Friday 27 May 2016

Dartmoor Day 2016 and Deja vu at Bude

Monday May 23rd and the last day of my holiday and it was off to Dartmoor for the day with Mavis - no Mike again as he is still having health issues and with Mavis having some mobility issues too we had a slightly different day than usual.

A juvenile lammergier (a first for the UK) had been found on Dartmoor while I was away on the Isle of Wight last week but was proving to be elusive and mobile. We kept our eyes open for it throughout the day but with no luck - it had decided to head down to Bodmin Moor in Cornwall! Never mind.

It was sunny but breezey and cool as seems to be the theme this spring but we had an excellent day despite this. We started off at Yarner Wood with 3 male and a female mandarin duck showing well from the hide feeding on seeds on the ground dropped from the bird feeders - the female was quite aggressive and regularly chased off the males. Watching the feeders and marsh tit, blue tit, great tit and coal tit were seen along with great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, siskin and chaffinch.

Male Mandarin Duck

We walked up the footpath into the woods and Mavis found a nice spotted flycatcher feeding in the canopy. A wood warbler was singing away nearby and we had some good views although it stayed up in the canopy and was constantly on the move. It had a silver ring above a yellow ring on its left leg and a green ring over an orange ring on its right. A pair of redstarts showed well with the male heard singing for brief periods and pied flycatchers were also heard with good views of both  male and females amongst the trees and around the nest boxes.

 Male Redstart

Pied Flycatcher

We walked up to the heathland, hearing noisey great spotted woodpeckers chicks in their nest in a dead tree by the footpath along the way and seeing the female come in with a beakful of food - while looking up at the nest hole a hobby flew over the trees, something we would have otherwise missed.

On the heatland we had nice views of a songflighting tree pipit, a male whitethroat, a "cha-cha-cha-ing" redpoll, stonechat and a green woodpecker.

A few butterflies were on the wing - green veined white, a very tatty peacock and male and female brimstones.

A very tatty Peacock Butterfly

We had lunch at a cafe in Widdecombe which was very nice before heading to Challacombe Farm. Mavis was struggling a bit with walking by this time so we had a gentle stroll around the farm, seeing a female redstart, a male reed bunting, a stock dove, a male kestrel and 2 spotted flycatchers along with the usual birds. 2 garden warblers were heard singing but didn't show themselves and swallows and house martins were flitting about over the stream.

Marsh Marigolds, Challacombe Farm

We had a chat with the lady who runs the farm and she had seen the wandering lammergier 3 times over the past week including a great view of it as it perched in pine trees opposite the farm house - we were not the slightest bit jealous!

Moving on to Warren House Inn in the car and whinchats and wheatears showed well along the roadside while an unseen cucko called regularly.

 Male Whinchat

Male Whinchat

At Warren House we heard another cuckoo and eventually found it in the top of a tree before it flew off, a distant view but a nice end to our day. No lammergier but a great day none the less.

Wednesday May 25th and it was off to Bude for the day for a bit of deja vu. Having put up the awning and sorting out the caravan a few weeks ago we had to do it all again - the stitching on the awning had come undone and so everything was packed away and the awning taken down (not by us) for it to be repaired. It was cool but sunny and did warm up as the day went on and eventually it was all sorted out (again).

A quick look at Maer Lake and 2 singing chiffchaffs, a male gadwall, 2 black tailed godwits and 2 shelducks mating were the highlights while at the caravan a songflighting whitethroat, a male bullfinch and 2 adult robins feeding a fledgling were seen.

A large white and a male orange tip were seen and there were 3 moths in the toilet block - a pale tussock and 2 white ermine - but with new LED lights being installed in the toilet blocks I guess I will be seeing less moths in them in the future.

