Saturday, 30 June 2012

Of Moths, Manxies and Marine Mammals

National moth night was held on the 21st June and I had planned to head out to Plymbridge Woods for a moth trapping night organised by The National Trust but as usual for this summer so far it was far from ideal weather wise - cold, wet and windy. I didn't even get to put the trap out in the back yard, all very annoying considering I had flukely managed to get the day off without requesting it.

I have had the trap out a few times recently in the back yard in between the cold, wet and windy spells and have had 2 new moths for the garden, both very worn and ID'd with some help from the experts at the Back Garden Moths Community forum - mottled rustic and ingrailed clay. Otherwise mothing remains hit and miss with only a few moths being caught but I have started to see some willow beauty and buff ermine in the trap. David has cut down and cleared the ivy in the back yard much to my dismay, I hope I still get to see some old lady and yellow barred brindle this year as the caterpillars of these species feed on ivy.

Worn Mottled Rustic

Worn Ingrailed Clay

I have finally gotten hold of my new telescope, the Nikon ED50, and I am very pleased with it although I have yet to fully test it out in the field. I caught the train to Exeter to pick it up and then caught the train out to Topsham to try out the telescope and to have a look/listen for a Savis warbler that had been reported there but I was out of luck. I did hear a Cettis warblers and a sedge warbler along with a few reed warblers, one of which showed very well singing from the top of the reeds. Reed bunting males were seen and heard and swifts, swallows and house martins hawked overhead. A single red admiral was the only butterfly of the day.

Sunday 24th June and we headed to Bude for a short break / drinkathon / eatathon at the caravan. The weather wasn't too bad and we even sat out in the sun for a short time that evening. A walk along the clifftops later that evening to look for Manx shearwaters was a bit of a bust, it was cold and windy and after a brief scan of the sea I gave up and headed back to the caravan.

The next morning we walked in to Bude along the cliffs and within a few seconds of scanning the sea I saw a Manx shearwater close in to shore before it landed on the sea with a splash, disturbing 3 more Manxies which flew off South. Scanning some more I found a large raft of about 200 birds resting on the sea some distance out and a second group of about 200 birds closer in, the birds closer in to shore were resting on the sea and flying around with gannets and fulmars and occassionally the shearwaters would dive in to the water with a splash. I kept an eye out for any cetaceans but with no luck and as we walked in to Bude more and more shearwaters were seen flying South in small groups, the most I have ever seen at Bude before.

Having a coffee at Lifes a Beach I sat scanning the sea and eventually saw some dorsal fins moving along the coast heading North. I kept watching for around 45 minutes and eventually ID'd them as common dolphins when a few individuals leapt out of the water. They were surprisingly inconspicous as they headed to the feeding group of sea birds before heading back South and out of sight, the common dolphins I have seen before have been very showy and splashy but these were almost shy in their behaviour, maybe they were too busy feeding.

That evening we headed up to the clifftops again for an evening walk, Manx shearwaters continued to be seen flying south and this time I saw 2 harbour porpoises offshore, the usual 3 brief blink-and-you-miss-it views of the dorsal fin as they surfaced before diving again. Depite scanning for about 20 minutes I failed to refind them but I was pleased to have seen 2 species of cetaceans in a day.

Bird wise it was quiet with a sedge warbler and chiffchaff seen singing at Maer Lake along with mallards and moorhens. The water level of the lake was very high with all the recent rain and there were no muddy margins to attract any waders. There were plenty of mallard ducklings swimming around, obviously the wet weather is nice weather for ducks. Swifts, swallows, house martins and sand martins were busy feeding overhead although swift numbers were lower than usual, certainly swifts seem hard to see over Plymouth this year presumably due to the poor weather.

I had the moth box out for 2 nights and had some nice moth sightings although again numbers were lower than usual. Best moth was a very lovely elephant hawk moth with a supporting cast of a spectacle, a buff tip, a tatty pebble prominent and a scalloped oak. Common swift, common wainscot, flame and heart and dart made up most of the catch but 2 uncertain and a clouded brindle were new moths for me. It was surprising how varied the heart and dart were, exhibiting a range of colour forms but all with the distinctive black neck collar.

(Mid-brown) Heart and Dart with Common Wainscot

(Dark) Heart and Dart

(Pale) Heart and Dart

Elephant Hawkmoth


Worn Pebble Prominent




Clouded Brindle

And so it had been a very interesting short break despite the generally poor weather and I was glad to get home if only to stop me eating and drinking so much!

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