Heath Week Walks with RSPB Aylesbeare
East Devon was celebrating its annual Heath Week festival this week (29th July-5th August) with a series of events allowing members of the public to learn more about this unique landscape and some of its secrets; archaeology, bike trails, history, and of course wildlife!
On Friday 3rd August I joined up with the RSPB to lead a series of walks on their prized Aylesbeare Common nature reserve. For those who have never been, the reserve is comprised of large areas of quiet heathland, with mixed woodland fringes, streams and a series of ponds. The site really is beautiful and on a quality summer day it is abound with butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
My day started at 6am, leading the ‘Darties at Dawn’ walk across the misty common. Despite the slightly challenging conditions we did manage to see our target species of Dartford Warbler; a small group of four passing in front of us as they darted in and out of the heather and gorse. Linnet, crossbill and green woodpecker all made an appearance too before we heading off for a nice cooked breakfast.
Midday and a second walk leading the ‘Things with Wings’ event. I decided to cover anything and everything I could find that had wings (and even some without – whoops!) and involve the kids as much as I could, giving them my net, pots and books to search around with. We saw some top species including Grayling, Small Heath, Large White, White-tailed bumblebee, Common Carder, Emerald Damselfly, Golden-ringed Dragonfly and my personal favourite; a Green Tiger Beetle!
Final walk was an evening affair looking for the heathlands most iconic species; Nightjar! We had a bit of predusk light so we had a quick look around for some other birds including Stonechat, Linnets and some Willow Warblers which were migrating south. I then got out my bat detector, including my new echometer touch linked to my ipad, and led a bat walk for around 30minutes. Bats were relatively limited on the heathland with only a couple of Common Pipistrelle detected close to the woodland sections of the site. 9.30pm and the familiar churring sound began. The Nightjar were active and it wasn’t long before we saw a couple flying around us, moving from perch to perch. The final part of our evening walk was to head back up toward the car park where we had set up a moth trap. There were a good number of moths about including many micro moths which are very hard to ID. The highlight was definitely the Dark Arches with several males showing off their amazing feather-like antennae!