Walking down the road towards Uppacott. Chagford in the middle distance and on the skyline snow dusting Steeperton and Oke Tors, and to the far right High Willhays and Yes Tor.
And walking the long hill home from Uppacott, long tailed tits in the hedgerow, bumbling along with us, chattering to each other, and early honeysuckle breaking leaf. Spring isn’t quite here but it isn’t far off.
However picturesque the recent snow may be, last Thursday night’s fall of snow has done our garden no good: we have lost two young trees, broken by the weight of some 12″ of snow that fell in a little over three hours.
2007 has been the year we have started birdwatching in earnest: see A Birdie Year. We are very lucky living where we do: Yarner Wood, the best place in the South West to see Pied Flycatchers, is 15 minutes down the road. 15 minutes in another direction will take you to the High Moor (Golden Plover at this time of year; Skylarks and Meadow Pipits for much of the Spring and Summer; and always the magical Ravens), or to Soussons Woods or the Fernworthy Plantations. Only a little longer and we can be on Dawlish Warren, watching waders along the Exe, or Slavonian Grebes and Common Scoters off shore.
We never know quite what we are going to see, and rarely set out with the intention of finding a particular bird. We don’t have life lists, and such records as we keep are more to help us remember what we have had the good fortune to watch, than to boast of our sightings. I see each day we are out as a red letter day, but some this past twelve months have been the reddest of such days: the afternoon of 14 April, with leafbreak just happening in Yarner and the first Pied Flycatchers arriving; the Ravens on Snowdon as we came off the Bwlch Main in very early May; the trip to the lighthouse at the tip of the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge on Nantucket Island in October. These are days that will live in the memory.
Reading my past posts, a recurring feature is the weather, and in particular, in this part of the West Country, rain (or at times this past year the lack of it). Before starting to write this afternoon, I decided to avoid any mention of weather (or rain) but it so governs our lives that it is not possible to ignore weather; or not for very long. It may no longer dictate the course of daily life, as it did for my great grandfather, but it still plays a large part in that everyday life. Today was no different: where to walk and what to wear? Having heard the forecast, and more importantly looked west from our bedroom window over the Moor, we chose to drive up to the Hennock reservoirs.
Evidence of the recent storms was everywhere: some trees down and branches snapped off. There was wind this morning but walking up through the woods the air was still at ground level, even though 50 feet up the treetops were moving. With the wind these past couple of weeks, we have had rain, and the reservoirs are full, water tumbling down the spillways. In early October the reservoirs were as low as we had ever seen them; they are now filled to overflowing.
Bird life is sparse both on and along the edges of the reservoirs. It is not one of our favoured bird watching places although this morning we watched Coal and Marsh Tits in the trees, and on Kennick Reservoir, four pairs of Tufted Duck and, very unusually, two Goldeneye drakes. Roger Smaldon’s The Birds of Dartmoor describes Goldeneye as a very rare winter visitor to the Dartmoor reservoirs, most often at Burrator, and so to see them on one of the Hennock reservoirs was special. Both drakes were displaying, throwing back their heads but it was too far to hear to hear the growling call they make. Why they were doing this with no duck present is anyone’s guess: perhaps just practice for Spring.
Ending this post, I am afraid that much of it has been about weather, but then according to Samuel Johnson, when two Englishmen meet their first talk is of the weather, and so perhaps all I am doing is reinforcing a national stereotype.