Thursday, 23 February 2012


I'd planned to go to Wales yesterday in search of the Common Yellowthroat that should be in the US, but I'd forgotten to check the weather! I'd made butties before I heard on the Radio 2 forecast that it was going to rain, so decided to postpone that trip. I couldn't possibly waste the butties so came up with another cunning plan.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (LSW) are permanent residents in the country, but are few & far between, and even in their strongholds are pretty hard to find. In Devon they are mostly found around Dartmoor, with Yarner Wood & Dunsford Wood being 2 hot-spots (or at least tepid ones). I'd been to Yarner Wood once, years ago, so decided to try Dunsford, a Devon Wildlife Trust reserve on the Eastern edge of Dartmoor, near to Moretonhampstead. I thought I'd be able to give it a few hours before the rain was due.

I parked just West of Steps Bridge & walked back to the reserve. There is no circular route, just a path that runs alongside the River Teign through mainly deciduous woodlands, although there is an area of coniferous woodland on the opposite bank at the North end of the valley.

The River Teign from Steps Bridge
I walked in a short way & stopped on the bank for a while just to see what was moving, & there was quite a lot! A flock of about 20 Redwing in the trees opposite, Blue, Great & Long-tailed Tits, & 2 tits which were either Marsh or Willow Tits. They're very similar & the easiest way to tell them apart is by call. I hadn't heard them & they vanished. I waited a while hoping that they would come back, but then a tiny bird appeared in the tree next to me. From the size of it I thought it would be a Goldcrest, but then I got it in my bins & I was pleasantly surprised (massive understatement!) to see a stunning white stripe over it's eye! It was a Firecrest! Excellent! I've only ever seen one before & that was as the result of a 'twitch'. This was now a great day, whether or not I found a LSW!

The riverside path

I moved off, but didn't get far before I saw a white blob in the middle of the river. I'd been  fairly optimistic that I'd find a Dipper, and there it was! In fact there were at least 2 & I saw them quite regularly as I walked along the bank. They even disappeared behind a tree stump together, so maybe they're a couple!

Then I found 3 of the Marsh/Willow Tits. The probability was that they were Marsh as Willow are getting quite rare, but I needed to be sure as a Marsh Tit would not only be a new bird for the Year List, but a UK tick too. My only confirmed Marsh Tit was in Berne, Switzerland in May 2001. I've probably seen a few in the UK but never been sure. Now, with my decent bins & more importantly my iphone App which gives me bird calls at the tap of a finger, it was much easier! They were indeed Marsh Tits.

I walked to the end of the reserve before the drizzle started, although it didn't actually last long. I then headed back.

Looking back down the valley
I was just thinking that it was amazing, considering the number of trees, that I hadn't even seen a Great Spotted Woodpecker (GSW) or Nuthatch, let alone a LSW. Then something landed in a tree in front of me.....a lovely male GSW! As I was admiring it in my  bins, a Nuthatch walked into view! At the same spot I also saw Goldcrest, Coal & Blue Tits, Blackbirds & 2 Goosander which flew by along the river!

Bracket fungus 
Grass 'waterfall'

By now it was about 1:30pm, I'd been in the woods for about 4 hrs & was dying for a brew & a butty! When I got nearly back to the road a couple walking in with their dog said that a few weeks ago they'd seen a few birders in the car park watching a LSW!  I ate my butties beside the van in the drizzle whilst staring into the tops of the surrounding trees, but unfortunately Sods Law failed to strike!

As I was going to be passing close to Bowling Green Marsh on my way home, it seemed rude not to drop in. An RSPB volunteer ranger was in the hut sorting out the notice boards. She was very knowledgeable & I now know where to go to look for Wood Lark & Dartford Warbler.

3 new birds for the year. List total 133 + 1 Sub-species

(The ruling was that we can count birds heard but not seen as long as they have been seen before in the UK. Therefore the Cetti's Warbler heard at Ham Wall on 17/2 counts)

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