The journey down typically included a few extra wiggles to
avoid several traffic hotspots but it was actually a scenic cross country route
that allowed several Kites and Buzzards to be seen and a live Mole in the
middle of the road somehow avoided squishification from myself of the cars
behind and even made it back to the verge.
The camping site at Cheddar Bridge was very pleasant being
bordered by the shallow crystal clear Cheddar Yeo and liberally sprinkled with
fearless Bunnies of various sizes. Not
that we had a tent – a wooden camping pod was a more comfortable option.
With a River Warbler just 30 minutes away at RSPB Ham Wall
it would have been rude not to scoot off there as soon as camp was set up. It was still grey and breezy and it started
to spit as I walked down and I was not overly surprised to discover that the
Warbler had done an overnight bunk after several weeks on site. I actually laughed when I was told as in my 7head I had already painted in this particular scenario.
Not to worry said the pragmatist Howard; there were still
Great White Egrets and Marsh Harriers floating around and I heard a Bittern
booming. There were moulting flocks of
Gadwall on the bigger pools and vocal Great Crested and Little Grebes along
with a few of the expected Warblers in song including a babbling Garden and
four Willows. A Roe Deer walked alng the edge of distant field.
|Great White Egret|
|Roe Deer a good mile away|
It was too cold and damp for any insects so I did not stay
long and plodded back to the car and spent the rest of the evening wrapped up
sitting outside the pod reading my book and watching the Rabbits.
It rained most of the night and was breezy with it by
morning so we headed south down the exciting M5 to Trago Mills at Newton Abbott
before working my way through to the River Dart where I have seen Dippers
before but alas there were none but several Hornets were attending a sap run on
an Oak tree.
|Hornet - Vespa carbo|
There appeared to be some momentary brightness and even a
little warmth so I retraced back up onto Dartmoor to have a look around Hay Tor
where High Brown Fritillaries had been seen in recent days but by the time I got
there the cloud base had dropped once again and rain was well and truly in the
The views were superb though and provided me with some
atmospheric shots. Meadow Pipits and
Stonechats were both feeding young but the only insects were a few Buff-tailed
|oooo.... Plagioclase Feldspar|
Just down the road was Yarner Wood and a quick half hour was
spent having a poke around. It was so
dark in there that it felt more like tropical jungle, albeit minus the heat,
insects and torrential rain. There was
a very little song but I soon managed to pick up the hoped for Pied Flycatchers
on call and had three pairs in attendance at nest boxes, one of which had
already fledged at least one young who was being fed by both parents on the
Spotted Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and Marsh Tits were
also heard but apparently Wood warblers are completely absent this year and in
fact my now be extinct as a breeder in Devon.
The decline throughout the southern counties has been accelerating in recent
A male Grey Wagtail was collecting food from the stream but
there also seems to be a lack of water in the woods with the streams barely
running and the pool near the car park and muddy splodge.
|A stately white Foxglove|
With the weather deteriorating further we headed back to
camp on a truly terrifying wet M5. I had
a walk in the early evening alongside Cheddar Yeo and found my own Grey
Wagtails doing what they do best and was pleased to find what I believe is Ivy
Broomrape all the way along the path verge.
|Ivy Broomrape but actually wondering if I have more than one species|
There was a Figwort and Hemlock Water-Dropwort in the
margins and Spleenwort, Wall-Rue and Hart’s Tongue Ferns all growing in the old
stone (railway?) bridge along with some pretty Ivy-leaved Toadflax.
|Maidenhair Spleenwort - Asplenium trichomanes|
|Maidenhair Spleenwort - Asplenium trichomanes and Ivy Leaved Toadflax |
|Hart's Tongue Fern|
I returned for dinner and the evening
So, rewinding to the first damp evening; two old boys (and I
do mean old) arrived in their little Agila and then spent so long ambling
around talking to other people that by the time it came to set their tent up it
was teeming with rain. They spent the night crammed into their car. I could not
have been pleasant.
Before heading out the following day we watched them empty
out their car and start putting up the tent.
It soon became very obvious that it was not going well but offers of
help from various sources were kindly refused.
