Google+ Followers

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Winter Birds

I had a spare morning yesterday when it was cold but calm and clear.  I thought I might walk the Bude Valley transect on my own. 

 Try as I might to see a Mediterranean Gull amongst the Black-headed Gulls at the Canal Basin, I was unsuccessful. I was rewarded with a good long sighting in the river Neet west of the sighting platform at Peter Truscott's Bridge.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Here Be Dragons

Beautiful Demoiselle
Four-spot Hawker
This summer has been a fantastic season for all sorts of invertebrates.

In particular, and following a Dragonfly workshop organised by ERCCIS in June at Wheal Seaton and Red River Valley, my recognition skills have  improved somewhat and have helped me identify some of the large numbers of odonata that I have come across this year.  

Monday, 8 September 2014


My first Osprey
 You wait for ages … ….

Today was Wetland Birds Survey (WeBS) day for September at my Tamar Lakes sites. We planned to commence as usual at 10am for consistency and arrived on time. It is still summer here in North Cornwall so we did not expect any of the migrants to have arrived. And, we were not disappointed, apart from 300 Canada Geese and a small flock of Black-headed Gulls there were few ducks and heron.

A Common Sandpiper was a plus as was meeting a new acquaintance, Harvey Kendall, who has been watching birds around the lakes ever since the Upper Lake was flooded in the 1960s. He gave us good tips on what was about, Pectoral Sandpipers but no
sighting of the reported two Osprey seen over the weekend.,

Osprey fishing
Now, I can't really say that I have been waiting all my life for sight of an Osprey. When I was a youngster, they were almost impossible to find. But, in the last 20 years while I have been actively building my lifetime list – without travelling I may add – these have been on my wants list.

In recent weeks, I have just missed one on a visit to Lundy with grandchildren and Tim Jones (14th August) and failed to sight one on the Torridge Estuary WeBS patch of my friends, Tim Davis and Tim Jones (17th August).

The sight of not one, nor two, but three Ospreys wheeling, diving and fishing over Upper Tamar Lake is a lifetime experience. I did not have to travel far to see these enigmatic birds, they were not just on my doorstep, but on “my” WeBS patch. One appeared far bigger than the others and was seen to fish in the lake, feet hanging down and into the water, but unsuccessful whilst we watched. All three climbed high into the midday sky before soaring off eastwards.

Three Ospreys!

You wait ages for one to appear and then three appear all at once (platooning apparently!).

Well worth the wait though.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Another Leg

Clouded Yellow
Today we walked from Compass Point Bude to Trevose View Widemouth Bay, adding another section to our South West Coast Path Walk.  We took the opportunity of a circular walk by returning via the Kingfisher Walk and Bude Canal for lunch at the Falcon.

Small Copper
Along the cliff top, we were overtaken by many swallows all flying south - summer is coming to and end.  I recorded a couple of Clouded Yellow butterflies and managed my first photograph  They seem so different when feeding with closed wings pale yellow whereas when flying they are a starling yellow and black..  They do seem to prefer the cliff edges on the coastal fringe.

Other butterflies were present, particularly amongst the scrubby thistle patches.  Dodder was also in flower but only in one small area near to Philip's Point, Cornwall Wildlife Trust's smallest reserve.

Along the Kingfisher walk, most butterfly species were represented, but in much fewer numbers than last week.  It was warm and sunny, but fairly breezy and getting later in the year too.
Common Darter

The canal was very quiet, but it was afterall lunchtime.  We were delighted by a close encounter with a Kingfisher which "buzzed" us as it flew across the water.  I have never seen so many Common Darter dragonflies.  We were almost into double figures just west of Rodd's Bridge.  The Bird Hide pond was particularly favoured with three pairs  in tandem ovipositing in the open water.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Butterfly Walk

Bee with orange pollen sac
I determined to repeat last year’s walk along the From the Weir, along the canal to the Boardwalk signed by The Weir as the Kingfisher walk until I reached coast then headed south along the South West Coast Path to beyond the Bay View before heading back to the Weir via their Rabbit walk through farmland.
Small Totroiseshell

In August 2013, on parts of this walk, I was impressed by the numbers and species of butterflies that we recorded.  Being 3 weeks later I was not sure what to expect.  The part of the walk that had attracted most butterflies was where there were brambles in flower.  This year, the brambles had produced blackberries and I was concerned we were too late.  However, my fears were unfounded, as the abundant flowers of Willow Herb Epilobium sp. and Common Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica were proving just as attractive.
It was interesting to note the bees busily gathering Fleabane pollen.  Their pollen sacs were not the usual bright yellow, but showing a very strong orange.

