Category: Plymouth

10 May
5:41 pm


A breathtakingly beautiful late Spring day was enjoyed by 19 members of Devon Birds who joined the Plymouth Branch for their visit to this Dartmoor gem. The trip got underway with sightings of a pair of Common Sandpiper on the dam wall and at least six Crossbill feeding atop the car park Scots Pines. The reservoir area attracted Swallow and House Martin in good number, with singles of both Pied and Grey Wagtail seen, as well as a pair of Little Grebe.

The iconic call of the Cuckoo was enjoyed as it echoed across the moorland, with at least one showing itself flying between their favoured thorn tree lookouts in search of nesting Meadow Pipits. The moorland also revealed Yellowhammer, Stonechats, numerous Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff together with Mistle and Song Thrush. In the area around the South West Lakes Trust buildings there were good sightings of Goldcrest and Siskin in the firs and the melodic song of Blackcap emanated from somewhere deep in the undergrowth. A short distance away a similar but longer song with a harsher tone indicated the presence of a pair of Garden Warbler which provided fleeting views. The tuneful descending scales of Tree Pipit advertised their whereabouts and were found on both sides of the valley.

In the deciduous woodland pairs of Pied and Spotted Flycatcher were catching insects and moving between the smaller branches in the tree tops. Redstart song was heard on several occasions and later in the day a small number of the group continued the walk venturing into Blackpool Wood and were rewarded with good views of at least 3 pairs.

There was something to see at all points in the walk from Coal Tits and Wrens at the base of trees, Treecreepers ascending towards the top twigs and the blue skies above offering flybys from Swift, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and even Grey Heron. It meant that the arduous climb out of the valley, to the high point of Bench Tor and the open moor, was done in style to the accompaniment of the glorious scent and azure wash of bluebells.

Species seen or heard (H):
Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Swift, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Redstart, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap (H), Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Redpoll, Goldfinch, Siskin, Crossbill, Yellowhammer
Total 51 species

Butterflies: Small White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood
Beetles: Dor Beetle, Violet Ground Beetle, Violet Oil Beetle, Bloody nosed Beetle, 7-spot Ladybird, Harlequin Ladybird

Report by Mary Johnson


Redstart (Chris Marcol)


Treecreeper (Chris Marcol)
25 Apr
10:24 pm


Plymouth Branch’s visit to Yarner Wood and Trendlebere Down attracted members from across the county as well as a few non-members, together totalling 28 birders all of whom enjoyed the very best that this wonderful area has to offer. With excellent organisation by event leaders Jacki and Kevin Solman subdividing into three groups and taking different routes meant that we only all met up again upon our return to the car park. In small groups participants were therefore easily able to share information and observe birds at close quarter and have the most rewarding birding experience.

Among the stars of the day were Pied Flycatchers which, having arrived approximately 2 weeks ago, were getting on with the job of nest building. Their agile flittering could be seen at almost every other nest box and their two tone, discordant song was a prominent part of the sound track for much of the visit. Bursts of drumming by Great Spotted Woodpecker reverberated around the woodland, the ‘cronk’ of Raven carried through the valley, cascading, descending notes of Willow Warbler and Tree Pipit advertised the arrival of these summer visitors with the most tuneful melodies provided by Song Thrush and Blackcap.

There was an opportunity to watch birds during one of their busiest times in the year and observe different patterns of behaviour deployed for attracting a mate and to marvel at different flight styles for example those used for soaring and hunting. The sickle shaped Swift’s wing profile was a welcome sight for several participants who caught their first view for the 2024 season.

Total species 44:
Canada Goose, Mallard, Pheasant (H), Cormorant, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Moorhen, Woodpigeon, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart (H), Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Goldcrest, Pied Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Magpie, Jay, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, Linnet, Bullfinch

Report by Mary Johnson


Great Spotted Woodpecker
Nuthatch (Dave Batten)
Pied Flycatcher (Chris Marcol)
Siskin (Chris Marcol)
Willow Warbler (Dave Batten)
Tree Pipit (Mary Johnson)
Song Thrush (Mike Longhurst)
Mistle Thrush (Dave Easter)
23 Apr
11:54 pm


A thousand years of farming and land management is a fine heritage for this farm and the adjoining area. Archeological evidence of man’s landscape work is visible with enclosures, mining and crop farming techniques across the moorland. Now this farm, as part of the Central Dartmoor Farm Cluster project, looks to the future through a continued partnership between farmers, nature and the public. It’s a vision of wide ranging & ambitious landscape recovery that encompasses sustainable farming, countryside stewardship, education and, at its heart, nature conservation.
Mark has led the way at Challacombe Farm, a mecca for birders and nature lovers for many years. His presentation provided an insight into the way that the land is managed and the benefits for the amazing bird life of this Dartmoor gem.

