Category: Events News & Writeups
REPORT ON WALMSLEY AND WADEBRIDGE VISIT FRIDAY 16 FEBRUARY 2024
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)
Birdwatching Walk to the Lower Otter Restoration Project with Ranger, Rick Lockwood- Sunday February 11th 2024
S.Devon Branch Birdwatching Walk to the Lower Otter Restoration Project with Ranger, Rick Lockwood- Sunday February 11th 2024
On arrival at the new, South Farm road car park, the group of 13 birdwatchers were met by the ranger, Rick Lockwood, who interpreted the scene which lay before us. At first glance it appeared as if there had been a major flooding event, as the high tide, combined with the heavy showery rain filled the river valley. However, Rick was able to explain that this was now a twice-daily feature of the valley, as the brackish water pushed up the newly created river channel, creating a totally changed, tidal area, which will eventually become a new saltmarsh and estuarine habitat for wildlife.
Distant views of Avocet were a welcome sight, viewed from the new viewing blind, by the capped waste tip, as were the Mediterranean Gulls, complete with partial black head markings, in amongst the Black-headed Gull flock. Cetti’s Warblers joined the Spring-like song of Song Thrush on the walk up the River Otter, with the raucous cries of a sizeable Rookery colony. At the new viewing blinds at North Bank, the two Med Gulls appeared again, in the beautiful sunshine and two surprise new visitors were spotted, a male and female Cirl Bunting.
Further up the embankment path, a wealth of waterfowl was seen, including a flock of Little Egrets, Wigeon, Teal, Canada Geese and Shelduck. Water Pipits, though very elusive, were picked up by their call by Rick and up by the sewage works the group was rewarded by Stonechat, Fieldfare, Lapwing, Snipe and a Green Sandpiper.
By the end of the walk the group had a sizeable bird list of 48 species (see below).
Many thanks to Rick for his birding knowledge and sight interpretation.
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Eurasian Blue Tit
Common Reed Bunting
Mid Devon Branch visit to Molland Common
1st February 2024
Ten adventurous birders negotiated the narrow lanes of mid and north Devon to meet at the car park at Anstey Gate on Molland Common at 9:30am. The weather was looking good, with plenty of sun and good clear views. A few Red Deer had already been seen close to the car park and a group of about 30 were in one of the grass fields of the farm across the valley. A distant flock of about 50 Golden Plover were seen. Surely this was going to be a great day for the sought after raptors!
However, as there morning progressed, the birding was slow. After searching east of the car park on both sides of the ridge, with nothing more than a few Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Skylark, we headed back to the cars for a coffee stop. A couple of Raven were around and the odd Crow kept popping up just to keep everyone on their toes. Scanning in the distance produced one or two raptors in tree tops, with some debate about identity but eventually settling on Common Buzzard.
We then headed west and explored the southern side of the ridge. Again, not very much happening, although a group of 4 Common Buzzards were circling at some distance and then a Sparrowhawk drifted lazily overhead. A decision was made to go back to the cars and reconvene at White Post, so the group set off back up the hill. At this point, the first unfortunate event occurred; three of our group were progressing more slowly, but were rewarded with views of a Hen Harrier making its way along the valley. The main group were completely unaware of this, and couldn’t hear the frantic cries of the three lucky birders, and so missed out on this special bird.
Over to White Post, and here the action did begin to pick up. Several Golden Plover were spotted on the ground, very difficult to pick out among the brown grass and heather. A Kestrel put in an appearance, and another distant raptor perched in the top of a small tree sparked more identification debate, but again was concluded to be a Common Buzzard. We walked down the lane to Dane’s Brook and then east along the river. Just visible above the brow of the hill were two more raptors perched in a small tree – another Kestrel and a very much appreciated Short-Eared Owl. We approached a bit closer for some fantastic views through binoculars and scopes, with the owl very alert, turning its head almost the full 360 degrees and showing those very yellow eyes. On the return to the cars a flock of 500+ Golden Plovers flew over us. And then the second unfortunate event – the first two back to the cars saw a Red Kite flying away, but it was gone by the time the rest of the group caught up! No Merlin today, despite some initially Merlin-like Kestrels, but six raptor species and perfect weather made for some happy birders.
Full species list (23):
Blackbird, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Fieldfare, Golden Plover, Great Tit, Hen Harrier, Herring Gull, Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Pheasant, Raven, Red Kite, Short-eared Owl, Skylark, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stock Dove, Stonechat, Woodpigeon.
