Tuesday 31 October 2023

Groundhog Plym and Wembury Days

I headed out to The Plym for a walk on Monday 30th October, it was a bright and sunny morning with just the one very heavy shower while I was there (and fortunately when I was near the bird hide so I could seek temporary shelter) and while I had a very enjoyable walk it all felt very Groundhog Day-like.

It was high tide and a very high tide indeed with Blaxton Meadow totally flooded, the most flooded I've ever seen it and as a result there was nowhere for the waders to roost and only 7 Curlew, 2 Redshank and 2 Snipe were seen. The usual Canada Geese and Mallard were present with 12 Shelduck and 22 Wigeon and the usual Black-headed and Herring Gulls were present too but only 3 Little Egret and 2 Grey Heron. A male Bullfinch was also feeding in the hedgerow near the viewing platform and a Raven flew overhead.

Grey Heron

A bizarre sight was of a Little Egret eventually snaffling down a Vole/Mouse down along the river near the gas pipe, I don't know whether it had caught it or had found it dead but it took a while for it to get it down as it regularly dunked it in the water before trying to manoeuvre it into the right position to swallow it.

Around the Park a pair of Stonechat, 2 Grey Wagtail, 5 Curlew, at least 3 Ring-necked Parakeets, a Skylark and 3 Meadow Pipit were seen and a Green Woodpecker was heard. The highlight though was a Firecrest which showed very well as it fed in the trees near the sewage farm in the company of Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits.



It was a very pleasant walk but it all felt very like Deja Vu with everything seeming static and the same, hopefully things will get shaken up a little bit soon.

Sulphur Tuft - plenty growing on dead tree stumps around Saltram

Tuesday 31st October was going to be sunny again but with rain forecasted for late morning I headed out to Wembury on the 7am bus for a walk before the rain was due to arrive. I did get caught out in another heavy rain shower while I was there but I sheltered in the lee of some bushes and it fortunately passed over very quickly so I stayed relatively dry.

It was a very high tide with little beach on show and near the sewage pipe there were a group of 10 Little Egrets trying to roost with the Oystercatchers, I think the highest number I've ever seen at Wembury before. A Turnstone and a Curlew were also present along with 5 adult Mediterranean Gulls.


Offshore the usual Gannets were flying around and diving for fish with a few Mediterranean Gulls also present and a Peregrine was seen buzzing around The Mewstone in the strong breeze.

All the usual birds were seen along the walk - a Kestrel, a Sparrowhawk, Stonechats, Cirl Buntings, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, etc. - and it was feeling very Groundhog Day again, interesting and enjoyable but very samey - and then things stepped up a gear.


I had a look around the Radar Station and found a Chiffchaff flitting about in the pines but a scan over the fields inland revealed a flock of 5 White Doves circling around, I rarely see any Feral Pigeons/Doves at Wembury so I was quite pleased to see such a relatively common if plastic bird here. 

I then found an adult Common Gull flying along the beach, another species that is not exactly common at Wembury and one I see quite infrequently here. Even better was a Water Pipit that flushed off the beach near the sewage pipe and flew over my head calling and showing remarkable white looking underparts. It landed on some rocks where it showed even whiter looking outer tail feathers before dropping out of sight. I managed a few more good but brief views of it as it flitted about along the foreshore, it was as twitchy and as mobile as Water Pipits always are along the beach at Wembury and was regularly engaged in aerial spats with any nearby Rock Pipits until I finally lost track of it amongst the rocks. It was very distinctive looking with very white underparts and hopefully it will stick around for the winter.

To top things off I then found a Firecrest feeding in the bushes by the footpath near the horse field in the company of a Goldcrest, it showed very nicely before disappearing deeper into cover and was a nice end to my walk as I headed back to the bus stop to catch the bus back home. It began to rain as I headed up the valley from the beach to the bus stop but a flyby Red Admiral didn't seem to mind too much.

And so October is done - hoorah!

Friday 27 October 2023

A Late Wheatear

Sunday 22nd October was sunny and mild but plans for a birding day out further afield were again shelved due to there being very little around to entice me away from Plymouth and so I headed out to The Plym for a walk.

Blaxton Meadow on the incoming tide

It was very busy with people due to the nice weather and the start of Half Term Holiday Hell but I managed an interesting walk despite regularly being asked by passers by what I was looking at.

The tide was heading in and Blaxton Meadow was beginning to flood as the birds arrived to roost and the numbers of wintering birds are starting to increase with 15 Wigeon, 6 Snipe and 18 Dunlin now present amongst the usual Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A Black-tailed Godwit and a Common Sandpiper were also present but only 8 Greenshank were seen on this visit.


