Thursday, 23 May 2013

Colour ringed Wood Warblers at Yarner Wood

A quick walk along the coast at Wembury on the 19th May was very quiet with grey skies and drizzle. Best birds were 12 sanderlings feeding along the tideline at high tide with 2 still in winter plumage. Also seen were at least 5 mobile whimbrel and 41 oystercatcher on the beach and rocks.

The cafe remains closed but the small ice cream/ coffee shed just below the car park has opened, no pasties but at least I can now get a hot drink. And I had a moth in the toilet block at last in the form of a very nice common carpet.

Common Carpet

Tuesday 21st May and the last day of my annual leave so I bribed David to take me to Yarner Wood with the promise of lunch and cake at the cafe in Bovey Tracey. Within 10 minutes of arriving at Yarner Wood and walking up the footpath from the car park to the new footbridge I had seen and heard my 2 target birds - wood warbler and pied flycatcher.

The male pied flycatchers were vocal and showy and mobile as they sang around the nest boxes by the footpath and I managed to see 2 duller females too. The males are surprisingly tame and seem quite unperturbed by people walking nearby, giving some excellent views.

Male Pied Flycatcher

Also showing very well was a wood warbler, singing constantly from trees by the footpath as it flitted through the canopy catching insects. It had colour rings on its legs as part of the RSPB ringing scheme to try and ascertain why the numbers of wood warblers are plummeting so dramatically. It had an orange ring above a silver ring on its left leg and a light blue ring above a black ring on its right leg and on e-mailing the sighting to Malcolm Burgess, the ringing scheme co-ordinator, he has confirmed the bird was ringed as a fledgling last year at Yarner Wood. Amazing to think it has flown all the way to Africa and back.

 Wood Warbler
Wood Warbler

I heard another wood warbler singing briefly nearby while watching the colour ringed bird and later saw another colour ringed bird moving quickly through the undergrowth before being lost from sight. This bird had 2 orange rings on its right leg but I couldn't catch a view of its left leg but Malcolm has confirmed that it bred last year at Blackpool Wood (not sure where that is!) but this year has settled in Yarner Wood. I also heard another bird singing briefly near the car park so there were at least 2, possibly 4, birds present in a relatively small area. I only hope the ringing scheme provides some useful information to help save the wood warbler from disappearing altogether, they are such beautiful birds and one of my all time favourites.

Also seen were a spotted flycatcher, a nuthatch, a buzzard, a mistle thrush and a great spotted woodpecker. On the heathland above the car park a pair of stonechats were very vocal, presumably with a nest nearby, while I flushed a tree pipit bathing in a small pool which gave some nice views as it preened in a small tree.

Tree Pipit

On the pond by the car park a pair of Mandarin duck were keeping watch on a lone, small duckling while a pair of grey wagtails were collecting nesting material and perching on the rooftops of the nearby cottages.

 Female Mandarin Duck
Male Mandarin Duck

A single holly blue, small white and comma were on the wing but on the journey home I saw male orange tips and brimstones by the roadside near Bovey Tracey. I also saw some early purple orchids by the side of the A38 near Ashburton.

Early Purple Orchid

I've also had the moth box out in the back yard on the 21st May and had my first yellow barred brindle of the year along with a common quaker and a new moth for me, a clouded drab, rather worn but ID'd with the help of the Back Garden Moth Community Forum.

 Common Quaker
A faded Clouded Drab

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Red Footed Falcon on a trip to Suffolk, 14th to 18th May 2013

With the week off work we headed off to Suffolk to visit Mum and Dad - and to do some birding too!

A red kite flying overhead and 2 red-legged partridge in a nearby field on a stop at Risby was a good start as we headed off to Lakenheath Fen on the 15th May. I visited Lakenheath Fen in 1989 before it was an RSPB reserve and had brief and obscured views of a male golden oriole on a nest in a poplar plantation there. Today it has been developed as a proper nature reserve with hides and a visitor centre and with reedbeds and waterways created from what were carrot fields. Golden orioles still nest here but in reduced and reducing numbers and on my visit none had yet been seen or heard this year, hopefully due only to the continuing cold and late spring.