The management of this farm promotes a wide range of flora and fauna and careful selection of farming livestock and crops to suit the particular challenges of Dartmoor upland farming is largely responsible for this ecology. Landscape management, tree planting and water control are also vital – providing the differing habitats of bogs, woodland and openly grazed areas to encourage the plants, birds and animals flourishing there.

Mark’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the vision that he and the other stakeholders share, and the details of how it will be realised were evident in this comprehensive presentation, thoroughly illustrated with statistics, photographs and anecdotes. The audience of 49 members were left with an understanding of the sheer scope and complexity of this project with a two year planning phase and a twenty year implementation timetable ahead. What started as ten farms has grown to encompass forty farms in the largest landscape recovery project in Great Britain. Further expansion to involve collaboration with East Dartmoor farmers and stakeholders is likely to follow.

When you visit Challacombe Farm to enjoy Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Tree Creeper, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler and Chiffchaff and marvel at the aerobatics of Swallows and House Martins overhead it’s worth appreciating the hard work and careful thought that has been invested into the establishment and maintenance of this wonderful example of farming for nature.

Further information can be found on:

John Lloyd
Committee Member Devon Birds Plymouth Branch

17 Apr
8:30 am


Twenty birders joined the Devon Birds Plymouth Branch walk from Cadover Bridge to Trowlesworthy Farm on Tuesday morning. The strong wind and showers didn’t deter the spirits or the birds, with 39 species seen or heard. The pair of Green Woodpecker seen before leaving the car park got the tally off to a good start, shortly followed by a pair of Grey Wagtail with a pair of Mistle Thrush awaiting our return. Good views of a male Reed Bunting with its characteristic white moustachial stripe were enjoyed and the bird was easy to locate, unlike the Common Sandpiper which was well camouflaged against the pebbles on the river margins. The overhead displays from Buzzard and Kestrel were surpassed by the flybys of a number of Sand Martin and a lone Swallow. It was a welcome sight to see other summer visitors notably Willow Warbler and Wheatear.

Total species (39):
Canada Goose, Goosander, Mallard, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Common Sandpiper, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo (H), Green Woodpecker, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Dunnock, Song Thrush (H), Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff (H), Wren, Great Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Pheasant

Report by Mary Johnson

Goosander Pair (Chris Marcol)
Sand Martin (Chris Marcol)
Wheatear (Chris Marcol)
18 Mar
12:14 pm

Devon Birds Indoor Meeting

Join fellow members for an inspirational evening’s indoor speaker engagement on Saturday 13th April at the United Reformed Church Hall, Southernhay, Exeter, 7:30-9:00 p. The meeting is organised by Devon Birds Mid Devon Branch and is open to all Devon Birds members and friends.

We have two speakers:

Martin Overy ‘The Devon Birds Annual Report – how it is put together and how important your records are’

Martin leads on the compilation of the annual Devon Birds report and he will cover a brief history of the report, what goes in and what doesn’t, how it is compiled and how records are used, and the importance and accuracy of records. General observations and suggestions for improvement from the audience will be welcome.


Andy Gray ‘Changing farming practices – divert to diversity, a discussion’

Andy is a farmer from the Crediton area with a commitment to innovative and sustainable farming practices that benefit the environment, promote accessibility to quality food and inspire future farmers. Andy was a finalist in the prestigious 2023 BBC Food and farming Awards in the Farming and the Future category.


Suggested donation of £2.50 for those attending. Tea and coffee available.

Please let Tom Misselbrook ( know if you plan to attend. We look forward to seeing you there.


Southernhay United Reformed Church, Dix’s Field, Exeter EX1 1QA. Car parking at Magdalen Road Carpark, a short walk from the United Reformed Church on Southernhay.

16 Mar
2:59 pm


A warm welcome was provided to the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh hide from event leader John O’Connell-Davidson for the 13 other members of Devon Birds taking part in Plymouth branch’s visit on Friday 16 March 2024 on what was to be a day of hellos and goodbyes.

