Sunday, 31 May 2015

Slow Worms and Southern Marsh Orchids

My plans for a day out on Sunday 31st May went out of the window due to strong winds and rain but by 2pm the rain had cleared and I needed to get out of the house and so I went for a walk at Billacombe Railway and Blagdons Meadow.

Arriving at Billacombe Railway and it was cool and grey with a strong breeze but eventually the sun appeared and it was pleasant out of the wind. I checked out the felt squares again and found at least 30 slow worms, mostly small black and buff coloured ones but 6 large and brown coloured ones too. I also found a common lizard which played dead for a while before it scuttled off. I wonder if on my last visit the slow worms were there but hidden in the dead vegetation due to the warm weather but today they were closer to the surface as it was cooler.

 Slow Worm - small, and black and buff coloured
 Slow Worm - large and brown coloured
 Slow Worm
Common Lizard playing dead

Also seen were a Pyrausta aurata moth, a male common blue, a Southern marsh orchid and a flyover greenfinch. A chiffchaff was heard singing and I snacked on some wild strawberries, very small but very delicious.

 Pyrausta aurata
 Southern Marsh Orchid
Cricket Sp. Nymph

I headed over to Blagdons Meadow and quickly found more Southern marsh orchids in flower. The early purple orchids were starting to go over but there was no sign of any bee orchids. Male common blues were on the wing with quite a few burnet companion moths disturbed from the grass. Swallows were skimming low over the grass in the cool breeze and a pair of greenfinch flew overhead. So all in all not a bad couple of hours out and about and not far from home.

 This Maids Ocean Days are over - but a nest site for swallows on the River Plym
 Southern Marsh Orchids
Burnet Companion

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Butterfly Walk at Wembury

Saturday May 30th and as usual for this strange Spring it was cool but sunny when I arrived at Wembury. It did warm up along the walk but was still not particularly warm for the time of year although it must have been warm enough as eventually I saw quite a few butterflies.

A few speckled woods, a very tatty peacock, orange tips, a painted lady and male common blues were seen along with my first large skipper of the year.

 Speckled Wood
 Speckled Wood
 Male Common Blue
 Large Skipper
Large Skipper

Even better was finally finding 3 male green hairstreaks - I have been keeping my eyes open for them on my recent Wembury walks but with no luck although I don't see them at Wembury every year. I had some ridiculously close views of them resting on gorse bushes by the footpath at Wembury Point with 2 of the males almost constantly engaged in an aerial combat - very beautiful butterflys despite being a little worn, surprisingly small and easily overlooked.

 Green Hairstreak
 Green Hairstreak - the white flashes on the lower wing are the "hairstreaks"
 Green Hairstreak
Green Hairstreak

The highlight though was a grizzled skipper at Wembury Point, a new butterfly for me. I saw it flittering around the vegetation at the base of a gorse bush before it flew off, again surprisingly small and almost overlooked despite its very smart brown and white colouring. It must be my reward for finally joining Butterfly Conservation this week!

Bird wise it was "as you were" - 2 whimbrels with 30 oystercatchers and a little egret along the beach, 14 Canada geese in the wheatfield, singing whitethroats, chiffchaffs and blackcaps, swallows around the stables and stonechats including my first fledgling of the year. The male shelduck along the beach was joined by a female and I saw a 2 singing male cirl buntings, a lone male and a male with a female in attendance. I had a look for the Dartford warblers and eventually found a singing male in the usual area but I am still convinced there are 2 males with just 1 female present. I had some nice views despite the bird constantly flitting about but I couldn't get any photos, however there are some very nice photos on Graham Watsons blog (

Singing Male Cirl Bunting

Also seen were 2 common lizards, my first 6 spot burnet moth on the wing, flowering stinking iris and the spine of what I assume is a porpoise poking out of the stinking mass of seaweed on the beach near the sewage pipe.

 Lackey Moth Caterpillar
 Speckled Yellow Moth
 Wing of Cream-Spot Tiger Moth found on the footpath at Wembury Point
Stinking Iris
A coffee and pasty for lunch before heading home and it had been a very enjoyable if chilly walk, there is some grotty weather forecast for the next few days but a promise of summer weather to come next week - I really hope so.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Another Walk at Wembury

Saturday May 23rd and my only day off over the Bank Holiday weekend. With good weather forecast I wasn't sure what to do with my day. I had considered a trip to Lands End to look for the male Sardinian warbler present there, having not seen one here in the UK before, but I didn't fancy the 6 hours of travelling that it would entail and I have seen many Sardinian warblers on my European travels. I also considered a trip to Exminster Marsh or Bowling Green Marsh but again didn't fancy travelling far and so I headed off to Wembury instead.

It was warm and sunny but clouded up at around 12 o'clock. It also wasn't too busy considering it was a Bank Holiday weekend and the start of half term holiday hell and I had a very pleasant walk with some good sightings (and a Chunk pasty for lunch at the end of it too!).

