15 January, 2012

Dartmoor in Winter

Once upon a time, many years ago, there were letterboxes on Dartmoor. You could find several on any Tor, and on a few you could get a score or more. One of these had a stamp of a beautiful moorland panorama, seamlessly shifting between the four seasons. Its name, The EverMoor.

But that was the far distant past and times were different. The EverMoor and the vast majority of letterboxes are gone, stolen usually, and though you can still find them [now frequently 'geocaches' with GPS instead of clues..] its not quite the same. The Moor has changed as well; more paths and those bigger and more eroded, fewer birds - except corvids, much much more rubbish. So much just lying around - wrappers and bottles and bits of bikes, mostly - I almost always have a thigh pocket-full after a day up there.

Oh, that's depressing. I'm listening to the wrong music - give me a sec....

Right then!
The day dawned sunny and windy - what to do? Too sunny for a good seawatch [at this time of year], too windy for much else and I've been to the Exe this weekend already.. Ok, up on't Moor!

The sun blazed away, low and golden like an August evening, but the wind was proper winter, oh yes. The thermometer said 8° when I got there, but I reckon the windchill was at least 10°, which put things neatly subzero... Plenty of folk out - so much so that parking was an issue. Unusual for January. Eventually squeezing in, I set off for my lunch target - Great Mis Tor. The wind on my starboard quarter gnawed away at the corner of my eye as I yomped up the long climb to the tor I always think of as the Dark Tower. Seriously, its ability to find a cloud and brood menacingly is unparalleled [Great Links Tor isn't bad if you approach along the track from Sourton Tor, mind] and it is bigger and badder than the rest. This isolated mount has a series of outcrops, each of which would be an impressive Tor in its own right. Go up there some time.

After a stop to examine a patch of feathers that used to be a Woodcock [caught out too late/early by a {CENSORED}, by the looks of it], I found a nice spot and plonked down to have lunch, drink coffee, wait and see what showed up. Nowt but the odd corvid. Oh well, that's t'Moor in winter for you.

I wandered back down, well, tried to but the wind had gotten even toothier, so I stopped to put on another silly hat. Much better! Right, on to Unfinished Business from the ascent; I'd twice heard a single distinct call from an area of rough grass [[That'd be 'Dartmoor', then ;) ]] on the way up that sounded horribly like a Richard's Pipit. A big area made more complicated by the wind and all the lumps of granite sticking out of the ground... I gave it a thorough methodical bashing, I can tell you. Just over an hour in [told you I was thorough and methodical!] I finally caught the caller in flight. A [and you'll excuse the language I hope] fucking little bastard mimic of a Starling. Just the one, all on his own. Mangy-feathered split-beaked son of a Cuckoo....


What our Elders and Betters refer to as a learning experience. The Goddess of Birding, once She had finished giggling, then smiled and sent me a flock of Golden Plover; 22 went contouring by, then popped up again as 32 before heading off east. Nice. Very nice.

Onwards I decided to try the valley below Foggintor Quarry, it being a little sheltered. I'd not gone far along the track to Yellowmeade [the Famous Yellow Farmhouse] when something popped up over the hill to my left - shit a ringtail! [[I've just re-read that, and decided not to rephrase. :) Sorry.]] It immediately dropped back down behind the skyline. And didn't come back up. Ok, it either went to ground, went back up into the wind and east, or went down the dead ground towards the valley floor. Hen Harrier on the deck is lost, no way I can catch it heading off over the hill, so onwards quickly! To the big spoil heap I repaired post-haste to scan hopefully for a nice Harrier view. I didn't get it. Drat!

Time passed and the sun westered, so I decided to wend my way. I passed a group of about a dozen Lapwing near Two Bridges [couldn't stop to count precisely, unfortunately] and also ran into the justifiably famous [Dartmoor Birding Group] at a location I will not reveal, waiting for roosting Hen Harriers. I shamelessly pulled up to ask what they were up to, and even more shamelessly didn't stay put to help. I'm a bad birder, I know...

I did stop at my Secret Mandarin Dipping Site [as it shall now be known], where I did indeed dip again. Never mind, eh?

Lovely to be up on't Moor in proper winter [without nasty icy roads, too. Result!] and hey, I didn't even burble on about the wind and the grass and the singing gate. Must be getting old....

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