Wednesday 26 August 2015

Wembury, 22nd August 2015

My plans for a trip to Fontmell Down in Dorset for a butterfly twitch went out of the window after watching the BBC weather forecast on the TV before heading off to bed on Friday 21st - wet and windy weather forecasted, not good for butterfly watching! However the next morning it was overcast but dry and the BBC weather forecast for the day had changed, it was looking like it would be dry for the morning at least and so I decided to head out for a short walk at Wembury.

I caught a bus to Pomphlett to pick up a parcel at the Royal Mail depot and then walked back to the bus stop near The Range to catch the Wembury bus. I was surprised and delighted to find some Autumn ladies tresses flowering in the grass verge by the bus stop in the exact spot where I saw the pyramidal orchid a few weeks ago. I've never seen them here before and it was a pleasure to find them in flower.The grass is fairly short so I'm hoping our wildlife hating Council don't mow it before the orchids set seed.

 Autumn Ladies Tresses

Autumn Ladies Tresses

Autumn Ladies Tresses

Arriving at Wembury and the sun was beginning to show from behind the clouds. It became increasingly sunny and warm and humid and I wished I had worn my shorts but at least it was ideal for butterflies - holly blue, common blue, meadow brown, gatekeeper, wall, large white, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, small white, speckled wood and comma were all seen.

Offshore there were gannets, fulmars, gulls and shags. 2 Sandwich terns flying East behind 2 jet skiers were presumably looking for pieces of chopped up fish. Along the beach 2 juvenile Mediterranean gulls were with a smart adult in winter plumage and at The Point a whimbrel was in the high tide roost with 8 curlew, 4 little egrets and oystercatchers.

Mediterranean Gull

Whitethroats, chiffchaffs and blackcaps were heard calling in the vegetation but were furtive and skulking while good numbers of swallows flitted about overhead. 2 ravens, 3 buzzards and a juvenile kestrel also flew over, and a green woodpecker was heard yaffling in the valley to the beach.

The toilet block had a nice selection of moths for a change - a flounced rustic, a bee moth, a mullein wave and a magpie moth. Along the footpath I also saw a large yellow underwing and a rush veneer, along with a bloody nosed beetle, a speckled bush cricket and a long winged conehead.

 Flounced Rustic

 Mullein Wave

 Long Winged Conehead

Parasol Mushroom

I was a bit annoyed at the totally inaccurate weather forecast, I could have gone to Fontmell Down after all, but at least I had had a very pleasent walk.

Friday 21 August 2015

Moths, Waders and Butterflies

I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of wildlife with my Mum and cousin coming down to stay for a few days but on our days out I actually managed to find some good stuff.

Before they arrived I had the mothbox out in the back yard overnight and on checking through the catch on August 16th I had my first old lady of the year along with my first yellow barred brindle and Jersey tiger for the garden this year. I had hoped for some marbled greens but I was out of luck - I haven't had the mothbox out much this year due to work shifts and the often poor overnight weather and I guess I may have probably missed my chances of seeing what is one of my favourite moths this year.

Old Lady

August 17th and a late start meant our plans for a day out to the caravan at Bude went out of the window. Instead we headed off to Hope Cove for a walk on a bright and warm day. Walking along the clifftop from Hope Cove to South Huish Marsh and the scenery was stunning with a kestrel and a raven flying overhead. Arriving at South Huish Marsh and a black tailed godwit was showing well. A quick scan revealed a ruff skulking in the reeds which eventually showed well as it fed along the waters edge. A wheatear was feeding in the fields amongst the pied wagtails and eventually I managed a brief glimpse of the bird I had hoped to see - a very smart wood sandpiper. It kept disappearing behind the vegetation but eventually showed very well feeding out in the open.

Longhorn Beetle Sp.

Wood Sandpiper, South Huish Marsh
Wood Sandpiper 

After some lunch back at Hope Cove we had a walk out to Bolt Tail, seeing a whitethroat, a wheatear and a stonechat along the way. From the cliffs the sea was flat calm and bright silver in the strong sunlight and I wasn't expecting to see much but a quick scan revealed a few gannets, shags and gulls. Further scanning and I found a smart juvenile kittiwake and 2 Sandwich terns. There was also a steady trickle of small shearwaters flying east low over the water - most were a little distant and were difficult to get any detail on in the bright light but the few that were closer in were Manxies. Two distant harbour porpoises briefly surfacing were a bonus, easily seen in the bright conditions with the sea so flat.

