Monday 20 July 2015

Bude Wildlife - July 12th to 18th

Sunday 12th July and it was off to the caravan at Bude for the week. While packing up the car in the misty drizzle I saw a fledgling herring gull in the small car park across the road, I thought it may have been the bird I saw in the front garden a few days ago but then noticed that the chimney stack fledgling had gone. I also found another tick on my leg from my trip to Ashclyst Forest the previous day - it must be a good (or bad) year for ticks this year or I am just particularly tasty.

The weather at Bude wasn't particularly great, I managed to get the moth box out for 2 nights and had a small but varied haul of moths. Highlights were poplar hawkmoth,  Brussels lace, drinker, rosy footman, buff tip, shoulder striped wainscot and buff arches. Best of all was my first privet hawkmoth since seeing one many years ago as a boy in Suffolk and my first small mottled willow.

 Shoulder Striped Wainscot

Rosy Footman

 Privet Hawkmoth

 Privet Hawkmoth

 Small Mottled Willow - an immigrant moth from The Continent

 Small Mottled Willow

Small Mottled Willow

I also saw my first (faded) grass emerald on the cliffs along with a female ghost moth and a hummingbird hawkmoth.

 Grass Emerald - a faded individual

Ghost Moth - female

A few butterflys were seen - ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper, red admiral, speckled wood, comma and a large fritillary flying along the clifftop, probably a silver washed.


Maer Lake was full but with some muddy margins and over the week I saw a lapwing, a common sandpiper, 2 black tailed godwits, 2 greenshank, 1 whimbrel, 1 redshank and 3 eclipse plumaged teal amongst the mallards. A sedge warbler was heard singing along with a chiffchaff and a flyover sparrowhawk caused a bit of a panic.

Offshore a few gannets and fulmars were seen and on an early morning walk on the 16th I picked up a loose feeding flock of 100+ Manx shearwater some distance out. They were resting on the sea, flying around and plunging in to the water in small groups but despite searching I couldn't see any cetaceans amongst them. However a scan closer in to shore revealed at least 2 harbour porpoise in their usual blink and you'll miss it surfacing views.

My sister Vik and her family were staying at Blagdon Water near Holsworthy for the week, having hired a stationary boat to stay on. We headed over one evening for a BBQ and I kept a look out for barn owls which frequent the area but with no luck. A bonus though were 2, possibly 3, reeling grasshopper warblers and I managed to see one in a bramble bush before it flew off.

Emperor Dragonfly - ovipositing female at Blagdon Water

Other highlights were :- 3 hares in the cow fields along the lane on an evening walk; sticklebacks in the stream and a common darter basking in the sunshine at Crooklets Beach along with a moulting adult summer plumaged Mediterranean gull; and sadly a kestrel and a vole squashed on the road near Northcott Beach, presumably the kestrel had caught the vole and then was hit by a car.

 Male Stickleback

 Mediterranean Gull

 Mediterranean Gull

Common Darter

And so not the best of weather and not the best wildlife watching trip I've had at Bude but a nice break away - and with some new moths, and some time spent with Vik and Nik and Jack and Clara, I can't complain.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Ashclyst Forest - The Right Coloured Admiral !

The weather forecast wasn't great for Saturday 11th July (breezey, sunny spells but clouding over as the day progressed) but I decided to head off to Ashclyst Forest near Exeter for a butterfly walk anyway.

An early wake up call at 04:45 from the noisey neighbourhood herring gulls was annoying, it seemed to be a lot of territorial calling rather than alarm or danger and didn't involve the young bird still residing on the flat roof.

A train to Exeter and there was no problem with the service today after the 48 hour strike by First Great Western staff over the last couple of days. A bus ride to Budlake and I arrived at 09:00, setting off with my map and instructions for the Forests butterfly trail downloaded from the National Trust website. As usual my crap sense of direction and crap map reading skills did not let me down and I got lost but eventually I entered the Forest and within 5 minutes I had seen my first white admiral along with a silver washed fritillary - result!

 My first ever White Admiral

 White Admiral

 White Admiral

White Admiral

On my walk around the Forest I managed quite a few sightings of both species but mostly it was brief fly past views. Occasionally I had some good views as they fed on bramble flowers or basked in the trees and I found the best times to see them well was a few minutes after the sun appeared from behind the clouds as they warmed up and a few minutes after the sun disappeared behind the clouds as they cooled down.

