Current Reports

Annual Birdwatching bonanza. 30th January 2022

The day began by scraping off layers of ice encrusted on the car windows. Visibility restored and then the short journey to the car park where the group was to meet and amalgamate into fewer cars before our trip across Devon to the River Exe estuary. By now the sun was beginning to make an appearance and we were greeted by a song thrush in full voice atop a nearby tree.

Our main destination for the day was Bowling Green Marsh situated on the east bank of the Exe estuary and a designated SSSI. It is owned by Exeter City council and leased to the RSPB who manage the site.

Firstly however, a walk around the arable field adjacent to Dart’s Farm as flocks mainly of linnets flew overhead. Walking on to the hide through a small wooded area which enclosed some small lakes, the sun shone on the willow trees enhancing the red colouration of their branches. The hide looked out over an extensive wetland area interspersed with clumps of reed. A large flock of brent geese could be seen in the distance with the odd curlew and a couple of mute swans. Wigeon were plentiful whilst just outside the hide a reed bunting and chiffchaff were flitting about in some reeds.

On leaving the hide and emerging from the trees a kestrel gave us a fly past. The walk to Bowling Green Marsh took us alongside the River Clyst, a tributary to the Exe. Two neglected boats sat on the slippery mud and on the far mud bank a redshank and greenshank were feeding.

Further on and after emerging from under a railway bridge a mistle thrush was seen near the top of a tree laden with clumps of mistletoe. We were now alongside the marsh and peering through a gap in the hedge a heron, shoveller and little egret gave excellent photographic opportunities.

Arriving at the hide we were greeted by a greenfinch in full plumage and a clump of primroses by the entrance. Amazingly the hide was temporarily empty and we made ourselves comfortable on the benches in front of the open windows as we consumed our packed lunches. The marshland in front of us, with it’s freshwater pools and reed beds, offers a safe roosting site for overwintering waders and wildfowl as the incoming tide pushes them off the mudflats.

Looking out over a stout teasel plant, growing just outside the hide, and across the extensive wetlands greylag geese could be seen in the distance. Fluffy white clouds dotted the blue sky as ducks and waders displayed in front of us. A spoonbill gave us a nice surprise as it made it’s ungainly flight before landing in the marsh. A common snipe, wonderfully disguised, made a slow and cautious journey along the edge of a small island right in front of us. In the distance a fox in a resplendent red coat made its way along the edge of the reserve.

Lunches eaten, we continued along the track reaching the viewing platform overlooking the River Clyst from which common sandpiper were spotted. For a brief moment some darker clouds obscured the sun, the temperature seemed to drop suddenly and the dark silhouettes of the leafless trees were more apparent reminding us that we were still in the midst of Winter.

Moving on past the alder trees, with their empty black fruit cases and new catkins, we reached the Goat Walk on the shore of the estuary where the avocets were swishing their beaks through the mud ahead of the incoming tide. Here we were given aerial displays by flocks of both dunlin and black tailed godwits as a large flight of cormorants took off.

Our final destination was across the river where we saw a huge herd of fallow deer grazing in the grounds of Powderham Castle. Looking out over the river, the water now stretched across the whole of the estuary like a mill pond as several racing yachts could be seen struggling as the faintest breezes started to get up in the fading sunlight.

 

Annual indoor meeting, 22nd February 2022

It was our first indoor meeting for two years (the same for Devon Birds and the local DWT branch) and there was a good attendance. The speaker was Tim Jones who was the co-author of the book “The Birds of Lundy”. He said he has been to Lundy so many times since 1984 that he has lost count of the number of visits he has made, so he was well qualified to give the talk.

Lundy Island is mostly a granite rock about about 3 miles long and about half a mile wide at its widest point situated at the entrance to the Bristol Channel some 12 miles from Hartland Point and about 30 miles from the Welsh south coast. The more sheltered eastern side is where the greatest variety of birds are seen.

Everyone associates Lundy Island with puffins as the name is derived from the old Norse words “lundi”(puffin) and “ey” (island). About a hundred years ago puffins bred on the island in their thousands but gradually their numbers dwindled until at the turn of the century there were hardly any breeding pairs present. One of the reasons for their decline that was put forward was that their eggs and young were being predated by rats. So a programme of rat eradication was successfully undertaken and the puffins along with other birds such as manx shearwaters have benefited extensively with substantially larger breeding populations. Razorbills and guillemots breed in good numbers and they have been joined on the odd occasion by a mate seeking ancient murelet. Gannets are seen around the island but more often from the MV Oldenburg on its trips to and from the Island. .

