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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On this the second consecutive sunny day, the memory of the awful weather is beginning to recede. A walk along the Teign upriver from Mill End showed the extent of the flooding caused by exceptional rainfall. The path and the ground metres from the river have been scoured by very fast flowing river water.
The sculpture ‘Granite Song’ by Peter Randall-Page is on an island in the river at SX710890. It has been dislodged at least twice in recent years but it is showing no signs of damage, despite sizeable chunks of drifting wood and tons of water battering it.
Yet again there’s damage to gates and fences just beyond Rushford Mill, and Chagford swimming pool looks a suspiciously brown colour.
A footpath runs from Chagford Bridge (Factory Bridge?) up to Murchington. A fully mature Oak tree has been blown over half way up the section through the wood. Fortunately it fell away from the path and took only a narrow section of the path with it. The NT are ‘on the case’ and have begun sawing it up.
Last weekend was the time for anyone interested to complete an hour’s collection of sightings of birds visiting their garden. The idea is that the maximum number of any one species of bird visiting at any one time is recorded, all to be completed within an hour. The information is easily uploaded to the RSPB website. It’s not meant to be a scientific study, but the RSPB use the information to get an overview of trends in the populations of different birds visiting the nation’s gardens.
It easily becomes mildly competitive, the hour goes by quickly, I end up urging the regulars to hurry up and make an appearance. This year, ‘the lad in the crimson bloomers’ made a very late appearance!
Chaffinch, 7. Siskin, 2. Goldfinch, 8. Blackbird, 2. Great Tit, 4. Coal Tit, 1. Long tailed tit, 7. Blue Tit, 2. Nuthatch, 1. Robin, 1. Song Thrush, 1. Wren, 1. Willow Tit, 1. Treecreeper, 1. Magpie, 2. Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1.
About 500 metres SW of Shilstone Tor is an abandoned apple crush. To be more precise, it is an unfinished quarter of an apple crush. It could have been made up to 500 years ago, it’s believed that some of these objects were made by stone workers on their day off!
It is at Lat 50.710293, Lon -3.8577749
There’s one relatively dry way to reach it and others that are very wet underfoot. My preferred route is to take the track uphill from Shilstone Tor, then bear left onto the green track that contours towards Buttern Tor. About 100 metres along the green track is a big hawthorn tree on your left, the first tree you come to. The stone is about 100 metres from the tree, just above the really wet boggy flat area. It is at the edge of an area of worked and broken stone.
Monday morning, and the day promised to be bright, calm and cold.
This morning’s walk took us to Shovel Down, about half an hour’s walk from Scorhill car park.
One photo shows Rani on the clapper bridge at SX653872.
The other shows one of the hut circles at the extensive Bronze age settlement at SX652859.
‘Donkey corner’ is an area near Aysh common. There are two clapper bridges close together which cross two streams. The first, approaching from the common, is a beautiful old structure. The stream had carried down a tree stump which had become lodged under the bridge. A bit of heaving and shoving dislodged it. The second smaller bridge crosses a stream that was not flowing at all well, but was soon cleared with the aid of a long handled ‘Devon shovel’.
The path from Providence down to Gidleigh Mill has a drainage cut off at the bottom. Ian Brooker, the Ranger had cleared this in November after most of the leaves had fallen. The recent heavy rain had taken down more debris and the cut off needed clearing again. Two ivy covered trees have come down in the lane, nearly but not quite blocking access. Ian will come with his chainsaw to clear them on the 23rd or 24th.
A female sparrow hawk came down the lane about a foot above the path hoping to surprise foraging birds. It succeeded in surprising me!