Pale Tussock

White Ermine

Tuesday 24 May 2016

New Forest Woodlarks

Arriving back on the mainland at Lymington on Saturday 21st May and we headed off to the nearby Beaulieu Motor Museum. It was a little early so we stopped off along the way at Hatchett Pond, apparently the largest body of fresh water in the New Forest National Park, and I had a quick walk around while David read the paper. A willow warbler was heard singing and meadow pipits and skylarks were seen songflighting. 2 oystercatchers were asleep on a grassy bank and 2 mute swans were tending to 2 cygnets. Best find was a common tern roosting on a wooden post before flying up and down the pond on the hunt for breakfast.

Common Tern

Beaulieu was interesting but I didn't enjoy the motor museum as much as I enjoyed the Haynes motor museum but at least I also had a stately home, a ruined abbey, a monorail , free Wi-Fi in the cafĂ© and a walled garden to keep me occupied.

After visiting Beaulieu we headed off to a hotel near Beaulieu Road station which was very nice and wonderfully isolated in the middle of heathland, bogs and woods despite being on a main road and a busy railway line. The weather had been warm and pleasant at the motor museum but it was cool and cloudy by the time we reached the hotel. After a quick pint I headed off out for a look around but only saw stonechats, meadow pipits and siskins for my troubles but heading back to the hotel and swallows and house martins were having a hissy fit overhead, giving away the presence of a nice hobby casually circling around before drifting off out of sight, a juvenile bird with little red feathering in the thigh area.

After dinner I headed out again as dusk was falling but it was cold and windy with spits of rain at times. I heard a distant cuckoo calling in the woods and curlews giving their bubbling calls in the bogs but the best was a nightjar churring on the heath, distant and infrequent and difficult to hear at times with noise from the road, the trains and the wedding disco music from the hotel.

The following day and the forecast was dreadful - wet, cold and windy - but there appeared to be a brief drier window early in the morning and so I was up and out at 6am. It was cold with mizzle and drizzle and occasional light rain but I headed off anyway, not expecting to see much at all.

Heading off over the heath and a surprise was a brief churr from a nightjar in the area I had heard one the previous night, most odd in the early morning daylight. Stonechats and meadow pipits were flitting about and a common buzzard flew over. A cuckoo was heard calling and I had a brief view as it flew off from cover in a tree,

Reaching the woodland edge and I disturbed 2 birds feeding in the grass, noting their short tails as they flew off. Fortunately they landed nearby and I was delighted to see they were woodlarks, a well developed fledgling bird with an adult. The adult had distinct pale supercillia which met at the back of the nape and a small black and white mark at the bend of the wing. I had some nice views as they moved through the grass and I was very pleased to find them despite the weather, being my second sighting ever since my first in Suffolk in 1989(!).


Fledgling Woodlark




The adult bird then stopped feeding and crouched down, giving a quiet song before flying up and being joined by the fledgling. They chased after a 3rd bird that I hadn't noticed feeding nearby and all 3 birds flew off calling and giving brief snatches of song before disappearing from view. Later I heard the distant singing of a bird from the direction they had flown off but I never saw them again.

I came across a large pool surrounded by sedges where a little egret and grey heron were feeding along with mallards while 2 lapwings noisily displayed overhead at times. Along the woodland edge I saw a pair of redstarts and then a second male bird with a third male bird heard only. A cuckoo continued to call and was joined briefly by a second bird but I never caught a sight of them.

Female Redstart

A badger ran across the footpath right in front of me - it scared the shit out of me and at first I thought it was a dog as it looked quite black, probably due to the wet weather, but I caught a good view of its black and white face before it disappeared -  my first badger sighting other than dead ones by the roadside.

I heard curlews calling over the bogs and had a distant flight view of 1 bird and I also saw at least 3 distant snipe in drumming display flight but I couldn't hear them in the wind. A reed bunting was singing away and I found some pretty flowers in the bog amongst the cotton grass, on checking my guide book they were bogbean, a new plant for me.


Back at the hotel and a nice male yellowhammer was feeding in the field from the bedroom window but the weather had worsened and it was now raining heavily. After breakfast we headed off to Kingston Lacey in Dorset, a National Trust house we visited last year but where we had been unable to see all the rooms on that visit - this time we saw all the rooms open to the public and had a wet walk around the gardens and allotments before heading back to Plymouth.

