Sunday 31 May 2009

Goat Island and Lizard Peninsula

Yesterday I took a long stroll up on Axe Cliff , which also included my first ever visit to Goat Island, "where's that?" you might well ask. It is a large area of grassland detached from the 'mainland' during the 1839 landslip which created the whole undercliff area. Having been spared the attention of farmers for over a century and a half it is now a superb area for wildflowers including orchids. I didn't suppose there would be any particularly 'desirable' ones there, just the usual species that I can see elsewhere on patch, but whilst I was looking for information on Goat Island on the web I came across a post on a forum by someone who had made a visit there. They had posted some photos of the lovely Common Spotted Orchids they had seen including a 'nice white one'. I could see from the photo that this wasn't a Common Spotted Orchid, it was a Butterfly Orchid!! I was planning on visiting Somerset or Dorset for this species but now it was available on patch, or so it seemed. I found the 'secret pathway' down through the chasm separating Goat Island from the rest of Axe Cliff and after several minutes of scrambling, climbing and getting my legs scratched (shorts were a bad choice) I emerged onto the island. What an incredible place, the solitude was blissful as were the views, here are a couple of them:

There was a sheer cliff at the southern end, which I kept well away from!

You can't see from the photos but the grassland up there was smothered with orchids, mostly Common Spotted, Southern Marsh and hybrids of the two. But there were also about a dozen Butterfly Orchids!

Very elegant.
A close up view of the flowers revealed that it was in fact a Greater Butterfly Orchid.

The position of the pollinia (those yellow dumbbell shaped bits) distinguish the Greater from Lesser Butterfly Orchid. Appaerntly these orchids 'glow in the dark' to attract moths!

I felt very privileged to be on this part of the reserve, especially as I know that volunteer working parties put in a lot of graft managing the grassland and keeping the scrub down, so much so that I may well join one later in the year.

After leaving here I was making my way across Axe Cliff on one of my usual routes when I was staggered to see a small group of Southern Marsh Orchids almost right next to the path, I certainly haven't seen any here in previous years, don't know how I've missed them, they are pretty obvious.

Here they are being modeled by Rex.
The best thing about a photo of Rex is that you can't smell him! (unless he's within half a mile of you while your viewing it)

Also on Axe Cliff a few of the usuals amused me for a while as I tried to take reasonable shots of them from a distance with the S3, a challenge I suppose...

Not one of the usuals until last weekend. The S3 likes butterflies:-)




Today Bun and I went to The Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall hoping to see the Choughs, which would be a lifer for me. We visited both Kynance Cove and Lizard Point where the RSPB watchpoint is situated. We had good views at both sites but the views were more prolonged and closer at Kynance Cove, especially in flight. Great birds, much more than just 'crows with red bills'. We also had a bonus or three! Here are a few photos from today:

Kynance Cove was idyllic here; the hoards arrived a couple of hours later

The Choughs were nesting in a cave along this piece of coastline.

A couple of stunning shots of the Choughs

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, there were scores of these at Kynance Cove

A Grey Seal put in a brief appearance... but best of all...

Fantastic views of a Red Kite,
only my third ever and definitely the best views I've had.
Low enough for a photo! :-)

Thursday 28 May 2009

Drive By Orchids

On Sunday morning whilst Bun and I were driving to the 'undisclosed site,' we passed a lane just on the northern outskirts of the local patch where he recalled seeing orchids growing in profusion, several years ago though, I think he said. Anyway on the way back from a quick visit to Honiton today, I was passing said lane and couldn't help driving down it for a little look-see. I'm pleased to say he was right; both sides of the lane were adorned with scores of Common Spotted Orchids. They were mostly only just beginning to come into flower so in a few weeks should look even better than they do now.

Both sides of the road looked like this.

