Wednesday 31 August 2022

A Plym Osprey

The overnight temperatures have suddenly dropped and so it was slim pickings in the back yard moth box on the morning of Friday 26th August with the highlight being a Pyrausta despicata. 

Pyrausta despicata

Small Square Spot

After sorting out the moth box I headed out on the bus to Wembury for walk despite the grey skies. It started to mizzle as I got on the bus in Plymouth and by the time I arrived at Wembury the heavens had opened and I ended up seeking refuge in the church which was fortunately unlocked. I've never been in the church before and after a 20 minute look around the rain stopped and I began my walk along the clifftop path heading east towards The Yealm. 

I walked along the cliffs to the field where I saw Yellow Wagtails a few years ago but there were no cows present this time and therefore no Yellow Wagtails but I did see a nice Whinchat for my efforts. 

I headed back to the main beach and then began my usual walking route west. There were 3 noisey Sandwich Terns diving for fish close to shore off the main beach, a juvenile with 2 adults that have so far survived the ravages of Avian Flu. A small flock of waders were also picked up offshore heading towards the beach, eventually they landed on the rocks and revealed themselves to be 6 Turnstone and a Ringed Plover.

The tide was out and Oystercatchers, a Curlew, 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron were out on the rocks with the roosting Gulls, mostly Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls with a few adult Great Black-backed Gulls and an adult and 2 juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There was also a noticeable increase in Mediterranean Gull numbers including at least 5 juveniles amongst the adults but they were mobile and flighty, moving between the rocks and the stubble field to feed and so difficult to count. Again none were ringed which is unusual.

A nice find was a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull in the stubble field but just as I had finished setting up my scope it sat down amongst the browned stalks and went to sleep! I stuck around waiting for it to wake up but all the Gulls were eventually flushed by something and off it flew heading east showing a nice white rump and dark tail band as it went.

I finally managed to find at least 2 juvenile Willow Warblers amongst the Chiffchaffs in the pines at The Point, looking very lemony and giving off a skinny Wood Warbler vibe. A Green Woodpecker was still finding life at The Point funny as it yaffled away and Blackcap and Whitethroat were also seen.

A few butterflies began to emerge as the sun appeared in clearing skies with 2 Clouded Yellow, 2 Small Copper, a Red Admiral, Common Blues, Meadow Browns, a Speckled Wood and Large and Small Whites all seen. 

Small Copper

Along the stream 2 Golden-ringed Dragonfly and 2 male and a female Beautiful Demoiselle were flitting about and perching up to bask. 

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Beautiful Demoiselle

A big surprise was finding 2 Bee Wolf above the main beach, a first sighting at Wembury for me following my first ever sighting of one at Minsmere back in July.

Bee Wolf

Bee Wolf

Bee Wolf

I caught the bus back to Plymouth and after checking my phone for any bird news as we left Wembury I foolishly turned my phone off until I arrived home which meant I missed the Whats App message regarding the Plym Osprey making a reappearance just as I was crossing Laira Bridge! I headed straight back out to The Plym with news then coming through on Whats App of a Pied Flycatcher being found as well but needless to say I didn't see either! A big fat Double Dip! 

I had an enjoyable walk anyway and managed to get some lovely views of 5, possibly 6 Spotted Flycatchers including 2 juveniles. The Barnacle Goose was amongst the Canada Geese on Blaxton Meadow again and a Kingfisher dashed across the pools as the meadow filled on the incoming tide. 

Barnacle Goose with Canada Geese

Sunday 28th August and with it being the Bank Holiday weekend we drove out to Wembury for a walk. The tide was heading out and there were again good numbers of Mediterranean Gulls amongst the Gulls roosting on the rocky foreshore. A Turnstone, 2 Little Egret, a Curlew and Oystercatchers were also seen out on the rocks and 2 Buzzard and a Kestrel were seen overhead. At least 2 Bee Wolf were still present at the main beach and a Clouded Yellow was seen flying past. 

