The old shepherd’s glassy eyes, reddened by years of wood-smoke and hound howls, narrowed over his pewter beer tankard as the rain sluiced down the windows of the Baskerville Arms…you could hear a hinge creak at 400 paces.
“When you’re out on the moors, just stay on the road and you should be alright, the beast doesn’t like the roads…just stay on the roads.”
Okay, that bit didn’t happen, but then the mist was lower than a snake’s belly out on Dartmoor, with constant rain and no bird gen for 24 hours – we realised this twitch was gonna be tough enough without ghostly hounds…
Neill and Trops pulled up at 4.30am today outside Dempsey Towers, and we all knew the odds were a tad on the long side.
Thing is, when a Lammergeier is floating around the West Country, even if it is only being seen occasionally, you gotta have a punt.
A detour via Wiltshire and Cotswold Water Park bolstered spirits with singing Cuckoo and Garden Warbler (top pic), Common Terns, and wild as mild as milk Red Crested Pochards, the latter best seen and then moved away from as quickly as possible.
Best of all we had brief, but glorious views of the gorgeous female Red Footed Falcon that has been lingering at the site this week as she slipped out of the trees on the path in front of us, flashing her barred slaty upperparts and orangey buff undercrackers before disappearing behind a line of willows as the lunatic blasts of Cetti’s Warbler song dominated the morning chorus.
From there we headed south west and spent the rest of the day quartering the landscape between Holdsworthy, Tavistock, Okehampton and Exeter, hoping against hope that the Lammergeier of fate would break the skyline – what was visible of it anyway.
The day was hugely entertaining as ever, but conditions were dire – visibility was rarely better than zero and once we got up onto Dartmoor proper, things got really bad.
It was like the school geography field trip from hell… voices from the past came echoing back down the years, over the swish of the windscreen wipers and Neill’s unceasingly optimistic rallying cry of “It’s brightening up lads”.
It really wasn’t.
Wet kagouls and soggy egg sandwiches and the desperate cry of teachers from 40 years ago returned to haunt the happiest dip going: “Keep up 2Y, it’s only a bit of rain…stop bothering the livestock…don’t touch that” etc etc.
Not even a Lammergeier in a dry-suit and chest-waders would venture out in this.
Can’t win ’em all, but it was a great laugh fellas – as per usual thanks for the excellent company, driving and fun, I wonder how soon we’ll be summonsed to the moors again?