BC Highland branch members attended a field trip on the Isle of Mull in 2012 to look for Slender Scotch Burnet moth and Transparent Burnet moth. The former was seen but the latter was not. Therefore, another trip was planned for 2013. Nine members of Highland Branch hired a minibus to go to the Isle of Mull for a three-day weekend, Friday to Sunday. The visit centred on the field trip to Calgary Bay on the Saturday at which the target species was Transparent Burnet moth.
We met up at Inverness Retail Park at 09.30 on the Friday morning and loaded our gear into the minibus. We then drove the A82 to the Corran ferry just past Fort William, by which time some of us were gasping for coffee. Fortunately, the ferry was on the other side, so we had time to enjoy the Highland Branch communal tea and coffee while we waited.
Once across to the other side, the next leg of the journey followed the single-track road across Morvern to Lochaline. With bad timing, we arrived at Lochaline ferry terminal just as the ferry crew started their lunch break, so we had over an hour to kill. Some of the group went for a short wander nearby and Mary Eagleson came back with a photo of a moth she had found resting on the leaf of a tree. None of us recognised the moth so we had to get the book out. Surprisingly, and somewhat unbelievably, it was something called Blomer’s Rivulet, a species that had not previously been recorded further north than northern England! And even in England and Wales it was quite rare. What a bizarre find! I thought that there wasn’t much chance of getting the record accepted when it was so far out of its recognised range. Maybe it had hitched a ride in an English tourist’s car or in a moth trap. However, when Roy Leverton – who oversees the Scottish moth list – saw the photo, he pointed out the fact that the specimen was in pristine condition and was likely to have just emerged. It seemed likely that Lochaline held a previously unknown population of this species. More searching and trapping of the locality was needed for confirmation.
I suggested to the group that we might as well go home and not bother with Mull because we would never do better than finding a Blomer’s Rivulet! But Mull beckoned across the water and we reckoned there was plenty more to see. Once onto Mull we drove just a short way to Garmony Point from where we followed a lovely coastal path back towards Fishnish. It was overcast and with a cool wind, not ideal, but in sheltered places there were some moths and butterflies to be seen. The only butterflies were Green-veined White and Small Heath. Moths included Clouded Border, Brown Silver-line, Small Argent & Sable, Speckled Yellow and Garden Tiger larvae. There were no excitements here but we had our Blomer’s Rivulet to think about.
At the end of the afternoon, we drove to Tobermory where we were all staying – a mix of B&Bs, guest houses, camping and staying with friends. Seven of us met up for dinner that evening, after which we put out moth traps amongst the midges in the overgrown woodland garden of the B&B where four of us were staying.
Next morning, thanks to overnight rain, there were only 46 moths in the traps but there were 21 species including White Ermine, Poplar Hawkmoth and Campion. Having gone through the traps, we met up with the rest of the group and we drove across to Calgary Bay where we were to spend the day looking for moths and butterflies with Transparent Burnet moth being the main target. After a dire weather forecast and a grey start, the skies cleared, the sun shone and the temperature soared. It was a perfect day for a walk and Calgary Bay was a beautiful location for it. We were joined by seven other folk, including Tom Prescott and Alan Skeates, the Mull moth and butterfly recorder. Alan gave us the bad news that due to the long, cold spring, moths were late emerging and there had so far been no records of Transparent Burnet. Nevertheless, we set off in the sunshine in good spirits and wandered along a track towards a ruined village. We found several species of moths and butterflies, including .....our target Transparent Burnet, the first of the year on Mull. Success! Amongst the other Lepidoptera seen during the day were two lovely little micro-moths – Pyrausta cingulata and Pyrausta ostrinalis. Also, Thyme Plume moth (a micro) and Thyme Pug. The latter was found by Margaret Currie and was only the fourth record of this species on Mull. In all, we only saw twelve species of Lepidoptera – four butterflies and eight moths - but we had seen our target moth and some other beautiful moths all amongst dramatic and beautiful sun-soaked coastal scenery.
That evening, most of the group met up for dinner at the Western Isles Hotel, where the dining room overlooked Tobermory Bay. We ate, we enjoyed the view and we talked about where we might go next year!
The moth traps ran overnight on Saturday caught 53 moths of 21 different species. After going through the traps we packed our bags and headed out to Glengorm Castle for our last morning on Mull. Some of us needed a caffeine fix at the tea-room and a look around the Nature Centre before heading out on one of the many estate paths. We followed a small valley down to the coast where we checked out a flowery rock outcrop. We were delighted to find several Slender Scotch Burnets, the first of the year for Mull at what turned out to be a new sub-site for this species. Unfortunately, all too soon we had to return to the minibus, collect Elisabeth and Janet from Tobermory (they had made a separate excursion to Treshnish this morning) and then drive to catch the 2pm Fishnish ferry. Once across to the other side, at Lochaline, we spent half an hour looking for Blomer’s Rivulet but with no luck. It will be up to someone else to prove the existence of a hitherto overlooked colony here.
We then had the long drive back to Inverness but at least there were four of us to share the driving. I think we all agreed that the minibus rental experiment was a success. The rest of the three-day excursion certainly was. We had good weather, good company, good food and good butterflies and moths including a First for Scotland!! What more could we ask?
A full list of Lepidoptera seen during the course of the weekend is set out below.