30 June 2016

Red Underwing caterpillar: 30 June

A short notebook entry. Found a fantastic Red Underwing Catocala nupta caterpillar on the willow in the garden today. Check out the defence pose and spots on the underside. What a beast!

17 June 2016

Graciosa, Azores: 15-17 June

Back from a trip to the Azores. Visited three islands - São Miguel, Terceira and Graciosa - for endemics and marine life. Loved it. Shall return. Could live there.

The island of Santa Cruz da Graciosa was our base for three pelagic trips to explore the waters off the north-east coast of the island for seabirds, cetaceans and other marine animals. Here the ocean floor drops rapidly to 1,000 m just 7 km from the coast and further down to over 2,000 m a little further out, a forming a submarine trench that is a magnet for cetaceans. In addition, an area of shallower water known as the Bank of Fortune, creates an upwelling of nutrients attracting a range of seabirds.

Our main target species here was Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi - an Azorean endemic with the total global breeding population of 250-999 mature individuals confirmed nesting on just two islets off the coast of Graciosa - Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia) and Baixo islet (Ilhéu de Baixo).

The first boat trip, on the afternoon of the 15th, was very tough going in rough seas with a nauseating swell and a force 13 wind. Highlights were several Monteiro's Storm-petrel, lots of Cory's Shearwater (but apparently much lower numbers than expected), 3 Roseate Tern around Praia islet, 2 Common Tern, 3 Eurasian Whimbrel, 2 Cuvier's Beaked Whales together and a pod of 3+ Common Dolphin, 1 turtle sp. and 3 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis.

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

On the 16th a longer trip in calmer sea conditions out to the Bank of Fortune was disappointingly quiet, with c. 10 Bulwer's Petrel, c. 20 Monteiro's Storm-petrel, c. 30 Cory's Shearwater, 1 Common Tern, a pod of c.10 Common Dolphin and around c. 15 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis seen, with not a single bird at the bank itself. At the south end of Graciosa near Ponta da Restinga a sick Cory's Shearwater found floating on the sea was successfully captured and brought aboard to be taken to a rescue centre, and several jellyfish sp. and a small Common Tern colony were also noted.

Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Monteiro's Storm-petrels Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

The trip on 17th was also quiet but did produce a lot more Cory's Shearwater, with hundreds in several rafts on the water. Unfortunately another sick bird was also found, this time in Praia de São Mateus harbour. Also noted were 1 pale phase Pomarine Skua in heavy primary moult, about 40 Roseate Tern plunge diving just offshore from Praia islet along with c. 30 Common Tern, and several Yellow-legged Gull offshore.

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii near Praia islet, Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii plunge diving near Praia islet, Grasiosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Additional notebook entries from the land on Graciosa include 1 Ruddy Turnstone at Praia de São Mateus harbour on 15th, 1m and 1 juv. Grey Wagtail at Porto da Barra on 15th, several Common Starling at Porto da Barra on 15th, lots of Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii at Porto da Barra on 15th. Abundant House Sparrows were seen at Porto da Barra daily and several Yellow-legged Gull were noted at Praia de São Mateus harbour on all three days of various ages including adults, 1st-S and 2nd-S.

Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia), 17 June 2016 - one of only two sites where Monteiro's Storm-petrel has been confirmed breeding

Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii, Porto da Barra, Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

13 June 2016

São Miguel, Azores: 9-13 June

Arrived on São Miguel in the Azores late on the 8th June for a few days chilling before joining An Introduction to the Natural History of the Azores tour, run by an Azores Nature. Spent the first three days pottering in and around the city of Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores, visiting the tourist sites and making numerous coffee and caipirinha stops, as well as squeezing in a little birding.

The pre-tour avian highlight was a Common Cuckoo heard singing in misty conditions for about a minute or two at the east end of Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva, on 11th. Apparently only the 11th record for the Azores and the 1st for São Miguel, this made the fact that Sue Healey and I only heard it, and couldn't locate it in an hour and a half of searching, very frustrating.

Also caught up with many of the Azorean endemic subspecies - Chaffinch, Eurasian Blackcap, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Common Quail, Common Starling, Grey Wagtail, Common Buzzard and Yellow-legged Gull. Although not currently considered a subspecies, the local European Robins look more different than some of the other subspecies.

The tour itself started on the 12th with a visit to native laurel forest (Laurissilva) on the east side of the island in search of the Azores Bullfinch. Saw at least 13 birds and heard another (although this is a very conservative count and we probably saw a lot more than this), with a nice flock of 7+ birds feeding together at close range in the mist near Pico do Canário.

Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina, near Pico do Canário, 12 June 2016. This bird was feeding on the seeds of the introduced Pink
Knotweed Persicaria capitata.

Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina, near Pico do Canário, 12 June 2016. This bird was feeding on the seeds of the introduced Pink
Knotweed Persicaria capitata.

