Monday, 6 June 2016

Billacombe Railway and Blagdons Meadow, Plymouth

Sunday June 5th, a hot and sunny day and a day off to myself and after pottering around the house in the morning I headed off to Billacombe Quarry for a nose around. I visited here in July 2012 just before planning permission was given to develop a housing estate on the site and it has certainly changed. The whole area has been filled in and levelled off and houses are popping up at one end of the site. The cliff sides of the quarry have been stabilised and in places planted with trees and as a result still look wildlife friendly. I had a clamber about and saw common blues, orange tips, small whites and green veined whites along with a small tortoiseshell which was obsessed with a dried up dog turd on the ground, regularly returning to settle on it when disturbed.

A blackcap was busily singing away in a small wood and a riband wave and at least 3 treble bars were also disturbed from vegetation but there was no sign of any orchids or slow worms.

Treble Bar

I headed back to Billacombe Railway to have a look at what is happening there as it is right next too where the houses are being built in the quarry and I was a bit trepidatious at what I might find. The first part of the railway line opposite Morrisons  is becoming overgrown with invasive vegetation and the old sleepers are rotting away to dust. Common blues and burnet companions were seen in the remaining open areas where birds foot trefoil is still growing and speckled woods were seen in the shady woodland but there were no orchids.

Burnet Companion

The railway line behind The Range is also becoming very overgrown and all the felt squares present last year where slow worms and common lizards were sheltering had all gone. Again common blues and burnet companions were flitting about and a party of long tailed tits moved through the bushes. No orchids were found until just before I was about to leave when I luckily caught sight of 2 bee orchids, my first here at this site and almost missed - they were taller than those I see at nearby Blagdons Meadow and very nice to find.

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

I am not sure what is happening to the site which is owned by Plymouth City Council. I get the feeling that it is being left to overgrow so that it loses its wildlife and industrial heritage value so that it can be built on as part of the housing development. More likely is the continuation of the cycle path through it following the opening of the cycle bridge across the River Plym. Very sad.

I walked along the roadside towards the cycle bridge looking for orchids but with no luck - it has been cool and dry recently which may have delayed development. The tide was coming in as I walked over the bridge and I saw a pair of shelduck on the mudflats amongst the gulls. Swallows were flitting about the derelict boat by the footpath with a long tailed male constantly chasing a short tailed female around and house martins chittered overhead.

Blagdons Meadow was looking very lush but was very dry underfoot and I managed to find a few early purple orchids which had mostly gone over. No bee orchids but southern marsh orchids were putting on quite a show, I have never seen so many here before and they were present in a much wider area of the Meadow than previously.

Early Purple Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchids

Common blues and burnet companions were flitting about with the burnet companions in flight doing a good impression of small heaths at times but unfortunately I didn't find any small heaths on this visit. A silver y was a first for the year and a large white flying past  was a first for the day.

Two skylarks were feeding in the long grass and I found a male azure damselfly resting on vegetation but by now I was hot and tired from being out in the bright sunshine and so I headed home for a cup of tea and a cool down.

Male Azure Damselfly

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