Very occasionally a chough has been reported on the island but with their breeding in Cornwall and in South Wales it is surely only a matter of time before they are seen regularly as the grass is kept short by the Sika deer, goats, Soay sheep and the occasional rabbit.
Very few birds of prey are seen so there was considerable excitement when a white tailed eagle pitched up from the Isle of Wight release. Over the last few days storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin have given the island a battering and often in the past after such events some unusual birds have appeared including a soya rail, a yellow rumped warbler and a White’s thrush. The resident flock of house sparrows are very sedentary and have been studied extensively to see if in their isolation they become genetically modified to become a sub species to be known as the Lundy house sparrow like the Lundy cabbage.

Many birds such as swallows, chiffchaffs and wheatears use the island as a staging post on their way to and from their wintering quarters to their breeding grounds. Apart from lapwings and golden plover there are not many waders seen partly due to the lack of extensive mud flats. Similarly the scarcity of mature trees means that there are not many records of woodpeckers and then the only ones are of the great spotted woodpecker.

During the migration period especially in the Autumn, the tiny goldfinch can be seen in its hundreds and is the second most frequently trapped bird on the island after the willow warbler. Bird ringing started in 1947 the year after the formation of the Lundy Field Society. Various devices have been used for trapping including Heligoland traps, mist-nets, drag- nets, fleyg nets, chardonneret traps and clap-nets as well as dazzling. After the war the two most trapped birds were herring gull and guillemot, nowadays they don’t feature in the top nine. Over 170 different species have been trapped and recoveries have been made worldwide like the woodcock in Russia or the sedge warblers in Senegal. It was a fascinating talk about a place that is so near yet so far. My thanks to all to attended, donated raffle prizes and helped in any way

 

Fremington Quay and surrounds, 20th March 2022

View across the Taw Estuary to Barnstaple. J Flacke.

What a glorious day for our (very early) Spring walk of 2022. After a few days of stiff easterly winds they had veered around to a more southerly direction and became a brisk breeze. Our walk today started at the once busy port of Fremington Quay alongside the river Taw. This port was once served by a railway line running between the quayside and a station. The railway line has now become the “Tarka” trail and has been tarmacked over for use by walkers and cyclists. The old railway station is now a thriving cafe looking out over the Taw and has an attached visitor centre displaying the site’s history. Where boats were loaded and unloaded, the hardy English fisherman can often be seen along the quay wall trying his luck in all weathers

On arrival the tide was low and looking out over the wall a small group of black tailed godwits were seen feeding on the exposed mud. As we made our way along the Tarka trail the sun was shining through fluffy white clouds in an otherwise clear blue sky. Semi mature trees lined the path not yet having burst out into leaf, enabling us to have good sightings of a goldcrest and greenfinch. Chiffchaffs flitted around in the branches and their familiar call could be heard heralding the onset of Spring. Blackthorn alone was in full blossom and lifting our spirits even more so was a small tortoiseshell butterfly which alighted on the flowers.. The red breast of a robin showed up well against the white petals.

7 spot ladybird. J Flacke.

Our progress was slow as the adjacent trees seemed to come alive with bird activity. It was nice to see a male bullfinch in its bright Spring mating colours. The sight and sound of a great tit was noted as a bumblebee flew past. Occasionally we would come to a break in the trees lining the route where the banks sported a yellow mass of primroses. Also spotted were some scarlet elf cup fungi. Further along gave us the rare sightings of three individual flowers of the snake’s-head fritillary whilst up in an overhanging birch tree were good examples of withes broom. Our first brimstone butterfly of the year fluttered past and then dived into a bramble thicket.

Scarlet Elf Cup. E Beer.

This stretch of the path gave us the rare opportunity of seeing a pair of long tailed tits in the midst of their building their nest part way up a semi mature tree with a good covering of ivy situated between the main tree trunk and a short stubby branch. These intricate oval shaped nests consist mainly of mosses and are lined with feathers and held together with spiders webs and camouflaged with birch bark and lichens.

Leaving the trail we crossed over a stone bridge encrusted with lichens from where we were able to look back down on to the trail and get good views of a hazel tree laden with catkins. Walking across the higher ground gave us beautiful clear views of the surrounding countryside and river before descending to the Fremington Pill. This is a tributary of the Taw and is navigable for around half a mile when the tide is in. When the tide ebbs it reveals a large expanse of mud flats. Today it provided us with the usual array of waders and the much hoped for sighting of a pair of glossy ibis. These come from Africa and a single bird appeared a few years ago but the population has now increased to at least five birds.

Walking back alongside the Pill it was time for some refreshment at our starting point as we looked out over a wide expanse of sand of the now nearly empty Taw, in the late afternoon sunshine. We left with the sound of a curlew’s eerie cry echoing in our ears as a dunnock hopped around in the grass verge by the cars.

John Short

 

Hawk Combe Wood. 24th April 2022

The overnight rain having cleared, we made our way up the slopes of Exmoor to our meeting point, a small car park at the summit of Porlock Hill, the steepest – 1 in 4 in places. The first official day of Spring was over four weeks ago but Exmoor, always a little later, sported clumps of primroses and daffodils along it’s roadsides, these flowers now fading at lower levels.