Tuesday 30th August was hot and sunny again and with a text coming through regarding Yellow Wagtails in Saltram Park from Plymouth birder Pete I was jolted out of my sofa malaise and headed out for a look. They had been reported the previous day while I was at work but I hadn't expected them to have stuck around. 

I caught the bus to Marsh Mills to begin my walk and as we travelled along The Embankment by the River Plym I was very pleased to see the Osprey flying about off Blaxton Meadow and putting up all the Gulls before it was lost from view. After stepping off the bus I quickly walked down to the viewing platform overlooking Blaxton Meadow where Pete was present and he had seen the Osprey too. We scanned around and eventually we refound it as it circled overhead, at one point it came down low and almost landed on a wooden post on the Meadow before changing its mind, and after a few minutes of flying around it circled higher and higher and was lost to view. 

I was very pleased to finally catch up with the Osprey on my 4th attempt, a ringed juvenile hatched in Scotland this year, and hopefully it may stay around for a little bit longer. 





A Kingfisher and at least 4 Common Sandpiper were also seen on the Meadow while a Sparrowhawk soared overhead amongst good numbers of House Martins (100+) and Swallows. 

I carried on my walk up to Saltram House to have a look for the Yellow Wagtails amongst the cattle herd nearby, at first there was no sign of any birds at all but eventually I found a few Pied Wagtails hidden in the grass and then a Yellow Wagtail which flew up into a dead tree to preen for a few minutes before disappearing back down into the grass. There may have been a second bird present but I couldn't be sure with viewing difficult due to distance and the Wagtails being mostly obscured as they flitted about and fed in the grass. 

Yellow Wagtail

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Wembury, The Plym and more Moths

On waking up on Thursday 18th August it was overcast and feeling cooler than of late and with a mid-morning high tide due I headed out to Wembury for a walk. 

Despite the lack of sunshine it still felt warm  and there were a few butterflies flitting about with a Small White, 4 Common Blue, 3 Red Admiral, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns all seen. 

Common Blue

There was a high count of 101 Oystercatcher roosting at The Point with a Whimbrel, 6 Curlew and 4 Little Egret. A male eclipse Mallard was bobbing around on the sea nearby and a total of 14 Mediterranean Gulls were also noted (2 juveniles, 1 2nd Winter and 11 adults, all unringed). All the birds were spooked by a flyby juvenile Peregrine before returning to the rocks to continue their resting. 

Mediterranean Gull

2 Sanderling were trying to roost along the beach but were being regularly disturbed by dog walkers and a dead baby Harbour Porpoise washed up on the tide line was a sad sight.


Harbour Porpoise

There were 38 Canada Geese roosting in the stubble field and a nice surprise sighting were 2 adult Red-legged Partridge feeding at the back of the field with 3 well grown young. A Green Woodpecker was again yaffling away at The Point and this time I finally managed to get a brief flight view of it and the first Meadow Pipit of the Autumn was flushed noisely out of the long grass. 

A report of the Osprey being refound on The Plym came through on WhatsApp and so on the way home I stopped off at Laira Bridge for a look. Unfortunately there was no sign of it as expected but I enjoyed my hour long wander around before the mizzle arrived and I headed home. 

The best sighting was of a Tree Pipit again, probably the same bird as seen on Tuesday as it was in the same area and again on being flushed out of the grass it circled around overhead before heading off out of sight and remaining silent the whole time. 

I headed out again to The Plym on Sunday 21st August and again there was no sign of any Osprey but I had quite a productive walk anyway with the highlight being my first Plym Sandwich Tern. It was resting on a buoy on the high tide just above Laira Bridge before flying around and diving for fish and then disappearing downriver. 

Sandwich Tern

The tide was heading in and there was a nice selection of waders coming in to roost at Blaxton Meadow -  17 Oystercatcher, 24 Curlew, 1 Whimbrel, 6 Dunlin, 100+ Redshank, 2 Common Sandpiper and best of all 2 juvenile Ringed Plover. 

Out on the Estuary the usual 5 Mute Swans were present with 2 Grey Wagtail, a Kingfisher and a Common Sandpiper. The woods held the usual birds too with some good views had of a bedraggled looking Spotted Flycatcher during a heavy shower. 

