Report on Challacombe Down Field Trip on 18 May 2023
Thirteen members of Devon Birds met at Bennett’s Cross for a meeting organised by the Plymouth Branch for moorland and farmland species. With good weather forecast, apart from a chill wind at first, it soon warmed up with everyone enjoying the birding and sunshine.
At the car park a Red Kite drifted over the moor, before we slowly walked down towards Challacombe Farm. The group all had good views of our moorland target species, Whinchat, and several pairs were observed. By the old Golden Dagger tin mine, both Reed Buntings and a Tree Pipit showed well, the latter was carrying food. While we were having lunch amongst the old tin mine ruins, we saw our second Red Kite of the day.
Around Challacombe Farm good numbers of House Martins and Swallows were nesting, and high in a Sycamore by the farm, the group had excellent views of a male Redstart singing. Where the stream crosses the track to the farm a male Garden Warbler was seen with a few members observing a Pied Flycatcher.
The group all enjoyed an excellent day’s birding with 38 species of birds observed, which was helped by the warm sunshine.
Buzzard, Red Kite, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker, Cuckoo, Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Skylark, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart, Whinchat, Stonechat, Wheatear, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Chafﬁnch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting
Butterflies: Small White, Green-veined White, Red Admiral, Orange Tip, Holly Blue
Report by event leader John O’Connell-Davidson
Report on Venford Reservoir Field Trip on 10 May 2023
Yet again the site of Venford Reservoir proved to offer great interest mainly because of the scenic views and the varied habitat of this area of the Moor. An optimistic 23 members from the Plymouth Branch were not deterred by a cold dry northwesterly wind.
The route involved crossing the dam wall and travelling beside the copse of conifers around the buildings of the water treatment works. From the lower section, a pipeline path leads into the deciduous woodland, recognised as a temperate rain forest.
The first Cuckoo of the day caused a minor distraction during the briefing when it was spotted in nearby gorse. From the dam wall a few waterfowl were seen at a distance and Swallows and House Martins picked off insects overhead. Several resident birds were feeding in the conifers, being on the less windy side.
The sheltered woodland bordering the stream confirmed the welcome return of many summer migrants: Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. A Tree Pipit advertised its presence by singing loudly from an exposed small silver birch nearby.
The deciduous woodland, mainly of oak and silver birch, showed extensive views to the River Dart far below. With partial tree cover, bird identification by songs and calls was essential. The high-pitched song of Goldcrest taxed the hearing of some of the group. An active Treecreeper gave us good views and fleeting glimpses of two Redstart confirmed their return to the area. As our group exited the woodland to return to the car park, a small party of Swifts flew over the Dart valley to serve as a finale. Many smiling faces confirmed a good day out.
Species List: Mallard, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Robin, Redstart, Stonechat, Wheatear, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Pied Flycatcher, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Siskin. Total 43
Leader: Liz Harris
Report on RSPB Aylesbeare Common Field Trip on 5 May 2023
As the sun came out in the afternoon, the weather was in stark contrast to the 55mph winds and lashing rain of storm Noa which blasted in on the planned date for this visit, in mid-April. Two fleeting glimpses of Dartford Warblers – a male and a female, in different locations on the common, were the reward for some of the 18 members of the Plymouth branch who enjoyed a tour of the pebblebed heath. With the progression of Spring, and leaves opening up further each day, it was an occasion for using ears as much as eyes to identify the bird species. The group enjoyed seeing numerous Linnet and were able to pick out the call of Siskin flying between the tops of the pine trees. The stark contrast of the melodic song and staccato call of Blackcap were listened to. The ‘little bit of bread and no cheese’ of the Yellowhammer was not an indication of the sandwich menu, but the carrying song of a male perched in a tree top. Good views of Red Kite were enjoyed, as one was a rather tatty individual and the other was more pristine, we concluded that there were two individuals gliding through. On the eve of the King’s Coronation, the ‘crowning glory’ was not so much the variety of species seen, but the walk around the beautiful countryside and such good company.