We were greeted in the earthy car park with the clear descending notes of a willow warbler obligingly perched on a nearby rowan tree. Amalgamating into fewer cars we began our bumpy descent down a steep, winding, stony track through the woods to the valley bottom far below. Concentration was definitely needed. Thankfully we all reached the bottom without mishap and with engines switched off and all sensibly parked we emerged out into the stillness of the woods. Hawk Combe Woods is a National Nature Reserve consisting of 101 hectares of mixed woodland situated near the quaint village of Porlock on the North Somerset coast. It is owned and managed by the Exmoor National Park Authority and is a designated SSSI. Noted for its large population of sessile oaks, red wood ants and a good variety of lichens some of which are rare. Unfortunately it is at present suffering with a serious problem of ash die-back.

Our hope today was to spot some early migrant birds which are known to inhabit these woods. Our plan was to follow the stream as it winds down the valley towards Porlock before emerging into the Bristol Channel. As we made our way along the woodland path a great spotted woodpecker could be heard drumming in the distance. A goldcrest was seen flitting amongst the tree branches as a treecreeper scuttled its way up a tree trunk. The prominent songs of great tit, robin, blackbird and song thrush could all be heard above the sound of the babbling stream, making it sound like a late dawn chorus. Whortleberry plants were in profusion among the trees and the hawthorn was now in flower. Arriving at a grassy glade we took the opportunity to have our packed lunches whilst sitting on some convenient trunks of felled trees,just as the sun came out. True to form, as the sun appeared so the butterflies emerged, prominent among them were green veined whites. Interestingly a clump of small tortoiseshell caterpillars were seen on a stand of nearby nettles.

Green-veined white butterfly Pieris napi at rest in April sunshine. JFlacke.

With lunches now consumed, we made our way back up out of the woods to make the short journey to Chetsford Water. Whilst walking down this typical steep sided Exmoor valley a buzzard glided effortlessly above us. A redstart, one of the hoped for migrants, was discovered in a hawthorn tree, its magnificent colours showing brightly against the surrounding greenery. A dipper suddenly appeared and flew up the course of the stream with its purposeful flight.

Finally we made our way back along the coastal road which overlooked the calm Bristol Channel, down the steep narrow lane to Jane’s beautiful house nestling in the slopes of Exmoor, where we we invited to tea. Sitting out in the late afternoon sun, we were confronted with an assortment of jams, creams, scones and a cake. Newly arrived swallows and house martins arrowed across the now blue skies above us. A perfect end to a perfect day. Thanks to Brian for the bird and butterfly lists and to Jane for her wonderful hospitality. JS

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars in nest. Aka Aglais urticae. UK, April. J Flacke.

Field Irish Farm, Sunday 15th May 2022

Hidden in the gently rolling hills of the North Devon countryside lies Field Irish Farm. This 120 acre farm was our destination for today. It is run by Stephen and Julie Palmer, their aim being to farm the land alongside nature to provide a quiet, peaceful reserve for visitors to enjoy.

Spring wood, woodland in Devon, UK. With bluebells, ferns and even sunshine.

A self contained suckler herd of 40/50 pure and cross bred Belted Galloway animals are grass and silage fed with no bought in concentrate feed apart from a mineral/vitamin lick. No sprays are used and no artificial fertilizer has been applied for over 30 years, encouraging the flowers and making the farm self sufficient. It is run under the Countryside Stewardship scheme with no grass being mown for silage until July/August after the wildflowers have seeded and the hedges are only allowed to be trimmed every three years.

After an introductory talk by Stephen giving us the farm’s history and it’s associated aspirations, we set off from the farmyard into a nearby grass field which was ablaze the bright yellow of creeping buttercup intermingled with the red of the nitrogen fixing red clover. Normally there would be a good stand of yellow rattle and other wild flowers by now but a cold Spring followed by a spell of dry weather has made things a little later this year.

Undeterred we walked back across the farmyard with the gobble of turkeys and calls of other assorted poultry echoing in our ears from a nearby stone barn. These birds are only let out under supervision as they are apt to be predated by the foxes which breed on the farm.
Walking down a grassy lane bordered by thick hedges we disturbed green veined white and speckled wood butterflies patrolling their territories. A little further on a small rivulet of water crossed the lane giving rise to a damper patch which had a wonderful stand of white petalled, round leaved water crowfoot with an occasional water forget-me-not. About half a dozen roe deer roam the farm and their tracks could be clearly seen in the soft mud.

Timothy Tortrix aka Aphelia paleana caterpillar, on blade of grass. Macor.