With the high tide at 10:00 the advantage of meeting at the hide meant that there was plenty to do and see whilst people assembled with a couple of hundred Black-tailed Godwits, many changing in to summer plumage, actively feeding right in front of the windows. Interestingly the nearest ducks were just in front of the them, a pair of Pintail, giving superb views, with another seven species around the reserve. In the distance Reed Bunting and a Kingfisher were seen in the far reed bed. Two Spoonbill were active allowing really good views to distinguish them as juveniles. The waders were occasionally spooked either by a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine, seen earlier in the morning, or the infamous Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Looking on to the marsh at Goosemoor, and following up on high pitched squeals, the group were fortunate to see two Water Rail in the open. The fleeting glimpses of a Sand Martin and a Swallow were not repeated but plenty of Chiffchaff were viewed, tails dipping and beaks moving in time to the unmistakable rhythmic call that has just burst back into our soundscape this week.

From the Goat Walk and Topsham area what might be final views of wintering waders, notably about 50 Avocet, were enjoyed. Rounding off the day, and with grateful thanks to the posts on the sightings page of the website, some ventured the five miles or so to Cranbrook to bid farewell to our Scandinavian-bound bird, Bombycilla garrulus aka Waxwing. (Not included in the day’s tally as this was after the visit).

Total species (72):
Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brent Goose (dark bellied), Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Cattle Egret (probable – at a great distance), Little Egret, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Pheasant, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Lapwing, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker (H), Sand Martin, Swallow, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Cetti’s Warbler (H), Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Jay (H), Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting

Report by Mary Johnson

Black-tailed Godwit (Mike Longhurst)


Curlew (Chris Marcol)


Spoonbill (Mike Longhurst)


Waxwing (Chris Marcol)



17 Feb
9:26 pm


A warm, sunny day, if you can remember such a thing, and 71 species, delighted the 21 birders who came together for Plymouth branch’s visit to Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society’s fabulous reserve at Walmsley. There were some slightly more unexpected birds to be seen; the half group visiting the Burniere hide first were treated to a Tawny Owl over the marsh, whilst those at the Tower hide had good views of a perched Merlin. Everyone was pleased to see an adult and juvenile Spoonbill and to add these to their year list. The eight species of duck and three species of geese gave birders opportunities to look at different plumages, behaviours and feeding strategies. A good range of Waders were seen including a sizeable group of Grey Plover which were easily identifiable from their run and stop action and their black axillaries (aka dirty ‘armpits’). It was like a section from Collins laid out in front of us!

Lunching in Chapel Amble allowed us to explore some very flooded fields and whereas the Water Pipit remained elusive, the group settled for a Meadow Pipit and had at least 3 Green Sandpiper by way of consolation.

The stroll along the cycle trail in Wadebridge gave closer views of 2000+ Golden Plover which had been a backdrop to most of the day’s birding. The sparkling aerial displays being provoked by a Peregrine, rather than the bonanza of Buzzards seen during the visit.

Grateful thanks to Adrian Langdon (warden) and the Trewornan Manor for providing parking for this event.

Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Barnacle Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Buzzard, Merlin, Peregrine, Pheasant, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Tawny Owl, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker (H), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Redwing, Cetti’s Warbler (H), Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Siskin                (71 species)

Red Fox, Rabbit

Write up by Mary Johnson


Buzzard (Mike Longhurst)

Pintail (Chris Marcol)
Curlew (Mike Longhurst)
Golden Plover flock (Jasmine Willson)
Chiffchaff (Jasmine Willson)
23 Jan
10:05 pm


An elusive mustelid, the Pine Marten is mostly found in the north of the UK, particularly Scotland. It prefers woodland habitats, climbing very well and living in tree holes – old squirrel dreys or old bird nests. It feeds on small rodents, birds, eggs, insects and fruit, and can even be encouraged to visit bird tables laden with peanuts and raisins. During the summer mating season, they make shrill, cat-like calls. The following spring, the female will have a litter of between one to five kits, which are independent by autumn.

The decline in numbers is attributed to loss of habitat, persecution and historical extermination on sporting estates.  In the South West peninsula Pine Marten are functionally extinct. A recovery project which aims to reintroduce this species to two areas on Exmoor and Dartmoor respectively is now being considered.

Emily Cuff, a nature recovery officer for Devon Wildlife Trust, outlined the back story and motivation for reintroduction of Pine Marten, stating that primarily this native species contributes much to the ecosystem of the habitats it thrives in. As a mesopredator it occupies a mid-ranking level in food chains and as an omnivore it competes with the likes of Grey Squirrel and there is evidence that it may help to control the Grey Squirrel population. However, it does not affect Red Squirrel, another native species that has evolved alongside the Pine Marten, and can coexist effectively – this could help with Red Squirrel recovery.

Recovery projects in Wales have resulted in an increase in the population in this region, which is the closest to SW England.  Natural recovery can’t be relied upon as it would take too long for this slow breeding mammal to expand its range into our region.  The project would therefore involve the translocation from Scottish populations, of 15 to 20 animals of two years and older.

