Friday, 22 May 2015

Cuckoos and Whinchats on Dartmoor and a Wembury Walk

May 20th and it was time for my annual Dartmoor day with Mavis and Mike - well, just Mavis this year as Mike was away at their daughters. It was cold with a brisk North Westerly breeze but when the sun came out from behind the clouds it was quite pleasant, the sun appearing more and more as the day progressed.

We started off at Challacombe Farm where we saw many of our target birds for the day - a cuckoo heard calling, getting nearer and nearer to us before flying overhead; a male redstart heard singing but not seen; a pair of spotted flycatchers feeding in the trees before melting away, never to be seen again; a songflighting tree pipit, the first I have seen here; 2 stock doves flying over and later heard coo-ing; a very brightly coloured male redpoll songflighting overhead ; a treecreeper and a nuthatch feeding in the trees; and a pair of whinchat feeding together before chasing off a much brighter coloured male which interloped on their territory.

Four very cute and tame piglets at Challacombe Farm

David joined us for lunch at the Warren house Inn before Mavis and I headed off to Golden Dagger and Soussons for the afternoon. Despite the strong breeze we had some good sightings - a mobile cuckoo was heard calling and we had some lovely views of it perched in the top of a hawthorn bush; a tree pipit songflighted briefly; a male kestrel mobbed a hovering buzzard; a male redpoll songflighted regularly overhead; a pair of siskins briefly landed in a willow tree before flying off; 2 garden warblers were heard but not seen; and a male whitethroat songflighted in the usual area near the ruined cottage.

Cuckoo, Warren House

Most noticeable were whinchats, they seemed to be everywhere along the walk. The males were busily singing and most appeared to have attracted a mate for the summer. At times they were quite confiding, showing well quite close to the path but were always active and rarely stayed still for long.

Male Whinchat, Warren House

Also seen were a green tiger beetle, sundew, tadpoles in the stream that flows along the footpath, a female orange tip, a green veined white and a peacock butterfly but there was no sign yet of the heath spotted orchids.

 Green Tiger Beetle


May 21st and I decided to head out to Wembury for a walk. It was warm and sunny with the breeze much gentler than yesterday. The highlight was a sedge warbler singing in the vegetation behind the boat yard but despite waiting and watching I couldn't catch a sight of it. Also seen were 9 whimbrel flying West along the coast, a shelduck roosting on the beach, 12 Canada geese resting and feeding in the wheat field, a singing cirl bunting and a little egret on the rocks at high tide. A female wheatear was seen feeding in the horse field, maybe a late migrant or a bird of the Greenland race?

Shelduck, Wembury

Whitethroats were very noticeable along the walk, busily songflighting, and I heard blackcaps and heard and saw chiffchaffs. Swallows were busily hawking around the stables and a male pheasant was feeding amongst the sheep in the sheep field.

Insects were much in evidence in the warm weather - bloody nosed beetle larva, green shield bug, scorpion fly and sloe bug along with speckled wood, orange tip, large white, green veined white, wall, common carpet and at least 5 speckled yellow.

 Green Shield Bug

Sloe Bug

Heading home and I stopped off at Laira Bridge to have a look around the nearby Billacombe Railway nature reserve, owned by Plymouth City Council. It has decreased yet more in size due to the continued building work at the old Billacombe Quarry site with areas gravelled over and a lot of vegetation cut back. I am assuming that the Council plans to extend the cycle path along the route of the old railway line now that the railway bridge across the River Plym has been renovated and opened for cyclists and pedestrians - indeed there are signs up for planning permission to build a bridge across The Ride to connect the railway bridge to the railway line, looks like the nature reserve will be no more, very sad.

I had a look around and saw a holly blue, a red admiral, a speckled wood, a Pyrausta aurata, a common carpet and what I think was a dingy skipper whizzing past.

Pyrausta aurata, Billacombe Railway

There were squares of roofing felt dotted around and I searched under each one, eventually finding a slow worm under one of them. I assume they are either being used for monitoring purposes or to capture and move any slow worms found under them before more disturbance and destruction of the reserve occurs for the new cycle path construction. A similar thing was done before the house building began in Billacombe Quarry but here it was much more organised - the felt squares were all numbered and pegged down unlike the ones today.

Slow Worm, Billacombe Railway

I headed onwards to Blagdon Meadow to look for orchids and butterflies and was quite surprised at how dry the meadow was. Swallows were flitting around the boat wreck by the footpath, some birds entering inside presumably to nest again. House martins were flying over chittering and I watched them collecting mud from the estuary as the tide went out. Early purple orchids were in flower including a few white forms but there was no sign of any Southern marsh orchids yet. A male common blue and at least 3 small heath were on the wing along with orange tips and green veined whites and I also found a burnet companion moth and a false oil beetle. A female broad-bodied chaser with yellow markings along the side of its broad abdomen was a surprise, perching briefly on vegetation before flying off.

False Oil Beetle, Blagdons Meadow

 Small Heath

 Burnet Companion

 Early Purple Orchid

Female Broad-bodied Chaser, Blagdons Meadow

Not a bad couple of days wildlife watching but it is getting to that time of year when birding slows down and insects and plants come to the fore.

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