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.

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