The all-important habitat for Pine Marten is also in need of help, with the South West having a low density of suitable woodlands.  More promisingly the extensive and established networks of native hedgerow in our geographical location does bode well for the Pine Marten who use them as corridors, for security as well as food sources. Interestingly the development of native woodlands also benefits woodland bird populations, a statistically proven fact from data collected in Scotland where reforestation that benefits Pine Marten has also seen woodland bird populations significantly increase alongside the Pine Marten numbers.

The project is gathering the opinions and tapping in to the knowledge of many varied stakeholders.  Work that is being undertaken includes a disease risk analysis, habitat regulation assessment, with detailed consideration of the effects of reintroduction on all existing species in the relocation areas. Drawing on data and evidence from qualified agencies has also shown that Pine Marten offer little or no threat to ground nesting birds such as Curlew (as nesting habitat is not impacted by the areas of the relocation project) and similarly with Nightjar. There has been little impact on woodland nesting raptors in areas where Pine Marten live, indeed raptors have predated on Pine Marten in some woodland locations.

Mitigation methods such as nest box design and adaptations to discourage predation were described.  As work on the project progresses there will be continued monitoring and management and an ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and wildlife agencies.  Maybe in the future we may glimpse this mammal as it scurries through a tree or along the woodland floor when we’re out birding. Only time will tell.

Report by John Lloyd (Plymouth Branch Committee Member)

21 Jan
6:56 pm


A group of 21, visiting Broadsands and Brixham breakwater, enjoyed a bounty of birds, blue sea and blue sky on Thursday 18 January with the Plymouth branch.

The scrub and trees bordering the car parks contained a variety of finches and tits as well as Blackcap and Goldcrest.  Work has been done to clear the overgrown pond and ditches and this provided a fleeting view of a Water Rail.  In addition to House Sparrow and Chaffinch there were Reed Bunting and Cirl Bunting feeding on seed.

Despite the chill from the strong onshore wind, which resulted in a bit of chop on the sea, there was plenty to keep the group entertained.  Surprisingly a posse of 6 male Shoveler were making a b-line across the bay among numerous Cormorant and Shag with distinctive raised crests.  The highlights were at least 2 Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver and 2 Great Northern Diver the latter of which surfaced a few metres away from the group affording excellent views.

The pontoons in Brixham harbour provided loafing room for more than 10 Grey Seal.  Great Crested Grebe and Great Northern Diver were on the quieter, inner water whereas Razorbill and Gannet preferred the rougher outer water.  Turnstone and 4 Purple Sandpiper were feeding on invertebrates among the seaweed on the concrete structure used for storing equipment.

Species list (Total 46): Mute Swan, Shoveler, Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Black-throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Peregrine, Water Rail, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Redwing, Blackbird, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Magpie, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting, Cirl Bunting.

Grey Seal, Porpoise, Common Dolphin, Grey Squirrel

Report – Mary Johnson


Cirl Bunting and House Sparrow (Chris Marcol)
Great Northern Diver (Janet Marcol)
Plymouth Branch Braving the Cold (Chris Marcol)
Juvenille Shag (Janet Marcol)
Purple Sandpiper (Chris Marcol)
11 Dec
5:12 pm


To round off the 2023 Plymouth branch field meeting programme, ten birders spent the day visiting St John’s Lake and Wacker Quay at Torpoint.  Three hours before high water the seaweed covered shore provide rich pickings for Ringed Plover and Turnstone with flybys of increasing numbers of Dunlin as the tide rose.  The strong wind, which later in the afternoon encouraged windsurfers on to the water, meant that duck and geese species sought shelter on the far bank, and later in more sheltered coves.  It was good to have closer views of Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, six Common Scoter and at least one Great Northern Diver.

Passing early daffodils on the way out of Torpoint, the group reconvened at Wacker Quay for lunch, with large numbers of Teal also busy feeding at the water’s edge.  The walk along the woodland path only turned up small numbers of Redshank and Curlew.  The reed beds on the distant shore provided cover for a group of what turned out to be six Little Egret but only after VAR, in the form of Collins, had been consulted and a decision made that their behaviour and demeanour ruled out Spoonbill.  A number of small woodland birds were enjoying the food provided in the feeders and good numbers of Redwing were flying between tree top branches.

A return to St John’s Lake at high water gave very close views of a foraging Meadow Pipit and a Mediterranean Gull rounded off the five species gull day.

Species List: Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Common Scoter, Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Feral Pigeon, Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail  (Total  44 species)

Report by Mary Johnson