Male Yellowhammer

And so it had been a great trip away, some amazing wildlife sightings and pleasantly exhausting - sometimes I am a really lucky guy.

Monday 23 May 2016

Butterfly Island

With the Isle of Wight being the only place in the UK where Glanville fritillaries are found it was off to Southampton on Monday 17th May to catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight for a few days away. It was nice to see lots of early purple orchids flowering by the roadside along the A38 and the Devon bit of the A303, not so nice were the usual dead birds and animals by the roadside which this time included a fox and a roe deer.

We stopped at Mottisfont Estate near Romsey on the way to Southampton, a National Trust house and gardens we haven't visited before. It was very interesting and I managed to see a red kite flying high overhead on what was a warm and sunny day. Some large trout were seen in the river running through the gardens and I saw a nice beautiful demoiselle perched on the riverside vegetation and a holly blue flying through the woods.

The hour long ferry trip from Southampton to Cowes was very pleasent in the sunshine and we enjoyed a beer as I watched common terns and Sandwich terns fly past with the usual gulls.

The weather forecast for the week wasn't looking too good but the forecast seemed to change 12 hourly meaning we had to constantly adjust our plans, especially my butterfly plans which would need sunny and dry conditions, something that looked to be in short supply while we were going to be on the island.

Tuesday 17th was bright and sunny but cool and breezey and with cloud forecast for later in the day we headed off in the morning to The Needles and The Old and New Batteries. The Needles seemed smaller than I remember but The Batteries, managed by the National Trust, were very interesting, especially the New Battery where the British space programme was conducted under top security in the 1950's, something I knew nothing about.

The Needles, Isle of Wight

I managed to find a lone adult gannet flying past offshore along with a peregrine and kestrel along the clifftops and a raven busily devouring a dead rabbit. Whitethroats were heard singing and I saw my first butterfly of the trip, a very smart red admiral.

We then headed off along the south coast and stopped off at Whiteways Quarry, now a small car park off the main road and a top spot for butterflies. Unfortunately it was starting to cloud over earlier than forecasted and on arriving 3 butterfliers were already there with 1 of them having seen 3 Glanville Fritillaries earlier before the cloud rolled in - damn!

However I quickly found a wall and a grizzled skipper on a bare piece of chalky soil and scanning the vegetation along the back of the car park where it was sheltered from the wind I quickly found a small blue, a new butterfly for me - it was small but not really blue, being more a smokey grey, but it was very smart and beautiful nonetheless.

 Small Blue

 Small Blue

Small Blue

Small Blue

Scanning around further and I found at least 2 green hairstreaks, a small heath, a brown argus, at least another 2 small blues and a pair of common blue mating. I also saw a female Adonis blue  - I wasn't sure at the time but since returning home and checking my photos I realise it was indeed one.

 Common Blues mating

 Female Common Blue

 Grizzled Skipper

 Brown Argus

 Green Hairstreak

Small Heath

Female Adonis Blue

Female Adonis Blue

The two other butterfliers present had earlier seen Glanville fritillaries in a sheltered chine further along the coast road and so after getting my fill of some quality views of quality butterflies we headed off for a look. I found the chine but the wind was blowing right up it and the now total lack of sunshine meant that it was chilly too - a dark butterfly flew past but quickly disappeared from sight but was it a Glanville? After a fruitless search to refind it it was time to head off to Carisbrooke Castle and with a sense of frustration and impending dipping.

Beetle Sp. on Thrift - common along the cliffs

The next day was wet and windy and we headed off to the Roman villa at Brading but by lunchtime there were flashes of blue in the sky and the rain eventually stopped and so we headed off to Wheelers Bay at Ventnor, a good spot for Glanvilles and somewhere I expected to be sheltered from the wind. However it was very windswept and all I managed to find were 2 small whites battling over the flower clad cliffsides. Expecting another dip I caught sight of a dark butterfly flitting amongst the red valerian in a small and  sheltered ravine and checking it out with binoculars it was indeed a Glanville fritillary - result! It kept disappearing amongst the vegetation and frustratingly stayed some distance away from the footpath but I did get a few record shots and at least I had seen one.

My first Glanville Fritillary

Heading back to the car and I kept my eyes open and amazingly while wandering through some boulders by the footpath in a slightly more sheltered area I disturbed a Glanville from the ground. It landed in some bushes and I got some nice shots of its beautiful underwings. Even more amazing was being able to pick it up and observe it very close too as it enjoyed the warmth of mammalian skin - it didn't want to move and so we carefully placed it on the underside of some leaves to protect it from ominous looking rain clouds that were fast approaching.

 Glanville Fritillary - beautiful underside of wings

 Glanville Fritillary - warming up in Davids hand

 Glanville Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary

We had a quick walk on nearby Bonchurch Down, a good site for Adonis blues, but by now it was cold, cloudy and windy and it eventually began to rain and as a result it was totally butterflyless and so we headed off back to the hotel - but at least I had seen my target butterfly and the main purpose of my trip so at least I could now relax.

The next morning was warm and sunny but breezey and before heading off to Osborne House we drove to a sheltered quarry at Brook Down, another top butterfly site. The road to the quarry was closed due to resurfacing work so we walked uphill and across fields to the quarry where it was very warm in the sunshine and where butterflies were whizzing about - small blues, orange tip, grizzled skipper, dingy skipper and.....Adonis blues doing common blue impressions. Another result!

Brook Down Quarry

 Dingy Skipper

Small Blue

 Small Blue

AdonIs Blue - showing a peek of its brilliant blue upperwings

 Grizzled Skipper

 Dingy Skipper

The Adonis blues were a little worn and faded and I wasn't sure about their ID as despite being very blue I wasn't sure if they were blue enough and the black markings in the white borders giving a chequered effect didn't seem quite complete enough. I uploaded the 3 photos below to the excellent UK Butterflies website for ID help and quickly received a very detailed and scientific reply.

 Adonis Blue

 Adonis Blue - with damaged wings

Adonis Blue

Here is the reply I received :-

"These are all Adonis.

There are lots of reasons for this, some more subtle than others. The group of blues that Adonis belongs to (Lysandra) have prominent androconial furriness in the forewings that common blues lack. All these show this clearly [EDIT: the middle picture shows this clearly - the others indirectly], so cannot be common blues. The fringes are also a good sign. Common blue may show chequering in the inner half of the fringe, which is darker in tone than the outer, but all these show dark marks extending into the outer half of the fringe - and the inner half is not darker.

These are the obvious signs. There are other more subtle signs that come with experience of both butterflies".

Below are yet more photos of what were very beautiful butterflies and ones that I was very pleased to see.

 Adonis Blue

 Adonis Blue

 Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue

A bonus was a field above the quarry full of green winged orchids, a new orchid for me and unexpected.

 Green Winged Orchid

 Green Winged Orchid

 Green Winged Orchid - close up of green veins on petals

Green Winged Orchid - white form

On the drive to Osborne House we passed the chine where I had seen the flyby butterfly species a few days before and so a quick stop for a quick look did reveal a Glanville fritillary flitting about in the sunshine - some good views again and in a more natural setting than Davids hands!

 Glanville Fritillary

Glanville Fritillary

Osborne House was very interesting and I added speckled wood, green veined white and brimstone to my butterfly list but even better was a red squirrel running around the cafe tables at the Swiss cottage - I had hoped to see one but wasn't really expecting to.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Durbar Room, Osborne House

The next day and it was an early morning ferry trip from Yarmouth back to the mainland at Lymington. More common terns and Sandwich terns were seen on the crossing but a surprise were eider ducks around the estuary mouth - 5 males, an immature male and 2 females.

And so my butterfly trip was a great success despite the iffy weather and with a few nice birds, a new orchid, my first English red squirrel, history and culture, beautiful scenery and good food to boot as well - a really good time away