Friday 29 July 2022

Chewing a Wasp

Thursday 21st July was warm and sunny and so we decided to take the ferry across Plymouth Sound to Cawsands for a day on the beach. On the journey to Cawsands there were 4 Mediterranean Gulls feeding together around Drakes Island, all adults moulting out of summer plumage, but there was no sign of any Sandwich Terns although it may be a little early in the autumn just yet. 

On disembarking at Cawsand I did a Big Butterfly Count along the coast path to Sandways Beach, something I usually do at this time of year, but there were only a few butterflies seen this time - 3 Peacock, a Red Admiral, a Small White, a Meadow Brown, a Silver-washed Fritillary and 3 Gatekeeper along with a Six-spot Burnet moth. I did see more butterflies on arriving at Sandways Beach including a second Silver-washed Fritillary but it was after the allotted 15 minute count time (and there is no option to add less common butterflies to the count entries this year as there has been in the past so the Fritillary has unfortunately gone unrecorded).

Silver-washed Fritillary, Cawsands

It was very hot on the beach and we had a pleasant time admiring the views, chatting and enjoying a picnic although I did end up with a wasp sting in my mouth. I took a sip of my drink and felt something in my mouth followed by a painful sting before spitting out a wasp, not ideal for somebody who is allergic to bee and wasp stings! It is not a serious allergy, I don't require an EpiPen or anything like that but I do swell up like a balloon and so I ended up sporting a very swollen mouth and left cheek and wasn't able to go to work the next day as I couldn't wear a surgical mask as mandated for NHS establishments - so silver linings!

I had the moth box out in the back yard again on Friday 22nd July and in the morning I had some interesting moths to go through while 3 Swifts screamed overhead and Ring-necked Parakeets squawked away. The highlight was a Crescent Dart, my first for the back yard and a complete surprise as it is a coastal species. At first I thought it may have been a Turnip Moth until @MOTHIDUK on Twitter confirmed its identity. I used to see them regularly at Bude when I used my moth box at The Outlaws caravan and it was always one of my favourite moths to catch there along with Brussels Lace which also seems to be turning up in my back yard more often now too. Another new for me and interesting moth species in the trap was Metalampra italica (Italian Tubic), a moth supposedley endemic to Italy but first recorded in the UK in Plymouth in 2003, presumably having been accidentally introduced here. Finally a Rush Veneer was a sign of migration from the Continent, not surprising in the fierce heat of the past week here in the UK and in Spain and France.

Crescent Dart

Metalampra italica

Rush Veneer

Saturday 23rd July was overcast, drizzley and cool and so I headed off to Wembury for a walk. The tide was coming in and along the beach there were 4 Whimbrel and a Common Sandpiper along with 62 Oystercatcher, 4 Curlew, 5 Little Egret and 11 Mallard (5 males in eclipse plumage). There were good numbers of juvenile Black-headed Gulls amongst the adult birds along with 15 Mediterranean Gulls (2 juveniles) although surprisingly none of the birds present were ringed.

Mediterranean Gulls and a Whimbrel

Black-headed Gulls and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull

The biggest surprise were 2 Hobby dashing over the horse fields in pursuit of a Swallow, a brief view only as they quickly disappeared over the hilltop never to be seen again. 2 Buzzards, a Peregrine, a Sparrowhawk, a Swift and 4 Raven were also noted overhead. 

A Green Woodpecker was heard yaffling away at the Point and 2 Cirl Buntings were heard singing while offshore it was good to see at least 3 juvenile Gannets along with 3 adult birds, all having (so far) survived the ravages of bird flu decimating Gannet colonies in the north of the UK. 

Despite the cool and cloudy conditions a Wall, a Red Admiral and a Small White were seen along with a Meadow Brown, 8 Gatekeeper and a Red-banded Sand Wasp. 


Red-banded Sand Wasp

Another moth box session overnight on Monday 25th July in much cooler (and pleasenter) conditions finally provided my first Jersey Tiger Moths of the year with 2 fluttering around the trap the next morning.

