Saturday 30 June 2012

Of Moths, Manxies and Marine Mammals

National moth night was held on the 21st June and I had planned to head out to Plymbridge Woods for a moth trapping night organised by The National Trust but as usual for this summer so far it was far from ideal weather wise - cold, wet and windy. I didn't even get to put the trap out in the back yard, all very annoying considering I had flukely managed to get the day off without requesting it.

I have had the trap out a few times recently in the back yard in between the cold, wet and windy spells and have had 2 new moths for the garden, both very worn and ID'd with some help from the experts at the Back Garden Moths Community forum - mottled rustic and ingrailed clay. Otherwise mothing remains hit and miss with only a few moths being caught but I have started to see some willow beauty and buff ermine in the trap. David has cut down and cleared the ivy in the back yard much to my dismay, I hope I still get to see some old lady and yellow barred brindle this year as the caterpillars of these species feed on ivy.

Worn Mottled Rustic

Worn Ingrailed Clay

I have finally gotten hold of my new telescope, the Nikon ED50, and I am very pleased with it although I have yet to fully test it out in the field. I caught the train to Exeter to pick it up and then caught the train out to Topsham to try out the telescope and to have a look/listen for a Savis warbler that had been reported there but I was out of luck. I did hear a Cettis warblers and a sedge warbler along with a few reed warblers, one of which showed very well singing from the top of the reeds. Reed bunting males were seen and heard and swifts, swallows and house martins hawked overhead. A single red admiral was the only butterfly of the day.

Sunday 24th June and we headed to Bude for a short break / drinkathon / eatathon at the caravan. The weather wasn't too bad and we even sat out in the sun for a short time that evening. A walk along the clifftops later that evening to look for Manx shearwaters was a bit of a bust, it was cold and windy and after a brief scan of the sea I gave up and headed back to the caravan.

The next morning we walked in to Bude along the cliffs and within a few seconds of scanning the sea I saw a Manx shearwater close in to shore before it landed on the sea with a splash, disturbing 3 more Manxies which flew off South. Scanning some more I found a large raft of about 200 birds resting on the sea some distance out and a second group of about 200 birds closer in, the birds closer in to shore were resting on the sea and flying around with gannets and fulmars and occassionally the shearwaters would dive in to the water with a splash. I kept an eye out for any cetaceans but with no luck and as we walked in to Bude more and more shearwaters were seen flying South in small groups, the most I have ever seen at Bude before.

Having a coffee at Lifes a Beach I sat scanning the sea and eventually saw some dorsal fins moving along the coast heading North. I kept watching for around 45 minutes and eventually ID'd them as common dolphins when a few individuals leapt out of the water. They were surprisingly inconspicous as they headed to the feeding group of sea birds before heading back South and out of sight, the common dolphins I have seen before have been very showy and splashy but these were almost shy in their behaviour, maybe they were too busy feeding.

That evening we headed up to the clifftops again for an evening walk, Manx shearwaters continued to be seen flying south and this time I saw 2 harbour porpoises offshore, the usual 3 brief blink-and-you-miss-it views of the dorsal fin as they surfaced before diving again. Depite scanning for about 20 minutes I failed to refind them but I was pleased to have seen 2 species of cetaceans in a day.

Bird wise it was quiet with a sedge warbler and chiffchaff seen singing at Maer Lake along with mallards and moorhens. The water level of the lake was very high with all the recent rain and there were no muddy margins to attract any waders. There were plenty of mallard ducklings swimming around, obviously the wet weather is nice weather for ducks. Swifts, swallows, house martins and sand martins were busy feeding overhead although swift numbers were lower than usual, certainly swifts seem hard to see over Plymouth this year presumably due to the poor weather.

I had the moth box out for 2 nights and had some nice moth sightings although again numbers were lower than usual. Best moth was a very lovely elephant hawk moth with a supporting cast of a spectacle, a buff tip, a tatty pebble prominent and a scalloped oak. Common swift, common wainscot, flame and heart and dart made up most of the catch but 2 uncertain and a clouded brindle were new moths for me. It was surprising how varied the heart and dart were, exhibiting a range of colour forms but all with the distinctive black neck collar.

(Mid-brown) Heart and Dart with Common Wainscot

(Dark) Heart and Dart

(Pale) Heart and Dart

Elephant Hawkmoth


Worn Pebble Prominent




Clouded Brindle

And so it had been a very interesting short break despite the generally poor weather and I was glad to get home if only to stop me eating and drinking so much!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Whinchats galore on Dartmoor, 17th June 2012

Improved weather so I had a walk on Dartmoor to try and see more of the "Moor" birds. Most obvious bird on the walk were whinchats, they seemed to be everywhere, both male and female, with some of the males heard singing.

