Welcome to the March 2017 issue of The Harrier

Posted March 27th at 10:26 pm in Welcome by Kevin Cox

Phil Naylor's photo of Spoonbills at Wrafton Scrape taken on 3 March

March is often a quiet month for birds but one full of expectation. Good numbers of Sand Martins have been seen, along with the occasional Swallow and House Martin. Chiffchaffs are just starting to arrive, Wheatears are coming back and there's even a Cuckoo reported from Dartmoor - see the news about the Cuckoo Sightings map in this issue of The Harrier.

While our spring migrants are arriving, other birds are leaving. The Waxwings left at the beginning of the month, the Desert Wheatear has finally deserted us and it looks as though South Devon's famous Humpback Whale has moved off following its rescue from lobster pot ropes (see story below).

 


Devon Birds AGM

Posted March 27th at 10:08 pm in Events by Kevin Cox

This year's AGM, held on Wednesday 22 March, attracted an excellent turn-out of over 100 members. The formal business of the meeting took up the first half of the evening. The Chairman's report covered all the conservation projects supported by the Society, including our funding for work on Wood Warblers, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Ring Ouzels and Cuckoos plus our ongoing work on our own reserves. 

All the new Council members were approved by the meeting, including those who had previously been co-opted. We welcomed Kev Rylands as County Recorder, Shaw Edwards as Membership Secretary, John Towers as the Taw/Torridge Branch Representative and Ann Willcocks (for her second term), Mike Langman and Karen Sims as Ordinary Members of Council.

Derek Gow, the keynote speaker following the AGM

The AGM was followed by a tour-de-force of a presentation by Derek Gow about rewilding and species reintroductions. He talked about his work with beavers, water voles, white storks and wild cats. He spoke eloquently about the benefits of bringing some species back to our countryside. For example, a water vole weighs around 330 grams and a bank vole just 30 grams so a Marsh Harrier has to catch eleven bank voles for every water vole. And beavers benefit a whole range of species from amphibians to invertebrates to birds. But there are challenges too and Derek did not shy away from the problems associated with reintroducing predators and large herbivores. A lively Q&A session followed, always the sign of a thought-provoking and enjoyable talk.


The Cuckoos are coming

Posted March 27th at 9:46 pm in Records by Kevin Cox

Photo: Gray Clements

Devon's Cuckoos are on their way back, though sadly in far fewer numbers than just a few years ago. To help conserve the birds, we need to know where they are and this is where you can help. For the fourth year, we are asking everyone to log when and where you see or hear a Cuckoo. You will find an interactive map that displays your records on the Devon Birds website here: https://www.devonbirds.org/birdwatching/recording/cuckoos

This project is a joint initiative with the University of Exeter where the team of researchers under Professor Charles Tyler are working on the conservation science to help Cuckoos and other ground-nesting birds, especially on Dartmoor.


Whale rescue

Posted March 27th at 9:28 pm in News by Kevin Cox

Photo: Mark Darlaston

The Humpback Whale that's spent almost the whole of March off the south coast of Devon, especially around Start Bay, has brought the crowds out to see it. There was a carnival atmosphere on Slapton beach a couple of weekends ago, with hundreds of people lining the sea front, hoping to get a glimpse. Then, on March 22, disaster struck. Mark Darlaston, who was there to see events unfold, takes up the story:

"On the Humpback Whale's one month anniversary of being in Lyme Bay (mostly Start Bay), things took a turn for the worse when the animal was reported to be tangled in static pot gear (one of the ropes leading to the pick up buoys) off Blackpool Sands, from around 10:00.  The fishing boat Maverick stayed with the whale until help arrived from the British Divers Marinelife Rescue with the RNLI. After several attempts they finally managed to cut the rope wrapped around the whale at c17:20, which appeared to swim off fast and free. Fantastic work by these two great charities."

A tragedy averted, thank goodness. The whale hasn't been seen since but we hope it's none the worse for its mishap. All those who saw it will treasure memories of a wonderful wildlife encounter.

