1st February 2024
Ten adventurous birders negotiated the narrow lanes of mid and north Devon to meet at the car park at Anstey Gate on Molland Common at 9:30am. The weather was looking good, with plenty of sun and good clear views. A few Red Deer had already been seen close to the car park and a group of about 30 were in one of the grass fields of the farm across the valley. A distant flock of about 50 Golden Plover were seen. Surely this was going to be a great day for the sought after raptors!
However, as there morning progressed, the birding was slow. After searching east of the car park on both sides of the ridge, with nothing more than a few Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Skylark, we headed back to the cars for a coffee stop. A couple of Raven were around and the odd Crow kept popping up just to keep everyone on their toes. Scanning in the distance produced one or two raptors in tree tops, with some debate about identity but eventually settling on Common Buzzard.
We then headed west and explored the southern side of the ridge. Again, not very much happening, although a group of 4 Common Buzzards were circling at some distance and then a Sparrowhawk drifted lazily overhead. A decision was made to go back to the cars and reconvene at White Post, so the group set off back up the hill. At this point, the first unfortunate event occurred; three of our group were progressing more slowly, but were rewarded with views of a Hen Harrier making its way along the valley. The main group were completely unaware of this, and couldn’t hear the frantic cries of the three lucky birders, and so missed out on this special bird.
Over to White Post, and here the action did begin to pick up. Several Golden Plover were spotted on the ground, very difficult to pick out among the brown grass and heather. A Kestrel put in an appearance, and another distant raptor perched in the top of a small tree sparked more identification debate, but again was concluded to be a Common Buzzard. We walked down the lane to Dane’s Brook and then east along the river. Just visible above the brow of the hill were two more raptors perched in a small tree – another Kestrel and a very much appreciated Short-Eared Owl. We approached a bit closer for some fantastic views through binoculars and scopes, with the owl very alert, turning its head almost the full 360 degrees and showing those very yellow eyes. On the return to the cars a flock of 500+ Golden Plovers flew over us. And then the second unfortunate event – the first two back to the cars saw a Red Kite flying away, but it was gone by the time the rest of the group caught up! No Merlin today, despite some initially Merlin-like Kestrels, but six raptor species and perfect weather made for some happy birders.
Full species list (23):
Blackbird, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Fieldfare, Golden Plover, Great Tit, Hen Harrier, Herring Gull, Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Pheasant, Raven, Red Kite, Short-eared Owl, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Stonechat, Woodpigeon.
Report – Tom Misselbrook