I only had a short time so headed off to the embankment and hide from where a male red footed falcon was being reported. Eventually, with the help of a fellow birder and his telescope, I saw it in the distance sheltering with 2 hobbys from the strong winds and showers in trees overlooking the reed bed. It took to the air briefly, flying low over the reedbeds and showing its silvery upper wing tips against blue-grey plumage, before landing in the trees again. I couldn't make out its red legs in flight or when perched in the tree due to being partly obscured by foliage but I could see its red cere with the help of the telescope. While watching the red footed falcon a male marsh harrier flew over the reedbeds and a bittern was heard booming nearby, a nice supporting cast to my second lifer in 4 days!

 Large Red Damselfly - with deformed abdomen - Ickworth House
Large Red Damselfly - with normal abdomen - Ickworth House

We then headed off to nearby Weeting Heath to look for stone curlews.We managed good views of a pair doing a nest change over with the help of another fellow birders telescope, without his help and telescope we would not have seen them due to the distance and their amazing camouflaged plumage against the vegetation. At least with the bad weather there was no heat haze to contend with.

Stock Dove, Weeting Heath

Friday 17th May and I managed to wangle a few hours at the RSPB reserve at Minsmere, a place I spent as much time as possible at when I was a teenager. Despite the grey skies, drizzle and biting wind I had a great time and saw some good birds.

While watching a pair of marsh harriers I caught a brief flight view of a bittern while 3 bearded tits "pinged" and flew over the reed tops. A cuckoo was sitting quietly in a willow tree observing the reedbed, presumably a female looking for a nest to lay in, while a male called nearby. On the Scrape a pair of peregrines buzzed over, a small male and a much larger and brown toned plumaged immature female, putting up the common terns, avocets and black headed gulls, but they failed to make a kill. Around 40 kittiwakes were resting, bathing, and preening on one of the Scrape islands with some collecting beakfuls of mud before flying off along the coast, presumably to build nests on the nearby water outlet tower offshore from Sizewell nuclear power station.

Kittiwakes, Avocet and Black Headed Gulls, Minsmere

 Common Terns, Minsmere
Sedge Warbler, Minsmere

A pair of stone curlews were seen nesting in a field near the visitor centre and again, with the help of a fellow birders telescope, I had some good views. It is the first time I have seen stone curlews at Minsmere and if I had realised that they were nesting there I could have saved myself £12 entrance fee ( for 3 people) at Weeting Heath! Still, the entrance fee for Weeting Heath goes to a good cause so I can't complain.

I also saw red deer, another first for Minsmere, with 3 feeding in the reedbeds and a further 8 feeding along the woodland edge near the nesting stone curlews.

Red Deer, Minsmere

I took my moth box with me to Suffolk and I had it running one night in my Mums garden but with just 4 moths in it on the following morning -  2 shuttle shaped darts, a common quaker and a male muslin moth. I guess the cold, late spring is having an effect on moths in the East of the UK as much as it is in the South West.

 Common Quaker
Male Muslin Moth

Heading home on the 18th May and I saw 3 red kites overhead along the M3, and a stop at Barrington Court, a National Trust house and garden in Somerset, gave me good views of a pair of spotted flycatchers, my first of the year and a nice end to my trip to Suffolk.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Dotterels on Lundy, 12th May 2013, and Bonaparte's Gull at Topsham, 13th May 2013

Three years ago we went to Lundy for a day trip with the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society and spent the day trudging around Lundy in the mist and wind which didn't lift until we boarded the ferry for the return journey back to Bideford. Despite this I had a great time and fell in love with Lundy and have wanted to return to the island to see it in its full glory. However the trip this year was not to be the year of seeing Lundy again as it was cold, wet, misty and very windy, with the island again swathed in mist the whole day until it was time to leave for the mainland. I guess third time will be the charm.

