Sunday 27 May 2012

Nightjar Night - 24th May 2012

A hot and sunny day stuck in work but ideal for my yearly trip to Plymbridge Woods for a National Trust guided walk through the woods at dusk to look for nightjars. Meeting at the car park at Plymbridge Woods and handing over our £4 fees, our small group headed off to Cann Woods as dusk fell. It was warm and humid and still, perfect conditions for nightjar but also perfect conditions for mosquitos which I realised the next day when I found numerous itchy bites on my hands and fore arms.

We headed in to Cann Woods and the large area that was felled of its disease ridden larch trees last year and which is now covered in emerging vegetation. Within a few minutes a nightjar was heard churring, quickly followed by a second bird and for the next 45 minutes or so we heard 2 birds churring at the same time but there may have been more than 2 birds present . One bird was seen regularly returning to a tree branch to churr where it was silhoutted against the sky which unfortunately meant no plumage detail was seen. We did get views of 2 male birds chasing each other over the bracken, showing their white wing and tail patches as they wing clapped, called and churred, and I finally heard the rattling churr as a bird finished churring, sounding like a generator being turned off, very strange.

Also heard were quite a few tawny owls, blackcap and song thrush and a pale buzzard looked very ghostly as it flew over to roost in trees as the light faded. Pale moths flew over the bracken and small bats buzzed overhead.

It is quite possile to do the trip independently but I never really fancy walking around the woods in the dark on my own. David very kindly picked me up at about 10:45pm so saving me the long, dark walk from Plymbridge to Marsh Mills to catch a bus home and I enjoyed a nice glass of wine before hitting the sack after a very hot and tiring but enjoyable day.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Telescope Day at Dawlish Warren

I've had the moth box out in the back yard a few nights over the last week, still slim pickings, but I did have a nice spectacle moth and my first large yellow underwing of the year.

Spectacle Moth

Spectacle Moth spectacles

Large Yellow Underwing

Anyway I headed to Dawlish Warren on the 20th May to try out some telescopes on the London Camera Exchange optics day. It was feeling warmer and the sun did eventually show when it became quite warm and pleasent. I tried out some scopes and I have finally ordered the Nikon ED50 telescope which should be with me in the next week!

Bird wise it was quiet with 2 Sandwich terns, 5 summer plumaged great crested grebes and diving gannets offshore. Chiffchaff, blackcap and 3 reed warblers were heard singing and a great spotted woodpecker was heard calling. On the pond a female mallard had 2 small ducklings with her and a young moorhen was seen along with 2 mute swans. Swallows and house martins were collecting mud from a puddle for their nests. A pair of Canada geese were keeping a careful eye on 4 goslings as I walked by.

2 of the 4 Canada Geese goslings

Insects were on the wing due to the warm weather and I saw a small copper and a speckled wood, a wasp beetle, azure damselfly and a yellow belle.

Wasp Beetle

Azure Damselfly

Yellow Belle - male with feathery antenna

Southern marsh orchids were in flower around the reserve.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

The weather is continuing to improve and after working an early shift on the 22nd May I caught the bus out to Blagdons Meadow along the River Plym for a quick walk around as the sun was shining and it was quite warm and I had been cooped up inside all day. A female orange tip was flying around along with a holly blue and at least 3 small heath.

Female Orange Tip

Small Heath

 Cuckoo flowers were everywhere and I found quite a few early purple orchids including a white flowered one with no spotting on its leaves. They were going over and were flowering in a different area to where I saw them last year and on sniffing them they had quite a pungent smell, the guide book describes it as Tom-cat - Nice!

