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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Summerleaze Dunes under threat?

Looking eastward over Breakwater Drive
From the Dunes to Breakwater Drive

Bude Marsh and Valley Survey Group recently completed their annual survey of Summerleaze Dunes. July is always seleced as this is the month when most dune plants are in flower. And they were. The recently levelled area in front of the RNLI station was expected to be a barren desert, but plants are beginning to recolonise the area. It was formerly a home to many wasteland species and some garden escapes. The car park edges still host many of these species which is the seed bank for recolonisation of the bare sand.

Sea Holly

The larger natural dune area continues to be a delight. Sand dunes are the most natural remaining habitat in the UK and this area comprises both Embryo and Mobile Dune habitats. It is host to typical species of these habitats; Sea Holly, Sea Spurge, Marram, Sea Bindweed, Restharrow and Morning Primrose to name but a few. It is the only remaining dune habitat between Perranporth in the south and Braunton Burrows in the north.

The Sea Holly is an amazing colour and obviously important and attractive to bees. We observed tens of Red-tailed and hundreds of White-tailed Bumblebees nectaring on these plants.

Dune Chafer on Marram

The Survey Group continues to record all of these typical dune plants and invertebrates which are unique to this habitat. Silvery Leaf-cutter bees were again identified. They need the soft un-compacted sand in which to nest, Restharrow for nectar and Bird’s-foot Trefoil leaves to line their nest all of which are only to be found together here. We also added an endemic dune species for the first time; Dune Chafers which were busily producing another generation in the Marram grass.

Silvery Leafcutter Bee approaching her nest

This year we recorded 66 species of plants, birds, butterflies and beetles in this tiny 1.2 hectare area of Bude bringing our running total in three years of survey to 120 species.

It is one of Bude’s hidden jewels, a secret treasure that should be cherished.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Week Six – Full House?

Week six of my butterfly transect, the weather was perfect.  No clouds and 100% sun, virtually no wind, just a slight breath of air from the southwest and a temperature of 18C in the shade.

Green-veined White
Orange Tip

I began the survey on the first sector with three Green-veined Whites followed by two more and a Speckled Wood and my one and only Orange Tip on the second sector.

I began thinking that I might have sightings on all ten sectors after the first five very sparse weeks.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Speckled Wood

I continued to record Green-veined Whites and Speckled Woods until I emerged from the woods to where the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries appear.  And appear they did.  I saw one and photographed it and another appeared later in this sector (No 6).  Walking along the valley towards the sea I could see a bank of sea mist hugging the cliffs.

24-spot Ladybird on Sea Campion
It was Sector Eight that let me down.  Here the footpath ascends the cliffs and the sun was hidden by the mist just overlapping the cliff edge.  So no full house although I did search for and found four 24-spot Ladybirds.  They were where they always are in season, on the Sea Campion that grows all the way up the cliff path.  So the sector was no a total loss although no full house this time.

Once at the top of the cliff I turned inland with the mist behind me and the sun fully blazing once again.  The last two sectors produced butterflies, notably three Wall Brown, another first species of the year.

Nine out of ten sectors produced 26 butterflies of 6 species giving me a target of a full house for next time.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Bring a sense of adventure.

Despite staying on Lundy many times over the last 25 years, we had never been for Christmas.  In the week up to our planned flight day, we were seriously wondering if we would manage it this time.  Helicopters can fly in just about anything, but fog and the forecast was mist, low cloud and fog!

We had been watching the weather all week. It was getting warmer but we all knew that promised mist for days to come. Late on the evening of Wednesday 20th, I received a Facebook PM from Derek asking if we could be at Hartland International Airport by 6:45 on Friday. This was soon followed by further exchanges of messages with cryptic comments from him and Shelley warning us to be prepared for an unusual trip. “Don’t wear your best clothes and bring a sense of adventure.” was the message.

We duly arrived at HIA at 06:30 to find a large queue of vehicles lit by headlights with “Auntie Wainwright” causing chaos, dodging between cars and refusing to open the car park gates until everyone had paid her charges, given registration numbers and names. She did miss out her usual refrain of “Have you been here before?” though.
Waiting at Clovelly quay

Thirty-six people left our luggage and boarded the waiting coach bound for Clovelly. At the coach park we transferred to 3 landrovers to be ferried down the back road to wait for our next transfer in the Red Lion. This had been opened specially for us and offered toilets and hot drinks while we waited.  
Our boat the Carrick Lee

Shelley N
Blue Fin

We were the first wave of 60-odd passengers to be taken by small boat to Lundy. A little later than expected, the 3 boats arrived and we climbed down the slippery quay steps helped by Derek, Graham, Dean and Zoe. With 12 people in each of the Shelley N, Carrick Lee and Blue Fin we were slightly delayed by Blue Fin developing an engine fault en route from Ilfracombe that meant she was much slower and less maneouverable than the other two boats.

After a much less bumpy ride that we normally get in the Oldenburg, we arrived at the jetty around 10:00. Those leaving the island were waiting with their luggage and we swapped places with them and said bon voyage to them and Rob and Sue who were going to the mainland for a short break. We then headed up the hill for our complimentary breakfast and got to know our fellow travellers in the much quieter atmosphere of the Marisco Tavern.
Leaving misty Clovelly

The delays meant that the tided was out when the 3 boats returned to Clovelly. What was planned as a quick and simple transfer for both sets of passengers turned into a Herculean effort to complete the task. Low tide meant the Oldenburg was way off shore and the 3 small boats could not get into the quay. Passengers and luggage had to be transferred from the shingle beach into small boats, then to RIBs then to the bigger boats. This all took time and effort as not everyone was as agile as the patient staff who got soaked.

The job was completed when the last boat, Blue Fin arrived at the same time as the Oldenburg at the jetty. The tide was now so low at 16:30 that the Oldenbug tied up and the Blue Fin tied up alongside her. Passengers climbed from Blue Fin into the Oldenburg’s passenger hatch, through and up the stairs to cross the gangway onto the jetty thus avoiding the vertical ladder climb.
Oldenburg and Blue Fin - 16:30 final load

Lundy staff finally finished work after 13 hours non-stop at 19:00 when they delivered out luggage and pre-ordered shopping.

I had always wanted to travel from Clovelly to Lundy.

This was the best Christmas present ever.

Christmas Day lunch in the Marisco Tavern

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?