Clearly they had the metal poles of a frame tent and the fibre glass
poles of a more modern tent. There were also at least two poles missing from
the pole tent frame as the front was house shaped and the back triangular. We left them pondering...
Seven hours later we returned and found the really old boy
sitting on a bench next to the metal frame that was propped up on a fence. I wandered over and asked if he was ok and
whether he wanted a hot drink. In his
local, quarter speed accent he politely declined and said that his friend had
had to go back to the pub to get his missing phone and would return
shortly. He appeared nearly two hours
later and they set about the tent construction with renewed if somewhat tortoise-like vigour.
This involved attaching the rear of the frame to the actual
fence panel using a very bent potato masher.
The fabric appeared to be from the more modern tent but they slung it
over the top and guyed it out but it could not have come down the back by the
fence because of the way it was attached.
The inner tent was then placed on the floor like a groundsheet before
they constructed their camp beds and air beds that they already said where
They seemed quite happy with their construction project and
at least they had a cover over their heads for the next few nights although I
suspect they were sharing it with some of the local wildlife.
|The Bunnehs were equally bemused...|
I decided to head north a ways after breakfast and went up a
deserted Cheddar Gorge. I stopped for a
couple of pics and nearly got blown away. From here I followed the Mendips
before dropping back down to Chew Valley Lake for a look from Herriots Bridge
where clouds of Swifts were zooming around in the grey.
|Chew Valley Lake|
Three local birders did little in the way of
making me feel welcome and it has been a long time since I have encountered
such brazen disdain as a 'Patch Interloper'.
A female Goldeneye with a brood of five was gruffly pointed out before
backs were turned and further enquiry about whether this was a good record were
ignored. I left them to talk about Sand Martins and headed for the coast and hoped that a Pacific Swift would fly behind them.
|Goldeneye with duckling and a plop|
My general grumpiness was brewing and on getting all the way
to Sand Point to the north of Weston-Super Mare I found the little empty sandy
car park was a £5 or bugger off NT spot so I did just that and ended up in the
50p an hour council one at the south end of Sand Bay. I am not tight but a flat rate of £5 for a
minute or all day is not on.
Lunch was taken in the car looking out across the muddy bay
to Cardiff’s industry on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel with Steep Holm
and Flat Holm rising from the waters and the curious Birnbeck Pier to the
|Birnbeck Pier and Steep Holm|
It was just starting to rain again and the wind was getting
up but I still went for a walk along the beach to see if there were any
interesting plants in the dunes. I found no Orchids but there were many plants
with Sea in their names such as Bindweed, Spurge, Radish and Rocket. There were also drifts of Restharrow and Spear-leaved
Orache and clumps of Tree Mallow although nowhere near as vigorous as they
plants at a less windswept Rainham!
|Spear-leaved Orache - Atriplex prostrata|
I was intrigued by the old pier and drove into the heart of
Victorian WSM for a look. Birnbeck Pier
has obviously been derelict for many years and is quite rightly closed off to
the public although it is very sad to see such grand piece of architecture
decaying into the sea.
Dinner of sausages and mash back at the pod and then back to
Ham Wall for an evening stroll. I walked
the other way into the Shapwick Heath section of the marshes, to the spot where
the Hudsonian Godwit was in May 2015.
Just like then it started to rain but thankfully a new tower hide was
open and empty and I sought shelter there.
It overlooked the godwit pool although it was now covered in Coots and
Gadwall along with a brood of Mute Swans, two Little Egrets and several Great
Whites. The latter were coming and going
from their nests and I could hear young begging loudly from several spots. From what I can gather it is set to be a
bumper year on the Avalon Marshes.
|Great White on duty|
One of the adults was very adept at plunge feeding. It would
fly slowly low over the water and then throw itself head first in after a fish
and seemed to be successful most of the time with this method.
|Great White hunting on the wing|
Beardies pinged and there were Reed and SedgeWarblers
calling but it was fairly quiet. The
reed acreage here is vast and with all the pools, rills, marshy field and damp
woods I can only imagine what might be breeding out there.
