About 40 years ago I visited Arne RSPB reserve in the hope of seeing a Dartford Warbler, but failed in spite of being with the warden, who had never walked round the reserve before without seeing a Dartford. On about five subsequent visits to Dorset and Hampshire I also failed to see my target. Over the last week we had a holiday in Devon and had Aylesbeare Common on our list to visit.
Our first visit resulted in hearing at least two Dartford Warblers singing; but no sighting. I’ve two birds on my list that are heard only – Marsh Warbler and Thrush Nightingale, both in Sweden. I hoped that I would not be adding another ‘heard only’.
That same evening we returned to listen for Nightjars and were successful; heard but no sighting, but I was satisfied with the ‘reunion’ after many years.
On Thursday we set off earlier in the day and eventually I saw my first Dartford. Only for about five seconds; at a distance and against the light; but singing and showing its long tail. We heard it (or another) singing, but just the one view. I will be hoping for a trip to Dorset next year for a better view. Having seen one I am confident of finding others now I know what to listen for and where to look.
We heard Wood Warblers in Fingle Wood, but the best bird site we visited was Lydford Gorge, a National Trust property, where we had good views of a male Pied Flycatcher in full song, a Great Spotted Woodpecker trying to raid a Blue Tit nesting box and Grey Wagtails feeding young. A very good site for botanists.
The next time we visit Devon I have Yarner Wood on the list; described by a local bird watcher as the best bird wood in Devon. Ideally a visit a few weeks earlier would pick up more birds establishing territory and singing – but we camp and nights are still quite cold in late May.