Thursday 26 May 2011

Wembury, 26th May 2011

Cold, grey skies, breezey and showers so after getting out of bed at 10:00am(!) I caught the bus out to Wembury for a quick walk, having only 90 minutes between buses. The small magpie moth was still in the toilet block but nothing else. The unknown caterpillars on the umbellifers were eveywhere still especially in the stream along the valley to the beach, I hadn't noticed them there on Saturday or Monday. I also found some colourful magpie moth caterpillars on the sloe bushes, they are much larger now than when I saw them at the beginning of the month.

Magpie Moth Caterpillar

Bird wise it was quiet again but the wind didn't help much. A flock of around 100 great black backed- and herring gulls were roosting on the beach around the sewage pipe and feeding on the mass of decaying seaweed, being a mix of adults and various aged juveniles. A shelduck was on the beach amongst them. A few gannets were seen offshore. Land birds were represented by the usual whitethroats singing and song-flighting and a male blackcap was seen skulking in a bush.

Best find of the day was a scarlet tiger moth that I found at the bus stop, in the same place I found one last year.Unfortunately I found it just as the bus turned up so I took a few quick photos before I had to head home.
Scarlet Tiger

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Wedding Weekend -Wembury and Kitley House, 21st and 22nd May 2011

Saturday and I headed off to Wembury for a wander in the sunshine. Bird wise it was quiet but I did find 3 summer plumaged dunlin feeding along the beach with a ringed plover, 3 whimbrels feeding on the rocks and a count of 34 oystercatchers roosting on the rocks. A little egret flew along the coast and a shelduck was on the sea by the sewage pipe. 2 ravens flew over being mobbed by 2 jackdaws. A pair of cirl buntings were seen feeding together.

Fledglings were much in evidence with a pair of stonechats seen with 4 fledglings, the male was singing at times and was seen chasing off one of the fledglings. A male blackcap was seen feeding a fledgling, a great tit was seen feeding a youngster and a young blackbird was seen calling from a tree in the valley to the beach.

Insect wise it was a good day with 2 green hairstreaks, a wall, a small tortoiseshell and speckled woods representing butterflies, a burnet companion moth was a surprise after seeing them for the first time yesterday and false oil beetles with their huge thighs were feeding in the daisy flowers. Moth wise I also found a silver ground carpet, a male pale tussock, a white ermine and a common marbled carpet in the toilet block. A common swift moth was found squashed on the footpath and six spot burnets were also on the wing and I found quite a few of their caterpillars along the walk too. Speckled yellow moths were seen flitting over the cliff tops.

Speckled Yellow - finally stayed still long enough to get a photo, they are such skittish things!
False Oil Beetle - check out those thighs!

Common swift - squashed on the path but not by me!

White Ermine

Pale Tussock

Common Marbled Carpet
Also seen were loads of caterpillars feeding on some type of umbillifer, I am not sure what species they are but appear to be a moth species on checking butterfly caterpillars in the guide books. They are causing quite a bit of damage to the plants and were seen all along the walk but especially by the path by the cattle field.

Unknown caterpillar
 In the evening we headed off to Kitley House for my work colleague Monicas wedding reception. We had a good time and stayed the night there. I did see a brimstone moth and an orange footman flitting around a floodlight in the grounds, the footman being a new moth for me.

We were woken up early by twittering swallows and someone had set the alarm clock in the room to go off at 06:48 in the morning so we didn't get much sleep. After breakfast we had a walk around the estate and saw a male pochard and a pair of tufted duck on the large fish lake with 2 little egrets, and a pair of shelduck with 4 young on the creek.

Swallow from the bedroom window

Spring is here!
I decided to put the moth box out in the back yard that night and the next morning I had a new for the garden but very tatty iron prominent and a small square spot amongst the 9 moths in the trap.

Yellow Barred Brindle

A very tatty looking iron prominent
Monday and the weather was cold and grey so we had a quick walk along the coast at Wembury and I found a small magpie and a mottled beauty in the toilet block and I found a six-spot burnett moth coccoon on a grass stalk.
Mottled Beauty

Small Magpie

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Blagdons Meadow, River Plym, Friday 20th May 2011

Today I decided to check out Blagdons Meadow, a small Plymouth City Council nature reserve by the side of the River Plym. I had read about bee orchids being present there but forgot to go and have a look around last year and despite being a little early for bee orchids I thought I would go and have a look around ready for a visit later in the year. I had finished night shifts on the Thursday morning and needed to get out in the sunshine to get rid of the post night grogginess I always experience.

