Sunday, 29 June 2014

River Exe and Wembury

Saturday June 27th and I headed off to Topsham to have another look at the apparently summering Ross's gull, seeing the resident Slavonian grebe in summer plumage at Cockwood from the train on the way there. Arriving at the hide at Bowling Green Marsh at around 8:30 there were just 2 birders present so I settled in to scan the roosting birds present due to the high tide. The Ross's gull had been showing very well around 15 minutes before I arrived before disappearing amongst the large numbers of black headed gulls but eventually I managed a brief flight view of it as it landed on the mud before walking off behind a grassy bank and out of sight - not the views I had hoped for! It stayed hidden for a good hour before all the gulls took off together and flew off to the River Clyst. I again managed some brief flight views but I soon lost it amongst the flying gulls, again not the views I had hoped for! Never mind.

As compensation I had some distant views of 2 summer plumaged spotted redshanks roosting amongst the wader flock, mostly obscured by redshanks, curlews and black-tailed godwits but eventually showing well before flying off to the River Clyst as the tide receded. Also seen amongst the wader flock were 4 greenshanks, 2 whimbrel and a few lapwing.

2 (distant) Spotted Redshanks (on the left) with Redshanks

I headed off to Dawlish Warren for a wander around, getting wet at times in the heavy showers before sweltering in the sunny spells. Marsh helleborines were in flower and there were a few tatty looking southern marsh orchids still hanging on. Small skippers were very noticeable along with meadow browns and a few six spot burnets. I managed to find some cinnabar moth caterpillars and some mullein moth caterpillars and a few blue tailed damselflys were flitting about amongst the bramble bushes.

 Marsh Helleborine
 Marsh Helleborine
 Female Blue tailed Damselfy
 Male Blue tailed Damselfly
Mullein Moth Caterpillar

Offshore a few gannets were flying around with Sandwich terns diving for fish. A flock of around 10 common scoters were very hard to see amongst the choppy seas. On the main pond were 4 well grown young little grebes with 2 reed warblers heard singing. Chiffchaff and blackcap were heard and whitethroats were busily songflighting and a pair of Canada geese were very protective of 4 goslings, hissing at me as I passed by.

Sunday 29th June and I headed off to Wembury despite the grey skies but it eventually turned out quite sunny and warm. Bird wise it was as expected very quiet with 1 oystercatcher, 2 curlew and 7 male and 1 female mallard along the beach and a few gannets offshore. Chiffchaff and blackcap were heard and whitethroats were heard and seen including quite a few fledglings. Stonechat fledglings were also noticeable. A cirl bunting was heard singing near the sewage farm with a second bird seen singing at the same time and later a third male was seen at Wembury Point.

Insect life was again abundant with a large skipper, a red admiral, a large white and 2 small tortoiseshells being seen along with my first for the year small white and a marbled white. There were also good numbers of ringlets and meadow browns flitting around. Best of all was a hummingbird hawkmoth flying back and forth over a shale covered area on the cliff at Wembury Point, presumably enjoying the radiant heat, and 2 six spot burnets were seen feeding on thistle flowers. Bloody-nosed beetles were seen high up in the pathside vegetation including a mating pair and 2 young speckled bush crickets were also seen. It was also nice to see the sea kale has survived on the beach after the horrendous winter storms as it finally comes in to leaf.

Marbled White
 Bloody-nosed Beetle
 Speckled Bush Cricket nymph
Sea Kale hanging on in there along the beach

Heading home and I stopped off at Blagdons Meadow to look for bee orchids but I was out of luck although there was a very tatty southern marsh orchid still hanging on. A lone burnet companion was seen along with six spot burnets, meadow browns and a ringlet. 2 male whitethroats were still singing away and a shelduck was feeding on the very smelly mudflats at low tide before I headed off home just as a shower of rain started.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Bude Wildlife

Perfect weather for a few days away at the caravan in Bude - hot and sunny - and on checking out the toilet blocks on arriving on Sunday 15th June it looked like it was going to be good for mothing with Chinese character, lynchis, cinnabar moth, bloodvein, buff tip, spectacle, herald and marbled coronet being found.


I had the moth box out for 2 nights and had a good haul of moths with poplar, elephant and eyed hawkmoths, sharp angled peacock, small fan-foot, pebble prominent, Brussels lace, small angle shades, double square spot and plain golden y being the highlights. I also managed to ID 2 micromoth species - Swammerdamia pyrella and Pseudargyrotoza conwagana.

 Pebble Prominent
 Sharp Angled Peacock
 Small Fan-foot
 Eyed Hawkmoth
 Pseudargyyrotoza conwagana
Swammerdamia pyrella

A few butterflys were also on the wing with a painted lady being the best sighting and along the stream at Crooklets Beach there was a demoiselle sp., a blue tailed damselfly and a large dragonfly sp., possibly hairy dragonfly. In the stream were a few sticklebacks but no sign of any whirligig beetles.

