Wednesday 30 March 2011

Wet weather and Wembury 30th March

I finished nights on Monday morning and decided to get my moth box out that night although I wasn't too hopeful of catching anything. On checking the box before going to bed at 11pm there was nothing in it and the following morning that hadn't changed! It had rained in the night so the egg boxes in the trap were a bit soggy. On putting the box away there it was - a moth! It was hiding under one of the soggy egg boxes and was a new one for me and my garden, a common quaker, looking very like a Vines rustic that I caught in the garden last summer.
Common Quaker
Tuesday was grey and misty so we headed out to Tamar View nurseries near Saltash for David to pick up seeds for the allotment but they had none that he wanted. A drive up to Kit Hill near Callington to try and see the great grey shrike reported there for the last few days was a waste of time too as the mist and drizzle obscured any view so we turned around and headed to Waitrose in Saltash to buy a few things. Luckily we had obtained our loan to shop there, a few things cost £28!! It is very nice in Waitrose, they have lovely food there but it does seem to cost a lot.

Wednesday was wet but it eventually cleared so I headed out to Wembury on the bus. The sun was shining at times but it was a little misty at Wembury and 2 adult gannets were circling over the sea close to the shore. Eventually the mist cleared but the sea was quite choppy in the stiff South Westerly breeze. Chiffchaffs were singing away along with many other resident birds including song thrushes and I thought I heard a distant green woodpecker yaffling.

The harbour porpoise corpse on the beach continues to slowly decrease in size, now looking like black jerky as it dries out in the warm sunshine. A dog being walked along the beach had a great time rolling all over it much to its owners disgust!  8 common lizards were seen basking in the sun along the wooden fences.

Common lizard

I also found 2 caterpillars that I think are ruby tiger moths.

Ruby tiger moth caterpillar?
Violets were blooming along the path on the cliffs below the old HMS Cambridge site and three cornered leeks were flowering at the bus stop.

Violet sp
Three cornered leek

The bus service to Wembury looks likely to be cut further in the near future due to Devon County Council subsidy cuts but there is a bus users group now set up in Wembury to help try and keep it going . They are asking for users of the service to complete a questionaire to try and save the service so I will have to download a copy and send it off. I would be lost without the bus service to Wembury, I would have to start driving again (!) as there would be no other way to get there other than David driving me out and it is never the same with him being there with me as he is not a big nature fan.

Coming back on the bus I noticed the cowslips are starting to flower on a grassy bank by the road near Staddiscombe, I noticed the cowslips had started to flower at Derriford roundabout too on the way home from work on Monday. Spring is definently on its way!

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Wembury 23rd March

A beautiful Spring day again so out to Wembury for a walk. No pasty and coffee today as the cafe is shut on weekdays until the 1st April but after eating and drinking too much last week in Germany it was good not to have any temptation placed in front of us. A diet coke on the terrace of the Eddystone Inn at Heybrook Bay was sufficient but I did ruin it a bit by having a bag of peanuts.

Bird wise it was quiet but I did hear 2 chiffchaffs singing away and had good views of a pair of cirl buntings in the hedgerow by the HMS Cambridge stubble field and a pair of wheatears feeding in the currently bare wheat field as it was being turned over by a tractor.

Also seen were 2 common lizard basking in the sun, 2 oil beetles, a peacock butterfly and 2 fox moth caterpillars. The harbour porpoise corpse is still on the beach and now turning black in the heat and sunshine -yum!

Sloe blossom

Common lizard


Fox moth caterpillar

Oil beetle

Oil beetle with a splodge of orange oil beetle juice on the right!
The weather was perfect for a hoopoe with one having been seen at Axmouth in the last few days but no luck today. However I started nights on Thursday night, finishing on Monday morning and guess what was seen (briefly) at Wembury on the Saturday while I was sleeping in my bed  -a hoopoe! I've seen loads of hoopoes on various foreign travels but never once in the UK and one on my local patch would be amazing. Never mind.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Wembury 13th March and a trip to Deutschland