Despite the weather I had a great day again with the best birds being 2 dotterels feeding in a grassy field near the island shop. I managed to get within 20 metres of the birds but they were surprisingly wary for dotterels, probably due to the appalling visibility from the thick mist, with their white supercilliums being very noticeable in the gloom. Despite the poor views I was very pleased to see them as they are a life tick for me.

A Dotterel in the mists of Lundy

I did three walks around the island during the 7 hours we had on Lundy, the first walk was on arrival when I saw the dotterels before I returned to the pub to dry off and warm up. We headed off to the quarry for the second walk, seeing wheatears, a male mallard and meadow pipits before heading back to the pub for lunch. The third walk saw me heading off to Jennys Cove to see the puffins which showed very well despite the strong winds and rain, at least 30 birds were on show on the grassy cliffs and on the sea below.

 Puffins at Jennys Cove, Lundy
A brief break in the mist at Jennys Cove, Lundy

Heading back to the boat for the trip home the mist cleared and I saw a flyover redpoll, 4 swallows, a pied wagtail and a peregrine before getting back on board. On the walk down the cliff path to the landing stage Lundy cabbages were in flower, an endemic species to the island.

Lundy Cabbage

The ferry trip to and from the island was pretty rough with many people being sea sick. However the wind and waves meant the Manx shearwaters showed amazingly well, totally in their element as they sheared across the wave troughs. Gannets, fulmars and kittiwakes were also seen including a dead adult gannet in the water and best bird was a great skua which took off from the water flashing its white wing patches before it disappeared from view amongst the waves. Another highlight were common dolphins which came in to bow ride the boat on the journey home, probably 4 individuals but they didn't hang around for long and were not particularly showy, giving just brief views only.

Monday 13th May and with the week off work I decided to head off to Topsham for a days birding. Arriving at the hide at Bowling Green Marsh the tide was high and waders were roosting at the back of the Marsh - whimbrel, black tailed godwit (some in winter plumage), dunlin (some in winter plumage), 4 greenshank and 4 bar tailed godwit (1 developing summer plumage). A female ruff was showing very well in front of the hide, feeding near 2 male and 2 female very late staying wigeon.

 Female Ruff with Male Wigeon
Female Ruff

A small group of black headed gulls were roosting in front of the hide when I arrived but just as I had gotten my binoculars out they took to the air. I managed to pick out 2 first summer little gulls amongst them, looking very smart with their black w markings on their upper wings and also looking very tiny against the black headed gulls. However the little gulls headed off out of sight, never to be seen again, but the black headed gulls all resettled back down again. I searched through them, looking for the reported Bonaparte's gull with no luck but I did find 2 common terns, my first of the year.

I then staked out the river by the recreation ground in Topsham where the Bonaparte's gull has often been seen as the tide recedes but after an hour waiting and with no show of the gull I headed off to Exmouth seafront to look for roseate terns that had been showing from here. Unfortunately the tide was way out by the time I arrived and I managed distant views of at least 30 commic terns flying around offshore and resting on the exposed sand banks. I managed to pick out some larger Sandwich terns and I did see a very grey looking commic tern (? an Arctic) and a very white looking commic tern (? a roseate) but with distance, heat haze and variable light conditions I couldn't be sure. A bonus though was a very nice hobby seen flying over Lympstone Village on the way to Exmouth.

Arriving back at Topsham I headed back to the recreation ground where I immediately found the Bonaparte's gull feeding on the exposed mud. It gave some great views, at times being near to a black headed gull allowing good comparison although the black headed was quite aggressive towards it at times, chasing it off if it got too close. The Bonaparte's gull was in smart summer plumage, with a black hood and short, bubble gum pink legs, and is probably the bird I eventually saw at Dawlish Warren last November.

