Ring Ouzels Dartmoor

Field Paintings

The winter thrushes have started to arrive on Dartmoor over the last week and with them there has been an influx of migrant ring ouzels. I always look forward to seeing these impressive birds each autumn usually in the last week of October.

After hearing that the first ouzels had been seen on the coast I headed for the moor last saturday. I only had an hour or so to spare so decided to wander around Venford Reservoir to see if there were any good berry bushes there. After an hour I had found lots of good hawthorns laden with berries but had seen only a solitary blackbird so I made a note of where the good bushes were with the intention of coming back in a weeks time to look for ring ouzels.

I skirted round a favourite gully on the way back, the haunt of cuckoos and whinchats in the spring and summer, and immediately found a flock of 40 fieldfares, my first of the autumn. Amongst their chacking calls I could hear the staccato tacking of ring ouzels. I was running late as I was giving a talk in the afternoon so only had a brief look. There were at least 4 birds feeding in lichen covered hawthorns in the gully.

I returned in the evening and saw some different birds including a superb male sat obligingly in a hawthorn. I returned the following morning and was able to sketch the ring ouzels feeding in the hawthorn. The setting was superb, an old gnarled hawthorn strewn with pale green beard lichen and studded with hawthorn berries.

There were at least 9 individuals and perhaps more about as well as a few redwings and the fieldfare flock. Since then I have been back daily for a few hours to sketch them. Two birds have been regularly feeding on the berries with a flock of 6 at times. They were wary at first and I thought it would be impossible to get good enough views to sketch them but they have now got used to me. This is putting it mildly, I can now stand within a few feet of the tree and they will fly in above my head and feed on the berries. When not feeding the birds drink from a small puddle further down the gully or hide in a patch of gorse.

No wonder they do this as yesterday a ring tail hen harrier flew up the gully low over the hawthorn giving superb views in the low autumn sunlight and nearby I watched a male merlin perched in a roadside hawthorn.

John Walters

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