Monday 26 May 2014

Orchids and Butterflies

A few trips out and about locally since returning from Northumberland have produced some nice sightings despite the occasional downpours.

Wembury was looking beautiful in the warm sunshine on May 18th with 2 whimbrel being the best sighting as they fed amongst the rocks at low tide and occasionally flew around giving their lovely whistling call. 6 Canada geese was a high count for the time of year and a cirl bunting was heard singing.


Silver Ground Carpet, Wembury Toilet Block

A walk along the River Plym and around Saltram Park on May 22nd and I found a very nice scalloped hazel moth in the orangery, only my second ever sighting, and some southern marsh orchids were flowering in the grassy border by the orangery. Along the River Plym a lone Canada goose was with just 1 gosling while a pair were later seen with 4 goslings and a little egret was seen flying over.

Scalloped Hazel, Saltram House Orangery

A walk at Wembury on May 24th and it was cool and cloudy and I got soaked in a prolonged heavy downpour. I did see 2 whimbrel again, maybe the 2 seen on the 18th, along with 2 Canada geese, 6 shelduck, 13 male and 2 female mallard and 3 oystercatchers along the beach. A cirl bunting was again heard singing and it was nice to see 5 fledgling wren being fed by their parents in a bush near the main beach. A pair of stonechats were with 3 fledglings on rocks on the main beach with a pair seen on the beach near the sewage pipe. 3 swifts screaming overhead was nice to see and hear. A large dead drinker moth caterpillar was found on the footpath and Depressia daucella caterpillars were found in the hemlock water dropwort flowerheads by the footpath near the sewage farm. I couldn't find any rock pipits, they do seem to be thin on the ground this spring following the horrendous gales we had over the winter as highlighted on the Cornwall bird watching society webpage. There was also no sign as yet of the sea kale that grows on the beach, maybe another victim of the bad winter weather.

On the way home and despite being soaked I had a look around Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym and it was nice to see male common blues flying around with a few green veined whites. 3 burnet companions were disturbed from the grass and southern marsh orchids were coming in to flower as the early purple orchids begin to go over. 2 whitethroats were singing with a skylark and 8 swifts flew over screaming and chasing each other. A little egret flying downriver and a pair of mallard were also seen but best sighting was an orange footman which flitted about before landing in a tree, only my second ever sighting.

 Orange Footman
 Southern Marsh Orchid
 Burnet Companion
Pyrochroa serraticornis

And I have finally had the moth box out in the back yard for the first time this year - nothing exciting or unusual catch wise but I did have 3 variably marked marbled minor aggregates which shows how differently patterned they can be.

 Marbled Minor Agg., Number 1
 Marbled Minor Agg., Number 2
 Marbled Minor Agg., Number 3
Common Pug?

Sunday 25 May 2014


A (non birding) holiday to Northumberland started off well with a hobby flying over the M6 near the Manchester Ship Canal a surprise and a good omen on the drive up from Devon.

We stayed in Bamburgh on the coast, an amazingly beautiful place with a gorgeous sandy beach and a dramatic castle just 5 minutes walk from our hotel. From our room we had a distant view of Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle which was a surprise as we thought we would be in the cheap rooms at the back of the hotel!

The general birdlife was very noticeable, there were birds everywhere no doubt due to the less intensive farming methods used in the countryside. This obviously has an effect on insect life too which supports the high bird numbers as the car windscreen and number plate were covered daily by insect splats galore, something I haven't seen in such excess since my childhood in Suffolk.

Highlights of the week were:- a singing male pied flycatcher around a nest box at Birdoswald Roman Fort with 2 spotted flycatchers seen in a small wood by Housesteads Roman Fort along Hadrians Wall; 2 purple sandpipers roosting on rocks on Holy Island with a summer plumaged dunlin, a winter plumaged grey plover, a whimbrel, oystecatchers, Sandwich terns and an Arctic tern; distant views of 2 little terns with Sandwich and comic terns off Holy Island; 7 roe deer feeding in fields on Holy Island; northern marsh orchids beginning to flower on Holy Island; a first summer little gull being harassed by black headed gulls as it fed along the river at Beadnell while little and Arctic terns flew around, a female red breasted merganser flew past and a hare ran through the dunes; 3 tree sparrows flying over fields and briefly landing in bushes before flying off at Dunstanburgh Castle; a female merlin flying by the car over moorland at Rothbury doing a mistle thrush like camouflage flight before swooping low over the heather in hunting mode; and a pod of bottle nose dolphins close inshore moving north at Dunstanburgh Castle.

 Pair of Eider Duck at Seahouses
 Little Tern at Beadnell
 Bottle Nose Dolphins offshore at Dunstanburgh Castle
Northern Marsh Orchid on Holy Island

Other birdlife seen included yellowhammer, reed bunting, wheatear, sedge warbler, reed warbler, whitehthroat, grey wagtail, siskin, shoveler, tufted duck, ringed plover, turnstone, curlew, eider. Also seen were plenty of grey seals.

