Posts Tagged 'Dartmoor'

And the foxgloves

foxgloveSeeing towers of Foxgloves (Digitalis) over the weekend — many of the flowers had been knocked down by Saturday’s strong rains — reminded me of my trip to Dartmoor a year ago. The hedge-shrouded paths there were frequently foxgloved, and abuzz with bees. Check out the wild pattern within, and remember that bees see more of the blue side of things than we do. There are also little hairs in here, harder to see in this photo.

Here are all the posts on that adventure.

British Bugs

A selection of the insects spotted on my Dartmoor walk, most of which I can’t identify, so if you know ’em, holler below in the comments.Calopteryx virgoThis one was easy to look up. (And be sure to click on the image to get a closer look at the wings.) There are only two damselfly species with colored wings over there. This is the (obviously) Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo), even though this is the male of the species. I found this one in Lustleigh’s small park.wingsSeveral days later I came across just the wings of this species at Dartmeet. I wonder what the story here was?Calopteryx splendensThis, seen also in Lustleigh, is the female Banded Damoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), the other colored-wing species.beetles2




Pyrrhosoma nymphulaLarge Red Damselflys (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), mating at the pond at Yarner Woods. Props to the British Dragonfly Society for ID help on the odes. Feel free to throw in your two pence worth of ID help for the rest of these. Vanessa atalantaBut you need no introduction to the circumpolar Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).combAnt working on some kind of comb, in the middle of the path.

Natural History Museum

nhm10nhm2nhm7nhm8nhm1The Natural History Museum is amazing inside and out.nhm4nhm6Some of the specimens collected by Alfred Russel Wallace himself. This year is the centenary of his death (he lived to be 90).nhm3nhm9

All the birds

raptorsA Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and an unidentified raptor battling it out over Fenworthy Down. Buzzards, akin to our Red-tailed hawks and no relation to our buzzards (vultures), were frequent distant companions on my long walk. In the same place, another flew sentinel in the face of the wind swooping up the Down, seemingly hanging in the air for long moments without moving its wings. (I think the name “buzzard” comes out of the Latin buteo via the French.) Oenanthe oenantheWheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe).An entirely different region means a whole new pallet of birds. It’s a little like starting birding all over again, for everything is new and unfamiliar, even the most common of species. Now, I’ve been to the UK before, so I had some advantage, but several species remained elusive. In particular, I was at a loss with the songs and calls.AnthusMeadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis).

These are all the birds I saw on this trip, roughly in the order I identified them — (asterisks signify life species): Carrion Crow, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon*, Robin, Magpie, Rock Dove, Lapwing, Redshank, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Coot*, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Scaup, Pochard*, Mallard, Gadwell, Egyptian Goose*, Canada Goose, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Peregrine, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Swift, Sand Martin*, Marsh Warbler*, Wren, Blue Tit*, Jay*, Jackdaw, Starling, Green Finch* Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeet*, Pheasant, Little Egret, Great Spotted Woodpecker*, Barn Swallow,Hirundo rustica Pied Wagtail*, House Sparrow, Goldfinch*, Great Tit*, Nuthatch*, Coal Tit*, Bullfinch*, Grey Wagtail*, Marsh Tit*, Buzzrd, Tree Pipit, House Martin*, Dipper*, Chaffinch*, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Raven, Rook, Cuckoo, Wheatear, Collard Dove, Mandarin Duck*.Aix galericulataThis duck, along with the Egyptian goose, parakeet, and pheasant are all introduced species; the parakeet, P. krameri, was reported breeding as early as 1069 according to my iBirds UK app, which also reports the pheasant (our “Ring-necked pheasant”) being brought in with the Normans. gullsA high maelstrom of gulls swirling above the moor, with another Buzzard in the mix.Some of those gulls later gathered around King Tor.PteranodonMeanwhile, a Pteranodon at the Museum of Natural History.

