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Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Last Post

27th October was the last day of the last week for undertaking my butterfly transect survey. I had missed the previous week (week 29) as I was away from home on Lundy which meant I had missed the after effects of Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Brian. I didn’t anticipate seeing any butterflies except perhaps the odd Red Admiral.  So I was really surprised to find two very faded and bedraggled Speckled Woods in the wooded part of the transect.
The broken bridge
The fallen tree

What did come as a surprise was the broken bridge at the bottom of the footpath to Rectory Farm.  Cattle had trashed the boardwalk between this path and the Bush Inn steps some months earlier and perhaps weakened the bridge.  In any event it is badly broken.  A little further on my way was blocked by a fallen tree.  This was obviously the result of one or other of the storm events.  It was no great problem to bet by but both of these problems have been reported to the owners, the National Trust, who will no doubt address them in due course.
I was pleased to see both Peregrine and Buzzard in the open area between wood and sea.  Even better were the Ivy Bees colonising the northern edge of the new path section which climbs the cliff. 
A new colony of Ivy Bees
The last section from cliff top to Crosstown was most rewarding – a Small Tortoiseshell and four Red Admirals, one pair of which were engaged in a mating dance.
Pair of mating Red Admirals - one much the worse for wear

This final survey of the year enabled me to compare this year's survey  with last year's survey
2017       21 species totalling 845 individuals over 26 weeks of a possible 30 week season
2016       22 species totalling 977 individuals over 26 weeks of a possible 30 week season.
The numbers are down – one species fewer, I failed to see a Green Hairstreak this year.  The totals might just reflect a much wetter summer this year compared to last.

A new sighting in the valley on an Ash stump was Cobalt Crust – a rare and spectacularly coloured encrusting fungus. At first sight I thought someone had marked the stump with blue paint so vivid is the colouring.

Cobalt crust on an Ash stump
It might have been the last butterfly transect posting of the season but I can’t wait to see what species next year will bring.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Big Butterfly Count

Small Tortoiseshell
I have taken part in the event over the years.  It is an excellent way of involving people in nature and giving everyone who takes part some ownership in the decline of butterflies.

Bur, for the last couple of years I have undertaken a weekly butterfly transect - waling a set route on a day when conditions are good for seeing butterflies.

This occupies me for an hour and a half for 30 weeks of the year - spring to autumn - and as well as being good exercise, it has really honed my butterfly identification skills.

Red Admiral

Silver-washed Fritillary
Today (17th July) was challenging.  The temperature in the shade, that is, under my car, was 22͒C.  Half the walk is through the woods, in the welcome but humid, shade.  The rest is in the open with hardly a breeze today.  Near the start, section two takes me down 50 step to the the river valley.  At the end of next three sections, near to the sea, I have to climb about 100 meters to  the top of the cliffs on the South West Coast Path.

But, this was not the most challenging part of the walk.  It was the sheer number of butterflies I counted; 127 butterflies of 12 species in all.  It's times like this that it takes at least two to survey, one to spot and identify, the other to log them all.  And, if you want pictures too, an additional cameraman would be useful.

I'm not complaining though, it was the best transect of the year - so far.

Oh, I didn't really miss the Big Butterfly Count.  I walked to a different cliff, at Stanbury for lunch on Friday and in the first 15 minutes recorded 27 butterflies of 7 species, plus a couple of day flying moths all of which have been submitted to BBC.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Snakes and Ladders

My Butterfly Transect takes me from the Bush Inn down into the Tidna Valley then follows the stream to the coast before climbing the cliffs of the South West Coast path then returning inland at this high level to Crosstown.

It is a wonderful walk in all weathers but there is almost always at least a breeze at the coast so butterflies dwindle to almost nothing.  The path upwards has steps but it feels like climbing a ladder it is so steep.