A Tree Pipit was again seen in the usual place, this time flushed out of a bush before silently flying off into the grass. Later another one was seen flying overhead with another one shortly after, possibly all the same bird but maybe 3 birds present and all totally silent! 

The forecast overnight on Monday 22nd August was for possible showers so I decided to risk it and had the moth box out in the back yard. Unfortunately the showers had been definite and a soggy moth box greeted me the next morning but despite this I had caught a few moths.

The usual suspects of Light Brown Apple Moth, Willow Beauty, Double Striped Pug, Brimstone Moth, Square Spot Rustic and Garden Carpet were found in the moth box with Vines Rustic being the most numerous moth. Also found in the box were a Yellow-barred Brindle, a Dusky Thorn, a Rush Veneer, a Cydia splendana, a very dark Pearly Underwing, a Wormood Pug and a Eudonia angustea.

Dusky Thorn

Pearly Underwing - a new moth for me

Wormwood Pug

Eudonia angustea

Thursday 18 August 2022

Heatwave Mothing

I had the moth box out in the back yard again on Thursday 11th August,  I usually don't put the box out 2 nights in a row as it seems a bit unfair on the moths in my small courtyard garden but with the high overnight temperatures continuing as the heatwave continues to build I thought I would give it a go. I obviously recaught some moths from the previous night but there was also a totally different range of moths caught on the second night, 

There were only 4 Jersey Tiger Moths compared to the 17 the previous night but Galium Carpet, Dark Sword Grass, Small Mottled Willow, White Line Dart, Small Square Spot and Jersey Mocha all made appearances along with Flounced Rustic,  Square Spot Rustic and Setaceous Hebrew Character. 

Galium Carpet

Dark Sword Grass

Small Mottled Willow

White-line Dart

Small Square Spot

Jersey Mocha

Square Spot Rustic

Micro moths were thinner on the ground than the previous night but I did find a Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner and a Argyresthia goedarlella, both new for the back yard and both very attractive looking moths when seen through my loupe. 

Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner

Argyresthia goedarlella

After sorting out the moths I headed out for a Plym/Saltram walk with the plan to be home by 12 O'clock before the serious heat kicked in although it was baking hot by 10 O'clock anyway. I wasn't expecting to see much but things started well with a Barnacle Goose found amongst the Canada Geese out on the mudflats on the dropping tide. 

Barnacle Goose

Blaxton Marsh was beginning to empty out of birds and water but a Greenshank and a Black-tailed Godwit were seen amongst the Gulls and Curlews present. An interesting juvenile Gull was giving off a Yellow-legged Gull vibe before it flew out to the estuary showing a dark tail band and white rump but it certainly wasn't a classic looking one. 

A surprise bird was a Lapwing,  flushed from its hiding place in the dead grass and flying out to the mudflats off The Ride. Later it was flushed off the mud by bait diggers and flew off upriver. 

Another nice find was a juvenile Whinchat, my first of the autumn, and the family party of Spotted Flycatcher seen previously near the house had decamped to the trees around the dipping platform where they showed very well. 


Spotted Flycatcher

I worked 2 long days over the weekend of 13th/14th August, a thoroughly miserable experience in the hot and humid heatwave conditions and not helped by the lack of proper sleep due to the high overnight temperatures. However my commute to work on the Sunday was brightened up by seeing 4 White Stork circling over the River Plym at around 7am as seen from the bus as it travelled along The Embankment,  presumably birds released at Knepp in Sussex as part of the reintroduction scheme. 

Despite being absolutely knackered on arriving home from work on the Sunday evening I put the moth box out again in the back yard to make full use of the current hot overnight conditions and the next morning I had an interesting selection of moths again -  Treble Bar, Maidens Blush, 2 Turnip Moth and a Sallow Kitten were all new for the year but the best moth was a Scarce Bordered Straw (with ID help from @MothIDUK on Twitter). 