Whinchat - male

Whinchat - male

3 cuckoos were heard calling with 1 bird seen flying low over the bracken covered slope being chased by a meadow pipit. At least 4 tree pipits were seen songflighting and 2 spotted flycatchers showed very well catching flies from a barbed wire fence. A redpoll "cha-cha-cha-d" overhead before landing in a tree where I managed a really good view of it, a very pretty bird and one I rarely see. A male redstart was a very handsome find and a green woodpecker was heard yaffling. Willow warblers were also very obvious, both seen and heard, and including quite a few fledglings.

Spotted Flycatcher

Small heath, a very tatty looking and my first of the year green hairstreak, a female beautiful demoiselle and a brown silver line were also on the wing. Lots of garden chafers were flying around with quite a few seen mating and a few dung beetles were seen feeding on cow pats and sheep droppings.

Green Hairstreak

Dung Beetle Sp.

Plant wise I had excellent finds in my first Dartmoor sundew, having only seen sundew in Shetland before, and a new orchid in the form of some heath spotted orchids flowering in a very boggy area where I found the sundew. Cotton grass was also "flowering".


Heath Spotted Orchid

Cotton Grass

And so I had a very enjoyable walk with occasional sunny spells and I managed to catch up with most of the birds I had hoped to see.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Billacombe - 14th June 2012

It is amazing what you can find out by tapping away on the internet. I stumbled across finding out about the bee orchids at Blagdons Meadow in Plymouth and from there found out about the pyramidal orchids at Billacombe in Plymouth. I was trying to find out more about the pyramidal orchids when I came across an environmental report for the Billacombe area commissioned by Persimon Homes who are planning to build houses in the area on the site of an old quarry by Chelson Meadow. Apparently there is a colony of dingy skipper butterflies in the area along with pyramidal orchids, slow worms and common lizards. Recommendations for minimising the environmental impact of the building work on the area include transplanting the orchids to a protected area by removing layers of turf and moving the reptiles to protected areas too. While walking around the area I came across squares of roofing felt pegged down with metal pins and all numbered and under one felt square I found a slow worm - unfortunately the flash was on and I managed to get a poor photo before the slow worm disappeared from view. I guess these squares are part of the surveying work being undertaken or are part of the reptile relocation scheme.

Slow Worm

A walk around the area was interesting, it is not far from where I live and I regularly travel along the road bordering the area but it is shielded by trees and so is not visible from the road.  The area consists of grassy fields with mown edges and mown fields with grassy edges, hedgerows, scrubland and woodland. The weather was foul and I was soaked through by the time I got home but I would imagine it would be an excellent site for invertebrates in good weather. I failed to find any pyramidal orchids but I did see some Southern marsh orchids along with plenty of yellow rattle.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

Bird wise it was quiet with a whitethroat, chiffchaffs and blackcaps heard. A kestrel, a buzzard and a jay were seen overhead and 2 juvenile and an adult great spotted woodpecker flew between the trees.

I will have to revisit the area in better weather to try to find the elusive pyramidal orchids and to check out the insect life if the weather ever actually improves. It is a shame that some of the area is soon to be built on but I guess it is prime land near to Plymouth city centre and at least some of it will be left untouched.

As a footnote one of my cacti has flowered despite the cool, overcast weather, the first time it has flowered for a few years now, and I found a new moth species in the sluice while working a night shift in the form of a purple clay.

Flowering Cactus

Flowering Cactus

Purple Clay

Saturday 16 June 2012

Wembury - 11th June 2012

I caught the bus out to Wembury for a quick walk along the coast. The sun was shining and it was surprisingly humid but with a swift breeze blowing. When the sun eventually disappeared behind the clouds (as it frequently does this summer) it was surprisingly cool.

There were no moths in the toilet block but I did see three six-spot burnets on the wing and a caterpillar basking in the sun on some birds foot trefoil. A few white butterflies were seen wizzing past in the strong breeze and I found a few false oil beetles feeding on the large daisy flowers. The dropwort by the path where the Depressia daucella moth caterpillars were seen feeding had been chopped down and I don't know if any pupated before this happened.

Six-spot Burnet

False Oil Beetle

Vipers Bugloss

Bird wise it was quiet with a single adult gannet offshore, a flyover raven, 3 singing male cirl buntings with a male seen mating with a female, 2 little egrets roosting with the oystercatchers at Wembury Point and plenty of singing whitethroats.

Surprise bird was a smart male wheatear on a fence post by the wheatfield - either a late migrant, a failed breeder or a displaced bird from the recent gales we had. I managed a poor photo and on discussing the sighting with a fellow birder I later met we felt it wasn't a candidate for a wheatear of the Greenland race which would be more in keeping with the date as it wasn't unduly brighter or larger than a "normal" wheatear.



A pasty and a coffee and off home with a sighting of a common lizard at the bus stop but no scarlet tiger moth and on arriving home it absolutely poured down for the next 2 hours so I had been very lucky to have had a dry walk!

Monday 11 June 2012

Blagdons Meadow, Plymouth - 10th June 2012

The day was a complete contrast from yesterday - cool, overcast and wet - but by the afternoon it had become just drizzly so I headed out on the bus for a wander around Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym.

