Devon Birds News
Report on Plymouth Branch Visit to Cann Woods, Plympton on 29 May 2023
A clear calm evening attracted 31 birdwatchers, making a record number of those attending. The relative proximity to Plymouth may have accounted for this, as well as the date chosen being May Bank Holiday Monday before a half term week. The average age for those attending this event was certainly reduced!
There is a mixture of deciduous and coniferous woodland at this site. After some patience the first Nightjars started churring by 9.20pm, as the sun was setting. Fleeting glances of a possible 4 birds were identified at a distance in different locations. The group inevitably spread out along the raised pathway and heard further intermittent churring and some contact calls. Those at the back of the group were able to identify Nightjar crossing the path behind them.
When visits were first made to this site the conifers were smaller and sightings easier but over the years the trees have grown making viewing more challenging. Moth numbers, as one of the food sources of Nightjar, appeared low on this evening.
In 2023 the birds were known to have arrived by 30th April.
Other species seen or heard were Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Song Thrush, Robin and Tawny Owl and Roe Deer on the path.
Thanks to Chris and Jan Marcol for information on their sightings this year and in previous years.
Another visit is planned on 26th June for hopeful sightings of juveniles and adults on the wing.
Leader Liz Harris
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
Annual Day Trip to Lundy – Cancelled
Annual Day Trip to Lundy – Cancelled
Sunday 21st May 2023
We have been informed by the Lundy Shore Office that the MV Oldenberg is under repair and is now unavailable until after the 27th May 2023 and therefore regret to inform you that the Annual Day Trip to Lundy on Sunday 21st May 2023 has had to be cancelled.
Please be advised that a full refund will be made to your account as soon as possible.
Mid Devon Branch, Trip to Berry Head
Eleven Members representing all our branches turned out for the Mid Devon & Exeter branch field trip to Berry Head on 20th April, ably led by Doug Herdson.
Berry Head is a wonderful place to see the early migrants. Although it was a windy day, the sun encouraged the sheltering birds to sit up in the bushes to sing and churr. Common Whitethroat, Linnets, Goldfinches and Chiffchaff were in full voice. Even the Bullfinch was calling. Migrant Wheatears flew in the wind. The arrival of Swifts and Swallows was noted. A Razorbill and Guillemots were on the cliffs while Fulmars, Gannets and Sandwich Terns wheeled in the wind. The Peregrine was hunting from a perch in the quarry.
A windy, atmospheric day in one of most beautiful locations on the coast. A count of only 25 species or so but a very rewarding day.
Mid Devon’s Field Trip to East Anstey 2nd May, 2023
Mid Devon’s field trip to East Anstey Common, Tues. 2nd May: Attending were 8 members in total including 3 from our Taw & Torridge branch. A bright day, sunny at times, yielding a good cross-section of moorland and woodland species. We all enjoyed the calls and song of Redstart, Wood Warbler, Garden Warbler, Bullfinch, Redpoll and many other species but perhaps the highlights were a displaying male Chaffinch in peak condition and a pair of male Goldcrests aroused in territorial aggression, each displaying their blindingly beautiful luminescent red crown to full effect.
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
Plymouth Branch – Yarner Wood and Trendlebere Down 24th April 2023
Twenty-seven members of Devon Birds enjoyed a good day out organised by the Plymouth Branch. With such a large gathering it was decided to split into three separate groups. Each group started off in different directions, each one covering the same areas of Yarner Wood and Trendlebere Down at some point during the day. Although the weather forecast was for rain at times and a chill wind the rain held off except for a few brief showers.
Several Pied Flycatchers were observed throughout the Woods with all members having excellent views. Many were already paired up and were viewed bring nesting material to their boxes. Tree Pipits were seen near the reservoir displaying and collecting nesting material. For some, the first Swifts of the season passed high overhead, but more unexpectedly, for others, was a day-flying pair of Common Pipistrelle bats from the higher hide.
Photos, Song Thrush and Pied Flycatcher, by Dave Easter
The combined observations from all three groups are listed below:
Buzzard Willow Warbler Siskin
Moorhen Chiffchaff Yellowhammer
Woodpigeon Goldcrest Bullfinch
Swift Wren Greenfinch
Green Woodpecker Pied Flycatcher
Great Spotted Woodpecker Great Tit
Swallow Coal Tit Mammals
House Martin Blue Tit Pipistrelle Bat
Tree Pipit Long-tailed Tit Roe Deer
Dunnock Marsh Tit Grey Squirrel
Stonechat Carrion Crow Butterflies
Song Thrush Raven Small White
Mistle Thrush Starling Green-veined White
Blackbird Chaffinch Brimstone
Blackcap Linnet Holly Blue
Grasshopper Warbler Redpoll Peacock
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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