The Azores Bullfinch was once so common that it was considered a pest by fruit growers, and along with several other bird species, the government placed a bounty on the head of every bullfinch during the 19th century. But since the 1920s both their numbers and range have reduced to a tiny remnant population of approximately 1000 birds today. Collection for museums has been a significant contributor to their decline. However, the main cause has been the removal of the native floral habitat for pasture and agriculture, as well as the planting of non-native plants, particularly Japanese Cedar Cryptomeria japonica (used for boxes to export oranges), Sweet Pittosporum Pittosporum undulatum (which is now covering 49% of the forested area in the Azores) and Kahli Ginger Lily Hedychium gardnerianum, that together form a vegetation cover far too dense for the Azores Bullfinch feeding habits.

Conservation efforts are concentrating on removing non-native invasive plants along with growing and replanting native species to restore the native laurel forest, although some non-invasive non-native plants that the bullfinches feed on, such as Pink Knotweed Persicaria capitata are allowed to persist. After seeing several bullfinches along the road, we an area within the Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme Special Protection Area (SPA) and saw how the Laurissilva is slowly being restored by the Sustainable Laurassilva Project specifically for the Azores Bullfinch (and funded by the European Commission LIFE fund I might add - money well spent if you ask me). There's an interesting paper on the history of the Azores Bullfinch here.

Also here we I managed to find a few Azorean Smaller Orchid Platanthera micrantha - an indicator that the natural vegetation is recovering.

Azorean Smaller Orchid Platanthera micrantha, 12 June 2016

On the 13th we took a tour to find out about the geology of the Azores, visiting a number of dramatic geological features including the Caldeira das Sete Cidades, the Gruta do Carvão lava tube in Ponta Delgada, the excavated fountain at Ribeira Grande and the hot springs at Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande.

Male Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs of Azorean subspecies moreletti, at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul), 13 June 2016

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla, of Azorean subspecies gularis, José do Canto Botanical Garden, 10 June 2016

European Robin Erithacus rubecula, just west of Relva, 11 June 2016. Robins on the Azores are not considered a
subspecies but I've no idea why - for starters, note the lack of blueish border to the side of the red breast.

Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul), 12 June 2016 - a vagrant to the Azores

Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax perezi, José do Canto Botanical Garden, 10 June 2016 - introduced to the Azores

Clouded Yellow Colias croceus, Sete Cidades (Lagoa Azul), São Miguel, 13 June 2016

Notebook entries


Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus: 1 at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Common Moorhen: 3 at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Eurasian Coot Fulica atra: 2-3 at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Common (Azores) Quail Coturnix coturnix conturbans: 2m seen in flight (and about another 3 heard) over fields at the east end of Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva on 11th, 2H by the picnic area along Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva on 12th.
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea borealis: Thousands in rafts offshore just west of Relva in the evening of 12th.
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis atlantis: Seen daily. Several around Ponta Delgada harbour on 9th, 2ad. at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Common Tern Sterna hirundo: 2+ in Ponta Delgada harbour on 9th.
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii: 3+ at a breeding site with many Common Tern on 12th.
Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina: c. 14(1H) on 12th, including 7-9 watched and photographed feeding together in misty conditions along the road near Pico do Canário.
Grey Heron: 1 beside the road near Ponta Delgada on 12th, 2 over Caldeira das Sete Cidades on 13th.
Goldcrest Regulus regulus azoricus: 1+ seen briefly at the Sustainable Laurassilva Project site on 12th, and another seen briefly near Planalto dos Graminhais on 12th.
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo rothschildi: 1 over José do Canto Botanical Garden on 10th, 1 along Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva on 11th, 2 along track to Rocha da Relva on 11th, 1 Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva on 12th, 3+ at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th, 1 very pale bird S over King's View (Vista do Rei) on 13th.
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus: 1m heard singing in misty conditions for about a minute or two at the east end of Rua João de Lemos, just west of Relva, on 11th (looked for again on 12th but no sign).
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus azorica: 1 at José do Canto Botanical Garden, Ponta Delgada on 10th, 1 at Beco Jardim António Borges, Ponta Delgada on 10th, a few along the track to Rocha da Relva on 11th.
Feral Pigeon Columba livia: Common. Many around Ponta Delgada on 9th, many on the cliffs near Rocha da Relva on 11th.
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea patriciae: 1m at José do Canto Botanical Garden, Ponta Delgada on 10th, 1m near a nest near Planalto dos Graminhais on 12th.
Eurasian Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla gularis: Common with singing males even in small isolated bottlebrush trees along the sea front in Ponta Delgada. Several males seen very well at José do Canto Botanical Garden on 10th, where also the only female of the trip was seen.
Blackbird Turdus merula azorensis: Common. 1f feeding a recently fledged juvenile at the University of the Azores Ponta Delgada campus on 10th, several males and a female at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th (including one possibly nesting under the decking outside the cafe).
European Robin Erithacus rubecula: 3 at José do Canto Botanical Garden on 10th, 1 at Beco Jardim António Borges, Ponta Delgada on 10th, 2 just west of Relva on 11th, 1 juv. along track to Rocha da Relva on 11th, 1 at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs moreletti: Common (except in towns). 2(1H) at José do Canto Botanical Garden, Ponta Delgada on 9th, 1 just west of Relva on 11th, 1m at the Furnas viewpoint just west of the M521/M1042 junction on 12th, and several along the M1042 from the M521 to the bullfinch site near Pico do Canário on 12th. Many very tame birds (both sexes) at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Atlantic Canary Serinus canaria: An abundant Macronesian endemic. Good views of 3m and 1f at José do Canto Botanical Garden on 10th, lots just west of Relva on 11th.
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis: 1H along track to Rocha da Relva on 11th, 2 along the EN9-1A about midway between Sete Cidades and the King's View (Vista do Rei) on 13th.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus: Abundant. Everywhere in Ponta Delgada and seen daily. Also lots around the cliffs along track to Rocha da Relva on 11th. Amazing that they were only introduced (to Terceira) in 1960-61!
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild: 1 at the Sustainable Laurassilva Project site on 12th, 2 at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Azores Grayling Hipparchia azorina: 1 of the São Miguel subspecies miguelensis seen and photographed near Planalto dos Graminhais on 12th.
Clouded Yellow Colias croceus: Fairly common. Several at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta: 1 beside track near Rocha da Relva on 11th.
Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii: Several at Lagoa das Sete Cidades (Lagos Azul) on 13th.
Iberian Water Frog Pelophylax perezi: 4+ at José do Canto Botanical Garden, Ponta Delgada on 10th.
Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii: An abundant introduction. Good numbers on stone walls along the track to Rocha da Relva on 11th.
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus: 4+ scoped heading west just offshore just west of Relva on 12th.
Azorean Smaller Orchid Platanthera micrantha: Several at the Sustainable Laurassilva Project site on 12th.

