Friday 30 April 2021

Emperor Moths on Dartmoor

Monday 26th April was yet again a sunny affair but with a bitingly cold easterly wind as I headed off to Wembury to meet work colleague Sue for a walk and a catch up. 

We had an enjoyable walk and by the time we returned to the cafe for our pasty lunch the wind had considerably eased and it became surprisingly warm in the sunshine.

At least 12 flighty Whimbrel were out on the rocks on the ebbing tide along with Oystercatchers and 7 Bar-tailed Godwit (2 in full summer plumage).

Whitethroat were vocal and showy with at least 6 males seen and heard.

Whitethroat, Wembury

At Wembury Point 2 House Martin and a Swallow hawked overhead and a male Wheatear was feeding along the cliff top but the highlight was a female Redstart feeding in the gorse bushes, only my 2nd sighting of one at Wembury.

On heading home I decided to stop off at Laira Bridge to walk along the Plym to Marsh Mills on the incoming tide. Blaxton Meadow was beginning to fill up with water and out on the mud were 5 Greenshank, 3 Oystercatcher, 3 Curlew, 2 Whimbrel and a limpy Bar-tailed Godwit.

Whimbrel, River Plym

Tuesday 27th April was again sunny but pleasently warm with a gentle breeze and so I headed out to Grenofen Woods for my annual spring time walk. 

It was very quiet bird wise but I did see a Tree Pipit songflighting with another one heard only, a pair of Marsh Tit in trees by the bridge with the male busily feeding the begging female and a Garden Warbler feeding on insects in an oak tree with another two heard only.

Tree Pipit, Grenofen

Tree Pipit

Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Willow Warbler were seen and heard, a female Mallard with 5 ducklings was seen on the river by the bridge along with a Grey Wagtail, Nuthatch were heard calling and Mistle Thrush were seen with beakfuls of food for nestlings. Buzzards, Swallow and House Martin were also seen overhead.

I used my Emperor Moth lure once but with no luck and as it was so quiet I decided to head homewards and stop off at Roborough Down for another try with the lure there.

I set the lure up in a gorse bush while I ate my lunch but after 10 minutes I moved to a different spot and within minutes a male came in, dashed around a bit and then flew off. I tried in another spot with no luck and with the clouds rolling in and covering the sun and the temperature dropping it was time to give up for the day - or so I thought.

I began to head home but decided to have one last try, more in hope than expectation, but it paid off with 2 males coming in to the lure within minutes and both settling on the vegetation nearby - result!

Male Emperor Moth, Roborough Down - a real beauty and a member of the Silk-moth family

Emperor Moth - huge antenna used to detect the location of females

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth - underside pattern looking like a colourful panther! 

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth

It was otherwise quiet on the Down with 2 Redpoll, a female Whitethroat, Skylark, Willow Warbler, Linnet, Stonechat and Chiffchaff seen along with 2 female Brimstone and a few Peacock.

Thursday 29th April was another cool day despite the sunny spells and gentle breeze and so I headed out to Wembury again for a walk. The chilly air kept insect activity at bay and I only saw one butterfly flit past, a probable Wall but too brief a view to call for sure. St.Marks Flies were on the wing though in more sheltered, warmer spots with one enjoying the warmth of my hand for a short time. 

St.Marks Fly, Wembury

St.Marks Fly

It was high tide but dog activity was high also and along the beach I had some nice views of 23 Oystercatcher, at least 20 Whimbrel, 3 Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper but all were nervous and flighty due to the constant disturbance.

The usual Wembury Dog-fest




4 Canada Geese, 4 Shelduck and 6 Mallard were also seen but a surprise sighting was a Sedge Warbler singing briefly in the scrub and reeds along the beach at the base of the cliffs.


Sedge Warbler

A Grey Seal was seen poking its head out of the water close to shore a few times and a lone Gannet was picked up offshore flying east. 2 Bloody Nose Beetle larva were found on the pathside vegetation and the usual Stonechats, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Swallows, Linnets and Cirl Buntings were also seen along the walk. 

I stopped off again at Laira Bridge on the journey home and walked along the Plym to Marsh Mills, it was very quiet on the low tide with a Whimbrel, a Curlew, a House Martin with Swallows, 2 Mute Swan, 2 Roe Deer, 2 Brown Rats and a male Orange Tip the only sightings of note. 

