Monday 31 October 2011

Burrator Reservoir, 28th October

The last day of my week off work, the time off being achieved without taking any annual leave but through a combination of night duties and careful requesting on the computerised off-duty request system known as MAPS.

The weather has been pretty rubbish during my time off, showers and heavy rain and windy most of the time with mostly mild temperatures but also a couple of chilly nights. It was half term as well so on our trips out and about it has been busy with people out walking their dogs and children and especially so on our trip up to Burrator for a walk around the reservoir.

The weather was gorgeous - blue sky, sunshine and no wind to speak off. The water level in the reservoir was quite low, the lowest I have seen it for a long time and surprising for October after what has been a fairly wet Summer and Autumn. We did have a very dry Spring so I guess the rain hasn't quite made up for the very long dry spell we had in March to May.

On checking the reservoir I immediately found a redhead goosander preening itself out on the water. Along the sides of the reservoir near the dam were a collection of mallards with 2 white feral geese. Walking around the reservoir siskins were heard calling in the trees and flying overhead but I failed to see any. I did however hear the "glip-glip" call of crossbills and on looking up managed a brief view of around 10 flying quite high overhead including a very red male.

Also seen around the reservoir were a red admiral butterfly feeding on ivy flowers, a flyover great spotted woodpecker, 3 ravens and a goldcrest. A winter plumaged little grebe was seen busily diving out on the water. Best find though were 3 roe deer feeding out in the open in a field of sheep, they were quite wary but fed out in the open near the edge of the trees and I managed a few poor shots of them with my camera. One was a male with a small set of antlers, one was a female with no antlers and one appeared to have the small antler buds of a immature male.

Roe Deer - a male with small antlers 

Roe Deer - a young male with antler buds developing

Roe deer - a female with no antlers
Getting back to the dam we enjoyed a 99 ice cream in the sunshine and watched a kingfisher fly off from the rocks below the dam, across the reservoir and out of sight, my first kingfisher sighting here.

It had been a lovely walk in lovely weather despite the crowds and the sighting of the crossbills has bumped my year list up to 167, I am hoping to get to 170 by the end of the year and with 2 months left to go I should hopefully manage it.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

A surprise moth find !

I have been puzzling over the moth I found at Bude last Sunday and posted a photo on the Back Garden Moth Community Forum page for some ID help. I thought it was a faded brindled green but it has since been ID'd as a feathered ranunculus, a new moth for me.

I then reviewed some more photos I took of a moth I caught in the back yard on the 19th September and some moths I found in the toilet block at Wembury in October and have realised they are all feathered ranunculus (or ranunculi?) too. So I have now seen 4 feathered ranunculus this Autumn and have yet to see a brindled green, a far more common moth!

The first feathered ranunculus I found in my back yard moth trap on 19th September

The second feathered ranunculus at Wembury on 14th October
Number 3 at Wembury on 14th October - with quite a pinky flush

The 4th (or 2nd) Feathered Ranunculus I found at Wembury on 22nd October - check out those antenna which makes it a male

Number 5 (or number 3) at Wembury on 22nd October - with quite a pinky flush

A faded Number 6 (or 4) at Bude on 23rd October
The 2 I found at Wembury on the 14th October in the toilet block are probably the same 2 I found on the 22nd October based on their colouration. I didn't have any pots with me on the 14th as I would have caught and released them outside but I did have pots with me on the 22nd when I did manage to catch them and release them.

However the moth surprise of this posts title is not the above but a surprise find in the toilet block at Wembury on the 26th October, a nice smart vestal moth. I saw these moths on my Spanish holiday in Granada and Algeciras but have never seen one in the UK before. I guess the strong Southerly winds we had over the weekend may have brought it over from the Continent but it was a nice find.

Vestal - with very feathery antenna


It was difficult to photo as it was a little feisty, eventually flying out through the door and lost from sight but it was a nice end to my mothing Summer as I am unlikely to see much more in the way of moths now until next Spring. It also means I will have to update my moth report for Wembury before I send it off to the County Recorder!

