Thursday, 6 August 2015

More Purple Hairstreaks and Sea-Watching.... at Wembury!

August 2nd and I headed off for a walk at Wembury. It was sunny, and warm when sheltered from the strong breeze, and I had a pleasant walk along the coast path.

2 whimbrel, 3 curlew and 4 little egrets were roosting on the rocks at The Point with oystercatchers at high tide and for a change there wasn't too much disturbance from walkers and dogs along the beach.

Scanning offshore and there were lots of gannets swirling around, mostly adults with a few dark juveniles. I managed to pick out a distant feeding flock of around 50 Manx shearwaters beneath a group of gannets, they were resting on the sea before flying up in a group and then splashing down on the water.

On land and blackcap and whitethroat were seen with 2 cirl buntings flying over. A sparrowhawk was mobbed by some swallows, a juvenile kestrel was presumably practising hunting by swooping down and grabbing horse turds in the horse field before dropping them and a peregrine flew over with a small bird in its talons.

Plenty of butterflies on the wing - meadow brown, gatekeeper, large white, red admiral, holly blue, common blue, comma, green veined white, small skipper and wall. A few faded six-spot burnet were feeding on the thistle flowers and a small and dark common lizard was basking in the sun on the wooden fencing.

Holly Blue, Wembury

Heading home after a pasty and coffee for lunch and I decided to have a walk around Efford Marsh again to have a look for purple hairstreaks. I checked out the oak trees around the pond and quickly found 1 flitting around the canopy (or fidgeting as it is described in my field guide). Scanning around and I found at least another 5 individuals but they were all brief and obscured views up amongst the leaves - I didn't bother with trying to get any photos although I did get a good but brief view of 1 individual.

A visit to the Garden House near Yelverton on August 3rd and I found 2 speckled bush crickets amongst the flower heads along with a red admiral and a few meadow brown in the cool, cloudy and breezey conditions. The gardens looked stunning though and are really developing well, it has been quite a few years now since we last visited here.

 Speckled Bush Cricket, The Garden House - female with ovipositor

Speckled Bush Cricket, The Garden House - male

August 4th and I headed off to Wembury again. It was cloudy and very windy with a strong south westerly breeze and the waves were crashing up the main beach at the high tide where a flock of black headed gulls and a few herring gulls were feeding in the churned up surf. Scanning through and I found an adult and 4 juvenile Mediterranean gulls amongst the flock, 1 juvenile had a green plastic leg ring but I couldn't get any details on it as it flew amongst the waves or rested on the sea. It was interesting to see the size differences of the juvenile Meds when 3 of them rested on the sea together - presumably the smallest bird was a female.  A leucistic black headed gull amongst the flock was most unusual looking.

 Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, Wembury
Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls - smaller individual on the left

Heading off towards the sewage pipe and hoping that there hadn't been any disturbance from walkers along the beach and I was pleased to see a flock of gulls roosting on the tideline. I found another adult Mediterranean gull amongst the black headed gulls and what I thought was a juvenile yellow legged gull before it flew off towards Plymouth and out of sight (yes, it's that time of year when I frustrate the hell out of myself trying to ID large juvenile gulls) - however it appears to have been a juvenile herring gull after all.

Adult Mediterranean Gull

Juvenile Herring Gull

Offshore and again there were lots of gannets swirling around and so I decided to set up my telescope for a proper sea watch, hunkering down out of the wind on the beach near the old swimming pool. I scanned from The Mewstone towards Plymouth and being low down and almost at sea level I had some lovely views of Manx shearwaters as they banked up out of the wave troughs and showed well against the sky line. I counted 20-30 per minute heading west although a few were also seen heading east, and they tended to appear in pulses with the odd single bird flying past and then a little group of up to 20 birds. There must have been higher numbers passing by than I counted as my position low down to the water meant restricted viewing, and after an hours watching the sun appeared, the wind dropped slightly and the Manxies dried up entirely.

The highlight though were at least 2 great skua - single birds were briefly seen but 2 birds together showed very well if a little distantly above the waves. They were chasing each other with 1 bird having larger and brighter white wing flashes, presumably an older bird, and their short tails and bulky build were also noticeable.

A singing cirl bunting showed well and 4 juvenile whitethroats were skulking together in a sloe bush, presumably a recently fledged family. The juvenile kestrel was still around but wasn't interested in horse turds this time and on the rocks with the oystercatchers were 2 whimbrels again along with 2 little egrets and 1 curlew. 

I did a 15 minute Big Butterfly Count as well, seeing a male common blue, 10 gatekeeper, 1 red admiral, 1 peacock, 1 painted lady, 8 meadow brown and 2 large white on my 15 minute wander around Wembury Point.

And so a bit of sea watching at Wembury of all places, a quite enjoyable hours watching although tiring on the eyes scanning through a telescope. And great skua takes my year list to 171.

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