A Chiffchaff was seen feeding in a pine tree, giving itself away by constantly calling and 2 Firecrest did the same as they enjoyed a spat in the trees behind the bird hide before quietly melting away.

A single Roe Deer, 2 Speckled Wood, around 20 Red Admiral and a Common Darter were non-avian highlights but with the number of people out for a walk rapidly increasing it was time to head back home for some peace and quiet.

Speckled Wood

I headed off to Wembury on Monday 23rd October, I caught the 7am bus and it was pitch black as we left Plymouth but by the time I arrived at Wembury it was beginning to get light. It became a grey and breezy day but I had a very enjoyable wander about with the weather at least keeping the school holiday crowds away.

A grey Wembury

The previous day had been perfect for some vis-mig but it was too windy and cloudy today with a small flock of around 30 Woodpigeon and a group of 3 Redwing flying overhead the only signs of movement.

Offshore there were good numbers of Gannets milling about and diving for fish along with a small number of Kittiwakes. I kept a look out for any Skua action but there were none to be seen although the squabbling and chasing amongst the Kittiwakes themselves was fun to watch. Auks were flying back and forth offshore too, a bit far out to call but probably Guillemots. A Commic Tern heading west was also too far out to call.

A brief view of a tardy Wheatear before it was flushed by dog walkers was a surprise but there were at least 4 pairs of Stonechats present and they were much more confiding.




The beach was quiet too with 7 Turnstone, 2 Curlew and 3 Little Egret seen along with the usual Oystercatchers. The usual Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails were also feeding on the seaweed masses along the beach, one of which contained the sad sight of a Common Dolphin corpse.


Common Dolphin jaw - conical shaped teeth (Harbour Porpoise teeth are spatulate)

Parasol Mushrooms

Sunday 22 October 2023

A Quiet October Continues

My least favourite month of the year is in full swing (and thankfully now over half way through), I have never liked October very much although the birding can be quite good, unfortunately this year it hasn't been too exciting (yet).

Monday 16th October was grey and claggy but with some grotty weather forecasted for the rest of the week we headed out for a walk to the Avon Dam. There had been recent reports of Ring Ouzels here but as expected it was a Rouzel-less walk with very little else seen either - the only things of note were a flyover Raven and 2 Siskins, a Red Admiral flying by and a few furtive Blackbirds snaffling down Hawthorn berrys.

Tuesday 17th October was dry, overcast and very windy with a strong easterly breeze blowing and so I headed out to The Plym for a short walk on the morning high tide. Rain was forecasted for later in the day but it actually remained dry. It was a very high tide and Blaxton Meadow was well flooded but trying to roost with the Redshank were 32 Curlew, 3 Dunlin, 11 Greenshank and a Black-tailed Godwit. There were 8 Canada Geese and Mallards enjoying the feeding on the waterlogged grass and it was good to see the return of 4 Shelduck and 8 Wigeon (3 male) to the Meadow.


Elsewhere it was a 4 raptor day with singles of Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk overhead and flight views only of a Green Woodpecker, 3 Jay, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. A Chiffchaff was seen feeding with a mixed Tit flock which included a single Coal Tit and another Chiffchaff was heard only. A Common Sandpiper and a Grey Wagtail were along the river but a sad sight was a Convolvulous Hawkmoth larva found squashed on the footpath, still alive but only just although it would eventually have succumbed to the British winter anyway.

Convolvulous Hawkmoth Caterpillar

With news of a Cattle Egret roosting on Blaxton Meadow coming through on Whats App on the morning of Thursday 19th October I decided to head out for a quick look before a dentists appointment. Sadly it was not meant to be due to 2 workmen walking along the Meadow wall just as arrived on site and disturbing all the birds roosting on the high tide. However there was a Mute Swan and a redhead Goosander floating around on the floodwater of the Meadow and 10 Greenshank roosting on the sluice gate despite the disturbance. The usual Little Egret, Curlew, Redshank, Mallard and Canada Geese were present too but I couldn't linger for long and had to get back for my visit to the dentists.

We had a walk around Saltram on Friday 20th October, it was warm and sunny but eventually turned to some very heavy showers. I kept an eye out for the Cattle Egret but there was no sign of it but there were 9 Wigeon, a Shelduck and a Black-tailed Godwit on Blaxton Meadow amongst the usual roosting birds and a group of 5 Ring-necked Parakeets were screeching over the tree tops. 

