Sunday 30 April 2017

Yarner Wood Wood Warbler

Saturday 29th April and it was off to Yarner Wood with Mavis for the Plymouth RSPB field trip on what was a mostly cloudy and breezey and cold morning. I am not a fan of bird group field trips (other than coach trips) but I wasn't going to turn down a lift to Yarner Wood and the walk and company were quite pleasent with some good bird sightings. It was also nice that some members of the group got to see some new birds too.

The car park at Yarner Wood was packed with cars but devoid of bird song in the chilly conditions although siskins feeding on the bird seed feeders in front of the hide were mobile and flighty and vocal. The water level in the pond  in front of the hide was very low but we had good views of a grey wagtail, 4 male mandarin duck and a pair of mallards while we watched coal tit, blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, chaffinch and nuthatch on the feeders along with the siskins.


Walking up the main path from the car park and a redstart was briefly heard singing along with a pied flycatcher and a wood warbler. We couldn't find the redstart but eventually I found the pied flycatcher high in the trees before it flew off while a treecreeper provided a distraction feeding on a  nearby tree trunk. The wood warbler continued to constantly sing and eventually we managed to get some excellent views of a very confiding but mobile and unringed bird with a second bird briefly heard singing nearby.

 Wood Warbler

 Wood Warbler

 Wood Warbler

Wood Warbler

A walk up to the heath meant full exposure to the chilly wind but we managed to see 2 songflighting tree pipits, a pair of stonechat, linnets, willow warblers and swallows. A hobby high overhead was a good find but all too brief as it dashed off but later 2 birds were seen together very high overhead before they moved off out of sight.

Back in the woods and we managed to get some great views of 2 singing male redstarts along with a pair of pied flycatchers (I only managed to see the female), a male blackcap and a female great spotted woodpecker.


Other birds seen were raven, chiffchaff, a male bullfinch, buzzards, woodpigeon, wren, robin and blackbird and at the end of the walk as we ate lunch in the car we watched a male pied flycatcher in the holly bushes right in front of us, a good end to a pleasent morning.

Heading home over Dartmoor and we had a quick stop at Challacombe Farm where a very red faced male redpoll singing and songflighting and a male redstart flitting about in the trees were the highlights with a pair of wheatear, house martins, swallows, mistle thrush, a grey wagtail and house sparrows also seen.

While waiting at Yelverton for the bus home to Plymouth I found a recently squashed oil beetle on the footpath, a sad sight, but nearby I found another unsquashed one which I photographed and moved off into the nearby vegetation out of harms way, a nice end to the day.

 Oil Beetle

Oil Beetle

Friday 28 April 2017

Cuckoos at Cuckoo Rock, Burrator

Thursday 27th April and it was off to Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor for a walk on a cool but sunny day. The wind was very fresh especially when the sun disappeared behind the clouds but it was a pleasent walk to Cuckoo Rock and I managed to get good views of a very vocal but flighty and mobile cuckoo with a second bird also heard.

 Cuckoo, Cuckoo Rock



Also seen were mistle thrush, meadow pipit, a very tatty looking buzzard, 2 pied wagtails, a raven being mobbed by a jackdaw, a wheatear and a brief view of a male redstart with a second bird heard singing. Also heard were a nuthatch, chiffchaff, willow warblers and blackcap.


On the reservoir 2 summer plumaged grest crested grebes were sleeping, I think my first sighting here, but they were buzzed awake by a flyby adult great black backed gull before indulging in some display together. 2 sand martins were flying low over the water along with a few swallows and 3 male mallards were loafing around.

We had tea and cake at  nearby Buckland Abbey and a walk around the gardens after was enjoyable with at least 6 swallows flying around the buildings and a peregrine falcon soaring high overhead. And on the drive home a nice surprise was a pair of red legged partridge running across the road near Lopwell.

Thursday 27 April 2017

Grenofen Woods and Wembury

Sunday 23rd April and after a brief visit to father-in-law at the nursing home at Woolwell we headed off to Grenofen Woods for a walk on a gorgeous sunny day. Bird wise it was very quiet with the highlights being a male yellowhammer, 3 mistle thrush, a swallow and a buzzard with blackcap, chiffchaff and willow warbler seen and heard. I thought I heard the alarm call of a redstart but it quickly went quiet and I couldn't find it amongst the trees.

On checking the web sighting pages that evening it seems that Wembury was the place to have been with a mini fall of waders - sanderling, ringed plover, dunlin, grey plover and a very nice curlew sandpiper - and so I headed out there on Monday 24th April on the bus although I held out little hope of seeing them.

Needless to say there was no sign of the waders other than oystercatchers and at least 5 mobile and flighty whimbrel but I did eventually see 3 grey plover, 1 in winter plumage and 2 in partial summer plumage. They were pointed out to me roosting on the rocks by another birder and they were quite vocal and flighty. Another 5 whimbrel were also seen flying east offshore.


