On Tuesday this week I went to Tipperton Moss (at the western end of Loch Glow, in the Cleish Hills) in search of Large Heath butterflies. It was probably the best day we’ve had in the past week in terms of weather.
I parked at the end of the access road to Loch Glow (rather than the car park at the loch edge, which was full with fishermen) and took the walk along. Not surprisingly, after all the recent rain, it was just a little bit on the wet side!
It didnt take me too long (about 15-20 minutes) before I got to Tipperton Moss, where I’d been informed the only Fife colony of Large Heath could be found. It didn’t take me too long before I spotted my first butterfly. A drab orangey thing flew past. It was gone far too quickly for me to get a look at it and definitely too fast for me to get near with the camera. It wasn’t long after that I saw another, similar butterfly. This one I managed to chase (although being a bog, I got pretty wet and filthy in the process!) and came away with these photos:
I was happy enough with that and so off I went. After all, these were butterflies at the right time, in the right habitat. On the way back to the car, I did, however, manage to get a photo of a Small Heath just for comparison when I got home.
Are we noticing the similarities yet?
The downside of the ‘Large Heath’ photos I took is that the butterfly was not very obliging… It clearly didn’t want to sit at the right angle, or it didn’t want to sit at all, so the photos are not the best. When I got home, I began to have my doubts about them… was this a Large Heath or a Small Heath?! I emailed Duncan Davidson, the County Recorder and asked for his opinion.
The result: Inconclusive. We’ve not been able to confirm without a doubt that the photos are Large Heath. Although the likelyhood is that they are, the photo evidence was not very good. Now, Had I looked at the butterfly and paid more attention to the features at the time, rather than trying to get it in shot… we’d have more of an idea. When I was at college, we did a unit on ID – where I was told that it was far better to take a sketch and some field notes than it is to take a photo. I didn’t understand why that would be at the time, but I do now! Photos are great to back up your evidence, but I guess they don’t see everything the eye does… particularly in cases like this.
Yesterday, Duncan braved the weather and went to Tipperton Moss for himself, just to confirm whether the Large Heath are still there or not, and he took the following photos:
These are very clearly Large Heath butterflies. So we have confirmation… I was in the right place, at the right time. So… are my photographs Large Heath?
We’re still not willing to confirm for definite. Looking at the top photo, there’s a very definite dark eye-spot on the lower wing, which isn’t visible on the Small Heath (there’s no black on the ones on the Small Heath)… this suggests it is most likely a Large Heath, but it’s not necessarily enough to be conclusive.
Duncan has sent away the photos to another source for confirmation.
Now… what I’d originally planned when I went in hunt of Large Heath was to report on the size of the population. I clearly can’t do that… but this isn’t just because of the problems noted above. Tipperton Moss is a blanket bog, and as such, if you go there by yourself, you’ll probably not be spending as much time looking for butterflies as you will be looking for safe places to put your feet. To get a proper grasp of the population up there, it’ll take 2 or more people to visit. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to arrange a visit, to get the info.
So… I think i’ll be leaving the camera in its case for a little while and getting the old pencils and field notebook out instead. My drawing is awful, but at least I’ll be able (with the notes written) to confirm ID by that method.