The Jackdaws were good entertainment back at Cheddar Bridge
and swirled and ‘jacked’ noisily in the gusty wind before settling down for the
night after which only the insistent duelling from two male Song Thrushes could
It dawned better and brighter but was still very cool with a
nippy breeze and the drive down into Cornwall was actually quite pleasant. The Outlaws still have their van at Dinham
near Wadebridge and after some garden centre action we got there before
lunchtime. I did my usual and soon snuck off for a walk down the lane where I
hoped the high hedges would give me some insecty sheltered spots in the
|River Camel at Nanstallion|
There were a few Hovers with half a dozen species seen
including my first Volucella zonaria of the year and a crisp Volucella
pellucens on the Brambles. There were
many Bumbles with Tree, Early, Buff-tailed, Red-tailed and Common Carder along
with Honey Bees and a single Osmia leaiana (I think). Large Whites flounced around and were my
first Butterflies in four days and Speckled Wood and Red Admiral were also seen
along with several Figwort Mason-Wasps.
|Tree Bumblebee - Bombus hypnorum|
|Tree Bumblebee - Bombus hypnorum|
|Tree Bumblebee - Bombus hypnorum|
|Early Bumblebee - Bombus pratorum|
|Buff-tailed Bumblebee - Bombus terrestris|
|Osmia leaiana seems to be the general concensus|
|Figwort Mason-Wasp - Symmorphus gracilis|
|Figwort Mason-Wasp - Symmorphus gracilis|
roadside stream was dry with just a small pool at the bottom but I was
delighted to find about 30 Water Crickets skimming around on the crystal
surface looking for prey although the floundering Cardinal Beetle was making
them cautious. It was just too far out
for me to rescue.
|Pyrochroa serraticornis and predator in waiting|
were stands of Pennywort on the banks amongst lush Ferns and towering Foxgloves
and the old farmyard at the top of the next rise was being reclaimed by non
native Red Valerian, Opium Poppies and Mexican Fleabane.
attempted to get down to Daymer Bay for a bit of quality rock-pooling on the
beach where Jinx used to play in the waves but despite the appearance that
Cornwall was deserted I found everyone had crammed themselves into the car park
that late afternoon and just along the coast on the escape route out, Polzeath
looked like a August Bank Holiday but it was midweek and in term time so where
all the families had come from I do not know? Perhaps every local family
decided to hit the beach after school?
Oh well, never mind.
|Jinx at Daymer - it will be nine years in December|
|Anower obwiging Wabbit|
stayed the night at Dinham and after a very fine bacon bap at, I kid you not,
Nice Baps layby cafe I decided on a northerly route
back to Cheddar with some random stoppage along the way.
first impromptu stop was at Bursdon Moor which the sign told me is one
of the last remaining areas of Culm Grassland.
I double backed after driving through a fabulous peat bog area to the
west of the A39 where I could see the Cotton Grass waving and ended up having a
walk to the east along a forest ride that provided me with some sheltered
| Bursdon Moor|
There was some good
Hoverfly action to be had including a sap hovering Xylota segnis on the
Brambles and Cheiloisa illustrata the pick of the Hogweed lovers. There were two species of Tenthredo Sawflies,
Nettle Tap moths, several other fly species and three Long-horn Beetles
including one new to me.
|Meliscaeva auricollis |
|Yellow Dung Fly - Scathophagia stercoraria |
|Tenthredo mesomela |
|Black and Yellow Longhorn - Rutpela maculata|
|Speckled Longhorn Beetle - Pachytodes cerambyciformis |
|Speckled Longhorn Beetle and Yellow Dung Fly|
|Wasp Longhorn Beetle - Clytus arietis |
Common Green Grasshoppers became my first stridulators of
the year and a lone Large Red Damselfly was the first Odonata of the trip.
|Common Green Grasshopper|
Small Torts and Speckled Woods zipped around and Yellow
Rattle was flowering in the verges.
There were some lovely Ferns on the floor of the plantation but I have
not investigated what they are yet.
From here I drove to the coast to Hartland Quay and its
hotel which I last visited with Middlesex Uni almost 30 years ago in October of
1992. As I drove down the lane I
remembered the Great Grey Shrike that I saw from the coach on the telegraph
wires as we drove and the concertina cliffs were as stunning as I remember them
all those years ago.
