Below Trendlebere Down, looking over the Bovey valley, is Yarner Wood. Part of the East Dartmoor Woods and Heaths NNR, it is ancient upland oakland, probably pre-1600. More importantly, for us, it is our patch. In spring, pied flycatchers arrive and the tree canopy is alive with small passerines, as well as all three of our native woodpeckers. There is a hide (in late winter the feeders attract a wide variety of tits and finches, as well as nuthatches) and the quiet woodland paths wind through the undercover of bilberry. As well as the birds, on warm summer days we have sat and watched roe deer and butterflies. Good Friday saw us walking up the path from the car park, buffeted by a bitter north wind, and far from sure that we would see any birds at all.
It is too early, and cold, for the pied flycatchers and other summer visitors, and the wind in the tree tops drowned out such bird song as there was. We were hoping to see ravens. The edge of the moor, where Hay Tor plunges into the Bovey valley is a good spot for watching these magical birds. There is a pair that nests somewhere on the ridge, across from the Yarner Wood hide, and we have often seen them above the treeline. This is the time of year to see ravens display, although as Caroline said as we reached the hide, chance would be a fine thing, given the weather. Yet as is so often the case in this part of the world, the weather blows through fast, and sun followed the rain. From the hide we saw one of the ravens, having first heard it: the call is unmistakeable, deep and carrying. As the weather improved we walked outside and almost immediately saw more ravens high in the sky, five in all.
For the next fifteen minutes we stood and watched. Three disappeared below the trees, but a pair remained and their aerial display was breathtaking, including the raven’s piece de resistance, a full barrel roll at speed, wings tucked in. And when this pair had gone, three more in the distant sky resolved themselves into a pair mobbing a large raptor, which through the glasses did not appear a buzzard, and was too large for a sparrowhawk or a kestrel. Although the rule is always go for the obvious (which here would be a buzzard), I think that along with the ravens we were also watching one of the scarcest, and most persecuted, of our hawks, accipiter gentilis, the northern goshawk. There was a report of a goshawk on Trendlebere some two weeks ago. Every day at Yarner has something memorable, but this was more special than most.