There have been a number of interesting sightings of wildlife in and around Brentor over the last few years, in particular new species of birds recorded.
Autumn sees an influx of birds from northerly climes, the majority passing through on their way to wintering grounds on the coast, further south in Europe or Africa. Gibbet Hill plays host to large swirling flocks of golden plover, which reach 500+ at times, and snipe are regularly flushed from wet ground during late autumn. Other autumn visitors have included hen harrier (2010) and short-eared owl (November 2011), and most notably a single snow bunting at the summit in both October 2010 and 2011, when it stayed over a month. These tough little arctic birds only breed in Britain in the Cairngorms, and are mainly found further north in Iceland, Scandinavia and Siberia.
Fields in the village attract wintering flocks of Scandinavian thrushes – redwings and handsome fieldfares, as well as starlings, which have declined in number nationally. Reed buntings regularly turn up in finch flocks beside the moor at West Blackdown and in 2008 a little egret was seen flying along the valley towards Lydford.
Winter is a quieter time for bird life, however the cold weather of recent years has resulted in a number of interesting bird sightings. Snipe have turned up in the centre of the village, in the field above the pond, with up to a dozen at nearby Bowden Down, and woodcock have been flushed along the railway cutting below West Blackdown. A water rail – typically a very shy wetland bird– was regularly spotted beside village streams during the snow (2010) and a flock of more than twenty lapwing were seen feeding in a field close to the village. Also a grey wagtail was seen in the village (2009 and 2010), and there was a November sighting of a blackcap (2009).
Every few years a lack of food pushes large numbers of the striking looking waxwing into Britain from Scandinavia. The closest they came to Brentor was Mary Tavy and Tavistock in July 2005. A northerly bird that has regularly paid a visit to village bird feeders in hard weather is the brambling.
In mid-January 2010 a flooded area in a field below the cricket pitch attracted a flock of 20 wigeon which left when the water subsequently froze over. In milder weather small flocks of golden plover can be seen on Gibbet Hill, off and on, through until the end of March.
Lydford Forest always provides plenty of interest throughout the year, with sparrowhawk, treecreeper, siskin, great spotted woodpecker, redstart, wood warbler (2009), a report of lesser redpoll, woodcock and, occasionally, goshawk, all seen over recent years. Winter has proven a good time to see crossbills, with flocks of over twenty in January 2010. In January 2012 a pair of goosander was seen on the Tavy in the centre of Tavistock. Back in Brentor, February 2010 saw a buzzard turning up regularly and, rather remarkably, plunging-diving from a tree into the village pond, presumably for frogs or frogspawn.
Spring and the resident birds are in full song, with summer migrants arriving from March/April. The first swallows are typically seen in Brentor around the beginning of April (2009: March 30; 2010: April 1; 2011: April 4). West Blackdown still regularly gets cuckoos, the first heard on April 13 in 2010 and April 14 in 2011. Other summer visitors include willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and grasshopper warblers.
In 2010 a virtually albino chaffinch turned up at a bird table in the village and Canada geese were seen flying along the valley at West Blackdown. On Gibbet Hill birds most noticeable in spring are stonechats, wheatear passing through, skylarks (that began singing on fine days in mid-Feb in 2010), linnets and numerous meadow pipits. A red-legged partridge was reported by Wortha Farm in 2010 and one turned up at the top of Gibbet Hill in spring 2011.
A possible jack snipe was spotted on Gibbet Hill in March 2011 and certainly two were put up among snipe on a boggy area above Pork Hill Car Park on the moor near Peter Tavy. At the top of Gibbet Hill a probable ring ouzel was seen in March 2011, and slightly later in the year 10+ yellowhammer at Bowden Down as well as three singing garden warblers. Early-mid April 2011 brought notable reports of a dotterel at the top of Gibbet Hill – a type of wader passing through to breed further north.
Late April sightings have included ring ouzel and whinchat at Tavy Cleave and a red kite flying over (2011), as well as dipper and redstart near Peter Tavy (2010).
Bowden Down is a good location for yellowhammers, garden warblers and occasional whitethroat, with tree pipit a regular summer visitor. A red deer was seen here in 2010 (they can also be spotted in Lydford Forest along with roe deer). In Brentor, grasshopper warblers can be heard in the West Blackdown valley and in gorse cover at the base of Gibbet Hill.
Regular species in and around the village include cuckoos, ravens, house martins, swallows and swifts, goldcrests, nuthatches, great spotted and green woodpeckers, bullfinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, marsh tits, treecreepers (near Wortha Mill), long-tailed tits, song and mistle thrushes, and typical bird table and garden visitors. Also heron have been sighted, with a report of grey partridge near Bowden Down. A flock of house sparrows in the village numbered 30 in 2011, which is reassuring given that they are declining nationally. Local birds of prey include buzzard, sparrowhawk, tawny owl, kestrel and occasional peregrine, with merlin seen at Tavy Cleave. Barn owls have been an elusive sighting in recent years. In 2009 a kingfisher was seen flying through the village and in August of the same year a green sandpiper was flushed from the marshes at the bottom of Gibbet Hill near West Blackdown.
One late summer visitor to garden flowers is the hummingbird hawkmoth, a day-flying species that has been seen regularly in recent years. Butterfly sightings include, alongside more frequently encountered species such as the speckled wood small pearl-bordered fritillary at Bowden Down (2009), silver washed fritillary, green hairstreak, grayling and large skipper in Brentor, and heath fritillary and marbled white in Lydford Forest (2010). Mammals of interest sighted in the village include badger, roe deer, infrequent sightings of hedgehog, weasel, water shrew, brown long-eared bat, pipistrelle and noctule bat, among other species.
New Brentor bird sightings in recent years:
Little egret (2008), green sandpiper (2009), water rail (2010), hen harrier (2010), wigeon (2010), snow bunting (2010), dotterel (2011), short-eared owl (2011).
All photographs by CE