Devon Birds News

21 May
10:44 pm

Challacombe Farm Walk Report-18th May 2024

As the group of 12 assembled at the farm entrance, the air was filled with birdsong, with Pied Flycatcher and Redstart vying to be the best introduction to Challacombe Farm. Mark then took us on a tour of his farm and shared his passion for ‘farming with a difference’, focussing on what management practices were best for wildlife. From ponds to meadows, Mark had been able to utilise income from various grants and subsidies to ensure that he maintained a viable income, at the same time as creating a rich diversity of wildlife and rearing a mixture of cattle and sheep. Meanwhile, the birds did their best to outperform Mark, with a male Redstart perching on the fence, House Martins collecting mud from a puddle in the road and several Garden Warblers singing from the depths of the undergrowth.

Nik then continued the walk, sharing with us the typical Dartmoor bird species along the route up the valley past Soussons plantation. A cuckoo perched at the top of a conifer set the scene, constantly calling before dashing off, being chased by a Pipit. Then a Tree Pipit with its distinctive song was identified, closely followed by a smart male Reed Bunting. Whilst looking to the skies, the group then looked at their feet to study the specialist features of the Sundew in the boggy margins to the woodland.

The ascent over Headland Warren was very rewarding, with at least 5 Whinchat singing from their territories. On the descent back towards the farm a lone Wheatear appeared on top of a stone wall, adding to the growing list of species. Finally, on entering Challacombe Farm boundary a Nuthatch was seen busily flying back and forth to its nest hole.

With 44 species seen and/or heard on the walk, in the beautiful sunshine for most of the time, this was truly a memorable visit to a very special location.


Nick D’Agorne


Species List

Common Pheasant
Common Woodpigeon
Common Cuckoo
Herring Gull
Grey Heron
Common Buzzard
Common Magpie
Eurasian Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Common Raven

Eurasian Blue Tit
Great Tit
Eurasian Skylark
Barn Swallow
Western House Martin
Willow Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Long-tailed Tit
Eurasian Blackcap
Garden Warbler
Common Whitethroat

Eurasian Nuthatch
Eurasian Wren
Common Starling
Song Thrush
Eurasian Blackbird
European Robin
European Pied Flycatcher
Common Redstart
European Stonechat
Northern Wheatear
House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
Common Chaffinch
Common Linnet
Lesser Redpoll
European Goldfinch
Eurasian Siskin
Common Reed Bunting

10 May
6:31 pm

Venford Reservoir walk has been cancelled.

Due to the weather forecast of heavy rain throughout Monday morning, ,the East devon branch walk at Venford on Monday 13th may has been cancelled. Apologies for any inconvenience.

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

19 Apr
5:54 pm

Mid Devon and Exeter Field Trip 17th April 2024

A day without rain in April 2024 was a bit of a luxury for 13 Devon Birds members at Hawkerland Valley and Aylesbeare Common – part of the Pebblebed Heaths SSSI. Never mind the temperature and the wind, the group was able to lo ate at least 29 species, and have a good view of most of them. The “at least” because a couple of others were (probably) seen by some of the group – a sparrowhawk and a peregrine.

The stars of the show were arguably the crossbills; certainly 8 of them, and maybe a few more – though some of the group were more delighted by the Dartford Warblers. A bit of a toss up! Also, some excellent views of Yellowhammers. Most numerous (audibly, anyway) were Chiffchaffs with a bit of competition from Blackcaps. A couple of Willow Warblers were also singing.

The walk was limited tot he drier paths because the recent wet weather, of several months, had made some of the routes less suitable for everyone. But there was a range f habitats nevertheless. The heathy areas provided the group with Stonechat, Linnets and a Dunnock or two in addition to the species listed above. And the woodland provided Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, along with Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Treecreeper. Add in the usual suspects and it was a very pleasant session.

Report by Richard Hudson

List of birds seen/heard:
Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Crossbill, Dartford Warbler, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Herring Gull, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Raven, Robin, Siskin, Stonechat, Treecreeper, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren, Yellowhammer

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)
6 Apr
4:26 pm

Mid Devon Branch visit to Meeth Quarry Reserve

6th April 2024

Weather was looking suspect for our visit to the DWT Meeth Quarry Reserve, but despite some strong winds and a few showers, a group of 10 members met to explore this large and promising reserve. It was obvious that spring was well underway, with Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing from all around, and a good group of Sand Martin and Swallow, with a single House Martin, were over a more sheltered part of the lake. A pair of Great Crested Grebe put on a very good display of head shaking and parallel swimming, and a Little Grebe was also seen. Willow Tit were heard and glimpsed by some of the group, but it wasn’t until we were back at the car park that one decided to give us some perfect views while calling! A total of 39 species seen or heard (see below).

A few butterflies were braving the strong wind, including some very bright Brimstone and a Peacock. Some good displays of fungi were also on view, including the unusual Bog Beacon (Mitrula paludosa).

Many thanks to Helen and Martin for leading the group.

Species seen or heard:
Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue Tit, Buzzard, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Coot, Cormorant, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Great Crested Grebe, Great Tit, Green Woodpecker, Grey Heron, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Jay, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Nuthatch, Pheasant, Raven, Robin, Sand Martin, Siskin, Swallow, Tufted Duck, Willow Tit, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, Wren.

Report by Tom Misselbrook

Bog Beacon (Mitrula paludosa)

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)