Saturday, 31 October 2009

Moor birding

Halloween saw me up at silly o'clock, setting mistnets to ring birds up on the moors. An early start to try and ring some Redwing failed miserably, but we had some compensation in the form of two Treecreeper, nine Meadow Pipit and a Reed Bunting, as well as some reasonable retraps - a male Chaffinch and a Blue Tit ringed earlier this year, and a Great Tit ringed last year. Nothing thrilling, but pleasant.

We stomped off for a walk for a couple of hours after the wind came up, heading over Grimspound and Hamel Down.

Grimspound - a famous old settlement on the moors

Hamel Down

Star sighting of the day was of two Red Grouse; a very, very scarce bird on Dartmoor - none of your cosseted, augmented shooting populations from up north! Red Grouse were (re-?)introduced onto the moors many years before I was even a twinkle in my parents' eyes and the birds cling on by their feathery toes as a Devon breeding species. A handful of other species up on the tops - 2 Meadow Pipit, 2 Stonechat, a Carrion Crow, a Raven, a Snipe and a small flock of Starling with some Fieldfare mixed in. A whole eight species is about par for the course up there!

Lichens on the boundary posts are more photogenic than birds lurking on the horizon

Tamar: what's a dog to do, when you all get interested in the wildlife and the scenery?

Down in the valley, still a couple of Common Darter dragonflies egg-laying into the pond at Challacombe, with a young Common Frog seen hopping across a mire patch. Bizarrely, there was an abundance of what looked like 'cosmic snot' on the path north of Grimspound: unfertilised frogspawn, but at the wrong end of the year. Very odd...

Mushrooms below the pines and birches at Challacombe

On the way back down the road, I found a patch of Hawthorn that was swarming with Redwing. We seem to have good numbers of both Redwing and Fieldfare this winter, which is very pleasant. Some cropped photos from my time admiring the little beauties...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Autumn on Dartmoor

It's crisp and clear, the air has a tang to it, the wind chilly and strong enough to make you sniffle. The moorgrass has died off, earning it's alternative name of 'white grass'. We walk out from Postbridge, up on towards the North Moor over a juicy peat, covered with short-cropped sedges and grasses. A steady gentle climb up to a small stream, then a steeper path beside a bog of green-gold Sphagnum mosses interspersed with taller clumps of rush and sedge. We carry on into an increasingly stiff wind, which blows bands of cloud along it, so that long, linear shadows stream along the hillsides. Looking back towards Grimspound and Postbridge, the hazy light patterns the more distant tors and hillsides with a dusty silver-blue.

View to Grimspound

Looking to the North Moor

Looking with the light, the landscape almost looks two-dimensional, with a diffuse pattern of short trampled and cropped vegetation showing bright green still between the cream-buff swathes of dead moorgrass and mat-grass. The East Dart river makes a dark, stark contrast as it gurgles down off the high moor, studded with granite boulders. We drop down off the saddle toward the river, the peat underfoot firm, but squelching with water under every footfall.

After lunch, we wander back down the river to the waterfall - more a cascade than a proper fall by most standards, but respectable for the high moors. The East Dart rushes headlong over a lip of granite which is speckled dark with mosses and lichens, yet glinting bright in the sunshine with flecks of mica and quartz.

Na and clitter


We follow the waters back downstream to the famous clapper bridge, across the face of a steep spur, grazed tight by belted galloway cattle and rampantly multicoloured sheep, through trampled peat which sucks at our boots as we slither across, over cropped heath which bounces under our feet, across precarious stepping-stones, and finally through in-bye land, fenced and semi-tame until we reach the clatter of motorhomes and families criss-crossing the river at Postbridge.

Multicoloured sheep

View back northwest from the valley of the East Dart

Friday, 23 October 2009

Must be winter...

Third bird from the front... please come forward.

There are Black-headed Gulls with proper foreign rings on , down by the Exe. A morning of bread-chucking produced 3 adult Swedish-ringed birds: 2 of which are returning birds from last winter, a Belgian-ringed adult, frustratingly with a bit of dead plant stuck to it's ring and obscuring a number, and a bird of the year from Finland. Some grotty cut & paste-work below for a couple of the rings.

ST241875 and T86?02: Finland and Brussels, respectively. Hopefully will get some data back on them at some point. With any luck...

Other bird life knocking around the river was generally much as expected: a Kingfisher whizzed past early on, Grey Wagtails 'zizzicked' along the banks at regular intervals and a steady trickle of migrant Redwings tseeped along overhead. Bird of the day though, had to be a group of five (count 'em!) Black-tailed Godwit feeding busily in the overflow between the Exe and the ship canal, effectively in the city centre. A nice record, if you ask me!

In the time-honoured tradition of going backwards in time, some recent ringing - last weekend at my parents' house we managed to catch a couple of these streaky little beasts:

Meadow Pipit

And the weekend before that, we finished up at Slapton. Not the most prolific end to the season, but a nice female Stonechat (bird of the year - you can just make out the new greater coverts lurking under the edge of the scapulars) - and all in all, a very productive season, with numbers of most species caught showing a healthy improvement on last year.


And the weekend before that, we had our Polterabend. More pictures to come in the fullness of time, but a brief look into the barn from about 10 at night for you here...: