Wednesday morning was forecast to be fine and so it proved to be. I was interested in a second attempt at Coire Loch to see if we could get a better look at those Emerald dragonflies and Francine fancied a 40-mile trip to Ardersier, just northeast of Inverness, where there was supposed to be a colony of Coralroot Orchids (Corallorhiza trifida). Since orchids don’t run and hide if clouds appear, it made sense to try Coire Loch in the morning, while the sun was appearing, and Ardersier in the afternoon.
We packed our Wellington boots for the boggy moss beside the loch and negotiated the 4-mile single track stretch back to the Dog Falls car park in Glen Affric where we found the parking ticket machine still out of order – excellent! Somehow, knowing how much puffing uphill was involved and precisely where the loch was made our second visit seem easier. We donned our Wellies and worked our way out to the side of the main water, taking up slightly different positions to cover more territory. We waited. Quite soon, as the sun put in sporadic appearances, we began to see dragonflies on patrol along the side of the loch. They were very fast and paused only infrequently. I knew there were Emeralds but couldn’t swear to which. There are three possible suspects in this part of Scotland:
- Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea)
- Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica)
- Northern Emerald (Somatochlora arctica)
Photos of either of the last two would’ve been welcomed additions to our collection. We’d seen Northern Emeralds in France on one occasion but failed to get a picture of the tireless little beasts. Similarly with the Brilliant, I’ve seen one fly past at Thursley Common but failed to get a snap. I didn’t think the territory here looked right for Northern Emerald but hopes were high for the Brilliant, for which Coire Loch has a reputation.
I kept trying and failing to bring my lens to bear on my target. I didn’t get a single shot. Eventually, though one suspect settled in the heather behind Francine. She snagged it. It was face on which would normally be good – the face is a distinguishing feature – but its frons was partially obscured by a sprig of the heather. Drat! A little later, I heard Francine announce that we could pack up because she’d caught one in a hover and had several successful flight shots. Brava Francine! We didn’t quite pack up straight away but we’d been standing there 90 minutes so it didn’t take too much longer before we wearied of it.
When I studied Francine’s excellent pictures, I was a little gutted. She’d caught not one of our hoped for Brilliant Emeralds but a Downy Emerald. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an achievement and a very welcome flight photograph BUT we have a colony of Downy Emeralds just 2 miles from our home 500 miles further south. 😀
As forecast, the clouds did, indeed, begin to cover us. To save time, we bought sandwiches for lunch and headed out to Ardersier on the far side of Inverness in search of orchids. Driving through Inverness wasn’t too scary and we soon found the car park for Ardersier Common. Inside information from the new friends we had met in Aviemore gave us clues as to where to look. The description they had used had been “dune slacks” which are seasonal pools.
Knowing which path to follow, we soon began finding what we thought were the so-called dune slacks. They were now dried out but there were depressions in the ground which looked as though they would fill with water in teh right conditions. Francine ducked through a gap in the vegetation [no, not for that] and I saw her crouch low. “Ah ha”, she muttered, encouragingly. She had, indeed, found a few spikes of the rare Coralroot Orchid. Upon closer inspection, she was pleased to have found them but somewhat less pleased that she had essentially found them too late – the flowers had all gone to seed. We kept searching further but no specimens with flowers presented themselves. Understanding only too well this kind of disappointment, I felt so sorry for her. She’d seen them but not as she would have wished, in their blooming glory.
An interesting day, if a somewhat frustrating one given our two near misses.