August 18th and we headed off to Rosemoor, an RHS garden near Great Torrington in North Devon. Mum is an RHS member so had free admission to the garden along with 1 guest (me!) and hasn't visited the garden before although I have back in May 2013. The gardens were stunning in the sunshine, much more so than they were on a cold and cloudy May day in 2013, and we had a nice wander around. The highlight for me were the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies whizzing around in the warm conditions - meadow brown, gatekeeper, red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, small white, large white, comma, brimstone and holly blue; common darter, and hawkers too fast to properly ID; and blue tailed- and azure damselflys.

Rosemoor Gardens


Common Darter

Common Darter

Blue Tailed Damselfly

Azure Damselfly

Best of all were at least 8 silver washed fritillary - most were a little tatty and worse for wear but a few were fairly decent looking. A worn female was seen egg laying and 2 pairs were seen in amorous displays.
Silver Washed Fritillary

Silver Washed Fritillary

Silver Washed Fritillary

And so not a bad range of wildlife sightings, most of which was unexpected, and with some decent weather too.

Monday 17 August 2015

White Winged Black Tern, Exminster Marsh, 15th August 2015

My original plan for August 15th was to head off to South Efford Marsh at Aveton Gifford to look for wood sandpipers - 3 were reported there on the 13th with presumably the same 3 reported at nearby South Huish Marsh on the 14th.

Arriving home at 6pm on the 14th from having visited Flavourfest in Plymouth City Centre (a food festival where you can sample lots of goodies, eat nice food and spend far too much money on luxury consumables you wouldn't normally buy), and on checking the internet a report of 3 black terns in Plymouth Sound that morning was intriguing but not unsurprising given the awful weather of the previous 2 days. A bit more searching and a report of a juvenile white winged black tern at Exminster Marsh was even more exciting and so my mind was made up as to where to visit the next day.

I arrived at Exminster at 9:30 and headed off straight away to the canal where the bird had been seen the previous day. It was sunny but cool and breezey and I was a little trepidatious as marsh terns can be fickle things - here today, gone tomorrow. I could see a gaggle of birders along the canal side intently watching something but couldn't see what they were looking at due to the luxuriant canal side vegetation and the distance and when I arrived at their position I was informed that the tern had just flown over to the estuary and out of sight - bugger! - but at least it was still present.

I walked down to the Turf Hotel where I would be able to scan the estuary, seeing a flyover juvenile Mediterranean gull along the way and disturbing a kingfisher from the shoreline on arrival.The tide was high and a large flock of black headed gulls were resting on the water and after a bit of searching I found the white winged black tern hawking over them - result! After a few minutes it flew back over to the canal and so I headed back there too to try and get some better views. I quickly refound it and had some lovely views as it hawked back and forth over the water, sometimes flying quite close to where I stood and occasionally flying back over to the estuary. A canoeist on the canal must have had some amazing views as the tern hawked around his canoe, no doubt attracted to the insects his paddle was disturbing.

It was a smart looking bird, almost little gull like, and was a joy to watch although it never stopped flying around in the 2 and a half hours I was there. A white rump, pale upperwings, a dark saddle and no breast pegs were easily noted and I was pleased to finally see my second UK lifer of the year (my first was the squacco heron at Beesands in May, another white winged bird). I even managed to get a few decentish photos of it too as it flew past.

 White Winged Black Tern

 White Winged Black Tern

 White Winged Black Tern

White Winged Black Tern

White Winged Black Tern

White Winged Black Tern

Otherwise it was pretty quiet on the Marsh. A little grebe, a female tufted duck and an eclipse male gadwall were on the lagoon with eclipse teal and mallard but I couldn't find the reported garganey amongst them. Reed bunting was heard, a kestrel flew over and a kingfisher gave some nice views fishing from reeds overhanging the canal. A few dragonflies dashed past too quickly to properly ID and red admiral, holly blue, small tortoiseshell, large white and gatekeeper were also noted.

As it was quiet I decided to head off home instead of having a wander around but it had been a very pleasent morning and not too twitchy although more birders were arriving as I left.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Dawlish Warren, August 9th 2015

Feeling knackered and down in the dumps ( very busy and very sad times at work, 2 funerals in a week for 2 friends and misidentifying a juvenile gull on the DBWPS website - again!) and so I felt a day out wildlife watching was required to sooth my weary soul. I was in a "can't be arsed" mood but made myself get off the sofa as at least I have the option,  unlike some people, and so I headed off to Dawlish Warren on the train.