A short walk along the coast at Wembury on the 13th in glorious weather produced a few good birds and some surprises. A summer plumaged great crested grebe was loafing about on the sea before going to sleep, a bird I don't see at Wembury often. Further out and busily diving was a Slavonian grebe which only gave brief and distant views. A littoralis (Scandanavian) rock pipit developing summer plumage was feeding on the seaweed mass on the beach amongst the  rock pipits but there was no sign of the water pipit. The finch/bunting flock had diasppeared from the stubble field but 3+ male stonechats along the walk were a nice sight after the cold winter. 3 chiffchaffs were seen, 1 of which was singing merrily. The dead harbour porpoise was still on the beach but there was less of it than a week ago as something has been busy nibbling at it. 2 common lizards were sunning themselves on the wooden fence running alongside the path by what was HMS Cambridge grounds. 2 oil beetles and a peacock butterfly were nice surprises but most surprising was a painted lady butterfly sunning itself before flying off, it looked quite faded but was otherwise in good condition. A coffee and a pasty were enjoyed while sitting on the beach in the sunshine at the end of the walk.

The 14th saw us heading up to Heathrow airport for a trip to Germany to see my sister Vicki and her family. I tried to get David to travel up the M4 in the hope of seeing some red kites but he wanted to drive along the A303 instead. A stop at Stonehenge for a rock bun didn't produce any corn buntings as it has in the past. Saddest sight was the number of dead badgers by the roadside, I counted at least 10 along the whole route.

Hamburg on the 15th and 16th was cold and grey with a biting wind and while sight seeing I managed views of coot, mallard, tufted duck and greylag geese with herring,common and black headed gulls. Carrion crows were seen which suprised me as I was expecting hooded crows, having seen hooded crows in Berlin which isn't far away (as the crow flies!). Stayed in a great hotel opposite the main railway station which had a 150m water slide, great fun especially when my Mum had a go on it, David and I could not stop laughing as she was hurled around the twists and turns. I ended up with a few bruises as I hurtled down the slide and Mum hurt her finger and got her hair soaking wet, something she hates doing unless at the hairdressers. My cousin Claire had a cold so avoided having a go but David loved it, screaming all the way down!
The infamous water slide as seen from our room window

The 17th saw us head south by train to my sisters in Bergen-Belsen, site of the infamous concentration camp. We got off the train at Celle where 5 hawfinches were a nice find flying around the tree tops in the park around the castle. They were quite nervous and flighty but their large head and chunky, triangular wing shape in flight were noted. The light was poor and they stayed high up in the tree tops so plumage detail was somewhat lost as I had my Leica travel binoculars with me and not my Swarovskis. Lots of siskins were flying around too and were quite vocal.

We caught the bus to Bergen and stayed in a hotel called Desperados, being attached to a Mexican restaurant, and despite the ominous name was actually quite pleasent. Bergen was quite a nice small town with lots of calling nuthatches in the trees.

The 18th was grey and drizzley with a cold wind but walking down to Vickis house provided a good view of a flyover red kite which made up for not seeing any on the trip up to Heathrow. 2 tree sparrows were seen in a tree in a back garden.

Vicki has been feeding the birds in her back garden all winter and watching the feeder from her kitchen window gave good views of great and blue tits with greenfinch, chaffinch, siskin, nuthatch, a male yellowhammer and  a male and female bullfinch.

Male bullfinch - blurry due to being photographed through 2 panes of glass
Best shot I could get of a siskin!

We took a trip out to the site of the Belsen concentration camp which was a sad and sobering experience.However I did see a black stork which flew overhead. It had some primary feathers missing and was distant and I assume is most unusual for March in Germany.

Black Stork over Belsen
Walking back to the hotel in the afternoon the weather had improved and the sun was shining. 4 roe deer were feeding out in a field near a small wood and 20 common crane flew over in V formation in 2 flocks heading East.

The 19th was sunny and mild and saw us head to Hannover by train for the day. The 20th was milder still and we had a pleasant walk through the woods near Vickis house where 2 chiffchaffs were singing and a brimstone butterfly flew past. A fire beetle was also seen. A red squirrel was seen in Vickis garden before it disappeared into a tree and out of sight and I also had a brief view of a willow/marsh tit on the feeders in the garden. Unfortunately my 7 year old nephew Jack then had a nasty fall on the steps in the cellar which needed stitches to a cut above his eye and he returned form the medical centre with a nasty black and swollen eye, steristrips and plasters.

