I waS a bit stumped this week for something to write about so I decided to have a wander round Haremoss nature reserve near Ashkirk to seek inspiration.
It was a warm overcast day with little breeze – ideal conditions for the myriads of tiny grass moths and common blue damselflies, which flew from my feet as I walked. It wasn’t sunny enough to charm the butterflies out of their hiding places, but some of the larger moths such as the lovely yellow shell and shaded broad bar were much in evidence.
I sat for a while by an old tree stump, as they often provide an arena for mini-beasts attracted by their heat-retaining properties.
The large flat surface enticed a small white micro-moth to land for a breather and in seconds flat a wolf spider appeared from nowhere, grabbed it and carried it off into the long grass. It proved too much for the arachnid and the lucky moth managed to extricate itself and fly off to safety before it could be bitten and paralysed by the predator’s venom. It was like sitting at a mini-Serengeti at feeding time.
Next to the stump I noticed a couple of big black flies on a willowherb stalk having a relationship. At first I thought they were St Mark’s fies, which are familiar in early spring and fly around in loose swarms with their long legs dangling behind them, but it was far too late for them and on closer examination I noticed that these had orange legs.
They were heather flies (Bibio pomonae) which are closely related but appear at this time of year. Heather is obviously not their food plant as there was none in the vicinity but are probably named as such because they are always found at altitude.
Dragging myself away from all the excitement of the tree stump, I went for a walk round the reserve. In the conifer woodland it was more like autumn than August with fly agaric and boletus fungi everywhere in great profusion.
There were two broods of tufted duck on the lochan but the most exciting family showed itself briefly as I skirted the water’s edge.
I was alerted by a strange rasping noise from the reeds a few feet from where I stood. I stopped for several minutes until I saw movement amongst the floating vegetation. Eventually a grey and brown head with a curved red beak appeared for a few seconds. It was a rare water rail.
Soon it vanished, followed by a loud harsh squeal, then I noticed at least five tiny black balls of fluff paddling furiously in its wake, as the family tried to keep up with their retreating parent. There was no chance of a photo, so I just enjoyed the moment. It was such a privilege to glimpse one of our most secretive and elusive birds and a bonus to see the family as well.
It turned out not such a bad day after all!