WARNING - This post is a long one!
My wife (Lindsay) and I had a 7-night break in mid-March, staying in a self-catering property on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. The property, 'Owls Brook', was in a wonderful location, adjacent to the owners' house, 'Batts Brook'. The owners have Barn Owls which nest in the eaves of their house, but were not present whilst we were there. The only owl heard was a Tawny - none were seen during our stay. The grounds of Batts Brook were extensive and, in one part, they kept four delightful Alpacas.
The following will be an account of our stay, and will not entirely concern itself with wildlife.
Friday 17th March
Here's a photo of Owls Brook, taken from in front of the owners' house. You can see that it's in the roof-space of the property's detached garage. You may gather from the roof angle that it's an interesting shape inside!
|Owls Brook - on 17th March, 2017|
Whilst I was standing in this spot, I couldn't resist taking a shot of the owners' magnificent stained-glass window!
|Stained-glass window - Batts Brook on 17th March, 2017|
We had the ability to wander in the grounds, and here's a shot of three of the four Alpacas. Sadly, I omitted to get a decent capture of the fourth Alpaca, which was the most spectacular in appearance.
|Alpacas - Batts Brook on 17th March, 2017|
That night we dined just up the road in Doddiscombsleigh, at the famed Nobody Inn. This was an excellent place for dinner, and a real treat for the Malt Whisky lover as they must have had literally hundreds to choose from. I treated myself to a Highland Park 18 - the last time I was able to find this was around 15 years ago in Davos, Switzerland. To find out more about the fascinating village of Doddiscombsleigh, try Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doddiscombsleigh.
Saturday 18th March
Neither Lindsay nor I had a good night, as we'd not managed to get the pillow combination right - we're both rather sensitive to such things. Although we'd had fine weather the evening of our arrival, the forecast was anything but good for the rest of the week. We didn't have a very early start, mainly due to the bad night, but it was a real treat to open the Velux window blind to find a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the tree just outside the window.
I went out onto the small veranda, outside the door into the property and took a few photos of our surroundings. The hard-pruned tree in the fist image is the one that the woodpecker was in.
|Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (male) - Batts Brook on 18th March, 2017|
Being strangers to this immediate area we decided that, after breakfast, we would try and get the lie of the land, and head into the nearest centre of civilisation - Bovey Tracey. This turned out to be a delightful little town, with a lot to offer. It seemed that every other shop was a charity shop, and with some very worthwhile items on offer at great prices. The main attraction was the Devon Guild of Craftsmen gallery which was totally splendid - I could have spent a small fortune here!
|Views from Owls Brook on 18th March, 2017|
Also going on that day in Bovey Tracey was a small local produce market, with some very attractive foodstuffs on display. Lindsay and I couldn't resist, and bought enough pasties, cakes, etc. for generous picnics for at least two days! It seemed sensible, therefore, to head back to Owls Brook to put some of this stuff in the refrigerator for another day. We sat out on the stoep for a picnic lunch, as the weather had brightened up, and I took a few shots of a Marsh Tit which was visiting the feeder about 7 metres away.
As we were on the edge of Dartmoor, it seemed appropriate that we had a trundle round on the moor that afternoon. Sadly, the weather deteriorated soon after we departed, and became cold and windy, and somewhat misty too.
|Marsh Tit (Poecile alustris) - Owls Brook on 18th March, 2017|
Our first stop was at the roadside, just before we reached Haytor. This was our first sighting of Dartmoor ponies.
We stopped to use the facilities at the Haytor Visitor Centre, visited the exhibition there, and gleaned some very useful information from the helpful lady manning the desk. I took a photo of a misty Haytor with a few hardy souls making their way up to the tor itself.
|Dartmoor Pony - near Haytor on 18th March, 2017|
We then departed, but not before we'd enjoyed a delicious locally-made ice cream. Those of you who read my blog from time to time may remember that Lindsay and I, whilst away on holiday, make a point of finding a good ice cream each day!
|Haytor - on 18th March, 2017|
Our next destination was the Soussons Stone Circle. Lindsay has a thing about stone circles, and this Iron Age circle had been recommended to us by the lady at the visitor centre. We arrived in torrential rain, but it eventually let up and we got out to have a quick look.
