Yesterday I visited Dartmoor National Park, one of the largest in southern Britain. There was an abundance of butterflies and birds, including some endangered species. I visited the river Dart and the surrounding area, including a tor. I was shown the area by a local guide, who knew where the interesting sights were, it would have been easy to walk straight past many of the best spots.
On arrival there was a family of Dartmoor Ponies in the carpark, most Dartmoor ponies are don’t have pure genes, unlike the more famous Exmoor pony. From the car park, we walked up to one of the smaller tors, there were a few Stonechats and Yellowhammers on the way up. At the top of the hill, there was a pile of stones and a good view.
On the way down the hill, flowering Gorse was everywhere and attracted a range of smaller moths. The day was getting hotter and the it was becoming more and more likely that a fritillary would be out flying. However the next butterfly we came across was even harder to see, a purple hairstreak. It would have been ever so easy to miss, not a rare species, but very hard to see perched so close to the ground.
Next, we moved down into the valley, towards the river. There was a common lizard basking in the mid-day heat, but it quickly disappeared into the forest of bracken. Further down we saw a fritillary fly past and lots of moorland butterflies as well. Even lower down, there was a rare High Brown Fritillary enjoying the heat and it darted around the bracken for a short while before flying off.
On the banks of the River Dart, we had a break, there had already been quite some walking. A Dipper could be seen plunging in and out of the water, searching for food. Dipper walk along the bed of the river, using the force of the current on their backs to stay submerged. The image below shows the dipper standing on a rock, some distance away. This was the highlight of the whole trip for sure, the way it just went in and out of the water was intriguing to say the least.
After watching the Dipper for a while, we walked upstream and watched a grey wagtail walking along the other side of the river. The striking black bib, showed it was an adult male in breeding plumage. There was also a few silver-washed fritillaries flying high up in the trees, which were also interesting.
On the other side of the river Dart, I had lunch and took some scenic photos of the sun shining through the water. After lunch, the tour guide took me to a spot to see quite a rare bird, the Spotted flycatcher. After waiting a few minutes it landed on one of the nearby trees and waited for prey. The Spotted flycatcher has declined as a migratory birds because of insect declines, even in nature reserves, it’s now an uncommon sight.
Nearby on a log, was evidence of a Hawk kill, a spread of feathers that had complete tips. If it had been killed by a fox, the tips would have been damaged or missing, while a hawks pulls them out whole. In much of the country this would be deemed a Sparrowhawk kill, but here on the Dartmoor, there are also larger Goshawks.
When walking back along the far side of the river, a common frog was hiding in the shelter of some plants. It proved to be a good time to practice using the flash modes on my camera. It was also interesting because I don’t often see frogs, usually only toads. It really shows that Dartmoor has a great abundance in wildlife.
Finally we headed back to the car park and heard a Spotted flycatcher on the way. Further up there were some silver-washed fritillaries and even a high brown fritillary. Overall it was a very interesting tour and well worth the trip.