The best though was a trip to the Farne Islands just offshore from Seahouse near Bamburgh. The weather was perfect with sunshine and calm seas and after a sail around the islands where we had great views of puffins, guillemots (including a few bridled forms), razorbills, gannets, fulmars, shags, eiders, kittiwakes, Sandwich terns and Arctic Terns we landed on the islands. We had an hour on Inner Farne island where the birds were amazingly tame and we had more amazing views of the same birds but including common terns. I even got shat on by an Arctic tern as is hovered 2 feet over my head which I thought was very rude considering I am a member of the RSPB! The trip was only 2 and a half hours long but flew by in a flash and was absolutely heavenly (to me!).

 Guillemots ( including 2 bridled forms) with Kittiwakes
 Arctic Tern
 Common Tern with Arctic Tern

On the way home we stopped of at the National Trust house and estate at Croome near Worcester which was very interesting and where I finally saw a silent green woodpecker (after hearing many but seeing none so far this year) along with a brimstone butterfly, and eventually we arrived back in Plymouth exhausted but having had an absolutely amazing time.

Saturday 24 May 2014


May 9th and I headed off on the bus to Wotter on the edge of Dartmoor for a walk to Cadover Bridge, something I have not done before. My plan was to look for cuckoos having drawn a blank on my trip to Cuckoo Rock the previous week.

Walking across the Moor to Cadover Bridge there were plenty of wheatears, skylarks, meadow pipits and stonechats with a noisey raven seen flying overhead. At Cadover Bridge a female goosander with 11 ducklings was a surprise - the ducklings were very small, presumably recently hatched, and amazingly cute! Also seen were 2 common sandpipers, grey wagtails and dippers with flyover sand martins and swallows.

 Goosander with ducklings
Goosander with ducklings

While waiting for the bus at Wotter for the trip home I was entertained by 2 male and a female yellowhammer which gave some nice views in a nearby hawthorn bush. And just before the bus appeared I finally heard a cuckoo calling in a nearby stand of trees but I couldn't get a sighting of it.

Male Yellowhammer

I stopped off at Blagdons Meadow by the River Plym on the bus ride home where early purple orchids were flowering including a very nice white form amongst the more usual purple form.

White form of Early Purple Orchid

May 10th and I headed off to Yarner Wood with Mavis and Mike for a field meeting with the Plymouth RSPB group. I wouldn't usually have gone on the trip but Mavis offered me a lift so I jumped at the opportunity as Yarner Wood is a bugger to get to by public transport.

Driving across the Moor we had a nice view of a cuckoo sat on top of a gorse bush being mobbed by meadow pipits by the side of the road near Haytor before it flew off low over the heather and out of sight. At Yarner Wood there was quite a group of people and it was a pleasant but windy walk around the wood. We had great views of 2 singing wood warblers, both with coloured rings on their legs, and brief views of a third singing bird and with a fourth bird heard only. Pied flycatchers were seen and heard around the nest boxes along with a treecreeper, 2 marsh tits and goldcrest. A holly blue, a brimstone and a square spot moth were also seen.

Square Spot Moth

Around the pond were 5 male and a female mandarin, 2 male mallard and a juvenile grey wagtail while from the hide a great spotted woodpecker, a marsh tit, a male siskin and a nuthatch were seen on the bird feeders.

 Male Great Spotted Woodpecker
Marsh Tit

Heading home we stopped off at Challacombe Farm where we saw 2 male redstarts before the wind picked up and the heavens opened and so we headed off home having had a good mornings birding.

Monday 5 May 2014

A Tale of Two Woods and Cuckoo(less) Rock

May 1st and I managed to wangle an hours walk at Yarner Wood and despite the constant heavy downpours and mud I managed to see some good birds. First off was a singing wood warbler in the tree tops by the footpath not far from the car park. It was very mobile and stayed up high in the trees amongst the leaves but I did catch sight of its leg rings, orange over silver on the right leg and orange over dark blue on the left (I think) - part of the ongoing ringing program to find out why wood warblers are declining so rapidly here in the UK.

A redstart was also heard but I could not get a sight of it and I managed brief views of 2 males and a female pied flycatcher with 2 more males heard singing. A tree pipit showed briefly on the heathland perched in a birch tree but didn't sing. Other highlights were a hunting female sparrowhawk, a flyover peregrine, willow warblers, 2 marsh tit, 2 treecreepers and 2 flyover swifts, and around the pond were 5 male mandarin duck, 2 male mallards, a fledgling grey wagtail and a male siskin on the feeders in front of the hide.

May 3rd and with dry but overcast weather I headed off to Grenofen Woods near Tavistock. Along the river a fledgling dipper was seen with a pair of grey wagtails and 2 male mallards. In the woods I heard 2 redstarts but could not see them amongst the trees, a treecreeper, 2 marsh tit and a nuthatch.