It was only £7.30 for a day return, a complete bargain, but visiting Dawlish Warren on a Sunday in August is probably not a great idea. It was grey and breezey with occasional glimpses of sunshine as I arrived at The Warren at 10:30 and the beach and entertainment complex were packed with people. However as I entered the nature reserve it was very quiet with just a few people around and I had a very enjoyable and peaceful time.

Despite the weather a few butterflies were on the wing and so I decided to do another 15 minute Big Butterfly Count in the Greenland Lake area, seeing a red admiral, a wall, a small copper, a very faded small skipper, 2 large white, gatekeepers, meadow browns and common blues. Best of all was a nice male brown argus, smaller than female common blues, smarter looking and with no hint of blue on the upperwings - as it flitted around it was occasionally briefly investigated by passing male common blues.

 Female Common Blue
 Male Brown Argus
Male Brown Argus

A common darter , a blue tailed damselfly, six-spot burnet moths and a cinnabar moth caterpillar feeding on ragwort were also seen.

 Common Darter
Blue Tailed Damselfly

Offshore a few adult gannets were flying around with Sandwich terns and there were 2 large rafts of shags which eventually dispersed across the Bay. At least 7 common scoters were seen amongst the wave troughs but were difficult to observe as they dived regularly and 2 Mediterranean gulls flew past (a juvenile and a moulting 2nd summer bird). Best of all was a pod of bottle nose dolphins first seen leaping out of the water around a tourist fishing trip boat. At least 7 individuals were seen including a small calf but unfortunately they attracted the attentions of 2 jet skiers who chased after them and they eventually became more unobtrusive before moving away further offshore towards Berry Head.

Heading off to the hide as high tide approached and there was quite a nice selection of waders seen feeding and coming in to roost - oystercatcher (including a distinctive piebald individual), curlew, whimbrel, ringed plover, dunlin, redshank, bar-tailed godwit and sanderling. A flock of Sandwich terns were also roosting on the mudflats, a mix of adults and juveniles, with adult birds flying over The Warren from offshore with beakfulls of sand eels to feed to their noisey young. Amongst the Sarnies were 6 common terns - 3 adults in summer plumage, an adult moulting in to winter plumage and 2 juveniles. A male peregrine was seen feeding on a small wader out on the saltmarsh and was presumably the cause of the general skittishness amongst the terns.

A juvenile Mediterranean gull landed briefly on the mud with some black headed gulls, it had a green plastic leg ring which unfortunately I couldn't read. I saw it before Warren Birder Lee arrived in the hide but we had an interesting chat about reading bird rings at The Warren and the information this had provided (details of ring reads are often reported on the Dawlish Warren bird site  - he then found a metal ringed juvenile great black backed gull but had difficulty trying to get a read of the numbers, having to eventually give up.

I also found a distinctive looking juvenile gull out on the mudflats - pale looking with noticeably darker upperparts, and unlike nearby juvenile herring gulls. It preened briefly before settling down on the mud to sleep and I hoped to catch a flight view of it at some point but I got distracted by the common terns and when I looked back it had disappeared! It looked quite pale but not when compared to a juvenile great black backed gull which landed nearby - another juvenile yellow legged gull looking juvenile herring gull.

 Juvenile Herring Gull - appeared pale with dark upperparts
 Juvenile Herring Gull
 Juvenile Herring Gull
Juvenile Herring Gull (left) looking less white when near a juvenile Great Black Backed Gull

And so a very enjoyable day out and one that helped to lift my mood, ready for the rigours of another week at work.

Thursday 6 August 2015

More Purple Hairstreaks and Sea-Watching.... at Wembury!

August 2nd and I headed off for a walk at Wembury. It was sunny, and warm when sheltered from the strong breeze, and I had a pleasant walk along the coast path.

2 whimbrel, 3 curlew and 4 little egrets were roosting on the rocks at The Point with oystercatchers at high tide and for a change there wasn't too much disturbance from walkers and dogs along the beach.

Scanning offshore and there were lots of gannets swirling around, mostly adults with a few dark juveniles. I managed to pick out a distant feeding flock of around 50 Manx shearwaters beneath a group of gannets, they were resting on the sea before flying up in a group and then splashing down on the water.

