Hairy moment in Argyll and Bute


Last week I was exploring pastures new on a week’s break in the lovely Glendaruel valley on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll and Bute.

The birdlife was as uninspiring as it is anywhere at this time of year, but I found lots of other wildlife to take up my attention.

The weather was mainly sunshine and showers, which made butterfly spotting a bit hit-and-miss. When the sun was out, however, it was the Scotch argus butterflies which predominated, with literally hundreds seen on the wing. Dragonflies, too, were about but not in great numbers due to the changeable conditions.

The highlight for me came on quite a chilly trek into the hills to a remote lochan. My efforts, on arrival at the water, were rewarded by a distant sighting of a pair of what looked like divers, judging by their sleek outline.

I found a comfy clump of heather and sat down to see if anything else appeared. As time went on, I noticed that the two birds were gradually working their way towards me – curiosity had obviously set in.

It took almost an hour, but eventually they came to within about 20 yards and I was treated to the closest view I have ever had of red-throated divers (photo, top of page). It’s a bird we don’t get in the Borders, so I sat enthralled, watching them through my binoculars as they preened, seemingly for my personal entertainment.

On the way back, across the wild heathland, I came across another creature which was to be my second high spot of the day.

The route to the lochan was indicated by marker posts, as there was no distinct path through the rough bogs, and as I neared one of them, I noticed something odd on the plastic arrow, which was screwed to the top. At first I thought it was just bird droppings, but as I got closer it moved. I soon discovered that it was in fact one of the most ridiculous looking caterpillars I have ever seen. It was black, had long wispy hairs sticking out at all angles, a forked tail, red spots and four bright yellow plumes along its back and it wasn’t alone. There were three more clustered round the top of the post.

I knew from having previously seen photographs, that they were the caterpillar of the vapourer moth, but I didn’t expect to see them in this habitat. They are more commonly found in urban habitats and have been known to reach plague proportions, completely defoliating trees

One such plague occurred in 1974 in London, when all the magnificent plane trees in Berkeley Square were completely stripped of all their leaves.

That’s what I enjoy so much about walking in the countryside. You never know what’s going to turn up next!