Monday, 19 June 2017

Nightjars at Stover

Saturday 17th June and with a day to myself and hot and sunny weather forecast I decided to have a walk at Wembury, somewhere I have neglected somewhat this year. It was indeed hot and sunny, so much so that I caught an earlier bus than planned back to Plymouth in order to escape the heat.

Bird wise it was quiet with the usual June at Wembury birds seen - 28 oystercatchers and a male mallard on the rocks at high tide, fulmars around The Mewstone, stonechats, linnets, robins, pied wagtails, a flyover peregrine, a flyover male sparrowhawk being mobbed by swallows, etc. Blackcaps, whitethroats and chiffchaffs were still in song and there were quite a few fledglings of all three species seen especially chiffchaffs which seem to have had a very good breeding season this year.

A few moths were around too -  a dead buff ermine in the toilet block, a rush veneer and 2 unidentified micro moths.

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Butterflies were on the wing too with a ringlet and at least 4 large skippers being firsts for the year along with a faded painted lady, a small tortoiseshell, a male common blue, meadow browns and an egg laying red admiral.

 Ringlet

 Painted Lady

 Large Skipper

 Large Skipper

Red Admiral Egg

 Vipers Bugloss

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On the way home I stopped off at Blagdons Meadow for a quick look around despite the heat. There were no small heaths again but I did see common blues, meadow browns, burnet companions and my first 6 spot burnets of the year.

 6 Spot Burnet, Blagdons Meadow

 Swallows, River Plym

Swallow

Southern marsh orchids were still in flower but were looking very faded and worn, no bee orchids but I did find 3 pyramidal orchids, my first for the site.

 Pyramidal Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

That evening I decided to head off to Stover on the relatively recent regular new coach service between Plymouth and Bristol that stops off at Drumbridges roundabout near the country park. I arrived off the coach at 19:15hrs and it was hot and sunny and still. I checked out the verges of the A38 first as I had noticed orchids flowering by the road side on our drive back from Suffolk earlier in the week and was pleased to find a good display of common spotted orchids (there were also lots of them in flower in the country park too).

 Common Spotted Orchid, A38

 Common Spotted Orchid

Common Spotted Orchid

It was cooler walking through the woodland of the park but hot and humid in the sunshine on the walk around the lake where sand martins were flitting about over the water, a great crested grebe was sitting on its nest with a second bird feeding nearby and a male mandarin duck was feeding on seed on the footpath looking a little worse for wear as it begins its plumage moult.

Great Crested Grebe on nest, Stover Lake

A pair of mute swans were swimming around with 2 cygnets with the male being very aggressive to a white female mallard with 3 ducklings, chasing them off into the side canal.

 Mallard with Ducklings

Male Mallards in Eclipse Plumage

Dragonflies were buzzing over the water too but too distant and active to get a good look at except for a male keeled skimmer that buzzed close to the shore. Blue tailed damselflies were much more cooperative with good numbers roosting in the reeds by the waters edge and I managed to find a single azure damselfly sunning itself on a branch.

Blue Tailed Damselfly

A wood mouse was feeding on seed on the footpath, initially it ran off into the undergrowth before returning and giving some very close views.

 Wood Mouse

 Wood Mouse

Wood Mouse

There were quite a few white looking moths flitting about in the grass close to the waters edge and when one landed on the vegetation I managed to ID it as a brown China mark, a very attractively marked brown and white moth.

 Brown China Mark

 Brown China Mark

Brown China Mark

Chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap were all heard singing along with calling great spotted woodpecker and green woodpecker and at 21:50hrs I heard my first nightjar churring on the heathland between the A38 and the pylons. A second bird then began to churr in trees by the footpath on the lake side of the pylons and I managed a brief flight view as it took off from a pine tree and chased a second bird with much wing clapping and "guicking" before falling silent. The first bird continued to churr but after 20 minutes of listening and waiting to see if I could get a view of it I had to leave to walk back to the bus stop to catch the coach home to Plymouth. The coach was due at 22:25hrs but was 20 minutes late, a little disconcerting standing in the dark at a roundabout off the A38 in the middle of nowhere and miles away from Plymouth but I eventually arrived home having had a very good day out on what has been a very birdy and wildlifey week.

