Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Purple Hairstreaks and a Bottlenose Dolphin

It's been quiet the past 2 weeks since our return from Bude, I have been busy with work and other commitments and the weather has been quite mixed with some unusually cold nights for July.

I had the moth box out in the backyard on July 21st and had my first four spotted footman of the year, a male, and a nice buff arches amongst the more usual species for the time of year.

A walk at Wembury later that day and 2 whimbrels on the rocks with oystercatchers and an adult Mediterranean gull with 6 juveniles flying close inshore towards Plymouth were a sign that summer has now peaked, although a whitethroat and a cirl bunting were still singing away.

Short-winged Conehead, Wembury
 

July 26th and the weather was awful - wet, windy and cool - and my plan to get out for a walk went out of the window. However despite the forecast the rain stopped at around 1pm and so I headed off to Efford Marsh near Marsh Mills in Plymouth, a small nature reserve owned and managed by Plymouth City Council. I have visited the reserve many years ago in the winter to see a Siberian chiffchaff but didn't really explore the area and having read on the internet that purple hairstreaks are found here I thought I would go and have a look. I wasn't expecting to see any as it was still cloudy and windy and I wasn't disappointed but I did get to suss out the site for a future visit in better weather conditions. I did get soaking wet walking through the long grass and I slipped over 4 (!) times in the mud but at least I got out of the house.

Despite the weather there were quite a few butterflies around in the humid conditions in more sheltered areas - gatekeeper, meadow brown, ringlet, red admiral, large white and comma - but no purple hairstreaks. I did find the oak trees around the ponds where the hairstreaks are seen and so I decided I would return on a better day.

July 30th was warm and sunny so we headed off to the beach at Cawsands for the day, catching the ferry across from The Barbican. Sandwich terns and Mediterranean gulls were seen flying around on the crossing and later the odd single bird of both species were seen flying along the beach.

It was very pleasent sitting on the beach despite an altercation with the owners of 2 unruly dogs (not the dogs fault, its the fault of the dog-shit-for-brains owners), and being stung on my finger by a small bee (I'm allergic to bee stings but it didn't appear to inject any venom into me, I didn't get any swelling and it flew off with its sting intact).

Long-winged Conehead, Cawsand
 

The highlight was a bottlenose dolphin very close to shore interacting with a passing yacht before it moved off and just disappeared. I noticed people on the beach standing up and pointing and thought they were watching a Navy ship coming in to Plymouth but I caught sight of a fin breaking the surface and had some nice views as it swam around the yacht. It had a very distinct dorsal fin which was split into 2 at the tip and is probably the individual, most likely a lone male, that I saw at Wembury a few months ago and the individual that has been reported around Drakes Island a few times - I didn't notice the dorsal fin being split on the Wembury sighting due to the distance I watched it from.

On the walk back to Cremyll to catch the ferry back to Plymouth there were plenty of butterflies flitting about including a holly blue and a comma. It was a very pleasent evening, warm and sunny and still, and I decided to check out all the oak trees we passed by for purple hairstreaks which I had read were more active after 5pm. I eventually found one flitting about the top of a small oak tree by the footpath near The Folly and eventually saw around 6 individuals as they sparred with each other over the canopy. They were very active and mobile but I managed some nice views through my binoculars when they settled on the oak leaves. Unfortunately access around the tree was restricted and the hairstreaks were sitting with their wings open to the sun at the wrong angle for me to get good views but I did get a few photos.

Purple Hairstreak - well I didn't say I got some "good" photos!
 

Purple Hairstreak - some damage to lower left wing
 

They are the first purple hairstreaks I have seen for many years, I have only seen them at Minsmere in Suffolk as a young boy and I wasn't particularly impressed with the small dots I saw flying around in the tree tops -  I still haven't seen them well but at least the views were better this time.

July 31st and it was off to the caravan in Bude for the day with the Outlaws. It was sunny and warm and we had a pleasent time enjoying the weather. I took a walk down to Maer Lake in the afternoon where the water levels were lower than in July and there were a few waders busily feeding - 2 black tailed godwit (1 summer plumaged, 1 winter plumaged), 1 snipe, 5 dunlin (2 still with the black belly of summer plumage), 2 curlew, a juvenile ringed plover and a green sandpiper. A juvenile shelduck and 2 teal were with the mallards and moorhens, and swallows, sand martins and house martins swooped over the water.

And so a nice selection of sightings with the green sandpiper bringing my UK bird year list to 170.



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