Besides a memorable encounter with a heron and its discarded lunch (see the last entry on Considering Birds), we had a fantastically action-packed and wildlife filled two days in Devon last weekend. As you would expect from one of England’s largest counties – and the only one with two separate coastlines – the Devon countryside is superbly varied, incorporating just about every key habitat or landscape type in Britain.

After a lunchtime arrival in Exeter, we spent a happy Saturday afternoon wandering in the wild daffodil flooded woods near Dunsford, in the Teign valley. The daffodils were not putting on as good a show as I’d seen almost exactly a year before in the same wood, but were nonetheless a bright and cheering backdrop for our explorations. By way of compensation, dippers were very active on the river, with up to three seen at once and a male in song heard at least twice. What tremendous little characters. Just as we did last year, we found a violet oil beetle – three in fact, – and other superb sightings included the rather wonderful dor beetle Anoplotrupes stercorosus, and numerous little Aphodius dung beetles swarming around some fresh horse manure.

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On Sunday we performed the miraculous feat of departing for our day out before breakfast! We enjoyed a fine repast of thermos-tea and home-made chocolate bread whilst sat watching the high tide wader roost at Bowling Green Marsh. From there it was a short hop to Dart’s Farm, which is a kind of middle class outdoorsy mecca / shopping mall. A useful comfort break, but more importantly a pair of penduline tits have been present there for some time now, showing beautifully in bulrushes on the fringe of a small fishing lake. This smart, black-little masked bird has its heartland in eastern Europe, with some wintering in Spain, so it was great to see them on a rare visit to the UK.

Later that morning we travelled the short distance to Bicton common, a quiet stretch of the East Devon heaths with great views stretching down to the coast. A spot of beetling revealed at least one species new to me – Notiophilus aquaticus – with possibly more to come. Whilst rooting around at the base of heather plants for beetles, I heard a nasal, buzzing contact call that clearly belonged to a Sylvia warbler. Shortly afterwards two of our party saw their first ever Dartford warblers. A new bird for all four of us in one day, not a bad result!

In time for a late lunch, we made it down to Broadsands, near Paignton. From here it was a short but fascinating clamber around the coast to Saltern Cove, the only Local Nature Reserve to extend under the sea, covering the intertidal zone. I have a long way to go in getting to grips with the awe-inspiring, bewildering diversity of marine life, but after a couple of concerted efforts I’m starting to put together a mental framework of ‘things I know’ as a helpful future beginner’s guide to the vastly more numerous ‘things I don’t know!’

We rounded off the day nicely, with a climb back up the cliff on the SW coast path. From a well-placed bench we did a spot of sea watching, and after twenty minutes or so of nothing but cormorants, various gulls and two great-crested grebes (one in summer plumage, one winter), we were rewarded with a fine group of common scoters fairly close in. One last gift from a county that has wildlife to spare!

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