Tuesday 28 June 2016

High Brown Fritillary on Dartmoor, June 27th 2016

A warm and mostly cloudy day with occasional sunny spells saw us heading off to Dartmeet on Dartmoor for a walk. We parked up in the Badgers Holt car park and strolled off downriver along the Dart, enjoying the song of yellowhammer, chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap along the way.

I hoped to see some insect life especially during the sunny spells we were experiencing at times and I wasn't disappointed.

Beautiful demoiselles were very obvious along the river bank and surrounding vegetation with females easily out numbering the males and I managed to get some lovely views (if not the best photos).

Male Beautiful Demoiselle

 Female Beautiful Demoiselle

 Male Beautiful Demoiselle

Male Beautiful Demoiselle

A green tiger beetle gave some amazing views too - it flew off for a short distance during a cloudy interval when the temperature noticeably dropped and it seemed to run out of steam allowing close approach in a usually skittish insect.

 Green Tiger Beetle

 Green Tiger Beetle

Green Tiger Beetle

A golden ringed dragonfly allowed a quick photo before flying off and a dark skimmer type dragonfly flew by but never appeared again.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Butterflies were on the wing too with some nice views of 2 green hairstreaks, a large white, a speckled wood, a meadow brown and a peacock.

 Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak

Best of all though was a high brown fritillary which I managed to get a few record shots of as it nectared on bramble flowers. I first caught a brief view of it flitting about looking very smart and bright orange but it quickly moved off and out of sight. Initially I thought it was a silver washed fritillary but quickly realised it was either a high brown or a dark green fritillary. I found it again a few minutes later when I managed to ID it as a high brown fritillary and get a few record shots of it before it again flew off and out of sight and I never saw it again. A very nice find though and very pleasing too.

 High Brown Fritillary - showing indented and noticeably small third spot on upper forewing

High Brown Fritillary - zooming in shows the characteristic row of rust-red spots with silver centres on the underwing

Heading home and it had become a lot more cloudy and we stopped off at The Two Bridges Hotel for a belly busting but delicious afternoon tea before driving home via my workplace to visit my sister-in law who continues with yet more ups and downs in her current treatment.

Friday 24 June 2016

Soggy Days in Bude

With 5 days off in a row again the plan was to head off to the caravan in Bude on Sunday 19th for a few days away but the weather was awful with virtually constant rain and so we stayed at home. Monday 20th and the forecast was for the rain to stop at lunchtime and so we too the plunge and headed off to Cornwall. It did indeed stop raining and it was warm and muggy and mostly cloudy during our time away but at least it didn't rain during the day time. It was wet and squelchy underfoot though and the water level at Maer Lake was very high but we had a pleasant time.

Caravan Sunset

With the high water level at Maer Lake the most exciting birds were a grey heron and a pair of teal along with moorhens and mallards while 2 chiffchaffs were busily singing away in the nearby hedgerows. More interesting were the birds offshore with a juvenile kittiwake being the highlight along with a juvenile gannet and a few Manx shearwaters, while 2 fulmars were flying around the cliffs and resting on the cliff ledges. On the clifftops a wheatear was a nice find but just 2 meadow brown and a male common blue were seen on the butterfly front.


A hare was a nice surprise at the caravan site, it looked like a young animal as it ran across the grass before hunkering down in an overgrown patch but it was soon spooked and ran off out of sight. I never saw it again but David disturbed it from cover the next morning as he wandered down to the shop to get the newspaper.

A sparrowhawk overhead at the campsite on a number of occasions caused much panic and noise from the swallows and a whitethroat was regularly heard singing with a second bird singing away along the footpath up to the cliffs.

I had the moth box out overnight on the 20th but had forgotten to bring my egg trays to put in the bottom of the trap and had to use screwed up newspaper instead. It worked well but meant some of the moths unfortunately flew off as I went through the sheets of paper.

I have wanted to have the moth box out for a while at home especially as it was National Moth Nights on 9th-11th June but work and poor overnight weather meant I wasn't able to. The theme for this year was hawkmoths and in my moth trap on the morning of June 21st I had 4 of them - a pristine eyed hawkmoth, 2 worn elephant hawkmoths and a very worn and weak privet hawkmoth.

 Eyed Hawkmoth

 Elephant Hawkmoth

Privet Hawkmoth

Also caught were a crescent dart, an ingrailed clay, common wainscot, buff ermine, white ermine, a lychnis, a brimstone moth, flame, flame shoulder, a snout, setaceous Hebrew character, a barred straw, lots of heart and dart and a large yellow underwing amongst others.