The hedges around the farm are mainly a mixture of hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn, sycamore, ash and beech. Some are over 300 years old. A wayfaring-tree was found and is unusual for this part of the country with its fruits turning from green to red to black by September. The thick hedges made an ideal habitat for the birds but made it difficult to spot them. Nevertheless we were serenaded throughout the day with songs of the chiffchaff, blackcap, willow warbler and wren.

Walking down over the gentle slope of a field two ravens were seen flying across the distant skyline whilst a hare bolted along the field edge. Young leverets were born on the farm earlier in the year. Entering a small wood displaying a carpet of bluebells gave us good photographic opportunities. One member had a large net which he waved about with great dexterity catching various flying insects from different locations and then proceeded to identify them.

Heading back up towards the farmyard we passed through a field of inquisitive young stock and further on saw some older stock with the farm’s Galloway bull plus a young calf less than two weeks old. It was now time for a cream tea and after travelling a few miles we arrived at Lizzies Larder accompanied by a lively discussion as to whether the cream or jam should be spread on first. To complete the day a red kite was then seen being harassed by a crow.

Thanks to Peter and Brian for keeping the lists.
JS

Teneral Azure Damselfly – Coenagrion puella. Beautiful silvery insect.

The Taw and Exmoor branch visit to Dorset, June 13th to 18th

Monday

We were based at the Kingcombe Centre which is owned and run by the Dorset Wildlife Trust and is situated in the tranquil setting of the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve. On the way there we called in at the RSPB reserve at Swell Wood, a few miles outside of Taunton. The nesting herons were in full swing but the little egrets had already fledged. Good views were obtained of a very obliging spotted flycatcher as a couple of great spotted woodpeckers put in an appearance. A song thrush was in full voice whilst a pair of wrens were busy feeding their offspring. A walk around the relatively small reserve then gave us panoramic views out over the Somerset Levels.

On then to Kingcombe via some of Somerset and Dorset’s narrower roads. Luggage was unloaded, a quick bite to eat with swifts whizzing about when a scarlet tiger moth appeared and caused some excitement.
A walk around the meadows produced swathes of buttercups plus many other flowers including some orchids. Off then to dinner in a very nice pub and somehow all nineteen of us arrived at the correct time after a very tortuous journey around Dorset’s lanes with signposts displaying some really unusual names. Elizabeth made sure we all got our correct pre-ordered meals all of which were consumed with much enthusiasm.

Tuesday.

The day broke clear and sunny as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast whilst looking out over the meadows. Today we went to Chesil Beach and Portland. In a former Portland stone quarry, now King Barrow nature reserve we spent a pleasurable couple of hours meandering about from one group of flowers to another. Such things as ivy leafed broomrape, pyramidal orchids and Rose of Sharon were noted. The star of the birds was a little owl which flitted about near it’s own personal cave. Also we had a very smart stonechat and a singing whitethroat as a heron lazily flapped it’s way across the reserve. The butterflies were a bit elusive considering the very suitable weather but we did have a marbled white, small heath, common blue and then the main excitement of the morning a dinghy skipper which was a lifer for most of us.

Off for some quick refreshment after battling with the car park ticket machines which demanded payment using your mobile phone for which there was no signal, paying by card which the machines refused to accept or using cash if you had any change.
We had a quick presentation by an RSPB representative about the little terns breeding on Chesil beach and the measures taken to protect them. Some of us went on to the beach to get a closer look at the protected area and saw the terns plus breeding oystercatchers and ringed plover. Others went on a boat trip and saw the terns fight off a little egret. Several different types of gulls were present including Mediterranean gulls.

Once all were gathered together again it was a choice between Abbotsbury Swannery or the RSPB reserve at Lodmoor. As the latter was on the way back to base, it was the one chosen. Some 30 different birds were identified by song or sight including a marsh harrier, chiffchaff and a cetti’s warbler plus a colony of breeding common terns. Even a freshly emerged red admiral butterfly put in an appearance.
It had been a beautiful and rewarding day which was then further enhanced as we listened to England’s sensational win at cricket.
Back at base, a quick shower before we made our ways to various pubs, around Dorset’s narrow lanes where sat navs were useless as there was no signal. But we all got to our various destinations and the meals were worth it.

Wednesday

Once again the day broke clear and warm and breakfast was consumed with great relish.
The morning trip was to Hendover Coppice which we found after a few trial trips up some dead end roads. A short walk through the mixed woodland, during which we were serenaded by the songs of blackbird, song thrush, wren and chiffchaff. We then came out on to a large meadow full of buttercups and southern marsh orchids. To add to the sea of yellow were colours from sorrel, lesser stitchwort and germander speedwell, whilst round the edge of the meadow was a kaleidoscope of greens from oak, ash, willow, beech and some conifers. One beech tree was measured by seven people surrounding it and holding hands at chest height which made it several hundred years old. Further enquiries revealed it to be The Batcombe Beech and is classed as a veteran tree. Meanwhile a buzzard was performing some acrobatic manoeuvres overhead as a very worn painted lady came into view.