The weather didn't improve, so we spent most of the rest of the afternoon driving round, before returning to Owls Brook. Once back, I spent a little time using the car as a hide trying to photograph birds coming to the feeder (something I spent time doing on most days I was there). The light was bad at that time, however.
|Soussons Stone Circle - on 18th March, 2017|
That night we had another excellent dinner at The Nobody Inn.
Sunday 19th March
I had a short session in the 'car hide' before breakfast, and here are a few from that session.
|Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - Owls Brook on 18th March, 2017|
|Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Owls Brook on 19th March, 2017|
|Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) - Owls Brook on 19th March, 2017|
There had been reports of a couple of Cattle Egrets near the church at Powderham and, as I had not seen one for a few years, we headed off in that direction. As we arrived near the church, Lindsay spotted some 'large white birds' in a field. I parked up and went to have a look. The first bird I found was an egret with its head down, looking a little the worse for wear (shown in the first image, below). It didn't look quite right, and then I twigged that it was probably a Little Egret. I have only ever seen Little Egret at the water's edge. Further on I found two more egrets and, to my dismay, they too were certainly Little Egrets, although the pale-looking bill on one (presumably juvenile) nearly fooled me.
|Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Owls Brook on 19th March, 2017|
I started to make my way back to the car, and the ever-patient Lindsay, when I noticed a flash of white in a field with some sheep in. Eventually two Cattle Egrets showed themselves although, I see from Google Earth, they were 150 metres away. Sadly they didn't fully emerge and I gave up when they disappeared back into the crop that the sheep were feeding on.
|Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - near Powderham Church on 19th March, 2017|
It was time to get moving again, but we stopped at Starcross, where a boat jumble was taking place. I bought an excellent head torch, and Lindsay bought some items from the Lifeboat stand to take home as gifts.
|Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - near Powderham Church on 19th March, 2017|
The next stop was in Dawlish, where we had a wander around. We started by walking through the park that runs beside Dawlish Water. The park is well known for its Black Swans , but I didn't know that there were other interesting birds here. I hasten to add that these are not wild birds and, presumably, have been pinioned. Some of you might know that I love images with moving water - hence the first image, below! The sun made one of its rare appearances after I'd taken that first image.
I hadn't realised until this occasion that Black Swans had that fabulous white on their wings.
Other than the Black Swans, there were two other species which I photographed. The first I believe to be African Goose which is not, strictly speaking, a species but is a breed of domestic goose which might (contrary to its name) have originated in China.
|Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) - Dawlish, on 19th March, 2017|
The drake Wood Duck is right up there with most spectacular of ducks, and there was one here.
|African Goose - Dawlish, on 19th March, 2017|
To stave off the pangs of hunger, we had our daily ice cream and then visited a couple of charity shops - serendipity - in one charity shop I found a painted carving of a Wood Duck! It's not particularly accurate, but it sits nicely on my bookcase now.
Lunch time had loomed, and we'd planned to eat out this day, and have our picnic in the evening. However, Dawlish seemed to have little to offer other than pizza, burgers, and fish & chips, so we decided to look for somewhere out of town. We stopped at the nicely positioned Smugglers Inn. It was very busy, but the service was good, the food arrived quickly, and the whole experience was very enjoyable.
Lindsay kindly agreed on a return visit to Powderham after lunch. This time the Cattle Egrets were out in the open, although no nearer. They were in company with two Little Egrets, one of which is between the two Cattle Egrets in the next image. These were all taken at around 150 metres!
|Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) - Dawlish , on 19th March, 2017|
We stopped off at Owls Brook to sort out a map, and I spent ten minutes photographing the birds.
|Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) - near Powderham Church on 19th March, 2017|
We then set off for Steps Bridge Nature Reserve. I was hoping to find Dipper and/or Kingfisher. Lindsay accompanied me for a little while for a walk alongside the River Teign, but gave up when she found a convenient seat to sit on, but not before she pointed out the Wood Anemones.
|Marsh Tit (Poecile alustris) - Owls Brook on 19th March, 2017|
I continued for a while and came upon a pair of Goosander making their way upstream. Although this pair were very confiding, photographic conditions were dire. It was very dull weather again, and the river was running between densely wooded banks. Although the photos were not good, this was a highlight of the holiday, so I'll include a few images. In the first one of the female bird, it strikes me that it appears that the image has been stretched - I assure you that it hasn't!