On land and blackcap and whitethroat were seen with 2 cirl buntings flying over. A sparrowhawk was mobbed by some swallows, a juvenile kestrel was presumably practising hunting by swooping down and grabbing horse turds in the horse field before dropping them and a peregrine flew over with a small bird in its talons.

Plenty of butterflies on the wing - meadow brown, gatekeeper, large white, red admiral, holly blue, common blue, comma, green veined white, small skipper and wall. A few faded six-spot burnet were feeding on the thistle flowers and a small and dark common lizard was basking in the sun on the wooden fencing.

Holly Blue, Wembury

Heading home after a pasty and coffee for lunch and I decided to have a walk around Efford Marsh again to have a look for purple hairstreaks. I checked out the oak trees around the pond and quickly found 1 flitting around the canopy (or fidgeting as it is described in my field guide). Scanning around and I found at least another 5 individuals but they were all brief and obscured views up amongst the leaves - I didn't bother with trying to get any photos although I did get a good but brief view of 1 individual.

A visit to the Garden House near Yelverton on August 3rd and I found 2 speckled bush crickets amongst the flower heads along with a red admiral and a few meadow brown in the cool, cloudy and breezey conditions. The gardens looked stunning though and are really developing well, it has been quite a few years now since we last visited here.

 Speckled Bush Cricket, The Garden House - female with ovipositor

Speckled Bush Cricket, The Garden House - male

August 4th and I headed off to Wembury again. It was cloudy and very windy with a strong south westerly breeze and the waves were crashing up the main beach at the high tide where a flock of black headed gulls and a few herring gulls were feeding in the churned up surf. Scanning through and I found an adult and 4 juvenile Mediterranean gulls amongst the flock, 1 juvenile had a green plastic leg ring but I couldn't get any details on it as it flew amongst the waves or rested on the sea. It was interesting to see the size differences of the juvenile Meds when 3 of them rested on the sea together - presumably the smallest bird was a female.  A leucistic black headed gull amongst the flock was most unusual looking.

 Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls, Wembury
Juvenile Mediterranean Gulls - smaller individual on the left

Heading off towards the sewage pipe and hoping that there hadn't been any disturbance from walkers along the beach and I was pleased to see a flock of gulls roosting on the tideline. I found another adult Mediterranean gull amongst the black headed gulls and what I thought was a juvenile yellow legged gull before it flew off towards Plymouth and out of sight (yes, it's that time of year when I frustrate the hell out of myself trying to ID large juvenile gulls) - however it appears to have been a juvenile herring gull after all.

Adult Mediterranean Gull

Juvenile Herring Gull

Offshore and again there were lots of gannets swirling around and so I decided to set up my telescope for a proper sea watch, hunkering down out of the wind on the beach near the old swimming pool. I scanned from The Mewstone towards Plymouth and being low down and almost at sea level I had some lovely views of Manx shearwaters as they banked up out of the wave troughs and showed well against the sky line. I counted 20-30 per minute heading west although a few were also seen heading east, and they tended to appear in pulses with the odd single bird flying past and then a little group of up to 20 birds. There must have been higher numbers passing by than I counted as my position low down to the water meant restricted viewing, and after an hours watching the sun appeared, the wind dropped slightly and the Manxies dried up entirely.

The highlight though were at least 2 great skua - single birds were briefly seen but 2 birds together showed very well if a little distantly above the waves. They were chasing each other with 1 bird having larger and brighter white wing flashes, presumably an older bird, and their short tails and bulky build were also noticeable.

A singing cirl bunting showed well and 4 juvenile whitethroats were skulking together in a sloe bush, presumably a recently fledged family. The juvenile kestrel was still around but wasn't interested in horse turds this time and on the rocks with the oystercatchers were 2 whimbrels again along with 2 little egrets and 1 curlew. 

I did a 15 minute Big Butterfly Count as well, seeing a male common blue, 10 gatekeeper, 1 red admiral, 1 peacock, 1 painted lady, 8 meadow brown and 2 large white on my 15 minute wander around Wembury Point.

And so a bit of sea watching at Wembury of all places, a quite enjoyable hours watching although tiring on the eyes scanning through a telescope. And great skua takes my year list to 171.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Purple Hairstreaks and a Bottlenose Dolphin

It's been quiet the past 2 weeks since our return from Bude, I have been busy with work and other commitments and the weather has been quite mixed with some unusually cold nights for July.

