Sunday morning and we were back in Yarner Wood. It wasn’t much warmer than it was a fortnight ago, but Spring is definitely here, the Pied Flys are back, and we had another three hours of gentle birding: the long climb up to the top of the Reserve, by the side of Trendlebere Down, and then back, through the oak woodland.
Birdsong all the way, the odd glimpses of Ravens and a lone Buzzard, a Blackcap letting it rip from the very top of one of the trees, Warblers, and, Yarner’s special birds, Pied Flycatchers. On the report by the office, Pied Flys have been back since 2 April, the day after our last visit. The males usually arrive first, but today we saw two pairs, as well as a good half dozen single males. And just before the car park, a pair of Redstarts.
No Swallows or Martins yet, but at home the death watch beetle are tapping away: another sign of Spring.
Bright April mornings are deceptive. In the Yarner Wood car park just before 09.00: the air was still, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it seemed quite warm. We stopped to admire a pair of Mandarin ducks on the new pond and then walked on up the concrete path to the hide – and as we climbed the side of the valley realised that it was not quite as warm as we had thought (and as the temperature had only been 5° in the courtyard, perhaps we should not have been that surprised).
It took an hour (and a detour back to the car park to collect a hat) to warm up.
Yarner Wood is a magical place. We spent three hours walking the woods – from the car park up and across the heathland, before the long steady climb to the top of the wood, just below Trendlebere Down, and then down the other side of the valley. And as we walked and talked, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Ravens, squabbling Crows, Nuthatches, Chiffchaffs, Buzzards, BBTs (bloody Blue Tits), BGTs (likewise Great Tits), a female Kestrel stooping on smaller songbirds, and everywhere birdsong.
No Pied Flys yet – last year we saw them on 27 March; this year, despite last week’s warm weather, they are going to be a little later.
And the McGarrigle sisters? I had Walking Song in my head,
Wouldn’t it be nice to walk together/Baring our souls while wearing out the leather/We could talk shop/Harmonise a song/Wouldn’t it be nice to walk along.
It has been a warm weekend. Not typical late March weather for this part of Dartmoor, but very welcome, giving us the opportunity to get out into the garden. My Norwegian sister called last night. They too are having the same weather, and, like us, have been working hard: “The garden just gets so dirty in an Oslo winter”.
Well, ours may not be dirty but there was and is a lot to do, to get it ready for Summer.
Coming home after a Spring visit to Venice some 10 years ago, we planted a yellow Banksia rose (rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’) on the warm east wall of the garden. We had seen a beautiful specimen in a small sunny courtyard of Ca’ Bembo, part of Venice University, and had decided that it would work well for us. What we hadn’t thought about was quite how fast, and furiously, it would grow, once established. It is a real triffid: bullying two of the other climbing roses into submission, crowding out the hamamelis that we had planted in the bed below, and rampaging up and along, and over, the wall.
So this is the year it has had a make or break hair cut: not just taking out the spent wood, but cutting it right back, almost to ground level. Five hours in the sun, and two dumpy bags filled with rose, with at least another bag’s worth waiting, and, now, a bare wall.
Father’s Day yesterday, and with the children away the opportunity for a day for ourselves and a walk down the Exeter Canal towpath.
No walk for us is ever just a walk, and even if summer birdwatching all too often takes second place to gardens, we took the bins. Just as well: Reed Buntings all day, Goldfinches – at one moment upwards of a dozen in the willow on the opposite bank, Greenfinches (the first we have seen this year), families of Sedge Warblers in the reeds along the canal edge – see my Tumblr photo, Little Egrets, a Great Black-Backed Gull feasting on a very dead and very large fish, Swans, Herons in the air and at the water’s edge, a solitary Curlew, all manner of Tits (including some on bicycles), a Whitethroat, Gulls and Mallard, and Swallows all along the towpath, hawking insects.
And the highlight? Probably a Cetti’s Warbler in full view: we had heard it (as you do) but then there it was, on the top of bush, drowning out everything and everyone.