In the afternoon some of the party visited a Himalayan garden which had many interesting and unusual trees including a dawn redwood with a twisted trunk grown from a seed planted in 1947. There were a lot of blue damselflies and a large red damselfly plus a sighting of a green woodpecker.

Others in the group sought out a place for a lunchtime snack and whilst sitting in the cafe garden were rewarded by the appearance of a red kite soaring overhead. Afterwards they went on to Nunnery Mead, a Dorset Wildlife Trust site. A fairly difficult location to find but perseverance paid off and down by the river were flag iris, water forget-me-not, beautiful demoiselles and lots of jackdaws. Being on the flood plain of the River Frome there was an interesting system of drainage enabling the farmer to use utilize some of land earlier after flooding.

The day was finished off with another communal dinner out. On the way there a kestrel dived into the roadside verge and emerged with its supper and on the return journey we had to drive slowly for a while along a country lane behind a hare as it slowly lolloped along.

Thursday

Another beautiful morning, enhanced by inspecting the contents of a moth trap, which Elizabeth had persuaded Dorset Wildlife Trust to set up the night before and then one of their representatives would come and identify the contents. What a collection we had with 24 species plus some micro moths with some 82 moths in all. Probably the most impressive were the elephant hawk and eyed hawk moths. The most frequently occurring were 13 buff ermine, 11 large yellow underwing and 9 each of heart and dart and Brussels lace. And all this before breakfast!
Then it was another cross country safari to the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve on the coast at West Brexington. A quick walk along the pebbled beach where the pebbles were smaller and easier to walk on than those further along on Chesil beach. A reed warbler was heard and then seen with a beak full of food for it’s nearby nestlings. A whitethroat was also heard and then spotted whilst a common tern patrolled the water’s edge. Sea kale was found growing amongst these small pebbles as was bristly ox tongue. A small pond produced coot and mallard with their respective youngsters in tow. A pair of smart looking frogs were picked out amongst the green vegetation floating on the pond surface. Emperor dragonflies were busy egg laying as the blue damselflies flitted hither and thither disturbing the meadow brown, marbled white, common blue and small skipper butterflies. After a refreshing drink, some went further along the beach and discovered the most impressive beach side toilets ever and then found a plethora of bee orchids as well as pyramidal orchids.
Others went to Powerstock Common where we anticipated seeing bee orchids, marsh fritillary and wood white butterflies. However after a two hour walk we had no luck with any of these although there were plenty of southern marsh orchids and several pyramidal ones Another freshly emerged red admiral partly made up for it as did a dyer’s greenweed. An enjoyable evening meal was eagerly consumed at the Spyway Inn.

Friday

Yet another lovely morning as we said goodbye to the swooping swifts and the local vole and mouse that we had seen regularly during our stay.
At breakfast we thanked Elizabeth for organising the trip and the weather and then wished Jacqui a happy birthday.
On the way home several visited the Chard reservoir where there were a lot of herring gulls with the odd lesser black backed gull, little egret and great crested grebes. In the water were some enormous carp and in the surrounding meadows were a lot of heath spotted orchids but the star of the show was a slender St John’s-wort. It was a very hot day by then, so a cold drink was high on the priority list before we did the last leg of the journey home.

It had been a very enjoyable trip in super countryside, gorgeous weather and lovely food. An abundance of flowers but perhaps not as many birds and butterflies as we might have expected.

N:B Lists of flora and fauna seen available on request from our Branch Chairman, Brian, as always.

Lustleigh. 17th July 2022

On what was forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far, reaching heights of 29°C, we headed off to the wooded valley of the East Dartmoor Nature Reserve along which flows the River Bovey. The day didn’t start too well as we were locked in the middle of a Sunday morning cycling road race for the first seven miles. After breaking free from these lycra clad enthusiasts it was all plain sailing until we reached a maze of narrow country lanes close to our destination. The last two miles probably taking us half an hour before arriving at Drakeford bridge, the starting point of our circular walk.

The bridge where we had our picnic at Lustleigh (EB)

Around the car park the large trumpet like flowers of hedge bindweed clung onto adjoining foliage and we were treated to a dazzling display of greater willowherb. Before entering the relative coolness of the woods, a comma butterfly was spotted but would not pose long enough for the camera.

Whereas a lot of meadow flowers seem to have been burnt off from the effects of the sun and lack of rain over the last few weeks., the woodland flowers were still abundant. Whilst walking through Pullbrook Woods a good variety were identified including figwort, perforate St John’s wort, enchanter’s nightshade and fleabane. The woodland itself consisted of mixed variety of species in full leaf with some of the tallest trees in Devon. This was clearly not going to be a day for bird spotting and an official notice informed us that the nesting season lasted until the end of the month. Only occasionally did we hear any birdsong in comparison to the constant chorus which greeted us on our walk through Hawk Combe Woods in April.