British Birds 3

Troglodytes troglodytesA fledgling Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Wrens are the most common species of bird in the UK. I heard them everyday, but saw them much less frequently. Sly.Motacilla cineraGrey Wagtail (Motacilla cinera), seen with some frequency along and on the rocks of fast moving streams and rivers.Motacilla albaWhite/Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba). Wagtails are named because of their very active tail-wagging. I saw a couple of these in Bovey Tracey.Chloris chlorisGreenfinch (Chloris chloris) juvenile, I believe. A fleeting glimpse, a lucky shot.Turdus merulaBlackbird (Turdus merula). Like our Robins, found everywhere. The most frequently seen bird of this trip, but elusive to photograph.Saxicola torquatusStonechat (Saxicola torquatus), so named for its call, which sounds like two stones being clicked together. A bird of the open moor, which looks barren of bird life but reverberates with bird sounds (this time of year, anyway). I heard the unmistakable Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), which says its own name, up here as well. And then there were the radio birds, which I never got a good look at; they sound like they are cruising along the frequencies of the radio dial.Cinclus cinclusDipper (Cinclus cinclus). I saw two during the trip, one at Fingle Bridge and this one, which I managed to photograph from my inn room, four stories above the Dart, early one morning. These plump little birds with the white bib glean prey from fast moving streams, dipping into the rush of water. They also walk underwater and “swim” with their wings. Wowza!


Two kinds of woodlands seen along the Dartmoor Way: Houndtor WoodsA conifer plantation, planted mid-last century, looking rather majestic but also, well, rather — although hardly all — sterile. Houndtor Woods, a Woodlands Trust area near Manaton.hardwoodTrees of many trunks in a hardwood forest, looking deeply lush with its attendant mosses and other understory plants. A frequent scene along the Dartmoor Way. Having passed through many a coppiced wood on my recent trip, I’ve been thinking about the practice. Coppicing is a way of harvesting wood by cutting the tree near the ground and then allowing multiple shoots to grow up from the stump into stems. (Pollarding is a similar practice, but here the cuts are at the top, which thickens the tree on its sole bole.) You may have noticed unintentional examples — the natural inclination to sprout — on the streets right here in Brooklyn. Platanus × acerifoliaHere’s the stump of a mature Plane Tree on the Street of Perpetual Renovation. Although cut down, it is still rooted –grinding out the root is a serious task — “not dead yet,” and has sprouted into a three-foot tall bush-like affair. After a number of years, depending on the species, these multiple shoots off the stump, or stool, can be harvested. The process will then start again. Instead of clear-cutting, a profoundly short-sighted strategy, coppicing allows for decades, even centuries of harvesting. Since the base tree never grows up, as it were, but is fully rooted, it may indeed be many hundreds of years old, significantly older than the average single-boled of the same species. Cut trees seem to live longer, as a matter of fact. Coppicing was done to supply wood for charcoal burners, heating, construction (including wattles), and such specialized needs as hop-poles (the blessed hops that give us bitter beer grow very tall indeed) and spars for thatching. The bark of oaks could be used for tanning, a craft turned industry that, for instance, devoured the Hudson Highlands of oaks and hemlocks, to bring things back to this side of the Atlantic again. Coppicing is hardly practiced anymore, except to maintain conservation areas — coppicing opens up woodlands to plant and animal communities that wouldn’t be interested in a monotonous climax forest, increasing biodiversity — and by those few who still practice ancient arts like thatching.treesSome tree species coppice better than others. Willow, hazel, beech, ash, hawthorn, alder, and oak are some of them. There is a thought that these trees evolved such basal sproutings to survive being browsed by mega-fauna herbivores. (Elm, for instance, is evidently delicious, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

I can imagine someone felling a tree, a long time ago, and then giving up on removing the stump — check out a stump grinder some day, or imagine the (literal) horse power necessary to do so — and discovering that it was soon sending thin stems into the air. Hey! Awesome!

British Birds 2

Pica picaA cornucopia of corvids!Pica picaMagpie (Pica pica), seen throughout my walk, usually flying away from a field. This one was in London, and was the first bird I photographed on this trip. There was even one in the backyard of my hotel in London, on Norfolk Square, heard more often than seen. A magnificent animal, absurdly persecuted by very small minds until quite recently. (I remember similar animus expressed towards the genus’s American version, the Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), when I lived in Alberta as a boy.)Corvus monedulaThe Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) were also omnipresent. This one at the London Wetland Centre was quite tame.Corvus monedulaLike these other members of the Corvidae, Jackdaws are very social and vocal. In Bovey Tracey, they roosted in trees across the street from my inn, so I heard them long into the late evening.
Corvus frugilegusRook (Corvus frugilegus). For a novice, it’s hard to separate these from Carrion Crows at a distance. This was the only good look at one I got. The tell-tale pale base of the bill isn’t found on juvenile birds. But note the drooping belly feathers, giving the bird quite a different profile from:Corvus coroneCarrion Crow (Corvus corone), most like our American crow.Corvus corone

I caught brief glimpses of Jays (Garrulus glandarius) most days, but never got an opportunity to photograph one. They have a small patch of Blue Jay blue on their wings that is electric. I think I saw Ravens (Corvus corax) on Sourton Tor, in strong wind in which they were playing. Definitely saw some on King Tor. They rule the rock outcroppings.

