Tuesday, 28 April 2015

More Summer Migrants

April 24th and lunch at Torcross and a walk along Slapton Ley was relatively quiet with a noticeable change in the weather - grey skies, stiff south-westerly breeze, cool and a hint of rain to come.

Reed warblers were chuntering away and I managed some very brief, obscured views as they skulked in the reed bases. Cettis warblers were also very vocal but I couldn't catch a sight of one. Chiffchaffs and blackcaps were vocal and showy as was a smart male cirl bunting near the bridge. A whimbrel flew over calling and 4 Sandwich terns were noisely patrolling back and forth along the beach.

The highlight were 4 swifts in a feeding flock of swallows, house martins and sand martins over the Ley at Torcross - they gave themselves away by screaming noisely and chasing each other and are I think the earliest I have seen here in the UK.

April 26th and we had a quick visit to Cotehele in Cornwall to have a look at the apple blossom in the orchards. The older trees in the established orchard were in full bloom and looking stunning despite the grey sky but the flowers on the new orchard trees were not quite ready to open.

Apple Blossom, Cotehele

A male yellowhammer singing in the top of a bare tree, a chuntering reed warbler hidden in the reeds at Cotehele Quay and a pair of male whitethroats having a sing-off in a hedgerow were the avian highlights.

April 28th and it was time to head off to Grenofen Woods for my annual walk. It was sunny but cool and breezey, out of the breeze it was quite pleasant though. The only butterfly I saw was a lone speckled wood but I did see a few longhorn moths flitting about in the tree tops.

 Longhorn Moth, Grenofen Woods
Longhorn Moth (Adela reaumurella)

A redstart singing in the trees in the usual place on the walk up through the woods kept well hidden but as I emerged out of the trees on to the common I had some good views of a singing male before it disappeared in the undergrowth. I later had good views of at least another 3 singing males, all very vocal but active and mobile.

Blurry, distant male Redstart
A garden warbler singing in the usual place by the footpath on leaving the woods gave some good views but was very mobile too - at times its song was quite scratchy and almost grating to the ears before switching back to the more usual pleasant tones. I managed to see another 2 singing males which gave better views and I also heard a 4th male which kept itself hidden in the bushes.

 Singing Garden Warbler
Garden Warbler

Sitting on the hillside overlooking the valley enjoying a chocolate bar and the view and a small falcon caught my eye - it turned out to be a hobby flying over the trees heading towards Dartmoor, a very nice surprise and my second Grenofen sighting. A tree pipit started singing nearby and gave some nice views before flying off and I had some more distant views of a 2nd song-flighting bird. A male yellowhammer also sang briefly before flying off.

Tree Pipit

Along the river a pair of grey wagtails were busily feeding but there was no sign of any dippers. As usual there were sadly no wood warblers or pied flycatchers.

Male Grey Wagtail

A female great spotted woodpecker, 2 jays, 3 buzzards, 2 ravens, a yaffling green woodpecker, a grey heron flying over, 3 house martins, 2 swallows and a male bullfinch were also seen along with the usual woodland species. A minotaur beetle was also a first for me (although I didn't realise it was a dung beetle as it crawled all over my hands!) and a nice end on what had been a very enjoyable day out.

 Minotaur Beetle
Minotaur Beetle close up

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Little Ringed Plover, River Plym

A last minute days annual leave on April 22nd and it was off to Bude with the Outlaws to sort out the caravan for the summer season. It was sunny but cool in a strong breeze which made putting up the awning with 2 80+year olds a lot of fun! Amongst all the usual sorting out the caravan shananigans I managed to hear a whimbrel calling overhead and I saw a flyover raven, hovering kestrel, a calling greenshank, swallows and sand martins.

A walk to nearby Maer Lake and a male pochard and a pair of shoveler were notable, the female shoveler being very pale looking. 2 shelduck were with the feeding teal and mallard and I also found a common sandpiper and 5 summer plumaged dunlin. A chiffchaff was singing away but a willow warbler was much more subdued, quietly singing brief snatches of song in a hedgerow out of sight.

The toilet block held 3 moths - a male pale tussock, a male brindled beauty and a new moth for me, a frosted green, ID'd with help from the Cornwall Moth Group e-forum.

Male Pale Tussock

Male Brindled Beauty

Frosted Green

Wembury beckoned on April 23rd, another sunny but breezey day. 17 whimbrel were along the beach with just 1 summer plumaged bar-tailed godwit. They were wary and flighty due to the high tide but gave some nice views. Whitethroats, chiffchaffs and blackcaps were vocal and showy and swallows flew past regularly. A willow warbler quietly sang deep in cover.


