Sunday, 18 June 2017

And My Heart's Going Out On Missions

A long weekend break in Devon, those words were like nectar dancing on my tongue. I had planned my trip, well as much as I had time to do and allowing for weather anomalies too.
I was lucky enough to be able to press the pause button on my busy work and life schedule with the help of my nearest and dearest and indulge my passion and ultimately switch off my brain from the everyday necessities of life.  
I left home in Hampshire around 5.15am, almost 3 hours later I rolled up at the car park at Dunsford in North East Dartmoor.
My destination was becoming a regular draw each year for me around this time, and what a draw it is.
The River Teign plods it's course through the steep sided valley and has a plethora of delights as you follow it's deliberate meander.
For the last couple of years I have used this place as a stop over to my next destination staying with good friends near Okehampton. There is a car park at the head of the river which is perfect place to start the river walk. A pub in the nearby village gives refreshment and sustenance for the weary traveller too.

The walk itself provides a mixture not only of river delights but forest, glades and heathland also.
My first encounter was a Red Admiral who settled by my feet in the early morning light.
I know from my previous travels here there maybe a chance meeting of a favourite of mine, Beautiful Demoiselles...
They have a very apt name.

This is a male, the females are a metallic green
My mind focused on the regulars I would be able to see here. Only seconds after thinking if I would be afforded a view of a Goosander, then one politely showed it's hand...
A female 'Red Head' gave me a cursory once over and a few indignant calls to show her displeasure at my presence. Not that polite after all!
She is part of the Sawbill family of ducks and they spend their summers breeding around upland rivers, while in winter they can be seen around estuaries,lakes and gravel pits in numbers.

The habitat here provides a real mixture of species I wouldn't normally find in my neck of the woods. This neck of the woods is awe inspiring at almost every turn. One such creature being the Pied Flycatcher. I took some time last year to find this beautiful woodland specialist. This year I had some knowledge of their call and of their haunts and found them much easier. Photographing them is a little trickier however. They inhabit the canopy of trees which has a mixture of light and dark, coupled with their plumage the perfect photo is hard to come by, especially for a novice such as myself but perseverance and practice is the key.

I found their nestbox. The male had a beak full of caterpillars so I kept a discreet distance as he entered to feed the chicks..
Then the female entered the fray...

I took a path I knew uphill to a viewing point past the Flycatchers nestbox
The hillside is full of oak trees that gives home to the Flycatchers and so many more species..

I reached the top and the views were stunning across the valley. I sat here for a while and drank in the view along with a cup of refreshing green tea from my flask.
There are so many large wood ants here, as you try to find a seat it's almost impossible not to sit on one.
Foxgloves were sprouting up everywhere, even in the shaded parts of the forest.
Then that ever present trill of the wren pulsated through the trees.
I managed some good views through the trees and found it had  a growth on one side of it's face. I couldn't work out if it was a tick or some sort of avian pox which some birds are susceptible to. 

Wood ants nests were common throughout my walk and number in their thousands. If you find a large nest make sure you stop and look at your feet as they can be all around you. I hate to think of the amount I have accidentally squashed...and equally their formic acid packs a tasty punch. Not necessarily in a single shot but numerous jets can seem like rubbing chilli into you parts, not recommended, I have had experience of this!
The Speckled Wood is the default butterfly and usually the first to be seen warming up in the early morning sunshine.

Common Cow Wheat were a strong presence here along the shaded tree canopy and along the path. 

In amongst the birdsong I heard the deeper footfall of a large creature, it was a Roe Deer and it hadn't spotted me.

Red Campion were out in force.
I had returned to the valley floor once more and continued my walk along the river bank.

Then I heard the peeping call of another specialist here, the Dipper..

It had one young fledgling accompanying it.

The adult bird was constantly searching for food to keep it's youngster well fed.

Their name supposedly is deriven from their propensity to bob up and down as they stand. I also like to think it relates to their way of feeding in and out of the water. 

They feed predominately on underwater invertebrates and can 'fly' submerged plus having strong claws to grip to rocks in the fast flowing water.

The fledgling rarely ceased from it's begging cries.
As you can see, the water was awash with thousands of emerging aquatic insects. Dippers concentrate on the subterranean insects while others such as the Grey Wagtail feed on the surface. The wagtails were proving a little harder to nail down for a picture however.
As I walk I can switch between river and open glades bordered by trees and steep hillside.
A very tatty Peacock butterfly fed on the remnants of the bluebells...
The new growth fern fronds were growing quickly now. 

As the day warmed the butterflies kept coming. A Large White here...
More Beautiful Demoiselles' too

Parts of the river have calm pools close to the shore where pond skaters gather to mate and hunt.

A couple intertwined are also eating at the same time which is quite a neat trick !

I left them to their shenanigans and plodded on.
There are many mature Beech trees along the path. One of my favourite trees. The fresh pale green leaf growth in spring is something I appreciate more every year.  

