Sunday 28 July 2019

Local Wildlife

Since flying the nest/roof Birdy continues to occassionally return to be fed, mostly early morning, ie, dawn, with lots of fuss and noise. Interestingly when putting out my moth box in the back yard in the late evening on July 24th one of the adult birds launched itself off the chimney stack and repeatedly mobbed me despite Birdy being nowhere in sight - there is a lot of noise and posturing going on amongst the colony of herring gulls on the nearby roofs, presumably asserting possession of sites before the winter, so I guess it was just pumped up with bird adrenaline.

I finally dusted off the moth box and placed it out in the backyard for the first time this year on Wednesday 24th July and with the recent hot and humid and settled weather I hoped for some good moths but I was a little disappointed the next morning. The best moth was a marbled green, one of my garden favourites, and it was nice to find a lychnis, 4 male four-spotted footman, 3 knot grass and a shuttle-shaped dart amongst others but I had expected more.

 Marbled Green


Knot Grass

Thursday 25th July was hot and sunny and so we headed off to Cawsands on the ferry from The Barbican for our first beach day of the year. The sun was blazing down when we left Plymouth on the earlier 10:30am ferry but by the time we reached Cawsands the sea mist had rolled in and it was dank and cool and eerie. We had a cuppa in a cafe before carrying on to the beach at Sandways and the sun reappeared along the walk so I was able to do my usual Big Butterfly Count - 2 comma, a red admiral, 10 peacock, a small copper, 2 meadow brown, 4 small white and 1 large white were all recorded but there were no silver-washed fritillaries seen this year.

From the beach a lone gannet was seen flying close in to shore and there were variously plumaged adult Mediterranean gulls roosting on the rocks with herring gulls and black-headed gulls while chiffchaffs called in the cliffside vegetation. Unfortunately the sea mist did eventually return at around 4pm but just as we were packing up for the walk to Cremyll through Mount Edgecumbe Park to catch the ferry back to Plymouth.

On the walk to Cremyll I added gatekeeper to the days butterfly list and saw 2 6-spot burnet moths, my first of the year, but I didn't find any purple hairstreaks or silver-washed fritillaries, not helped by the continuing sea mist. Annoyingly by the time we reached Cremyll the sea mist had cleared again and the sun was shining but at Cremyll I did see a very smart adult Mediterranean gull flying around the jetty and 3 Sandwich terns fishing offshore including a very noisy fledgling being occassionally fed by one of the adults.

Gatekeeper, Mount Edgecumbe Park

Friday 26th July and we drove up to Dartmoor for a cream tea at Badgers Holt, figuring that it would be cooler on the Moor and indeed it was - 22.5c in Plymouth and 17.5c at Badgers Holt. The tea room has been taken over by new owners and nicely refurbished but they only do the scone wedges with a cream tea for 4 people so we had to make do with a single large scone each but it was still very tasty.

After stuffing our faces we had a waddle down the river through the Dart Valley Woods and a goosander, mandarin duck, mallard, grey wagtails, a fledgling nuthatch and a marsh tit were all seen with redpolls heard cha-cha-cha-ing overhead.

Beautiful demoiselle were flitting about by the river and along with meadow brown, gatekeeper and a peacock I saw a few fritillaries - a very worn high-brown fritillary briefly nectaring on brambles before dashing off and a few silver-washed fritillaries which were very active and regularly disappeared up into the trees except for a very worn individual which I managed to get a few photos of.

 Beautiful Demoiselle, Dart Valley

Beautiful Demoiselle 

 Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary


 High-brown Fritillary

High-brown Fritillary

I kept an eye out on the tops of the oak trees and eventually found some purple hairstreaks fidgeting about in an oak right next to the rocks in the river where we usually stop and sit for a while - 3 were seen together but there must have been more present although viewing was difficult amongst the leaves and activity always stopped when the sun disappeared behind the occasional clouds drifting over.

 Purple Hairstreak, Dart Valley

 Purple Hairstreak 

 Purple Hairstreak 

Purple Hairstreak 

Saturday 27th July and I headed off to Wembury on the bus on another sunny and hot day and despite being a weekend and summer holiday hell time it wasn't too busy.

A rusty dot pearl was the only moth found in the toilet block and the only other moth seen on the walk was a shaded broad-bar disturbed from the pathside vegetation.