Bird wise it was quiet with 2 skylarks songflighting and with a third bird also seen. A kestrel hovered overhead and along the river a grey heron was feeding in the creek with 2 little egrets. A pair of mallards were resting in a small puddle in the Meadow formed from all the recent rain we have had.


Despite the weather a green veined white was flitting about in the shelter of a hedge, feeding on cuckoo flowers. Small heath and common blues were also on the wing for short periods, looking very soggy in the drizzle. A burnet companion was also seen but it was companionless as there were no six-spot burnets seen.

Common blue - female with wings closed

Common Blue - female with wings open

Common Blue - male with faded underside markings
Small Heath
Burnet Companion

The object of my trip was found within a few minutes of arriving at the Meadow, bee orchids, with a group of 4 plants found amongst the grass. A further group of 4 plants and then 2 plants were later found in the area where I had seen the early purple orchids earlier in the year. I was surprised at how small they were, I had expected them to be larger, and they were surprisingly easy to overlook amongst the grass and flowers. They were very pretty though and are named bee orchids as they mimic the rear end of a small bumblebee visiting the flower. I also found what I think are southern marsh orchids in flower, they were odourless unlike the early purple orchids with their distinctive tom-cat smell, and their leaves were unspotted.

Bee Orchid - with my thumb for scale

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid
Southern Marsh Orchid ?

I only spent an hour wandering around the Meadow and I left for home with very wet trousers and soaked shoes and feet but it had been a very enjoyable way to spend an hour in the drizzle.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Dunsford Woods - 9th June 2012

A busy week at work and atrocious weather - gales, rain and cold, more like October than June - but Saturday arrived and I had a day to myself with the weather forecasted to be much better, so I decided to head to Dunsford Woods on East Dartmoor for a walk. I visited the Woods for the first time in May 2009 and had a great day but I have never been back since. I had thought about going there this Spring only to find the bus service from Exeter to Steps Bridge was no longer running - or so I thought. The bus route has been taken over by Country Bus and I only found the timetables on the internet last week so I thought I would make a late Spring visit to the Woods.

An early start to catch the 06:55 train to Exeter ( a First train, yippee!) and then the bus to Steps Bridge saw me arrive at the Woods at 09:20, bleary eyed and feeling knackered, but I soon perked up as the morning went by and the sun started to shine for brief periods.

I hoped to see and hear wood warblers although I realised it was a bit late in the Spring and the best I could do was hearing the anxiety/contact "peu" call in the treetops of 1 or possibly 2 birds which I failed to locate amongst the leaves. I also failed to hear pied flycatchers but I did manage a brief view of a female and then a better view of a male and later heard the contact/anxiety call of 1 or possibly 2 birds.

The typical woodland birds were seen or heard - mistle thrush, song thrush, treecreeper, nuthatch, robin, wren, goldcrest, siskin, chaffinch, blackcap, chiffchaff, blackbird, great spotted woodpecker and buzzard. 5 species of tits were seen - coal, blue, great, long-tailed and marsh, with the marsh tits seeming to be everywhere, they must have had a good breeding season this year with adults seen feeding fledglings. 2 ravens were seen flying over the treetops where swifts and house martins hawked for insects and a single willow warbler was heard. A dipper snoozed on a rock in the fast flowing river and grey wagtails were heard flying along the river but I failed to see one. Spotted flycatchers were noisey and showey along the footpath but quite mobile amongst the trees so difficult to count numbers but there were at least 4.

An adder was a surprise find, it slithered across the path right in front of me, stopping to look at me before shooting off in to the undergrowth and scaring the crap out of me in the process! It is only the second time I have seen an adder and so I was very pleased to be frightened by one! I also saw a slow worm, its tail being blackened and scarred from where it had lost the pointed tip.

A silver y, a brimstone moth, a speckled yellow, 2 brown silver-lines, Nemophora degeerella, and a new moth for me, a chimney sweeper, were surprise sights with a red admiral, a small copper, a male brimstone, 2 male common blue, 2 speckled wood, a female orange tip and pearl bordered fritillaries being more expected non-avian fliers. Also seen were many beautiful demoiselles perched on the tops of vegetation near the river side.

Silver Y

Longhorn moth - Nemophora degeerella

Brown Silver-lines


Male Beautiful Demoiselle

Female Beautiful Demoiselle

Oil beetles were seen all along the path side, some unfortunately squashed, and I also found a squashed lesser stag beetle, a new species for me. I'm not sure if the oil beetles are the same species as the ones I see at Wembury. I also saw bee flies and a garden chafer flying around in the sunny spells and yellow archangel was in flower.

Lesser Stag Beetle - unfortunately found dead on the footpath having been trodden on ( not by me!)

Bee Fly sp.

Garden Chafer

Yellow Archangel

I headed back to Exeter on the 14:30 bus and arrived back in Plymouth at around 16:30 (on a First train again, double yippee!) feeling absolutley knackered but having had a great day out and next year I shall be visiting Dunsford Woods again but earlier in the Spring now that I know the bus service is still running.