Small Copper
In the short 20 minutes section of this walk, I counted 29 butterflies of 14 different species.  .  Species List for 2014

Common Blue
Cinnabar caterpillar, Clouded Yellow, Common  Blue, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Heath, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood,

This year we missed the Comma and Large White, but added Clouded Yellow, Small Heath and Ringlet,

Further on around the walk in the farmland area I saw further proof that summer was drawing to a close.  Hay had been gathered in and flocks of Carrion Crow, Woodpigeons and Linnets were gleaning the stubble.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cabbage Whites and Frenchies

Wall Butterfly

When I was a child in the Midlands, identification of butterflies was easy.  There were only two different species – if they were white then they were Cabbage Whites  and all the rest which, being any colour other than white, were termed Frenchies.  Why this was, I do not know but it made life so simple.

Small Tortoiseshell
What I do know is that since growing much older and looking into wild life much deeper, it has suddenly become much more complicated.  Here in Cornwall there are 37 resident species and 3 regular migrants (Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady and Red Admiral). I have been fortunate to see around 24 of these.

Speckled Wood
This year for example, with all the good weather, the regulars are appearing at their allotted times.  It is interesting to see the overwintering Red Admirals appear in mid-winter when the sun comes out, then the early ones such as Orange Tip followed by Ringlet and Gatekeeper and just this last week, Wall and Silver-washed Fritillaries are making an appearance.

I have been most fortunate to add two new species to my total this year both recorded on my garden – a Green Hairstreak and Holly Blues.

My “Frenchie” count is increasing and I am becoming more confident in identification of these coloured butterflies.  What still eludes me is the sure-fire way of differentiating the “Cabbage Whites”.  I know now that there are 5 species of white.  Orange Tip which are comparatively easy if they are males with their distinctive orange tipped wings.  The females fall into the more difficult category where the underwings are diagnostic.  Orange Tips have the checkered pattern whereas Green-Veined Whites have distinctive dark veining on the underwings.  Wood White and Marbled White are uncommon and fairly easy to distinguish. 

After all these years, it is those Large and Small “Cabbage” Whites that remain so difficult.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Bude Marsh and Survey Group Visits Tiscott Wood.

Most people hardly notice the wood opposite Tiscott Recycling Centre north of Bude as they speed along the A39.  It is a wooded habitat rare in North Cornwall that we were determined to investigate.  So on the 17th July, we arranged to meet.

With the agreement of
Dept 26 Bude Mountain Bikers Riders, who suspended their use of their circuit in the wood for our visit, nine of us walked from the junction of A39 with Ivyleaf Hill to the Iron Age fortification and back in a long lazy loop covering mixed deciduous and evergreen woods, open glades and rides.  The date was purely fortuitous but on the hottest day of the year so far, we were walking in cool shaded woodland with the occasional sunny glade.

Slime Mould - Leocarpus fragilis
In the narrow dark section close to the A39, we expected little, but were soon noting species:- the delicate flowers of the delightfully named Enchanter's Nightshade and the bright almost luminous yellow of the Slime Mould Leocarpus fragilis, The Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum and a Robin.

 Common Earthball Scleroderma citrinum
The wood is home to a large number and diverse species of plants, invertebrates and birds.  We were fortunate to see many of each group although the birds were elusive we did hear Chiffchaff and see Firecrest and Willow Warbler. 

Many flowers were recorded, but Oxford Ragwort and Wood Sorrel were particularly notable.