I had the moth box out in the backyard on July 21st and had my first four spotted footman of the year (a male) along with a nice buff arches amongst the more usual species for the time of year.

A walk at Wembury later that day and 2 whimbrels on the rocks with oystercatchers and an adult Mediterranean gull with 6 juveniles flying close inshore towards Plymouth were a sign that summer has now peaked, although a whitethroat and a cirl bunting were still singing away.

Short-winged Conehead, Wembury

July 26th and the weather was awful - wet, windy and cool - and my plan to get out for a walk went out of the window. However despite the forecast the rain stopped at around 1pm and so I headed off to Efford Marsh near Marsh Mills in Plymouth, a small nature reserve owned and managed by Plymouth City Council. I have visited the reserve many years ago in the winter to see a Siberian chiffchaff but didn't really explore the area and having read on the internet that purple hairstreaks are found here I thought I would go and have a look. I wasn't expecting to see any as it was still cloudy and windy and I wasn't disappointed but I did get to suss out the site for a future visit in better weather conditions. I did get soaking wet walking through the long grass and I slipped over 4 (!) times in the mud but at least I got out of the house.

Despite the weather there were quite a few butterflies around in the humid conditions in more sheltered areas - gatekeeper, meadow brown, ringlet, red admiral, large white and comma - but no purple hairstreaks. I did find the oak trees around the ponds where the hairstreaks are seen and so I decided I would return on a better day.

July 30th was warm and sunny so we headed off to the beach at Cawsands for the day, catching the ferry across from The Barbican. Sandwich terns and Mediterranean gulls were seen flying around on the crossing and later the odd single bird of both species were seen flying along the beach.

It was very pleasent sitting on the beach despite an altercation with the owners of 2 unruly dogs (not the dogs fault, its the fault of the dog-shit-for-brains owners), and being stung on my finger by a small bee (I'm allergic to bee stings but it didn't appear to inject any venom into me, I didn't get any swelling and it flew off with its sting intact).

Long-winged Conehead, Cawsand

The highlight was a bottlenose dolphin very close to shore interacting with a passing yacht before it moved off and just disappeared. I noticed people on the beach standing up and pointing and thought they were watching a Navy ship coming in to Plymouth but I caught sight of a fin breaking the surface and had some nice views as it swam around the yacht. It had a very distinct dorsal fin which was split into 2 at the tip and is probably the individual, most likely a lone male, that I saw at Wembury a few months ago and the individual that has been reported around Drakes Island a few times - I didn't notice the dorsal fin being split on the Wembury sighting due to the distance I watched it from.

On the walk back to Cremyll to catch the ferry back to Plymouth there were plenty of butterflies flitting about including a holly blue and a comma. It was a very pleasent evening, warm and sunny and still, and I decided to check out all the oak trees we passed by for purple hairstreaks which I had read were more active after 5pm. I eventually found one flitting about the top of a small oak tree by the footpath near The Folly and eventually saw around 6 individuals as they sparred with each other over the canopy. They were very active and mobile but I managed some nice views through my binoculars when they settled on the oak leaves. Unfortunately access around the tree was restricted and the hairstreaks were sitting with their wings open to the sun at the wrong angle for me to get good views but I did get a few photos.

Purple Hairstreak - well I didn't say I got some "good" photos!

Purple Hairstreak - some damage to lower left wing

They are the first purple hairstreaks I have seen for many years, I have only seen them at Minsmere in Suffolk as a young boy and I wasn't particularly impressed with the small dots I saw flying around in the tree tops -  I still haven't seen them well but at least the views were better this time.

July 31st and it was off to the caravan in Bude for the day with the Outlaws. It was sunny and warm and we had a pleasent time enjoying the weather. I took a walk down to Maer Lake in the afternoon where the water levels were lower than in July and there were a few waders busily feeding - 2 black tailed godwit (1 summer plumaged, 1 winter plumaged), 1 snipe, 5 dunlin (2 still with the black belly of summer plumage), 2 curlew, a juvenile ringed plover and a green sandpiper. Also seen were a juvenile shelduck and 2 teal with the mallards and moorhens while swallows, sand martins and house martins swooped over the water.

And so a nice selection of sightings with the green sandpiper bringing my UK bird year list to 170.