Sunday 29 July 2012

Another new orchid - Dawlish Warren 29th July 2012

I headed off on the train to Dawlish Warren, the first train out from Plymouth wasn't until 09:25 and was unfortunatley a Crosscountry train but the ticket only cost £6.70 return so I couldn't complain. Or so I thought. The train was late in to Newton Abbot, no explaination or apology, so I missed the connection to Dawlish Warren. I then had to catch a train to Dawlish and walk along the coast to Dawlish Warren, arriving one and a half hours later than planned - not impressed! And the Crosscountry train as usual smelt of human waste and fuel, why do the smell so much?

Anyway, Dawlish Warren wasn't as crowded as I had expected, the cooler, showery weather maybe keeping beach goers away, but it was still pleasently warm when the sun shone. I took my telescope with me but not the tripod and used wooden posts and fences to rest the telescope on, I couldn't be arsed to carry the heavy tripod around today and the telescope was fine to use resting on the posts.

Sandwich terns were obvious and noisey along the seafront and it was nice to see birds flying across The Warren up the estuary with fish in their bills, presumably for young birds roosting distantly on the sand banks in the estuary. I also saw 2 common terns flying across The Warren amongst the Sandwich terns, my first of the year. Also offshore were gannets, shags and lots of gulls and a flock of around 30 common scoter were disturbed by jet skiers before settling on the sea further out.

Butterflys were on the wing - red admiral, peacock, green-veined white, small white, small copper, small skipper, common blue, gatekeeper, meadow brown and speckled wood. Six-spot burnets were also buzzing around and an emperor dragonfly hawking over the main pond was seen catching one before dropping it in the water and flying off. The moth managed to get to some nearby reeds and out of the water, I guess burnet moths don't taste very nice!


I easily found my target for the day, marsh helleborines, which were flowering in the Greenland Lake area and a new orchid species for me although one that has been introduced to Dawlish Warren. I also saw blue-eyed grass, a new species for me again but another introduced species.

Marsh Helleborine

Marsh Helleborine

Marsh Helleborine

Blue-eyed Grass

Another surprise but brief sighting was a sand lizard which I nearly stepped on as it scuttled across the footpath right in front of me, again a new species for me and again another introduced species to Dawlish Warren. It was quite a chunky looking lizard with a very green underside in the brief view I had of it. Also seen were 2 tiny toads crawling through the grass near the pond.

Young Toad

I also managed to find a solitary cinnabar moth caterpillar feeding on some ragwort.

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

I caught a First Great Western train back to Plymouth - hooray! - and despite losing a chunk of wildlife watching time I had had a very pleasent day.

Butterflys and Waders at Wembury Part Two - July 27th 2012

It was still hot and sunny so I headed out to Wembury again on the first bus of the day, arriving at Wembury at 09:30. The beach was again busy but less so than it was on Wednesday and it was cooler with a North Westerly breeze but still quite warm.

The breeze kept a lot of the butterflys lower down to the vegetation but they were still very noticeable flying around eveywhere. I saw all the same species as I did on Wednesday but added a holly blue and 2 comma to the tally resulting in a 13 species butterfly day!

Small Copper

Red Admiral


Holly Blue

The toilet block held a few moths again including one of my favourites, a very rosy rosy footman. I also found an unusual moth that I had to have help identifying through the Back Garden Moths Forum, it was a meal moth, an unusual micro moth that I have not seen before. It is usually found in barns and mills so what it was doing in the toilet block is anyones guess - the National Trust cafe opposite the toilets used to be a mill but that was many years ago!

Rosy Footman

Meal Moth

Waders were again roosting at Wembury Point at high tide - 56 oystercatcher, 2 whimbrel, 2 common sandpipers and 4 curlew were seen with a ringed plover and a dunlin heard. There were probably more curlew hidden amongst the rocks than the 4 I could see and 2 little egrets were also present. A juvenile peregrine buzzed the wader flock as it flew overhead before flying off towards Plymouth, causing a moment of panic amongst the waders.