I had found a Walnut tree in Saltram Park recently and so we went to investigate and managed to find a few Walnuts down on the ground, getting the nuts out of their green cases was fairly easy but it didn't half stain our hands! We are going to have a go at drying them but if it's not successful then the Grey Squirrels in Beaumont park are in for a treat!

Sunday 15 October 2023

Moths and Birds and Bees

With the good weather holding and the nights warm and dry I have had the moth box out in the back yard for 3 nights running, something I wouldn't ordinarily do. It's usually slim pickings for moths in the back yard in October and with the weather set to turn and cool and wet nights forecasted I decided to make the most of it and it proved to be quite successful.

I had the box out overnight for 3 nights from Sunday 8th October to Tuesday 10th October and caught an interesting selection of moths with numbers increasing each night as the overnight temperatures increased too.

The highlights over the 3 nights were a Vestal, 2 Olive-tree Pearl, a Dark Sword Grass, a Feathered Ranunculus, an L-Album Wainscot and 3 Black Rustic.


Olive-tree Pearl

Olive-tree Pearl 

Dark Sword Grass 

Feathered Ranunculus 

Black Rustic

I met up with Mavis at Wembury on Wednesday 11th October for a walk, it was grey and claggy but warm and humid and we enjoyed watching the insect life feeding on the Ivy blossom - Red Admiral, Wasps, Common Carder Bees, Hoverflies, Bumblebees, Flies and Ivy Bees.

Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

White-tailed Bumblebee

It was quiet on the bird front with 2 Mediterranean Gulls (1 adult, 1 1st winter), 5 Turnstone, 4 Curlew, a Grey Heron, Gannets and very flitty Cirl Buntings the highlights but a Large Shearwater found offshore heading west out past The Mewstone was too far out to call. By the time I had gotten my scope out of my rucksack and had set it it had moved through but it was probably a Cory's (from all the recent experience of these birds I've had over the past few weeks).

The weather was set fair for Saturday 14th October and I had planned to head out further afield for a birding day out but there is very little around at the moment to entice me too far away from Plymouth so I headed out to Wembury instead. I caught the early bus and arrived at around 7:30 just as the light began to lift and I set up my scope for a scan offshore. There were good numbers of Gannets offshore, adults and juveniles and all moving west, also with them were small pulses of Kittiwakes with one group having the menacing presence of a dark phased Arctic Skua on their tale. The passage dried up within an hour with just the odd Gannet passing by from then, just goes to show that the early bird really does catch the worm.

Also moving west were around 70 Skylarks, passing over in small flocks and giving themselves away by occassionally calling. A Siskin also flew over, a Wembury first for me, and again picked up on call.

A Curlew, 6 Turnstone, a Grey Heron and 10 Mediterranean Gulls ( 1 1st winter and 9 adults) were along the beach with the usual Oystercatchers. A few large spashes seen offshore were likely to have been feeding Blue Fin Tuna.

A Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel flying over the valley to the beach proved fruitful, causing the resident Cetti's Warbler to alarm call and show well but briefly out in the open before diving back into cover. Cirl Buntings were as flitty as ever but 2 Chiffchaffs showed well with a third bird heard. Only 1 Ivy Bee was found on the Ivy blossom amongst the Wasps and Flies and 2 Red Admiral, a Speckled Wood, a Small Copper and a Dark Bush Cricket were also seen. 

Dark Bush Cricket

Small Copper - form caeruleopunctata

Monday 9 October 2023

Wembury, The Plym and a Trip to France

Thursday 5th October was warm and occassionally sunny and with a mid-morning high tide I headed out to Wembury on the bus for a walk along the coast path. It didnt feel particularly birdy and so it proved to be but it was very pleasant to be back out birding away from the crowds, noise and heat of Madrid.

A surprise was a juvenile Mute Swan along the beach, it flew off  towards the River Yealm when disturbed by dog walkers and later it flew over Wembury Point towards Plymouth. Also roosting along the beach were 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, 14 Turnstone, 5 Curlew, 5 Little Egret and the usual Oystercatchers. Gull numbers were noticeably down with only a single Black-headed Gull, a few Great Black-backed Gulls and a few more Herring Gulls present and no sign of any Mediterranean Gulls.

Mute Swan

Bar-tailed Godwit with Turnstones

A juvenile Peregrine was practising its hunting skills and spooking birds here, there and everywhere as it buzzed around but a Sparrowhawk was getting short shrift from Carrion Crows as it passed overhead.