Early Purple Orchid - Purple Form

Early Purple Orchid - White Form

Saturday 19 May 2012

Woodchat Shrike Dip - but with an unexpected bonus - 17th May 2012

Thursday 17th May and the weather had changed again - it was dull and grey with drizzle/showery periods but we headed off to The Warren car-park at Noss Mayo to have a look for the woodchat shrike that had been showing very well here since the weekend. Walking down the footpath from the car park I wished I had brought a hat and some gloves as it was very cold in a strong Easterly wind. Reaching the coast path overlooking the valley where the shrike had been showing it became very obvious that I would not see it as the wind was blowing right up the valley and it was very cold and insect free except for a lone bumble bee nectaring on the gorse flowers! I imagine it must have moved on if it had any sense. I spent some time searching the area and found a singing male stonechat and a singing male cirl bunting while gannets battled against the wind and waves offshore.

Heading off along the coast path to Noss Mayo and lunch in The Ship Inn I saw another singing cirl bunting, another male stonechat and 3 very bright looking male yellowhammers, one of which was singing.

After lunch we headed off up the steep valley path back to The Warren car-park where I spent a bit more time looking unsuccessfully for the shrike again. A pair of birdwatchers were leaving as I arrived at the top of the valley and they had drawn a blank too. I had resigned myself to not seeing the bird and was just admiring the view when the unexpected bonus of the day put in an appearance. A pigeon flew low and fast across the clifftop heading East, I thought it was a woodpigeon but on looking through my binoculars I realised it was a lovely turtle dove, a bird I have not seen in the UK for well over 15 years and only my second Devon sighting! It was only a brief view but I was more pleased to see it than I would have been to see the shrike! Unfortunately the turtle dove is the most likeliest bird to become extinct in the UK by 2020, due to hunting and habitat loss, a sad state of affairs, with others saying it will become extinct globally and will be the European equivalent of the now extinct North American passenger pigeon.

Before leaving to head back to Plymouth I got chatting with a guy who had the largest lens I have ever seen on a camera, how he managed to hold it to take pictures I will never know. He had seen the shrike every day since it was first seen but hadn't seen it that day and on checking the internet sightings that evening it had not been reported that day or since. Never mind - I saw a woodchat shrike at Wembury in 2008 and a ridiculously tame bird in Ford Park cemetery in Plymouth in 2009 but it would have been good to have caught up with this bird too. Should have gone to see it on Tuesday instead of going to Wembury!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Waders at Wembury and Garden Warblers at Grenofen Woods - 15th and 16th May 2012

Sunny and dry weather over the weekend but still cool and quite cold overnight but I was working nights so no chance of any wildlife watching. I finished nights on Monday morning hoping the good weather would hold and as I got home just after 8am it started to rain! Never mind.

By the evening the weather had improved so I got the moth box out as the forecast was for dry weather overnight and in the morning I had..... a light brown apple moth and a shuttle shaped dart! The dart was a smaller and paler individual than the one I caught last week but I didn't bother taking a photo of it. 

Tuesday 15th was dry and sunny but cold in a strong North wind and after a visit to the travel agents at Plympton to try and sort out a holiday we headed out to Wembury for lunch and a walk. I had thought about going to Noss Mayo to try and see a woodchat shrike that has been sighted there but decided on Wembury instead. After a coffee and a pasty we headed off along the coast path, seeing a common lizard, a bloody nosed beetle, a small copper and 3 wall browns despite the cold.

The yellow flag iris was in flower by the stream in the valley to the beach along with ragged robin and cuckoo flower. A sedge warbler was heard briefly singing amongst the vegetation by the stream but I didn't see it. Whitethroats,chiffchaffs and blackcaps were seen and heard and swallows twittered overhead. A male wheatear was feeding on the rocks below the horse field with 2 females.

Male Wheatear

Walking further along the coast 2 whimbrel and a winter plumaged bar-tailed godwit were feeding along the shoreline. The beach by the sewage pipe was covered in a mass of rotting seaweed and feeding on it were 5 ringed plovers, 3 summer plumaged dunlin and a winter plumaged sanderling. Out on Wembury Point amongst the roosting oystercatchers were another winter plumaged bar-tailed godwit and 12 whimbrel along with a Sandwich tern sporting a silver ring on its right leg.

Other birds seen were a singing male cirl bunting, a male stonechat, a shelduck, 2 Canada geese, a kestrel and a female mallard being hassled by a group of randy males.