A perfect day. Calls from two of the children (sadly I still put the mobile in the backpack) and a text from number three.
And home to sit by the pond, have a cup of tea – and to be surprised by a water lily that I remember planting but which didn’t flower at all last year.
We reached Yarner Wood not long past 10.00: our first visit this year and a wonderful sense of anticipation.
Although quite grey down at the car park, it was warm in the hide (nothing much to see – just a pair of Blue Tits exploring one of the nesting boxes ) and as we climbed the path, sun burning off the cloud and the sky turned blue. The woodland is still bare -branched, so it is easy to spot what there is, or isn’t, but it is filled with bird song: all the usual suspects (Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Blue Tit) and also Chiffchaff, Nuthatches, a Goldcrest, the drumming of one Woodpecker across the valley and another up the hill behind us, and a Raven seeing off a Buzzard.
Add to this Bumblebees on the bilberry, the occasional Peacock butterfly, and Wood ants warmed by the sun and busy.
It was a perfect Sunday morning – and then not one but two male Pied Flycatchers: the first by Box 46, and the second a little further on, engaging in some territorial argy-bargy with a Nuthatch. Last year Pied Flycatchers were first seen in Yarner on 7 April, and we didn’t see them until 21 April (when I posted The boys are back). They are early this year.
It may only be March, but for us Pied Flycatchers are one of the first signs that summer is really on its way.
Lured by reports of Bitterns and Harriers, yesterday saw us at Exminster Marshes. Having asked Caroline to park a little closer to the edge, I got out of the passenger door, took a couple of paces backwards and one leg went into the ditch up to my thigh. What I had thought was firm ground was in fact dead reeds over nothing. And I had to clutch at a bank of stinging nettles to haul myself back up. It was not a very auspicious start: and I squelched around for the next hour. It wasn’t that I was cold (I was) but felt such a plonk (plus was quite shaken).
And the birding? Well, no Bitterns, and the Harriers, one Marsh and one Hen, had been sighted but had dropped down, out of sight, about 30 minutes before we arrived. But a Kingfisher, wildfowl everywhere, and the lady Smew preening on the canal. Not a bad trip at all.
The last day of a week’s holiday, and another day out with the birds.
We started the week at the London Wetland Centre – very cold and gloomy, and notwithstanding recent sightings of Bitterns, we didn’t see any (we always arrive at a hide to be told, “You should have been here five minutes ago; you’ll never guess what we have just seen . . .”) – but plenty of Snipe, Tufted Duck, and Coot.
Wednesday was another cold but bright day at Slapton Ley and on the beach at Thurlestone. Shovellers, Tufted Duck and a solitary Little Grebe in the reeds by the Slapton Hide, and plenty of Canada Geese and more Tufted Duck on the water. Robins everywhere, and a Sparrowhawk through the bushes at the edge of the Ley, upsetting the troupe of Longtailed Tits that was bowling along the edge.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached Thurlestone – we had to stop in Kingsbridge, where I was living when Caroline and I first met, and stop at the deli at the top of Fore Street and visit Pig Finka. The marshes behind the NT car park were frozen and there was very little duck around. Instead, there were Oystercatchers and Turnstones on the rocks edging the beach, and a wonderful sunset.
Today we have been at Roadford Lake. We didn’t know quite what to expect – we last visited in January 2009, and had then seen little (and been rained on). This time was different: in the woodland and along the edge, Nuthatches, Great, Blue, Coal, Marsh and Longtailed Tits, Greenfinch, 6 Bullfinches and half an hour later another 9, a Greater Spotted Woodpecker chased off by a solitary Raven gliding through the canopy, Crows, Rooks, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard, Dunnock, Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, Redwings, Goldcrests, Robins and Wrens – and on the water, Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Teal, Widgeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Herons, Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe, Shag, 3 Goosanders, and in the last light of late afternoon, a pair of Goldeneye below the bridge.