The reserve is a small area of reclaimed land by the side of the Plym and consists of unimproved grassland. It is popular with dog walkers who want somewhere to empty their dog but the information boards ask people to clear up after their dogs in order to keep the soil impoverished for the specialist plants that grow there and there was no dogs mess around.

Common blues were flitting about over the grass and a pair were seen joined together mating. Also seen were quite a few small heath butterflys which were a nice find. Also seen were burnet companion moths, initially I dismissed them as fast flying small heath but when I had a proper look I realised they were something else and on checking my guide book on returning home I had found myself a new species of moth for my moth list.
Common blues mating
Burnet Companion

Early purple orchids were in flower but were very limp and floppy with the total lack of rain we have had in the last few weeks. The guide books state that the flowers smell like tom cats but I didn't get to sniff them. Also seen were yellow rattle, a semi-parasitic plant that I saw on my recent trip to Berry Head.
Early Purple Orchid
Yellow Rattle

Bird wise a little egret and a grey heron were seen on the river as the tide receded along with an oystercatcher, some shelduck, a cormorant and gulls. 2 swallows and a goldfinch flew over and a chiffchaff was heard singing in a nearby hedgerow.

After wandering around for about 90 minutes I headed home and plan to return in June to hunt for bee orchids, having had a pleasent time in the sunshine.

Monday 16 May 2011

Plymbridge Woods 15th May 2011

Today was nice and sunny again, still no rain for the allotment, and I had the day off. David was doing a long day and I wanted to go to Wembury but unfortunately there are no buses running on Sundays so I headed off to Plymbridge Woods instead. I expected it to be busy but the world and his dog with a bike were there and it was very crowded and noisey at times. However once I had reached the third viaduct I headed down to the River Plym where it was quiet and peaceful with very few people.

The peregrine was seen sitting on the nest on the quarry but was very still and partially hidden in the nest and a lot of the people who had come to see them sounded a little disappointed at the poor view and lack of activity. From the viaduct a pair of grey wagtails were seen feeding 2 fledglings and a dipper was watched flying low over the water before heading up into the bank to its nest.

A dipper was later seen feeding in the river giving good views, you could see it clearly underwater where the sunlight pierced through the overhanging trees, and it was watched bashing the stones off caddis fly larvae cases to get to the larvae inside. A kingfisher was seen a few brief times flying silently low over the river.

4 spotted flycatchers were seen, giving good views, 2 by the footpath and 2 from the third viaduct. The pair at the viaduct were seen disappearing into the ivy clad viaduct wall with nesting material in their beaks.

Other wildlife seen were 2 speckled yellow moths, a comma butterfly, trout in the river and banded demoiselles along the river bank

Heading home I found a smart male pale tussock moth in the A38 underpass near Sainsbury, clinging on to one of the fluorescent lights. I also rescued a still alive male muslin moth from a spiders web and a pug moth completed the moth haul, I think it was a wormwood pug but I am not good with the pugs, they seem to wear quickly and never look like the photos or drawings in my guide books.

Male Pale Tussock Moth
? Wormwood Pug
Pretty Unknown
Flower Species
So despite the crowds, not a bad walk with some nice wildlife sightings.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Finally .... a new British List Bird !!!! 14th May 2011

Today I persuaded David to take me to Rame Head in Cornwall to try and see an Iberian Chiffchaff that has been reported there for the last few days and I was in luck and saw it!! A new bird for my British list, having recently been split as a seperate and not sub-species of chiffchaff, and the first new bird of 2011.

After getting out of the car near Rame Church a chiffchaff was heard singing in sycamore trees but the Birdguides info stated the bird was 30 yards down the road in sycamores so off I headed. Luckily I saw a birder climbing over a fence and on chatting to him, found out that the bird was in a small spinney on the side of the field where there were no sycamore trees to be seen! I headed off into the spinney and eventually heard the bird calling for brief periods, a quite distinctive song and one I had listened too the previous evening on a bird song website. Eventually I caught a glimpse of it singing but it was difficult to find in the foliage and then difficult to see and difficult to keep track of. It finally showed very well for around 30 seconds, being a smart looking bird with green upperparts and yellow underparts reminiscent of a wood warbler and not the typical brownish pluamge of a chiffchaff. It had paleish legs and flicked its tail downwards as chiffchaffs do. It had a pale bill and a yellowish supercillium. It started to sing more often before becoming silent again so it was time to head off back to David and the car but it was a pleasent half an hour.

There is an Iberian Chiffchaff in there somewhere!
We then headed off to the Port Eliot Estate in St Germans and had a look around the house which is still lived in by its owners. The house is a private concern and not National Trust and had a relaxed and faded air unlike most National Trust houses. The Lenkiewicz mural in the house was very interesting to see and the lady guide in the room was very informative about its history and interpretation. Tea and coffee and walnut cake were enjoyed in the tea room (as usual when visiting country estates!).

