Sunday 20 September 2015

Clouded Yellows - at last!

A Wembury walk on Tuesday 15th September was still quiet in overcast skies. A chiffchaff singing at Wembury Point sounded very mournful and a few others were heard calling from cover. A lone swallow flew overhead (surely they haven't left Wembury yet?) and 2  wheatears flew off inland from the top horse field.

Offshore a few gannets were flying around but the best sighting were 14 brent geese flying east low against the waves, appearing to fly in to Plymouth Sound. There were a few sightings of brent geese along the south Cornwall coast on the same day (15 at Marazion and 16 at The Lizard), maybe they were the birds I had seen? I suspect the birds may have been pale bellied types but they were too distant and low to get any detail on (the Marazion birds were pale bellied).

Despite the overcast sky a few butterflies were on the wing, noticeably red admirals, along with a small tortoiseshell, a speckled wood and some whites, but the highlight were 3, possible 4 clouded yellows, my first of the year. They were feeding on thistles in the sheltered corner of the wheatfield but were very flighty and would land on the ground in the stubble of the wheatfield where they just seemed to disappear. Very pleased to see them though and it brings my butterfly list for the year to an amazing 36 species.

 Clouded Yellow

I also had some nice views of a dark bush cricket resting on the fence post along with a longwinged conehead and 2 small common lizards, and there was a lone flounced rustic in the toilet block but the general lack of birds was a bit disappointing.

 Dark Bush Cricket

A perfect autumn day on September 19th and I decided to head out to Wembury again, ditching my original plan to visit Dawlish Warren for the high tide roost. It was a beautiful day - warm, sunny and still - and I wasn't expecting much in the way of birds but it turned out pretty good.
 Stunning views from Wembury Point
The Mewstone, Wembury

No moths were found in the toilet block which wasn't a good start but a grey wagtail feeding on the nearby beach with a pied wagtail was nice to see. Walking along the coast path towards Wembury Point and robins were very noticeable, they seemed to be everywhere and were noisey and feisty with birds regularly seen chasing each other.

 A peregrine calling overhead alerted me to its prescence along with all the roosting gulls on the beach taking to the air. It had a bird in its talons, probably a magpie, and was constantly mobbed by 4 carrion crows as it flew over. A pair of kestrel and 4 buzzads also flew over along with 4 swallows heading east and a lone house martin over Heybrook Bay.

Wembury Point was the place to be with a good range of birds seen. A whimbrel and a common sandpiper on the beach near the sewage pipe kicked things off nicely along with a juvenile/1st winter Mediterranean gull on the nearby rocks, and roosting on the rocks below the cliffs were 9 curlew, 30 oystercatcher and 6 little egrets. A meadow pipit was feeding on the beach with rock pipits and pied- and white wagtails and a few more meadow pipits were heard calling overhead.

Juvenile/1st Winter Mediterranean Gull

Stonechats were noticeable around the old HMS Cambridge rifle range and this was where the bird of the day appeared, a first winter whinchat, flying in to the top of the brambles before being chased off by nearby stonechats. A very smart bird - nice peachy flush on the breast, pale supercilium and plain upperwings with no white markings in flight.

Also around The Point were 5+ whitethroat feeding on blackberrys, 3+ chiffchaff, and 4+ blackcap (1 male) feeding on elderberrys. 3 male cirl buntings were singing with 2 seen and another nice surprise was 1+ juvenile  Dartford warblers flitting around the brambles near a party of stonechats - very active and mobile and skulking and there were probably 2 birds present.
My usual high quality snap of a Dartford Warbler

A peacock, a small tortoiseshell, a holly blue, large white, small white, 2 speckled wood, red admirals, 2 painted lady and a clouded yellow were seen along with a rush veneer, a common carpet and a silver y.

And so a good day out at Wembury at last - a nice range of birds and buterflies, a Chunk pasty and coffee for lunch and a snooze on the beach in the sunshine - perfect!

Saturday 12 September 2015

Quiet on the Migrant Front

Wednesday 9th September and a sunny day, but a planned day out on the beach at Cawsand went out of the window when the ferry across Plymouth Sound to Cawsand from The Barbican was cancelled due to the strong easterly breeze. Instead we caught the ferry across to Mount Batten and went to the beach at Jennycliff where it was more sheltered from the wind. The view from the beach was as stunning as usual especially as it was high tide (if you ignored the flotsam and jetsum litter along the high tide line).

2 noisey kingfishers flew past low over the water towards Bovisand with 1 bird later seen flying back towards Mount Batten - maybe an adult setting up a winter territory and chasing off a young bird? 2 gannets were seen circling around Plymouth Sound and along the beach some alba wagtails dropped in to feed on the seaweed mass including a nice winter plumaged male white wagtail - I never knew that white wagtails moult at the end of summer before migrating and therefore have a shorter moulting period than pied wagtails.