The cliff path is generally of great interest with all sorts of invertebrates to be found.  These range from tiny 14-spot Ladybirds, through Oil Beetles, Bloody-nosed beetles, Ivy Bees, Bee Flies and occasionally the odd Common Lizard.

In April I was disappointed to hear that there had been an avalanche along the steep stepped cliff that I climbed forcing closure of the path.  I investigated and heard that part of the fall had been filmed.  A huge amount of land had slid down into the sea closing the path for up to 6 months.

(Thanks Niki Olde for the smartphone video clip)

I managed to work my way around the closed path, but it was a very steep slope among quite a bit of rough vegetation.   However due to the path being closed and a diversion provided that avoided the cliff top for about 100 meters, there was little disturbance.  Later that month I was delighted to come across a basking Adder.   It moved as soon as it saw/felt my presence, but not before I managed to get
a picture.

The closure continued for a few weeks until the National Trust rangers got to work.  After a couple of weeks the new path was ready and I tried it out.  It has many fewer steps, and a long slow slope.  But it is a little bit further inland and a little more sheltered.  I now see more butterflies on this sector than I did before, so it's not all bad news.
Tidna Shute with cliff path and avalanche

The new path is a lot better - thanks National Trust.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Bee Flies

Large Bee Fly - Bombylius major

Is it just me or is everyone seeing more Bee Flies this year?

Last year was the first time I saw one of these enigmatic creatures. I had noted Facebook postings about them and was delighted when I saw my first one. No chance of a picture, but I was able to get a distant, and not too sharp, photograph of the second one.

And that was it for 2016 both were fairly close to the sea where I usually see other bee predators such as Oil Beetle, One at a woodland edge, the other almost on the cliff edge.

So this year I thought myself lucky to see anther one this month in a roadside verge. It was most obliging and settled so that I could easily see the black fore edge of its wings confirming Bombylius major. Then I saw my second one in a woodland ride in Coombe Valley Morwenstow, quite near to the old mill. This was less obliging but it was easily identified.

Then came the third one. As I was sitting eating my lunch, I spotted a Bee Fly from 5 metres hovering over bare soil in my garden. Yes again I managed a photograph, but in my garden? I would never have hoped to claim one on my home ground.

So, is it me getting my eye in or are there really more Bee Flies about?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Canada Geese on Lundy

On Pondsbury

On 19th March, during breakfast, we became aware of the unmistakable honking of Canada Geese flying over our accommodation, Quarters. Visibility was not great and nothing was apparent in the immediate vicinity from either of the windows. A little later, around 9:30am, two Canada Geese were seen landing in Light House Field but quickly walked over the horizon.

Whilst walking north, later in the day, the sound and then sight of a pair of Canada flying over us at Quarter Wall towards Pondsbury must have been the same pair.

Breasting the rise so that Pondsbury came into view confirmed that they had settled on one of the tiny grassy islands in the middle of the pond. Both were preening along with half a dozen Herring Gulls on the water. On my approach the gulls flew off, but these two seemed unconcerned and continued preening.

On our return from the North End, both birds had gone but when we entered the farmed land, they were both seen, at around 1:30pm in Brick Field.

In Brick Field
They appeared to be searching for an appropriate breeding site, but not finding it, they were not seen again during our stay.

Canada Geese, although common on the mainland are a Lundy rarity.  These are the first birds seen since 2012 when a 1st winter bird was seen between 29th and 30th October.  They are only the 16th record of Canada Geese seen on the island.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Whale of a Time

Sperm Whale at Perranporth
It felt like a pilgrimage. Hundreds of people were walking northwards from Perranporth along the shining pink road towards the beached whale.

