Tuesday 21 May 2019

Dartmoor Double Dose

Thrilled to have spent a couple of days on Dartmoor within the last week. Reaffirming my feelings that this magical place is one of my favourite places on earth...

So picturesque

Last Wednesday was a very special day, as I took Dad up to the Moor for the first time since he suffered a stroke last October.  Thanks to the time I spent working on Moor Than Meets The Eye I feel like I know the Moor pretty well now, but I have to be honest and say I was really scratching my head thinking about where to find accessible birds. By accessible I mean birds easily viewable from a road or by a level and smooth path/track...there really isn't much of Dartmoor that can be described as being level and smooth! I soon learnt there was very little information online about where we could go, so hopefully this blog post will provide others in need with the relevant information.

I asked a few friends for their thoughts, and spoke to some land owners requesting a bit of extra access - and am delighted to say they were all super helpful and very obliging.  Basically it was only for permission to drive down a couple of private drives, but that increased level of access certainly helped make the day the success it was.

Looking down Headland Warren Valley to Challacombe Farm

We started the day by driving slowly down the valley of Headland Warren where Dad's first Wheatear of the year were easy, there were several pairs showing close to the road...

Male Wheatear
A different male Wheatear, this pair were clearly busy feeding young

 And right on cue, Dad spotted this right next to the car. Talk about 'easy' birding...

Cracking male Whinchat

I was a bit surprised that this proved our only Whinchat of the day, considering how densely packed in they are on the east facing slopes just across the valley from the road. The moderate and fairly cold easterly wind probably wasn't encouraging birds to sit out though, despite the blue skies.

At the base of the valley we arrived at Challacombe Farm, a site that always delivers. A good hour and a half here gave us two Cuckoo, three singing male Redstart, a couple of Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting, Whitethroat, Marsh Tits nesting in a wall and just plenty of birds. It's never a bad thing seeing lots of birds whatever the species, especially in this day and age.

Male Redstart
Same male Redstart
And again

A quick look in the Sousson's area gave us another singing Redstart and slightly more showy Cuckoo, along with a couple of Tree Pipits...

Distant singing Tree Pipit

After a quick stop in Postbridge and a check of the pines around the Bellever Forest car park (just a few Siskins here) we dropped down to Yarner Wood, our final destination of the day.  

First came lunch, then I managed to get Dad along the small track that runs from the top end of the car park along the back of the wet area in front of the hide.  We were told by a very helpful warden we were in the right place, and after some patience we saw two pairs of Pied Flies.  One of the males in particular showing especially well...

First-year male Pied Fly
And again
And again - what a poser!
Last one I promise! He was just so photogenic...

So there you go.  Accessible birding is possible on Dartmoor, it just needs a bit of forward thinking and planning. A truly memorable day for me, in so many ways.

A few days on, now Saturday, and despite the cloudy skies it was a day on Dartmoor with Jess and Harry - another amazing day. Although the sun wasn't shining it was still bright and there was not a breathe of wind which is unusual. Our first stop was to Holwell Lawn near Hound Tor, a staggeringly beautiful spot especially at this time of year - and an ideal spot to snap your loved ones in...

Literally my favourite photo ever

Here there were singles of singing Garden Warbler and Cuckoo, along with a noisy recently fledged family of Stonechats.  After lunch in Widecombe we came back up the hill for my first ever visit to Emsworthy Mire, another beautiful spot...

Love the barn!

Not only was the view nice, but the soundscape matched it too.  A male Redstart was singing continuously in the trees pictured above, along with Wheatears, two Cuckoos and the amazing sound of two bubbling Curlews.

Stunning, and am already looking forward to my next visit.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Spring 2019 - Blink And You Missed It

This month (well this year) is going by so quickly!  I cannot believe it is already mid-May, and dare I say it, that spring 2019 is already pretty much over!?

I do though have a few snippets of interest to mention since my last blog post on 5th. As is to be expected with the month of May, this includes some Red Kites! On 6th as I was driving along Cownhayne Lane, Colyford, the sight of a Red Kite flying extremely low overhead caused me to stop dead and leap out of the car. After enjoying some excellent views of this bird, I had a quick scan around and soon picked up another five circling a long way off the east.  Sadly I couldn't stick around though to see if this was the start of a major movement. 