White Wagtail, Jennycliff Beach

Heading home and 4 Sandwich terns were noisely flying around The Cattewater and a juvenile sparrowhawk flew across the water from The Citadel, passing a few feet above my head near Mount Batten Castle as it hunted for dinner despite being harrassed by a noisey swallow.

The following day and I had to visit the dentist in the afternoon to sort my tooth out and so I caught the bus out to Wembury in the morning for a quick walk. Stagecoach have taken over the route from First Bus and have axed the Sunday/Bank Holiday service again - hopefully there won't be any other changes. It was a sunny day again with the strong easterly wind still blowing and the day felt promising but it didn't really deliver.

A male wheatear and a male whitethroat at Wembury Point, a juvenile wheatear in the horse field, a few swallows overhead, and chiffchaffs and blackcaps heard calling in the bushes were the only migrants noted.

The toilet block held a few moths - a magpie moth, 2 flounced rustic, a large yellow underwing, a plume moth and a (late) single dotted wave. 2 silver Y were seen in the valley to the beach as well.

Single Dotted Wave, Wembury

I had the moth box out in the back yard for National Moth Night and on the morning of the 11th I had a nice haul of moths, the best being a treble bar, a male and female four spotted footman (migrants or late residents?) and a clay triple lines which is a new moth for me and one that caused a few ID issues as I thought it could have been something rarer like a Blairs mocha.

 Clay Triple Lines

 Male and Female Four Spotted Footman

Treble Bar

September 11th and a walk along the old railway line from Princetown to Meldon Quarry on Dartmoor was overcast and breezey but the views were quite stunning. A few birds were around including at least 2 juvenile wheatears, a sparrowhawk, meadow pipits, pied wagtails and swallows.

 Wheatear, Princetown


Wednesday 9 September 2015

Osprey at Bowling Green Marsh

Not a good start to the week on Monday 31st August with a long day at work becoming more and more of an endurance test as the tooth I have had trouble with on and off for the past year became increasingly painful. That night I hardly slept due to the pain, the worst pain I have ever experienced, and the following afternoon a visit to the dentist saw instant relief when a hole was drilled in the tooth and a load of muck came out - yuck!

And so a trip to Perranporth on Wednesday 2nd September was a little uncomfortable and I felt sore and groggy from painkillers and antibiotics but at least the sun eventually appeared although it remained cool in a strong northerly breeze. It was a very low tide and we were able to see the remains of the wreck of the La Seine in the surf, only the second time I have seen them.

3 Sandwich terns were roosting along the beach where 3 sanderlings were busily feeding. Offshore gannets and fulmars were passing by and a kestrel flew around the cliffs making quite a noise. A few trout were seen in the stream but the water level was high and the flow fast from all the recent rain and they were mostly hard to see. A painted lady was a nice surprise, I have seen very few of them this year, but best of all was a lesser weaver fish along the beach, the first I have seen. It was lying prone on the sand above the water line but on returning it to the water it promptly buried itself in the sand where it was very well camoflagued.

 Trout, Perranporth
 Lesser Weaver Fish, Perranporth
 Lesser Weaver - showing its poisonous spines
Lesser Weaver

Sandwich Terns, Perranporth

Friday 4th and it was still cool in the northerly breeze and quite overcast and so we had a walk along the coast from Thurlestone to Hope Cove and back. Unfortunately there was some digging work going on at South Huish Marsh so lots of disturbance but I did manage to find a snipe and 5+ dunlin lurking in the vegetation. A further 4 dunlin were seen flying east along the beach where a juvenile Mediterranean gull was feeding in the surf with black headed gulls. 2 juvenile wheatears were also seen, 1 along the beach and 1 in a mown field along the coast path. A hummingbird hawkmoth was a nice surprise feeding on red valerian flowers with small whites and small tortoiseshells. Again there were no yellow wagtails or clouded yellows to be seen.

Juvenile Wheatear, Thurlestone Beach

Sunday 6th and I headed off on the train to Topsham for a look at Bowling Green Marsh. It was sunny and increasingly warm, not what had originally been forecasted, and it was a very pleasant day out. Arriving at the hide at just after 11am and it was virtually empty which was a bit of a surprise. I settled down and scanned around as the waders arrived on the approaching high tide, seeing lapwing, redshank, curlew, dunlin, black tailed godwit, an avocet, a ruff, a spotted redshank and a greenshank. 4 pintail and 13 wigeon with teal and mallard were a taste of autumn but there was no sign of the 16  yellow wagtails seen the previous day although I heard a brief and distant call of a bird flying over.

The highlight was a juvenile osprey which was picked up quite low down as it circled over the River Clyst. Surprisingly it didn't cause any panic amongst the roosting birds on the Marsh and it slowly gained height before disappearing off towards the north east.