Also seen at Wembury were a flyover female sparrowhawk, a male stonechat, brief views of a male cirl bunting and a female yellowhammer amongst the very flighty bunting flock in the sewage farm hedge and 3 rook that flew over looking beautifully irradescent purple in the strong sun-light as they tumbled together like ravens do.

We also had our last pasty and coffee of the year as the cafe is closing this coming weekend until the Christmas period so at least my waistline and bank balance can recover.

Monday 24 October 2011

Time to put the moth box away

After the angle shades in the kitchen and the 2 brindled greens in the toilet block at Wembury I decided I would have the moth box out in the back yard on the night of the 22nd October. It was overcast and mild but with a strong Southerly wind and the next morning for my troubles I had 1 micro moth in the trap, a Light Brown Apple Moth. It is a moth that is becoming increasingly common in the UK, having been introduced here from Australia and I regularly have them in the trap over the summer although I tend not to take much notice of them. Next year I must start paying more attention to the micro-moths.

Light Brown Apple Moth
So it is now time to put the moth box away for the winter and to sort out all my moth notes to send off to the county moth recorder.

However we travelled up to Bude on the 23rd October to help the out-laws clean and wrap up the caravan for the year and I managed a few moth sightings including 2 new species! The toilet block held an angle shades and my first new moth, a dark chestnut.

Dark Chestnut

Angle Shades

The security light on the roof of the portable toilet waste block was on so I wandered down to have a look and found 3 flame shoulders, a rusty dot pearl, what I think is a faded brindled green and new for me, 2 lunar underwings.

Rusty Dot Pearl

Faded Brindled Green?

Lunar Underwing

Also seen were a flyover raven, a red admiral and 5 flyover Canada geese.

It was a mild day with a very strong Southerly wind which made putting the cover over the caravan fun but it was soon packed away and we headed home, Winter is definently coming now.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Wembury 22nd October 2011

A surprise find was an angle shade moth in the kitchen in the evening on the 21st October, my first of the year. The window was only slightly open, not open enough for a moth to fly in, so I don't know where it had come from.

Angle shade moth in the kitchen

I was feeling groggy after 4 night shifts but the 22nd October was beautiful with bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky although it was quite breezey. David had boobed and was called by work to ask where he was, he thought he was working Sunday for out of hours but it was Saturday so off he headed for a long day shift and off I headed to Wembury on the bus.

The toilet block held 2 brindled green which I caught and released outside.

Brindled green
Brindled green

Heading off along the coast path I bumped into my mate Mavis on a bird walk with the Plymouth RSPB group, I had forgotten that there was a walk organised for today. They were heading back to the car park after their walk so I carried on along the coast on my own.

A little egret flew by and a curlew was seen roosting amongst the oystercatchers on the rocks at high tide. The turnstones were roosting on the sewage pipe and scattered when a female sparrowhawk swooped unsuccessfully at them. A male sparrohawk was later seen alongside the road heading up to the bus stop, it was unsuccessfully swooping at woodpigeons roosting in a tree which scattered in all directions as it twisted and turned through the tree branches.

A juvenile common gull was found amongst a flock of black headed gulls resting on the sea and 21 mallards fed around the sewage pipe, 12 males and 9 females. 2 male stonechats were seen, 1 in the valley to the beach which is the first one I have seen here for some time and 1 in the HMS Cambridge field. Also seen were 2 male cirl buntings and a male yellowhammer along with females in nervous and flighty groups along the walk, a kestrel, 2 ravens and a meadow pipit along the beach with the rock pipits. Offshore there were quite a few gannets, most way out but a few quite close to shore and all busy diving for fish.

3 common lizards were seen sunning themselves before the sun disappeared and red admirals were seen flying around. A fox moth caterpillar was sunning itself amongst the grass by the side of the path.

Fox moth caterpillar

I enjoyed a pasty and coffee on the beach although the sunshine had gone by this time and it was quite cool so it was time to head off home.

Moths, Wembury and a ferry trip to France

Back to work and back to reality with a bump on the 10th October after our lovely holiday in Spain. To ease the pain I had the moth box out for a couple of nights although the weather had cooled somewhat from the heatwave the UK had while we were away in Spain.