Otherwise the usual birds were seen with the only other birds of note being 2 Grey Wagtails along the stream where a Cetti's Warbler showed very briefly amongst the vegetation near the footbridge.

A Common Lizard, a Comma, a Painted Lady, 2 Speckled Wood, Red Admirals, Large Whites and Ivy Bees were also seen on what was an enjoyable walk.

Ivy Bee


Painted Lady

Common Carder Bee

I had the moth box out in the back yard that night, it was mild and dry but I only had 7 moths in the trap the next morning - Lesser Yellow Underwing, Garden Carpet, Rusty Dot Pearl, Light Brown Apple Moth, Square Spot Rustic, Shuttle-shaped Dart and a unidentified Micro.

Friday 6th October was warm and occassionally sunny again and so I headed off to The River Plym for a walk on the morning high tide. It was quiet on Blaxton Meadow as the tide flooded in through the sluice gates but amongst the Redshanks were a Black-tailed Godwit, a Common Sandpiper, 10 Greenshank, 14 Oystercatcher and 29 Curlew.

A few variously plumaged Herring Gulls were loafing around amongst the Black-headed Gulls and with them was a juvenile/1st winter Yellow-legged Gull, my first for The Plym. It kept apart from the other Gulls as they usual do, busily preening away before having a big dump and then flying off down river.

It was quiet elsewhere too with a Chiffchaff, 2 Stonechat, a flyover Siskin and a Jay of note around the Park and a female Goosander, 26 Turnstone and 2 Shag along the river. It was also good to see more Ivy Bees on the Ivy flowers and a late Small Copper enjoying the sunshine.



Ivy Bee

Ivy Bee

That evening we headed off to Roscoff in France on Brittany Ferries, something we haven't done since 2019 before The COVID struck. The sailing to Roscoff overnight on the Armorique ferry was smooth and calm but for some reason I didn't sleep particularly well (and I hadn't eaten too much or had any alcohol either).

On disembarking the ferry at 8am on Saturday 7th October it was another gorgeous day, all clear blue skies and sunshine with temperatures eventually getting up to 25°c and my lack of sleep was soon forgotten as we enjoyed our day in France. We even got to wear our shorts, the first time ever on this trip.

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth in Morlaix, Common Darters and a Firecrest at our lunchtime picnic spot and a flyover Grey Wagtail at the Red Bus Wine Cellar were the wildlife highlights although I just enjoyed the day, the weather, the company and the food and didn't spend too much time looking for wildlife.

The View from our Hotel Room, Roscoff


We stayed overnight in Roscoff at the Hotel Les Arcades and caught the Pont Aven ferry back to Plymouth at 09:45hrs on Sunday 8th October, yet another glorious October day and with another flat calm sea. I wasn't sure what to expect on the birding front as there was very little wind but it turned out to be a very interesting trip.

The Armorique coming into Roscoff as we left on The Pont Aven

As we left Roscoff the usual Gannets were seen along with 14 Sandwich Tern, 2 male and a female Common Scoter flying south, Shag, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Guillemot and Razorbill. Things soon picked up though when 2 single Balearic Shearwaters flew through heading west. A group of 6 Sooty Shearwater also powered through heading west and later another 2 were seen in the company of 2 Balearic Shearwater allowing for a good comparison.

2 Cory's Shearwaters were seen but they were distant, however as we reached the half way mark of our journey across The English Channel more appeared closer to the ferry and a total of at least 20 were eventually seen. Great Shearwaters also appeared, at least 100 in total including a raft of around 30 birds, and another 2 Sooty Shearwaters were seen along with 3 Manx Shearwater making it a 5 Shearwater species trip. A distant Falcon heading south (a Kestrel?), regular Meadow Pipits heading south (and north), Kittiwakes, an Arctic Skua (harrassing Kittiwakes) and another Sandwich Tern were also seen

Cory's Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater Raft (and 2 sneaky Cory's amongst them)

It was good to see so many pods of Common Dolphins in the flat conditions, lots of leaping out of the water but also a bit of logging and loafing about at the surface. Also seen were a single Bottle-Nosed Dolphin and 2 Harbour Porpoise along with feeding frenzies of Blue Fin Tuna. 

The standout highlight though was a Cory's Shearwater found on the deck of the ferry as we headed into port. The ferry had arrived into Roscoff that morning after a night crossing from Ireland, I guess it was attracted in by the ferries lights and had gotten confused and landed on the deck where it was unable to get back into the air. It was partially hidden under some metalwork and it was quite docile and very light as I picked it up. It seemed OK though and soon tried to escape my grasp and bite me, it also pooped all over my shoes so I took it up to the highest deck and launched it into the air. I held my breath as I imagined it coming to a messy end on the water below (we were 10 decks up) but it flew off strongly across Plymouth Sound and out of sight - quite an experience!