 Ingrailed Clay

Crescent Dart

Sunday 19 June 2016

Wildlife Dawdle at Wembury

Saturday June 18th and I headed off to Wembury for a walk in the warm sunshine to try and sooth my weary soul after a very trying week at work where I have felt tired and irritable, not helped by the bigoted and ignorant comments made to me by a retiring work colleague I have worked alongside for nearly 13 years and the on-going ups and downs of my lovely sister-in-laws haematology treatment on my Unit, now in its 4th week.

I was feeling a bit flat and listless and so my walk turned into a dawdle but I had a very pleasent time enjoying the wildlife and the sunshine and the views.

With the fantastic footage of birds at their nests on Springwatch on BBC2 now at an end for this year it was nice to see various fledglings flitting about - stonechat, whitethroat, robin, blue tit and blackbird young were all seen. Plenty of singing birds seen and heard too including chiffchaff, blackcap, pheasent, whitethroat, linnet, wren, cirl bunting, dunnock and stonechat.

 Male Whitethroat

 Male Whitethroat

Male Cirl Bunting

Along the beach a little egret, a curlew, 3 male mallards, oystercatchers and 3 rock pipits were seen while a raven and 3 buzzards flew overhead along with a swift, a bird I don't see very often at Wembury.

Butterflies were on the wing and I had nice views of my first 2 meadow brown of the year along with 3 painted lady, 2 small tortoiseshell, 1 male orange tip, 2 large skipper, 1 male common blue and small whites. No moths in the toilet block but I did find 6 spot burnet and lackey moth caterpillars and a gallium carpet disturbed from the vegetation along with a faded diamond back moth on a daisy flower.

 Large Skipper

 Meadow Brown

 Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Diamond Back Moth

3 common lizards including a large green one with a damaged tail and bloody nose beetles were also seen including yet another pair mating -  perhaps I should come back as a bloody nose beetle in my next life!

After a pasty and coffee for lunch at the cafe I caught the bus home, stopping off at The Morley Arms by Laira Bridge to look at 2 clumps of pyramidal orchids growing on the grass verge that I had noticed earlier on the bus ride out. One clump was more advanced with the flowers open but the second clump had yet to flower fully - I hope they get a move on before the council comes along and mows the grass.
Pyramidal Orchid

I wandered over to Blagdons Meadow, a Plymouth City Council nature reserve, where a rowing club meet was taking place at the clubhouse at the top end and it was very sad to see loads of cars parking up on the grass of the meadow. The site has a locked gate which was open so I guess the Council had allowed the parking, you wouldn't think the meadow was a County Wildlife Site with rare plants and invertebrates present.

I had a wander around and found 2 meadow browns and 2 common blues in the increasingly cloudy conditions but there was no sign of any small heath again. Plenty of burnet companion moths were flitting about but many were showing signs of wear and had lost their orangey hindwing colouring.

 Meadow Brown

Burnet Companion

False Oil Beetle

The southern marsh orchids were also starting to go over and had turned much paler but were still putting on quite a show. I also found 5 bee orchids which were weedy and straggly looking especially when compared to the large and robust specimen I found at Billacombe Railway 2 weeks ago.

 Southern Marsh Orchid

 Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Heading home and I felt a little better about life, the universe and everything, wildlife certainly helps to keep me sane and anchored to my place in the world.

Sunday 12 June 2016

Dartmoor Butterfly Walk

Saturday June 11th and after work I headed off to Yelverton to meet Mavis and Mike for a charity butterfly walk near Walkhampton in support of Childrens Hospice South West. The charity is 25 years old this year and their fundraising theme for this year is butterflies so the walk seemed very apt.

As I left work the sun was beginning to appear from behind the clouds and it was warm and humid so I kept my fingers crossed for some interesting insect sightings including the headliner for the walk, marsh fritillaries.

The walk had been arranged by some friends of Mavis and Mike who farm near Walkhampton and where some habitat is specifically managed for marsh fritillaries with the assistance of Butterfly Conservation and Government grants. The farm was beautiful with a gorgeous garden and Linda and Barry were wonderful hosts who had put in a lot of time and effort along with various volunteers to put on an excellent walk and afternoon tea in aid of Childrens Hospice South west.

Two tractors pulling trailers headed off from the farm up onto the Moor to the first site where marsh fritllaries have been seen but as the trailers were full I ended up walking to the site which involved quite a steep walk uphill. I arrived hot and out of puff but the views were stunning and I saw a smart male redstart along the way.