This was more than made up for by the butterflies which included red admirals, gatekeepers, meadow browns, large whites, ringlets, skippers and silver washed fritillaries, the latter being particularly abundant. These large orange/brown butterflies graced the woodlands often landing on nearby foliage with their wings splayed out. They lay their eggs on tree trunks during the Summer and the newly hatched caterpillars eat nothing more than their egg shells until the following Spring.

Dock Beetle. (EB)
Dock Beetle Eggs. (EB)

After reaching the higher point in the woods we now began a gentle descent passing a rarely seen wayfaring-tree and swathes of yellow cow-wheat on either side of our path. On reaching the valley bottom it was decided to make a short diversion following a small stream up the slopes of Trendlebere Down. Treading a narrow path through waist high bracken when a beautiful demoiselle fluttered past us. Arriving at a small boggy clearing by the rust coloured waters of the stream, the beautiful yellow colours of the bog asphodel and the purples of the betony greeted us amongst the odd patch of cotton grass. Above the water several keeled skimmers darted back and forth many in their locked in mating position. Around these patrolled the larger golden ringed dragonflies whilst a meadow pipit was spotted under the clear blue skies above the moor.

Back down into the relative coolness of the woods as a robin flitted along in front of us as we headed to our picnic spot by the River Bovey and an old stone pack horse bridge. Sitting on a log under a mature alder tree our hoped for sighting of the day alighted on a boulder in the of a now clear expanse of water flowing under the bridge. This was a white admiral, a dark brown butterfly with a white band across the middle of each wing.

Refreshments over, walking back we passed a spindle tree with its yet to ripen green berries. Mountain ash were now displaying orange fruits. A song thrush alighted on a sawn off tree stump on its way to feed its brood. Fish could now be seen gliding around in the clear river waters. It was now off to the local village of Lustleigh where a cream tea was very much enjoyed in the landscaped gardens of the cafe surrounded by flowers as a buzzard soared overhead,
JS

Ringlet Butterfly (EB)

Lundy. August 7th 2022
Our destination this month was the rocky granite island of Lundy situated in the Bristol Channel and lying 11 miles off the nearest point on the mainland. This once privately island now belongs to the National Trust and is managed by the Landmark Trust. It is the largest island in the Bristol Channel covering just over 1,000 acres. It is an SSSI and lies on a major migration route with many unusual bird species having been recorded there.

Motoring out of the picturesque Clovelly harbour nestled in the North Devon coast beneath wooded cliffs, we were blessed with a clear blue sky and a moderate breeze. The powerful engines of our boat, The Lundy Murrelet, caused her bow to be lifted out of the water and a stream of white turbulent water trailed from the stern in which bobbed our rubber tender.

The Merrelet EB
The Murrelet EB

Cameras were at the ready and it was not long before they were focussed on several small groups of guillemot looking very much at home on their sea habitat. Other sightings included gannets, cormorants, manx shearwater and a possible scoter.

As we came ever closer to the island, it’s granite cliffs rising steeply from the water became more vivid. We passed a grey seal with it’s head and neck poking out of the water. This is the larger of our two species and they will shortly be coming ashore to mate and give birth to pups. Approaching the landing stage we were being closely watched by 14 cormorants drying out their feathers on top of nearby rocks.
With our feet now on dry land we passed a tamarisk shrub before climbing up the steep rocky path to the top of the island where we were to be met by Stuart, the Lundy warden and our guide for the day. However, today we were blessed with two guides as meeting us on the jetty had been Mandy, one of our BNA branch members, who had been camping on the island. She is also a Lundy “Ambassador” and volunteers as a guide showing groups around the island describing its natural history. Part of the way up the cliff path she was able to point out the Lundy cabbage even though it was past its flowering stage. This plant is endemic to the island. It is the food source for the Lundy cabbage flea beetle and the Lundy cabbage weevil both of which are native to the island.

Marsh Cudweed EB
Marsh Cudweed, Lundy EB

On reaching the top of the island it was time for a well earned picnic break on the grassy lawn near the island’s tavern. Almost on cue a magnificent Sika deer stag appeared in the adjacent field shortly followed by two more stags and a hind. Their newly formed antlers were in “velvet”.

Eagerly following our knowledgeable guide up the east coast of the island we passed red admiral and meadow brown butterflies whilst a whitethroat was heard singing nearby. The path wound its way along the cliff edge, the fern clad slopes falling steeply down to the blue waters below. Amongst these ferns grew a stand of yellow ragwort on which was perched a colourful rose chafer beetle. A painted lady alighted on one of the ferns when we had a fly past by a peregrine, one of six pairs on the island.

