Friday 20 May 2016

Of Pelicans, Moorlands and Sessile Oaks...

A week after my return from Lesvos, what should turn up in Britain but a fine adult Dalmatian Pelican;  so let’s clear up one little thing before we get started... the one I saw on the island was an immature bird and therefore any suggestions that my hand luggage may have been a tad overweight on the way home are completely unfounded... 

The provenance of this bird is interesting and I suspect that despite the fact that this exact individual was in Poland at the start of April and is generally accepted as being of wild origin there, it will struggle to get beyond category D when the BOURC get their hands on it as there is some ‘cloudiness’ surrounding free flyers from France and Germany.  

A week went by and I had resisted the urge to head to Lands End to chance my luck that this behemoth would flyover us whilst we stood on some high point or other but when the news broke that the even more mind boggling Gwent Lammergeier that was videoed last Thursday near the Severn Bridge had been seen over Dartsmeet in Devon, the game changed and with the Pelican now seemingly a good bet roosting at Drift Reservoir the twitch was now on. 

I managed to blag a lift with James Lowen, Will and Phil and my Dad dropped me off at Waltham Abbey at 0030 on Tuesdays morning as they passed through on their way down from Norwich for the first leg of the journey to Wellington in Somerset where we met up with Rob and transferred from Phil’s little Skoda Fabia to a Subaru of chunky proportions.

A quick Sos Egg McMuffin at Hayle and then through Penzance to Drift where we leapt from the car to clap eyes on an iceberg drifting across the middle of the reservoir.  The Pelican was still here.  The next hour was spent watching it swim to and fro across the water with its recurved coif and intense stern white eyes and delight us with four good fly rounds before settling down for a preen using that frankly ridiculous bill. We even got to see a couple of full open yawns and an inside-out pouch moment which suddenly changed from vibrant orange to dark brown. 

Drift reservoir in the murk
Dalmatian Pelican

With some late news emerging on the Lammergeier from yesterday suggesting that it had been seen again late evening, we started to head back east and save for a short stop at Mounts Bay made good time and were deep in the murk, low cloud and light rain to the north of Princetown in the Postbridge area by about 10am. 

Mount Bay
The visibility was very poor and there was no way that any vulture had been flying round in such conditions.   

Galloping Dartmoor Stallion

North west from Postbridge

Ancient wonky cross

...with amazing lichen and moss growth

The weather slowly improved and the next seven hours were spent scouring the Tors, ridges and valleys of Dartmoor for and huge dark gliding shape but to no avail although we did see numerous Buzzards, Ravens and a tatty Red Kite and encountered dumming Snipe, Wheatears and countless Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.

As the weather improved the views became expansive but if the bird was still in the area then it was undoubtedly in the vast MoD area to the north-west as every Tor we looked at had human occupants by lunchtime. 

From Haytor

There were plenty of small birds to absorb while scanning including bubbling Garden Warblers, Bullfinches and Siskins, two singing male Redstarts and the usual assortment of woodland species while there were plenty of plants in flower and the verges and Devon Banks were covered in Violets, Wood Sorrel, Bluebells and Stichwort.

Wood Sorrel


Penny Wort


New Bracken fronds

Marsh Marigold

Common Lousewort

By 3.30 we were all flagging and so a visit to the nearby Yarner Woods was required to sooth squinting eyes and add a little bit of magic to the day. We only walked about 100m from the car park but in that area we found several singing Pied Flycatchers (in varying degrees of piedness!), Spotted Flycatcher, trilling Wood Warbler high in the Oak canopy, ‘tsicking’ Hawfinches, Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, butterfly flighting Siskins, a male Redstart and two resplendent male Mandarins.


Pied Flycatcher

My favourite in the shape of an amorous male Grey Wagtail who was giving it his all to woo his mate with whirring display flight, contorted posturing and a delightful song that always reminds me of clear fast running water.

Displaying Grey Wagtail - still my favourite bird

Wild Strawberry

Mesembrina meridiana

Feeling revitalised (at least for a while) we headed back up to Haytor for a final hour in the sunshine before calling it a day and heading for home.

Not as warm as it looked...

A final look from Haytor

Was this day a frivolous waste of time, money and effort? Not at all. I have not been part of a long, over night twitch in some time and although no sleep and plenty of car time is always tough, it is the thrill of expectation, hope and chance coupled with good likeminded company and the desire to make the most of the day that make it memorable. 

And who knows perhaps we shall get another pop at the mighty vulture from the Alps?

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