Port Eliot House
The gardens were quite informal but the walled garden and orangery were beautiful. I saw a single orchid growing amongst the bluebells by the path. I am not sure what type it is but its leaves were plain and unspotted so I think it is an Early Purple Orchid but I am not totally sure if I have got it right. 

Early Purple Orchid ?

All in all it was a lovely day and a lifer to boot!

Spring Dartmoor Day Heaven 11th May 2011

Today was my yearly Spring trip on Dartmoor with Mavis and Mike and after being picked up from the bus stop at Yelverton we headed off to Bennets Cross near Warren House Inn to start our walk.

2 grasshopper warblers were heard reeling for brief periods and distantly as we headed off down the valley and also heard were 1 sedge warbler, 1 chiffchaff, 1 garden warbler and 1 blackcap. 2 male whitethroats were seen and a further 1 heard and willow warblers seemed to be everywhere. A raven and a stock dove flew over and a great spotted woodpecker was heard in Sousssons plantation.

Tree pipits were songflighting and a meadow pipit was seen and a skylark heard. A smart male reed bunting was singing in a tree by the stream and a pair of whinchats were seen with a further 4 males seen too. 2 cuckoos were seen and heard, being mobbed in flight and when perched in trees by attendent small birds. A male and female stonechat were seen seperately.

Cottongrass was seen growing along the stream but I forgot to take a photo of it and lousewort was also seen.

Challacombe Farm was productive with a lovely spotted flycatcher showing well perched in a beech tree and was watched being chased off by a singing and rather indignant male redstart which showed equally as well. Another male reed bunting was seen and 1 or 2 cuckoos were heard, 2 whinchats were busily singing away and a female wheatear was seen perched on a fence post, our only wheatear of the day. A marsh tit was a surprise find and a house martin was seen with the swallows overhead. A pretty yellow flower was seen growing near the stream and on checking my book it turns out to be monkeyflower, a North American species naturalised to the UK.


Lunch was had at the Warren House Inn, home made rabbit pie which was delicious. The pub seems to have changed hands with new bar and serving staff and the pie was in an individual  bowl rather than a piece cut from a large pie but it tasted as good as it usually does.

The afternoon was spent walking around the Cuckoo Rock area at Burrator reservoir. A tree pipit and a cuckoo were heard and a male pied flyctcher was seen for brief periods only singing in trees around a wooded area with lots of nest boxes. 2 male redstarts were seen singing with a possible third bird being present and a green woodpecker was seen briefly as it yaffled away. A nice silver ground carpet  moth was disturbed from some nettles.

Silver Ground Carpet Moth

The moors were looking especially beautiful today, I don't know if it was the light or the fact that I haven't seen the moors in Spring growth yet this year but it was amazing to see, everything looked so green and lush and vigorous, a real uplift to the spirit. It had been a very good day indeed, quite heavenly.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

A Week off Work Part Two 6th - 8th May 2011

Friday 6th and today I headed off to Berry Head with my mate Mavis for a look at the guillemots and kittiwakes on the sea-cliffs there. It turned out to be a warm and sunny day and we had good views of the guillemots and kittiwakes from a hide overlooking the cliffs.

Berry Head - view from the hide overlooking the sea cliffs
Other birds of note were a singing sedge warbler which kept hidden in a hawthorn bush, a fly over house martin, a pair of cirl buntings carrying beakfuls of food into a large stand of gorse bushes and a female wheatear. Whitethroats were seen and heard everywhere and a few gannets were seen flying West offshore. Offshore a harbour porpoise showed its fin twice briefly and distantly.

We then headed off to Labrador Bay, the new RSPB reserve north of Babbacombe, and an hour later we were there after a magical mystery tour of the Torbay area, the roads, lack of sign-posts and one-way systems being a complete nightmare! Labarador Bay was beautiful with stunning views from the car park looking down the grassy slopes to the sea. We saw more cirl buntings and a male sparrowhawk along with a pair of kestrels and more whitethroats.

Saturday 7th and the weather was still good so we headed off to Wembury for a walk and a coffee and pasty. Moths in the toilet block included a buff ermine, a lychnis and a sandy carpet (a new moth for me). Bird wise it was quiet but whimbrels were seen and heard on the rocks as the tide went out but were mobile and difficult to count, 4 being the most seen together at any one time. 2 Sandwich terns headed West offshore and whitethroats were seen and heard everywhere. Also seen were a superb green hairstreak and a froghopper species, Cercopis vulnerata.

