Swallows and Cuckoos

There have been a few sightings of swallows already near Exeter and along the south coast. A cuckoo was heard in Tiverton a week ago! The earliest I’ve seen a swallow in Throwleigh was April 6th, following a week of warm weather. There are Southerly winds forecast for the next few days, hopefully they’ll provide a tail wind for our long distance heroes.

A pair of Mistle Thrushes have been busy in a nearby pine tree chasing away Jays, Jackdaws and Magpies, in fact all birds that came too close to what I suspect was the site of this summer’s nest. ¬†Unfortunately this afternoon one of the Thrushes was surprised by a Sparrow Hawk, and with a screech and a squawk, that was the end of that building programme.

Yet again high winds have caused trees to fall. One blocked the road near Gidleigh, another lay across the footpath down to Gidleigh Mill. Both are now cleared.

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Swaling

The burning, not only of heather and grass, but also gorse, bracken and bilberry is controlled by the Heather and Grass, etc. (burning) Regulations 1986.

Burning is allowed only between 10th October and April 15th in upland areas, DNP recommends no burning after March 31st to prevent harm to nesting birds.

Quite often there seems to be a prolonged dry spell in March and so it proved this year. The tell tale columns of smoke could be seen rising from different sections of the moor over the last few days. Swaling is not an exact science, but the skill and experience of commoners and farmers makes the process as safe and controlled as possible. Before burning can commence, Devon Fire and Rescue, DNP, Natural England and the Dartmoor Commoners Council must be informed. Occasionally, well intentioned visitors see the fires and call the Fire Service, who in turn check where burning is to occur and act accordingly.

Burning after dark is not common but when it does occur it makes for dramatic viewing.

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Frog spawn and other eggs

The first frog spawn seen this season was in December. The main event started 6 weeks ago and now the eggs have turned to tadpoles which are wriggling, bunched together in shallow water.

Having turned last year’s compost, it was sad to see the summer’s batch of grass snake eggs came to nothing. They had developed as they should but on inspection the eggs contained fully developed 6″ long but unfortunately dead snakes. They normally hatch around the end of August or the beginning of September, perhaps they had been too cold, or too hot, or too wet —-.

Grass snakes can grow to nearly two metres long, normally a fully mature snake is about 120cm. They are not dangerous, but they can give you a nasty turn when they move quickly! Warmer days will bring out grass snakes and also adders. Adders react to vibration and usually move away to avoid a confrontation. There is a risk to dogs that surprise them, it’s rare that a bite to a dog is fatal, but it would be sensible to see a vet.

It’s twenty years since anyone died in the UK as a result of an adder bite, the amount of venom is tiny. Nevertheless you’re braver than me if you go very close for a better look.

This is a photo of a mature adder, note the inverted V on its head.

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Blackaton brook

Evidence of the heavy rain last month is still to be seen in the roads and along the river beds. Damage was caused to the crossing of Blackaton brook, 100 metres below Shilley pool.

It’s a useful crossing because it seems all other ways across the brook and so up onto Cosdon involve wrestling with undergrowth and/or the risk of wet feet.

Dave Hatton and I, ably assisted and encouraged by Dawn tried to replace a stepping stone that had been dislodged a metre or so down stream. We gave up with plan A because we couldn’t get much purchase to lever the stone into place.

A second stone was used and after much wheezing and gasping, it was settled into a good position.Blackaton crossing #1

Kelly Mine

Behind an unassuming slatted gate by the side of a main road lies a Dartmoor gem.

Kelly Mine is to be found by the side of the Moretonhampstead – Bovey Tracey road, close to the turn for Lustleigh at SX795818. (This is a little bit off our patch, but hey ho.)

The first record of mining at Kelly dates from 1797 when John Pinsent leased land to mine ‘black lead or some other substance’. The mine was only ever modest in size, nevertheless 202 tons of micaceous iron oxide were produced in 1907.

Following an underground collapse in 1951 production ceased. It was usual for a failed mine to sell off equipment when it closed. In the case of Kelly, the mine company owed rent arrears to the landowner and a legal dispute was settled by the landowner retaining much of the equipment in situ.

The Kelly Mine Preservation Society was formed in 1984 and is responsible for the wonderful site that exists today. Water wheels, shafts, engines, tramways and buildings packed with old tools give the visitor not only an understanding of the mine workings but a sense of having stumbled into a ‘secret garden’.

The KMPS have produced a web site that gives a much fuller description than this short piece. Most Wednesdays and Sundays Kelly is open to visitors, there’s no entry fee, donations are welcome.IMG_9171