Monday 30 May 2022

A Trip to Scotland

It was off to Scotland by train on Monday 23rd May, a trip delayed by a year due to COVID, and it was with much excitement (and some trepidation) as we left Plymouth. The train journey overall was an expensive option as usual but we decided to have a splurge and travel up to Fort William from London on the Caledonian Sleeper service, something we have wanted to do for a while now. 

The reason for some trepidation was due to the purpose of our trip, namely to look for Chequered Skippers for my UK butterfly list and I was a little nervous as it is a long and expensive journey from Plymouth to Fort William and looking for the Chequered Skippers would require decent weather conditions, something that is often in short supply in the UK and especially in Western Scotland. The weather forecast wasn't looking particularly great as we left Plymouth but there wasn't much I could do about it other than hope and pray. 

The journey from Plymouth to London was uneventful with 7 Red Kite seen (a group of 5 and 2 singles) along with my first Common Tern of the year flying over some small lakes near Reading.

The sleeper train from London to Fort William was a brilliant experience, we had a thoroughly enjoyable and fun time. We left London at 21:15 and arrived at Fort William the following morning at 10:00 and the journey just flew by. Sleeper trains are a bit of a misnomer as from previous experiences of travelling on sleeper services we haven't slept very much. Surprisingly though we both had a relatively decent amount of sleep this time, no doubt helped by the wee dram of whisky we imbibed before retiring to bed.

Waking up in the morning we were met with absolutely stunning scenery as the train journeyed through the Highlands between Glasgow and Fort William, helped somewhat by the blue skies and sunshine - I forget just how beautiful Scotland really is. 

From the dining car window as we sped along eating our breakfast I saw quite a few Red Deer and Buzzard along with a Snipe flushed from the side of the train track but the best sighting was of a male Black Grouse flying across the moorland, a very nice surprise. 

Arriving in Fort William at just after 10:00am and the skies were looking promising with lots of blue on show and plenty of sunshine although there were big blobs of black clouds dotted about too. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and then caught the bus up to Glen Nevis where armed with some helpful local knowledge I began my search for Chequered Skippers. The skies were beginning to become more black than blue but within 5 minutes of stepping off the bus I found my first Chequered Skipper, a little worn looking but beautiful none the less. I had been in Fort William barely 3 hours and had found my target relatively easily and despite being very pleased I did feel a little deflated! 

Chequered Skipper, Glen Nevis

Walking further up the Glen and we found at least another 3 individuals, much smarter looking than the first one found, and I was struck at how small and fast and difficult to follow they were. 

Chequered Skipper

We carried on further up the Glen but with the sunshine eventually disappearing behind the clouds we never found any more  Chequered Skippers although a Peacock and a male Orange Tip were also noted. 

A Cuckoo was heard calling in the distance and a Wood Warbler was heard trilling away but remained hidden deep within the foliage of the trees. A Dipper was seen briefly along the river and high overhead Buzzard and Raven were soaring over the mountain tops. 

Moths were also regularly disturbed from the vegetation, mostly Brown Silver Line and Common Heath but a Speckled Yellow was a nice find and even better was a smart Argent and Sable, my first one ever. There were quite a few Common Butterwort seen too along the roadside, a parasitic plant of bogs. 

Speckled Yellow

Argent and Sable

Two-banded Longhorn Beetle

Common Butterwort

Common Butterwort

The following day after a good nights sleep we picked up our hire car and drove down to Oban in the pouring rain! The weather forecast was for the rain to stop and for sunny spells to develop and indeed it did. We had a wander around Oban where I saw a distant Hooded Crow feeding in a garden but the highlight were at least 8 summer plumaged Black Guillemots around the old harbour walls which were amazingly tame as I watched them while getting soaked in the heavy showers. 

Black Guillemot, Oban

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot

Black Guillemot 

Black Guillemot 

Black Guillemot

With the weather continuing to improve we visited nearby Dunstaffnage Castle which was very interesting and from where I saw 3 Hooded Crows, a Greylag Goose, Swallows and 3 Treecreepers.