Out of focus Fire Beetle - still trying to get used to the new camera!

The 21st saw us heading back to Hamburg and the flight home to Heathrow. The car journey back from Heathrow was slow going at times due to the incredible fog, something I have not seen for some time and it was quite eerie driving through it as it appeared to swirl all around us. We arrived home at around 11:30 pm due to the slow progress caused by the dense fog patches we had to drive through but we had had a great if tiring week with some good wildlife sightings.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Saturday 12th March - An Exe-cellent days birding- shame about the trains !

A beautiful Spring day today so I caught the train to Topsham. Unfortunately it was CrossCountry, not my favourite company as the seats are so tightly packed together but at least it got me to Exeter on time. A half hour wait for my connection to Topsham passed pleasently with a cup of coffee and I arrived at Topsham at around 10:00am, so far so good on the train front. I have recently bought a new automatic camera, a Panasonic Lumix TZ8, so wanted to have a good try out with it today.

I had a look in the small copse at the top of Bowling Marsh Lane (as per Daves Diary of the 9th March)  in the hope of seeing some bramblings, a bird I have trouble connecting with here in Devon. No luck with any bramblings but I did see a male blackcap, a male bullfinch, a jay and a singing chiffchaff amongst quite a few trees and shrubs covered in Spring blossom.

Reaching the hide overlooking Bowling Green Marsh a birder was calling out directions to see the female smew as it flew across the back of the pool and I managed a good view of it for a minute or so before it disappeared into the reeds! The light wasn't great for viewing either but at least I have finally caught up with it again after the Exe cruise back in January. The birder also put me onto a superb adult spoonbill at the waters edge in front of the hide before it flew across the pool to roost amongst some shelduck after having a good preen. At least it showed well as spoonbills are infamous for always being asleep! The birder in question turned out to be Dave of Daves Diary fame, I've met him a couple of times before but the last time was nearly 3 years ago now.

An awake spoonbill !

Also seen on the marsh were a female pintail, 2 little grebe, a little egret and the usual waders and wildfowl with the black- tailed godwits looking very smart in developing summer plumage. 3 stock doves were found by Dave perched on the railway bridge and a chiffchaff was seen hovering and flycatching amongst the blossom in trees along the lane. A male wheatear was a lovely sight feeding in the grass amongst the wigeon, I think this is the earliest I have ever seen a wheatear.

The smew was refound and was watched preening out on the bank amongst the roosting redshank but due to some tussocks of grass only its head could be seen at times. The light was better as it preened in front of a tussock of sedges and the head colour was a beautiful red/orange colour contrasting with the white underchin. Shame I couldn't see the whole bird.

A walk to the Clyst viewing platform gave great views of a spotted redshank which at one time was feeding with a greenshank and a redshank allowing excellent comparisons.  A total of 3 greenshanks were seen. A pair of red breasted mergansers were seen out on the Exe. Avocets were feeding out in the receding water and bar- and black- tailed godwits flew over from the roost on the marsh.

Spotted Redshank

A walk back to the hide saw the smew showing well again diving at the back of the pool although the light was still not good for viewing and the spoonbill feeding along the waters edge where it was seen to catch and swallow a small silver fish. I decided not to catch the 12:35 train which would take me directly to Dawlish Warren as planned but stayed watching the smew and spoonbill, catching the 13:05 train instead. I knew I would have to change trains at Exeter but didn't know the connection times. Big mistake! I spent half an hour waiting at Exeter only to catch the 13:35 train from Topsham! I could have stayed half an hour longer at Topsham bird watching instead of waiting at Exeter station!

Anyway I reached  Dawlish Warren at 14:15 and headed off to the woods near the visitor centre to search for bramblings, it was a while ago a female was reported around here and I failed to find any again. Compensation was a good view of a  singing chiffchaff  flitting through the catkins. No sign of black redstart either and it was too early to find any sand crocus growing in the now fenced off area.

Offshore 2 summer plumage great crested grebes were seen along with a distant female and a closer immature male eider. 40+common scoter were very mobile offshore, flying low before landing with much splash and disappearing amongst the waves before flying off again. Best birds were 3 Sandwich tern diving for fish offshore, it must be a shock to arrive here in Devon from Africa in March to dive into the cold water of the English Channel!