Maidens Blush

Turnip Moth

Sallow Kitten

Scarce Bordered Straw

Scarce Bordered Straw

After my 2 long and hot and sticky days at work over the weekend I wanted to get out for the day on Monday 15th August and with temperatures easing and skies cloudier we headed up to Bude for the day. It was noticeably cooler but still very hot and humid and we finally saw some brief but heavy showers of rain on the drive home which was just wonderful. 

It was busy as expected in Bude but we enjoyed a wander around and had a nice lunch at The Falcon Hotel. The sea was flat calm too and empty except for a few Gulls,  a Gannet and a Shag (and lots of humans!). 

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, Bude

I took my scope with me and had a look at Maer Lake, the water level was very, very low with plenty of mud on show and as a result there were plenty of waders to see. The best were 2 Wood Sandpipers, my first for 4 years(!), both showed very well and at times were in the company of 2 Green and a Common Sandpiper. A Golden Plover moulting out of summer plumage, 4 Snipe, 5 Ringed Plover, 3 Lapwing, 9 Dunlin, 30 Black-tailed Godwit and 5 Curlew were also noted but all the waders were quite twitchy at times, presumably due to the attentions of a female Sparrowhawk occasionally flying by.

While we were in Bude an Osprey was found on the River Plym and so the next day (Tuesday 16th) I headed out for a walk to look for it. It was a juvenile bird and ringed and so I hoped it would still be present as Ospreys often linger on a South Devon estuary in the autumn but unfortunately there was no sign of it.

I did however find my first Tree Pipit of the autumn, it flushed silently from the grass and circled around for a while before landing in a tree. It then flew again, circled around and landed back in the grass never to be seen again and bizarrely was again totally silent. 

I was also pleased to find 5 Whinchat on this visit although they were very mobile and flighty. I also found 5 Stonechat, 3 Whitethroat,  2 Willow Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff and a Blackcap while overhead Swallows and House Martins were hawking insects. A Kestrel, a Buzzard, a Common Sandpiper, 2 Shag, 5 Oystercatcher, 4 Mistle Thrush, 3 Roe Deer and a Clouded Yellow were also of note.

Friday 12 August 2022

Butterfly and Moth Bonanza

With my butterfly year list for 2022 standing at 37 and with a few more weeks still left in this years butterfly season I decided to try for 40 species for the year - and with my birthday money from Mum and Dad burning a hole in my pocket I thought the best way to achieve this would be to take a trip to Fontmell Down in Dorset.

Fontmell Down - strong legs and a head for heights required! 

Fontmell Down - very brown and dry

Fontmell Down - stunning as always

I last visited Fontmell Down 2 years ago and I was very much looking forward to revisiting this spectacular site again. It was forecast to be a hot and sunny day, perhaps not the best conditions for butterfly watching, but with another heatwave brewing, train strikes looming and a parched landscape it seemed as good a time as any to head out for a visit.

It was an early start again (05:25 hrs train!) and an expensive train ticket and taxi ride but I arrived on the Down at around 09:00hrs and it was already a very warm day. The Down looked dry and sun scorched but there was plenty of insect activity to observe despite this. The baking heat meant very active and mobile butterflies and along with the harsh sunlight the conditions proved very challenging for taking any decent photos but I managed to get a few passable shots.

Within a few minutes of arriving I found my first Silver-spotted Skipper looking absolutely mint as it buzzed from flower to flower before dashing off. Over the course of the morning I saw plenty more, certainly the most I've ever seen here before and all looking very smart but they never settled for very long. I never really saw the upper wings of any of them either as they mostly always kept their wings firmly closed but at least they showed off their beautifully patterned underwing.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

There were lots of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers around and Common Blues were very numerous too. I checked out every blue butterfly I saw and eventually found a stunning male Adonis Blue, unmistakable as soon as I clapped eyes on it. It was a dazzling blue, probably newly emerged, but it never settled for long and always kept its wings shut when it did. As it flew around the hillside its electric blue upperwings contrasted with the brown coloured underwings giving it a very distinctive look. 

Adonis Blue

I also found at least 2 male Chalkhill Blues flitting about, a beautiful pale blue colour and again very distinctive in flight but both very worn with the black markings on the upper wings very faded. 