Dunstaffnage Castle

Hooded Crow, Dunstaffnage Castle 

We headed back to Fort William and stopped off along the way at Glasdrum Woods, a nature reserve famous for its Chequered Skippers. The weather was beginning to deteriorate again and the sunny spells were beginning to get less frequent but a walk along the very wet and muddy path underneath the power lines was abuzz with insects when the sun shone and I found a Small Heath, a male Orange Tip, a Green Veined White, around 6 Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary and at least 10 Chequered Skipper which all showed beautifully while a Garden Warbler and Willow Warblers sang away in the scrub - perfect! 

Chequered Skipper, Glasdrum Woods

Chequered Skipper 

Chequered Skipper 

Chequered Skipper 

Chequered Skipper 

Chequered Skipper 

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

Heath Spotted Orchid

After an hour the sun totally disappeared behind the clouds and it was time to return to Fort William but it had been a great day out indeed with amazing views of the Skippers. 

Thursday 26th May was another day of rubbish weather with heavy showers and a strong and chilly wind. Firstly we drove up Glen Nevis for a walk and after waiting a while sat in the car at the upper car park for the rain to stop we began our walk up the valley. It was very beautiful despite the mostly grey skies and along the walk I heard a Wood Warbler singing with brief views of a presumed female feeding close by giving occasional peu calls. Another male was later heard singing too but a Tree Pipit showed well as it songflighted over the hillside. It was too cool and windy and cloudy for butterflies so we headed onwards to Glenfinnan to see the Jacobite Monument and the famous train viaduct. Very fortunately we timed our visit perfectly and watched the Jacobite steam train travelling across the viaduct too. 

Glen Nevis

Glen Nevis

Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Jacobite Steam Train

We also climbed up inside the Jacobite Monument but it was too windy to go out onto the balcony so we just popped our head out of the hatch for a look at the view. Very little bird life was seen but a Sand Martin was flying low over the Loch on the stiff wind and a pair of Red Breasted Merganser and 3 male Mallard were out on the water. 

Our last stop of the day was at Neptune's Ladder, a series of 7 lock gates on the Caledonian Canal and very fortunately we were able to watch a boat going up through the lock gates which was very interesting. A Raven over being mobbed by 2 Hooded Crows and a flyover Grey Heron were seen in the continuing strong winds before it was time to return the hire car and head back to the hotel. 

The next day and it was back on the train for the journey to Edinburgh to meet up with friends Julie and Matt. The journey was stunning again through the amazing scenery although the train was absolutely packed out due to Scotrail having issues with their services and cancelling a train but along the way I saw a few Red Deer, a Snipe, a Common Sandpiper, a Mistle Thrush, Hooded Crows and Ravens. 

Saturday 28th May was spent in Edinburgh with Julie and Matt. I resisted the temptation to visit Musselburgh to do some birding and instead had an enjoyable wander around the Edinburgh Botanical Garden (which was free). 

Edinburgh Castle

Grey Squirrels were seen scampering over the lawns and Swifts wheeled around overhead. A Chiffchaff was singing away and a male Bullfinch flew past before disappearing into deep cover. We enjoyed watching a lone Moorhen busily feeding 4 small chicks at the pond while 5 well grown and independent chicks loafed about nearby looking like teenage delinquents - presumably the Moorhens first fledged brood with the lone Moorhen now being a widow/widower. 

A nice surprise was finding Northern Marsh Orchids flowering in amongst the Alpine plant section like some exotic looking weeds. 

Northern Marsh Orchid, Edinburgh Botanic Gardens

A boozy afternoon followed our visit to the Botanic Gardens and Sunday 29th May saw us heading back to Plymouth by train via London with the usual Red Kites seen along the way. 

Arriving back in Plymouth and it had been a very enjoyable (and expensive) trip, I managed to get some great views of the Chequered Skippers despite the less than ideal weather conditions we experienced and now I have completed my UK butterfly list I must confess to being a little bit lost as to what to do next (although there is technically still Cryptic Wood White to see in Northern Ireland).