Western Gorse on Lundy EB
Western Gorse, Lundy EB

Further along we investigated some small quarries, one having a murky pond in which some golden orfe were swimming which had been introduced to the island by its then owner. A blue tailed damselfly was also resident there. Having nearly reached the halfway stone wall we started back along the main path to the harbour passing wild horses, highland cattle and a feral goat standing atop a rocky outcrop on the western edge of the island.

Lundy EB
Lundy EB

On our way back to the mainland we passed a small pod of dolphins and an osprey was seen in the distance. Finally some fun and games were had as we were rowed ashore, two at a time, in the tiny rubber tender but its flabby condition meant it had to be inflated first before we could use it! JS

Clovelly Harbour Last Light EB
Clovelly Harbour – Home again! EB

Northam Burrows. 21st August 2022

Driving along the narrow tarmacked road between grazing sheep and the occasional group of golfers, the exhilarating sight of the sea greeted us as we peered over the long pebble ridge. We were now in the Northam Burrrows, our destination for today. This country park is part of the North Devon coast of outstanding natural beauty lying within the UNESCO biosphere and is also an SSSI. Its 253 acres consist of a variety of habitats including a large area of grassland grazed by sheep and ponies, sand dunes, salt marsh and a pebble ridge which protects it from the sea at high tides.

Ranger Rose talking about Sharp Rush. EB

Greeting us at the newly built visitor centre was deputy ranger, Rose, our guide for the day. After an introductory talk we set off to a nearby enclosed area of dunes whilst a flock of starlings wheeled overhead. Several years ago marram grass was planted in this area, its roots and rhizomes anchoring in the sand thus helping to stabilize the dunes.

This plant now dominates the area and after our recent period of hot, dry weather we were not too hopeful of seeing an abundance of wild flowers. Any rain that had fallen, had gone straight through the sand. However there were some remnants of flowers clinging on to life such as restharrow, sea rocket, bird’s-foot trefoil, thyme and ragwort. The last of these has been left to flourish as it is the host plant of the black and yellow caterpillar of the cinnabar moth. Several feint white casings of the six-spot burnet moth chrysalis were identified clinging on to the stems of the marram grass and a little further on an actual adult moth was seen. One flower which seemed to have ignored the dry conditions was the evening primrose with its magnificent large yellow flowers dominating the surrounding area.
Leaving the enclosed area we weaved our way between clumps of the (very) prickly saltwort which seemed to have spread outside of the enclosed area. Making our way across the now parched grassy area which is shared with the Royal North Devon Golf Club and farmers’ grazing livestock and making sure we avoided any errant flying golf balls, we headed towards the “inland sea”. This was a large scrape dug out in 2014. At present there was no water in it but was carpeted with a blanket of wild flowers. Amongst them growing under a protective grid was the very rare water germander. A plant that is only found on Braunton Burrows and in a part of Cambridgeshire. Whilst standing in the scrape the unmistakable scent of water mint wafted through the air.

Rare – Water Germander EB

As we headed towards the northern end of the Burrows, two ravens were seen as they cronked overhead. Sharp rush dominated this area, so sharp, that it has been known to pierce golf balls! Stoats and weasels inhabit this area. Whilst listening to the “clicking” sound of a stonechat a clouded yellow fluttered into view which prompted the clicking of our cameras.

Standing on top of a grassy mound, underneath which lies all the rubbish of the local residents deposited there up until 1969, we were treated to the peaceful views of Braunton Burrows across the Taw and Torridge estuary now at high tide. It was now time for the homeward journey walking back parallel to the sea. Beyond the yachts we had clear views of Lundy, our previous destination. We passed the unusual sea stock growing amongst the dunes, sporting both leaves and long thin seed pods containing two separate rows of seeds ready to burst open and the seeds to be dispersed by the wind.

Arriving back at the visitors centre for some well earned refreshments we were greeted by a couple of swallows zipping overhead and some wheatears flitting amongst the grassy mounds. Some of us were lucky enough to see a brown argus.  JS

 

Selworthy, Wednesday 21st September 2022

On the northern fringes of Exmoor members of our BNA branch assembled in the dwindling evening sunshine following a perfect September day. We were in the large working yard of the Holnicote Estate surrounded by old brick buildings and various pieces of farm machinery. Our hopes for this visit was to see the workings of the resident beavers and get some sightings of them. Our guide, Nathan, arrived to the sound of a trilling robin and the sighting of a great spotted woodpecker.

As we left the yard and walked over extensive parkland with the wooded slopes of Exmoor in the distance, our guide gave us a brief history of the site. The estate consists of over 12,000 acres and was gifted to the National Trust by the Acland family early in the last century and lies within the Exmoor National Park.

