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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.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

A Wonderful Wildlife Week

Every now and then there is a week that is day after day of natural history. 

This last week was just such a one. There was an event planned for every day and the weather was kind.

Great Crested Grebe on her nest

Monday The monthly BTO Wetland Bird Survey was due, and as usual we deferred it for a day to avoid the busy weekend at Tamar Lakes. It is April so the winter visitors had gone and there was only a chance of spring or summer visitors being present. We did hear a single Sedge Warbler staking out his territory and spotted a Great Crested Grebe sitting on a newly constructed nest. There was also one or two Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and a lone Swallow.

Peacock butterfly

After lunch the weather was warm and sunny with hardly any wind. It was the ideal time to walk our newly registered UKBMS butterfly transect. This starts at the Bush Inn at Crosstown in Morwenstow, descends to the Tidna Valley and follows the river to the coast then up the cliff before heading inland along a green lane to Crosstown Green. It was a good decision with butterflies of four species – Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock.

Sunset over the south end of Lundy

Tuesday We had an early start, leaving Bideford quay at 9am for Lundy. The sea was like a mill pond but we saw no cetaceans and few birds. The island was alive with spring birds though – Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. I spotted a Sparrowhawk at Quarter Wall Pond after a long meeting inside. The return trip was spectacular with a brilliant orange sunset over the island as we returned at 7pm.

Piscicola geometra

Wednesday The first Riverfly survey of the year on the Torridge near Bradford Mill and the first since the July 2015 was planned. In August and September last year, the river was in spate and two metres higher than normal. In the event, the river was slightly higher and faster than normal, but it turned up plenty of invertebrates. It was interesting to record the difference in abundance of the eight indicator species. Stoneflies were particularly abundant with a few extremely large specimens almost ready to become flying insects. The normal Perlodidae were joined by two specimens of Taeniopterygidae. Another unusual species, not part of the survey set, was a fish leech, Piscicola geometra.

Planting Marram Grass
Thursday This was a Bude Valley Volunteers working party day. Following the “planting” of retired Christmas Trees after 12th night in January at Widemouth Bay the plan was to supplement this with the planting of Marram Grass. The trees were already doing their job of accumulating sand around themselves. We were allowed to dig up randomly selected Marram plants and transplant them between two rows of the trees. The expectation is that the Marram will further stabilise the sand allowing and embryo dune to form.

 This will in future plug a gap where the dunes had “blown out” and reduce the chance of sand blowing onto the adjacent coast road.

Picnic at Dexbeer Bridge
Friday The culmination of a busy week – to walk the whole length of Bude Aqueduct. Four of us started from Lower Tamar Lake and walked the whole 5 miles to Vealand Reserve where we then followed the permissive path for a final 700 yards. The weather was again kind allowing us to have our first picnic of the year at Dexbeer Bridge on Councillors Shadrick's memorial table. We shared the area with a pair of Willow tits – confirmed as they responded strongly with identical calls to those Willow Tit lure. We recorded a total of 34 species of birds on our walk including all 5 tits – Great, Blue, Coal, Long-tailed, Marsh and Willow and 4 finches – Gold, Green, Chaff and Bull. We also noted 4 spring plants – Wood Anenome, Wood Sorrel, Cuckoo flower and Lesser Periwinkle together with all 3 mammals so far seen on this walk – Roe Deer, Grey Squirrel and Rabbit.

The only let down was Friday night's Garden Moth Survey which due to the cold and wet attracted not a single moth.