Monday, 9 July 2012

Orchid Hunting

Sad news from The Weekend Biologist blog about the failed nesting attempt of a pair of black winged stilts in Somerset, presumably they were the pair that were seen mating at Exminster Marshes back in April and that I failed to see. Maybe they will return next year to try again and maybe I will see them this time?

The herring gull chick has left the courtyard next door and the chick on the chimney stack has left too. I don't think they have gone too far as this morning the adult birds were noisely dive bombing the workmen in the builders yard next door as they were trying to load up their vans although I couldn't see the young birds anywhere.

I have been noticing good numbers of house sparrows in the back yard recently, they used to be very common but all but disappeared in line with the national trend a few years ago. There are quite a few young birds too but I have suddenly clicked that they like to feed in the back yard early in the morning, especially when I have had the moth box out overnight. Oh dear, as much as I am pleased to see them back I don't really want to provide them with a moth buffet ! I will have to keep the moths I catch in their pots until it turns dark and the sparrows are all tucked up in bed although I am always careful to put the moths under good cover when I release them.

The weather has been atrocious this week. I had Monday and Tuesday and Saturday off and it rained all day on each of the days with the rain on Friday night into Saturday being exceptionally heavy resulting in flooding in places in Devon. However on Sunday it was much improved and after meeting a friend for a coffee and a chat in town I caught the bus out to Billacombe Quarry to have a hunt for pyramidal orchids. And what a place Billacombe Quarry is! A fantastic brown field site with some amazing wildlife on offer and right on my doorstep!

Billacombe Quarry

I soon found my target as I wandered around the old quarry with pyramidal orchids on show throughout the area including a pale flowered plant.

Pyramidal Orchid

Less pyramidal looking Pyramidal Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid - pale form

I also found a small group of bee orchids but most of the flowers had gone over and they were almost overlooked. Many Southern marsh orchids were seen too including around 100 plants growing together on a grassy bank.

 Bee Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

Butterflies were on the wing, reminding me of how few I have seen this year due to the poor weather. Many meadow browns and ringlets were seen flitting about along with a single red admiral and large white. A large skipper was a nice find chasing passing by meadow browns, with the undersides of its antennae tips showing orange-brown when it settled on some flowers. Best butterfly though were 3 marbled whites flitting over a small grassy area, a butterfly I have trouble pinning down some years.


Large Skipper

Marbled White

I wasn't expecting much in the way of bird life but was pleasently surprised at what I found. A noisey adult peregrine was seen mobbing a large dark falcon wearing jesses and later a nosiey juvenile flew over with an adult bird, presumably a young bird from nearby Plymbridge Woods. 2 raven, a buzzard, a kestrel, swallows and house martins were also seen overhead while a chiffchaff sang away and a whitethroat skulked in some bushes. One of the 2 small lakes on the quarry floor had a summer plumaged little grebe and 2 coot diving away for food while herring and great black backed gulls bathed and the other lake held a sleeping pair of tufted duck, the male showing some eclipse plumage.

I found more numbered roofing felt squares and on turning some over I found 4 slow worms, a young toad and 2 young frogs.

Slow Worms

Young Frog

Moths were on the wing too, I gave up counting the silver y moths I disturbed from the vegetation as I walked around, they seemed to be everywhere and a surprise considering the recent poor weather. Even more surprising was a hummingbird hawkmoth buzzing over the flowers before speeding off out of sight, always a nice moth to see. Six spot burnet were on the wing and I also saw a very mobile and active cinnabar moth, having originally overlooked it as being another six spot.

And so it had been a heavenly 3 hour ramble with some great wildlife sightings and the sun had even shone too! It is such a shame this site is due to be redeveloped, I only wish I had known about it before now. It would be lovely to win the rollover super draw Euromillions Lottery so I could buy the site and turn it in to a nature reserve but I don't think that is very likely to happen.


  1. Hi Stuart

    How do you get into the quarries - is it under the railway bridge in front of Morrisons? If so, once under the bridge, where can you go?


    1. Sorry - I am not sure if you received my original comment as I didn't use the reply button on the comments page.

      Anyway, Billacombe Quarry is private land but I did see other people walking around the site on my trip. I went on a Sunday to avoid any officialdom. The site is not secure and is easy to access - I entered under the railway bridge on Billacombe Road (where there is always a parked car), turned right and headed uphill when I reached an open area where a flimsy metal fence has blown over. There is a water tower on top of the ridge and the pyramidal orchids were mainly in the grassy area by the water tower. The marsh orchids were down on the quarry floor on a grassy bank on the right. The bee orchids were by the path as you head down to the quarry floor but I would imagine they will have gone over by now.

      Still getting used to using Blogger - hope you get this comment ok- and enjoy the quarry but be careful, let me know how you get on.

  2. Head under the railway bridge and follow the path right until you reach a large open area with ruined buildings and a blown down metal fence. Head up the hill over the blown down fence to the top of the ridge where there is a small water tower. The pyramidals were mainly in the grassy areas to the left of the water tower, the bees by the path as you head down the track from the water tower to the lakes and the southerns were mainly in the quarry floor on the right. I guess it is private land but a few other people were also walking around and going on a Sunday I figured there would be no officialdom around. Health and safety would probably have a fit too! But be careful and enjoy!