Early summer birdwatching

After the heat of the week before last, we have had four days or so of rain. Driving home late Friday afternoon, after two days in the centre of Bristol, the countryside south of Exeter was green and wet, and the roadside verges lost in cow parsley. The early purple orchids have replaced the primroses, and the steep slopes of the Teign Valley are blurred by trees in full leaf.

I am never quite sure when spring ends and summer begins in this part of Devon, but this weekend it feels that we are on the cusp. As I write this post, Caroline is sitting listening to bird calls on the RSBP website (if you haven’t tried it you should), to fix the sounds in her mind. With the start of summer, it is increasingly hard to watch birds in the tree canopy, but you can still hear them. Walking through Yarner Wood a fortnight ago, the pied flycatchers were easy to spot, but tomorrow when we hope to get out again, it will be harder: deeper shadow and thickening leaf cover. This year we are determined to raise our bird watching game, and learn to identify them by song.

Late April we were in Wales, staying outside Brecon and mixing walking and birdwatching, and since then, and much closer to home, we have been in Yarner Wood (pied flycatchers and ravens), by the Hennock reservoirs (blackcaps and great crested grebes) and out on the northern moor (red grouse and ravens).

The highlight in Wales was climbing Pen y Fan, highest of the Beacons. We started from the Upper Neuadd Reservoir and climbed easily in hazy sun along the old Roman road.

At the gate at Bwlch ar y Fan, we turned left to Cribyn, the tops lost in low cloud. We heard, before we saw, a group of a dozen or so young men, loud and raucous, first on the path down from Fan y Big, and then coming up fast behind us. By this time they were quieter. Each had a pack, though not a Bergen, so we weren’t sure whether they were squaddies or a college trip.

They passed us easily (the speed of the young) and as they did, their two instructors (we met them on Cribyn, and learnt they were junior leaders) were not even puffing. It was somewhat different for us, but we finally reached the top of Pen y Fan, the final stage up the steep stone pitched path reminding us of Snowdon last year. Sunlight, and ravens in the sky.

We were back in Wales, walking with ravens.

A curious incident

In his The RSPB View (February Birds, the RSPB’s Quarterly) Graham Wynne, the charity’s Chief Executive, returns to the story of a pair of hen harriers being shot on the Sandringham Estate. He writes, “The shooting of two hen harriers at Sandringham last October and the poisoning of a golden eagle in southern Scotland last summer were despicable acts and should be sources of shame for those responsible”. I could not agree more; but, Mr Wynne, there is still no evidence that two hen harriers were brought down, no close eye-witness, no dead birds and no charges brought. Although this doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, is it the job of a responsible charity to repeat this canard? It is not so much the story as the innuendo, that the shooting involved the Royal Family, whether directly or indirectly. On 21 November, a month after the alleged shooting Charles Moore was continuing to draw attention to what he referred to this ‘curious incident’ in his Spectator column, and it seems surprising that two months later the RSPB still maintains that the hen harriers were shot.