Male Stickleback

Bird wise it was quiet but I did get some good views of Manx shearwaters offshore, most of them distant but a few were closer in including a flock of around 30 which passed very close to the cliffs as they headed North towards Lundy Island. It was interesting to see them fly low over the waves before splashing down on the water and diving to catch food. A few gannets and a fulmar were also seen and while scanning the water I saw a harbour porpoise breaching a few times with others giving their usual blink and miss it fin views although they were quite distant. A fox and 2 hares were seen in a mown hay meadow late one evening but there was no sign of any barn owls. Maer Lake was also quiet with a male teal seen and the subdued quiet singing of a sedge warbler heard being the best of it.

I also had the moth box out in the back yard on my return, only my second time this year, and I had some nice moths including a clouded bordered brindle, a fan-foot, a middle barred minor, a cabbage moth and a few Pseudarygyrotoza conwagana.

Middle Barred Minor

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Choughed with Great White Egrets

A hot and sunny day on June 11th, a perfect day to head to The Lizard in Cornwall with Mavis and Mike to look for the choughs breeding at The Lizard Point. With news of the recent fledgling of the 3 youngsters I was hoping they were still in the area and hadn't moved off to the fields where they would be more difficult to find. However within 5 minutes of arriving at the watchpoint we heard the familiar sound of calling choughs and the 2 adult birds flew in to feed the young birds which were unfortunately out of sight on the cliff face. We continued to have good views of the adults as they flew in to feed the young birds throughout the morning and later when walking along the cliff top path we had even better views of the adults as they flew to and fro overhead.

 Chough at The Lizard Point Chough Watchpoint
Chough at The Lizard

Offshore there was a steady passage of gannets heading West, mostly adult birds but also a few sub-adults and juveniles. Manx shearwaters were also seen heading West, a group of 6 and a group of 20, but they were distant and difficult to keep track of amongst the waves and bright light. A few fulmar and an oystercatcher were also seen and along the clifftops whitethroats and stonechats were feeding amongst the bushes.

Butterflys were on the wing with my first small heath, meadow brown, large white, small pearl bordered fritillary and large skipper of the year being seen along with common blue and small tortoiseshell. Best of all though were 1, possibly 2, clouded yellows looking vey bright in the sunshine and the earliest I have seen them in the UK before. Also seen was a vey nice green tiger beetle that flew off before I could get a photo of it.

June 14th and I finally managed to get myself to Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath in Somerset, somewhere I have been thinking of visiting all spring. After a train ride to Taunton, a bus ride to Glastonbury and a short taxi drive I arrived at Ham Wall on a hot and sunny morning. Most noticeable on arrival were the numbers of dragonflys and damselflys on the wing, they seemed to be everywhere and were very fast and mobile in the warm weather. I managed to ID my first red-eyed and blue-tailed damselflys along with my first black tailed skimmers and I also saw a few emperor dragonflys but others eluded ID as they whizzed by.

 Common Blue Damselfly?
 Blue tailed Damselfly
 Male Black Tailed Skimmer
Female Black Tailed Skimmer

Bird wise I had some great flight views of bitterns overhead and over the reed beds and one was briefly heard booming. 3 cuckoos were seen with another 2 birds heard. Warblers were much in evidence with blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff heard only and garden warbler, Cettis warbler, reed warbler and whitethroat seen and heard. 3 female and a male marsh harrier were seen along with buzzards and a female sparrowhawk but I missed seeing any hobbys.

A large white bird flying distantly over the reeds turned out to be a great white egret but it soon disappeared from view but later I managed some great views of a bird feeding in the small pools at the observation deck at Ham Wall, although it was quite flighty and often disappeared from view. I also heard bearded tits regularly "pinging" in the reeds near the observation platform and managed 2 brief views of a juvenile in the top of the reeds before disappearing from view which was a very nice surprise. Marsh frogs were also heard croaking, a very loud and strange sound, but they were in a ditch and out of sight from the path.

Walking back to Glastonbury it became increasingly hot and I was very glad to get back to the town centre for something to eat and drink before journeying home. And to end off the day I saw the long staying/ resident Slavonian grebe on the River Exe near Cockwood as the train rode by, looking very smart in its summer plumage.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ross's Gull at Bowling Green Marsh

With 2 1st Summer little gulls being reported regularly at Bowling Green Marsh at high tide I had put a visit there on my To Do list but as this year has been a bit of a little gull fest for me already it was low down on the list. However things changed when one of the birds was reidentified as a 1st Summer Ross's gull and a visit to Bowling Green Marsh was moved to the top of my To Do list!

The first chance I had to visit was Monday 2nd June and I had hoped that after the weekend and the initial excitement the hide at the Marsh might have been a bit quieter but on arrival it was packed out. I managed to get a seat right at the back where viewing was very difficult due to the mass of bodies, telescopes and cameras in the way. Overhearing that the gull had flown off 10 minutes earlier I decided to head off to the viewing platform overlooking the River Clyst only to find it was closed due to ongoing repair work of the damage caused by the winter floods and gales. I carried on to The Goatwalk for a quick look but it was high tide and there was not a bird to be seen and so I returned to the hide where things were quieter and I managed to get a seat at the window.

