Signs of Spring

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.


The boys are back (again)

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.


The boys are back

Saturday afternoon in Yarner Wood: bright sunshine and Pied Flycatchers. Summer is starting.

Yarner Wood is our local patch, and we visit the reserve throughout the year. But our first visit in April is always special, as we wonder whether the Pied Flycatchers are back. It was no different last weekend. The car park was unusually full (we later met the guided tour) and the weather not warm. Some years leaf break will have started; this year the oaks were still bare branched.

At the hide very little, but Caroline suddenly fixed on a male Pied Flycatcher. This was the only bird we saw from the hide, although there was birdsong in the treetops. We took our usual route, along and up, and as we reached Flycatcher Alley, nest boxes every other tree, we heard and then saw more Pied Flycatchers. All male, and in the course of the afternoon about eight in all. Reading the Warden’s notes later, they have been back at Yarner since 8 April.

And as well as the Pied Flycatchers, a Raven high over the wood, a Bullfinch, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers drumming, and all the usual suspects: Chiffchaffs, Great, Blue and Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Wrens, Robins, Nuthatches and Treecreepers. Time stands still in Yarner Wood and by the time we left it was well past six o’clock.

The next day we were having a birthday tea with my mother-in-law. Her garden was alive with bird song, and she knows Summer is back because the Swallows, who have been nesting in her garage for the past 15 or so years, have returned. We stood and watched them, a fast glide and down below the lintel and up and out of sight.

All we need now are the Swifts.

Yarner ravens

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.