Jersey Tiger

Other highlights in the trap were a Lynchis, a Copper Underwing Agg., another (larger) Metalampra italica and a Coronet.


Copper Underwing Agg. 

Metalampra italica

With Tuesday 26th July free we headed out to Roborough Down for a walk. It was warm in the sunny spells and quite humid and there were plenty of butterflies on the wing, mostly Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns but with Small and Large White, 2 Holly Blue, a Ringlet, a Speckled Wood, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brimstone, Wall and Grayling also seen.

Silver-washed Fritillary




Wednesday 27th July and with reports of 2 adult Spotted Flycatchers with 2 fledglings at Saltram I decided to go and have a look for them before yet another night shift. I have failed to see any Spotted Flycatchers at Saltram so far this year and needless to say I failed again but I'm glad to know they are present on site and have successfully bred. 

It was warm and humid despite the overcast skies and there were plenty of butterflies about. Gatekeepers were everywhere, they certainly are having a good year this year, and there were good numbers of Meadow Brown and Common Blue about too. A Green-veined White, a Small Heath, a Large White, a Speckled Wood, a Comma and a Small Skipper were also seen and I was pleased to find quite a few Long-winged Coneheads in the long grass too. 


Common Blue

Long-ringed Conehead

Terrellia tussilaginis (Burdock Gall Fly) 

The tide was heading out and on the mudflats were 5 Curlew, 3 Oystercatcher (with 1 juvenile being fed worms by an adult), an adult and a juvenile Shelduck, 5 Mute Swan and a smart summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit.

Swift, Swallow and House Martin were hawking overhead and a pair of Kestrel were also seen with the female busily hovering away over Chelson Meadow. The female Red-crested Pochard was still present at the duck pond along with 22 eclipse-plumaged Mandarin Ducks and again there were variously aged Moorhen chicks on the pond with their parents. 

And so July slowly ebbs away and it's time to begin my slow metamorphosis back to being a birder as summer slips into autumn. It has however been quite an excellent month for butterflying helped in some part by the hot and dry weather we have experienced.

Friday 22 July 2022

Purple Emperors and Moths in the Heat

Saturday 16th July was hotter again and so I decided to head off to Bentley Woods near Salisbury for the day. I visited the woods back in June 2018 during another heatwave and had a great day out, seeing loads of butterflies including Purple Emperors, and I have wanted to revisit ever since. 

It was an early start (the alarm clock went off at 04:45hrs!) and my first train (of 3) on the journey to Dean in Wiltshire left Plymouth for Exeter on time at 05:27hrs. The journey continued smoothly with the next train leaving Exeter on time but as we neared Salisbury my train was held outside the station for a late running connecting train. On arriving into Salisbury station there was a further delay with the train doors kept locked so more carriages could be attached to my train with the result being that I missed my third and final train to Dean by 4 minutes! I then had to wait at Salisbury for another 56 minutes until the next train to Dean, losing an hour of my visiting time at the woods and an hour that would have been a cooler hour too on what became an unpleasantly hot day.

The train ticket was an eye-watering £69.10 but I used the Split Ticketing website and got the cost down to £43.80, a big saving but utterly ridiculous when I caught exactly the same trains as if I had paid the full price! With my delay of 1 hour I was able to claim compensation under the Delay Repay scheme and have received a refund of £11.75 bringing the cost of the journey down even more but I would have preferred to have not been delayed.

The 2 mile walk from the railway station at Dean to Bentley Woods was hot but often shaded by trees and along the way I was briefly distracted by a Red Kite soaring overhead.

Red Kite

The car park at Bentley Woods was surprisingly almost empty unlike on my last visit and also noticeable were lower numbers of butterflies than on my last visit. However as I wandered off along the rides I began to see more butterflies, mostly Ringlet, Brimstone, Large Skipper and Small Skipper with Large White, Peacock, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Comma and Silver-washed Fritillary also seen.