Whitethroats were much in evidence with singing and songflighting males all along the walk and chiffchaffs and blackcaps were seen and heard too. A few swallows were flitting about and a lone house martin was flying around at Wembury Point with another 3 seen over the village. Otherwise the usual birds were seen - stonechats, cirl buntings, linnets, 2 Canada geese, 5 shelduck, a little egret, a grey heron, a pair of mallard, a gannet, a coal tit in the pines at The Point and a rock pipit.

I found a brimstone moth and a wormwood pug in the toilet block which I caught and released outside and along the coast path walk I found 3 lackey moth caterpillar nests and a speckled yellow. Male orange tips were very noticeable flying around and I also saw 2 holly blue and 2 peacock butterflies.

 Brimstone Moth

 Wormwood Pug

 Wormwood Pug (without flash)

 Wormwood Pug (with flash)

 Faded Peacock

 Lackey Moth Caterpillar Nest

Lackey Moth Larva

Thursday 20 April 2017

River Exe Day Out

Wednesday 19th April and after a busy Easter weekend at work I needed to get out birding on what was a beautiful and sunny and warm day. I wasn't sure where to go and in the end decided to head to Exminster Marshes on the River Exe for a look around.

I arrived at Exminster Marsh at around 9:30 and decided to head along the back path rather than visit Powderham Marsh first, a decision that proved to be very fortuitous. As I walked along the path I heard blackcap, chiffchaff and reed warblers and sedge warblers and with a bit of patience I managed to get some decent views of them. The sedge warblers were easiest to see due to their occassional song flights whereas the reed warblers often kept low down in the reed bases and out of sight.

Reed Warbler, Exminster Marsh

Sedge Warbler, Exminster Marsh

I reached the picnic area and was checking out the corrugated sheets for grass snakes and slow worms when I flushed a large raptor out of the small trees which flew off onto the marsh. At first I thought it was a buzzard but quickly realised it was a short eared owl! I refound it sat on the grass out on the marsh with a most disgruntled look on its face before it flew back to the trees. It then flushed again and this time circled up high before drifting over the railway line towards Powderham Marsh and out of sight but it was a very nice find and my best views ever.

 Short Eared Owl, Exminster Marsh

 Short Eared Owl

 Short Eared Owl

Short Eared Owl

A few ducks were still present around the marsh - a pair of tufted duck, 3 male and a female shoveler, a male and 2 female pintail, teal, mallard and 2 male and 4 female wigeon were seen along with Canada geese, mute swan, coot, moorhen, displaying lapwings, 2 black tailed godwit and 2 pairs of display flighting oystercatchers.

Mute Swan

I carried on along the foot path and then joined the canal towpath where there seemed to be singing and song flighting sedge warblers in every bush. I also found a small dragonfly perched on the path side vegetation and was pleased to ID it as a female hairy dragonfly, a new species for me.

 Hairy Dragonfly, Exminster Marsh

  Hairy Dragonfly

 Hairy Dragonfly

I decided at the last minute to catch the foot ferry across the river to Topsham and to go and have a look around Bowling Green Marsh on the incoming tide. At the viewing platform over the River Clyst I bumped into my mates Mavis and Mike, a very pleasent surprise and good to see them out and about. They were heading off to the hide so after a quick look off the platform I went to join them - the light was harsh and hazy and the tide was not a very high tide so birds were distant and difficult to view but I did see bar tailed godwits, common gulls and redshanks along with 9 greenshank and a summer plumaged spotted redshank. It was a shame the views of the spotted redshank were not that great as they are such stunning birds in summer plumage.

I met Mavis and Mike at the hide but it was fairly quiet on Bowling Green Marsh with 3 whimbrel flying over and a roost of black tailed godwits being seen along with a pair of gadwall, a pair of pintail, teal, mallard, tufted duck and a few remaining wigeon. A very dark backed lesser black backed gull was roosting with the herring gulls which I called as a great black backed until I was corrected, I never have much luck with gulls!

There was no sign of the 3 reported ruff with birders in the hide stating they had flown off towards Goosemoor earlier and so I walked over to the Goosemoor viewing platform to have a look for them. I eventually found them amongst the feeding black tailed godwit flock but again the views were distant and hazy and they were also quite nervous looking and a bit twitchy and flighty, unlike the godwits they were feeding with.

I had another quick look from the hide before saying goodbye to Mavis and Mike and heading back over the river to Exminster Marsh on the foot ferry. Things were much the same at Exminster Marsh but I added a large and brown toned female peregrine, a great spotted woodpecker, 4 house martins, small tortoiseshells and a female brimstone butterfly to the day list.

Hawthorn Blossom, Exminster

I caught the bus back to Starcross and while waiting for the train I watched 2 distant Sandwich terns fishing along the river where around 100 distant pale bellied brent geese were roosting on the water off Lympstone and 12 turnstones were roosting on the pontoons.

