Wildlife springs to life in North Devon

Spring has well and truly arrived, and so far the weather in North Devon has been dry and a lot cooler than normal.

The primroses are just spectacular lining roadside banks and many woods have beautiful scatterings of wood anemones, wild garlic and a hint of blue where the bluebells are just emerging. This weekend saw the first clump of early purple orchids in flower, they looked stunning on the approach to Highbullen, although unfortunately someone or something has picked or nibbled at the first spike that came into bloom.


The pussy willow and hazel catkins are still emerging, and the coniferous larch is the only tree to be in near full leaf.

In the woods facing east or north, hardly any trees have burst bud, although in the warmer, sunnier spots on the golf course the odd horse chestnut, willow and some oaks are in leaf. Pretty white blackthorn flowers are unmissable in most hedgerows. Most interestingly, the lack of leaves has made it so much easier to see wildlife.

The swallows, sand martins and house martins first arrived at the very end of March but are now present in their hundreds. The last fieldfares and redwings left only days before. This weekend was incredibly memorable, I grew up with the sound of the cuckoo as the awakening of spring, and 25 years ago they were so plentiful in this parish that I even saw a pair mating only 20 yards behind my house. Now it means a trip to Exmoor to catch a glimpse of this bird. So at 6.30 pm yesterday, that is just what I did, grabbed my two dogs and set off to a well-worn path in the centre of the moor, and at this time of the evening I was sure to have the place to myself, a mile or so from the nearest habitation. I still had seen nothing, just more work from the National Park tidying the countryside.

I pushed on as the sun was soon to drop below the horizon, only the odd swallow crossed the sky and turning back was a good option but something made me continue, “persevere or you will see nothing” a wee voice said. I continued a further 20 minutes, and I was only 100 metres from where I would normally turn back, but I am sure I caught the brief outline and distinctive flight of a cuckoo. I saw exactly which branch it had alighted on, so all I had to do was wait. I changed to the telescopic lens just in case it flew close when it took off and I propped myself against the nearby gate. It just not possible to control two dogs, carry a camera and binoculars, so the binoculars were sacrificed on this trip, how annoying! Well it was so until something else flew into my view some 40 yards away. Small, black and unusual in movement, alert the little bird appeared to be posturing. Another appeared, and soon after there were 4. They looked as if they were wearing white bibs. Unbelievably I had two pairs of Ring Ouzels in front of me, and maybe more. No one would believe this sighting, I was on a high, especially as I had pictures to prove it. They stayed around for ten minutes or so, and in that time the cuckoo also started calling just to say that I had got the flight pattern right.

Elated by this, only my second ever sighting of a ring ouzel (the last was over 40 years ago), I set off home at a brisk pace as I had to see the photos on the computer.



On the way home several deer crossed the sky line, and appeared unbothered by my presence, just monitoring my progress. One wheatear crossed my path on the way to the car, and all that was required now was that computer to see the clarity of the photos. I liken this sighting to catching a 20 lb salmon and I should imagine it is something like getting a hole in one! Never forgotten.

The drier weather has been a god send for Matt and his team on the golf course. Their hard work and the fact that the course had such a long rest over winter has bought the course into condition much earlier than normal, though the greens will need more warmth to ensure even growth and thus the best putting surface.

The drier weather has meant few fishermen have been out on the Taw system, but one rod has had 3 springers and at least two 18lb plus fish have been landed. Another spate of warmer weather will hopefully bring more fish. Over the past two days I have been out with a keen rod and journalist trying the very best pools on 3 beats of the Mole. Unfortunately, not a single fish turned to the fly. However, we found fresh otter prints, marsh marigolds in flower, a lamprey red and a red deer that had drowned after a RTA. We also caught sight of a sparrow hawk with the most agile flight in full hunting mode around a large ash tree, so fast it was difficult to keep up with, as well as some very industrious dippers. The final wildlife experience for today’s blog was something mysterious dropping from the sky some 50 metre away. Glancing skywards I saw the side view of the local peregrine which had discarded the remnants of a wood pigeon having taken it’s fill. I walked over to the carcass and all but one breast had been eaten. The bird could have come back, and the camera was not far away, but I felt had had all the luck anyone can hope for in one weekend!


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