The following morning Axe Cliff gave me my first Lesser Whitethroats of the year, an invisible singing male plus a very much visible pair calling to each other right in front of me. Excellent views.  Still plenty of Common Whitethroats too, I counted 13.  Seems to be more Yellowhammers around this year too which is great considering their general decline.  

Some suitable sea watching weather on 8th produced nothing but disappointment.  Well, there were three each of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake, nine auk sp. and a flock of 13 Dunlin - but considering the conditions this was pityful.  And probably the last chance of any decent spring sea watching this year. :-(

On Monday just gone a nice pulse of waders dropped in on the Axe. Sadly I missed Ian Mc's three Grey Plovers, but did see the cracking summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit and one of the two Knot that were around. I had another Lesser Whitethroat too, this one singing at the far north end of Colyford Common.  There's been a few more waders since but I've not had chance to get among them...

I have though had chance to go up to Dartmoor for a day! And to make up for this lousy photo-less post, I look forward to blogging all about mine and Dad's Dartmoor day. I have lots of pics of nice birds to go with it too...

Sunday 5 May 2019

Whinchats and Wood Warbler

I wasn't on patch for most of yesterday, but a last ditch mooch around was enough to bump into my first Whinchat of the year - three of them in fact.  They were showing really well in a small sheep paddock between Axmouth and Rousdon, such stunning and charismatic little birds...

Male number one

The other male and a female

Same two but head on

Today I have also not been around for most of it, due to work.  Thankfully though the Wood Warbler that was found along the road near Lower Bruckland Ponds mid morning remained in situ, and at 7:30pm was still trilling away. This represents my third for the patch, with previous records being Beer Head 8th August 2006 and Private woodland near Colyton on 29th April 2013 - so a proper good local scarce.  The light wasn't great when I got to see it, but that didn't stop me trying...

Such clean white underparts - and yellow like no other yellow!

Seems to be an unusually good spring for migrant Wood Warblers on the south coast this year, despite their vast reduction in numbers on their breeding grounds. 

Saturday 4 May 2019

Axe Cliff and Surprise Crossbills

Yesterday morning, although it was clearer than I was hoping, I went up to Axe Cliff soon after dawn. After a short while I realised I was actually grateful the sun was shining, it was a real pleasure to be out with the fine weather ensuring the local breeders were showing and singing well...

Male Yellowhammer with a back drop of Lyme Bay and Beer Head

I was staggered by the numbers of Common Whitethroats around.  In recent years there's normally about six singing males in the area of Axe Cliff that I cover.  Yesterday however I noted 13 singing/displaying males, along with a 14th non-singing bird. They were all behaving like they were local breeders too - so is it simply going to prove a good summer for the species? Has anyone else noted good numbers of Whitethroats this year?  On the other side of the coin though, I usually come across one or two singing Lesser Whitethroats here, but none during this visit.

The Whitethroats were all sat out proudly and partaking in frequent song-flights

This one on a more natural perch

A lovely highlight was a Hobby that flew low east across the fields soon after I arrived, with the only definite 'grounded migrant' being my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year.  Not that it stayed grounded for long - it soon continued west along the cliff edge.

This morning during a family outing I was surprised to hear Crossbills calling from Bovey Down, then about half an hour later watched two flying around above me calling at nearby Blackbury Camp.  Presumably the date indicates local breeding?  Mid summer is usually our best time to see (or more often just hear!) Crossbills, when family groups are dispersing from their breeding grounds.  Anyone with more experience of the Crossbill breeding cycle have any thoughts on this? Could they actually be breeding here!?

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Short-changed by a Shortie

I forgot to mention this in yesterday's blog post...

On Saturday evening a friend of mine WhatsApped me a photo with the caption "what's this?".  As a birder, and am sure like most birders out there, I frequently get ID requests from my non-birder mates.  And almost all the time they relate to common species, so I was a bit surprised when attached to this particular request was this photo...

Well look at that! A stunning Short-eared Owl which he snapped sat on a fence post beside the A3052 just east of Rousdon.  Ok, so they're not exactly rare but just check out that photo! We all know how terrible phone cameras are when it comes to wildlife photography - the mind boggles at how close it must have been!  He even managed an arty 'in habitat' shot too...

Sickeningly good! Both photos (c) Lee Taylor.