Cory's Shearwater 

Cory's Shearwater
Cory's Shearwater 

Tuesday 3 October 2023

A Trip to Madrid

Monday 25th September saw us heading off to Madrid in Spain for a weeks holiday. It wasn't going to be a wildlife holiday but I managed to see some interesting things during our time away in-between all the eating, drinking and sight-seeing. 

Madrid is a fab place to visit, one of my favourite places, and this was our 3rd visit and just as enjoyable as the previous ones. The weather was hot, still, humid and sunny for the whole time we were there, hotter than usual for the time of year with temperatures up to a scorching 31°c. This made for a sweaty experience at times but there was plenty of shade, air-conditioning and cold beer to help cool things down.

The usual assortment of common birds were seen around Madrid itself such as Woodpigeon, House Sparrow, Magpie, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Moorhen, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mallard and Blackbird but more interesting birds included Pied Flycatcher, Spotless Starling, Monk Parakeet, Sardinian Warbler (heard) and Egyptian Goose.

Monk Parakeet - noisy and exotic

Blackbird - familiar and comforting

Spotless Starling - much more nervous than Starlings in the UK

House Sparrow

Pied Flycatcher - 1 of 2 seen, located by constant calling

Egyptian Goose
Terrapin, Retiro Park, Madrid

Palacio de Cristal, Retiro Park, Madrid

The View from our Hotel Roof Bar, Madrid

A day trip on Wednesday 27th September to El Escorial, a Spanish Royal Family Palace, was something new for us with Griffon Vultures seen soaring overhead on the train journey and Crag Martins flying around the buildings of the palace with one unfortunate bird seen flying around inside the library full of priceless books after flying in through an open window.

El Escorial

El Escorial Ceiling Detail

A day trip by train to Segovia on Friday 29th September was also interesting with Red Kites, Griffon Vultures, Black Vultures and Common Buzzards seen soaring overhead on a hot and sunny day with cloudless blue skies. It was surprising how difficult it was at times to see such large birds in the bright sky and how easily they were lost to view as they circled around despite being quite low down at times.

Red Kite

Black Vulture - huge and datk

We had visited Segovia before back in 2014, I saw Vultures overhead then too but in my ignorance had assumed the Black Vultures were immature Griffon Vultures until I checked my bird books on returning home and so I was pleased to revisit to have another proper look at them. I also had the most horrendous toothache that day and I remember very little about our visit and have wanted to return ever since so it was nice to go back and experience it all again. (And I nearly missed going this time too due to suffering with some gastric distress overnight but I paracetamoled and immodiumed up, took some spare pants and shorts and hoped for the best and fortunately it all went well).

Segovia Cathedral from The Alcazar

Segovia Alcazar

Segovia Alcazar

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia Roman Aquaduct

Segovia Aquaduct

Sunday 1st October saw us heading to Aranjuez, another town with a Royal Palace and another new place for us on what was an incredibly hot day, the hottest of the whole week and probably not ideal for a guided cycle ride around the sites. However it was great fun and the electric bikes and regular stops in the shade helped combat the heat.

A good range of wildlife was seen on the day with highlights being a Common Sandpiper, a male Tufted Duck, 2 Serin, a Grey Wagtail, a Red Kite, Crested Larks (heard), Clouded Yellow Sp., Hummingbird Hawkmoths and a Lang's Short-tailed Blue that finally settled long enough for a quick photo.

Aranjuez Palace

Tufted Duck

Lang's Short-tailed Blue

Squirting Cucumber

Aranjuez Palace Gardens

We journeyed from Madrid to Aranjuez and back on The Strawberry Train (Tren de la Fresa), so called as it passed fields of stawberries along the route. The train was made up of vintage train carriages and hosted by a range of am-dram actors dressed up in costumes playing out vignettes, fortunately all performed in Spanish resulting in us being mostly ignored amongst all the frivolities but it was nice to see the locals really enjoying it and singing along. We also had a very tasty punnet of strawberries on the journey back to Madrid but we were glad to get back to the hotel after a long, hot and tiring day trip.

All to soon it was time to head back home where grey skies and rain greeted us as we got off the plane at Heathrow, it had been a great trip away but it was nice to return home to more sensible temperatures and I saw a grand total of 30 species of birds without even trying.