A lady called Jenny from Butterfly Conservation gave a short talk about marsh fritillaries and their habitat management which was very interesting - marsh fritillaries certainly are high maintenance creatures! - and on the walk down to the fritillary field I saw a nice male wheatear along with lots of fluffy cotton grass.

By now it had clouded over but it was still warm and humid and I quickly found lots of heath spotted orchids in flower which were mostly very pale coloured.

 Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid

There was no sign of any butterflies but a brief call from a cuckoo, both a garden warbler and a willow warbler singing from cover and a male reed bunting flying over kept me entertained as I wandered through the boggy grass admiring the orchids and disturbing lots of small and pale micro moths of unknown species.

I eventually found a butterfly, a small heath, but it soon flew off when it was chased by what looked like a large skipper.

Small Heath

I also found a few macro moths - a silver y, a burnet companion and best of all a chimney sweeper which quickly disappeared off into the undergrowth.

Chimney Sweeper - record shot

A large red damselfly and a female keeled skimmer, a new dragonfly species for me, were also seen and as we walked off back towards the tractors for the journey to the second fritillary site I found a green hairstreak, a little worn but nice to see.

 Large Red Damselfly

Green Hairstreak

One tractor took some of the group back to the farm with the second tractor heading off to the second fritillary site. Dark clouds were beginning to roll in and this time I had an uncomfortable ride on the trailer. As we walked down to the fritillary field it began to rain and by now I wasn't hopeful of seeing anything but amazingly Jenny found a marsh fritillary on a heath spotted orchid - I thought she was joking but there it was despite the rain!

 Marsh Fritillary on Heath Spotted Orchid

 Marsh Fritillary

 Marsh Fritillary

 Marsh Fritillary

Marsh Fritillary

A small frog clambouring through the tussocky grass and another female keeled skimmer were also seen before we headed back to the farm and as we began the walk back the rain stopped and the sun came out - typical!

Keeled Skimmer - female

I did have an interesting talk with Jenny about the All The Moor Butterflies project being carried out by Butterfly Conservation to encourage landowners to manage habitat for fritillaries on Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin Moor which has been running for a few years now and the project that farmers Barry and Linda are a part of  - farmers can often get a bad rap but Barry and Linda are doing a wonderful job of managing their farm alongside the wildlife and doing so very quietly and unassumingly. To open up their land for a charity walk is even more admiral and I hope the project gets more landowners involved for the benefit of fritillaries and ultimately other wildlife.

I enjoyed a cup of tea and a delicious piece of home made coffee and walnut cake on our return to the farm but I was unlucky in the raffle. Everybody present seemed to have had an enjoyable and informative day despite the weather and not everybody seeing the marsh fritillary and I believe around £585 was raised for Childrens Hospice South West - not a bad day all round!

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Shrike One! - Red Backed Shrike, Plymouth

June 7th and after a busy day at work I was settling down to watch Pointless on the TV when I decided to have a quick look at the bird sightings pages on the internet. Nothing much on the DBWPS page or on Wildlife in Devon but there on Birdguides was a report of a male red backed shrike at Chelson Meadow in Plymouth just 90 minutes previously - what! Binoculars and camera grabbed and off I went with all thoughts of watching Pointless gone!

Walking from Laira Bridge to Chelson Meadow and 2 painted lady butterflys feeding on red valerian by the footpath briefly stalled me from my main objective but I quickly carried on to the area where the shrike had been seen. On arrival I scanned around but there was no sign of it but common blues, yellow shells, burnet companions, singing skylarks, cooing stock doves, a singing willow warbler and swallows and house martins collecting mud from a small puddle kept me occupied in the hot sunshine.

I thought I could make out a bird half hidden in some willow trees in the distance but on heading over to them I lost sight of it and thought I had imagined it. However on checking a nearby wooden fence I first saw a skylark and then further along the fence there it was - a stunning male red backed shrike!

Red Backed Shrike

It looked a little wary and soon flew off towards the willows where I lost track of it. Waiting patiently I kept an eye out for it but without success until a group of swallows began making a noise and swooping over some nearby bushes and there it was again, giving some lovely views as it was mobbed by the swallows and watched closely by nearby goldfinches, greenfinches and a female blackcap.

 Red Backed Shrike

Red Backed Shrike

It soon tired of the fuss and noise and flew off again back towards the willows before reappearing a bit later on top of a gorse bush where again it was mobbed by swallows overhead.

Red Backed Shrike

It was mostly wary and mobile with the views mostly distant and difficult at times in the harsh light but it was lovely to watch it swooping down to the ground chasing after insects before returning to its perch. An absolutely gorgeous looking bird and a pleasant end to the day - I certainly wasn't bored now!