Just stop the car, wind down the window,
and enjoy views like this. Easy! :-)

Wednesday 27 May 2009


On waking up this morning to heavy rain and a strong southwesterly, it wasn't long before I was in position at the Yacht Club seawatching, an unexpected second 'last chance saloon' if there is such a thing? I did two hours in the morning and another one mid-afternoon. It was fairly good seawatching really with c300 Manx Shearwaters (some passing amazingly close in) c100 Gannets, about a dozen Kittiwakes, and a single Whimbrel, also my first tern on patch this year, an Arctic Tern, which Steve had seen leave Colyford Common heading south. It reached the boat park at the Yacht Club before changing its mind and heading back inland, and who can blame it! I also spotted a teeny-weeny wader heading in off, it subsequently flew west along the beach, it was probably a Little Stint, I can't be sure though. Typically whilst I was down the local supermarket obtaining crucial supplies such as, tea, cake, chocolate, chocolate, cake and tea, Steve had an Arctic Skua, which is just the luck of the draw I suppose. All in all I was very happy with what I'd seen until I looked at Birdguides this afternoon, one entry therein hit me like a sledgehammer.." Beer; POMARINE SKUA west at 08:25". Oh no!! I was watching then!! How did it get past me, sheer ineptitude again I suppose :-(

I could understand it if I was doing something foolish like trying to digiscope speeding Manxies. Which of course I wasn't...Well not until at least 09:30. Worth the effort?.....

....I think not

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Three Small Firsts

Just a brief post about a couple of the day's highlights, NONE of which involved flowers for a change! I spent most of this morning at Colyford Common with the Axe Estuary Ringing Group, the weather was against us with a stiff northwesterly wind blowing. We did manage to catch fifteen birds though including 'first number one', the ringing groups first Kingfisher of the year, a juvenile. Last year we caught and ringed 18, I wonder if we'll do better this year?

My first Kingfisher fondle of the year, always such a privilege!

Also at Colyford Common was first number two:

Female Broad-bodied Chaser my first of the year. Also my first dragonfly on patch this year.

Finally while walking Rex along the Coly this afternoon I spotted this, the first one of these I've seen on patch this year. It didn't fool me. I knew what it was, despite its attempts to impersonate a Dipper!

Monday 25 May 2009

Martin Down NNR

This morning I visited Martin Down NNR, a reserve on the Hampshire/Dorset/Wiltshire border. I almost canceled the trip due to the weather but Martha was coming too and said there's no way she was getting up at 6.00 AM and then NOT going somewhere I'm glad she was so insistent because although it was throwing it down when we arrived, the rain soon cleared to leave lovely warm, but not too sunny weather, ideal for the amount of ground we'd have to cover. Yes, I was looking for a particular orchid, but I was also hoping to see some butterflies and most of all Turtle Doves and Grey Partridge, which apparently nest here.

The view looking south over Martin Down, the reserve stretches as far as the horizon, so looking for a small flower was not going to be easy and the orchid I was looking for today is very small. The rare Burnt-tip Orchid.

There are four of them in this picture, so you can see how diminutive they are, diminutive and....

....Very Glamorous!

Burnt-tip are one of a group of orchids where the flowers resemble little human-like figures, as can be seen here.
And here.

We only found a total of seven plants although we obviously didn't search the whole reserve, there were also loads of Common Spotted Orchids and a few Early Purples clinging on too.


Yes no need to panic, not ALL flowers today! There weren't that many butterflies on the wing due to the cloudy conditions I suppose but I did see an few. I saw but didn't photograph Common Blue and Small Blue. Adonis Blue is regular here but we didn't see one today.

These two Dingy Skippers show the colour variety, being different colours to each other and also to the one I photographed on Saturday.

One of the thousands of Painted Ladies that have come in off the continent in recent days, yesterday I must have seen between fifty and a hundred fly past.

Small Heath,
never make the best photographic subjects, due to resting with the wings closed.

This gorgeous brute is a male Fox Moth

This bright green beetle hasn't got a common name. I think it's a Cryptochephalus hypochaeridis. Cryptochephalus meaning hidden head.

While we're on the subject, here's another nice green beetle, this one wasn't at Martin Down though. I took this photo yesterday. It's a Green Tiger Beetle.

I also managed to get a snap of this Common Lizard, which is no mean feat, though I say it myself.

Right, what about the birds? Well I didn't see any Grey Partridge, which was a teeny bit disappointing but we did see quite a few other nice birds. Martha liked the Stonechat best, never having noticed one on patch! I got photos of my 'fave three' of the day, NOT good photos mind, the S3 didn't like the cloudy conditions as usual, resulting in much naffness! I'll certainly take my scope next time I visit and there will be a next time I hope. A good thing about orchid hunting is that I'm visiting places I'd never think of going to otherwise. I'd never have discovered what a great place Martin Down is if it wasn't for the Burnt-tip Orchid! :-) Oh yes - back to the birds.

