Sunday 30 July 2023

The 'Expert'

'And when it pauses, it'll usually wag its tail a couple of times', I said.

Right on cue, the Common Sandpiper, a bit distant and silhouetted against the light, briefly paused and wagged its tail.

'Oh yes, so it does! Look at that!'

And I knew that this tiny nugget of information was now stored away, ready for intant recall when the situation demanded.

Explaining how some birds have little idiosyncracies that help identify them even when views are less than ideal is all part and parcel of my new(ish) role as a guide on the Seaton Birdwatching Tram. And I love it. Sharing this kind of stuff with an appreciative audience is very rewarding. However, for me the best moment of yesterday evening's jaunt began with a beautifully-timed question about Axe Estuary Barn Owls (thank you, Mark!) which I was just about to answer with some waffle about their rather up-and-down fortunes locally, when I remembered Adrian Norcombe's box!

Several years ago, a local landowner thoughtfully installed a Barn Owl box in a tree on the Axmouth side of the valley, and at this very moment we were almost opposite it. So I pointed it out. As the first of our group found it in their bins, someone said, 'Oh, is there something in it?' And yes, there was! A long way off, but confirmed by the camera, a Barn Owl was in residence, nicely lit by the evening sun...

Adrian Norcombe's box, and current resident.

Prior to the evening tram trip, I did a little homework. I wanted to have some idea what was about, hoping there might be some goodies to look out for later. In addition to confirming the continued presence of the local celebrity Avocet family, a quick visit to Black Hole Marsh provided a couple of nice waders too...

Turnstone is a good bird for the Axe Estuary.

Little Ringed Plover is regular, but it was good to know that this juv was present.

In the event, we saw just the LRP from the tram, superbly spotted by one of the group. Again, views were a bit silhouetted, but it was nice to point out how the slim, attenuated rear end helps separate LRP from Ringed Plover.

The young Avocets are pretty large now. Here are two of them, with an adult...

The juv Avocets are just 34 days old.

Sometimes the 'expert' is wrong of course. Someone asked about our chances of Snipe. 'No', I said, 'It's a bit early for Snipe. They'll start to arrive next month.'

I wish I'd said, 'Slim.'

About ten minutes later, at Colyford Marsh scrape, someone called 'Snipe!'


Two Snipe. Way too early, if you ask me.

We saw loads of stuff, including three Kingfishers - always a crowd-pleaser - and ten species of wader, and enjoyed the amazing atmosphere provided by the sunlit scenery and its haunting soundtrack of Curlew calls. Just brilliant.

One of several Lapwings.

A nicely-lit Greenshank. There were several of these too.

Naturally, no current NQS post would be complete without a moth or two. No trapping last night though. Too busy babysitting in Lyme Regis, and sleeping for England. Friday night? Yes, Friday night...

Friday night, 28th July

72 moths of 39 species was a fairly slim return, and there was just one new for year, a Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. It escaped without a photo, but there will be many more to play with. There was a very nice 'first for the trap' though...

A fabulous Hornet. Photographed in situ, clinging to the underside of the trap funnel. It was very docile, and allowed me to transfer it to the wildlife hedge without fuss.

Blair's Mocha #14 for 2023.

A common migrant, this is our third of the year. In 2022 we trapped the species on 17 nights, all singles.

Right, I'd better get the trap out...

Friday 28 July 2023

Honestly, I'm Fine. Fine.

An eventful weekend coming up. First, I am guiding on the Seaton Birdwatching Tram tomorrow evening. I mention this for a reason, because one or two birding friends have expressed what I can only interpret as...well...concern.

Skimming through recent NQS output, yes, there are some moth posts. But I cannot see any reason why a mere two solid months of neat, undiluted lepidopteral content would suggest I might have strayed from the righteous path. Of course I am still a mad-keen birder. I mean, yesterday morning it took me no more than ten minutes to remember where my scope was, and even less to chip off the encrustation of spring seawatching salt. And at  the crack of mid-morning I was peering out from the West Bay shelter, counting Gannets like the pro that I am.

Fifty-eight, there were.

I managed to keep my eyes open for almost an hour, noting 17 Common Scoters, three Common Terns and an unseasonal Great Crested Grebe. The highlight was a flock of 21 Shelduck east, quite probably the biggest I've ever seen on a seawatch.

And yes, my optics still worked okay, and I could still remember what most of the birds were called. And yes, I am all set for tomorrow!

This made me laugh out loud! Yep, come along if you can, and I shall do my best to point out all the moths we see along the way. Tsk! Birds. I mean birds.

But anyway, now that moths have naturally come up...


Tuesday night, July 25th

A clear, chilly night. Catch-wise, the worst for ages. Just 37, of 21 species. The only new moth for the year was nectaring from the garden buddleia during the afternoon. I took loads of photos, but none are worth posting. Still, everyone knows what a Hummingbird Hawk-moth looks like.

Lychnis - the second this year.

First recorded in the UK in 2003, in Devon. Our third this year.