Best moths were 3 common marbled carpets in the trap with differing patterning, a large ranunculus found resting on the wall by the trap and an L-album wainscot which had unfortunately been caught in a spiders web in the window frame and was well and truly dead.

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

Common marbled carpet

We headed off to Wembury on the 14th October for a coffee and pasty and a walk in the sunshine, it was a beautiful day with only a slight breeze and quite warm. Best bird was a smart winter plumage Mediterranean gull flying along the shoreline at low tide looking brilliant white in the strong sunshine and with a lovely elegant flight. Also seen were a swallow, 2 female cirl buntings, 2 little egrets and 2 male and a female stonechat. A common lizard was sunning itself on a fence post and red admirals and speckled woods were on the wing.

The toilet block held 2 brindled greens and a new moth for me, an unseasonal orange swift.

Orange swift

That evening we headed off to France on our annual trip by overnight ferry to Roscoff. The sea was very calm and we managed a fairly decent nights sleep before arriving in Roscoff at 7am (6am British time). The day stayed bright and sunny and warm and we spent a pleasent day shopping, eating, drinking and walking.

Birds seen in Roscoff included 6 swallows, a winter plumaged Mediterranean gull, 3 Sandwich terns, little egrets, brent geese, turnstones, redshanks and a grey heron. Red admirals, speckled woods and large whites were also noted.

We stayed in the Hotel Les Arcades overnight, the first time we have stayed in this hotel and we had a lovely meal that evening in the restaurant of the hotel, David loved his half a crab starter and I enjoyed my tripe sausage starter although I wouldn't have it again!  The best thing about the hotel though was the great view from the bedroom window overlooking the sea and it was nice to have the window open watching the birdlife on the rocks while listening to the calls of the waders, gulls and geese.

The view from the hotel bedroom

Brent geese

Little egret

Sad sight though was a mass of dead crabs by the quayside, presumably they were dead when they were landed so were chucked back in to the sea. It seemed such a waste although the herring and great black backed gulls were busy feeding on them at low tide and as the tide came in small fish fry and some large mullet were busy feeding on them too.

Mass of dead crabs by the quayside
The next morning we headed back to Plymouth on the 09:15hrs ferry. It was bright and sunny and still and the crossing was good although there was a gentle roll on the boat the whole way over. Twenty minutes after leaving Roscoff and still quite close to land 2 rock pipits flew around the ferry calling. A dark shearwater then caught my eye flying fast and low over the waves and there it was, the star bird of the trip, a sooty shearwater. It showed silvery flashes under its wing tips as it sheared over the waves and it was soon lost to view as it headed West. Five minutes later and a flock of gannets flying towards the ferry caught my eye and there they were, star mammals of the trip, common dolphins! They were seen off the port side heading towards the ferry with the gannets following them , there were at least 7 of them, probably more, and as the ferry neared them they turned and started leaping towards the ferry side. They missed getting to the front of the ferry and reached the side almost where I was stood before being lost from sight but I had excellent views in the sunlight as they leaped out of the water. I have seen harbour porpoises on this crossing before but this is the first time I have seen any dolphins, this year has been an excellent year for unexpected cetacean sightings.

Bird wise plenty of gannets were seen on the whole of the crossing with good numbers seen diving for fish around the Eddystone lighthouse. Also seen were 5 great skuas, 2 about halfway across and 3 around the Eddystone lighthouse and so within sight of UK land and therefore tickable for my year list! Also seen in the Eddystone area were 10 guillemot flying East, a fulmar, herring and great black backed gulls, 7 cormorant flying south and a brief view of a diver flying East, probably a red throated.

Back home by 2pm, it had been a nice short trip away with a great crossing back from Roscoff to Plymouth.

Friday 14 October 2011

Algeciras 4th -7th October 2011

After checking into the hotel we headed off into the town of Algeciras for a look around. Not much in the way in the way of birdlife was seen but we did find a hummingbird hawkmoth feeding on flowers in a roadside flowerbed, the first sighting of the trip. Later that evening we wandered into town again for dinner and saw three of them feeding together in the same flower bed.