The invertebrates took pride of place with Red Admiral, Green-veined White, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and Speckled Wood noted.  We rolled a few logs to look for invertebrates and were lucky on one occasion to see Julida, or snake millipedes and a pair of Lithobious variegatus centipedes with their distinctive purple banded legs.

Sightings of the day must go to our 5 minutes watching a female Southern Hawker, patrolling a woodland ride who refused to settle and be photographed and later a Golden Ringed Dragonfly.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Seasearch at Northcott Mouth

Seasearch volunteers
Honeycomb Worm reef on SS Belem
I joined other local members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust Tamar Group, North Cornwall National Trust staff and Marine Biologists from Cornwall Wildlife Trust for a PANACHE Shoresearch survey  on Wednesday 16th July.

Celtic Sea Slug, Greenleaf Worm on
Honeycomb worm reed

Matt Slater, CWT Marine Awareness Officer led the group to identify and locate particular species whose presence will provide strong evidence in support of the proposed Hartland Point to Tintagel Marine Conservation Zone.

Some of the species were found and recorded and will help the case once full consultation begins. Of particular interest is the highly regarded, and protected, Honeycomb Worm reefs (Sabellaria alveolata) which is a feature of our local beaches.
Beadlet Anenome
Spiny Starfish
This part of the North Cornwall coast from around Widemouth to Hartland is the most northerly extent of its range and occurs where rocky outcrops and lots of sand meet. The reefs provide safe homes for the delightful Celtic Sea Slug and Greenleaf Worms. An unusual site for Honeycomb worm was on the remains of the SS Belem.

Other species seen and noted were – Spiny Starfish, Strawberry Anenome, Snakelocks Beadlet Anenome, Purple and Toothed Topshells and Shore Crab.

A flock of 25 Oystercatchers performed aerial maneouvres as we encroached on their feeding territory and wheeled away to the south.

Flock of Oystercatchers 
A good afternoon out on the beach with a real purpose, to gain protection for this unique habitat with great diversity.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Natural History Week June 2014

The observation and pursuit of natural history does occupy much of my time, but occasionally there comes a week crammed full – this is one such.

Sunday 15th was my monthly Wetland Birds Survey.
Summer surveys don't record many water birds on Tamar Lakes and this month was no exception being dominated by the few breeders that use the lakes – families of Canada Geese, Mallard and Moorhen featuring. Terrestrial breeders were also present – Reed Bunting and Sedge Warblers were very obvious. It was a butterfly day too with a mass emergence of Meadow Brown, some Speckled Wood and a beautiful single Ringlet seen.

Large Skipper
Monday 16th – CWT meeting
We hosted an evening with friends on the committee of Cornwall Wildlife Trust Tamar Group where we planned the activities for summer and the forthcoming winter season. In advance of the meeting we took our dog around our usual walk and were delighted to see the first Large Skippers of the year. 

Tuesday 17th – Ponds and fields with year 3 of Bude Junior School.
Water Scorpion
72 enthusiastic 8/9 year old in four groups. It was a most hectic and challenging session, but the children were very adept at catching mud! They did catch lots of interesting creatures though ranging from Newts, through Eels, Damselfly larvae, Dragonfly larvae, water louse, freshwater shrimps, chironomid worms, water boatmen and backswimmer and the stars of the show, water scorpions. All were eagerly observed before finally being repatriated into the Bude Tourist Information Centre pond. 

Bee Orchid

Thursday 19th – Bude Marshes quarterly transect and annual Bee Orchid count.
Although circumstances left us with only 4 on the walk, and we were accompanied by the children from Adventure International in kayaks on the canal and bikes on the multi-use footpath, we managed to record 22 birds species,
The orchid count went well too – despite the vigorous grass growth, the Bee Orchids are maintaining their numbers 33 plants as compared to last year and the Marsh Orchids, previously uncounted were counted as 69 plants. It is obvious the preferred habitat of the latter is on the short sward between footpaths and the dense grassy layer, whereas Bee Orchids are happy in the mixed flower and grass habitat growing in loose groups of 2 or 3 plants.