5 June 2016

Poplar Kitten: 4/5 June

A few moths at the light at home last night:

1 Poplar Kitten Furcula bifida - first record for home of this beautiful species.
1 Cypress Carpet Thera cupressata
1 Light Emerald Campaea margaritaria
2 Garden Carpet Xanthorhoe fluctuata
2 Common Wave Cabera exanthemata
1 Riband Wave Idaea aversata (ab. remutata)
6 Small Dusty Wave Idaea seriata
1 Marbled Minor agg. Oligia strigilis agg.
109 Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella
1 Many-plumed Moth Alucita hexadactyla
1 Yellow-spot Tortrix Pseudargyrotoza conwagana
1 Ruddy Streak Tachystola acroxantha
1 Light Brown Apple Moth Epiphyas postvittana

Poplar Kitten Furcula bifida, Worcester Park, 5 June 2016 - note the broad black border to the outer edge of the central cross-band
and less wavy edge compared to Sallow Kitten.

Also attracted to the light was a Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus.

Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus, Worcester Park, 5 June 2016

2 June 2016

Diamond-back Moth influx: 1-2 June

The last few days have seen a huge influx of Diamond-back Moths Plutella xylostella into Britain, as well as further north in Europe. Large counts were made on the east and south coasts yesterday, including 790 in a small area at Filey, 383 in four traps at Portland Bill Bird Observatory (where only 4 were caught on 27 May) with millions were estimated to be present on the island, and 100 were counted around the observatory and the Moat at Dungeness. Counts of over a hundred were also made at some inland sites.

With the weather being cold for several weeks now, I've not bothered with the moth light. But despite the weather last night remaining cold with a moderate NE wind, I thought I'd fire up the Blacklight last night (1 June) and see if any Diamond-backs had made their way to this area of Surrey. Species diversity was unsurprisingly very low but I wasn't disappointed with the number of Diamond-backs!

Night totals:
48 Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella - by far the largest total I've recorded at home in one night.
1 Blackthorn Argent Argyresthia spinosella - first record for the garden.
1 Pale Mottled Willow Caradrina clavipalpis
1 Vine's Rustic Hoplodrina ambigua
2 Heart & Dart Agrotis exclamationis

Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella, dark form, Worcester Park, 2 June 2016

Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella, light form, Worcester Park, 2 June 2016

Blackthorn Argent Argyresthia spinosella, Worcester Park, 2 June 2016

Also, the pair of Magpies nesting in a Scot's Pine in a neighbour's front garden have successfully bred, with 5 fledged young and the 2 adults kicking about the back gardens from our living room this afternoon.