Moor to Coast

A Dartington Stretch

01/08/2011 - 17:04

The river flows low and The Lady (our Border Collie) decides it's time to dip her pads and wet her snout.  Two kingfishers shoot past: bold flashes of brilliant blue, evidently not taking kindly to the intrusion.  This is clearly their patch.  Somewhere, away from prying eyes, they probably have a hole in the bank they call home.  There isn't even time for Sherry to turn the camera on, let alone take a picture of the fleeting spectacle that's there and gone before our eyes.


I've seen and heard kingfishers on this stretch of the Dart many times before.  Occasionally, the briefest of glimpse is announced by their short, sharp, shrill call.  When you hear it, it commands silence, and you always stop what you're doing instantly, whatever that might be.  Today, we opt not to linger but to leave them in peace, and proceed along our merry way. 


Another busy week has ended and we're back walking along riverbank paths.  It seems the ideal way to relax and wind down, perhaps made even more appropriate because I'm currently reading The Wind in the Willows, a book I'm ashamed to say that has passed me by until now, a book which seems apt to read at this time of year (or any other, come to think of it); a book which courtesy of Kenneth Grahame's storytelling (and, in my edition sumptuous illustrations by Charles van Sandwyk), causes the reader at a moment's notice to be swept away into the riverside world and the lives of its inhabitants.  So it's a different week; a different river to follow.  Every watercourse has its own array of personalities and the Dart's in these parts, all concur to take their time.  The river seems in no hurry to reach its destination, just as we choose to loiter in our search for different species along its banks.


While Sherry is being the photographer, I try on the poet's cap to see if it fits, listening to the rustling of the leaves and the orchestra of drones tuning up amongst them, before the piercing cry of a young buzzard (high up and hungry in a nest, somewhere out of sight) breaks my concentration.  My eyes go to the quiet places, browsing among the bracken margins, to my own footfall through the dewy grass, cleaning my boots with every softly scuffing step.  It's an overcast Sunday morning in July, promising nothing either way until everything is still and lies in wait.  Everywhere goes dark, and after what seems like an eternity of silence, the odd spot of drizzle teases the leaves with a tender caress.  But then the darkening mass disperses and normal service resumes.


There's plenty to see along this stretch of the river.  The wooden sculptures along the bank, for example, were definitely not here the last time we passed by.  Their emphasis is quite rightly on the natural and organic processes.  They have been crafted by local students and over time will no doubt lose their shiny, polished patinas and be subjected to the same processes as the trees above them.  Incidentally, a fortnight or so before our visit, one of these works was struck by an unusual act of vandalism.  It is thought the culprit in this case was of the bovine variety.  It is presumed a cow got a bit over-enthusiastic in scratching his or her back and inadvertently detached one of the wooden panels.  Unfortunately, the cows have been moved from the riverside pasture as a result.


We don't see any cows during our walk but further along the path, imperceptibly upstream, it's a good day for seeing snails taking refuge in the cool greenery.  All the butterflies have a penchant for displaying their wings vertically and we seek out micro moths (and find one, too!) camouflaged in the lush grasses.







Agriphila tristella



After due consideration, I can state with reasonable confidence that the above micro moth is the species given, although as usual I wouldn't want to say for definite.  The longitudinal stripe running down the middle was probably not really green at all but a reflection from all the green grasses around it.


At the end of the meadow, we ascend into a wood and follow a path, then take a forked track back up the hill, into North Wood proper.  We have seen deer here before but they are absent today.  After scanning the riverside in vain and finding only the odd tiny damselfly daintily perching on leaves, we had almost given up on dragonflies.  Suddenly (and interestingly the furthest we had been all morning from water) an Emperor raced past us, zoomed and zigzagged over our heads into the trees and did several more circuits.  The camera's auto focus was no match (it's no secret that Pentax lags a bit behind some other manufacturers in this regard.)  Sherry took a few through the viewfinder, hoping for pot luck but eventually gave up.  She was no match for the Emperor (who, as well as patrolling his territory, might have been showing off a little by this point).  


Further up the path, we did find something else, something that was undeniably distinctive.







Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes)



The armoured shell impressed us, as we looped back around the wood on another path, counting our blessings (and species) for another great day out in the field.



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