|Wood Anemone (Anemone nemerosa) - Steps Bridge NR, on 19th March, 2017|
|Goosander (Mergus merganser) - Steps Bridge NR, on 19th March, 2017|
|Goosander (Mergus merganser) (male) - Steps Bridge NR, on 19th March, 2017|
We had a third visit to The Nobody Inn for dinner that night, although we only ate lightly!
|Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - Steps Bridge NR, on 19th March, 2017|
Monday 20th March
I had my usual early morning session in the 'car hide' at Owls Brook, but it was dull and grey, so nothing special resulted.
The weather forecast was a bit grim and so we looked for an indoor entertainment. We chose to go to The House of Marbles, just outside Bovey Tracey. This turned out to be a very good choice. The place, which is free to visit, is a museum to the glass marble industry, and has some wonderful exhibits, including several intricate 'marble runs'. There is also a glass making factory, a large and interesting shopping area, and an excellent cafe which seems to be a major attraction as a lunch venue for 'the locals'. To get a feel for this place, please follow this youtube link (although I'm not sure about the marble bath at the end!) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtAVN7r6Zrc - Lindsay and I had a good, and very reasonable priced, light lunch here at the end of our visit.
As the rain had stopped, we set off for another place that Lindsay wished to visit, and that was the Bronze Age stone rows, cists, and cairns of Merrivale in the south-west of Dartmoor. We arrived at the car park and found water flowing everywhere. We picked our way across the start of the walk to the stones, but I was soon distracted by a pair of Wheatear. The distraction was compounded by a number of Meadow Pipits that were by the runnels of water, and on the rocks. I left Lindsay to find her own way to the stone rows whilst I tried to photograph the birds. Sadly, the Wheatear disappeared before I got any decent images, but I did manage a few reasonable ones of Meadow Pipit. I'm not sure but I think the Wheatear may be a female of the Greenland race. It also strikes me that this may be quite early for a female Wheatear.
|Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - Owls Brook, on 20th March, 2017|
|Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) (female) - Merrivale, 0n 20th March, 2017|
The weather started coming in again, and Lindsay made her way back to me without having seen much - I felt quite guilty, but she seemed happy enough.
|Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - Merrivale, on 20th March, 2017|
We set off again in the rain, heading approximately north-east. The sun was out again by the time we reached Postbridge, and so we parked and walked down to view the famous clapper bridge here.
We made a few other stops, primarily to admire the scenery. This Rook was by the area that we stopped in on Shapley Common. Its sheen was splendid in the sunlight.
|Clapper bridge - Postbridge, on 20th March, 2017|
That evening we warmed up the oven, and heated up some of the produce that we'd
bought in Bovey Tracey on the Saturday. In spite of being in a
self-catering property, this was the nearest we got to cooking all
Tuesday 21st March
We woke up to rain, so what better day is there to visit the beach! We headed for Shaldon, on the other side of the Teign Estuary to Teignmouth. Parking in the large, but empty, car park nearest the headland, we noticed the Ode Cafe at the edge of the car park, and went to investigate - any time is a good time for a cup of tea as far as Lindsay is concerned. It turns out that this place has won all sorts of awards and accolades for its ecologically sustainable approach to catering.
We had one of the best ice creams I had ever tasted (we'd not been able to find one the previous day!), before we headed off to the beach. This took us through 'Smugglers Tunnel'. Our timing was way out - we got to the beach to find that it was approaching high tide, and there was very little left that we could walk on, and our intention to walk round the headland had probably become an impossibility a couple of hours previously!
We returned up through the tunnel and sat on some seats overlooking Teignmouth awaiting the 12h00 lunch opening of Ode Cafe. A dredger was busy clearing the channel into the harbour, and the local Pilot seemed to be engaged on some sort of exercise.
|Rook (Corvus frugilegus) - Shapley Common, on 20th March, 2017|
Lunch at Ode Cafe was excellent and, as we'd missed out on ice cream the previous day, it seemed wholly appropriate that we had a second one this day!
|Dredger 'Mannin' - from Shaldon, on 21st March, 2017|
We returned early to Owls Brook, stopping off in one or two places to look around. At one of these stops I photographed a rainbow, but I can't remember where!
