Mid-Devon Branch visit to Dunnabridge, Dartmoor, 5th June 2024

There was just a small group of 6 of us, ably led by Hellen Allin, to explore this part of Dartmoor, walking down as far as the DWT Bellever Farm reserve. The weather was dry and bright, but a cold northerly breeze was blowing and this was keeping birds very low in the moorland vegetation (presumably as that was where the insects were hiding!). The common moorland culprits of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Stonechat were all in evidence, and there was a large number of Herring Gulls in a field across the valley and continually flying past. We waited by the first wall in a spot where Grasshopper Warbler had been seen a few days previously, but apart from a couple of possible glimpses and being heard by one or two of the group they were not performing for us today! As we moved on, we did see a few Whitethroats, a lot of Willow Warblers and heard a couple of distant Cuckoo. A possible Dartford Warbler was also glimpsed, but again was keeping frustratingly hidden.

We moved into the woodland and down the track to the DWT reserve, where we picked up Siskin, Bullfinch, Blackcap and some Swallows as the sun began to bring some of the insects out. A Great Tit was doing a good impression of a flycatcher from high up in a tree, but neither Redstart, Pied or Spotted Flycatcher were to be seen today. So we stopped for a coffee in this very tranquil spot and then returned up the track back to the open moorland.

It was here that things suddenly started to get very exciting! As we were scanning the heather and gorse again for the hoped-for Grasshopper Warblers, a ‘not quite right’ Buzzard glided past us, very low to the ground and then perched on a fencepost not to far away. It was definitely not a Buzzard and we immediately began to work our way through potential raptors – Hen Harrier and Goshawk were soon ruled out and Honey Buzzard quickly became the favourite. We had great views through binoculars and the one telescope among us. The smallish head was very evident and at times the bird did look a bit like a very large Cuckoo. A very yellow eye, darkly barred chest and flanks, with no pale crescent as is normally obvious on a Buzzard, and barring on the tail; all looking good for female Honey Buzzard. As the bird flew on again, the drooped wings as it glided were diagnostic. It then circled very high and drifted off to the SE. Presumably a migrant bird, as a breeding female would be on the nest at this time of year. This was a first for nearly all (if not all) of the group! And such great views!

Adult female Honey Buzzard

Almost rivalling this, but not quite because of the rarity of the Honey Buzzard, were some stunning views of a Lesser Redpoll as we were almost back to the car park. The bird was feeding on the ground about 10 feet from us, and then perched up on a gorse bush even closer! Appreciating the beauty of this bird from such close range was a real bonus – the intricate face pattern, red ‘poll’ and yellow lower mandible combining beautifully!

Total birds seen/heard at this site was 34 (not including the Grasshopper Warbler and Dartford Warbler seen/heard by only some of the group):
Blackbird, Blackcap, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Cuckoo, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Herring Gull, Honey Buzzard, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Robin, Rook, Siskin, Skylark, Song Thrush, Stonechat, Swallow, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Following the excitement of Dunnabridge, most of the group then went on to Venford Reservoir and the woods along Venford Brook. Here we had Swallows and House Martins as we ate our picnic lunch in the car park. Herring Gulls seemed to be the only birds on the water, so we continued on into the woodland. A Jay flew up from the ground with something in its beak, being harassed by a couple of Willow Warblers. It had evidently taken a fledgling Willow Warbler, which it then proceeded to pluck in front of us – very Springwatch! In the woodland along the river we picked up the hoped-for Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, and on the way back had Tree Pipit, Yellowhammer, Sparrowhawk and Crossbill by the car park.

Total number of species seen/heard at this site was 25:

Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Chaffinch, Crossbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Herring Gull, House Martin, Jay, Meadow Pipit, Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Redstart, Robin, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Swallow, Treecreeper, Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, Wren, Yellowhammer

Report by Tom Misselbrook