Monday 26 April 2021

Night Heron, Slapton Ley

Wednesday 21st April was a warm and sunny day, perfect for a walk from Mount Batten to Bovisands with retired work colleague Jan. Its been over a year since we last met up and walked this route and I had forgotten how stunning the scenery is along the cliff top path. 

We had a good natter and a catch up and along the walk I did notice a few bits and bobs of wildlife. A Sand Martin and at least 6 Swallows were seen flying over heading north and a Sandwich Tern was busily diving for fish offshore at Bovisands. It was good to hear 2 Whitethroats having a sing off in the scrub near Bovisands Beach and Chiffchaff and Blackcap were heard too. Orange Tip, Holly Blue, Peacock, Small White, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell were also seen flitting about and I found a Scarlet Tiger caterpillar basking in the sunshine. 

Scarlet Tiger Caterpillar

Thursday 22nd April and I decided it was time to head off to Slapton Ley for a look at the Night Heron recently found in the willow trees above the bridge between the Upper and Lower Leys. I haven't visited Slapton since January 2020 due to the lock downs and it was great to be back on site despite the cold and strong easterly breeze.

Luckily the Night Heron had decided not to do a midnight flit to Sussex as the Exmouth Northern Mockingbird did and I found the Night Heron very quickly on arriving at the bridge as it was helpfully pointed out to me by a Togger already present. It was easy to overlook as it skulked in the vegetation and viewing was difficult as everything swayed in the strong breeze but it was great to see my first UK Night Heron at last.

Night Heron

Night Heron

Night Heron

Night Heron

A Mass of Rudd under the Bridge - A Night Heron Buffet

The reported Red-necked Grebe was also easily found floating about in Ireland Bay and looking very smart in its summer plumage despite being a bit distant. Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe and a pair of Gadwall were also out on the water while Swallows and Sand Martins hawked low over the Ley for insects along with at least 2 House Martin and an early Swift.

Reed Warblers and Cettis Warblers were heard along the Ley side with some good views had of both species and Blackcap and Chiffchaff were seen and heard too.

Reed Warbler


Offshore a distant Sandwich Tern was diving for fish and a Guillemot was bobbing around in the swell close to the beach.

Friday 23rd April was sunny but windy and after finally getting around to purchasing some Emperor Moth lure I was keen to try it out and invited my mate Mavis to join me on a walk around Roborough Down. It was cool despite the sunshine due to the strong and cold wind and I wasn't surprised on our 2 attempts at using the lure that we were unsuccessful.

A few Speckled Wood, a male Brimstone and a White were seen in more sheltered spots along our walk and we did see some good birds with the highlight being a Hobby which dashed through in a flash before disappearing behind some trees.

Speckled Wood

Yellowhammer, Stonechat, Skylark, Linnet, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were seen along with a pair of Bullfinch, Pheasent, Song Thrush and Buzzard. We also saw a very distant large bird of prey which disappeared into some trees and looked very much like a Red Kite. A small but steady trickle of Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins passed overhead in the stiff breeze, all heading in a northerly direction and the Hobby was seen just after a small group of Hirundines passed through so it may have been looking for some lunch. 

The Gorse was in full flower and looked stunning in the sunshine, smelling wonderfully coconutty too.  

Gorsey Gorgeousness, Roborough Down

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Plymouth Walks

Thursday 15th April was sunny and warm and so we took a walk around Plymouth Hoe to catch some rays and enjoy the fresh air and scenery. As we sat on the steps below the Pier One Cafe enjoying our cups of coffee I was pleased to pick up a distant Sandwich Tern flying around out by The Breakwater in Plymouth Sound. I was also pleased and also  surprised to find the wintering Purple Sandpiper still present, busily feeding on the seaweed covered rocks with a Turnstone as the tide receded.

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper 

Purple Sandpiper

Friday 16th April was sunny again but cool and breezy and with 2 night shifts looming we had a return walk from Marsh Mills to Saltram House before shopping in Sainsburys and returning home. 

It was a quiet walk but it was nice to watch at least 4 Swallows flying around the stables as we enjoyed a cup of coffee. Along the river a Greenshank and 3 Oystercatcher were seen and there were 3 male and a female Mandarin on the duck pond. A Green Woodpecker and a Chiffchaff were also heard and I was pleased to see my first male Orange Tip of the year flitting about in the car park at Sainsbury's.