 Bonaparte's Gull with a Black Headed Gull
Bonaparte's Gull

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Plymbridge Woods and Wembury

The May Day Bank Holiday Weekend, good weather for a change but only the Sunday (5th May) off from work so we headed off to Plymbridge Woods for a walk in the warm sunshine. A few butterflies were on the wing including my first green veined white and brimstone of the year along with 2 peacock and small whites.

The male peregrine was showing on its nest in the Quarry, watched over from the Viaduct by the attending volunteers keeping a protective vigil. Only its head was showing and we had just missed seeing the female flying off but the nest this year is in a very prominent place on the quarry face, in an old raven nest, so if the eggs hatch successfully there will be some good views of the young being fed.

Along the River were 2 grey wagtails, a dipper and a female mallard with some ducklings while under the water were trout, including 2 large individuals, and an eel. Best birds were 4 male Mandarins, a lone male and 3 males together, one of the 3 males had a silver ring on its right leg.

 Male Mandarin Duck
Male Mandarin Duck

Tuesday 7th May and on leaving the house I saw 2 swifts overhead, my first of the year, and from the bus on arriving at Wembury I saw another swift feeding with house martins.My quick walk along the coast at Wembury before yet more night shifts was pretty much a repeat of my walk on the 2nd May. The 2 shelduck were again roosting on the beach near the sewage pipe while 5 male mallards fed nearby. The 2 Canada geese were feeding in the wheatfield and along the beach single whimbrels were mobile and flighty with 2 bird seen together. However in the field above the horse stable a small flock of around 30 whimbrel were busily feeding.

Whitethroats were again very noticeable singing and songflighting and I heard blackcap and chiffchaff singing too. A kestrel, a buzzard, 4 male and 2 female stonechats and 2 oystercatcher were also seen with a lone adult gannet offshore heading East.

2 red admirals, small white, a speckled wood, a peacock and my first orange tip and holly blue were seen but there were no moths again in the toilet block despite the recent warmer nights - I suspect the lights are not on at the moment with the cafe being closed. Also seen were a very confiding common lizard and a squashed oil beetle on the footpath in the area where I saw one on the 2nd.

 Common Lizard
 Small White
Red Admiral feeding on Sloe Blossom
I had the moth box out in the back yard on the 5th May and had my first shuttle shaped dart and knot grass of the year and on leaving work this morning after my night shift I caught an early thorn fluttering around in the corridor which I brought home and released in the back yard.

Early Thorn

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Wembury - 2nd May 2013

A quick walk along the coast path at Wembury in the sunshine was very pleasant and quite productive with my first speckled wood and red admiral sightings of the year.

Speckled Wood

Common lizards were sunning themselves on the fence posts, 2 large adults and 7 smaller, darker youngsters. An adder did its usual trick of scaring the crap out of me as it slithered across the footpath right under my feet at Wembury Point, a small, very yellow hued individual but big enough to make me jump.

 Adult Common Lizard
Adult Common Lizard

Best bird was a female redstart feeding from the trees near the gate by the road up to Wembury Church, swooping down to the ground to snatch insects and regularly quivering its red tail, only my second ever Wembury redstart.

Whitethroats were busily songflighting, 6 males in total and also seen were 2 females. Whimbrels were also in evidence along the beach, the most seen together at any one time were 13 but there were probably more present as they were very mobile and noisey and flighty due to disturbance along the beach by walkers. A pair of shelduck were feeding on the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe with 7 male mallard and 2 Canada geese flew along the shoreline. A male blackcap was seen singing but there was no sight or sound of any chiffchaffs.

Singing Male Whitethroat


A lone oil beetle was also seen by the footpath trying to dig a hole in the rock hard mud.

Oil Beetle

The cafe remains closed and there were no moths in the toilet block, either because the lights aren't on or because of the cold weather,or both.