Chalkhill Blue

Chalkhill Blue

A Clouded Yellow, a male Brimstone and a few Small Heath were also noted but a surprise sighting was of 2 Dingy Skipper with one seen busily laying eggs. A mating pair of Common Blue were much more accommodating for the camera. 

Common Blues

Common Blues

I had a wander over to nearby Melbury Down to check out a small quarry where I think Small Blues are found but I was out of luck although I did find 2 smart Brown Argus feeding on flowers. 

Brown Argus

Brown Argus 

A few birds were noted over the course of my visit, the best being a Lesser Whitethroat skulking in the shrubbery, a brief view only but my first of the year. 2 Red Kites, 2 Buzzards and 2 Kestrels overhead, a Green Woodpecker yaffling away and very lemony looking juvenile Willow Warblers flitting about in the bushes were also of note. 

Dwarf Thistle - splashes of colour hidden in the browned grass

Agriphila inquinatella - large numbers constantly disturbed from the grass

The journey home to Plymouth was long, hot and tiring but with only a minor delay experienced this time as the train came to a halt for around 5 minutes just outside Ivybridge. I didn't mind too much as I was able to watch 2 Painted Lady, 2 Red Admiral and a Silver-washed Fritillary feeding on the Buddleia flowers right by the trackside and bringing my Butterfly total for the day to 22 species - and my year list now stands at a record breaking 41 species! 

Tuesday 9th August was hotter again and I took a quick walk along the coast path at Wembury before yet another looming night shift. It was uncomfortably hot as soon as I stepped off the bus and I was very glad 3 hours later to return home to escape from the heat. 

The tide was low but out on the rocks there were 2 Little Egrets, Oystercatchers, a male Mallard in eclipse plumage and at least 11 Mediterranean Gulls (6 adults, 3 juveniles and 2 2nd winters). 

Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Stonechat, Linnet and Cirl Bunting were all seen but a search for Willow Warbler drew a blank. Overhead 3 Swallow, 2 Kestrel and 2 Raven were noted and a Green Woodpecker was again heard yaffling away at The Point. 

There was plenty of butterfly activity in the heat including at least 3 Painted Lady, a Comma, 2 Clouded Yellow, a Wall, a Green-veined White and a few Small White along with the usual species. A record total of 11 Beautiful Demoiselle (3 female) were seen flitting about around the streamside vegetation and a Hornet Robberfly was a nice find too but proved a swine to get a decent photo of it.

Painted Lady


I had the moth box out in the back yard overnight on Wednesday 10th August and on the following morning I had a garden record of 17 Jersey Tiger in the trap including a yellow lutescens form. 

There were plenty of other moths in the trap including a Diamond-back Moth, 3 Rush Veneer, 3 Mullein Wave, a Marbled Green, a Marbled Beauty and an August Thorn (in August!). 

Marbled Beauty and Marbled Green

August Thorn

Micro-moths stole the show though with the highlight being 2 Cosmopterix pulchrimella, one which unfortunately soon became deceased and the other which unfortunately flew off pretty quickly from its pot even after a spell in the fridge. 

Cosmopterix pulchrimella

Bucculatrix thoracella, Ringed China Mark, Garden Rose Tortrix and 2 Acleris literana were the best of the rest lurking in the trap. 

Garden Rose Tortrix

Acleris literana

Thursday was set to be another scorching hot day as the heatwave continues to build and so we decided to head up to Dartmoor to walk more of the Devonport Leat, figuring the higher altitude would mean lower temperatures and a more cooling breeze, and indeed it was cooler but still searingly hot in the sunshine. We enjoyed the walk anyway and it was nice to actually see some green grass for a change although we were very glad to stop for lunch at The Two Bridges Hotel and to get out of the heat. 

A juvenile Spotted Flycatcher was the avian highlight with a Grey Heron, 2 Reed Bunting, a Grey Wagtail and 5 Mallard also of note. A few Small Heath, a Red Admiral, Beautiful Demoiselle, Large Red Damselfly, Common Darter and Golden-ringed Dragonfly were also seen. 

Spotted Flycatcher

Golden-ringed Dragonfly