Green Hairstreak

Froghopper - Cercopis vulnerata

Sunday 8th and the last day of the week off work and we headed off for a walk around Stoke Point. Lunch in The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo was lovely as usual, I had roast pork and sticky toffee pudding with a glass of wine and it was delicious. Unfortunately no Dartford warblers were seen or heard on the walk, hopefully they have survived the cold winter as I don't always see or hear them on our walks there. 2 Ravens flew overhead and 3 male yellowhammers were seen and heard. Cirl buntings were heard but not seen and as usual whitethroats were seen and heard everywhere. A painted lady butterfly was seen along with a small copper, red admirals and wall browns. Speckled yellow moths were seen flitting over the bluebells on the clifftops.

Painted Lady
Bluebells on the cliffs at the mouth of the River Yealm
I decided to get the old moth box out again that night and the next morning I had a beautiful Lime Hawkmoth in the trap, a new moth for me and a nice end to my week off work.

Lime Hawkmoth

Tuesday 10 May 2011

A Week off Work Part One 2nd - 5th May 2011

So my week off work began on the Bank Holiday Monday with sunshine but a strong blustery East wind. A walk around Burrator reservoir was quiet bird-wise due to the strong, chilly wind but a songflighting siskin, a female grey wagtail along one of the streams entering the reservoir and singing willow warblers were the highlights. The yellow flag iris was nowhere near ready to flower unlike those at Wembury. We also bumped into Davids sister Julie and her husband Gibson out walking to see the bluebells in flower

Tuesday and we headed off to Tyntesfield House, a National Trust House near Bristol, spending the day enjoying the house and gardens. It was a beautiful sunny day but still with a strong wind which eased as the day went on. The house and grounds were lovely with a nice walled vegetable garden which had relatively little in it, we have more growing on our allotment at the moment!. Wildlife highlights were a huge hornet flying by and 2 fox cubs, one dragging a dead young rabbit across the grass to its den where a second one was seen before they both disappeared into the den which was in the wall of the HaHa.

The Library

Tyntesfield House

Fox cub

 After visiting Tyntesfield we travelled the 14 odd miles to Bath which took an hour in the busy traffic and on the crappy roads with loads of traffic lights and junctions and roundabouts! We stayed in the Bath Hilton which was very nice. Bath was beautiful in the evening sunshine, it had a lovely glow with all the sandstone buildings. Herring gulls were notable in that they were joined by lesser black backed gulls scavenging around the rubbish bins and squawking on the rooftops. The lessers were surprisingly dominate over the herrings and very attractive with their dark backs and yellow legs.

Wednesday and we headed to Wells to have a look at the cathedral which was very interesting with its scissor arches. A trapped male blackbird flying around in the roof top trying to find a way out was a sad sight. I was accosted by a stern church warden who was not happy I was taking photos without a permit but I managed to get a quick photo of the famous arches.

Wells cathedrals famous scissor arches

We then headed to Glastonbury Tor, walking up to the Tor top where we had a great view including Wells. Some new age hippies chanting inside the ruined tower on top of the Tor spoilt the general atmosphere but it was a grand view. My first swifts of the year were seen flying up into the eaves of a house near to where we parked the car and a green woodpecker was seen briefly flying up into a tree yaffling away, the first I have actually seen this year, having heard but not seen them in numerous places.
Glastonbury Tor

We then headed to Shapwick Heath and Ham Wall RSPB nature reserve nearby and within a few minutes of arriving were watching hobbies flying over the extensive reed beds catching dragonflies in the sunshine. No more than 2 were seen at any one time but they were very mobile so it was difficult to assess numbers, they reminded me of inferior versions of the Eleanoras Falcons I saw in Essaouria in Morocco last September but were nevertheless beautiful to watch. Also seen were a male marsh harrier, a ruff (or rather reeve), a greenshank,black tailed godwits in summer plumage and a kingfisher. Best bird was an unfortunantly distant black tern in summer plumage swooping over the water with black headed gulls and a commic tern. Warbler song was everywhere - blackcap, willow warbler, chiffchaff and reed warbler. A brimstone butterfly was also seen. David was not overly excited about the place but it was very busy with lots of birders who would disagree and I thought it was a beautiful place, reminding me of my youth spent birdwatching at Minsmere RSPB reserve in Suffolk. To compensate for Davids boredom we then headed off to Clarks Village at nearby Strete for some retail therapy but it was quite disappointing and we came away having only bought some chocolate and tea and some bed linen.