A yellowhammer and 3 cirl buntings were heard singing and along the beach there were now 4 male mallards in eclipse plumage with the 3 females. Swallows were seen flitting around the cliff face beneath the foot path by the horse field and on watching them through my binoculars I picked out 2 sand martins which eventually flew off West, a species I only occassionally see at Wembury. A green woodpecker was again heard yaffling at Wembury Point and offshore there was a light passage of small groups of black headed gulls heading West, mostly adults with a few juveniles.

A pasty and a coffee while sitting in the shade near the main beach was very welcome before I headed off home on the bus, having had yet another great days wildlife watching at Wembury.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Back Yard Moths

With the good weather the moth trap has been busy in the back yard this week and in the mornings when I have checked it out it has been dry and has contained quite a few moths!

Best moth has been a new for the garden small fan footed wave. Another possible new moth for the garden was a brief view of a fly away fanfoot or small fan foot.

Small Fan Footed Wave

A swallowtailed moth was a nice find as were my first knot grass of the year.

Swallowtailed Moth

A grand total of 5 marbled green were found one morning, 4 on the nearby wall and 1 in the trap, with all 5 varying in size and colouration but all very nice looking.

Marbled Greens

Marbled Greens

A Jersey tiger moth was a nice sight flopping around in the trap before it too escaped and flew off and I had my first copper underwing of the year - not a Svenssons copper underwing as it had no obvious copper colouring on its underside when I looked at it through a clear pot.

Jersey Tiger Moth

Copper Underwing

Copper Underwing Underside

I've also had quite a few micro moths and I am trying to ID them but I have managed to identify garden grass veneer and Crassa unitella so far.

Garden Grass Veneer

Crassa unitella

Hopefully the good weather will hold a little longer so who knows what will turn up next.

Friday 27 July 2012

Butterflys and Waders at Wembury - 25th July 2012

It was hot and sunny so I headed out to Wembury on the first bus from Plymouth, arriving at Wembury at 09:30 to find the beach was already packed out although the tide was high. It was already very warm and as the day went on the temperature rose to around 25 degrees.

As a result of the recent good weather the most noticeable thing on the walk were all the butterflys flitting around, the most I have seen for a long time and proof of how amazing nature can be. The weather has been pretty cold and wet and windy for the last 3 months and yet after a few days of hot and sunny weather everything has come to life. Meadow browns and gatekeepers were eveywhere and I also saw quite a few ringlets, large whites and small whites. Some of the small whites may have been green veined whites, I couln't be sure as they wizzed past in the hot sunshine. Also on the wing were a very tatty wall brown, 3 small coppers, 2 speckled woods, 3 red admirals and quite a few small skippers which were busily harrasing every butterfly that so much as looked at them. I also saw a marbled white fly past the bus at the petrol station at Staddiscombe so by the end of the trip I had seen 11 species of butterfly.

Small Copper

The toilet block held a few moths too - a riband wave, a snout, a common white wave, a common footman and a rusty dot pearl - and along the coastpath I saw 2 silver y and some six-spot burnets. I also found the remains of a cocoon of an emerged six-spot burnet.

Bird wise it was quiet, no surprise at this time of year, but the wader roost at Wembury Point at high tide had 2 winter plumage dunlins and a common sandpiper amongst the 2 whimbrel, 13 curlew and 53 oystercatchers. Also seen were 3 male and 3 female mallards (the males in eclipse plumage), 2 little egrets, a song thrush and a single adult gannet offshore. 2 cirl buntings were heard with 1 of the males also seen and whitethroats, chiffchaffs, linnets and swallows were obvious all along the walk.

I headed home on the 13:30 bus and was glad to get back indoors and out of the sun and heat but I had had a very pleasent morning.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Marbled Green and other back yard moths

Finally some decent summer weather has arrived and the moths have started to appear including one of my favourites, a marbled green, which I found on the wall in the back yard when I checked out the moth trap in the early morning. I have rarely had one in the trap itself, they always seem to be found on the nearby walls.