 Germander Speedwell

The open downland above the woods was much more productive with a pair of bullfinches feeding on silver birch buds, the male looking absolutely gorgeous, a marsh tit, a songflighting tree pipit, a raven mobbing a buzzard and finally good views of male redstarts singing, at least 4 in total. Best of all were 2 garden warblers singing right out in the open atop hawthorn bushes either side of the footpath, presumably the footpath being the boundary line between the 2 territories and causing the birds to be much more showy than they usually are - certainly the best views of garden warbler I have ever had. 2 more garden warblers were heard singing but kept themselves well hidden amongst the bushes.

 Tree Pipit
Garden Warbler - crap photo!

May 4th and I fancied a walk on The Moors and so I caught the bus to Burrator, something I have never done before. I headed off to Cuckoo Rock but it was unfortunately cuckooless but I did see 2 tree pipits, 3 male and a female wheatear and 4 male and a female redstart with another 2 males heard singing. An immature peregrine flew over, it had a very tatty and short looking tail and quite brown looking upperparts.


On the reservoir 3 great crested grebes were a surprise along with a Canada goose, 3 cormorants (2 immatures), a Muscovy duck and a white feral mallard with male mallards. In the surrounding woods I found 2 treecreepers, goldcrests, coal tits and siskins and I finally saw my first brimstone butterfly of the year along with 2 holly blue and many green veined whites.

Marsh Violet?, Cuckoo Rock

Friday 2 May 2014

Catching up with Summer Migrants

Summer migrants are now arriving in numbers and so in between work and wet weather I have been out and about trying to see them.

A quick walk at Wembury Point on 23rd April and the usual suspects were on view - 2 Canada geese resting in the wheatfield, 2 shelduck on the beach by the sewage pipe, 3 whimbrel, a raven flying out to The Mewstone, a female kestrel and singing chiffchaffs and whitethroats. Best sighting was a very smart looking wall butterfly, presumably freshly emerged and my first of the year.

Friday 25th April and I headed off to the River Exe, arriving at Exminster Marsh at 09:30 to be greeted by a singing Cettis warbler in bushes by the RSPB car park. It gave some very close views before disappearing amongst the scrub, and walking around the Marsh more Cettis warblers were seen and heard along with sedge warblers, reed warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, a whitethroat and best of all 3 lesser whitethroats, a bird I do not see that often. The lesser whitethroats were mobile and vocal but gave some great views with 2 birds in the hedges along the railway line near the car park and a third bird in a hedge near the Turf Hotel.

Singing Sedge Warbler, Exminster Marsh

On the Marsh a pair of gadwall and a greenshank were seen with a pair of tufted duck diving on the lagoon. Swallows and sand martins flew over with a single house martin and a peregrine was watching all from a pylon. A hobby flew in from the south and almost casually fed on insects overhead, catching them and eating them in flight as it headed north and out of sight.

 Male Orange Tip, Exminster Marsh
Peacock, Exminster Marsh

I decided to head out to nearby Powderham Marsh, somewhere I haven't visited before, and along the way I met a birder looking for cirl buntings. I know they are in the area but have never seen them here before so suggested he try the RSPB reserve at Labrador Bay near Torquay, not far from where he was staying. He duly left and I headed on and as I passed some stubble fields 2 birds flew up into the hedge and as I got my binoculars on them I found they were a pair of cirl buntings! Another male was also seen busily singing away in a garden by the road. I only hope that the birder did eventually connect with cirl buntings somewhere in Devon.

Powderham Marsh was quiet with a greylag goose amongst the Canada geese, a pair of teal and 2 pairs of tufted duck being the best sightings, with a very smart male reed bunting and a pair of stonechats also being seen.

I then headed off to Dawlish Warren to catch the high tide and in The Bight amongst the roosting oystercatchers, ringed plover and summer plumaged dunlin were 3 whimbrel, a winter plumaged knot and a winter plumaged grey plover. A lone brent goose was resting on the golf course looking a little forlorn but later it did start feeding on the nearby grass.

Male Pheasant, Dawlish Warren

Offshore 4 adult gannets flew west and 12 whimbrel flew east, Sandwich terns were busily diving for fish and on the sea were 2 summer plumaged great crested grebes. Around the main pond 2 reed warblers were singing and a pair of little grebes were feeding 2 chicks with a second pair of adults nearby. A lone sand martin was flying over the water and was showing some interest in the artificial nesting bank.

2 Little Grebe Chicks, Dawlish Warren Main pond

A male sparrowhawk gave a great view perched on a sign before flying off in hunting mode and fortunately didn't notice a very smart male cirl bunting in some nearby bushes with possibly a female bird as well, my first Dawlish Warren sighting. A very large brown rat was seen crossing the footpath near the railway station and it was nice to see some sand crocus still in flower too.

 Male Sparrowhawk, Dawlish Warren
Male Cirl bunting, Dawlish Warren

Sand Crocus, Dawlish Warren

Sunday 27th April and a wet and windy walk to the Avon Dam was quiet bird wise but I did see my first willow warblers of the year along with a male stonechat, a male reed bunting and a grey wagtail, and on the way home I saw some early purple orchids by the roadside near the A38.

Early Purple Orchid