26 Apr
2013
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Springtime on the moor

On Dartmoor, the birds are singing. Meadow Pipits burst into the sky, pouring their hearts out, then parachute down to the ground again, whilst Skylarks belt out endless arias and Yellowhammers, perched in bare thorn bushes, chant ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’.

I hold Izzy’s hand as we climb the hill, aware that this is Adder country and that it is sunbathing weather for snakes today. We pass through a patch of fire-damaged Gorse and lifeless Bracken, before reaching a stone circle and several cairns. This place is steeped in mystery and according to legend, Mardon Down is the place where a giant called Maximajor lived, died, was buried, rose from the dead and was turned into stone.

At the summit, the bird song gives way to the roar of the wind. From this peaceful spot, the view is panoramic. We gaze down on villages with white-painted houses, tractors ploughing, smoke drifting from a conifer plantation, brown cows in a pasture, and hill after hill of tor-sprinkled moorland.

We start to descend and I hear a strange whirring sound. It is insect-like, but almost certainly a bird. I retrace my steps, trying to pinpoint it, but it moves, as though thrown by a ventriloquist. It is coming from the low scrub, but the source is impossible to see. I try to persuade Izzy to follow me, but she is enthralled by my camera, saying “Cheese” and pointing the lens at the ground. The noise, I come to realise, is the song of a Grasshopper Warbler.  I’ve only heard this summer migrant a handful of times before and I stand still, listening intently to it. Then, I realise that I am being watched. Only the Red Deer hind’s head is visible above the Gorse. It flicks its ears and studies me. We stare at each other for a while, before the head is lowered slowly back into the undergrowth, hiding the animal completely. It is the first time I have seen a Red Deer on Dartmoor and I am thrilled. Izzy, scrolling through photos of herself, has missed it entirely. A little further on though, we find something that interests her even more than the camera – a Dor Beetle.

Checklist

  • Meadow Pipit
  • Raven
  • Red Deer
  • Skylark
  • Yellowhammer

Practicalities

We visited Mardon Down on Dartmoor, parking in a pull-in and wandering along various footpaths and bridlepaths (not suitable for buggies). You are very unlikely to see an Adder and seeing one is no cause of alarm, but if you do, please remember that they are venomous and should not be handled or provoked in any way.

Other places to visit the open moor in spring


 

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