Devon Birds News

14 Jul
7:22 pm

East devon Branch. Blackhill Quarry walk cancelled

The weather forecast for tomorrow, 15th July is for persistent rain, often heavy. As a result we have cancelled the planned walk.

Thank you for your understanding

14 Jul
12:20 pm

Nightjars, bats and moths – mid-Devon branch visit to Mardon Down, Dartmoor, 10th July 2024

I was expecting turn-out to be low as our event clashed with the England semi-final match against the Netherlands in the Euros 2024, but we had 12 people who either couldn’t bear the agonies of watching the England men’s team play football, or just didn’t care! We assembled in the car park at Mardon Down, it was a perfect evening with a cloudless sky and fantastic visibility across northern Dartmoor and mid-Devon. Yellowhammer were singing and small flocks of Linnet moving about and occasionally singing prior to roosting, a Chiffchaff was calling and the odd Song Thrush singing. We were led by Tony and Lisa Whitehead, who between them have an excellent knowledge of this area including geology, flora and fauna and the impacts of management and management changes. We made our way down the slope from the dryer heathland at the top of Mardon Down, to the very wet culm grassland meadows on the lower land where we could really appreciate the differences in habitat, particularly the plant life and the insects and birds that these might attract.

As dusk began to fall, we congregated at a spot where Nightjar had regularly been seen. Before long, a silent flying bird was seen, which then perched on the telephone wire just yards away and treated us to several minutes of constant churring! It was quite magical to be so close to the bird which seemed completely at ease with us being there. Several bats began flying around our heads too, which Tony identified as Pipistrelle and Serotine from the frequency of their calls. A moth trap had been put out in the corner of the culm grassland paddock, but despite seeing a couple of moths flying around, nothing was in the trap by the time we left – most likely because of the low temperature and the fact that it was still relatively light at 10:30pm! On the walk back to the car park, a second Nightjar was seen, which briefly settled before flying on again. A huge thanks to Tony and Lisa for leading us for the evening.

And now back to the football…

Report by Tom Misselbrook

8 Jul
10:07 am

Berry Head, 27th June 2024, mid-Devon Branch

We combined with a U3A walk being led by Doug Herdson to look for birds, butterflies, plants and anything else of interest on Berry Head. The weather was perfect! The coastal grassland was looking very good, with Viper’s Bugloss and Pyramidal Orchids in full flower amongst a variety of other plants. Linnet, Goldfinch and Skylark were present in good numbers across the grassland, with Whitethroat and Stonechat in the scrub. The seabird colony was a hive of activity, with mostly Guillemot but also a few Razorbill present and one or two Kittiwake were spotted, as well as some Fulmar. Perhaps the highlight was a pod (or two) of 20+ Common Dolphin feeding in the bay, often very close to some of the boats present, and giving great views over an extended period of time. While watching these, we also noted a large flock (150+) of presumed Manx Shearwater passing by a bit further out, with some birds settling on the water. Interestingly, a post on Devon Bird Sightings two days later from a kayaker in the bay reported a large flock of Balearic Shearwater, so this may have been what we had also seen but were unable to identify given the distance. The kayaker also reported 120 dolphins! Other than birds, there were some Meadow Brown and Marbled White butterflies (all species of which have been in very short supply this year), a Sulphur Pearl moth and a huge Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar.

Birds seen/heard (25 species):
Blackbird, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chiffchaff, Guillemot, Dunnock, Fulmar, Gannet, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Linnet, Magpie, Manx Shearwater, Oystercatcher, Peregrine, Razorbill, Robin, Shag, Skylark, Stonechat, Swallow, Whitethroat, Woodpigeon

Sulphur Pearl Moth

Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar

Pyramidal Orchid

8 Jul
9:46 am

Nightjars at Cookworthy Forest, 5th July 2024, mid-Devon Branch

Despite raining all day, the sky miraculously cleared at 7:30pm for this evening event at Cookworthy Forest. Turnout was understandably low, given the weather, but a group of five gathered at the car park with hope of seeing the Nightjars. A walk down the main track into the forest while waiting for dusk revealed Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker, Siskin and Linnets and a fly-by Sparrowhawk. Song Thrushes were singing loudly from all corners! The sky seemed to get lighter as the rainclouds dispersed, but conditions seemed just about right by 9:30pm. Soon we heard some churring from at least three different locations, along with some contact calls from elsewhere. Then we saw some birds flying, appearing and disappearing very silently, including on coming right over our heads. Finally we were treated to some good views of a churring bird sat on a branch of a dead tree. We left at about 10:30pm, happy that what had initially looked to be a total washout had ended as a very successful evening!