Monday 19th April was yet again a sunny day and felt much warmer than of late and I had another quiet walk along the River Plym and around Saltram Park. The warmer conditions brought out a few more butterflies and I saw a male Brimstone, 2 male Orange Tips, Peacocks and Whites flitting about along with a few Dark Edged Bee Flies.

On the high tide there were 9 Mute Swans resting out on the water of the Plym before they all flew off downriver, a high count for here. The high tide hadn't flooded Blaxton Meadow and out on the mud were 3 Oystercatcher, a Curlew and a winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit with a noticeable limp along with Shelduck, Redshank, Carrion Crows, Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls. 

Bar-tailed Godwit

On Chelson Meadow 8 Roe Deer were resting in the grass before being chased off by a little dog but soon returned after it had moved on. 2 male Wheatear were also feeding in the grass and Swallows flitted about overhead. A female Sparrowhawk flew over twice and at one point looked quite Merlin like as it took a few, unsuccessful swoops at Skylarks.



At Laira Bridge a Shag was a surprise find resting on a buoy while a Cormorant dived for fish nearby, a nice end to my walk.


Thursday 15 April 2021

A Birdtrack Bird Off

I've recently started to use Birdtrack for recording my bird sightings and it has inspired me to try and see 100 species of birds in 2021 at Saltram and the River Plym. I've also decided to try and do the same for Wembury and so the Birdtrack Bird Off begins.

Looking back through my bird diaries from the past 30+ years I've noticed how much more often I have visited Wembury compared to the River Plym, a situation that has been totally reversed in the last year due to the COVID lockdowns. Interestingly my Wembury list is only on 62 for 2021 compared to 89 for the River Plym although I have visited Wembury only 7 times this year compared to 17 for the River Plym. However maybe Saltram and the River Plym will prove to be a more bird rich area than Wembury, something I would not have expected.

Monday 12th April was cool and breezy with sunny spells and heavy showers and so I decided to visit Saltram and the River Plym. It proved to be a quiet day bird wise with the highlight being a Willow Warbler quietly and briefly singing in a hedgerow before disappearing into cover, River Plym bird species 89 for the year.

Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing away and 6 Swallows were gamely swooping for flies around the cows in the cow field in the chilly and windy conditions.

Along the Plym a Common Sandpiper, 5 Greenshank and a winter plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit were seen with 2 Curlew noted on Blaxton Meadow on the dropping tide.

Wednesday 14th April and I visited Wembury for a walk. It was sunny and cool but with a gentle breeze although it had  clouded over by lunchtime. The tide was dropping and out on the rocks were a Canada Geese, a Little Egret, Oystercatchers, 2 Curlew and 4 flighty Whimbrel which regularly gave their lovely whistling call.



2 male Whitethroat were tentatively singing and songflighting from the brambles at Wembury Point and 2 Swallows flew in off the sea and headed inland together. A Willow Warbler was flitting about in the hedgerow by the sewage farm and Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing away. Cirl Buntings, Stonechats and Linnets were all vocal and showy along the coast path. 

Cirl Bunting - male

Cirl Bunting - female

A Red Admiral, a Painted Lady, a Small White and a Holly Blue were also seen along with Speckled Wood and Peacock.

Speckled Wood

A newly emerged Devils Coach Horse and 3 Oil Beetles (1 male) were rescued off the footpath and placed in vegetation nearby, all were likely to have been trodden on by the large number of walkers along the path. 

Devils Coach Horse

A Roe Deer was a surprise sighting, easily overlooked as it sat on the grass amongst the trees in the small copse above the sewage farm and only noticed when it moved its head to groom itself. 

Roe Deer

I have been trying lately to identify the Bees I see while out and about, I haven't been overly successful but I did manage to ID Gooden's Nomad Bee, Yellow-legged Mining Bee and Ashy Mining Bee on checking my guide book when I arrived back home.

Gooden's Nomad Bee

Gooden's Nomad Bee

Gooden's Nomad Bee

Ashy Mining Bee

Yellow-legged Mining Bee 

Yellow-legged Mining Bee

A displaying male Sparrowhawk, a singing Goldcrest and 2 Collared Dove which appeared to fly in off the sea before heading up the valley to the village were all Wembury firsts for the year and have brought my 2021 list up to 62.

And so 89 plays 62 - so far. And I'm quite enjoying staying local - for the time being.