Friday 20th – ERCCIS Dragonfly workshop.
Keeled Skimmer
What a fantastic couple of sites. Great Wheal Seton is a post industrial contaminated area with small shallow ponds but is host to Scarce Blue-tail Damselflies – the last remaining site in Cornwall where we were privileged to count around 30 of both sexes.
The old settling pits at Bell Lake Marsh in the Red River Valley have been transformed from overgrown Willow scrub to a shallow marshy area with scrapes and was host to Small Red Damselflies, Keeled Skimmers as well as patrolling Emperors. 13 different species was a very good workshop.

Saturday 21st – Sandymouth BBS butterfly transect
Hummingbird Hawk Moth
Vixen and 6 cubs
Accompanied by two naturalist friends we were able to count 8 species of Butterfly – 38 in total (Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Common Blue, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Large Skipper, Red Admiral and Painted Lady) 2 moths (5-spot Burnet and Hummingbird Hawk Moth) and a Golden Ringed Dragonfly. They agree that this is a Beautiful Square (op cit). To cap it all, as we finished the transect, we noticed that we were being watched intently by a Vixen about 400 metres away whilst her 6 cubs played!
Sampling at Marsland Water

Sunday 22nd – Fox Club “Dung Ho!” at Marsland Nature Reserve.
Together with a friend from Cornwall Wildlife Trust, a small group was entertained by his description of what pollutes our waterways. This was followed up by our catch of myriads of invertebrates kick sampled from Marsland Water. We used the excellent wildlife centre courtesy of Devon Wildlife Trust in the idyllic setting of Marsland nature reserve.

Marmalade Hoverfly
Monday 23rd - Equinoctial walk on Bude Aqueduct from Moreton Bridge to the junction with the Holsworthy branch is about 2½ miles of absolute quiet taking in woody shade and open walks and Bursdon Moor Nature Reserve. We were lucky to not only hear birds but to see them too – including two Treecreepers. The stars of the show had to be the dragonflies and damselflies along with lots of butterflies. We were fortunate to capture a picture of a strikingly decorated, striped hoverfly which we identified later as a Marmalade Hoverfly. 

Read my other blog at

As I am writing this, over my left shoulder I am watching the wind ripple a field of grasses, docks and sorrel. The weather has been dry and very hot and as the wind stirs the stems of the plants, millions of seeds are blown from their heads into rolling, billowing clouds looking like smoke. They roll slowly over the field, a perfect demonstration of natural seed dispersal. They are now next year's plants in waiting.

Friday, 30 May 2014

LFS on Lundy

Bideford's Mermaid
A long planned Lundy Field Society visit to Lundy took place from 17th to 20th May when most of the Committee held their first meeting on the Island for 20 years.  Derek Green, the Lundy Manager and Beccy MacDonald the warden and her seasonal assistant Chloe were also invited to attend.

17th Saturday – we left our cars at Bideford and assembled on the quay for an early 8am sailing when the conditions were described as winds 2-3 lights to variable which lead to an uneventful crossing.  It was so smooth that almost all the 210 passengers kept the galley busy making bacon sandwiches.
Black Guillemot
Sedge Warbler
We were met on arrival in the Landing Bay by the single Black Guillemot that had returned to Lundy for the third consecutive year.  We were welcomed by a rapturously singing Sedge Warbler at the top of Millcombe steps and after lunch in the Tavern were soon safely ensconced in our allocated rooms in Millcombe.
A quick tour of the island to Middle Park showed most of what we wanted to check out.  The deer were around Middle Park Pond and a multitude of Dwarf Adder’s Tongue fern had emerged.
A communal evening meal in the Marisco rounded off the day which had been very long for those travelling from up country since dawn.

Twitching for Golden Oriole

Turtle Dove
18th Sunday – this was the day of the Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society’s annual trip to the island.  I had promised a south end tour to those who wanted it, but this had to be heavily curtailed due to the excellent weather.  The charterers decided to take their round the island trip before disembarking so it was creeping up to midday when they had all disembarked.  Many dashed off to look for the Black Guillemot and Turtle Doves that had been reported as well as an elusive Golden Oriole.  We had seen two Turtle Doves on Saturday and Sunday morning as well as the Guillemot in the bay.  Breeding birds confirmed were a pair of Crows in the trees near Millcombe gardens and Blackbirds above the wall to the east of Millcombe House.