13 Jun
1:40 pm


From hovering Kestrel, gliding Buzzard, hawking Swift, tail twitching Dunnock to fluttering juvenile Coal Tit soliciting for food, Plymouth branch’s visit to two sites at Clearbrook had much to offer and interest the 28 participants, including some individuals keen to join Devon Birds and attending their first event.

Compared to the recce 10 days ago, there was a noticeable switch from song to call for many species, the exceptions being Yellowhammer (with a low fat option of not much cheese, but the rest of the phrase intact) and the joyous burbling cascade of notes from Skylark and comparatively loud tuneful phrases from Blackcap.

A number of adult birds notably Willow Warbler and Meadow Pipit, were working very hard and were seen taking food to nest sites or fledglings.

Along the River Meavy a gravity defying Treecreeper was observed and a family of Goldcrest in the whippy Alder branches. There were, as yet, few flowers in the meadows along the riverside, resulting in only half of the butterfly species visitors to this area might expect to encounter. Perhaps the wildlife in this location was just toying with us, planning on keeping us coming back for more. It certainly has much to offer from heathland, to woodland and riverside habitats each with its own eclectic mix of species.

Total bird species seen or heard (H) = 42

Pheasant, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Cuckoo, Swift, Green Woodpecker (H), Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap (H), Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren (H), Great Tit, Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven (H), Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Yellowhammer

Butterflies: Green-veined White, Brimstone, Green Hairstreak, Holly Blue, Common Blue, Red Admiral, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Heath, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Large Skipper.

Dragonflies: Beautiful Demoiselle, Large Red Damselfly

Other insects identified: Chimney Sweeper Moth, Carder Bee sp, Hornet

Report by Mary Johnson





Willow Warbler


Meadow Pipit


Large Red Damselfly


6 Jun
12:13 pm

Mid-Devon Branch visit to Dunnabridge, Dartmoor, 5th June 2024

There was just a small group of 6 of us, ably led by Hellen Allin, to explore this part of Dartmoor, walking down as far as the DWT Bellever Farm reserve. The weather was dry and bright, but a cold northerly breeze was blowing and this was keeping birds very low in the moorland vegetation (presumably as that was where the insects were hiding!). The common moorland culprits of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Stonechat were all in evidence, and there was a large number of Herring Gulls in a field across the valley and continually flying past. We waited by the first wall in a spot where Grasshopper Warbler had been seen a few days previously, but apart from a couple of possible glimpses and being heard by one or two of the group they were not performing for us today! As we moved on, we did see a few Whitethroats, a lot of Willow Warblers and heard a couple of distant Cuckoo. A possible Dartford Warbler was also glimpsed, but again was keeping frustratingly hidden.

We moved into the woodland and down the track to the DWT reserve, where we picked up Siskin, Bullfinch, Blackcap and some Swallows as the sun began to bring some of the insects out. A Great Tit was doing a good impression of a flycatcher from high up in a tree, but neither Redstart, Pied or Spotted Flycatcher were to be seen today. So we stopped for a coffee in this very tranquil spot and then returned up the track back to the open moorland.

It was here that things suddenly started to get very exciting! As we were scanning the heather and gorse again for the hoped-for Grasshopper Warblers, a ‘not quite right’ Buzzard glided past us, very low to the ground and then perched on a fencepost not to far away. It was definitely not a Buzzard and we immediately began to work our way through potential raptors – Hen Harrier and Goshawk were soon ruled out and Honey Buzzard quickly became the favourite. We had great views through binoculars and the one telescope among us. The smallish head was very evident and at times the bird did look a bit like a very large Cuckoo. A very yellow eye, darkly barred chest and flanks, with no pale crescent as is normally obvious on a Buzzard, and barring on the tail; all looking good for female Honey Buzzard. As the bird flew on again, the drooped wings as it glided were diagnostic. It then circled very high and drifted off to the SE. Presumably a migrant bird, as a breeding female would be on the nest at this time of year. This was a first for nearly all (if not all) of the group! And such great views!

Adult female Honey Buzzard

Almost rivalling this, but not quite because of the rarity of the Honey Buzzard, were some stunning views of a Lesser Redpoll as we were almost back to the car park. The bird was feeding on the ground about 10 feet from us, and then perched up on a gorse bush even closer! Appreciating the beauty of this bird from such close range was a real bonus – the intricate face pattern, red ‘poll’ and yellow lower mandible combining beautifully!

