Monday 25 August 2014

Temminck's Stint at Bowling Green Marsh

Despite being August Bank Holiday Sunday and the hide at Bowling Green Marsh being closed for refurbishment I headed off to Topsham anyway as some good birds have been sighted there recently. The train was packed and 15 minutes late but I still arrived on time at Topsham at 10:30, the earliest I could get there, and was greeted with the sight of birders and their assorted optics crowded around the gaps in the hedge overlooking the Marsh. Two of my target birds were on show but by the time I got my scope out and managed to find a viewing gap in the throng the Temminck's stint had disappeared from view and I had a brief view of a spotted crake running off across the mud and out of sight - not a great start!

Eventually the spotted crake reappeared but for short periods only and it was distant, the light was crap and there was quite a heat haze so I couldn't make out any real plumage detail or bill colouration but its size and distinctive jizz gave it away. I was surprised how small it was, being around the size of a green sandpiper which was feeding nearby and being dwarfed by a nearby moorhen.

The stint didn't reappear but I managed to see 4 lapwing and a ruff amongst the black tailed godwit, curlew, redshank and dunlin feeding on the Marsh, and so I headed off to the viewing platform which has reopened. The tide was low and there was little on show other than 2 greenshanks feeding along the River Clyst and so I then headed off to the recreation ground where yellow legged gulls (target bird number 3) are often reported (as per Tim Worfolks excellent blog the Two Bird Theory) but despite searching amongst the roosting, preening and bathing gulls I couldn't find anything unusual except a few very smart looking adult lesser black backed gulls.

Heading back to the Marsh and a second ruff and a peachy/pink knot where new and there were quite a few pied wagtails flitting about but no yellow wagtails. Scanning through a flock of around 16 dunlin feeding on the mud at the back of the Marsh and there was what I thought was a pied wagtail feeding behind them but as the dunlins moved it revealed itself to be the Temminck's stint, a tiny bird with white underparts, brown/grey, plain looking upperparts and a crouched posture, and reminiscent of a small common sandpiper. It flew a little closer but was often obscured by clods of mud and vegetation along the waters edge before it disappeared again but at least I had had some distant views of what is my first British lifer of the year.

While watching the stint some birders arrived who had been watching 2 ospreys (target bird number 4) over the Exe and so I headed off to the viewing platform again but there was no sign of them. I then headed off to the The Goatwalk for a better view and settled down on some rocks to scan the river while having something to eat and drink but there was still no sign. I was just about to leave when on my last scan of the river I saw a large raptor flying over the trees at Powderham heading towards the river which turned out to be an osprey (and not a buzzard). I watched it for around 10 minutes as it hovered and swooped down to the water trying to catch fish but it was unsuccessful, eventually giving up and flying off over Exminster Marsh. I have seen ospreys a few times but never fishing, I've only seen them perched on posts or flying over so it was a real treat to watch and I was totally spellbound.  It was a juvenile bird with light patterning on its brown upperparts and obviously not having mastered the art of fishing yet - it was low tide and it never fully dived in to the water, only snatching at the surface, hopefully it will get better with practice.

I then headed back to the Marsh where the Temminck's stint had disappeared again but another spotted crake had been showing in a different part of reed bed at the back of the Marsh and eventually I managed some nice but distant views as it fed out in the open. This time I could make out the red and yellow bill and the delicate plumage patterning and I was again struck by how small it was when stood near a juvenile moorhen. At least I have now had some better views of spotted crake after my very brief sightings of a bird at Marazion Marsh a few years ago.

I headed home just as a smart winter plumaged spotted redshank flew in with some redshank and the forecasted rain began, having had a fantastic day birding and with a lifer in the bag and a year list now on 187.