A look from the viewing platform and 2 distant Sandwich terns were roosting on a buoy and a post downriver. A smaller tern was roosting on another post further downriver, it was very dark looking and presumably a black tern but the heat haze and distance precluded a definite ID (both a black- and little tern were reported on the Exe that day).

A walk around Goosemoor to Darts Farm was busy with cyclists but from the viewing screens I had some nice views of 27+ greenshanks with black tailed godwits, dunlin, redshank and 2 very nice ruff.

 Dunlin, Black tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Redshank, Greenshank and Ruff - Goosemoor
 Greenshank, Ruff and Shelduck - Goosemoor
Greenshank and Ruff, Goosemoor

A brief stop at Exminster Marsh on the way home to look for yellow wagtails drew a blank, I seem to keep missing them this autumn but at least I had a flight view of one back in the spring.

I have also had the moth trap out in the back yard with a nice mix of moths including a large ranunculus (with a bald head!), one of my favourite moths and a sign that autumn is definitely here.

 Square Spot Rustic, Back Yard Moth Trap
Marbled Beauty, Back Yard Moth Trap
Large Ranunculus, Back Yard Moth Trap

Tuesday 1 September 2015


Some decent overnight weather and I have had the moth box out in the back yard twice in a week! Usual moths for the time of year - old lady, Jersey tiger, lime speck pug, dusky thorn, knot grass, Vines rustic, etc. - along with the usual increase in numbers of large yellow underwings (or rather blunderwings as they are so skittish and disturb everything in the moth box) with a few lesser broad bordered yellow underwings thrown in. No marbled greens again but a marbled beauty was nice to see. Best of all was a new moth for me, a fern, a little worn and a bit of an ID puzzle initially.


Marbled Beauty

A day trip to Bude on August 26th to check the caravan and cut the grass was a bit disappointing. The recent heavy rain meant Maer Lake was full with no muddy margins, not much use for waders including recently reported wood sandpipers. I did see 2 curlew along with eclipse plumaged teal and mallard and a large flock of 200+ Canada geese which contained a lone bar headed goose. Offshore the bright sun and choppy seas meant the only sighting of interest was a lone gannet but at least the toilet blocks at the camp site held a few moths - more large yellow underwings, a magpie moth, a riband wave and a yellow barred brindle (my first for Bude). 2 oak bush crickets were a nice find too.

Despite being the Bank Holiday weekend we headed off for a walk at Stoke Point on August 29th and the scenery was stunning despite the overcast sky. The sea was flat calm and like a polished mirror and on watching a distant flock of gannet resting on the sea or circling around I found at least 5 harbour porpoise briefly surfacing amongst them. A lone shearwater flew east, probably a Manx but it didn't appear to have white underparts and had a very languid looking flight but it was distant and the lack of wind may have affected its flight manner.

On land it was quiet - a kestrel, a raven, 2 buzzards, stonechats and swallows being the highlights - and the lack of sunshine kept the butterfly numbers down with just a wall, a small copper, a male common blue, and a few gatekeepers and meadow browns being seen. Autumn squill was flowering well in its usual place.



 Autumn Squill

Autumn Squill

I had hoped to see some yellow wagtails with reports starting to appear on the internet of birds along the south Devon coast but there was no sight or sound of any birds. I also hoped to see my first clouded yellows of the year but again no luck, it doesn't seem to be a good year for them this year. I didn't even see or hear a yellowhamer either.

August 30th and despite the rain we headed off for a quick walk at Wembury. It stopped raining as we arrived and remained dry for our walk although the path was incredibly muddy and the sky remained grey.

Bird highlights were a ringed plover calling as it flew east, 2 whimbrel along the beach with curlew, oystercatcher, a little egret and 21 mallards (eclipse males and females), plenty of swallows flying overhead, whitethroats skulking in the vegetation at Wembury Point and a juvenile Mediterranean gull with black headed gulls roosting on the rocks. A singing cirl bunting was unusual and there was a flock of around 9 cirl buntings in the sewage farm hedgerow, a tatty looking male and females/juveniles. 3 juvenile wheatears were amongst the rocks along the foreshore. The biggest surprise was a kingfisher flying over the bracken in the valley to the beach - it flew down the valley towards the beach before banking up and flying back up the valley and out of sight, presumably a young bird dispersing and the first time I have seen one at Wembury outside of the winter months.

The toilet block held a dingy footman but best of all a marbled green, my first of the year. 6 common lizards were trying to warm up on the fence posts in the dull weather along with a male long winged cone head and some bloody nose beetles.

Marbled Green

Common Lizards

Again there were no yellow wagtails to be found and no clouded yellows either but it is still early days. With autumn now in full swing I'll keep my fingers crossed.