Marbled Green

Marbled Green

Another summer moth was my first Jersey tiger of the year flitting about the front garden when I came home from work at about 4 O'clock in the afternoon. At first I thought it was a painted lady as I caught sight of it from the corner of my eye.

A new moth for the garden was a Brussels lace, a bit of a surprise but a welcome addition to the garden list. I had hoped to see some in Bude last week but drew a blank.

Brussels Lace

Another new (micro) moth for me was a diamond-back moth in the moth trap one morning, I had recently read an article on Birdguides about these moths and had looked them up in my micro moth fieldguide and then a few days later I found one in the trap.

Diamond-back Moth

Diamond-back Moth

Other nice moths I have had in the trap recently were a smart coronet and a bee moth.


Bee Moth with an unidentified micro moth

Hopefully the good weather will hold for a while and moth trapping in the back yard will improve on this years so far poor showing.

Monday 23 July 2012

Of moths, Manxies and marine mammals - Part 2

Sunday 15th July and we headed off to Bude again for a few days away in the caravan. Sunday was sunny but cool but it didn't last - the next few days were cold, wet and windy, quite shite really, but by Friday it was warm and sunny, just in time for us to return to Plymouth!

I did manage to catch some nice moths in the moth trap - 3 buff tip, 3 poplar hawkmoth, 3 elephant hawkmoth, 2 garden tiger, crescent darts and 1 peppered moth were the highlights along with 2 new species for me, a small wainscot and 2 plain golden y. I had originally dismissed the small wainscot as a very small common wainscot and the plain golden y's as silver y's until I stopped and had a proper look at them.

Crescent Dart

Small Wainscot - tiny!

Poplar Hawkmoth

Poplar Hawkmoth

2 Plain Golden Y

Elephant Hawkmoth

Garden Tiger Moths

Bird wise it was fairly quiet, the highlights being :- whimbrel and curlew roosting at high tide at Maer Lake one evening while a male and female tufted duck roosted on the water, the first time I have seen them here in Bude and no doubt helped by the high water level of the Lake due to all the rain; a briefly singing sedge warbler at Maer Lake and a juvenile bird in the hedge behind the caravan busily watching me as I went through the moth trap in the early morning; a 2nd summer and 2 adult summer Mediterranean gulls roosting amongst the gulls on the cricket pitch; 2 ravens flying along the clifftops; 2 fledgling stonechats on the clifftop gorse bushes; a Sandwich tern and 2 adult kittiwakes offshore with gannets and fulmars; and swifts, swallows, house and sand martins overhead despite the bad weather.

Juvenile Sedge Warbler eyeing up my moths in the moth trap

Juvenile Swallow waiting to be fed

Manx shearwaters were in evidence again with small groups of 1 to 4 birds seen on the 17th heading South and then the odd 1 or 2 birds offshore over the next couple of days. However on the morning of the 20th after sorting out the moths in the trap I headed up to the clifftops at around 8 o'clock and there was a flock of around 200 Manx shearwaters offshore resting on the sea and flying low over the waves before diving in to the water with quite a splash. I kept an eye out for any dolphins with no luck but after around 20 minutes a large splash caught my eye and there they were again, a small pod of around 10 common dolphins. I then saw more splashes further out and found another small pod of around 10 common dolphins, both pods were moving South towards the Manx shearwater raft before joining together and heading North as the Manx shearwaters followed them. Eventually the shearwaters dispersed and the dolphins disappeared North and were lost from sight but it had been great to see them again. This time the dolphins were quite showy, leaping out of the water, tail slapping and breaching, but at other times they became very difficult to observe with just brief views of their fins as they surfaced to breathe. While scanning for the dolphins during one of their stealth modes I saw a harbour porpoise quite close to shore doing its usual thing - 3 brief views of its fin as it surfaced before it disappeared from sight.