H = heard only
Buzzard, Jay, Linnet, Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Robin, Greenfinch, Siskin, Swallow, House Martin, Dartford Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Red Kite, Mallard, Wood Pigeon, Yellowhammer, Herring Gull, Carrion Crow, Wren (H), Chaffinch (H), Dunnock (H), Blackcap (H)
Butterflies: Brimstone, Holly Blue, Red Admiral
Report by M Johnson
Bird Behaviour an Illustrated Talk by Ian Gasper
Report from Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting held on Monday 27 March 2023
What is a bird? To understand this more fully, Ian used his extensive experience as a much travelled birder to try to unpick this question.
Birds are unique in the wildlife of our planet – warm blooded, egg laying, vertebrates with feathers covering their bodies. But what do we know of their behaviours and their evolution? Ian looked at various aspects of their behaviour related to physiology, movement, feeding, intelligence, breeding and migration. These are all large topics in their own rights but provide a good way to try to more fully understand these amazing creatures.
We learnt how the behaviours of birds are related to their positioning in our planet’s ecology and how the structure of birds is uniquely adapted to (in most species) allow flight with honeycombed skeletons, specially developed hearts and lungs and with up to 25% of the bird’s mass made up of flight muscles.
Feeding too shows many adaptations of beak, legs and associated feeding methods; all playing a part in the evolution of birds – think of Darwin’s finch studies as an example of evolutionary process.
Ian also exploded the ‘bird-brain’ mythology and showed us examples of the intelligence and learning capabilities of many species. Interestingly he compared the Macaw to the Chimpanzee in terms of brain size to body ratio – the same! This is reflected in the abilities of the Macaw such as being able to mimic speech.
Birds also sing. Who hasn’t been inspired by the soaring song of the Skylark or the melodious dawn chorus of the Blackbird? How does a bird sing for long periods of time and fly at the same time? Again, bird physiology has developed to make this possible. Why do birds sing? In short, ‘love and war’, signalling territories and attracting mates and there will be differences in timing due to breeding constraints also connected to feeding needs and prey availability when raising their broods.
Migration, both international and intra-national, has fascinated us and we continue to learn more as technology, such as electronic tracking devices, aids our understanding. We know that birds respond to changing light levels and that spurs them to migrate and some epic journeys are made. Migration within countries also happens, e.g. mountain breeding birds moving toward the warmer coastal areas where food is more plentiful. It is more often lack of food sources rather than low temperature that can decimate bird populations in winter months.
We learnt much from this presentation but we also realised that there is still much that we don’t fully understand – but maybe that’s part of the magic of bird watching.
John Lloyd Committee member Devon Birds Plymouth Branch
REPORT ON BOWLING GREEN MARSH AND TOPSHAM FIELD TRIP ON 16 MARCH 2023
Nineteen members of Devon Birds enjoyed a good day out organised by the Plymouth Branch. The weather was a bit chilly at times and quite windy in places, but it never downed the spirits of the group. Most of the day was dry with light rain coming in as we approached the Bowling Green Marsh bird hide.
We started with a walk through Topsham from the car park to the main quayside, where we had excellent views of Red-breasted Mergansers and Teal. We were able to compare Redshank and Spotted Redshank which were wading through the mud together on the opposite river/estuary bank.
Then we walked down to the ‘Goat Walk’ where we had good views of Turnstones feeding amongst the seaweeds just below the Walk. On the mudbanks opposite we had clear views of Avocet, Dunlin and Curlew. A large flock of Brent Geese flew overhead to say hello.
Next, we walked round the corner to the viewing platform by the edge of the estuary. On the way we saw Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Song Thrush and Goldfinch. From the platform, we saw Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwits.
Then it was on to the main hide and an opportunity to escape the wind just as light rain began to fall. Sustenance in the form of food and drink was consumed as we watched Snipe, Greylag Geese, Pintail, Wigeon, Reed Bunting together with large numbers of Black-tailed Godwit and four Bar-tailed Godwit, allowing comparisons to be made.
Finally, we visited the viewing area across Goosemoor. Here we saw Goldcrest, Stonechat and Greenshank.
A total of 60 species of bird were seen:
Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Moorhen, Coot, Avocet, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker , Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Redwing, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Goldcrest, Stonechat, Lapwing, Great Crested Grebe.
Report from event leaders Kev and Jacki Solman
Report on Walmsley Reserve and Wadebridge Field Trip on 14 February 2023
With the first hint of the approach of Spring, on a day of wall to wall sunshine, 19 birdwatchers from the Plymouth branch visited one of the jewels in the Cornwall Birds’ crown, Walmsley Reserve. We are grateful to the warden Adrian Langdon for facilitating our trip, which was such an enjoyable experience.