Diving Beetle in Ackland's Moor Pond
19th Monday – the day of the committee meeting where we took advantage of Lundy manager and warden directly to discuss all issues affecting the island with them.  We just about managed to fit into the dining room of Millcombe House and completed the agenda around the agreed time to have lunch in the Marisco Tavern.
In the afternoon, I surveyed Ackland’s Moor Pond which was gin clear to the bottom, a unique view I have not seen before.

Pizza night at Old House South
20th Tuesday – today most of the committee were returning home and we were homeless while Old House South was being prepared for us.  Before we left Millcombe, we were able to add a Spotted Flycatcher and Blackcap to our bird total.  Ever busy, Andrew showed the moths caught the previous night to visitors in the tavern and led a wild flower walk around the south end.
That evening we enjoyed the comforts of Old House South with a pizza evening provided by Sandra.

Painted Lady
21st Wednesday – a beautiful day for a walk northwards.  We aimed for Jenny’s cove and watched Puffins on land and sea for quite a while.  There were pods of cetaceans moving north a couple or three miles out in the Atlantic too
We decided to continue north and in Middle Park found lots more Dwarf Adder’s tongue Fern in a new location west of the west side path slightly north of the Black House.  It is doing very well this year.
We counted yet more puffins and offshore cetaceans at St Phillip’s stone and saw the first Painted Lady butterfly of the year near Squire’s View.
Long Roost Pond

Sea King at North End
We had traveled so far north on the west side, we decided to go to the north end.  On the way AndrĂ© showed me a pond he had found in November of last year.  It took a little searching out, but is definitely new to us freshwater biologists.  It is a natural hollow in the granite almost on the west cliff edge with a granite gravel bottom and brown tinged water.  How permanent it is, only summer visits will determine, but Long Roost Pond will certainly be surveyed some time soon.
As we returned we observed a circling Sea King helicopter which eventually touched down right at the north end, a crew member chatted with a visitor then it roared off south.  The story was that the pilot’s daughter from Georgeham School was on a school visit to the island and he had called in on his way south to drop her off a small gift.  How big is her street credibility?

Joint meal in Millcombe
22nd Thursday - our first very wet day.  We had hoped to at least walk along the quarries but by the time we reached them, the heavens opened and we spent a convivial hour talking to various walkers who also took shelter in Gade’s hut until we made a very wet way home. We were heartened by being invited by bellringing friends of Michael to share our evening meals in Millcombe.

Mirror Carp and Golden Orfe 
Horse Leech
23rd Friday – a damp day but not enough to prevent us walking.  The slight rain seems to bring out the Horse Leech – we saw four in the pools on the path near to Quarter Wall.  Our route took us over the top of the quarries east of the Hospital where we were surprised to count around 50 Rhododendron seedlings there.  No were flowering, unlike the one that had been secretly growing in a thicket near the Heligoland trap and was instantly cut down by the ranger, but all have been reported for treatment.
In the afternoon, we visited Rocket Pole Pond at the request of Jenny George who had seen fish there the previous week.  Our stale bread brought a flurry of activity when we were able to count at least two Mirror Carp and up to 20 immature blue Golden Orfe.

24th Saturday – a sad day as it was our last, but I had arranged with Simon Dell to help lead a group of TARS (The Arthur Ransome Society) members to Jenny’s Cove.  The small clump of Wood Vetch was had begun to bloom and Lundy Cabbage was displaying its attendant Flea Beetle. 
Lundy Cabbage and Flea Beetles
Moon Jellyfish
Whilst waiting for the Oldenburg, I was able to photograph three different types of jellyfish from the jetty Moon Jelly Aurelia aurata, Comb Jelly Ctenophore sp and Predatory Comb Jelly Beroe cucumis.  The walk was most successful; around 20 people were route marched to Jenny’s in 1 hour, spent their lunch hour observing puffins and then back via Punchbowl Valley, Earthquake, Battery and Old Light for a welcome pint in the Marisco Tavern.