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.


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