The only other wildlife highlights were my first painted lady butterfly of the year with 2 small tortoiseshells, a red admiral and meadow browns, and honeycomb worms on the rocks along the beach.

Meadow Brown

Honeycomb Worms

So despite the weather I had had a very pleasent time, it would have been nice to have had a bit more sunshine and the campsite was very wet and boggy underfoot which made for soggy, muddy feet. Maer Lake had no muddy margins to attract waders due to all the rain so I only used my telescope once to view the whimbrel and curlew roost but as usual it had been a nice few days away.

Gulls and a telescope trial

The herring gull chicks have finally departed from the assorted roofs and courtyards at the back of the house. What I thought were 2 birds were actually 3 which I only realised when the 3 of them were mewling away for the adults on the flat roof next door. This was the last time I saw them (13th July) so hopefully they will do well.

One of my juvenile Herring Gulls

I headed out to Wembury on the 14th July with the telescope to put it through its paces. I am very pleased with the telescope although it really is at its limit at the 40x zoom even in the bright weather. It will take some getting used to using it and I felt a little self-conscious carrying it around - having binoculars around your neck is a little more discreet than lugging a telescope and tripod around. However I am not so pleased with the tripod, it is a lovely tripod and very stable but man, is it heavy! I had had enough of it by the end of the walk and so I have ordered a travel tripod for £65 on the internet, it is half the weight of the other tripod and will fold down to a size that will fit comfortably in my rucksack.

Bird wise the walk was quiet with the highlights being :- 43 oystercatchers and 13 curlew with 1 summer plumaged dunlin roosting on the beach; 2 singing cirl buntings heard; a yaffling green woodpecker flying over the pines at Wembury Point; a meadow pipit feeding along the beach amongst the rock pipits and pied wagtails; and gannets offshore.

A marbled white was a surprise sight as it flew over the arable field by the footpath in the old HMS Cambridge grounds, a brief view only before it dived in to the grass and was lost from sight, only the 2nd time I have seen a marbled white here. Also seen were a few meadow browns and ringlets and a six-spot burnet moth. I also saw a few interesting looking flys feeding on the umbillifers, I don't know what they are called but managed to get a photo of one of them - I took very few photos on the walk due to lugging around the tripod!

Unknown Fly sp.

Monday 9 July 2012

Wembury 9th July 2012

It has been nearly a month since I last went for a walk at Wembury so today despite the risk of some very muddy paths following the recent torrential rain I caught the bus out to Wembury to see how things are. The path wasn't too bad and everything appeared to be in order except for the picture below.

Spot the mistake on the National Trust information board

The toilet block held a silver y, a snout and a small blood vein along with 2 yet-to-be-identified micro moths. Along the walk I again disturbed many silver y moths from the vegetation, there must have been quite an influx of them despite the weather - and I even had one in my moth trap this morning too.


Small Blood Vein

A few meadow brown were on the wing along with single ringlet and a large white and I counted 8 common lizards on the wooden fence beams by the path with a single common lizard on the wall at the bus stop. I had a quick look for a scarlet tiger moth at the bus stop too but was out of luck.


Chiffchaffs and whitethroats were seen and heard and a male mallard in eclipse plumage looked very forlorn sat alone on the rocks. At Wembury Point a little egret was roosting at high tide with 30 oystercatcher, 2 whimbrel and 14 curlew, presumably failed breeders on a quite early date. 2 buzzards and 2 raven flew along the coast and 2 fledgling stonechats were seen along with 2 males and a female. 2 cirl buntings were heard singing with a further 2 male birds being seen. A green woodpecker was heard yaffling away with a brief flight view as it flew in to the pines at Wembury Point, a bird I haven't seen at Wembury for a while now. Offshore a few gannets were seen although they were quite a way out.

Two false oil beetles with chunky thighs were seen on some flowers and sheeps bit was in flower at Wembury Point.

