Tuesday 29 August 2017

Stoke Point and Wembury Walks

We headed off to Stoke Point on Thursday 24th August for a walk along the coast path and it was warm and humid but breezy and mostly overcast. Quiet on the bird front as expected but 3 juvenile wheatears and a male cirl bunting seen along the walk were nice finds. No Dartford warblers again but plenty of stonechats and linnets and offshore a few gannets were flying past. With lots of yellow wagtails being seen along the Devon coast in recent days I kept an ear and eye out for them but was out of luck - I thought I briefly heard one flying over but couldn't be sure.

A few butterflies were on the wing, mostly meadow browns and red admirals but a small copper, small white, gatekeeper, speckled wood, a small tortoiseshell and common blues were also seen. A nice surprise was my first hummingbird hawkmoth of the year feeding on buddleia flowers, a long overdue sighting. It was also good to see autumn squill in flower in the usual place despite the late date.

Meadow Brown

Friday 25th August and I caught the bus to Wembury for a walk on a sunny day. Again no sight or sound of yellow wagtail and a look for Dartford warblers also drew a blank.

Another hummingbird hawkmoth was a nice find as it buzzed over a stoney patch of soil on the cliffside and a Pyrausta despicata was a new moth for me as it flitted about in the grass  on the cliffs at Wembury Point. The toilet block also came up trumps with a mullein wave, a common wainscot, a sharp angled peacock, a rusty dot pearl and 2 flounced rustic.

 Pyrausta despicata

 Mullein Wave

 Sharp Angled Peacock

Flounced Rustic

Waders were again roosting on the rocks at high tide - 45 oystercatcher, 7 curlew and a whimbrel with 10 little egret - and  on the seaweed mass by the sewage pipe were 2 more whimbrel and a common sandpiper.

Whitethroat, chiffchaff (including a bird singing), blackcap, swallow, a willow warbler, a sparrowhawk, stonechats, a buzzard and 2 kestrels were also seen along with my first short winged conehead of the year before I met David for a pasty and coffee on the main beach where we enjoyed the sunshine and view.

Thursday 24 August 2017

Hoopoe Dip with a Tern Bonus

Thursday 17th August and a day with the Outlaws was broken up with a walk around Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor. It was quiet as expected with the highlights being a yaffling green woodpecker flying into a tree, sundew growing on a boggy bank by the road and a female roe deer with 2 well grown fawns feeding out in the open in a field.

Sundew, Burrator

Female Roe Deer, Burrator

Roe Deer Fawns, Burrator

Sunday 20th August and it was off to Bude for the day to finally sell the Outlaws caravan. It was a grey and murky day and the heavens opened as we arrived at the caravan site and it remained wet for much of the rest of the day. After selling the caravan we headed into Bude via Bude Holiday Park where the caravan used to be sited and were quite saddened at the mess they have made of the place and very glad that the caravan was moved as the new touring site area is jam packed and very claustrophobic. A quick look at Maer Lake revealed 11 black tailed godwits, a grey heron and eclipse plumaged mallard and teal in the gloom before we headed off to Lifes a Beach for a cooked breakfast where a lone gannet and an oystercatcher were picked up offshore. A wander around Bude in the rain wasn't much fun and so we headed home early, feeling a little bit down with the caravan now gone but with lots of memories of happy and good times spent in Bude over the years.

I had the mothbox out in the backyard on the night of Monday 21st August and again was a little disappointed in the catch the next morning with the highlights being 3 male four spotted footman, 2 Vines rustic, a brimstone moth, a mother of pearl, a yellow barred brindle and a lesser broad bordered yellow underwing.

Red Underwing - on the train to Exmouth (a new moth for me and released at Topsham station)

With Tuesday 22nd August to myself I decided (despite my better judgement) to catch the train to Exmouth (£20.80!) to look for a hoopoe that had been showing well at Maer Farm for a few days. I never have much luck with hoopoes in the UK, having only ever seen 1 before at Dawlish Warren which was a brief and distant flight view only, but I have seen plenty on my foreign travels with some incredibly close views. Needless to say today proved another disaster with no sight or sound of the hoopoe but I did see 2 late swifts feeding with swallows and house martins, a flyover grey wagtail and 2 wheatear in the hoopoe-less fields and it was nice to chat to the assorted birders present not seeing the hoopoe too.

Speckled Wood, Maer Farm

A look off Exmouth sea front produced distant Sandwich terns feeding offshore, a flock of around 20 common scoters flying west low over the water, gannets, shags and gulls while on the sand bars a few oystercatcher were feeding.