It was actually quite pleasant down there and there were
Wheatears, Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits foraging around the big old white
hotel buildings. Herring Gull families
were wedged in rock crevices and there were some lovely cliff top flowers with
Sheeps Bit Scabious, Kidney Vetch, Thrift, Wild Carrot, Yarrow, Thyme and
Danish Scurvy-grass in flower. Singles
and Gannet and Fulmar were seen and a female Kestrel was up on the cliffs.
| Danish Scurvy-grass|
|Sheeps Bit Scabious|
|I had one of the small rooms next to the top floor bay window|
Back in 1992 I had an upstairs room to myself overlooking
the sea and can still recall the wild final evening celebrating one of the lads
21st birthday and seem to recall locking myself in my room! It’s
funny what you recall but it was also the place I started taking black coffee
as the little milk cartons in my room were off!
|Phill A - the morning after his birthday 1992|
|Phil and I posing for a girl - trying to recall which one. I did not notice that swimming pool last week! |
Onwards and through Bideford and Barnstable and then across
the rural part of Exmoor, through the rolling fields and pastures and woods
before emerging near to Dunkery Beacon where I stopped for a walk in the wilder
side of North Devon. It was a bit breezy
again and the clouds were coming back down but there were some fine views to be
had. I had no hope of finding Lesser
Twayblade without pin point directions but I had a pleasant short amble and
found lots of typically flighty Green Tiger Beetles and a Golden Ringed
Dragonfly that zoomed off within a nano-second of my clocking it.
|Looking west from the south side of Dunkery Beacon|
|Green Tiger Beetles|
Common Green Grasshoppers were calling
amongst the Common Heather and a Cuckoo momentarily had me fooled as it flew
low over the moor.
|Common Green Grasshopper|
|Heather - Calluna vulgaris|
Stonechats and Meadow Pipits were encountered and a Redstart
flicked across the track.
From here it was west towards Bridgewater where rush hour
was in full swing so some wiggling to avoid getting to the M5 saw me heading
east towards Greylake and then up to Shapwick where a single Cattle Egret was
seen not far from the Avalon Visitors Centre.
|Cattle Egret |
Chinese takeaway beckoned for dinner.
On the road again south into Dorset ostensibly to meet up
with Justin T for afternoon tea at Higher Eype.
After a stroll around Lyme Regis it was onto Charmouth Beach where the
sun pretended to shine and once again the beach was full of out of season
holidaying families. My walk west along
the beach was completely fossilless – not even a tiny ammonite so I headed back
and walked the other way which was less populous and persevered with a recent
bit of fallen mud stone which rewarded me with two Ammonite imprints.
A family of Ravens were patrolling the cliffs with two
chicks, each with an adult. I had left
my camera in the car and as such they gave the most wondrous views I have ever
had of this species.
A lovely Cream Tea was taken with Justin at the very well
hidden Down House Farm Cafe before a short circuit of the wooded hill behind giving great views back west
to Golden Cap.
A circuit of Westhay Moor on the way home revealed more top
draw Avalon habitat with large reedy pool dotted with Grebes, Swans and Herons
before ‘ping’ seconds of last night’s rather fine Chinese for dinner back at
the Pod where Serotine Bats were seen high above the trees and picked up on my
Bat detector along with Common Pipistrelles and a Tawny Owl called in the
Last night I worked out that the nearest site for Large
Blues in Somerset was not fifty miles away to the north but just nine miles to
the south at Collard Hill where I saw my first and only ones back on 3rd
July 1999 after dawn twitching the Gull-billed Tern at Cotswold Water
Park. In fact I had driven right past
the spot on the way home yesterday. I
needed things to warm up a bit first so the first stop was actually the rather
bizarre Wells Reclamation Centre. It is
not that we ever buy anything here but it really is a quite amazing place to
wander round with outsized country garden art salvaged from defunct estates to
a huge anti-aircraft gun, heaps of Victorian radiators, crates of tiles and
bricks and brass fixtures and fittings, tables and dressers, metal flamingos
and a vast collection of Indian Teak doorways that date back over 200
years. Some of the artwork and carvings
are amazing and I just hope that one day these durable works of art find a new
life as a new doorway. People obviously
ask about their provenance and the signs informed me of their history.