Bird wise it was fairly quiet as expected. 2 whimbrels were roosting on the rocks at Wembury Point with 26 oystercatchers and the shelduck was again roosting on the large sewage mass on the beach near the sewage pipe. There were now 14 Canada geese in the wheat field, nibbling away at the foliage which will not please the farmer, and 2 male cirl buntings were seen with another 2 males heard only.

Male Cirl Bunting

There was no sight or sound of the sedge warbler behind the boatyard but I did find both a male and female Dartford warbler in the usual place at Wembury Point - the male was seen song flighting and carrying food and at one point intimidated and chased off a male whitethroat.

A blackcap and a chiffchaff were heard singing with a female blackcap and another singing chiffchaff seen and there were male whitethroats everywhere. Also seen were pair of pheasant, a female kestrel, swallows and house martin.

Offshore 2 Manx shearwater were seen distantly flying East and a female red breasted merganser was a surprise, presumably the female I saw a few weeks ago. Even more of a surprise was a bottle nosed dolphin - it was first seen off Wembury Point showing at the surface only briefly before powering off through the water and showing well as it headed towards a fast speedboat, presumably to bow ride. Unfortunately the speedboat driver had seen the dolphin and stopped to have a look at it at which point the dolphin became unobtrusive again. Another passing speedboat attracted its attention and off it sped but again it soon lost interest when the boat owner stopped to watch it. It eventually just disappeared from sight and I couldn't refind it. Even more surprising though was refinding it again a little later just off the main beach, a distant view from the road overlooking the beach near the bus stop and again it was moving very unobtrusively through the water.

The warm weather meant a lot of insect activity. Wall, painted lady, large white, green veined white, common blue, speckled wood and orange tip were seen along with many speckled yellows flitting over the hillside at Wembury Point. A sharp-angled peacock was released from the toilet block and a very smart alder moth was seen by the footpath, a new moth for me. Lackey moth nests were very noticeable in the bushes with the caterpillars being at varying stages of development and therefore different sizes. Even better were 3 glow worm larva, the first I have found at Wembury for a few years now.

 Sharp Angled Peacock
 Alder Moth
 Lackey Moth Caterpillars
Glow Worm Larva

With an American golden plover at Exminster Marsh and gull billed tern at Bowling Green Marsh being reported today (both UK ticks for me) I guess I should have gone to the River Exe instead but with my wildlife sightings today I'm very glad I went to Wembury!

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.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Squacco Heron, Beesands Ley

Saturday 16th May and we decided to head off to Dartmeet on Dartmoor for a cream tea on what was a sunny but breezey day. However on the drive there we changed our minds and headed off to another site on Dartmoor instead.

I still had a cream tea and on the walk I heard 2 pied flycatchers and saw a few grey wagtails along the river. With the sunshine a few butterflys were on the wing - a painted lady, a small copper, speckled woods, green veined whites and at least 2 heath fritillary along with 2 speckled yellow moths.

Painted Lady

Speckled Yellow

Heath Fritillary

Heath Fritillary

Heath Fritillary

That evening we went to Cann Woods to look for nightjars. The National Trust are not running their nightjar nights at Plymbridge Woods this year and so I had to go solo - David stayed in the car reading the paper while I wandered around the Woods on my own. I heard a cuckoo calling briefly and saw at least 3 fallow deer and a tawny owl on my wanderings to the area where I usually visit on the National Trust walk. Within a few minutes of arriving at the usual watching place a nightjar started churring away - result! It churred half heartedly while a second bird started churring nearby. In the fading light and after hearing some wing clapping and "guiccing" I managed to see a male bird with white wing patches flying around with a female bird while a male bird churred nearby before it all went quiet. I decided not to wait around for more and headed back to the car as darkness descended and it was quite a spooky walk through the dark and quiet woods.

A squacco heron had been reported at Beesands Ley and so we headed off there on Sunday 17th to have a look for it. Walking along the beach from Torcross to Beesands and 5 adult kittiwakes were feeding close to the shore, flying back and forth and plunging into the sea to snatch at fish. 3 Sandwich terns were further out with 1 bird attempting to rest on a fishing buoy before giving up.

Arriving at the Ley and I immediately found the squacco heron feeding along the reed edge at the back of the Ley - a British life tick! I watched it for a few minutes before it took off showing its bright white wings, it flew across the Ley doing a massive poop along the way before disappearing in the reeds - at least it must have been finding enough food! We had some food ourselves at The Britannia Cafe in Beesands before I headed back to the Ley where I had some more nice views of the bird as it hunted along the reed edges and flew around the Ley, doing another massive poop in flight again.

Distant Squacco Heron, Beesands Ley

Squacco Heron

Squacco Heron in flight showing startling white wings

Heading back to Plymouth and we stopped off at Blackdown Rings, another Iron Age fort near Loddiswell which is smaller again than Badbury Rings but with amazing views of Dartmoor and the coast. There were no cowslips or orchids to be seen, presumably the soil is not condusive to their growth here, but I did see another painted lady flying around amongst the copious bluebells in flower.

And so my weeks leave was over, back to work on Monday and I was not looking forward to it at all after such an amazing week of wildlife.