Scanning through the roosting flock of black headed gulls I managed to find my first 2 Mediterranean gulls of the year, both 1st summers but one had a pale head and orange bill with grey upperwings and the other had an almost complete black hood and red bill but with brown feathering amongst its grey upperwings. Also on the Marsh were 3 male tufted ducks, a male teal and a calling male wigeon (most incongruous on a June day in Devon!) with a stock dove and house martin flying around. A flock of roosting black- and bar-tailed godwits at the back of the Marsh had mostly summer plumaged birds.

The gulls and godwits were very restless and eventually someone called the Ross's gull in the gull roost just as a large and brown looking female peregrine flew across the Marsh causing complete panic. The gull flock took to the air and I managed to pick out the Ross's gull as the flock flew off towards the River Clyst with its smaller size, black W across its upper wings, pale head and crucially its black tipped diamond shaped tail being obvious. The gulls eventually returned but there was no further sight of the Ross's gull - not the views I had hoped for but nice to see none the less. I waited around for a while to see if it would return and was very pleased I did as a 1st Summer spoonbill flew in and began to feed - it had an orange coloured spoon but the underside was quite pinky and it lacked the crest and yellow breast ring of an adult - and gave much better views than the 3 I saw on Drakes Island earlier in the year.

The Ross's gull had often been seen from Exton station at low tide and so I caught the train there as the tide went out but after an hours watching there was no sign of it. I did however see a whimbrel and a pair of shelduck with 5 fluffy ducklings while scanning the gulls on the mudflats despite the heat haze. I only hope that the Ross's gull stays a while so I can have another go at getting a better view of it although I had excellent views of the long staying over wintering bird on the River Plym back in 1988.

On the way back to Plymouth I stopped off at Dawlish Warren for an hour for a quick look around and despite the choppy conditions offshore I managed to find a male and 2 female common scoters and a few gannets. At the main pond were 2 juvenile little grebes, maybe the 2 small fledglings I saw a few weeks ago, and 2 reed warblers were heard singing. Many Southern marsh orchids were flowering along with a few blue eyed grass, and a red admiral and an azure damselfly were flitting around.

 Azure Damselfly
Blue Eyed Grass

Thursday 5th June and we had a walk around Stoke Point in glorious sunshine. The walk was as beautiful as always and I managed to see a male Dartford warbler with 2 fledglings feeding amongst the gorse in attendance of a pair of stonechats. Butterflies were on the wing including a wall brown, a female common blue, red admirals and my first painted lady of the year looking very tatty and worn.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Nightjars and Cuckoos

A sunny day on May 27th and so we headed off to the caravan at Bude to see the Outlaws. The water levels were still high at nearby Maer Lake but I did see a very nice summer plumaged black tailed godwit, 2 shelduck, male and female mallards with various sized ducklings and a flyover whimbrel heard calling. A look at the sea from the nearby clifftops and there was nothing of note in the calm conditions. The toilet block held a small magpie, an unknown faded moth and a smaller unknown moth which flew away before I could catch it!

? Moth species

That evening I headed off to Plymbridge Woods for my annual National Trust Nightjar Night Walk in ideal weather conditions - warm, clear and still. A very noisy tawny owl was calling in trees by the footpath while we waited for the nightjars to start churring but I couldn't locate it in the fading light. The nightjars began to churr as dusk fell, only 1 bird was heard churring at any one time but churring was heard in 3 different areas. We did get good views of 2 birds though - a churring male in silhouette in a tree with a second bird seen resting on the footpath and occasionally flying up to presumably chase a moth or beetle.

The following day and I headed up to Dartmoor for my annual Dartmoor Day with Mavis and Mike. The weather had changed and it was misty, drizzly and showery but we managed to see some good birds, starting with 2 cuckoos flying by the car near Bellever on the drive to Warren House.

At Warren House we had good views of 2 noisy and mobile cuckoos, 2 male whinchats with 1 singing, a flyover redpoll cha-cha-cha-ing, a (silent) flying green woodpecker, songflighting tree pipits, a flyover stock dove and a male reed bunting. Heath spotted orchids were beginning to flower but there was no sign of any sundews. We also found a very nice (and big) drinker moth caterpillar (ideal cuckoo food!) and a large oak eggar moth caterpillar, a new caterpillar for me and ID'd by Tony Johns.

 Oak Eggar Caterpillar
Oak Eggar Caterpillar

We walked to Challacombe Farm where we had good views of a spotted flycatcher and a male redstart along with a flyover and silent cuckoo, 2 stock doves, a male reed bunting and some wheatears. The hillsides were covered in a fragrant swath of bluebells which looked absolutely stunning as the wind rippled across the vegetation.

Bluebell covered hillside at Challacombe Farm

After lunch at the Warren House Inn we headed off to Cuckoo Rock where we had a wonderful walk although I was beginning to suffer a bit with a coldy bug thing that had been lurking around for a few days. We did hear a cuckoo calling but didn't see it but redstarts where very much in evidence with a male seen carrying food and a female seen carrying nesting material amongst others seen and heard. A tree pipit was seen singing from a tree top and also seen were a few wheatears, willow warblers, a male sparrowhawk and a pair of grey wagtail.

Male Redstart

And so it had been a busy but very enjoyable few days wildlife watching and my year list now stands at 173.