The best photo of a hummingbird hawkmoth I could get

After having a look around the town and enjoying an orange flavoured magnum (tasted like Jaffa cakes!) we headed back to the hotel where we crashed out by the poolside to catch some sun, it being around 2:30pm by this time. A kestrel was noisely calling and on looking up to see it I noticed a flock of around 10 large raptors soaring on the thermals. It was quite cloudy especially inland and with a brisk East wind so not ideal for the birds to fly over to Morocco but they were heading towards Gibraltar. Grabbing my binoculars I realised they were both dark and light phased booted eagles with a short toed eagle amongst them, being noticeably larger in size. They gained height before disappearing into the cloud but then more birds appeared from the West, all heading East towards Gibraltar. I sat and watched birds soaring overhead for about an hour and a half, some were quite low but most gradually gained height before disappearing into the clouds. Most were booted eagles but there was also the odd short toed eagle amongst them, the numbers were difficult to count but there was a good number of birds passing over. 

Amongst the trees and shrubs of the garden I watched pied flycatchers and redstarts feeding, one of the pied flycatchers had a deformed leg that stuck out at a right angle behind the bird but it didn't seem to affect its flycatching or perching. Also seen was a willow warbler, grey wagtail, blackbirds, robins (which were very shy and retiring) and a song thrush.

Moth wise I saw a crimson speckled and quite a few vestals and a red admiral flew by joined by a two tailed pasha butterfly, a new one for me but a very quick fly past view only, its flight was very fast and erratic and I originally thought it was another red admiral.

Crimson speckled- a few of these turned up in the South West in the heatwave the UK had while we were away!


The following day we headed off on the bus to Gibraltar which for me was one of the highlights of the trip and somewhere I have wanted to visit for a long time. We walked over the border from Spain and across the airport runway and had a wander around the main shopping area. It was strange to see signs in English along with an M and S and Natwest bank but the cars still drove on the right on the roads. David needed the loo as usual so while he went off to find one I sat in Casemates Square watching the stream of eagles flying overhead as they gained height up the side of the rock. Again they were mostly booted eagles, some very low down, with a few short toed eagles amongst them and there was a steady stream over. I then noticed a darker bird and was delighted to see it was a juvenile Egyptian vulture, a new bird for me and a bit of a surprise. Later that afternoon while up on the rock I saw the same or another bird, the wind was quite brisk from the East and it was very cloudy with the top of the rock shrouded in misty cloud so not ideal weather conditions for the birds to make the crossing over the sea to Morocco. I have seen the Autumn migration of birds through the Bosphorous at Istanbul and it was very impressive with huge numbers of storks and raptors passing overhead when the bad weather broke, the numbers were huge but the views were not so good as most birds were quite high as they passed over so I was very pleased to have seen it happening in Gibraltar with such good views of the birds.
Entering Gibratlar
At lunchtime we headed off for a dolphin watching boat trip with Dolphin Adventure which was very good. 3 companies run trips from the marina and we headed out to an area where the Dolphin World boat was drifting around. I saw a striped dolphin leap out of the water as we sailed nearer to the boat and then a common dolphin broke across the waves briefly. We then spent a good hour watching the dolphins, it was very choppy on the water with the East wind but the boat would motor very fast across the water to create a wake which would then hit the waves caused by the wind and the dolphins seemed to enjoy leaping out of the water where the opposing waves met, giving us good views. The striped dolphins would also pass by the boat, leaping out of the water and tail splashing but the common dolphins would come in to the boat to ride on the bow wave. I had an excellent time and could have spent all day out on the water in the sunshine but we had to head back and just as we were about to enter the marina another pod of common and striped dolphins appeared past the boat which was a nice surprise. While out on the water more eagles flew overhead towards Gibraltar, surprisingly flying across the water of the Bay rather than following the shoreline.