A late afternoon session in the 'car hide' at Owls Brook didn't produce any results I want to show here.
|Rainbow - on 21st March, 2017|
That night we followed a recommendation to dine at The Teign House Inn, just a few miles from our base. The small group of youths playing the fool outside, who looked too young to be smoking, let alone drinking, didn't inspire confidence that our car would be intact when we returned to it. The service was friendly enough, but we were both disappointed with our meals. I had ordered hangar steak, although I was not familiar with this cut. What I had was so tough that several minutes of chewing at a mouthful still resulted in it being in one piece and had to be swallowed whole. I didn't complain as I was unfamiliar with the cut. However, now having read about it, I find that this is a far from tender cut, but needs careful cooking for it to be edible - it had clearly not had this care taken! Fortunately our car had remained unscathed.
Wednesday 22nd March
Today we'd arranged to meet up with friends Lynne and Roger, who had returned from a week on The Scillies on the Monday. They live in North Devon, so we'd agreed to meet in the middle, in Okehampton. As we had settled on a time of 11h00 to meet, we had a reasonable gentle start to the day.
Before we set off, I had yet another session in the 'car hide', so here's a couple from then.
|Marsh Tit (Poecile alustris) - Owls Brook on 22nd March, 2017|
Having had a wander round Okehampton with Lynne and Roger, and visited all the charity shops(!), we all went to The Dovecote Tearoom and Bar, in Red Lion Square, for a light lunch and a chat. The food was excellent and extremely reasonably priced.
Roger and Lynne had to leave quite early as they had to be back in time to pick up their grandson from school, so we said our goodbyes at around 13h30. Lindsay and I popped back to get some shopping in Waitrose and then returned to The Dovecote as we'd seen they had super-looking ice creams.
|Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - Owls Brook on 22nd March, 2017|
I'd noticed that Meldon Quarry, a place that is known to many railway enthusiasts, but now defunct, was close to Okehampton. It is famous for its viaduct. We drove there and parked near to the dam that holds back the waters of Meldon Reservoir. A walk over the dam gave us splendid views.
The weather was turning out to be the best, by far, we'd had all holiday, and we did a bit of a cruise along the B2312, making the odd diversion. One of these diversions took us into the hamlet of Jurston. Soon after we left we passed over a bridge above the River Bovey. Lindsay called out 'stop!' - she'd seen a Dipper in the river, close to the bridge. I reversed up to a place where we could park and went to have a look, but the Dipper had gone. As the river bank looked interesting, I took a walk.
|Meldon Viaduct from Meldon Reservoir Dam, on 22nd March, 2017|
No Dipper was seen on my walk, but I made a mental note to return here (preferably the next day!) as it was utterly beautiful. I went back to the car to tell Lindsay of my return, but then took a short stroll back to the bridge - two Dippers flashed out from under the bridge and disappeared downstream.
From here we had a relaxed run towards Owls Brook. At one place we stopped so I could photograph Hound Tor in the distance.
|River Bovey, near Jurston, on 22nd March, 2017|
Further on, we stopped near Saddle Tor. The views from the car park area here were wonderful.
|Hound Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
|Saddle Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
|View to the west of Saddle Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
However, of more interest to me were the birds here, particularly the Stonechats, which are one of my favourite birds.
|Teign Estuary from by Saddle Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
|Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (female) - by Saddle Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
That night we were back at The Nobody Inn for another excellent dinner.
Thursday 23rd March
This was to be our last day, as we had to depart homeward before 10h00 on the Friday. We'd got several places we wanted to return to this day and one destination that we'd missed out on earlier in the week. Sadly, however, we woke up to an awful weather forecast of cold, wet, and windy all day.
I managed an early morning stint in the 'car hide' but the dull weather and rain didn't make for good results.
|Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) (male) - by Saddle Tor, on 22nd March, 2017|
The place that we'd missed out on earlier in the week was Labrador Bay. This was a place that I was aware of, and was the only place that I'd previously seen Cirl Bunting. On that occasion, in 2010, I saw only one female. Somehow, when we'd been to Shaldon on the Tuesday, I'd missed the fact that we were only five minutes from Labrador Bay. In spite of the weather, we set off for there, arriving in the car park at around 10h00, with the rain hissing down.