Sunday 22 May 2022

Rainy Wembury, Mothing, Leating and Rainy Dartmoor

I awoke early on Monday 16th May despite having worked 2 exhausting long day shifts over the weekend and even though the sky was grey and it was mizzley I headed off on the 07:00hrs bus to Wembury for a walk. The weather and the earlier than usual start meant that it was a relatively people (and dog) free walk which was nice for a change and with high tide at just before 7am I was hopeful of some wader action along the beach. It wasn't quite as good as I had expected but amongst the 25 roosting Oystercatcher there were 9 flighty, vocal and mobile Whimbrel and a very confiding Sanderling. 




It was good to see some breeding success amongst the bird life with a fledgling Stonechat seen with its parents and also a lone fledgling Robin.


I didnt take my scope with me but a look offshore revealed adult and immature Gannets flying around along with 9 Manx Shearwater flying west (groups of 6 and 3) and also 4 distant Guillemots (2 of 2 west). Fulmars were wheeling around The Mewstone where a lone Canada Goose was also noted on the grassy slopes.

A Scorpion Fly, a Red Admiral, an Oak Eggar caterpillar, Lackey Moth larval nests, Depressia daucella caterpillars on Hemlock Water Dropwort flowerheads and a Bloody-nose Beetle were also seen despite the cool conditions. It was also good to see Ragged Robin in flower again in the valley to the beach following last years soil disturbance and vegetation clearance caused by the digger being used to repair the beach cafe as it journeyed down to the beach. 

Scorpion Fly

Oak Eggar Caterpillar

Ragged Robin

Goose Barnacle - washed up on driftwood along the beach

A Collared Dove was calling at the bus stop while I waited to catch the bus home and a Swallow flew overhead heading purposefully west. I also picked up 2 distant Swift flying over the village and from the bus as we journeyed back towards Plymouth House Martins were flying around over the village rooftops.

With a mild and dry night forecasted I had the moth box out in the back yard that night, the first proper session of the year, and the next morning I had 17 moths of 14 species for my troubles. The best moth was a Tawny Shears, a new moth for me, and other highlights were Green Carpet, Brimstone Moth and Homoeosoma sinuella. 

Tawny Shears

Homoeosoma sinuella (Twin-barred Knot- Horn) 

Thursday 19th May was a free day and so we headed up to Dartmoor to continue more of our walk along the Devonport Leat. We started off at Whiteworks and walked to Nuns Cross and back and then walked from Whiteworks to Tor Royal and back. It was a lovely walk in the occasional sunny spells, the scenery was stunning and it was relatively people free and I managed a few wildlife sightings along the way. 

A surprise sighting was of a Painted Lady flitting past, there seems to be a big influx of them into the UK at the moment. Small Heath were more expected and I also saw a few Large Red Damselfly and Beautiful Demoiselle (Not so nice was finding my first tick of the year embedded in my abdomen a few days later!). 

Beautiful Demoiselle

Birds were singing away - Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warblers, Wheatears, Stonechats and 2 Redstart - and I also saw a Swallow, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, 2 Grey Wagtail and a Grey Heron. 


All in all an interesting and enjoyable walk and we now have just a few short sections of the Leat left to see. 

Friday 20th May and it was up to Dartmoor again for the day, this time to Warren House and Challacombe with Mavis. The weather wasn't great and it was cool, breezy, showery and mostly cloudy but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm or our enjoyment. 

We started at a Warren House with the highlight being 3 Cuckoos, 2 males flying around calling and chasing each other while a female coyly sat in a hawthorn bush watching and giving a very brief bubbling call. At least 3 Whinchat were also heard but they were very elusive until we finally managed to get some good views of one of them. 


A Redpoll flew over giving its cha-cha-cha-ing songflight and at least 3 songflighting Tree Pipits were seen. A Garden Warbler sang from cover while a Blackcap sang nearby allowing for a nice comparison. 

