropped the luggage off first). Still I think all the car hire companies may do this at Inverness.
The pools on both sides of the road on the eastern side of the river were deserted, but the sheltered clearing on the north side of the road near the river was slightly more productive on the few occasions the sun shone, with some Golden-ringed Dragonflies, Common Hawkers and the odd immature Common/Highland Darter. The pools on the south side of the road, to the west of the river and pines, held a few Four-spotted Chasers in the brighter moments.
We visited here about 3-4 times, and spent several hours in total searching for my target species of Azure Hawker and Northern Emerald. On one visit we were most surprised to find two other cars present, both containing dragonfly hunters! They seemed to have more success than we did, and one had photographed a female Northern Emerald, and both reported sightings of males. However maybe due to a combination of bad luck and lack of persistence (& experience?) we saw not a hint of one, let alone secure a photograph!
Just once, when the sun came
out briefly, some apparently smaller hawkers appeared along
with the Common Hawkers. These seemed good
for Azures, and I
managed a few distant photos of one of them from a poor
angle. However reviewing them afterwards it was concluded by
various experts and myself that the photo showed a Common
not Azure Hawker!
More recently my doubts have resurfaced as a result of
Jonathan Willet's excellent article in the Journal of the
British Dragonfly Society (Vol 29, no 1, 2013). To my eye,
the stripes on the thorax look wavy and this, coupled with
the small size, tends to favour Azure, which is also
Jonathan's view. I think all that can really be said is that
I will never be sure, and a return visit is needed! [This we
did in the better summer of
2013, and I am
pleased to say it was more successful for both Azure Hawker and
On the bird front, one visit produced a small flock of Crossbills, not identified to species.
In the same area, the Dudley book mentions sites along the road from the car park for the Loch Maree/Beinn Eighe visitor trails. In a brief visit here in reasonable conditions we were unable to locate the "boggy areas" to the south of the car park, and the roadside ditches both north and south of the car park produced nothing of significance.
The boggy area at the end of the short visitor trail seemed more promising but in only marginal conditions all I could find was the same selection of species already seen at Bridge of Grudie.
Further north along the A832, we did a good walk which started near Loch Bad an Sgalaig. The return leg down the river Abhainn a Gharbh Choire was very pleasant if a bit boggy, and had plenty of Common Hawkers and Golden-ringed Dragonflies. Also the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary shown above.
2. Loch Clair and Loch
By the time we returned the weather had worsened, but I did manage these shots of a settled maturing male Common Hawker (my first non flight pics of this species).
The immediate surroundings of the Drumchork Lodges were good for both Redpoll and Siskin, and also this very obliging Golden-ringed dragonfly that my wife found in the garden one morning, before it had warmed up properly.
Down the hill there is a side road that runs through the village and skirts the shore of Loch Ewe very closely. This was an excellent place to view Black-throated Divers (up to two pairs) that had already moved down to the coast from their breeding lochs. These may well have been failed breeders, as we did find one pair with two young on one inland loch. I also had some success on the photographic front one evening, although the sun was not in a good direction by any means:
I also came across a Twite by one of the scattered houses in Mellon Charles one evening.
4. Poolewe & Loch
In a brighter spell, the stretch of track near the south west corner of the loch, near a wood, was very good for both Golden-ringed Dragonfly, and several immature Common/Highland Darters trying to warm up on the track. By the River Ewe we saw several Common Hawkers, and also this fly over White-tailed Eagle that even turned around and came back to have its (distant) photo taken (giving me time to switch from a dragonfly setup to a bird one!).
5. Redpoint Beach and Loch
From Gairloch harbour we went on a 2hr boat trip with one of the operators (Gairloch Marine Life Centre). In good weather I think they venture out of the bay into the open sea for whales etc, but on the day we went there was a stiff breeze and rain later - sufficiently poor to keep the little boat in the bay. Apart from a young Otter and a couple of Dolphins we didn't see a great deal. The birding 'highlight' was a close approach to an island that had various breeding sea birds, including Common Terns, Gulls, Cormorants and Shag.
6. Gruinard Island
© All pictures copyright Stephen Burch