Total birds seen/heard at this site was 34 (not including the Grasshopper Warbler and Dartford Warbler seen/heard by only some of the group):
Blackbird, Blackcap, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Cuckoo, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Tit, Herring Gull, Honey Buzzard, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Mistle Thrush, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Robin, Rook, Siskin, Skylark, Song Thrush, Stonechat, Swallow, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Following the excitement of Dunnabridge, most of the group then went on to Venford Reservoir and the woods along Venford Brook. Here we had Swallows and House Martins as we ate our picnic lunch in the car park. Herring Gulls seemed to be the only birds on the water, so we continued on into the woodland. A Jay flew up from the ground with something in its beak, being harassed by a couple of Willow Warblers. It had evidently taken a fledgling Willow Warbler, which it then proceeded to pluck in front of us – very Springwatch! In the woodland along the river we picked up the hoped-for Pied Flycatcher and Redstart, and on the way back had Tree Pipit, Yellowhammer, Sparrowhawk and Crossbill by the car park.

Total number of species seen/heard at this site was 25:

Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Chaffinch, Crossbill, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Herring Gull, House Martin, Jay, Meadow Pipit, Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Redstart, Robin, Siskin, Sparrowhawk, Swallow, Treecreeper, Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler, Wren, Yellowhammer

Report by Tom Misselbrook

25 May
10:26 pm


This location, described as the jewel in Dartmoor’s crown in our publicity material, surpassed expectations for the 18 participants on Plymouth branch’s visit. Mark Owen, the tenant farmer, led a guided walk in the morning. He had given a presentation about the plans for the development of this and the other Duchy of Cornwall estate farms on Dartmoor at the March Indoor meeting. Seeing what has already been achieved and being able to enjoy the wildlife benefiting from the management practices, left members of the group full of inspiration and in awe of the passion that Mark and his wife Naomi have for the work they are undertaking.

The stars of the show in the immediate area around the farm were Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, and two pairs of Spotted Flycatcher seen at close quarter on low fencing as opposed to neck straining tree tops.

The wider area was explored. A walk to Golden Dagger Mine gave opportunities to enjoy moorland species such as Linnet and Stonechat. A feast for the ears were the songs of Blackcap and Garden Warbler, with the latter winning the game of hide and seek! By far the most abundant bird species was Willow Warbler, whose cascade of notes were emanating from every other tree or shrub throughout the day. A small group ventured to Headland Warren Farm in the late afternoon and were rewarded with excellent views of Whinchat, Wheatear and three Cuckoo. The sound of both the bubbling call and iconic ‘cuckoo’ ringing down the terraces etched out by Medieval farmers and now bedecked in Bluebells, was the perfect end to a day of birding, the like of which you dream about during winter downpours.

Total species seen or heard (H) = 48:
Mallard, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Kestrel, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Garden Warbler (H), Blackcap, Sedge Warbler (H), Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff (H), Wren, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch (H), Treecreeper, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Siskin, Reed Bunting

Report by Mary Johnson


Challacombe Farm Logo


House Martin 


Spotted Flycatcher





Female Wheatear




Female Redstart 


25 May
8:58 pm

Mid Devon branch field visit to Challacombe, Dartmoor – 23rd May

This is obviously peak season for birding group visits to Challacombe as there had been visits by others the previous week, the day before, the same afternoon as our visit and then again on the following day! And not really surprising, as this bird oasis on Dartmoor does guarantee an abundance of good birds, not to mention plants, insects and other natural history. We just hope we are not testing the patience of the local residents!

A group of ten of us, led by Roger Jewell, met in the car park and were immediately rewarded with singing Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, numerous Willow Warblers and abundant Swallows (although not seeming to make any inroads on the clouds of midges beneath the trees). House Martins and House Sparrows (often missing from our field visit lists!) were around the farm buildings as well as nesting Nuthatch. As we headed out across the moorland we saw Linnet and Meadow and Tree Pipit demonstrating their parachuting song flights. Stonechat with young were around Golden Dagger and Vitifer, as well as the hoped-for Whinchat with a very obliging pair giving great views. Heading back, we stopped for a picnic lunch at Golden Dagger and it was only then that we heard a Cuckoo. A very persistent male, calling endlessly on the edge of the forestry in Soussons Down, and we had fine views of that too as we set off again. Siskins and Crossbill, an unexpected bonus for some, were in the forest, and Whitethroat singing around the edge.

Back near the car park we had excellent views of a male Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher and heard a more distant Green Woodpecker. A total of 48 species seen or heard, not counting the Wheatear or Skylark seen on the way in or out by some. Perhaps al that was missing was a Grasshopper Warbler!