And like most places I visit there was a wildlife moment
when a male Lesser Emperor circled around in front of me flashing his gleaming
blue saddle before darting up and away between a giant Art Deco lady with a
lamp and a Rampant Lion.
It now felt like I might have a chance at the Large Blues
and headed that way through Glastonbury and Street. I was the only person there and soon found
the slope that I remembered from that first visit. Although the sun was getting through the
cloud, it was still very windy and I rated my chances as slim. I walked circuit up and down and along the
slope and eventually saw one getting blown away from me but that was my
There were a few Meadow Browns and
Small Heaths amongst the grasses, Thyme, Rockroses, Yellowwort and Squinancy
Wort but it was very frustrating so I headed back down to the car seeing two
Emperor Dragonflies on the way.
ladies on their way up told me of some Orchids on the otherside of the road so
I crossed over for a look at this meadow.
A Brown Hawker hunted the tree line and the grass was dotted with the
pale pink spires of Common Spotted and cerise triangles of Pyramidal Orchid. Some of the latter was truly huge! I found four spikes of almost gone over Great
Butterfly Orchid and likewise some Twayblade.
|All above Common Spotted Orchids|
|Greater Butterfly Orchid|
My best find though was a fly – I knew roughly what it was
as soon as I saw it – a Villa – a relative of the Beeflies and later reading
identified it as the very scarce and local Villa cingulata. It would appear that it may even be a new
site for this Downland specialist.
Down in the meadow I fooled myself into thinking that the
wind had dropped and so gave the Hill another go. It had warmed slightly but was still gusty
but I persevered and saw three Large Blues including one that landed briefly
with its wings out before allowing a close approach. It was so windy that I had to risk holding
the Clover it was sitting on but I got lucky and it was too chilled to go
I almost had a spring in my step as I headed back down and
even added my first Marbled White of the year and a fine immature male Scarce
Chaser to the list although I am not sure what the latter was doing up there!
|Glastonbury Tor from Collard Hill |
After a Glastonbury pasty lunch from Burns The Bread in
Somerton I went cross country toward Red Hill and the road bridge viewpoint that I have
used previously to look across the Parrett Valley for Common Cranes. The added height was worth it as despite the
swathes of grassland as far as I could see I got lucky and what I think was a
family party of three took off about a mile away and on landing out of site
spooked two more who came in to move them along. Three Cattle Egrets were seen moving ahead of
a distant herd and a male Marsh Harrier quartered the fields. Reed Buntings and Skylarks sang and it felt
like there should have been Quail out there invisibly singing.
|There be Cranes out there!|
A wander around the Avolon Marshes Centre followed and I
then escaped for a short circular walk at the west end of Shapwick Heath. I was not out long as I was wearing my shorts
and the Mosquitoes on the loop trail there were huge and voracious. Even then I
still wanted to know what species they were as they were not the black and
white stripy legged I get at home!
A patch of sunlit Brambles near the entrance appeared Mossie
free and I spent some time there watching a couple of impressive Xylota
sylvarum padulating leaves for sap and a collection of other nice Hovers before
returning to base.
An evening drive up
Cheddar Gorge was again grey and windy before dinner at the Bath Arms in
I went out with the Bat detector at about 10pm. It was still
not dark and I was picking up lots of sound from Cheddar Yeo. I suspected Daubentons and recorded the
detector while watching dozens of them zipping to and from the bridge in one of
the most mesmerizing wildlife encounters I have ever had.
Volume up and look for the bats zooming around!
Time to go home with a last minute Kingfisher on the river
with the Grey Wagtails to send me off.
The journey home was once again cross country before a lunchtime
diversion onto Salisbury Plain for a drive around of the tracks and a scan of
the horizons for Bustard shaped blobs.
No joy was had but the sky was clear and the views expansive and
although chilly it was worth diverting for, with the sound of Skylarks and Corn
Buntings all around and Yellow Wagtail, Reed Bunting, Linnets, Stonechats and
Whinchats were all seen on the way through along with Red Kite and Buzzard.
The M3 was kind until the very top when it ground to a halt
approaching the M25. I foolishly headed
into town on the M3 and then spent the next hour wiggling back to the M25 via
the delights of Hampton Court, Esher and both Kempton park and Sandown