The toilet block held one moth but a new one for me, a brown silver line, which I potted up, photographed and released. I had to take a photo through the pot as it would not stay still for long. The caterpillars feed on bracken but I think the nearest clump of bracken is out towards Heybrook Bay, not far as the moth flies I suppose. Also seen was a nest of lackey moth caterpillars on a sloe bush.

Brown Silver Line

Lackey Moth caterpillars

Wednesday 16th and the weather was warmer and less windy so I caught the bus to Grenofen Woods for my annual walk. Unfortunately I didn't see or hear any wood warblers again and there was no sight or sound of any pied flycatchers either. I did however have excellent views of at least 5 singing garden warblers, the most I have seen at Grenofen Woods before and all showing very well as they usual skulk and sing from cover. Also seen were 2 songflighting tree pipits with a third heard, 2 singing male redstarts which also showed very well and with a third bird also heard, willow warbler, chiffchaff and blackcap.

4 fledgling ravens were very noisey as they called for food from the ground on the opposite side of the valley, becoming more noisey as an adult bird flew in with food. The usual birds were also seen - nuthatch (with 1 bird seen feeding a fledgling in a tree), a marsh tit, a coal tit, blue tit, great tit and long-tailed tit, buzzard, jay and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers entering a hole in a dead stump with noisey young calling inside. Along the river 3 grey wagtails were seen with an adult and a fledgling dipper.

Lots of flowers were seen including common cow-wheat, common milkwort, lousewort, speedwells and violets.

Speedwell Sp.

A fox was sunning itself along the woodland edge, the first time I have seen one here at Grenofen.


A male orange tip was the only butterfly seen on the wing and a speckled yellow and a silver ground carpet were seen briefly flying by.

And so it had been a great walk as usual and with the sighting of garden warbler my year list now stands at 160.

As  a footnote I have run out of storage space for photos on Blogger, I had not realised there was a limit. I have signed up for Google+ and seem to be able to upload photos using it, if it doesn't work I will have to pay a monthly fee to enable photos to continue to be uploaded - I should have read the small print more carefully!

Thursday 10 May 2012

A great day at Exminster Marsh and Yarner Wood - 8th May 2012

I have managed to ID the micro moth I caught in the moth box last week, it is a white shouldered house moth. I managed to get a poor photo of it in a pot as it was very small and would not keep still for a second. I released it outside but a few days later I saw another one in the spare bedroom, this individual being much brighter and in better condition than the one I caught.

White Shouldered House Moth

Bank Holiday Monday (7th May) was cool and cloudy so lunch and a walk at Mount Edgecumbe in Cornwall provided views of a few swallow, a male wheatear on the rocks below the gun battlement and the regular male gadwall on the pond with the mallard.

Male Gadwall with Male Mallard

The black winged stilt from North Cornwall appeared at Exminster Marsh on the 5th May when I was at work but it was a one day wonder before moving on. However on the 8th May we had to take the outlaws to Exeter for a hospital appointment as their car was in the garage being repaired so I was dropped off at Exminster Marsh for a few hours. No black winged stilts but I did see a superb pair of garganey feeding on a pond close to the road, my first Devon garganey and only my third UK sighting! Also seen were a summer plumaged turnstone, a summer plumaged and two winter plumaged bar-tailed godwit, 3 grey plover, one of which was developing summer plumage, and 10 summer plumaged dunlin roosting amongst the curlew and whimbrel.

A peregrine was perched on the electricity pylon devouring a moorhen and 4 beautiful hobby were hawking insects over the small reservoir giving wonderful views of their acrobats.

Sedge warblers were singing and songflighting giving close views and a few reed warblers were seen briefly singing. A Cettis warbler showed very well as it explosively sang in a bush by the road.

A large flock of gulls was roosting on the Marsh but they were very flighty and mobile and I failed to find any of the recently reported Iceland gulls amongst them. I did however find 3 adult and a sub adult lesser black backed gull and a 1st summer plumaged Mediterranean gull amongst the herring and black headed gulls.