I got off the train at Dawlish Warren for a quick 60 minute look around before catching the next train back to Plymouth but it was fairly quiet with just gulls and gannets offshore, a little grebe feeding a chick on the main pond with 2 reed warblers chuntering away in the reeds, a small copper butterfly flitting about and a lone green winged orchid beginning to go over being the highlights.

 Small Copper, Dawlish Warren

 Green Winged Orchid, Dawlish Warren

Green Winged Orchid, Dawlish Warren

Quite a day out with some very good sightings - it should keep me going for a few days!

Sunday 16 April 2017

Whimbrels, Whitethroat and a few Moths

Monday 10th April and a walk along the coast path between Thurlestone and Hope Cove with a look at South Huish Marsh along the way was very pleasent in the sunshine and not too busy with Easter holiday makers. A good selection of birds have been reported recently from South Huish Marsh - cattle egret, glaucous gull, Iceland gull, garganey, house martin - but I saw none of them! Annoyingly both the gulls and garganey were reported that afternoon but that is birdwatching for you.

I did see a good selection of birds on the marsh though - 2 shelduck, a male shoveler, 2 mute swan, teal, mallard, Canada geese, 2 swallow, 3 male and 2 female wheatear, a 1st summer Mediterranean gull, an adult summer black headed gull, a flyover raven, 2 buzzard and herring and great black backed gulls.

The toilet block at Thurlestone golf course had a few moths inside which were nice to see - 3 water carpet, an early thorn, a dotted border and 2 v pug.

 Water Carpet

Dotted Border

Thursday 13th April and it was off to Wembury for a walk on a mostly sunny morning. As I got off the bus a whimbrel flew over heading inland giving its lovely call, a good start to the walk. Again it wasn't too busy but it was high tide and disturbance by dog walkers on the beach at Wembury Point meant the 6 whimbrel I found trying to roost on the rocks were constantly on the move until the tide receeded and they could settle down further out on the reef. The roosting oystercatchers sat tight, I guess they are more used to humans, but 2 dunlin disturbed from the beach flew off east, never to be seen again. It was interesting to read an article in Devon Birds which had arrived in the post the previous day concerning the waders at Wembury over the years and the decrease in numbers reported and the increase in disturbance, something I have noticed too in the years that I have been birding at Wembury.




Cirl buntings were much more showy again on this visit with 3 males and a female seen and a male heard. No sign of the Dartford warbler in the new place but I did see a male whitethroat songflighting in the area and from experience the Wembury Dartford warblers do not tolerate whitethroats in their spot.

Chiffchaffs were seen and heard, 6 shelduck were together on the cliff tops at The Point, 9 male and a female mallard were along the beach, 2 swallows flew over, blackcaps were heard singing and a male white wagtail was singing and feeding on the rocks but otherwise it was fairly quiet.




White Wagtail

A lone speckled wood was seen along with a red admiral feeding on the sloe blossoms.

Red Admiral

Scorpion Fly

Heading home and I stopped off at Laira Bridge for a look at what has been done at Billacombe Railway "nature" reserve, owned by Plymouth City Council. As suspected the cycle path has been extended from the old railway bridge and through the nature reserve with a total loss of the habitat that was once there - so no more bee orchids, pyramidal orchids, southern marsh orchids, common lizard, slow worms, common blue or burnet companions, very sad. The path is not yet complete with the final stretch yet to be built but I guess that is the end of Billacombe Railway nature reserve - RIP.

Billacombe Railway "Nature" Reserve

I walked over to nearby Blagdons Meadow nature reserve where everything was fortunately as normal and I found some early purple orchids and cuckoo flowers in bloom along with a speckled wood butterfly. Out on the mudflats at low tide were a Canada goose, 6 little egret, shelducks and gulls. A brimstone moth was found on the wall by the lights in the nearby underpass and a chiffchaff flitted about in the hedgerow but remained silent.

 Early Purple Orchid

Brimstone Moth

A quick walk again at Wembury on Saturday 15th April and on the high tide there were now  12 whimbrel trying to roost on the rocks at The Point and constantly being disturbed by walkers along the beach. Swallows were flitting about overhead with no more than 3 seen together at any one time and 1 seen flying in off the sea, 2 shelduck were flying around and then resting on the rocks, a grey heron flew over, 3 Sandwich tern flew west towards Plymouth Sound and 4 little egrets were roosting at The Point. Most frustrating though was what I think was a lesser whitethroat briefly singing in the sewage farm hedge, a brief whitethroat like warble followed by a distinctive cirl bunting like rattle. I could just make out the bird in the undergrowth before a jogger ran by and it disappeared into deeper cover but then I noticed a male cirl bunting sat in the top of the hedgerow - was it only a whitethroat quietly singing with the cirl bunting providing the second part of the duet? I don't think it was but I will never know for sure.


I also finally found a bloody nose beetle larva in the area where I saw the adult beetles last year constantly bonking - I haven't found any adults here so far this year and one larva seems a poor show for the continuous amorous activities that I witnessed last year.

Bloody Nose Beetle Larva