 Silver Washed Fritillary and Comma

 Silver Washed Fritillary with a faded patch on upper right wing

 Silver Washed Fritillary

Two Silver Washed Fritillary

It certainly was a butterfly trail with sightings of large skipper, small skipper, small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma, red admiral, large white, small white, ringlet, meadow brown, gatekeeper, marbled white and painted lady. I also had 2 possible sightings of purple hairstreak - a brief view of a small butterfly flying up from the bracken into an oak tree and a brief view of a small butterfly flying around the top of an oak tree when disturbed by a bird.

 Marbled White


A pair of burnet moths were seen mating, I think they were 5 spot burnet and not the usual 6 spot variety. A Jersey tiger moth was also seen flitting past.

Five Spot Burnet?

Five Spot Burnet?

Birds seen were an adult spotted flycatcher feeding a noisey fledgling in the trees, a treecreeper, nuthatches, siskins, blackcaps and chiffchaffs. A stock dove was heard coo-ing and jays were heard screeching.

A few common spotted orchids were still in flower although they were starting to go over.

Common Spotted Orchid

Heading home and I stopped off at Dawlish Warren for a quick walk, seeing from the train  the resident Slavonian grebe in summer plumage at Cockwood and a common tern roosting with Sandwich terns in the saltmarsh at Dawlish Warren golf course on the way.

At Dawlish Warren the marsh helleborine were flowering well and I added a small copper to the list of butterfly sightings for the day. A reed warbler was singing in the reeds by the main pool and I saw a few blue tailed damselfly and a common darter nearby.

 Marsh Helleborine

Common Darter

And so an excellent but tiring day with more sunshine than forecast and a new butterfly species to add to my UK list.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

The Wrong Coloured Admiral

My original plan for a butterfly walk at Ashclyst Forest to look for white admirals went out of the window today as the weather was cool, breezey, cloudy and showery. Instead I had a quick walk this afternoon at Wembury where the sun eventually appeared amongst the clouds from around 4pm.

A very confiding red admiral was seen along with 2 large white, 1 large skipper, small skipper, meadow brown, ringlet and gatekeeper. Not a bad range of butterflies considering the weather.

Red Admiral


 Small Skipper

Large Skipper

Bird wise it was quiet again but 2 juvenile black headed gulls resting on the rocks and a juvenile gannet offshore with adults were a sign that summer is here. Singing blackcap, chiffchaff, whitethroat and at least 2 cirl buntings indicated otherwise although a male blackcap was seen feeding a well developed fledgling. Also seen were 2 scruffy adult goldcrests feeding 5 noisey fledglings in the trees by the road leading down to the beach, 2 little egrets and a curlew with oystercatchers amongst the rocks as the tide receded, and a very nervous looking female pheasent running along the footpath at The Point.

 Common Carpet

Common Lizard

And so not the Admiral I had planned to see but a nice walk anyway.

And on a sad note I read today that 2 fin whales have been caught and killed and brought in to Reykjavik Harbour in Iceland - not a nice sight for those who have travelled to Iceland to go whale watching.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

A Variety of Ticks !

Every year I pick up a blood sucking tick on my wanderings, usually from Grenofen or Yarner or Burrator or Soussons. This year I picked one up on my butterfly walk at Cerne Abbas, finding it near my belly button the next day where it had caused quite a nasty skin reaction. I managed to get it out of my skin but it took a while for the itchy soreness to diminish. I always keep an eye on any tick bites I get due to the risk of Lymes Disease but luckily I have never had the tell tale bulls eye mark indicating infection.

While walking around Aish Tor last week I found a large tick crawling across my belly which I quickly dispatched and on getting home I found a tiny tick on my leg which I easily removed. However the next day I found 6 of the blighters - 2 on my belly, 1 on each arm, 1 on my shoulder and another on my leg - yuck ! Unfortunately they were the tiniest ticks I have ever seen and a complete bugger to get out, some I had to gouge out with a pin. Not impressed with Aish Tor!

On a less gross tick note I had the moth box out in the back yard again and in the morning of July 5th I had caught 16 species including year ticks in the form of a buff tip (amazing moth),  willow beauty, lesser yellow underwing and scalloped oak. A (faded) green arches was a life tick for me too.