Wednesday night, July 26th

I nearly didn't bother. Loads of rain during the afternoon and evening, and the promise of more that night. It didn't look good. Around 22:30 the deluge had eased to 'heavy drizzle', so I chanced it. The return was just 54 moths of 28 species, but included a couple of classy 'new for year'...

New for year, the very lovely Sallow Kitten. We had a handful in 2022. Usually photographed in profile like this, but...

...looks just as gorgeous from above.

A surprise migrant, this is Dark Sword-grass. It was miles smaller than the very few others we've had.

Another Blair's Mocha, and the most nicely-marked so far.

Another Red Twin-spot Carpet, and much smarter than the last one.

Swallow Prominent #2 for 2023.

A nice, fresh Maple Pug, our first this year. Recorded in the trap six times last year. This compares to a total of just five records (three locations) elsewhere in the Bridport area, according to Living Record. Pugs seem to like our garden.

Thursday night, July 27th

Last night was in a different league! 177 moths of 74 species is a superb return for here, which I put down to the sublime weather: overcast, mild, and quite still. Most were familiar faces though, with just two species new for year, and one new for garden.

Nutmeg. One last year, one this. Not common locally.

Potted on the cabin wall, our 13th Blair's Mocha of the year. Catching moths in this sort of state, I always wonder what the story is. Bird? Bat? Whatever, probably a fortunate escape.

A very nice Small Fan-footed Wave. We get a lot of these.

Cloaked Minor, our 5th this year.

We've had two of these now, and there are <10 West Dorset records on the Living Record map, so I guess we've got something they like. However, I found this one in the garage, where we keep no straw, chaff

So far in 2023 we've had 17 White-spotted Pugs. Another moth that we do exceptionally well for.

Another from the mocha family (Cyclophora) and, typically, another delicate beauty: Maiden's Blush, our fifth of the year.

I absolutely love a Lime-speck Pug! We caught three last night, bringing the 2023 tally to five.

Ooh, another White-spotted Pug slips in...

Beautiful Hook-tip. What it says on the tin.

Last night's 'new for garden'. And what a smart little micro, with those lovely markings the colour of sealing wax.

So, there we are. All up to date with the birding stuff.

See you on the tram tomorrow!

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Triple Mocha

Last night produced a very cool mothy hat-trick, which I'll get to in a bit, but first...

Sunday night, 23rd July

176 moths of 62 species was better than expected, probably because it was mostly overcast and mild. Four new species for the year, one new for the garden.

A common micro that I've trapped several times. Top: Sunday night. Bottom: Friday night. A modest example of the variation evident in several moths. Some species take it to another level entirely, but still they would have to go some to be anywhere near as confusing as the various plumages of most large gulls!

First Square-spot Rustic of the year. There will be lots more. Lots.

Pale Prominent. Among the whackiest of moths. There were two in the trap, but they were only the second and third of the year.

We don't see Magpie Moth very often. It really is spectacular.

A bit worn, but this is the first Red Twin-spot Carpet of 2023. Caught a handful last year.

New for 2023. We trapped a single last year too. Locally, Wax Moth seems to be one of those species you might expect once or twice a year

This is our third. With just one other Bridport area record on Living Record, and not that many county-wide, it seems we are doing pretty well for this moth.

Pammene fasciana appears to be a fairly common species, but this is a garden first.


Monday night, 24th July

110 moths of 61 species was a decent haul, but nine new for year and six new for garden was excellent. Some quality was evident straight away, with Mocha and Blair's Mocha...

Mocha is a pretty little moth, and we do very well for them locally. Recorded on 23 nights last year, and 13 so far in 2023.

Blair's Mocha is clearly breeding successfully in the Bridport area, which is far and away the hottest location in Dorset for this species. The garden trap hosted it on 20 occasions last year, and there have been 11 individuals (ten nights) so far in 2023.

There are two other species in this family of moths (Cyclophora) that I've been hoping one day to encounter: Clay Triple-Lines (20+ Bridport area records on Living Record) and, more optimistically, Jersey Mocha (one Bridport area record). Partially hidden on a lower egg box in last night's trap was a moth which looked suspiciously like it might be the former. Once potted, however, I began to have my doubts. And I dared hope...

Yessss! The garden's first Jersey Mocha.

Formerly a rare immigrant (Britain's second ever was trapped in Weymouth around 20 years ago) Jersey Mocha is evidently establishing itself in Dorset. Good. Hopefully we'll get another.

There was plenty more of interest too...

New for the year. We trapped three last year.

New for the garden, I am very chuffed with this one. Small Waved Umber appears to be a common enough moth, but not locally. Just a single Bridport area dot on the Living Record map, representing four records.

A new one for my list of tiny roll-ups. Quite common I believe, but characterful.

Caught two of these last night. Another new one for the garden. Again, pretty common I believe.

The garden's third this year.

First of the year. There will be plenty more.

Sadly this garden first flew away before I could get a better photo. It is one of those moths that basically stands on its head when at rest. No more than a handful of Bridport area records on Living Record.

Another garden first; another one with few local records.

Amazingly, the 2023 garden moth list is bearing down rapidly on 400. A few more nights may well do the trick. Though tonight might not contribute a great deal. Cool and clear right now.

But, you never know...