CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Quest for a nest on Dartmoor

PUBLISHED: 14:07 30 July 2014

Rugged Dartmoor

Rugged Dartmoor

Archant

Matt Parkins goes in search of Dartmoor’s ravens

Never miss an article

This article first appeared in the July issue of Devon Life. Make sure you never miss an issue by taking up one of our great subscription offers. Learn more at subscriptionsave.co.uk

I’m walking beside a small moorland river where it tumbles over rocks and winds its way through gaps before heading to the ocean at one of Devon’s grand estuaries.

A few more steps and the landscape opens up where I’m out on the moor in a magnificent natural amphitheatre. I’m looking for my favourite bird – just visiting to sit and watch its antics.

Gliding buzzards mew as they catch the air currents, lazily leaning to one side to make a sweeping turn. I see a peregrine gently climbing but not yet using its devastating hunting speed. The silent killer rises higher and higher, I look away for a second and I’ve lost him against the vast blue sky.

There are other invisible birds here too, notably the skylark. This tiny bird sings its heart out with the most catchy, chirpy rhythms. But can I see it? It’s up there somewhere, filling the valley with excitable melodies. Only when it starts to parachute down do I spot it; tiny wings tucked back, it glides to the ground. Then silence. Now it wants to attract attention away from its nest amongst the grass and reeds.

The bird I’m here to see today has just made itself visible on the skyline. In fact there are two of them; a pair of long-term companions. Catching the soft summer breeze they swirl around the tors occasionally settling on the granite boulders. They fit in so well in this environment, even their genial kronk call is at home here.

The gruff, granite edged sound can hardly be described as a song, though they are classified as passerines along with all the song birds. Long sweeping wing beats take them across the valley, landing among the rocks and tussocks on the other side of the river. The sleek black figures are looking for something, picking up morsels of protein rich food, bugs and worms probably. Peacefully stepping their way around some grazing sheep, their dagger-like beaks glisten in the sunshine. It’s a powerful looking weapon but do they really deserve the bad reputation? The bill shape would suggest not, it’s not designed to tear flesh, but there are so many stories associating the raven with gruesome and morbid acts.

I continue my walk up river; hot feet are cooled by crossing the shallows before climbing the bracken and gorse clad moor on the other side. I’m going to make my way back to where the ravens were earlier. While watching them back in the spring I suspected they might be nesting in the vicinity. One brought a gift of food from a distant cache; I couldn’t tell if it was male or female, they are so similar. I think I’ll sit for a while and wait. With the sun on my back I’m not in a hurry to leave!

Though this is clearly their patch – not mine – they keep their distance. The pair is in constant communication, with calls and posturing. They drive away two intruders; no joy for magpies here. I continue to wait to see if they’ll take to the air. I was initially attracted to ravens by their flying ability; sometimes they appear to fly purely for the fun of it. I keep watching as they hop from rock to rock, an aerobatic display will be entirely on their terms, if at all. A common lizard keeps me company, eyeballing me for a minute before scampering back into its gap in the rock. I’m just turning my back to leave when I hear that unmistakable sound – it’s a raven in full flight. Arrowing towards me, it folds back its wings for a few barrel rolls and tumbles. Their repertoire of stunts is amazing. Taking it in turns to fly upside down, each time calling to their partner, they seem to say “look at me … watch this” before inverting then flipping back over and pulling into a steep climb. Fabulous!

Ravens are among the most intelligent birds in the world and very successful too; they have adapted to life in many continents and climates from Africa to Alaska. Their inquisitive minds help them to develop many skills you might not expect from a bird. While learning to use sticks and stones as tools they memorise new ways to find food.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 16:33

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tue, 15:17

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Away from the hustle of places like Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, North Devon is peppered with tiny coves, empty beaches and wooded walks leading to secluded bays that feel a million miles away from the tourist trail. BECKY DICKINSON reveals her pick of the best kept secrets on the North Devon coast

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

As part of her regular series where she visits Devon’s best places for 24 hours, Lydia Tewkesbury has this time been to Sidmouth

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ranging from rocky and windy walkways along the South West Coast Path to the sandy beaches on the picturesque coastline, the district of North Devon is one of the prettiest coastal areas in the South West of England. In no particular order, here are 10 of the prettiest villages in the district of North Devon

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Devon’s towns and cities there’s an awful lot you can do in just 24 hours. For her regular feature, Lydia Tewkesbury travels to see what you can do in a day in Kingsbridge

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Villages in Devon are some of the prettiest in the South West. From beautiful little hamlets on the outskirts of the moors to seaside communities, we pick 10 villages in Devon you need to visit

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search