Leaf Beetle sp.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Double Dartmoor Days and a New Moth for the Back-Yard

Doing some gardening in the back yard on Friday 26th April and a moth was disturbed from the vegetation, flying in to the house where it was lost from sight. Monday 29th April and just as I was about to leave for work at 06:30 a moth fluttered around the living room and I managed to pot it up before leaving the house. It looked like an oddly marked snout but when I got home and checked the guide books I realised it was a Bloxworth snout, a rare moth that has colonised the South West - new for me and new for the back yard. Unfortunately it escaped from the pot and I only managed a few poor photos of it - hopefully I will refind it somewhere in the house.

Bloxworth Snout - an overwintering adult

Bloxworth Snout

Tuesday 30th and I headed off to Dartmoor for a birdying day out with Mavis and Mike, an annual event, and after a bit of a delay with the bus due to a breakdown and traffic we headed off to Warren House Inn. Walking from the Inn to Challacombe Farm we saw the usual suspects - whinchats, wheatears, reed buntings, meadow pipits, stonechats, songflighting tree pipits, willow warblers and redstarts. 2 cuckoos gave great views, associating together and presumably a male and female with a few "cuckoo" calls heard along with a bubbly chuckling. A raven, a green woodpecker and a kestrel were flyover birds and a grasshopper warbler was heard reeling but not seen.

 Singing Male Whinchat, Challacombe Farm
 Singing Male Redstart, Challacombe Farm
Singing Male Swallow, Challacombe Farm

A few small tortoiseshell were seen flying by along with a few small white and an early thorn moth was a surprise as it fluttered around in a grassy tussock. 2 green tiger beetles were a nice sight too.

.Early Thorn
Green Tiger Beetle

Challacombe Farm was as good as ever with more whinchats, wheatears, reed buntings and redstarts. 4 displaying stock doves were circling together overhead and a cuckoo was heard briefly. A treecreeper was a nice sight feeding on a moss covered tree trunk.

After lunch at The Warren House Inn we headed off to Burrator and Cuckoo Rock where a cuckoo was briefly heard. Redstarts were again noticeable, all singing males except for 1 female seen with a male. We failed to see or hear any pied flycatchers despite Mavis having seen one here a few days previously but another treecreeper was found while watching and waiting for the pied flycatchers to show. Heading home it had been a great day out on a sunny but very chilly day due to the biting wind

Moss covered tree near Cuckoo Rock

Wednesday 1st May and the wind had dropped so I headed off to Grenofen Woods for a walk. It was sunny and pleasantly warm and I had a lovely walk. My target bird was garden warbler and despite not hearing any I was lucky to get a brief view of a single bird in a hawthorn bush before it flew off and later a brief view of a pair flitting through the undergrowth with one bird silently chasing the other with fluttering wings before being lost from sight.

There was no sight or sound of any tree pipits , pied flycatchers or wood warblers but male redstarts were very much in evidence with at least 4 males seen singing. A male yellowhammer was a nice find, surprisingly my first of the year, and 2 marsh tit, 2 goldcrest, a jay, a green woodpecker and a great spotted woodpecker were also seen. 2 ravens were mobbed by 4 carrion crows and later 2 buzzards were mobbed by a raven. A single swallow was seen overhead with a lone sparrowhawk which did a massive poo in mid flight.

Willow warblers were busily singing away along with chiffchaff and blackcap and along the river 2 dippers were seen nest building with an adult later seen feeding a recent fledgling. 2 grey wagtails also fed along the river with a pair of mallard.

 Dipper with nesting material, Grenofen
 Fledgling Dipper
Grey Wagtail

Hedge garlic was beginning to flower and wood sorrel was flowering across the woodland, I tried some and it has a fresh, acidic, citrusy taste. Small white and small tortoiseshell were also seen flitting about along with a comma butterfly.

 Wood Sorrel
Wood Sorrel

So all in all not a bad couple of days out on Dartmoor!