Arriving at the 2.7 acre wooded beaver enclosure we paused to get a background to the project. Beavers were hunted to extinction in the 17th century for their fur, meat and scent glands. In January 2000 a breeding pair named Yogi and Grills were introduced to the site having been relocated from the wild populations in the River Tay catchment area in Scotland. In May the following year the first kit was born and named Rashford after the Manchester United footballer and was thought to be the first beaver to be born on Exmoor for over 400 years. In the Spring of this year two more kits were born named, Russo and Toone, after the England forwards in honour of the Lionesses Euro 2022 victory. The family will stay together for a couple of years before the oldest will naturally want to go off to create a territory of its own.

The Beaver’s Lodge

Entering the mixed woodland we walked in single file, skirting the perimeter before turning in to the centre of the beavers activity. The dry Summer had ushered in a “false” Autumn causing trees to shed their leaves early in order to conserve water. We passed several sites indicating beaver activity where they had stripped bark from the trees, some of which had been felled. This was mainly non-native conifers creating a deadwood habitat, encouraging woodland regrowth and in turn opening up the canopy.

Beaver Activity

A short walk further on, were three large ponds created entirely by the beavers from the building of dams and water channels with wood from the surrounds and mud. These dams hold up water reducing flash flooding and erosion by reducing the water flow rate. They also help to expand the biodiversity giving opportunities for fish, reptiles, bats, insects and birds. Otters regularly visit the site. During this dry Summer these ponds have been like an oasis, attracting all manner of wildlife.

The lifespan of a beaver is 10-14 years. They are crepuscular, appearing at dawn and dusk when the light is not too bright. Their diet consists of aquatic and herbaceous plants, grasses and woody shrubs in the Winter. Although their eyesight is poor and they only have moderate hearing, they have an acute sense of smell. They live in a lodge built of sticks and mud with underwater access tunnels. It was opposite their lodge that we found ourselves standing silently in the gathering gloom waiting for a beaver to appear. Some pigeons were cooing and the silence was momentarily broken by some squirrels snapping twigs high up in the canopy. A blackbird was ensuring that his was the last song to be heard for the day.

One of our group had some good camera equipment at the ready and it was mentioned by the guide that the beavers never seem to appear when this was the case and so it turned out to be. We were a little disappointed but went home enriched with more knowledge of these interesting and renewed additions to our countryside.
JS

Beaver Habitat

Fungus foray, Arlington. Sunday 23rd October 2022

Having seen the weather forecast for Sunday, in which there was a severe weather warning for our area, it was with some trepidation that we waited for dawn on the day of our visit to Arlington Court. We need not have worried as it was a lovely calm sunny morning when we set off. However, on the outskirts of Barnstaple several “road ahead closed” signs caused some concern. The literate ones among us duly followed the diversion route and visited some of the less frequently travelled Devon lanes. Those of us who couldn’t read went straight on to Arlington where we were greeted by a fly past of some 51 Canada geese.

Arlington Court (NT) Autumn

Eventually we all assembled and a good turnout it was too. John Willatts gave us a quick run down on fungi and how to identify them by appearance, feel, smell and taste (remembering to spit it out afterwards in case it was poisonous or had been sprayed by K9P).
Immediately we found a fairly moth eaten clitocybe phyllophila, one of 58 clitocybes to be found in this country. Having left the car park, we entered a mature woodland area and we all had a feel of a wax cap. Next was a common white helvella whilst others were photographing a brilliant white porcelain fungus high up on a tree.

Then it was into a permanent pasture field grazed by cattle and one assumes also by some of Arlington’s red deer. Common puff balls were there and their dispersal method was demonstrated. On a nearby wood pile were some many zoned polypores. A good display of sulphur tuft was quite impressive, then the unusual shaped white spindle which we were assured were not that common. They looked a bit like the bean shoots you get in a Chinese restaurant.

Sulphur Tuft

By now we had got our eye in and were finding fungi in all directions including the smallish hora cap and a lovely earth star. Honey fungus was present in both chunky and slender forms. Then came the biggest surprise of the day, a pipistrelle bat out during the day sunning itself on an old oak tree.

                    Pipistrelle Bat

Reid cap was one of the possible boletus and crumble cap russula were present along with representatives of the 102 mycena found in Britain. We came across some golden spindle and eventually a common field mushroom. Another wax cap, hygrocybe ceracea and another russula, this time xerampelina, followed by a milk cap lactarius circellatus where it was demonstrated that if you run your fingers over the gills they exude a milky fluid. On another fallen tree were some huge dryad’s saddles the size of large dinner plates plus a slime mould whilst on a dead thistle stem wee some very attractive variable oysterling.

Honey Tuft

On a fairly fresh cow pat were some small red objects but as it was lunch time it was decided not to investigate them further. We enjoyed our picnic lunch overlooking the surrounding sun lit Devon countryside and managed to get home before the long anticipated rain arrived.

Thanks once again to John Willatts for his knowledge and identification skills. Don’t forget all fungi are edible but some only once!