We sat there patiently for over half an hour and were eventually rewarded with a break in the rain. I quickly set off for the nearby place where I had seen the bird in 2010. I was rewarded with the immediate sighting of a male Cirl Bunting, singing its heart out.
|Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - Owls Brook on 23rd March, 2017|
I made a stealthy approach along the footpath, and found that there were at least three birds here. Sadly, they stayed surrounded by brambles. Here are a few more images from the session.
|Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) (male) - Labrador Bay on 23rd March, 2017|
A walker with a couple of dogs disturbed the birds and they were gone. I went off to give them time to return, but then it started raining again, so I departed and rejoined Lindsay in the car. We hung around for a while, just in case the weather improved again, but then gave up and headed for Shaldon, and Cafe Ode for lunch - and, of course, an ice cream!
|Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) (male) - Labrador Bay on 23rd March, 2017|
After this, there was precious little to do other than drive around in the rain. A stop near Saddle Tor resulted in an image that might convey the bleak situation.
As we approached Bovey Tracey, the rain stopped again, and I had the idea of visiting Parke. This is a National Trust property with walks by the River Bovey. Lindsay (wisely, in hindsight!) opted to stay in the car and sleep.
|near Saddle Tor, on 23rd March, 2017|
Although the National Trust Brochure for this place shows three trails and claims that these are all waymarked, I found the signage to be appalling! A sign by the cafe indicated that the walking trails were down some steps in a corner. Descending the steps brought one into a courtyard with several doors. I went in the direction I thought I should, and ended up in the toilets. I then found the only other way out of the courtyard, and this took me to a path which led down to a gravel track, with no indication as to where the trails were or whether one should turn left or right.
Consulting the map, I managed to deduce that I should turn left. I carried on for a good ten minutes, only being able to discern that I had not lost my way by arriving at a bridge over the river. Here there was a way marker. This was the only one that I saw for the next half hour, despite having passed two trail divergences.
Shortly after leaving that first marker, the heavens opened, and I took refuge under a tree - I should have turned back at this point! After it stopped, however, I carried on and my determination was raised on two occasions by people saying that they'd seen Kingfisher here 'a couple of days ago'. The area by the weir looked as if it might be a good place for Kingfisher, but none was seen. After a while I continued - and then it started sleeting. I wasn't surprised by this as we'd had temperatures of 4 degrees for much of the afternoon (and down to 3 degrees at one point). It was time to start heading back. I got as far as the weir when the torrential rain started. Stupidly, I'd not brought a bag to put my camera in, so I took off my coat to wrap round the camera. I tried sheltering under a tree, but this time it made no difference. Eventually the final insult was dealt when a hail storm started, with hailstones bouncing off my bald pate.
Eventually, I made it back to the car, where I found Lindsay sleeping like a baby, totally unaware of the weather! I'd attempted a couple of frames of Grey Wagtail that I'd seen, but they were a total failure. All in all, it was a waste of time energy, and comfort.
That night we returned to The Nobody Inn for a farewell dinner.
Friday 24th March
The start to the day was a bit damp and misty and we were, therefore, not too sad to be leaving. In spite of some of the worst weather we've ever had on holiday, we'd had a splendid time.
We were ready to leave by 09h00 and so we left. The journey home was uneventful, and we were home in time for a late lunch, arriving in bright sunshine.
In conclusion, this was an area that we'd love to return to sometime. The scenery was wonderful and, in better weather or at a different time of year, the wildlife would be very worthwhile. Owls Brook, however, might not see us again. The location was wonderful and the owners, John and Teresa, were a real pleasure. Owls Brook itself was very clean and tidy, but Lindsay found it too cramped for her liking. I can understand where she's coming from, and suspect her attitude might be different if the weather had been better so that we could sit out, and the evenings a little longer. I might, however, return here 'solo' sometime as it would make a great base for some serious wildlife watching.
If you managed to work your way through all this post, thank you - you deserve a medal!
Thank you for dropping by. The next post will be shorter - I promise!