Shaded Broad-bar, Wembury

Butterflies were flitting about and I was pleased to see my first Wembury wall of 2019 but there weren't the usual numbers of butterflies around for the time of year considering the good weather with only 2 male common blue, 2 small copper, a few meadow browns, red admirals, speckled woods and gatekeepers, a green-veined white, a few small whites and large whites and a peacock seen.

Red Admiral, Wembury

Bird wise it was fairly quiet with a few gannet and Mediterranean gull offshore and at The Point 2 whimbrel were roosting on the high tide with 5 curlew, 4 little egret and 33 Oystercatcher  - summer is already slipping into autumn. Even more autumnal was a juvenile whinchat, a complete surprise, and busily feeding along the wire fence by the wheat field before flying off to the sewage farm hedge. I managed to refind it on the walk back still in the hedge where it was regularly chased off by a male stonechat.

 Juvenile Whinchat, Wembury


Cirl buntings were seen and heard with chiffchaffs and whitethroats seen skulking in the bushes and hedges but the only other birds of note were a female pheasent, stonechats and a juvenile cormorant being fed by an adult along the shoreline.

A nice find were 2 male beautiful demoiselle by the footbridge over the stream in the valley to the beach, some good views of them here for a change as in the past they have always flitted off out of sight very quickly after first being seen.

Beautiful Demoiselle, Wembury

David duly arrived and we enjoyed a pasty and a coffee on the beach before driving home via Plympton to have a quick look around the annual fuschia show at Harewood House, a nice end to a nice few days of local July wildlife.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Birdy 2019 Fledges

We didn't get back to Plymouth until after 1am on Sunday 21st July due to the 3 hour flight delay on our flight home from Madeira but as we parked up the car I could hear a tawny owl calling in the nearby park, the first I have heard here for a few years now.

The next morning I checked out the flat roof next door to see Birdy 2019 was still present and looking hale and hearty. Still noisy and the roof was covered in poop but he (assuming he is a he) was looking like he was ready to fledge with just a few bits of downy fluff around his neck and lots of wing flapping and launching up into the air.

 Birdy 2019
Birdy and Mum/Dad

Birdy the Herring Gull

He was still present on Monday 22nd July and again the next morning when I left for work at 6:45am but when I returned home from work at 8:45pm he had gone.

So no more early morning noise from Birdy or his parents and hopefully the next bout of rain will wash a lot of the poop away but I am going to miss him.

Monday 22 July 2019

Madeira - Part II

Tuesday 16th July saw us picking up our hire car for a day out in the mountains, starting with a drive to Pico De Arieiro, the third highest peak in Madeira and a popular walking area with visitors. The drive up into the mountains was stunning especially when we passed through the clouds to see brilliant blue skies, sunshine and a Dartmoor-esque landscape with a sea of white below. A long-toed pigeon flying across the road was a surprise too on the drive to the Pico car parking area.

The views from the Pico were stunning and despite the crowds it didn't feel too busy as people were easily lost in the landscape.

Pico De Arieiro

There were plenty of butterflies flitting about in the sunshine despite the cool breeze and the 1800+ metres altitude and I found Maderian grayling, Maderian small copper, clouded yellow, long-tailed blue, painted lady and a red admiral species which dashed past too quickly to properly ID but which appeared to lack much white markings indicating that it might have been a Macronesian red admiral.

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro 

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro 

 Madeiran Grayling, Pico de Arieiro

 Madeiran Grayling , Pico de Arieiro 

 Long-tailed Blue, Pico de Arieiro 

Madeiran Small Copper, Pico de Arieiro 

Plain swifts were whizzing around and kestrels were soaring overhead with chaffinch and blackbird heard singing on the lower wooded slopes. A feeding family group of spectacled warblers in the low scrub was a surprise but more expected were Berthelot's pipits feeding on the rocky scree. My first canaries of the trip were nice to see too.

 Berthelot's Pipit, Pico de Arieiro

Berthelot's Pipit, Pico de Arieiro, Pico de Arieiro

Canary, Pico de Arieiro 

We carried onwards to Ribeiro Frio, stopping off to look at the Poco da Neve Ice House along the way with distant views to Funchal below and we also found some Madeiran orchids growing on a verge by the roadside.