We heard on the Sunday news that a female Sperm Whale was found beached near Perranporth and decided we just had to take the opportunity to see it in the flesh. We had underestimated how far from the nearest car park it was. Along with many others we walked 50 minutes to see the whale and another 50 minutes back to the car. The beach was covered in a pink tide by millions of Moon Jellyfish and the odd Blue Jellyfish. We judged we would have plenty of time to get there and back as the tide was ebbing from full. People of all ages were striding out with dogs and children. People who would normally just manage to walk a couple of yards from their parked car to empty the dog and get an ice-cream were making the journey.
The pink jellyfish path

Being two days after it had beached, the whale had been post mortemed on the beach with obvious incisions and jaw removed. The carcass was beginning to darken and bloat and the exposed entrails were bubbling and fizzing with the release of decomposition gasses.  
When the pilgrims arrived there were hushed conversations “Such a pity it had to die for us to see it.”, “They say some lads were trying to get souvenir teeth”, (in fact the autopsy team had removed the lower jaw with teeth to age the whale), “Well worth the walk to see it.”, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

On our return there was still a continual stream of people walking northwards to pay homage.

Post-mortem team
The following day I has a call about another stranding. This time, a female juvenile Minke Whale much closer to home at Bude. I was unable to get to it until the evening due to tides and commitments. Arriving at 9pm, there was a team of people from the Marine Srandings Network, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and of course James the volunteer veterinary who was beginning the post mortem.

James was assisted by both divers, one handling and wrapping the samples, the other listing what these were – Kidney, Liver, Ovaries, Eyes, Heart, Stomach contents (Krill) with Niki the Strandings officer taking record photographs. Duncan was the local Strandings callout with us other three local yokels provided guidance and porterage to get them, the samples and equipment back up the cliff in the dark at 10:30pm.

What a difference in the two experiences – Perranporth, a long walk along a sandy beach to see a Sperm Whale – 11 metres long with a long thin toothed jaw for feeding on octopus and small fish; Bude a stiff climb to a rocky beach to find a Minke Whale – 7 metres long with a large jaw with baleen filters to eat Krill and small fish.

Minke Whale at Bude
Both were judged to have been live strandings. The Sperm had died as her organs collapsed without the support that the sea gives to it; the Minke probably driven ashore by perhaps Dolphins had, judging by pre mortem lacerations and bruises, injured herself fatally whilst trying to squirm back to the sea.

They say things happen in threes – let’s hope this old adage is wrong. Nice as it is to experience the huge marine mammals at close range, I would rather there were no more such strandings.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Fritillaries on my Butterfly Transect

What a fantastic butterfly survey today. (10th May).
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The local weather forecast warned of a blanket of rain for the whole day over the southwest ruling out surveys of any kind. In the event, the day dawned clear with a heavy dew but fine, no wind and warm.

So we grasped the opportunity for a late morning survey expecting the weather to come in later and planned to have lunch in our local pub, the Bush Inn, which is conveniently situated at the start and finish of the transect.

Violet Oil Beetle
It was very muggy and close as we parked the car with a shade temperature of 19ยบC – I leave a thermometer under the car in the shade.

It was a good walk in sheltered woodland followed by a steep climb up the southwest coast path with a refreshing on-shore breeze.

The survey increased our survey count of butterflies as is expected as the year progresses, but the number of invertebrates was very good too. The butterfly highlight has to be the three Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in the valley. But we also added Small Copper, Wall and Meadow Brown bringing our species list from 6 to 10.

Additional invertebrate species recorded included two Violet Oil Beetles, three 24-spot Ladybirds, and shieldbugs. I was looking for and found Dock Bugs as well as chancing on a Sloe Bug and a new one, a Boat bug (Enoplops scapha) and a mating pair of nice bugs, Dicranocephalus agilis or Spurge Bugs.

The highlight of these highlights was a Bee fly. I have seen everyone posting pictures of these on Facebook so was delighted to see one even if I didn't manage a photograph; this time … …
Spurge Bug

The Tidna Valley continues to be a delightful are to survey coming up with unusual and interesting species each time we visit.

Boat Bug
Lunch at the Bush Inn was a shared Garden Platter and a pint of cider to round off an excellent survey.