 Buff Tip

Green Arches

A walk at Wembury that afternoon was quiet although whitethroat, chiffchaff, blackcap and a cirl bunting were all still singing. Offshore a lone gannet was seen and a curlew was heard calling from the rocky shore at low tide. It was nice to see small skipper, a painted lady, a red admiral and meadow brown on the wing along with a few gatekeeper, another butterfly year tick for me. A male golden ringed dragonfly perched on bushes by the footpath  near Heybrook Bay was a surprise, it looked quite freshly emerged.

Small Skipper

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

The herring gull chick on the next door flat roof continues to grow. The adults are less twitchy now when I go out in the back yard and the chick seems quite non-plussed by my prescence. There is still 1 chick on the chimney stack but the 3rd chick was in the front garden when I arrived home from work a few days ago. I went inside to get changed and to get a towel to wrap it in as I didn't want to get crap and feathers on my uniform but when I went back to catch it it had gone. I've kept an eye out for it but it has disappeared, I hope it is ok.

Larry Larus, my Herring Gull Chick on the flat roof next door

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Aish Tor Revisited

With a bit of a heatwave going on at the moment I had the mothbox out in the back yard overnight on June 30th and in the morning I had a nice catch of moths, 16 species, with the highlights being a barred yellow and 2 coronets.

Barred Yellow


Heart and Club

I had been woken up by thunder, I had originally thought it was the delivery lorry for the Tesco across the road, and I had to quickly sort out the box before the rain fell. I also had to keep an eye on the 2 adult herring gulls flying around and making loads of noise as they protect the young bird still residing on the flat roof. At least the young bird is growing quickly now, its wings are noticeably getting longer and it is flapping them regularly to build up muscle.

Despite the thunder and rain and the grey sky I still headed off to Aish Tor for a butterfly walk. I have wanted to return to Aish Tor after our visit a few weeks ago and so I caught the bus to Ashburton and then a taxi to the Tor about 4 miles away, a little decadent but well worth it, and I arrived at the Tor at just after 10am.

It was hot and humid and still despite the lack of sunshine and within a minute of arriving a fritillary flew by. A short time later and a second one flew by before I found a third one resting on the bracken with its wings open - a high brown fritillary at last! I managed to get a few rubbish photos before it flew off but I was very pleased to have finally seen one.

My first High Brown Fritillary!

And so the sightings continued but it was all a bit frustrating. The fritillaries were either belting across the bracken and difficult to see any detail on or mostly fluttering low over the ground between the bracken stems where they were difficult to keep track of or observe easily. They would settle on the ground or bracken stems or bramble flowers but only for a few seconds before flying off again. I managed to ID some as high brown and some as dark green but most were unconfirmed on the views I had as frustratingly most settled too briefly with their wings open, nice to see but unclinchable without a view of their underwings. I did get a few decent-ish photos but it was hard work to get them. Despite my photo frustrations they were lovely butterflies to look at and observe and they came in a variety of conditions - some were very smart and brightly coloured but many were a little faded and worn - and there was some slight variation in markings.

High Brown Fritillary

High Brown Fritillary

High Brown Fritillary

High Brown Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary

I also had a tantalisingly brief view of a silver washed fritillary - it was noticeably larger when seen in flight chasing after the other fritillaries - but I only managed a crappy record shot when it settled on the bracken briefly before quickly flying off.

Silver Washed Fritillary

Also seen were 3 faded green hairstreaks, small heath, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell and ringlet. Lots of brown silver line moths were flitting about amongst the bracken and I also found a smart yellow shell moth.

I couldn't find the Dartford warblers but stonechats were noticeable perched on the gorse bushes including quite a few fledglings. A green woodpecker flew over and a great spotted woodpecker was heard in the line of trees at the base of the Tor. Yellowhammer, whitethroat and chiffchaff were singing and swallows and house martins flew overhead.

Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit

The taxi arrived as booked at 3pm to take me back to Ashburton for the bus home to Plymouth and the time had just flown by. I was glad the sun didn't shine as it would have been unpleasently hot but I might have gotten some better underwing shots of the fritillaries if it had. It had been nice to chat to the butterfliers I met while wandering around - they are just as "quirky" as birders so I guess that makes me doubly "quirky" - and it was also nice not to have to watch my footing due to dog poo like I had to do at Upton Towans. It was also good to see volunteers with the Devon Wildlife Trust cutting back the bracken to keep the habitat ideal for the fritillaries and I take my hat off to them for doing excellent work in the hot and humid conditions.