Sunday 17 May 2009

Devon: Berry Head

Part 2 of the Devon trip

Berry Head last year had given me my first (and only) views of cirl buntings, and after the success of the book cover, I felt obliged to return. The day was fair and the breeze, though easterly, wasn't over-powering.

Wandering from the car park, I soon remembered where to go, though a look over the bay by the quarry face, to see at close quarters the anchored oil tankers proved to be a wise move. Whilst glaring at these greedy ships (apparently they're not docking until the price of oil rises!!) I heard the unmistakeable wail of a peregrine, and scanning the quarry face soon revealed one sat near a nest. A bit distant, but a welcome sight.

Off to the spot where I stumbled across the cirl buntings last time proved fruitless, so I opted to loiter near a bench in view of the sea bird colony on the cliffs, on the other side of the headland. Another smart move, as within minutes of this, I heard the sound of cirl buntings in the gorse nearby. It didn't show though for a while, but eventually one popped out above the cover, and I managed some half decent shots.

Then, out of the blue, one of the cirl buntings burst out of the bushes and landed just behind me, in full view. It was such a surprise that I almost forgot to take pictures! Fortunately that part of my addled brain kicked into gear, and I got some lovely shots of it, with an uncluttered backdrop. Superb!

And as quickly as they'd arrived, they vanished around the headland. Nevermind, something else caught my attention. I say "caught", though what I should have said is tore it way. Looking towards the top of the cliffs, I spied something that certainly wasn't a gull. Too angular in shape. Before my brain could compute, a second peregrine went flying past overhead, to join the other one. Oh yes... time to move over there, I thought.

At the edge of the cliff, I found I could lie down and the peregrine falcons were hovering in the breeze, almost motionless, looking for targets, left and right. At times they were less than 20 feet above me - an incredible sight, though as usual, the light wasn't perfect and the birds were ahead of me somewhat, obsuring their heads. I wasn't complaining though! Crikey!

When the peregrines weren't around, the fulmars kindly filled in, providing me with very close views of them as they rode the breeze up the cliffs and into the sky above me. I love the look of these birds - they seem so happy as they fly along, feet trailing carefree behind them.

Every so often, one of the peregrines would return to the nest, then pop up again from the other side, and swoop back to join the hunt again. And when one of them spotted something worth going for, the wings angled back, akin to a fighter plane, and it would take off at an unbelievable pace down the cliff face.
Birding has its moments, and this rates up there with the best. Heaven is a place on earth, Berry Head on a breezy, sunny day, to be precise!

After the joys of the first afternoon here, I felt compelled to return the next, though the weather was starting to turn. The breeze was now gusty and at times made standing still almost impossible. And, as a result it meant the peregrines weren't flying, so despite walking up and down the headland, it appeared to have been a wasted trip.

Then again, perhaps not. Because as I was taking pics of long haired goats (real animals, not inbred twitchers ;) ) I spotted something black and seemingly out of place on the edge of the cliff. A quick check through the bins and I had a new target.

Walking very briskly, I soon was approaching it, and found the strong winds were buffeting me off my feet - IS is good, but not that good! So, it meant dropping to the deck, and crawling, commando-style towards the bird. I got some very strange looks from dog walkers nearby, but hell, it was worth it for getting shots of a peregrine falcon, perched on the cliff edge, amongst some flowers.

Stay tuned for more from the Devon week soon...


Reg Telescope said...

Excellent work. How long before that peregrine appears on another book cover?

Max Silverman said...

Blimey Pete.What excellent shots.I'm very jealous.