A few birds were seen in the increasing heat of the day with the highlight being a fledgling Spotted Flycatcher along with 2 adult birds busily catching flies amongst the tree branches. Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Marsh Tit and Sparrowhawk were also seen and Green Woodpecker and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also heard.

A few Purple Hairstreak were seen fidgeting about in the tree tops but there was no sign of any Purple Emperors and the 5 Butterfliers I met along the walk hadn't seen any either. I headed back towards the car park and finally managed to get a brief view of a Purple Emperor flying around in the tree tops by the footpath before it disappeared amongst the leaves, not the best views but at least I has seen one.

Purple Emperors are often seen around the car park and so I decided to hang around here in the shade and scan across the tree tops and within 5 minutes I found one flying around and gradually coming down towards the ground. Unfortunately it changed its mind and headed back up into the tree top but fortunately it settled on the leaves in full view and I had some nice binocular views of it.

Purple Emperor

Purple Emperor

I watched it for a while before it flew off over the tree tops and was gone but I was pleased with the views I had. I also had some better views of Purple Hairstreaks in the tree tops around the car park too.

Purple Hairstreak

It was soon time to walk back to the train station at Dean to start my journey back to Plymouth and the trains ran smoothly again until I arrived at Exeter where the trains to Plymouth were all running late (another Delay Repay claim in the offing!) and I eventually arrived home an hour later than expected. It had been a long and hot day out but an enjoyable one despite the train delays, I look forward to doing the trip again in the future.

With the hot weather I had the moth box out in the back yard that night and had a decentish haul of moths although less than expected considering the warm overnight temperatures but a Buff Tip, my second ever back yard Elephant Hawk Moth, Coronet, Marbled Green and Four-spotted Footman were the highlights.

Buff Tip

Elephant Hawk Moth

Acleris forsskaleana

Yellow Shell


Haworth's Pug

Monday 18th July and it was an incredibly hot day with temperatures here in Plymouth reaching above 32°c, not helped by very little wind and the breeze we did have being warm rather than cooling. We decided to take a walk around the coast path at Stoke Point although we did a shorter walk than usual, starting and ending at The Warren car park, and a large part of the walk was under the shade of the trees along the River Yealm so it wasnt too bad. We didn't encounter any Mad Dogs but there were other English Men out in the Midday Sun and it was bloody hot, we were very glad to stop and have cold beers at The Ship Inn at Noss Mayo along the way.

Butterflies were flitting about in the heat with Common Blue, Peacock, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Large White, Small White and Green-veined White all seen but a Clouded Yellow dashing past and flitty Wall Browns sheltering in the shade of a hedgerow were the highlights.



I had the moth box out in the back yard again that night with temperatures not dropping below 20°c and in the morning there were quite a few moths in the trap along with lots of flies and a few wasps. Unfortunately the wasps were tucking in to the docile male Four-spotted Footman in the trap, biting off their wings and nibbling away at their bodies. 

I had some of my favourite moths in the trap including 2 Marbled Green, 3 Coronet and 2 Mullein Wave along with Buff Ermine, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Cloaked Minor, Single-dotted Wave and Rustic. 

Cloaked Minor

Single-dotted Wave


The weather has now returned to more usual temperatures for the time of year here in Devon, a welcome relief from the hot weather we have just experienced although we really could do with some proper rain. Maybe this is just a taste of what is yet to come? 

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Butterflies and Bee-eaters on a Trip to Suffolk

The heatwave continues to build, not ideal for a drive up to Ipswich in Suffolk for a few days away visiting my family. We headed off from Plymouth on Monday 11th July and the journey was long, hot and beset with delays but we arrived in Ipswich in one piece despite temperatures hitting 32°c and having witnessed some terrible and dangerous driving along the way.

We stayed at The Holiday Inn again and on checking out the grassy verges surrounding the hotel grounds I again found plenty of Essex Skippers flitting about. 

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

My Mum had tested positive for COVID just before our trip which curtailed some of our plans but fortunately she wasn't too poorly with it and towards the end of our visit she was able to come out with us on our days out. 