Greater stitchwort was in flower by the roadside but despite the warmer temperature and increasing sunshine I failed to see any butterflies.

Greater Stitchwort

After being picked up from the Marsh I was unexpectedly dropped off at Yarner Wood while the outlaws went to Trago Mills at Newton Abbot and I had a very productive walk around the woods as the clouds cleared and the sun shone warmly.

I managed good views of 3 wood warblers, one of which had colour rings on its legs. At first I thought it had very bright legs until I realised it had a bright orange plastic ring on each leg along with a silver ring on its left leg and what I thought was a black plastic ring on its right leg. I have reported it through the BTO and have had a reply, it was ringed at Yarner Wood last year and what I thought was a black ring was more likely a dark green ring, it was very mobile through the tree canopy and a little distant so I may have gotten the colour wrong. I'm waiting for some more details to come through about the bird I saw but it is very exciting as wood warblers are one of my favourite birds and they appear to be doing badly at the moment so my sighting may be of some help to try and find out more about them. I also heard some trilling wood warbler song but it was unfortunately brief and subdued.

Pied flycatchers were vocal and obvious around the wood and I also saw 3 spotted flycatchers, a male redstart, a treecreeper and 2 songflighting tree pipits. 2 marsh tit were feeding on the seed feeder in front of the hide and on the pond 3 male and 2 female mandarin ducks were seen along with a male wood duck which seems to have paired with one of the female manadarins.

Male Pied Flycatcher

Female Mandarin Duck with Male Wood Duck

Lots of Adela reaumurella micro moths were on the wing as the temperature rose and many were seen flying around the tree tops but I managed to find one near the woodland floor and took a photo of it.

Adela reaumurella

Common milkwort was in flower on the heathland.

Common Milkwort

Butterflies were on the wing - a male orange tip, a holly blue, male and female brimstones and a beautiful pearl bordered fritillary. I was trying to take a photo of a male brimstone feeding on a dandelion by the roadside while I was waiting for my lift back to Plymouth when it was disturbed by what I thought was a comma butterfly but I was delighted to see it was a pearl bordered fritillary instead.

Pearl Bordered Fritillary

Pearl Bordered Fritillary

And so I had had a great day out with an unexpected trip to Yarner Wood - and I had a piece of coffee and walnut cake bought for me from the cafe in Bovey Tracey to eat in the car on the journey back to Plymouth - perfect! And my yearlist now stands at 159 species.

Friday 4 May 2012

Some new moths at last !

I had the moth box out in the back yard on the night of the 1st/2nd May and wasn't really expecting too much. I checked the trap before going to bed and found a male shuttle shaped dart on the wall near the trap which I potted up to have a proper look at in the morning. I noticed an unfamiliar moth in the trap just before it had a hissy fit and flew all over the place before escaping and flying away but on checking the guide book I thought it might have been a waved umber, the caterpillars of which feed on lilac and jasmine, both of which I have in the back yard.

The next morning the moth was back in the trap and was indeed a waved umber, a new moth for me and the garden. Also in the trap were the usual 2 light brown apple moths and a very small micro moth which flew off before I could take a photo but which I think was Tachystola acroxantha, another import from Australia like the light brown apple moth and doing well in the UK.

Waved Umber

Shuttle Shaped Dart - Male

The 2nd May was bright and sunny and turned out to be very warm and pleasant, perfect for a trip to Bude with the outlaws to put the awning up on the caravan. The caravan site was quite boggy with all the rain but the awning was duly put up without too much difficulty. Apparently the site is not doing so well with the economic woes and the bad weather along with concerns about petrol availabilty and it might close at the end of the season, a big shame as I always enjoy my time in Bude and have had some amazing wildlife encounters there including moths.

I checked out the toilet blocks with no luck but on checking the chemical waste hut with the security light on the roof I found 3 moths - a brimstone moth, an angle shades and a new moth for me, a brindled beauty which did live up to its name, being a very attractive and furry looking moth.