Sheeps Bit with The Mewstone in the background

Orchid Hunting

Sad news from The Weekend Biologist blog about the failed nesting attempt of a pair of black winged stilts in Somerset, presumably they were the pair that were seen mating at Exminster Marshes back in April and that I failed to see. Maybe they will return next year to try again and maybe I will see them this time?

The herring gull chick has left the courtyard next door and the chick on the chimney stack has left too. I don't think they have gone too far as this morning the adult birds were noisely dive bombing the workmen in the builders yard next door as they were trying to load up their vans although I couldn't see the young birds anywhere.

I have been noticing good numbers of house sparrows in the back yard recently, they used to be very common but all but disappeared in line with the national trend a few years ago. There are quite a few young birds too but I have suddenly clicked that they like to feed in the back yard early in the morning, especially when I have had the moth box out overnight. Oh dear, as much as I am pleased to see them back I don't really want to provide them with a moth buffet ! I will have to keep the moths I catch in their pots until it turns dark and the sparrows are all tucked up in bed although I am always careful to put the moths under good cover when I release them.

The weather has been atrocious this week. I had Monday and Tuesday and Saturday off and it rained all day on each of the days with the rain on Friday night into Saturday being exceptionally heavy resulting in flooding in places in Devon. However on Sunday it was much improved and after meeting a friend for a coffee and a chat in town I caught the bus out to Billacombe Quarry to have a hunt for pyramidal orchids. And what a place Billacombe Quarry is! A fantastic brown field site with some amazing wildlife on offer and right on my doorstep!

Billacombe Quarry

I soon found my target as I wandered around the old quarry with pyramidal orchids on show throughout the area including a pale flowered plant.

Pyramidal Orchid

Less pyramidal looking Pyramidal Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid - pale form

I also found a small group of bee orchids but most of the flowers had gone over and they were almost overlooked. Many Southern marsh orchids were seen too including around 100 plants growing together on a grassy bank.

 Bee Orchid

Southern Marsh Orchid

Butterflies were on the wing, reminding me of how few I have seen this year due to the poor weather. Many meadow browns and ringlets were seen flitting about along with a single red admiral and large white. A large skipper was a nice find chasing passing by meadow browns, with the undersides of its antennae tips showing orange-brown when it settled on some flowers. Best butterfly though were 3 marbled whites flitting over a small grassy area, a butterfly I have trouble pinning down some years.


Large Skipper

Marbled White

I wasn't expecting much in the way of bird life but was pleasently surprised at what I found. A noisey adult peregrine was seen mobbing a large dark falcon wearing jesses and later a nosiey juvenile flew over with an adult bird, presumably a young bird from nearby Plymbridge Woods. 2 raven, a buzzard, a kestrel, swallows and house martins were also seen overhead while a chiffchaff sang away and a whitethroat skulked in some bushes. One of the 2 small lakes on the quarry floor had a summer plumaged little grebe and 2 coot diving away for food while herring and great black backed gulls bathed and the other lake held a sleeping pair of tufted duck, the male showing some eclipse plumage.

I found more numbered roofing felt squares and on turning some over I found 4 slow worms, a young toad and 2 young frogs.

Slow Worms

Young Frog

Moths were on the wing too, I gave up counting the silver y moths I disturbed from the vegetation as I walked around, they seemed to be everywhere and a surprise considering the recent poor weather. Even more surprising was a hummingbird hawkmoth buzzing over the flowers before speeding off out of sight, always a nice moth to see. Six spot burnet were on the wing and I also saw a very mobile and active cinnabar moth, having originally overlooked it as being another six spot.

And so it had been a heavenly 3 hour ramble with some great wildlife sightings and the sun had even shone too! It is such a shame this site is due to be redeveloped, I only wish I had known about it before now. It would be lovely to win the rollover super draw Euromillions Lottery so I could buy the site and turn it in to a nature reserve but I don't think that is very likely to happen.