Then another Beautiful Demoiselle flittered around the waters edge. The light glinting on the river in the background gave some great abstract textures...

I was captivated by this tiny delicate creature and spent ages trying to capture the moment just that little bit better than before. I was addicted, and had trouble dragging myself away.

Eventually I thought enough was enough and carried on.
Ash trees have a strong foothold here too but for how long I wondered? Ash dieback has taken hold here it seems. These trees and many others didn't look healthy.
Goldcrests could be heard calling all around me in the canopy, I managed to catch up with one.

I had reached the end of the path which opens out into a wide meadow affording great views up the hillsides. The countryside was in it's fullest fresh greenery and it took my breath away in the heat.
The meadow is awash with Daffodils in Spring but by now, Bluebells had taken their place and even these were beginning to fail now.
All around I could hear Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Song Thrush and Willow Warbler calling and by my feet a Common Blue Butterfly fed on the flowers.

My next destination was to walk up the very precipitous hillside to a spot where I could find Fritillaries. Occasionally they descend into the meadow and I did see a couple here but they wouldn't stop for their photograph.
What did stop was another Beautiful Demoiselle, so rather than pass up a great opportunity I squatted on the floor to get some top views of a real gem...

By now the heat was hitting the 25 degree celsius mark, so as I ascended the hill I was glad for the water in my backpack.
After refreshment and catching my breath, my quarry appeared before me... a  Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary (SPBF) feeding on the bluebells...
It's larger and more common cousin, the Pearl Bordered Fritillary (PBF) was still around too. Their flight periods cross over and the PBF's were looking worn and not long for this world. The SPBF has stronger markings on the wing with the black wing edge marks meeting where as the PBF's don't.
The underside marking is best to tell the difference if you can get a decent view.
I know my friend Brian who I was visiting in Okehampton thinks it's impossible and they all look the same. When I first started observing them the finer details does become apparent but after the season ends I do have to refresh my brain on a couple. Some are obvious, others less so and it helps to have a book on the UK butterflies and not the European ones too. Then it can getting a little daunting as there are so many over the continent!
A PBF...


Large White...
The south facing slopes are covered in small trees and bracken with the bluebells still showing well. Perfect habitat for the Fritillaries...
Plus the views across the valley were stunning...

SPBF still kept coming. These two I thought were mating but turned out to be sharing a rather succulent nectar source.

The view looking north took in farmland and the crops rippled like fur in the breeze as I sat and drank the rest of my green tea.


There seemed to be no end of the Wood Ants. Every now and then I would stop, no matter where I was and look at the floor to see if there were any ants there, sure enough I would find one!
Oh and nearly as profuse, the ever present Fritillaries, this being the Pearl Bordered again ...

and SPBF...

Having been all Fritillaried out, I trudge back downhill, happy but very sweaty, to the shade of the trees by the river

Where I found a pair of Blackcaps bathing in the shallows. No doubt needing a good shower after looking after the youngsters for the day, I wish I could have joined them ?
The female has the chestnut cap...
The male needs no introduction...
I headed back towards the van to change for the evening.
The Goosander had multiplied into two by this stage...

I caught one mid defecation in this shot... nice !
I would walk into the few glades that dotted the path and would occasionally find a little beauty.
I followed this Small Copper for a while until it finally settled for some acceptable poses...

I finally reached the van, exhausted but very happy. A quick pit stop and then off across the fields to the Royal Oak in the pretty Devon village of Dunsford for dinner and a well deserved pint.

Along the way I spied an early purple orchid flowering on a devon bank...

I followed the footpath across the fields, past the sheep and towards the local hostelry to the left of the church which had the truly quintessential English countryside sound of the bells ringing out as I approached ...
The terraced houses along the main street have a couple of cats I saw last year. They were still here and one greeted me as I passed by.
After some delicious pub grub, the light was perfect and the church next door looked so picturesque in the sunset as the Swifts wheeled and screamed around the rooftops.
At the back of the pub they keep lots of animals so I went to have a look and drink in the view...

Another friendly little chap wanted to say hello...

I met my other little friend from last year. What a lovely life they must lead here..?

I could have easily taken her home but I was pooped and needed my rest, so I walked back to my bed in the van. It was a perfect end to a special day.

It was to end with a herd of heffers.. A friend of mine from way back taught me how to call cows. It works on some but not all. This lot clearly liked it and came running over to say hello. I did the same and bid them goodnight...

I retired and slept like a log. I had another morning here tomorrow, then on to somewhere else and then to Okehampton to catch up with some treasured friends...
 The title of this post is from the title track 'Walk the River' by Guillemots

1 comment:

  1. Cracking blog post matey and I got so engrossed my coffee has gone cold!

    Lovely to see the pictures of your adventures - your blog is a feast for the eyes and a tonic for the soul :-)


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