17th July. Despite the cold and sometimes icy conditions, I confess that I prefer bird watching in winter. I have a passion for geese and waders and winter is often the best time to watch them in what is often better light. I also take into account that there are often fewer people about and therefore it’s simply more peaceful, even if standing in gale force winds and cursing the freezing cold. I do have to admit that British summer evenings do have a good deal of appeal too, especially when the weather has been as it has for the past few weeks. I was out again this evening and was well rewarded on my St Mary’s Island to Holywell walk.
Sam and I welcomed the cooling breeze as we set off from St Mary’s Island just before teatime when there were still numbers of bodies lying about the beach. A Kestrel immediately caught the eye. It wasn’t long until we were watching summer plumage Golden Plovers flying in small flocks. Perhaps just arriving back to over winter we wondered? Only the odd Lapwing, Oystercatchers and Turnstones added to the wader list here. Sandwich Terns flew over the sea and Skylark and Meadow Pipit sang above the fields. The buildings on the island were at times covered in Starlings. Insects in the meadow land above the cliff included large numbers of Burnet Moths and Soldier Beetles, but surprisingly few butterflies, which were in the main Meadow Browns and the odd Small Tortoiseshell. A four spot Ladybird was also found. The occasional Fulmer flew along the edge of the cliff and one Fulmer appeared as if still on a nest on the cliff side. Sand Martins were seen, as were Gannets as we watched from Seaton Sluice. There were lots of House Martins flying near the cliffs.
A few of the Starlings gathering on the island.
Soldier Beetles doing what they do.
We had our tea before setting off to walk through Holywell Dene. We found white species of butterfly along with single Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Ringlet. I don’t remember seeing Ringlet here before, but I’m aware that it is a species that is spreading its range. Once again the majority of butterflies were Meadow Browns. The burn was low and the walk tiring in places, as in this direction it tends to be uphill. I couldn’t help wonder why people want to run in such heat (can’t be good for you), but obviously many do! If I had been as red in the face as one of these guys running I would have taken it as a sign to lie down and rest. There was little bird life found, although a few Chiffchaffs continue to call and Stock Dove was seen. It was a pleasant walk as always. A Common Hawker Dragonfly hawked around us, coming up close to suss us out at times. I heard its wings buzzing around my head on several occasions. I’d been a little surprised once again to see no sign of odonata near to the dipping pools.
We eventually arrived at Holywell Pond and a sit in the hide was more than welcome. We spent the rest of the evening until about 9:00pm in this area. We saw no other bird watchers. A small wader took me a little by surprise until I worked out it was a juvenile Dunlin (no telescope with me). There were three Oystercatchers in the same area, which were enjoying a bathe in the pond, and a family of Pied Wagtails. Sedge Warblers sang from the reeds. The Common Terns were active and appear to be successfully raising young. Black Headed Gulls were numerous and there was one or two Lesser Black Backed Gulls. Birds on the pond included Little Grebe, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. Grey Herons called and were eventually seen.
Sam and I eventually moved to the members hide. This had been a decision taken at a good time as it wasn’t long before we were watching a juvenile Marsh Harrier that had risen from the reed bed. A beauty of a bird in pristine condition, with that cream head showing so well in the clear light. It flew over the edge of the reeds at the west end of the pond for a time before flying down the edge of the reed-bed almost the length of the pond, then returning and flying off behind the hide. It did return again and showed very well as it was mobbed by gulls. It eventually flew at tree top level on the north side of the pond before flying behind these trees. We saw no more of it. At this point in time we heard Curlews calling and watched as they appeared to land at the other rend of the pond. They were soon followed by two Black-tailed Godwits. We decided to return to the scrape as it seemed there might be some action there. We found the juvenile Dunlin was still there along with seven Oystercatchers and the two Curlew and two Black-tailed Godwits. The Godwits, one of them seeming much larger than the other, stood together in full summer plumage. Their reflections showed well in the still water of the pond. It would have made an excellent photographic image, but sadly just too far away for our equipment to do that justice.
Juvenile Marsh Harrier makes an appearance.
By now the sun was turning the sky red and we decided to take a quick walk to the open field just to check for owls. Unfortunately we didn’t find any. We did find the Common Nettles were covered by caterpillars. Black and spiky caterpillars of the Peacock Butterfly. I estimated that there must have been over one hundred of them in a small area. On close inspection you can se that the spikes have smaller spikes along their length, so I assume they are very well protected from predators. I’m sure something must eat them and would like to know how they manage this. The caterpillars were busy munching their way through the Common Nettles, the regular food for these larvae.
Peacock Butterfly caterpillars show their defences!