Friday 22 August 2014

Not Yellow Legged Gulls

A trip to Wembury on 15th August very nearly didn't happen at all as 3 buses arrived together at the bus stop and with the 3rd bus being the Wembury bus it overtook the other 2 and passed right by, despite my frantic arm waving - bastard! Luckily David was home and very kindly dropped me off at Wembury and I had a very enjoyable walk, and I managed to catch the bus back to Plymouth to enjoy the delights of Flavourfest, a food and drink festival celebrating local produce, with our friends Julie and Lizzie.

Highlights were:-8 ringed plover roosting on the beach at high tide, being very well camouflaged amongst the pebbles; a green woodpecker heard yaffling; 4 little egrets flying high East; 3 juvenile wheatears feeding amongst the horse poo in the field above the riding stables; and 3 small shearwater species flying West but too distant to confirm ID.

At Wembury Point there were quite a few whitethroats flitting about, mostly juveniles, with a male blackcap and a few chiffchaff also seen. Stonechats were noticeable too with a pair and 3 juveniles feeding from the wheat stalks in the wheat field and another juvenile seen unsuccessfully chasing a flyby Jersey tiger moth.

An oak bush cricket was found in the toilet block and released outside but the only other moth sighting was a knot grass caterpillar walking across the footpath.

 Oak Bush Cricket
 Oak Bush Cricket
Knot Grass Caterpillar

August 16th and we headed off to Hope Cove for a walk along the coast, walking from Hope Cove to Thurlestone and back. There were lots of tourists around on the beach in the sunshine despite the breezey and cool conditions. The highlights at South Huish Marsh were 3 juvenile wheatear, a black tailed godwit, 16 dunlin, 1 sand martin and 2 clouded yellows but there were no moths in the toilet block at Thurlestone at all, I presume the council do not have the lights on at night anymore due to budget cuts (as I suspect is the case at Wembury too). The ongoing dispute with the council and the landowner regarding the collapsed coastal path also meant an inland detour which looks like it will now become a permanent fixture but it is still a nice walk.

Returning to Hope Cove a bizarre sight was a peregrine stooping on a woodpigeon over the post office as we sat in the sunshine eating our lunch - I heard a smack and saw something out of the corner of my eye and then a load of pigeon feathers floating to the ground before seeing a peregrine flying off being mobbed by herring gulls. A few minutes later a woodpigeon flew out from under the display crates outside the post office having had a very lucky escape! And on heading home a swift flew overhead near the Bantham roundabout, what will now presumably be my last of the year.

August 21st and I headed off to Wembury for a walk again, seeing just 1 ringed plover along the beach this time with an eclipse male mallard, a little egret and 8 oystercatcher. 3 curlew flew East offshore where a few adult gannets were flying around and a female sparrowhawk flew over being mobbed by jackdaws. Fewer whitethroats were seen this time but it was cooler and breezier than my visit on the 15th. 2 clouded yellows were seen, 1 being an helice type female which threw me at first as I thought it was an abberant marbled white until realising it is a bit late in the year for marbled whites to be on the wing!

And so to yellow legged gulls. I have never seen one in the UK and have had little experience of juveniles, having seen mainly adult birds in Spain, Malta, Morocco and Italy. An influx of juveniles to the UK occurs in late summer but I am not good (or patient) with gulls and have never really looked for them. However with a report of a juvenile yellow legged gull on the sightings board at South Huish Marsh on our walk on the 16th I kept an eye out for any unusual looking gulls and my attention was drawn to a bird roosting on the beach when it opened its wings and showed a white rump with a distinct black tail band, a classic plumage detail. However on closer examination it was a juvenile great black backed gull, being larger than nearby herring gulls but smaller than an adult great black backed gull. But it did spur me on when I returned home to read up on juvenile gull ID and peruse various web sites and photographs online to try and get to grips with their ID.

