We took the Corran ferry to the west side of Loch Linnhe and turned south along the coast road. References provided for Doire Donn SWT reserve to the north were numerous and recent, whereas those to the south were fewer, with only one recent (2008) record from Glen Gour.
Sallachan is at the mouth of Glen Gour, and the 1985 record for NM985633 is from an area to the north of the village that seemed quite heavily wooded, although there was marshy ground between there and the river. We did not see any butterflies near here. The glen opens out to the west of Sallachan and has obviously been previously dammed and used as a reservoir (old broken dam, disused boathouses etc). The north side (therefore south-facing slopes) did not have an obvious path or access route, but the south side has a public footpath linking to Strontian 12 miles away. The 2008 record NM968631 is along this route, so we started heading up the glen along this path.
Chequered Skipper seen along sheltered stream
Several singletons (4) and a mating pair were present near the stream, along with green hairstreak, small heath, painted lady and small pearl-bordered fritillary. Bracken was present but sparse; bluebells sparse; tormentil and orchid present in reasonable quantity; Molinia plentiful and in good condition; some regenerating birch.
Glen Gour at this point is a very wide valley with small streams coming down from the hills on both sides, and although the area we were investigating had north-east facing slopes, chequered skippers were still present – the opposite side of the valley looked to have even more habitat suitability.
We walked a little way further along the path, but not as far as the 2008 record at NM968631, as we decided to return to the car and look at other sites further along the coast. There is every reason to believe that chequered skipper are present in number in Glen Gour, and any of the sheltered stream gullies provide suitable habitat.
Other records: NM974629 mother shipton moth; NM972630 barred umber, green veined white; NM971631 orange-tip male, drinker larva; many dragonflies were also recorded – 4-spotted chaser, large red damselfly, golden-ringed dragonfly, blue-tailed damselfly – all these have been / will be forwarded to the relevant recorders.
A short way along the road to the south we stopped in a layby to admire some seals hauled out on rocks nearby, and while Ramsay took some photos, I crossed the road and checked out the entrance to a disused quarry – in a very small sheltered spot amongst the birch trees was a male chequered skipper holding territory in what I would not have anticipated was good habitat! This probably indicates that the hills above Glen Gour are well suited to chequered skipper and support a healthy population. GPS reading: NM97564 62265. The tourist couple from Yorkshire sharing the layby were sufficiently impressed (eventually) and took several photos of this special butterfly to show friends and family back home!
Next on the list were the 1990 records from Rubha Ruadh NM966614 and NM957606. We decided to go to the further south of the two records to confirm presence and then carry on down the coast to look for new sites.
Chequered Skipper habitat at Rubha Ruadh
Two male chequered skipper were displaying territorial behaviour in the foreground of the above picture, GPS reading NM95739 60720. A wet flush heading up to the right and a stream to the left bordered by a fairly wide boggy area coming down the quite steep south-east facing slope provided ideal habitat for skippers and other butterflies and moths. Abundant Molinia and bog myrtle, sparse oak trees, some
bracken and tormentil, and lots of orchids.
Nearby, alongside the stream (GPS reading NM95708 60691) we recorded 4 more chequered skipper, small heath, small pearl-bordered fritillary, green hairstreak, probable pearl-bordered fritillary (no photo but I had a good view with binoculars of one very worn individual), and an argent & sable moth.
We drove further south along the coast, taking the B8043 over the River Tarbert rather than continuing round to Strontian. Although we stopped to investigate several stream courses along this road, we did not find any more chequered skipper. The land here is stocked with sheep, and obviously heavily grazed compared to the hillsides north of the River Tarbert. We did record another mother shipton and some small heath (NM922584), along with a variable damselfly which pounced on a small moth I was looking at with my close-focus binoculars!
Further investigation of gullies and flushes alongside the A861 between Inversanda and Strontian along Glen Tarbert will I’m sure produce many more records of chequered skipper, as would a walk along the length of Glen Gour, but the countryside to the south of the Tarbert seems less hospitable.
Written by Heather Young