Before the rain had stopped the first bird I saw was this Lesser Whitethroat.

Wow! A Corn Bunting. I got to hear it's 'jingly-janngly' song for the first time today.

Without doubt the best birds of the day were the Turtle Doves. I couldn't believe how many were here! I got numerous flight views (around 8 or so) and a couple of views of perched birds too. Before today I'd only ever seen two. There appeared to be one 'purring' in almost every hawthorn thicket I passed. Amazingly today was the first time I've ever heard the Turtle Dove's song. They've got to be one of my all time favourites, and easily as glamorous as an orchid!

The best bird ever ? One of for sure.


A bit of news from yesterday I want to share. Bun and I missed the patch first yesterday morning, you know, the Plastic (whoops I mean Red)-Crested Pochard, because we were off patch at an undisclosed site looking at an undisclosed bird, undisclosed for the usual reasons obviously. It was stunning by the way! I only mentioned it because we also saw some other nice birds including three Cuckoos. (I only saw my first ever Cuckoo two weeks ago at Lakenheath - now I've seen eight). They were really vocal and were performing their full repertoire, I didn't know they made any other sound apart from 'cuck-oo'. Best off all though one perched up in a bare tree, my first ever view of one not in flight! It was also a good photo opportunity, only a naff S3 effort though. Why? Because somehow, someone went and forgot to take her scope! Doh! I wouldn't have managed to digiscope it anyway because Bun tried to set up his scope but it flew off before he could.

A perched Cuckoo at last. :-)

Saturday 23 May 2009

A Walk To Culverhole

This morning me and Rex took a gentle stroll along the beach to Culverhole, which is around two kilometres to the East of Seaton. Not that far, but walking on stones it sure feels further! Rex was especially unimpressed and soon became very thirsty and began lagging behind a bit.
When you first set off, Culverhole Point looks quite close but the further you walk the further away it seems to get, here's the view from about halfway:

Culverhole Point is the bit jutting out in the distance.Obviously.

Looking back towards Seaton

I didn't see many birds along the beach, the best being a pair of Rock Pipits on the cliff face, here's a picture of one.
A bit on the naff side but I've included it because it's the ONLY bird photo your gonna get today (if that's a concern then stop here).

When we eventually arrived it was nice to see some large clumps of Sea Kale, this is the only place I've seen it on patch as far as I can recall. It had a very 'distinctive' aroma. There were still remnants of MSC Napoli debris here too.

A bit of mangled container and I'm pleased to see that Culverhole is a no smoking zone.

Sea Kale, pretty but pongy.

The view from Culverhole towards Seaton.

Rex doesn't die of thirst after all !

Some of the habbo, a mixture of scrub, rocks , and small marshy areas. Right in the centre of this photo is the reason I'd come here, yes you've guessed it... Orchids.

I had a suspicion that there may be some orchids here at the moment because I do know that a couple of species can be found here later in the summer. All the ones I saw today were Southern Marsh Orchid or variants of. They were a variety of sizes and colours and sometimes quite difficult to spot in the dense vegetation. Here's a small selection of them:

A couple of 'Barbie pink' ones.

A gorgeous pale pink one.

This one's a variety of Southern Marsh called the 'Leopard Marsh Orchid' (well I think it is, because apparently some hybrids can look similar), notice how the flowers are marked differently having bold horseshoe shaped markings instead of numerous spots. Why 'Leopard Marsh Orchid'? Take a look at the leaves..

Leopard print leaves. Cool.

I saw a few butterflies too. On the beach a Painted Lady, and in Culverhole the ubiquitous Speckled Wood, also a Grizzled Skipper, which wouldn't stay still long enough for a photo and Dingy Skipper, which would.

Dingy Skipper

I wasn't planning on the long walk back along the beach I was going to climb up to the cliff path and return via Axe Cliff. I knew there was a pathway (of sorts) up onto the coast path as I'd climbed down here before a few years ago. I remembered part of it was very steep indeed so when I reached that part I was very happy to see this.

A handy rope, I reckon this has probably been placed here due to an upcoming guided walk. It was a great help for me at least, Rex managed to get up this high step on his third run up.. poor old soul!

The walk back along the coast path was pretty uneventful, very few birds on show but there were oodles of singing Song Thrushes and Chiffchaffs. The highlight was spotting this little beauty.
A female Muslin Moth - exquisite!