 Poco da Neve Ice Igloo, Pico de Arieiro

 Madeiran Orchid, Pico de Arieiro 

 Pride of Madeira, Pico de Arieiro 

 Pride of Madeira, Pico de Arieiro 

It was sunny as we arrived at Ribeiro Frio but after tea and cake for lunch in the restaurant there it had clouded over and our walk along the levada was eeriely misty and unfortunately viewless but we still had a fantastic time.

Along the walk I managed to get good views of Madeiran firecrest feeding in the trees including quite a few family groups with the adults busily feeding their young. Robin, blackbird, chaffinch and grey wagtail were also seen but frustratingly I could only hear long-toed pigeons coo-ing in the trees and clattering into flight with just the odd fleetingly misty view of a bird flying over the trees. Eventually we arrived at a viewpoint overlooking the laurel forest and the mist briefly cleared and I was very lucky to get a few decent flight views of 5 or 6 long-toed pigeons over the treetops before the mist returned.

A gap in the mist, Riberio Frio

Driving back to Funchal and again we drove up into the clouds before emerging into brilliant sunshine and stunning views, shame it was misty at Riberio Frio but at least I had seen the long-toed pigeons.

Wednesday 17th July and we decided to go on a whale and dolphin boat trip out of Funchal harbour. There were a variety of companies offering trips from crowded, touristy catamaran trips carrying up to a 100+ people to bumpy rib rides but we chose a small yacht called Gaviao for our excursion, holding a maximum of 20 people but with just 5 of us on our trip. It was a beautiful day but with a choppy-ish sea and a strong breeze and as our 3 hour trip progressed it became apparent that we were unlikely to see any cetaceans. I settled back and was enjoying being out on the waves and watching Cory's shearwaters and Bulwer's petrels passing by close to the boat  when our captain called a whale spout behind the boat. The engines were cut and we bobbed around on the water as a large bull sperm whale moved closer and closer towards us, spouting and showing its snout and back before it dived without fluking and disappeared from view - a fantastic sighting.

 Sperm Whale off Funchal

 Sperm Whale, Funchal

 D'Oliveiras Madeira Wine Lodge, Funchal

 Mating Monarch, Funchal

 Monarch, Funchal

Monarch, Funchal

Thursday 18th July and it was back out in the hire car for a drive along the south and west coast of the island towards Porto Moniz. The usual birds and butterflies were seen - buzzard, kestrel, canary, plain swift, monarch, etc., - and I did manage another brief flight view of a long-toed pigeon over the trees near Paul do Mar. The views along the coast were stunning and the drive from Paul do Mar to Porto Moniz was especially pretty in the sunshine with loads of flowering agapanthus by the roadside and singing blackcaps and blackbirds in the trees. Arriving in Porto Moniz and it was much more developed than when we visited in 1993 but we had a nice wander around and some grilled limpets for lunch before carrying on to Rabacal in the central mountains for another levada walk.

 Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus canariensis), Jardim do Mar

Ponta do Sol

The drive from Porto Moniz to Rabacal was very scenic when the mist finally cleared and very reminiscent of Dartmoor with bracken, gorse, broom, foxglove, bramble  agapanthus and hydrangea all being seen and singing blackcap, blackbird and chaffinch heard. Rabacal was very busy too with walkers and we had a steep walk down to the waterfall and a steep walk back up again but it was very scenic and I managed to see Madeiran speckled wood with the speckled woods, small white, clouded yellow and Madeiran small copper along with a Madeiran foxglove in flower.

 Rabacal Waterfall

 Madeiran Speckled Wood (Parage xiphia), Rabacal

 Madeiran Speckled Wood, Rabacal

Madeiran Speckled Wood, Rabacal

 Madeiran Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas phlaeoides),  Rabacal

Clouded Yellow, Rabacal

Madeiran Foxglove

We then walked along a levada circling around the mountainside which was very interesting and with some stunning views before returning to the car to head back to Funchal on another spectacular drive through the mountains.

Rabacal Levada Views

Friday 19th July and our last day was spent around Funchal where the usual wildlife was on show and the next day we flew back to the UK when a 3 hour flight delay was annoying but couldn't detract from what had been a fantastic trip away. I can't wait to return again.