With the approaching high tide, Curlew, Mute Swan and Lapwing took to the fields around the Burniere hide from which we first viewed birds at the upper end of the estuary. From the two reserve hides we had excellent views of a wide variety of duck species, from elegant Pintail to whistling Wigeon. Other highlights included a Spoonbill, Green Sandpiper and Marsh Harrier.
Moving on to Chapel Amble we watched numerous Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits actively foraging in the shallow water on the scrape. The group were entertained by an array of frogs poking their heads above water and the brief appearance of a fox.
The day will be remembered not just for the wide variety of species seen, but also for the number of some individual species, notably over 2000 Golden Plover. Catching the light they appeared like glitter in a snow globe and close up views of birds on the mud banks created another spectacle, as the beautiful detail in their plumage could be appreciated.
Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Goosander, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Kestrel, Red-legged Partridge, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Snipe, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Chiffchaff, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch
Total 63 species
Report on Broadsands and Brixham Breakwater Field Trip on 16 January 2023
For the first 2023 field trip, 24 people from the Plymouth Branch met at Broadsands. In the hedgerows around the car parks a number of birds were enjoying the winter sun, notably a very mobile Chiffchaff, a Goldcrest and several Cirl Bunting which were regularly flitting down to the seed at their feeding site. Looking out to sea, from the area above the beach, there were good views of a range of species all actively fishing: 6+ Great Northern Divers, Razorbill and very distant Gannets. A strong, cold wind made the water very choppy, however a raft of about 25 Common Scoter were unperturbed. Excellent views of a Black-necked Grebe were to be had from the footpath round to Elberry Cove.
At Brixham Harbour the Grey Seals were loafing on the pontoons and swimming in the bay. From the breakwater the group enjoyed watching 5 Purple Sandpiper and Rock Pipit. The species list for the visit was as follows:
Great Northern Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Mallard, Common Scoter, Buzzard, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Razorbill, Woodpigeon, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock,
Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Cirl Bunting
Total 40 species
Visit Leader Doug Herdson
Plymouth Branch visit to St John’s Lake and the River Lynher, Torpoint
Please follow the link below to find a report of the recent Plymouth branch visit to St John’s Lake and River Lynher
Saturday 3 December Field Trip Report for St John’s Lake and River Lynher, Torpoint
For the final field trip of the 2022 season 25 people from the Plymouth Branch made a foray across the water, assembling on Marine Drive and moving on to Chapeldown Road. Four hours before high tide large numbers of duck and geese were visible on the far side of the water. Much closer views of a party of 5 Little Grebe were enjoyed together with a variety of waders, which included Turnstone, several small flocks of Dunlin together with at least 12 Ringed Plover. There were distant views of a Great Northern Diver which was actively fishing.
The group moved on to Wacker Quay as the tide came in and pushed waders on to the salt marsh. Good numbers of Teal and Wigeon were seeking shelter from a bitterly cold wind together with a lone Gadwall. Waders were hunkered down in the marsh vegetation but the predominantly white plumage of a group of approximately 50 Avocets were showing clearly on the distant shore.
Upon returning to Chapeldown Road for the high tide, the group were rewarded with excellent views of 24 dark-bellied and 4 pale-bellied Brent Geese and up to 3 Great Northern Divers. Local residents were keen to share their recent sightings too, with a Black Redstart seen daily on roof tops in the area, although none of the group were lucky on this occasion.
|Great Northern Diver||Dunlin|
|Great Crested Grebe||Avocet|
|Little Grebe||Great Black-backed Gull|
|Grey Heron||Common Gull|
|Little Egret||Black-headed Gull|
|Gadwall||Great Spotted Woodpecker|
|Brent Goose (dark-bellied)||Magpie|
|Brent Goose (pale-bellied)||Great Tit|
|Canada Goose||Blue Tit|
|Mute Swan||Long-tailed Tit|
Total 53 species
Plymouth Branch – Soar & Starehole Valley for Migrants
Please open the link below to download a report of the Plymouth Branch trip to Soar and Starehole Valley, looking for migrants