Report – Tom Misselbrook
PLYMOUTH BRANCH INDOOR MEETING 22 JANUARY 2024: PINE MARTEN RECOVERY PROJECT IN DEVON BY EMILY CUFF
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)
REPORT ON BROADSANDS AND BRIXHAM BREAKWATER FIELD TRIP THURSDAY 18 JANUARY 2024
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
Mid Devon Branch walk up the Exe – Powderham to Turf
18th January 2024
Most participants had to follow a flock of sheep being moved down Church Lane, which meant we arrived late and missed two of our party who set out alone! We were also joined by another latecomer, making a total of 9 for this visit (although there were many other birdwatchers along the route) on what was a cold, but beautifully clear morning. We took a couple of hours to walk from the Church to Turf, with most of the activity being in the fields to the left as it was high tide. Several hundred Brent Geese were present, often taking to the air and making a wonderful noise. Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank and Lapwing were also plentiful, and some Snipe were showing exceptionally well in the winter sun. Raptors included a Marsh Harrier perched in a bush at some distance (excellent spot by one of our members!), Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine which twice put all the geese and waders into the air.
During our picnic lunch at Turf Lock we were entertained by a very obliging Kingfisher, also looking beautiful in the sun, perching and fishing very close by. On the return walk to Powderham the tide was receding, and waders were dropping into the muddy shores, giving us excellent close views of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover, and a Kestrel hovering over the bridge to welcome us back. A total of 47 species seen:
Avocet, Black-headed Gull, Black-tailed Godwit, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Brent Goose, Buzzard, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Cormorant, Curlew, Dunlin, Dunnock, Great-crested Grebe, Great Tit, Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail, Herring Gull, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Kingfisher, Lapwing, Little Egret, Magpie, Mallard, Marsh Harrier, Meadow Pipit, Moorhen, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Pintail, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Robin, Rook, Shelduck, Snipe, Song Thrush, Sparrowhawk, Starling, Stonechat, Teal, Woodpigeon, Wren.
REPORT ON ST JOHN’S LAKE AND WACKER QUAY FIELD TRIP ON 9 DECEMBER 2023
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
REPORT ON SLAPTON LEY FIELD TRIP ON 18 NOVEMBER 2023
A group of 18 Plymouth Branch members were amply rewarded on our visit to Slapton Ley, not just because the forecast weather warnings didn’t materialise but that we were able to watch over 50 bird species. For most though, the highlight of the day was non-avian when we watched an Otter hunting in the open water of the Ley, then returning to the reeds with its catch of a large eel.
The day got off to an excellent start with the first of many sightings of a Great White Egret soon followed at the other end of the size scale by a Firecrest in the brambles from the viewing area close to the bridge parking site. In fact, about 15 species had been clocked up before we set off along the path.
As you would expect for this site there were few waders, except for those in wellingtons taking care to navigate the sections of flooded path which at times were above ankle depth.
There was plenty to keep everyone interested as we walked to the back of the site for lunch and later took in the waste water treatment works before heading for the beach. The grey seas showed up the plumage of diving Gannets and whilst there, we had two Great Northern Divers provide a fly past finale for the group.
Those who explored the water from the Torcross car park rounded off the day with views of Pochard and Goldeneye to add to the tally of duck species.
Highlights from the visit were
- several sightings of Firecrest,
- great views and prolonged sightings of Great White Egret
- many sightings of Jay
- Great Crested and Little Grebe among the many Tufted Duck
- Snipe in flight
- Chiffchaff and Goldcrest in good numbers
- Pochard and Goldeneye
Species list: (H = heard)
Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail (♂), Wigeon, Pochard (♂), Tufted Duck, Goldeneye (♀), Great Northern Diver, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gannet, Cormorant, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Peregrine, Water Rail (H), Moorhen, Coot, Dunlin, Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Bullfinch (52)
Otter, Grey Seal
John Lloyd (Event Leader)
Mid Devon Field Meet at Dawlish Warren
Continuous rain and floods on the road can be daunting at the best of times, offering little hope for the prospect of a bird filled morning amongst the dunes and heathland of Dawlish Warren for November’s Mid Devon fieldmeet. Nevertheless, on Thursday 16th Nov, six members converged at the carpark close to the tunnel to park on the crown of the camber, the only area remaining free of deep standing water. Good views of Rock Pipit, Sanderling and Turnstones. A Great Skua passed offshore above the breakers. Flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets punctuated the sky with Bullfinches among the brambles, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits in the grass and Teal in the open water amongst the reeds. With Spoonbills in the distance, Curlew calling and a persistent Kestrel, the most notable event was the appearance of a Shorteared Owl that flew up when disturbed by the golf course maintenance truck, alighting on the gorse and offering 30 minutes of close viewing, always alert even when dozing, happily sharing the same spot with a Magpie before being roused by a golf cart for a flight across the sea to the shore in the far distance.