 Awful photo of rump and tail
 Juvenile Great Black Backed Gull
 Great Black Backed Gull
 Great Black Backed Gull
Great Black Backed Gull

And on my walk at Wembury on the 21st there as a large flock of gulls loafing around on the rocks, mostly herring gulls including many juveniles, but with a few great black backed and lesser black backed and a lone black headed. One bird stood out with a pale head and dark eye mask, another classic plumage detail, and when it flew it had a very white looking rump with a smart and very dark tail band. But it seemed too pale on the upperparts which may have been due to the strong sunlight and I eventually lost sight of it as it flew off amongst the gull melee so I guess it was a 1st Summer Herring Gull with a well marked tail. Later I saw a dark backed juvenile gull flying off West and it too had a very white rump with dark tail band but I couldn't make out any other plumage details as it disappeared from view. All in all very frustrating but at least I have started to get my head around gull ID although I don't think I will become a gull enthusiast as it is proving to be a taxing and frustrating task.

 Another awful photo of 1st Summer Herring Gull (upper centre to the right of the Lesser Black Backed Gull)
1st Summer Herring Gull

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Tree Lichen Beauty in the Back Yard!

Further to my blog entry of 27th July the moth I caught in the light trap in the back yard on the 24th July has had me puzzled over its ID ever since. I thought it may have been a green form of a marbled minor agg. but could find no mention of green forms in the literature.

On reading Ben Sales excellent blog Essex Moths I saw a photo which looked just like my mystery moth - a tree lichen beauty! It is a rare immigrant moth and I have had the photo ID confirmed by the Devon moth recorder Barry Henwood and am very pleased indeed. Ben Sales was pretty pleased with his record too! Apparently there have been records near Torquay a few years ago but none recently. It just shows what can turn up in the smallest and most urban of gardens.

Tree Lichen Beauty

Tree Lichen Beauty

Sunday 10 August 2014

Sea Watching (Light) and a New Butterfly

With the remnants of Hurricane Bertha set to hit the UK today I decided I might have a go at sea watching, something I have not done before. The thought of sea watching seems a little daunting to me, conditions and location need to be just right, and I have always baulked at potentially spending time getting cold and wet and not seeing very much. I have only seen Manx- and Balearic shearwater from land in the UK but have had excellent views of Corys, great, sooty, Manx, Balearic and little shearwaters from the ferry to Spain as it crossed the Bay of Biscay. I thought about visiting either Berry Head or Rame Head but public transport is not at its most frequent on Sundays so I was a bit hesitant. And so on checking the bird sightings on the inty-web thing early Sunday morning and seeing reports of great shearwater at Dawlish Warren I decided I would head there instead.

It was sunny and very windy and there was a great swirling mass of gulls off Langstone Rock as the train arrived in to Dawlish Warren station at 10:30am (the earliest I could get there) and so I headed off straight away to the sea wall for a quick scan across the sea. There were plenty of gulls around, mostly herring gulls but with a few great black backed- and black headed gulls amongst them, and I also picked out a few common scoters, 2 great crested grebes and a grey seal. Scanning through the gulls I picked out a dark phase Arctic skua flying West before it disappeared behind Langstone Rock and so I headed off along the seawall path but by the time I had got there it had moved on. Scanning again through the swirling gulls I found a nice juvenile Mediterranean gull and another great crested grebe along with 4 male and 7 female common scoter close in to the shore. Heading up to the top of the Rock I met a birder on holiday from Hull who had earlier seen 3 Arctic skuas and then a single one (presumably the one I saw) but no sign of any shearwaters. I spent some time scanning and apart from a swift heading West and a few gannets I saw nothing else new and so decided to end my seawatching light session and head off to Greenland Lake on the Warren for a look around.

Greenland Lake was sheltered from the wind and it was warm and humid with lots of butterflys flitting around - small tortoiseshell, speckled wood, common blue, small copper, green veined white, small white, large white, gatekeeper and meadow brown - and I found a nice clouded yellow and best of all at least 3 brown argus, a new butterfly for me. The heat and humidity meant they were very active and mobile and it was hard to get a decent photo of what is a very attractive butterfly despite its small size.