Birds seen or heard:
Blackbird, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Crossbill, Cuckoo, Dunnock, Garden Warbler, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, GreenWoodpecker, Grey Heron, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Meadow Pipit, Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail, Raven, Redstart, Reed Bunting, Robin, Rook, Siskin, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Starling, Stonechat, Swallow, Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

25 May
8:17 pm

Mid Devon branch field visit to East Anstey Common – 20th May

A group of seven including leader Paul Pratley met on the fringes of Exmoor on this rather fine and sunny morning. Almost immediately on exiting the cars, Cuckoos were heard calling with a female bubbling and then three seen (two males and a female) flying. A Redstart was heard singing along with many Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, and a singing Tree Pipit parachuted down onto a gorse bush. As we walked across Whiterocks Down we had great views of Lesser Redpoll and another singing Tree Pipit. A Red Kite drifted overhead and a pair of Marsh Tit were busy attending to their brood. Into the woodland and we caught up with the hoped-for Wood Warbler (at least two) as well as Pied and Spotted Flycatcher.

A total of 37 species were seen or heard:
Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Cuckoo, Goldcrest, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Jay, Kestrel, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, March Tit, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Pied Flycatcher, Red Kite, Redstart, Robin, Siskin, Skylark, Song Thrush, Spotted Flycatcher, Swallow, Swift, Tree Pipit, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren

25 May
8:36 am

Devon Birds Swift Box Project

Devon Birds Swift Box Project

It is common knowledge that Swifts (Apus apus) are declining across Britain at an alarming rate, about 50 % in 25 years, and Devon is no different (see the Devon Bird Atlas).  Whilst the causes undoubtedly include loss of insects and problems in their winter range, the increasing shortage of nest sites is one that we can remedy.  To that end, in July 2023 Devon Birds Council agreed to put £6,000 towards this work, and have also received a grant from the Devon Environment Foundation of over £7K towards the project, which includes some public talks to engage the wider community.

Based on the success of this initial tranche of boxes, in April 2024 Devon Birds committed a further £75,000 over five years to this project.  Excitingly, Exeter Cathedral has agreed to a major installation in one of its towers, with a potential of 180 nest chambers (the biggest artificial colony in the UK?  Europe?).  Although this has the backing and approval of Devon Birds, we are not funding this ourselves.  At least a further dozen churches have indicated serious interest – can we keep up??

The accompanying table shows the boxes currently installed, which we will keep updated.  It all sounds simple but is much more complex than that!  We are asking churches for their assistance, as many have towers which give height, lack of disturbance, and some permanence (so many house are “tidied up” by owners, thus removing access for swifts).  Each church needs its Church Council to approve, and then the Diocese to agree.  Luckily, that second stage, which used to be laborious, is now much simpler.

Once approved, our constructor, Jerry Horn, then has to measure up, construct the boxes (or, rather, cabinets holding a number of boxes), and somehow manoeuvre the parts up narrow winding stairs, before installing them.  At the same time, he has to negotiate any bells, and ensure the tower is proofed against Jackdaws and squirrels.  An electrically-powered audio lure is also installed, without which Swifts are unlikely to prospect the site, let alone use them.  Even then, it can be several years before Swifts breed, but once in place the colony has a good chance of growing.

Churches should note that Swifts create no mess at all (unlike bats), and the boxes do not impact on the bells at all – nor the bells on the Swifts!

For further information, see

Below is a table of how the project has progressed so far



Approved Installed Funding
St Thomas Becket, Bridford Yes Aug 2023 DB
St. Michael The Archangel Church, Trusham Yes Aug 2023 DB
St John the Baptist, Ashton Yes Dec 2023 DB/DEF
St James’, Christow Yes Jan 2024 DB/DEF
St Michael’s, Doddiscombsleigh. Yes Jan 2024 DB/DEF
St Michael and all Angels, Dunchideock Yes Jan 2024 DB/DEF
St. Mary’s, Totnes Yes Feb 2024 DB/DEF
St. Michael’s, Exminster Yes Mar 2024 DB/DEF
St Mary’s Wolborough Yes Elsewhere
St Gregory’s, Dawlish Yes Elsewhere
St. Mary’s, Dunsford Yes Mar 2024 DB/DEF
Holy Trinity, Drewsteignton Yes Mar 2024 DB/DEF
St John’s, Totnes. Yes Feb 2024 DB/DEF
St. Clement’s, Powderham Yes
St Paul de Leon, Staverton Yes April 2024 DB/DEF
Tiverton St George (town centre) Yes April 2024 DB/DEF
Tiverton St Paul’s. Yes April 2024 DB/DEF
All Saints Holbeton Yes April 2024 DB/DEF
Exeter Cathedral Yes Independent
High Bickington, St Mary’s Yes