Nightjar - from the Stover Park information board

Friday, 16 June 2017

Caspian Gull at Minsmere and a Hobby Fest at North Warren

Monday 11th June and it was off to visit RSPB Minsmere for the day. My last visit was back in May 2013, 4 years ago, and I was really looking forward to my day.  I had remembered to bring my RSPB membership card this time along with my stash of complimentary passes and so I was accompanied by Mum, David and my cousin Claire on the walk around the reserve - so not a proper birding day but I managed a few good sightings along the way.

We started at the Island Mere hide where I saw marsh harriers, reed warblers, a sedge warbler, a common tern, swifts, sand martins and brief flight views of bearded tits across the reed tops but there was no sign of the recently reported purple heron or red footed falcon. Next stop was the Bittern hide where the same range of birds were on view before we headed to the West hide overlooking The Scrape where avocets, common terns, Mediterranean gulls, lapwings, greylag geese and barnacle geese were easily seen.

Onwards along the North Wall towards the cafe at Dunwich Cliffs and I managed to get a lovely close flight view of a male bearded tit over the reeds along with more marsh harriers and a common blue butterfly but there was no sign of any stone curlews out on the heath, apparently they are nesting this year out of sight from the footpath and are only occassionally seen.

Lunch at the Dunwich Cliff cafe was very tasty and we were joined by a variety of chaffinches including a bold male with a silver ring on its right leg but unfortunately with papillomavirus growths on its right leg below the ring and around its beak.

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

We walked back towards the reserve reception, noting a cuckoo in the dunes along the way, and I walked on to the East hide while the others headed back to the reserve cafe. From the East hide I had good views of black tailed godwits, Sandwich terns, knot, redshank, a male pochard, dunlin, oystercatcher and 2 sleeping spoonbills which had arrived earlier that afternoon. Marsh harriers were soaring over the reedbeds and 2 hobbys were soaring high overhead amongst some swifts before drifting off out of sight.

Sleeping Spoonbills

I had a scan through the larger gulls as Caspian and yellow legged gulls were reported as being present and I found a 2nd summer yellow legged gull amongst the assorted herring, great black backed and lesser black backed gulls - it was being harrassed by a 2nd summer lesser black backed gull which was chasing after it across the water, unusual as yellow legged are usually more dominant. I also picked out what I think is a 1st summer Caspian gull stood out on its own and being given a wide berth by any nearby gulls - not especially large looking but with a very white looking head and breast, long and thin black bill, upright stance, dark eye and distinctive head shape - but I am not known for my gull ID! (Distant record shots below).

 Caspian Gull

 Caspian Gull

 Caspian Gull

 Caspian Gull

Caspian Gull

And so not a bad days birding despite my limited time, I only hope my next visit isn't another 4 years away.

Pheasent at the RSPB Cafe

Tuesday 13th June started off sunny but eventually clouded over and after visiting my dear Uncle John who is very poorly we drove up to Snape Maltings for a look around. While David explored the antique shops I wandered along the footpath by the river where I saw a female marsh harrier, reed warblers, reed buntings and a nice flyby male bearded tit accompanied by a female/juvenile bird.

 Small Tortoiseshell, Snape Maltings

Reed Bunting, Snape Maltings

Onwards to RSPB North Warren near Aldeburgh and a walk across the marsh from the beach car park revealed a male gadwall, reed warblers, lapwings, reed buntings, a female marsh harrier, a distant hobby, a fox, a red deer and a painted lady butterfly. I was looking for the main reed bed on the reserve but had misjudged the distances and so David dropped me off at a car park closer to the reed bed before leaving me to go and have a look around Aldeburgh.

I eventually found the reed bed viewing platform, hearing a cuckoo along the way, and was met with good views of a hobby flying around a large circular area of reeds bounded all around by trees. It was hot and humid and still and was sweltering when the sun eventually reappeared between the clouds with the reed bed abuzz with Norfolk hawkers and four spotted chasers flitting about everywhere. Walking on to the next viewing platform and I eventually managed some nice views of 6 - 8 hobbys feeding over the reeds or perched in nearby trees, very mobile and fast and difficult to keep track of in the heat haze as they disappeared amongst the channels in the reeds. Unfortunately there was no sign of the recently reported red footed falcon but the views of the hobbys were excellent and with a booming bittern heard and a pair of marsh harriers flying around too it was quite magical before it was time to head back to the car park to meet David for the drive home to Ipswich.

 North Warren Reed Bed

Four Spotted Chasers

And so a great trip to the East with some excellent bird sightings. The journey back to Plymouth on June 14th was uneventful but very hot and sticky with sunshine and temperatures of 26 degrees and just 2 red kites seen along the M3 again.