Juvenile Herring Gull, Exmouth beach

I headed over to Exmouth marina to view the mouth of the Exe estuary and out on the sand banks were a distant flock of roosting Sandwich terns and amongst them I managed to pick out 2 juvenile common terns. The tide was coming in and eventually I managed to see the juvenile white winged black tern that has been around for a while now - it was roosting out of sight in a gully and appeared as the water began to rise. Unfortunately it was distant but its dark looking plumage with pale wings and small size were obvious, being smaller than the common terns but feisty and regularly jostling with any Sandwich terns that came too close. Eventually it flew upriver and out of sight and it was then time to head back home to Plymouth - disappointing at dipping the hoopoe but compensation with unexpectedly seeing the white winged black tern.

Roosting Terns, River Exe

White Winged Black Tern - at the waters edge on the left between the wires (honest!)

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Silver Washed Fritillaries and another Yellow Legged Gull

Thursday 10th August and a rare sunny day between the rain and wind of recent weeks saw us heading off to Cawsands for a day on the beach - this time I hadn't been suffering from gastric distress and so actually quite enjoyed my day. The ferry to Cawsands from The Barbican was packed out and people were having to be turned away so we were very lucky to get a seat.

Walking to the beach at Sandways and there were lots of butterflies on the buddleia bushes along the cliff base again - large white, red admiral, meadow brown, gatekeeper, small white and best of all around 4 silver washed fritillary. They were very active and flighty and a little on the worn side and it would have been nice to have seen them on my last visit when I did the Big Butterfly Count but good to see anyway.

 Silver Washed Fritillary

 Silver Washed Fritillary

Silver Washed Fritillary

An adult winter and a juvenile Mediterranean gull were flying around along the shoreline off the beach but more unusual were 4 noisy redshanks on the rocks which eventually flew off towards Plymouth. There was no sign of any purple hairstreaks in the oak tree again on the walk back to Cremyll through Mount Edgecumbe Park and another (or the same) adult winter Mediterranean gull was feeding in the currents off the Cremyll Slipway as we waited for the ferry back to The Barbican.

Thursday 15th August and another sunny but cool and breezy day saw me heading to Wembury for a walk before yet another dreaded night shift. It felt very autumnal on the walk from Wembury beach to Wembury Point and back with the most interest being around The Point on the high tide despite the dog walkers along the beach.

Roosting on the rocks were 2 whimbrel, 48 oystercatcher, 7 little egret and 6 curlew while on the rotting seaweed mass near the sewage pipe were a redshank, a dunlin, a common sandpiper and another whimbrel. 15 eclipse male and 2 female mallard were also present on the seaweed mass and amongst the herring, black headed, great black backed and juvenile lesser black backed gulls I managed to find a juvenile yellow backed gull, my first at Wembury - I first saw it fly low along the beach as I watched from above on the cliff top and it settled on the sewage pipe amongst other gulls where I managed to get some nice views. It wasn't as large or imposing as the bird I saw recently at South Huish Marsh and wasn't as dominant so presumably a female bird but it was still very distinctive looking - cue some rubbish record shots.

 Common Sandpiper

 Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull (right)

 Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

 Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull (centre)

Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull 

Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull (right)

 Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

 Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

Juvenile Yellow Legged Gull

Moulted Scapular (centre) - buff with blackish anchor-shaped mark

Land birds were represented by chiffchaff, whitethroat and blackcap seen and heard in the bushes, a singing male cirl bunting with a male later seen feeding on caterpillars along the footpath and 2 juvenile wheatears feeding in the horse fields. Swallows and house martins were flying around overhead and 2 swifts were seen over the village from the bus on the journey down to the beach.

A few butterflies were on the wing - a comma, a holly blue, a peacock, common blues, meadow browns, speckled woods, red admirals, large whites and gatekeepers - but there were no clouded yellows and no moths in the toilet block. A nice walk finished off with a coffee and Chunk pasty on the crowded beach before heading back home to prepare for work.

Holly Blue

Saturday 5 August 2017

Sea Watching

It was another grey, misty and wet day on Wednesday 2nd August and so all my plans for my day off to myself went out of the window. I was feeling groggy after 2 night shifts but I was up and out early to catch the bus to Rame Head again because unlike my visit last saturday it was very windy.

As I got off the bus at 8:30 it was raining and blowing a hooley and by the time I arrived at Rame Head I was quite wet but with a feeling of excitement as I looked out at the rough sea. I settled into position in the ruined chapel and on my first scan of the sea I picked out a few gannet, 2 fulmar and a Manx shearwater heading west. I tried using my Nikon ED50 telescope and travel tripod but as expected it was not up to the job in the strong winds despite my being somewhat sheltered in the chapel and so I had to rely on just my binoculars. There were plenty of gannets moving west during my 3 hour watch with the odd fulmar and a trickle of Manx shearwaters but other than herring gulls, great black backed gulls and shags nothing else was seen. The wind did ease and the rain became heavier over the morning and visibility became very poor which didn't help but that is sea watching for you. As I was leaving to catch the bus back to Plymouth a raven flew over cronking and 4 dunlin flew high over heading west - an enjoyable morning though despite getting cold and wet and buffeted by winds and not seeing an awful lot.