A half hearted walk out towards Warren Point to look for Daves short eared owl from yesterday was unsurprisingly unsuccessful. 2 skylarks singing away were a nice compensation, such a beautiful sound of Spring. 6 Brent Geese were feeding on the golf course unconcerned by the golfers walking by and more were seen flying along the coast to the rocks at Langstone to feed.

Brent Goose on the golf course

The train from Dawlish Warren to Newton Abbot was only made up of 2 carriages and was absolutely bombed with people clutching Primark bags and I arrived 5 minutes late into Newton Abbot. I got on my sixth and final train of the day to head back to Plymouth only for the points to fail resulting in an hours wait at the station. I also had to get off the First train I was on to a, you've guessed it , a Cross Country train as the First train was cancelled but it wasn't too bad. The journey back to Plymouth was brightened up by a brief view of 2 male and 2 redhead goosander on the River Dart as we came in to Totnes and I arrived back in Plymouth at 18:15, tired but having had an Exe-cellent day. Camera wasn't to bad either but I need more practice with it and the adapter I bought to fit on my binoculars is too small for the lens of the Panasonic so I'll have to see if I can get a bigger one to fit the lens.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Wembury 6th March

A day off sandwiched between two late shifts and David working an early shift saw me heading out on the bus to Wembury for a look to see if I could see the Slavonian grebe, great northern diver and Dartford warbler that have recently been reported here. The bus service has become less frequent over the years and nearly ceased operating last November due to funding cuts and now the service is being revised again and services will stop running on Sundays in April. I don't often travel out to Wembury on Sundays as it tends to be very busy with a lot of disturbance to the wildlife but it is nice to have the option to.

View from Wembury towards Stoke Point

It was grey and overcast with a stiff breeze and quite chilly after a week of sunshine and warm temperatures but it wasn't too busy with walkers so disturbance was minimal.

The Slavonian grebe was found easily enough between the shore and The Mewstone, diving regularly and gradually moving nearer to shore giving good views. It lacked the crisp whiteness of winter plumage as it starts to moult into summer plumage. No sign of the diver but searching for it provided the highlight of the day in the form of at least 10 bottle nosed dolphins heading East offshore!

I was scanning the sea when a large splash caught my eye before being followed by good views of dorsal fins of a pod of dolphins moving purposefully and speedily East. A young calf was seen leaping out of the water and at least 10 dolphin fins were counted. The large size and dark grey colour and distinct fin shape identified them as bottle nosed. They eventually slowed down and were swimmimg around more loosely before moving East around Stoke Point where they were lost from sight. Amazing! My first dolphin sighting for Wembury.

No sign or sound of any Dartford Warblers but it was cold, overcast and breezey but the mixed finch/bunting flock was still present in the usual field and still very flighty. It seemed larger then previous visits with at least 40+ birds present, mainly yellowhammers of which 9 bright yellow males were counted together. 6 male and 2 female cirl buntings were also counted along with chaffinch and a meadow pipit but numbers were difficult to assess due to their high mobility and skitishness.A yellowhammer was heard quietly singing amongst them.

Along the beach a lone curlew was seen with turnstone and oystercatcher and the winter plumaged water pipit showed really well on the rocks near the sewage pipe. A rock pipit of the littoralis race (Scandanavian rock pipit) was found amongst the rock pipits on the beach developing the pinkish/peach breast wash and bluish head wash of summer plumage, the first I have seen or at least noticed and identified.

Sadly the decomposing body of a presumed harbour porpoise was found on the beach with a tag on its tail from the Devon Wildlife Trust advising not to touch it but it was quite juicy and gruesome looking which should be enough to put people off, it certainly did me!

Remains of a rather juicy harbour porpoise

On a happier note a raven was seen flying back and forth along the coast calling noisely and tumbling onto its back at times, such a lovely bird and so manoueverable considering its suprisingly large size, dwarfing the jackdaws that occasionally mobbed it as it flew over.

All in all a great 3 hour walk, I love Wembury, it is one of my most favourite places on Earth.

The Mewstone at Wembury Point