At Wembury Point I quickly found a male Dartford warbler harrassing and chasing off a disgruntled looking male whitethroat. Further along the path I found a singing male Dartford warbler, active and mobile as usual, and I wonder if there are actually 2 males at the Point this year. There was no sign of any females though.

Another distant and blurry Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler

Dartford Warbler

2 common lizards, orange tips, green veined whites, a speckled yellow moth, a wall, holly blues and a ruby tiger moth were the non-avian highlights.


Ruby Tiger Moth

Green Veined White

Male Orangetip

On the bus journey back to Plymouth I decided to get off at Laira Bridge for a walk to Blaxton Meadow by the River Plym to have a look for a little ringed plover reported there yesterday. I soon found the bird feeding on the marshy ground very close to the footpath where it gave some great views. It was interesting to see it feeding in the same manner as the 3 birds I saw at the same site in March 2013 - shaking the vegetation with one foot and snatching at any insects disturbed. A very nice bird to see on the River Plym and a nice end to the day.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

Speckled Wood, Saltram

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Waders and Warblers

Despite the warm and sunny days it has been quite cool at night but I have had the moth box out twice and have had 5 species of moth - early grey, common quaker, light brown apple moth, Hebrew character and nut tree tussock.

Nut Tree Tussock

My sister Vikki has recently moved to Bristol and so we headed off for a visit on 16th April. On arrival we had a walk with the dog around the nearby Stoke Park in the warm sunshine. I could hear chiffchaffs and blackcaps singing and saw a green woodpecker and a male kestrel. Cowslips were flowering in profusion on the hillside overlooking the M32 and I saw my first orange tips of the year. A trip to the SS Great Britain in the Bristol Docks was very interesting and it was nice to spend some time with Vik and Nik and Jack who we don't see that often.

Kestrel, Stoke Park, Bristol

The next day I headed off by train and bus to Slimbridge for a days birding before the drive back to Plymouth. A hoopoe had been seen the previous day but despite searching all likely areas I didn't find it. A willow warbler singing in trees at Cam and Dursley railway station was a good start and at Slimbridge I heard my first reed warblers and sedge warblers of the year but only managed to see 2 skulking male sedge warblers lurking in the vegetation. Little ringed plovers were much more showy with at least 3 birds seen. A male ruff moulting in to black summer plumage was a nice find and there were around 120+ black tailed godwits feeding around the site, most in summer plumage. 8 avocets were sat on nests on an island in front of the Holden tower with birds seen feeding elsewhere on site. Lapwings, 2 oystercatchers and 5 redshanks completed the wader list for the day.

Little Ringed Plover, Slimbridge - distant record shot

Little Ringed Plover

A pink footed goose was a surprise, feeding with greylag geese and presumably the lone wild bird which turned up last autumn and now doesn't know where to go. A red breasted goose flying past the Zeiss hide with Canada geese was another goosey surprise, presumably an escaped bird but not one from the Slimbridge collection.

Pink Footed Goose

Chiffchaffs, blackcaps, singing but not seen Cettis warblers, 4 swallows, a kingfisher, a peregrine and 2 Mediterranean gulls were the other bird highlights and it was nice to see brimstones, orange tips, green veined whites and peacocks on the wing.

Mangy Robin with leg ring, Slimbridge

Mother and Baby Rat, Slimbridge

Cowslip, Slimbridge


Saturday April 18th and I headed off to Wembury for a walk. It was sunny but with a very strong easterly wind which hampered birding. It was good to see my first whimbrel of the year, around 18 birds in a loose and flighty flock along the beach and amongst the rocks. One bird had an orange plastic ring on its left leg and a silver metal ring on its right. Searching through them I found 2 very smart summer plumaged bar tailed godwits which were equally flighty.

Whimbrel and Bar Tailed Godwit, Wembury

Whimbrel with leg rings, Wembury

Bar Tailed Godwit, Wembury

Whimbrel, Wembury

After a bit of scanning around Wembury Point I found the male Dartford warbler, very active and mobile as usual but giving some nice views. He sang for brief periods before flying off out of sight but there was no sign of the female - hopefully she hasn't been snaffled by a sparrowhawk.

