Last summer I was lucky enough to find a few Great Yellow Bumblebees on South Uist in the outer Hebrides but I didnt have enough time - ("come on Mum, you've been here long enought") to really study them so wanted to go back. I didn't really have time for the long sea trip so thought I would try Caithness and Sutherland instead, besides this is a part of Scotland I had never visited.
I set off in early July, dropping my daughter off in Edinburgh en-route, but otherwise driving nearly non-stop the 550 miles to Caithness. I had done some research about where to go and the Bumblebee Trust had also given me some locations so I started in Thurso on the north coast. Armed with my list of the best 'hunting' spots I set off and quickly found a large coastal strip of flowers beside the dramatic ruin of Thurso castle. And bees! Initially I thought I was seeing lots of Great Yellow bumbles but then I got my 'eye in' and realised that they were just much paler versions of the Moss Carders I had seen last year in Uist.
I moved on to the nearby Castlehill Heritage Centre, where flagstones used to be quaried and the beach is still littered with thier remains. They have been developing the site with bumblebees in mind and have planted several areas of wildflowers. Again, more Moss Carders along with several other common bumblebees. Then I caught a glimpse - about 6 feet away - of something much more yellow feeding on some tufted vetch. And then my camera started playing up and it was gone........!!!!
Sadly, although I spent the next two days looking both back at Castlehill and then further west along the coast, I didnt see any more Great Yellows.
I did visit - and would recommend it to others - a beautiful bumblebee sanctuary planted behind the church in the small village of Bettyhill. Its close to the beautiful white sandy beach typical of the very exposed sites that the Great Yellows seem to enjoy. I spotted 5 other bumblebee species which does indicate this spot is a good bee resource.
In Durness - my last stop, at the end of a 40 miles of single track roads - I found that there had been sightings of the Great Yellow earlier in the year but none recently. So close but no prizes!
Luckily, the weather was lovely and the scenery stunning, so I was still happy to have made the trip. Next year I will go in hunt of Billberry Bumblebees, which I have never seen, and are much closer.