A Small Copper and 2 Green-veined White were seen despite the cool conditions. Sundew were seen in the usual place but there was no sign of any Heath-Spotted Orchid. 

Small Copper

Green-veined White


After a lunch of rabbit pie in the Warren House Inn we visited Challacombe Farm for a look about. The weather still wasn't great but we did hear a Cuckoo calling on the hillside and we also saw a nice male Redstart around the farm buildings. 

Heath-Spotted Orchid and Bogbean were seen and the Bluebells were beginning to flower on the hillsides. 

Heath-Spotted Orchids 



Another great day out as always as my favourite month of the year rapidly nears its end. 

Saturday 14 May 2022

Exminster Marsh and a Plymouth Black Guillemot

Thursday 12th May and it was off to the River Exe for the day with my mate Mavis on what was an overcast morning with occasional sunny spells although it did feel quite cool in the breeze. We arrived at the RSPB car park at Exminster Marsh at around 10am and after a cup of tea and a slice of cake from the Hope Coffee Van we began our walk along the back path. 

House Martins, Swallows and first for the year Swifts were noted overhead while Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Cettis Warblers, Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers were all heard singing away. We eventually managed to get some very good views of both Reed and Sedge Warblers which were surprisingly showy for a change.

Sedge Warbler

A male Kestrel was hovering overhead and after a brief flyover view we eventually had good views of a Peregrine devouring its prey while perched up on one of the electricity pylons.

A big surprise was a Pink-footed Goose out on the marsh with the Canada Geese, presumably the wintering bird I saw in January making a reappearance. The long staying Snow Goose was found on Powderham Marsh and 2 Black Swan were out on the River Exe off Turf.

Pink-footed Goose with Canada Geese

Pink-footed Goose

Black Swans

Large Red Damselfly, a Blue-tailed Damselfly, Blue Damselfly, a Scarce Chaser and a Broad-bodied Chaser were seen in sheltered spots and a few Orange-tip and Green-veined White were flitting about despite the cool conditions.

Large Red Damselfly

Scarce Chaser

Broad-bodied Chaser 

Broad-bodied Chaser close-up

Wasp Beetle

Small Yellow-girdled Tenthredo

A very enjoyable day out again, no Hobby sightings and the reported Cattle Egret and male Garganey were a no show for us but some great wildlife sightings were had anyway.

Friday 13th May was another cool and mostly overcast day and I headed off for a River Plym and Saltram walk, my first of this month. Despite the cool weather conditions I saw at least 30 Common Blue flitting about, all males except for 1 lone female, and I also saw 2 Small Heath.

Common Blue

Small Heath

It was good to see breeding activity amongst the birds - a fledgling Grey Wagtail was being fed by its parents along the River Plym at Longbridge, a Moorhen was escorting 2 chicks around the pond where the white Mallard duck still has 3 ducklings, a Nuthatch was seen removing a faecal sac from a nest hole and a mini creche of 14 Canada Goose goslings were being guarded by 4 adults by the railway bridge.

Grey Wagtail fledgling

Female Grey Wagtail


Canada Goose Creche

Mandarin close-up

Overhead 3 Swift and 4 House Martin were seen amongst the Swallows, both new for the year on The Plym. Chiffchaff and Blackcap were heard singing away, Ring-necked Parakeets were noisy and mobile around the estate and I was pleased to find a female Wheatear, only my second one here this year.


Despite enjoying my walk it feels like Spring has now totally sprung and so I headed home earlier than planned and walked up to Plymouth Hoe for a look off Rusty Anchor for a reported Black Guillemot. It was originally found on the 6th May but I was unable to go and have a look for it and after no further reports were forthcoming I totally forgot about it. However it was reported again on the 12th May and then also while I was on my Plym walk and so I headed off with my scope and my fingers crossed. Luckily there were birders on site and they quickly put me onto the bird but it was distant and my scope was definently needed. It did eventually fly a little nearer before continually diving for food and I managed some good views of it between dives, my first sighting of one in Plymouth.