Male Dartford Warbler - another blurry, distant shot

A peregrine patrolled up and down the coast much to the consternation of the 4 swallows around the horse stables which flew up high calling noisely everytime the peregrine flew by. I managed to hear my first  2 male whitethroats of the year quietly singing amongst the sloe blossom and eventually saw a third male singing from the top of brambles before diving in to cover.

Male Whitethroat

Just 2 common lizards were seen basking in the sun and a dead slow worm by the footpath in the valley to the beach was a surprise sight. A male orange tip whizzed past in the strong wind and the toilet block held 3 pug moths - a double striped pug, an oak tree pug and an unknown pug species.

Oak Tree Pug

Lords and Ladies, Wembury

Having missed the bus back to Plymouth I walked up through the village and disturbed 2 red legged partridge near Traine Farm before eventually catching the next bus back to Plymouth, having had some nice sightings of a selection of waders and warblers amongst others over the last few days.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Day Calling Tawny Owls at Noss Mayo

With 3 days off in a row and some good weather I decided to get out and about as much as possible. With a mini influx of hoopoes, ring ouzels and ospreys I kept my fingers crossed and headed off to the coast.

Thursday 9th April and it was hot and sunny but hazy on a walk around Stoke Point. Chiffchaffs were very vocal and showy and I heard a few blackcaps and managed a brief view of a male singing. Stonechats were also vocal and showy but despite searching I couldn't find any Dartford warblers in attendance. A few swallows flew by and 2 male wheatears were seen feeding on grassy areas on the cliff side. Cirl buntings were very noticeable, the most I have seen on this walk before, and I managed to find 2 male yellowhammers near The Warren car park before they flew off. Buzzards, kestrels and ravens flew along the cliffs and a peregrine was seen high over Noss Mayo before heading off towards Plymouth.

My first speckled woods, walls and commas of the year were seen along with peacocks, small tortoiseshells and a brief view of a white sp. before it disappeared from view. A female oil beetle was also seen digging a hole in the mud on the footpath - I carefully moved it on to some mud nearby and out of harms way from walkers boots.



The highlight were 3 tawny owls calling in Ferry Wood at Noss Mayo, one bird "tu-wu" ing and 2 birds "kewick"ing.  It sounded most strange in the bright sunlight, especially the "tu-wu"ing and I tried to find them amongst the trees but had no luck. I have heard tawny owls calling in the daytime once before - 2 birds on a sunny day in February at Wembury a few years ago - and I have sent my sighting (or rather hearing) to the BTO who are conducting research in to this phenomena.

Friday 10th and the skys were grey and cloudy and it was quite cool compared to the previous day. A quick walk along the footpath at Wembury was fairly quiet with chiffchaffs, blackcaps and cirl buntings seen and heard. A green woodpecker was heard yaffling but I couldn't find it. Just 1 common lizard was seen in the cloudy conditions and I found a moth at the window of the toilet block, a male dotted border. I did at least manage to get a steak pasty in the cafĂ© this time!

Violet sp., Wembury Point

Another Violet sp., Wembury Point (larger flowers than above)

Male Dotted Border, Wembury

Saturday 11th and I headed off to Rame Head in Cornwall, a place I have visited a few times but have never really explored or birded before (except for a twitch a few years ago to see an Iberian chiffchaff). It can be a good place to sea watch from in the right conditions and I have wanted to do a reccy there for some time. The bus dropped me off at Whitsand Bay and I walked along the coast to Rame Head and then to Cawsands, catching the ferry back to Plymouth, and it was an enjoyable walk. It was sunny but cold and breezey following overnight rain and this had a bit of a dampner on birding. I did hear a willow warbler and blackcaps singing and chiffchaffs were seen and heard. A swallow around some farm buildings and a second bird mobbing a sparrowhawk at Cawsands were nice to see and a Sandwich tern diving for fish close to shore at Penlee Point were the only other summer migrants seen.

Rame Head Chapel

Rame Head from Penlee Point

I managed to find 3 yellowhammers and a pair of cirl buntings on the cliff sides and offshore a few gannets and fulmars were seen. A female sparrowhawk was in hunting mode low over the gorse while buzzards and kestrels flew overhead. A group of fallow deer were also feeding amongst the cliffside vegetation but were very nervous looking and often retreated in to deeper cover. A speckled wood and a few peacocks were also seen in more sheltered spots.


Fallow Deer

Peacock in Primroses

And so I failed to find any of the previous mentioned birds - I had considered a trip to Polgigga in Cornwall to look for hoopoes that have been seen there but didn't fancy the 6 hour round trip to get there and back. Maybe next week?