British Birds 1

Aythya fuligulaMale Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) at the London Wetland Centre.Gallinula chloropusA very fresh Moorhen chick (Gallinula chloropus) in the garden of the Natural History Museum. Gallinula chloropusChick and a juvenile. The kids grow up fast.Dendrocopos majorGreat Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) outside my window in Buckfastleigh.Columba palumbusWood pigeon (Columba palumbus) nesting at the Totnes railroad station.Fringilla coelebsMale Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) at the Fingle Bridge Inn, where I enjoyed another fine local cider. Fringilla coelebsEarlier, I had seen the female and been completely flummoxed about her identity, paging through my book — Princeton Field Guides’ Birds of Europe 2nd Ed., known as the Collins guide over there — twice to no avail, even though the wing markings are quite distinct. This male danced around my picnic table, until a female showed up…Fringilla coelebsThe second most common species in the UK after the Wren, but it takes a few days to get one’s birds’ eye tuned to the local scene.Ardea cinereaFor instance, this Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) in the middle of the Italian Garden in Hyde Park? Real. (People were asking.) And very territorial: it kept chasing away a juvenile heron.

London Wetland Centre

Peter Markham ScottPolar explorer Robert Falcon Scott wrote to his wife about their only child — who he of course did not get to see grow up — “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.” This is a statue of that child grown up, Peter Markham Scott (1909-1989), naturalist, ornithologist, campaigner, who founded the precursor organization of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, which runs the very impressive London Wetland Centre, close to the heart of London at the site of the old Barn Elms Water Works.

I met Mark Wilkinson of The Badger’s Eye here a couple of weeks ago and we had a very enjoyable morning touring the grounds and spying through the hides.WWT LondonOne of the hides was three stories high, and had an elevator. This is partially what I mean by most impressive; the facilities were awe-inspiring.Chroiocephalus ridibundusBlack-headed gull above, Lapwing below.Vanellus vanellusMark, who I only knew through the internet before this, proved to be a delight. At a loss for knowing most of the species of birds, I found him to be a perfect guide to the day’s sightings. Indeed, his badger’s eye picked out a rare Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius) dog-paddling (?) swiftly for the reeds. A species much reduced by imported American Mink gone feral, these Muskrat-sized mammals inspired Kenneth Grahame’s debonaire Ratty. The water-sleek critter was too quick for either of our cameras.sand martin nestsAn artificial Sand Martin (Riparia riparia) nest bank, complete with CCTV (of which London is positively saturated). Sand Martins, like our Bank Swallows, depend on often ephemeral sandy banks to dig their nests in. The cam in one of the nests looked upon a tunnel that seemed abandoned until an adult bird shot in, then the young ones exploded into view, vying for the yummy insects provided by the parent.Highland A few head of cattle were grazing, helping to keep the meadows in order.bat houseThe bat house.Alopochen aegyptiacaEgyptian Goose, introduced as ornamental wildfowl and gone feral.An easy Tube ride to Hammersmith, then hop on a bus that goes right to the centre.

A grand trip

flowerbeeI’ve returned from England, where I walked the 90 or so miles of the Dartmoor Way, with a few short and long cuts in between, and so many ups and downs, my calves are now like iron and my heart is ten years younger. By the way, the butts of bumblebees there are a rainbow of colors. East Okement ValleyThere were rich old oak, beech, hazel, and holly woods, in which I connected with my Inner Hobbit.Sharp TorWind-swept tors.tawRushing rivers flowing out of the moor: Bovey, Teign, Dart, Okement, Tavy, Walkham. This is the Taw, one of Tarka the Otter’s two rivers.moorHedges, fields, and the high moor. Spikes of foxglove graced the many miles.dartThe thickly wooded valley of the River Dart, southeast of Sharp Tor, soon after its east and west streams gather at Dartmeet.Kings TorKing’s Tor, the bed of an old quarry railroad; nearby is dressed granite never transported to London.Buckfast Abbey viewThe view from Buckfast Abbey.merrivaleStanding “long stone” at Merrivale.finishThe end of the walk, which was also the beginning, at Dart Bridge in Buckfastleigh. Like the great Ouroborus, I made a circle. That’s my trusty blackthorn stick propped up there, from the old school James Smith & Sons, a life-saver on slippery granite, muddy slopes, and fields full of sheep, cow, horse, pony, deer, and rabbit dung. I will have more posts about this incredible trip in coming days.


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