Tuesday 12th July was hot and sunny and we headed out to Bradfield Woods for a walk, a Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserve which has been actively coppiced for over 800 years and has subsequently become a haven for butterflies.

It was our first visit here and we had an enjoyable walk along the woodland rides where it was noticeably cooler in the shade of the trees. There were plenty of butterflies around too and I had lovely views of Silver-washed Fritillary feeding on flowers and flitting along the rides along with Ringlet, Large Skipper, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Peacock, Large White and Comma. 

Silver-washed Fritillary

Silver-washed Fritillary 

Silver-washed Fritillary 

Silver-washed Fritillary

White Admirals were also seen but they were flitty and difficult to get good views of but I managed to get a semi-decent photo of one in the end.

White Admiral

I also had a brief view of a probable Purple Emperor dashing across the top of an oak tree before it disappeared from sight, never to be seen again, while on the bird front a Marsh Tit was a nice find.

Wednesday 13th July and we drove to Trimmingham in Norfolk where a flock of 8 Bee-eaters are nesting in a quarry under the watchful eyes of the RSPB.

The Bee-eaters were on show as soon as we arrived on site, only 3 of the 8 present were seen at any one time and the views were distant and heat hazy but it was a delight to see my first UK Bee-eaters and even better to hear their amazing calls.



We carried on to nearby Cromer where an adult and juvenile Peregrine were noisely flying around the church tower in the town centre.

Juvenile Peregrine

After some lunch we walked along the sea front and I checked out the Gulls loafing around on the beach. There were Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls present and also what at first appeared to be an adult Yellow-legged Gull, it ticked a lot of boxes but it didn't seem quite right so possibly a hybrid bird?

Yellow-legged/Caspian/Herring Gull Hybrid? 

Yellow-legged/Caspian/Herring Gull Hybrid? 

Yellow-legged/Caspian/Herring Gull Hybrid? 

Yellow-legged/Caspian/ Herring Gull Hybrid? 

Thursday 14th July was my Minsmere day and I enjoyed a 150 minute visit there, not really long enough for me but I did get to see a lot of wildlife in this relatively short time.

The Scrape was looking very dry as we continue with this hot spell of dry weather and there were corpses of Gulls and Terns dotted about due to the continuing ravages of Avian Flu but as usual there was lots to see. A Hobby dashing back and forth and a male Marsh Harrier quartering back and forth meant the birds were constantly spooked but I did see 2 Little Tern with Common Terns and Sandwich Terns, 2 Green Sandpiper, 7 Spotted Redshank moulting out of summer plumage, 6 Dunlin, an adult and juvenile Ringed Plover, 4 male Ruff moulting out of summer plumage and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull. 

Canada Geese on a drying out Scrape



The sad signs of Avian Flu

The ever-present threat to Minsmere - Sizewell C

A Beewolf burying a Bee in the sand by the footpath was a first sighting for me and Brown Argus and Essex Skipper were also seen along with the usual Butterflies but it was soon time to be picked up by David, a short and sweet visit but a joy as always. 


Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Essex Skipper

After meeting up with David we headed on to nearby Theberton Woods, somewhere we also haven't visited before. It is a Forestry Commission wood being actively felled and a site where Purple Emperors were illegally released from 2001 onwards but which have now become a self-sustaining population. 

As we arrived at the car park it was beginning to cloud over but a couple of butterfliers were present and had seen Purple Emperors down on the ground during the course of the morning. I only had an hour free to look for them but a female was quickly seen flying around the top of a tree before settling out of sight. It was a good 30 minutes later before we saw 2 males flitting about the tree tops but they too settled out of sight and that was it before it was time to leave. 

A couple of Purple Hairstreak were also seen fidgeting about up in the tree tops but again they stayed mostly out of sight and a nice and fresh Peacock was seen basking on a log. A Marsh Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were the only birds of note seen. 


Friday 15th July and it was time to head home to Plymouth, another hot day and a journey beset again with delays and some rather dodgy driving but we arrived home safely, having had an enjoyable time away.