Thursday 3rd August and Anglian Windows were booked to sort out the problems with our new windows but unfortunatrly the workmen did not have all the necessary bits and bobs so we headed off to Hope Cove for a walk instead. It was cloudy and cool with a surprisingly brisk wind as we parked up in Thurlestone Village to begin our walk where a Jersey tiger moth of the lutescens form with yellow underwings instead of red was fluttering around in the hedgerow.

I checked out the toilet block by the golf club and found a nice selection of moths inside including Mullein wave, magpie moth, Brussels lace, dingy footman and Carcina quercana.

 Mullein wave

Carcina quercana

Walking on to South Huish Marsh and I was pleased to find a yellow wagtail feeding around the feet of some horses along with pied wagtails but the water levels on the marsh were quite high following all the rain of the previous day so there was no sign of any waders including the curlew sandpiper found yesterday.

Onwards to Hope Cove and the café was jam packed full so we had a cup of tea from the lime kiln café and sat on the benches overlooking the beach. I had a quick scan offshore and picked up a few gannets along with some small shearwater sp. moving west distantly offshore and 2 closer in moving east. I also picked up a large shearwater sp. moving west, distant again and brief views before it disappeared behind the headland of the Cove, but pale and distinctive looking as it twisted up from the waves before giving a few slow flaps of its wings and twisting back down to the water.

We eventually managed to get a table in the café and had a very pleasant lunch before walking back to South Huish Marsh where a juvenile Mediterranean gull was picked out amongst the black headed gulls along with a 2nd summer Mediterranean gull with a bright red bill, the remnants of a black hood and some black markings in the primaries which it was moulting heavily when it flew off. I found 3 dunlin skulking in the vegetation at the waters edge but best of all was a stonking juvenile yellow legged gull amongst the herring gulls - I have finally found myself one here in the UK! It stuck out like a sore thumb, a large bird with very crisp plumage and giving the nearby adult herring gulls a bit of welly if they came too near.

Yellow Legged Gull

 Yellow Legged Gull

 Yellow Legged Gull

Yellow Legged Gull

Yellow Legged Gull

Back at the car there were 3+ spotted flycatchers flitting about in the trees at The Vicarage (a family party?), and at least 10 swifts were flying overhead as we drove out of the village.

Spotted Flycatcher

Saturday 5th August and it was an early start to catch the train and bus to Brixham for a pelagic trip, something I have wanted to do for ages. It was arranged by the Plymouth branch of the DBWPS and we headed out of Brixham harbour on The Optimist on a bright and sunny morning but unfortunately with very little wind. A grey seal was hauled out on the pontoons in the harbour and as we passed Berry Head a guillemot was a nice find along with a small flock of kittiwake resting on the sea consisting of juvenile and adult summer and winter plumaged birds. Heading out to sea and more guillemots and kittiwakes were seen along with 2 razorbill, 8 common scoter flying past, gannets and a few distant Manx shearwaters. A group of 5 shearwaters were also picked up, appearing paler on the upperparts and with a more languid flight, possibly Balearic shearwaters but too distant to confirm.

Grey Seal

At the 8 mile mark chumming began despite the total lack of birds but almost instantly they began to appear - herring gulls at first, joined by great and lesser black backed gulls, fulmars and a few curious gannets and Manx shearwaters. A storm petrel was picked up which I just caught a glimpse of as it flew away from the boat but eventually we managed some good views of at least 3 birds flying over the slick produced from the chumming. A great skua flew in too but remained distant before flying off but I missed the brief sightings of some dolphins passing by. Unfortunately all too soon it was time to head back to the harbour but I was very pleased with the sightings we had had.


Heading back to Brixham and we picked up a pod of 6+ common dolphins which came in to the boat giving some nice views before quickly disappearing from sight and before I knew it we were back on land but it had been a very enjoyable 3 hours out at sea.

 Common Dolphin

 Common Dolphin

 Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

On our return I had planned to walk out to Berry Head for a look around but Brixham on a August Saturday was not fun and with the white winged black tern found yesterday at Bowling Green Marsh in Topsham having done a bunk I decided to visit nearby Preston Down for a look for brown hairstreaks instead, somewhere I haven't visited before.

A male sparrowhawk was the only bird of note as it flew into some trees and there was no sign of any brown hairstreaks but I did see comma, painted lady, meadow brown, gatekeeper, common blue, peacock, red admiral. large white, small copper and small white. An emperor dragonfly was a nice find and the views of Torbay and Brixham were stunning but it was time to head back to Paignton to catch the train back to Plymouth - a brilliant day out.


 Brixham and Berry Head from Preston Down

Emperor Dragonfly

(And Birdy the herring gull returned to the flat roof next door in the early morning as I was getting ready for work on Friday 4th, mewling away and pecking at the fallen plums from the tree before flying off - glad to see he is still doing well).