Brimstone Moth

Angle Shades

Brindled Beauty - a male with feathered antennae

Other wildlife included 7 whimbrel flying over calling, 4 buzzards soaring high overhead, a skulking male whitehtroat singing quietly to itself in the hedge behind the caravan and plenty of swallows hawking insects with a few sand and house martins. I didn't see any swifts though. At Maer Lake a common sandpiper fed along the waters edge with 10 dunlin, 8 of which were in summer plumage, and 3 male and 2 female teal were feeding on the water. 3 sedge warblers were heard singing and a blackcap, a whitethroat and a chiffchaff were all seen singing with a second chiffchaff also heard. 2 male orange tip butterflies were the first of the year and I found a froghopper in the cut grass by the caravan while lots of St.Marks flies were buzzing around.

The 3rd May was a complete contrast again, cool and overcast, so I had a quick walk along the coast path at Wembury. 12 summer plumaged dunlin were feeding on a mass of seaweed at the waters edge with 3 ringed plover and at least 30 whimbrel were counted although they were nervous and flighty. At least 15 wheatears were seen along the beach, 4 together on the beach by the sewage pipe and 11 on the rocks below the horse field, but again they were very nervous and flighty and were constantly on the move. At least 6 whitethroats were seen singing and songflighting along with a blackcap, and chiffchaffs were heard. Swallows were busily hawking for insects around the horse stables. Offshore 7 adult gannets were heading East and 3 little egrets flew along the coast towards the Yealm estuary.

Whimbrel feeding in the horse field

I had the moth trap out in the back yard again overnight on the 3rd/4th May and caught..... 2 light brown apple moths! I also had a small micro moth which I am trying to identify, I can't wait for the new micro moth guide book to be published at the end of the month which will hopefully help with my ID of micro moths, I always stuggle with ID'ing them. I also can't wait for some more decent weather and some more moths other than light brown apple moths!

And the black winged stilts left North Devon overnight on the 1st/2nd May and have yet to be relocated while the single bird remains in North Cornwall - I had hoped they might have moved to Maer Lake at Bude but no such luck!

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Sunshine at Wembury - 1st May 2012

The bad weather from Saturday has continued until today with some very strong winds and lots of rain. The strong winds of yesterday produced a report of some pomarine skuas from Plymouth Hoe which was a bit gutting as I have never seen one before but then I was at work at the time. It also appears from photographs that the black winged stilts in North Devon are different to the Exminster Marsh birds so there have been at least 5 birds in Devon in the last week, perhaps one will drop in on the River Plym for me.

Anyway, today it was noticeably warmer with plenty of sunshine and a gentle breeze so lunch and a walk along the coast of Wembury was in order.  While sitting on the bench overlooking the main beach and enjoying my pasty and coffee a flock of 22 whimbrels flew East along the shoreline before disappearing from view. Later while walking along the coastpath more birds were seen roosting on the rocks and feeding along the beach but it was difficult counting numbers as they were very flighty and mobile due to the high tide and walkers along the beach.


Whitethroats were busily singing and songflighting in the valley to the beach and a further bird was heard singing at Wembury Point. Chiffchaff and blackcap were also heard singing and swallows flew overhead while 2 wheatears were seen feeding along the beach. A pair of stonechats were feeding a solitary fledgling in the old HMS Cambridge grounds at Wembury Point.

Male Stonechat

Butterflies were on the wing in the sunshine with my first red admiral of the year being seen along with a wall, a holly blue, a small white and a large white. One lizard was sunning itself on the wooden fence by the path.

The toilet block held one moth, my first garden carpet of the year.

Garden Carpet

Flies and bumble bees were buzzing around including plenty of these which I think are St. Marks flies.

St.Marks Fly

Plenty of flowers were in bloom including cuckoo flowers in the marshy area in the valley to the beach and these lesser stitchworts by the roadside leading to the beach.

Lesser Stitchwort

And so not a bad walk and with no rain forecast for tonight and warmer temperatures I will be getting the moth box out in the hope of catching more than light brown apple moths!