Mute Swan at Shapwick Heath
On getting back to Plymouth that evening I decided to get out the moth box and the next morning I had a nice bufftip moth, one of my favourite moths and only the second one I have caught in the garden.

Thursday and back in Plymouth with grey skies and rain so we headed off to the cinema to see "Thor", not my first choice but it was actually very good and I quite enjoyed it for all its polished, frothy nonsense.

So Part One of my week off work had been quite eventful so far!

Sunday 1 May 2011

Wembury 30th April

Out for a walk at Wembury today but it was grey, cold and with a strong Easterly breeze so I left earlier than planned and as I caught the bus home it started to rain.

Whimbrels were very much in evidence along the beach and in the field above the horse stables, at least 11 seen at any one time but they were very mobile and vocal and with the tide almost out were difficult to count amongst the rocks. Their whistling calls are such a lovely sound of Spring and a few were heard singing as well, a very curlew like bubbling.Some were also very aggressive towards each other, displaying with wings and tails and chasing each other.

Also seen were 8 bar-tailed godwits, one resplendent in full summer plumage and 1 in semi-summer plumage with 6 in plain winter plumage. There seems to be a large passage of bar-tails across the country so it was nice to see Wembury in on the action too.

Whitethroats were everywhere singing away and chiffchaff and blackcap were heard. Swallows passed overhead and 4 wheatears were feeding along the beach.

The toilet block held 2 pug moths and a very much alive and not so tatty looking red twin spot carpet, unlike my recent garden specimen. A magpie moth caterpillar was found along the hedgerow where I saw adults last year.

Red Twin Spot Carpet

Magpie Moth Caterpillar
The dead harbour porpoise on the beach continues to decay, now being skinless and mainly bone but still attracting lots of flies.

Remains of the harbour porpoise

Flowers again much in evidence today with a yellow flag iris and ragged robin flowering by the stream in the valley to the beach, neither of which were flowering on our visit 6 days ago.

Yellow flag iris

Ragged robin
No pasty today as we were meeting up with our friend Julie for lunch in town but it was too grey and cold anyway. We headed off to the old Bar HaHa in town, now called The Berkley, and I enjoyed a burger and a glass of wine instead.

Royal Wedding walk at Grenofen Woods 29th April

Today was Prince Williams and Kates wedding, an extra bank holiday and a day off for me! Quite pleased as the NHS in England is not paying bank holiday rates unlike Wales and Scotland, how very patriotic! So I thought I would head to Grenofen Woods, expecting it to be quiet as everybody would be watching the wedding on the telly. Sunday service buses meant I got there at around 09:30 and it was quiet with only a few cars in the car park but by the time I left it was busy with people emptying their dogs and shouting and yelling while their dogs were barking. The path from Grenofen Bridge to Magpie Bridge was closed for engineering work but I don't usually walk that route so it was fine for me.

Garden warblers were singing away, at least 3 birds were singing with the usual brief but good views as they sang deep in cover. 2 were seen chasing each other and actually fighting briefly. Tree pipits were very much in evidence with at least 4 males singing and songflighting, giving excellent views. To complete the trio at least 3 beautiful  male redstarts were seen singing from the tops of trees with a female briefly seen and a fourth male heard. Sitting on the grass eating an all day greakfast sandwich from Tesco with no one around  and listening and watching tree pipits, redstarts and garden warblers with willow warblers, yellowhammers and bullfinches as a supporting cast was heaven and the resaon why Grenofen Woods is one of my favourite places in the world!

Also seen were treecreeper, marsh tit, buzzard, nuthatch and a pair of mallard. A male pied flycatcher was briefly seen as it sang away in the tree canopy, the trees seem much more advanced with leafs than usual for this time of year due to the recent heatwave. It was nice to see one as the nestbox scheme that used to operate in the woods is no more and the numbers of flycatchers has plummeted as the nestboxes have rotted and fallen off the trees. Sadly and depressingly no wood warblers were seen or heard.

No dippers along the river either but there was a lot of disturbance. A pair of grey wagtails was nice to see, showing well with beakfuls of insects, presumably with a nest nearby. The river level was low as we have had very little rain for the past few weeks and it had that sewage farm perfume smell of treated sewage, I think the treatment works are along the river where the path is currently closed.

Also seen were brimstone moths, a common heath (a new moth for me) and lots of different coloured small caterpillars dangling from the trees on silky threads. Speckled yellow moths were flitting sround in the sunshine and 2 male orange tips were seen. Lots of flowers were out including lousewort and common cow-wheat.

Common Cow-wheat

Brimstone butterfly


Common Heath

Unknown caterpillar species

All in all a brilliant day out!