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.
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!