Common dolphin bow riding

Striped Dolphin

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

After the trip we headed up to the top of the rock on the cable car, it was quite expensive, £19 (£9 for the return cable car and £10 for all the attractions even though we would not be able to actually visit them all in the time we had left). The cable car was great and on arrival at the top the Barbary apes were all sat there watching out for something to grab from the tourists. They were well fed and with lovely glossy fur. I love monkeys but I don't trust them especially after my mum was bitten on the leg by one in Mauritius so I kept a sensible distance from them although other people were touching them and picking them up. 
Barbary ape (or macaque)

Barbary Ape

From the top of the rock I saw a few more straggling eagles, a raven, a sparrowhawk, flocks of swallows, red rumped swallows, house martins and sand martins heading out towards Morocco, swifts screaming overhead, the Egyptian Vulture and I heard Sardinian warblers. A peregrine called in the mist but wasn't seen. Also seen was a painted lady butterfly, the only one of the trip, and another hummingbird hawkmoth and two tailed pasha butterfly.

The following day the wind had dropped and the cloud had gone and there were no eagles seen overhead which was a shame for me but probably good for the birds and their migration. We had a quiet day around the pool as it was our last day of the trip and that night we found a praying mantis flying around the garden having been attracted by the lights, a new insect for me.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

The 7th saw us heading back to Gibraltar to catch our plane home and as we sat in the airport cafe with a cup of coffee a yellow legged gull watched us in the hope for a scrap of food.

Yellow legged gull

And so back to Blighty and the cold and the rain and the cloud and the grey but it had been an excellent holiday with no mishaps, tiring but in a good way and we packed a lot in. I had some excellent wildlife to keep me happy and got a bit of a tan to boot!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Granada 1st - 4th October 2011

And so off to Granada we headed by train on the 1st October, no Preferente class again, the train was very busy, mainly with old American tourists with huge suitcases they could barely carry. Along the way I saw the usual greater flamingoes, egrets and large and small raptors as we travelled through some very scenic landscapes.

The hotel in Granada was very nice with a great rooftop pool area although with a very small pool. It had a great view of the city and the Alhambra Palace and looked and felt quite Alpine with the Sierra Nevada mountains and tree covered slopes in the background. It was hot during the day but much more pleasent than Seville and Cordoba had been and at night it was surprisingly cold and quite refreshing.

Bird wise it was quiet but swifts were regular flying over the rooftop area as we sat sunning ourselves in the afternoon. As dusk fell spotless starlings flew over heading to roost and one evening we watched a big swirling mass of spotless starlings over the rooftops, all caused by a patrolling sparrowhawk which eventually flew off having been unsuccessful in getting a meal before bed.

We visited the Alhambra Palace on the 3rd October and to be honest it was a little disappointing. Granada was very touristy as Cordoba was too and there were lots of tour groups being whisked around the sights and the Alhambra was no different. Also the main palace complex was being restored and the highlight of the palace, the Patio of the Lions, was closed. The gardens of the Alhambra were very beautiful but I found the gardens of the Alcazars of Cordoba and Seville much more impressive.

Anyway I did get to see some nice birds, the highlight being some hawfinches feeding in some trees but they were very mobile and retiring so I only managed the odd brief view. Also seen was a nice male blue rock thrush, 4 crag martins overhead, jays, blackcaps including some singing males and some flyover chipping crossbills. I also got a good view of a scarce swallowtail feeding amongst the flowers of the garden.

Scarce Swallowtail

Blue Rock Thrush
And so to our last train trip of the holiday, no Preferente class and an early morning start (06:50hrs), as we headed to Algeciras on the 4th October. The first hour of the journey was in darkness but as the sun came up we travelled through some beautiful scenery, especially the part from Rhonda to Algeciras. The train was very quiet too so it was a very pleasent 4 hour journey, helped by amazing cakes we bought in Granada the night before which we had for breakfast.

From the train I saw the ususal egrets and large and small raptors and as we passed through San Roque the sky was full of white storks which the train had disturbed as we passed by. The pylons alongside the train track were covered in storks nests with a few storks still stood on the nest platforms but most of the storks had taken to the air, an impressive sight as they are big birds. I also saw 2 black storks, an adult and a juvenile, stood in a ploughed field as we headed into San Roque and what could have been another 2 stood in a field further away. Other birds included a green sandpiper flying off from a small stream as we passed by, a great spotted woodpecker flying between trees and a squacco heron that David saw but which I missed.

