Most of the lockdown restrictions here in the UK have now ended. The city of Exeter is once again bustling with activity, as people flock to the centre to do some shopping, meet up with friends, or visit the newly-reopened restaurants. But on this particular day, Alex and I were here for none of those reasons. For us, this cathedral city was merely the starting point for what would be our longest walk so far: nearly 12 miles along the River Exe to the village of Starcross.
In Search Of
On The Nature Nook’s last walk, searching for seals around Berry Head, we heard the call of a great-spotted woodpecker in a small thicket, though we sadly didn’t see the bird itself. This time, we decided to set out to look specifically for these delightful head bangers. Tor Bay has so much beautiful coastline that it is easy to neglect the woodland that is also practically on our doorstep. So Alex and I headed inland for a change, to a place called Occombe Woods, nestled in a valley between Paignton and Torquay.
From our clifftop vantage point, the whole of Tor Bay stretched out before us, a wide, sweeping vista of calm ocean. A light breeze ruffled my hair and I tasted the slightest hint of salt on my lips. In the distance, a flock of gulls – little more than tiny white dots to us – were following a small fishing boat. I turned my gaze downwards, scanning the rippling surface far below, searching for signs of movement in the water.
The Nature Nook’s latest wildlife-spotting walk took Alex and I to the Clennon Valley Lakes, just south of Paignton Zoo, in search of ducks. Not mallards or tufted ducks, mind you – we’d already seen those. No, we were looking for a couple of slightly more uncommon species. We had received a tip-off that two dabbling ducks – the gadwall and the pintail – had been recently spotted at the lakes and we thought it would be relatively easy to add them to our list of birds.
The cirl bunting is a bird that I’ve never really given much thought to. For most of my life, this was quite understandable because I grew up in the northwest of England, where there aren’t any cirl buntings. I learned from my bird guide that it was a scarce and very localised breeding bird, found only in coastal regions of South Devon, so I never went out birdwatching hoping to see one.