 Brown Argus - a worn individual and the first one I saw
 Brown Argus- underwing showing figure of 8 mark
 Brown Argus - underwing of a less worn individual
 Brown Argus -  a much smarter looking individual showing a blueish tinge
 Brown Argus
Clouded Yellow

Also on show were a few dragonflys which were equally active and mobile in the warm conditions but I eventually managed a few photos. Around the Main Pond I also saw a few small red eyed damselflys including a pair laying eggs in the water and yes, they were small with red eyes, well the males had red eyes, and were a new damselfly species for me too.

Common Darter - female

Common Darter - male
 Emperor Dragonfly
Emperor Dragonfly - close up

Yellow Shell

Heading home and there was the usual chaos on the trains with no one seeming to know what was going on with trains being cancelled and rescheduled, but I did see a hare with a smaller leveret near Newton Abbot as they ran away as the train passed by which made up for the delay.

Saturday 9 August 2014

A Duo of Sandpipers (Alas)

Having worked for 9 days out of the last 10 I have had no free time to get out and about but finally, with 3 days off from the 8th August, I managed to get to Stoke Point for a walk along the cliff path and lunch in The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo with David.

The sea was flat calm and there were a few large groups of gulls offshore in a bit of a feeding frenzy with the odd adult and juvenile gannets passing by. A few minutes of scanning while David collected bits of gorse twigs for kindling and I managed a few brief and distant views of around 4 small shearwaters flying low over the water before they just seemed to disappear. Best of all though were around 6 harbour porpoise in 2 pods moving West through the water. They were distant and gave the usual brief views as they surfaced but they are the first sightings I have had in the Plymouth area.

Stonechats were much in evidence along the cliffs and included many juveniles so it looks like they have a good breeding season this year but despite searching I couldn't find any Dartford warblers. A lone male and a pair of cirl buntings were seen along with a male yellowhammer carrying a beakful of food and with very short tail feathers. A few whitethroats were seen but were very skulking while 2 kestrel, 2 ravens and buzzards passed overhead.

Butterflies were much in evidence including 3 clouded yellows along with plenty of wall brown, meadow brown and gatekeeper. A rose chafer was a first for me as it fed in a bramble flower and there were more Autumn squill in flower along the usual bank than I have ever seen before.

 Rose Chafer
 Autumn Squill
Jersey Tiger Moth, Noss Mayo

Saturday 9th August and I headed off the South Efford Marsh at Aveton Gifford for a look around in the hope of finding a wood sandpiper. I visited the Marsh exactly a year ago and had good views of wood, green and common sandpipers but this time there were 3 green- and 3 common sandpipers on show but no wood sandpiper. None have been reported from South Efford so far this Autumn although they seem to be cropping up elsewhere in Devon and Cornwall so I guess I will have to try again later in the month.

A greenshank and an oystercatcher were seen along the River with curlews roosting on the Marsh and a pair of winter plumaged dunlin busily feeding. A kingfisher gave some good views fishing along a drainage ditch and other birds of note were a stock dove and a pair of bullfinch. A worn female golden ringed dragonfly with a damaged ovipositor (presumably from ovipositing) gave some amazing close views and I was most annoyed to find I had left my camera at home! An helice form of clouded yellow and a common blue damselfly likewise gave some amazing close view and a usual form of clouded yellow was also seen flying by.

Other wildlife highlights from the last 2 weeks include a swift over Mutley Plain on the way to work on the 7th, most likely my last of the year, what looked like a dead barn owl by the side of the A38 near Smithaleigh as we drove by, and a peregrine watching the pigeons from The Guildhall Tower while I waited for the bus to work in the morning.

Back yard mothing has been uneventful with Jersey Tiger, mullein wave, rusty dot pearl, lime speck pug, marbled green and a new for me pebble hooktip being the highlights.

 Mullein Wave
Pebble Hooktip