And so we arrived in Algeciras, our final stop and a nice hotel with a large swimming pool in a large area of parkland and what was probably to be the best wildlife of the whole trip.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Seville 26th September - 1st October 2011

Seville was even hotter, cool in the early mornings but again by about 11:30 in the morning it was like being in a furnace!

After getting settled in to the hotel we walked in to the centre to see the Giralda, the mosque tower converted to a cathedral tower when the Moors were overthrown in 1248. The mosque tower was built by the Almohads and is one of only 3 in the world, the other 2 being in Rabat and Marrakesh in Morocco which I saw last year on Davids 48th birthday holiday extravaganza. It was very impressive and one of the highlights of the trip and we managed to climb to the top of it, something you can not do with the 2 in Morocco. A colony of lesser kestrels nests in the tower but on climbing it I didn't see any but when we went to see the tower on another evening as dusk fell and it was lit up I saw a few birds flying around the tower calling before they disappeared inside. Best of all though was the fact that the day we decided to climb the tower it was international tourism day and it was free so we saved ourselves 15 Euros!
Giralda by day

Giralda by night
We also visited the Seville Alcazar, the old Moorish palace and gardens, and despite the heat they were stunningly beautiful and impressive. Ring necked parakeets flew around the gardens and a scarce swallowtail butterfly was seen amongst the flowers adding to the exoticness of the place.
Ring necked parakeet in the Alcazar gardens, Seville
Frog in an ornamental pond outside the archeological museum, Seville

We visited the Roman ruins of Italica just outside Seville which were interesting with an impressive Roman amphitheatre, apparently the 3rd largest in the Roman world. I added a male pochard, coot, little grebe and 10 greylag geese to my bird list, all of these seen on a small lake amongst the ruins. 2 ravens flew overhead and crested larks were everywhere. 5 yellow wagtails flew over calling, again of unknown race. The best sighting though was a pretty gourd type plant growing everywhere on the dry, bare ground, with a curious habit of squirting a powerful jet of liquid when you picked the fruits off the plant and which could be quite painful if you got caught by it!

Roman mosaic, Italica

Interesting Roman mosaic, Italica
Interesting Roman mosaic, Italica

Water canon gourd plants, Italica

We also visited on a day trip the Roman necropolis at Carmona with its strange burial tombs dug out of the rock and while eating lunch of olives, crisps and fruit on the top of a ridge at the edge of the town I saw 5 griffon vultures high overhead before they drifted off out of sight. Despite their height in the sky they still appeared huge and one stooped at another with its feet and neck stretched out before they carried on their way. Also seen were some lesser kestrels patrolling the hillside in the strong updraughts and a fire bug, dragonflies and some kind of grasshopper/locust.

Fire Bug


Grasshopper/locust - very well camoflagued against the sandy soil

Davids birthday was the 30th September and we travelled by train to Cadiz for the day with a stop off at Jerez on the way back to visit a sherry bodega with tastings which was good fun. From the train we saw more greater flamingoes and white storks and also black winged stilits.

Cadiz though was very pleasent with a refreshing sea breeze and a relaxed air, very like Essaouria in Morocco which we visited last year for Davids birthday. Bird wise it was interesting with another honey buzzard seen flying over the exposed rocks along the shore putting up turnstones, 2 whimbrels and ringed plovers feeding amongst them. Gulls were well represented with Yellow legged, Lesser black backed and Black headed seen along with a juvenile Great black backed and a juvenile and 2nd winter Mediterranean found amongst them. Also seen were quite a few cricket/cockroach beetle things, some unknown species of moths and various dragonflies as we wandered around Cadiz and monk parakeets were noisey and obvious as they were nest building in the palm trees around the town.

Monk parakeet, Cadiz

Cricket/ cockroach sp., Cadiz
Unknown Moth sp., ? Eggar
Dragonfly sp.
The 1st October and yet again we were off on the train, this time to Granada. No Preferente class again and the journey was over 3 hours on a very packed train with more sightings of greater flamingoes, egrets and large raptors overhead.