For more of Mark's photos of the rescue, visit his report on the Sightings page: https://www.devonbirds.org/sightings


A request from the Exmouth Swift Group

Posted March 27th at 8:29 pm in Conservation by Kevin Cox

Photo: Steve Hopper

Exmouth Swift Group was established last year to conserve the breeding population of Swifts in the Exmouth area. Our swifts will hopefully return in a few weeks time and we are asking for help from members of Devon Birds.

Please would you look out for the birds when they first arrive and tell us how many Swifts you saw and where.

We need to locate all the nesting sites in Exmouth and Lympstone so we can protect them. Please tell us if you know where swifts are nesting.

If you have a suitable wall on your house, please consider putting up some Swift boxes. East facing is ideal but the direction does not matter too much. The boxes must be sheltered from prevailing winds and fairly high up – about 4 metres plus – and the birds need to be able to fly in and out without any obstructions. You can buy inexpensive Swift boxes designed specially for different types of sites (eg boxes with double roofs for sunny south-facing sites)

Or you might like to sponsor a Swift box in one of our local church towers. We are working with local churches to find the most suitable sites.

You can join our group or contact us by emailing Jan Gannaway at exmouthswifts@gmail.com or visiting https://www.facebook.com/groups/ExmouthSwiftGroup where you can find more information and news.

Your help and support for our wonderful Swifts would be hugely appreciated. Thank you from the Exmouth Swift Group.


Photo of the Month

Posted March 27th at 8:19 pm in Photo of the Month by Kevin Cox

Ron Champion took this atmospheric photo of a Sand Martin flying over the lake at Stover Country Park on 17 March. A sure sign that spring is on the way...


Brent Bird Survey

Posted March 27th at 3:40 pm in Surveys by Kevin Cox

 

After covering 52 1-km squares each month for three years and producing over 87,000 records of 123 species, Brent Birders completed fieldwork for the South Brent Parish Bird Survey in December 2016. The annual report for 2016 is now available, an article on the survey will appear in the next Devon Birds and production of the final report is underway. Further details can be found on www.brentbirdsurvey.co.uk or to read the report, click here: South Brent Parish Bird Survey

But that was only Phase 1! Phase 2 will involve annual monitoring, using a slimmed-down version of the 2014-16 survey to focus on the months of January, May and (probably) September. Anyone interested in taking part should contact Mike Goss on mrgandjng@tiscali.co.uk (01364 72539) or Brent Birders on brentbirdsurvey@gmail.com. Records from the area submitted to Devon Birds and/or BirdTrack should eventually be retrieved by Brent Birders, but we are also happy to receive them directly. Either way, please indicate the 1-km square involved. Most casual visitors to the area focus on the Shipley to Avon Dam area, but giving this as the site name, or ‘Avon Dam’ or ‘Shipley’ is not very helpful, as the track to the dam passes through six different squares, and our main focus is on the species recorded per square.

Peter Reay


Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)

Posted March 27th at 3:30 pm in Surveys by Kevin Cox

Grand Western Canal. Following the recent request for new counters, Chris Hill has joined the team, and Andrew Cunningham has retired after covering the stretch from Tiverton Basin to Greenway Bridge for over 10 years. So, welcome to Chris and many thanks to Andrew. Together with Mel and Gwen Lucas, Ray Jones is still counting on the canal, but also counting the days to when he too can step down, so if anyone is interested in helping out with the monthly counts on this important wetland site, please get in touch with either Ray ray1432.jones@btinternet.com or myself peter.p.j.reay@btinternet.com / 01364 73293.

Rackerhayes Lakes. Eileen Marsh, almost certainly our most senior WeBS counter, continues to participate in the counts at Rackerhayes in the Bovey Basin, which she has been covering since 1998, but her daughter Sara D’Agorne has now taken over as the official Rackerhayes counter. Thanks to Eileen for her contributions to WeBS so far, and welcome to Sara.

Taw/Torridge Estuary. Grateful thanks also to Tim Davis who has taken over from Brian O’Leary as Local Organiser for the Taw/Torridge Estuary, and to Brian for his important contributions to WeBS as organizer and counter over recent years.

Further information about WeBS is available on www.bto.org/webs

Peter Reay


Lundy - last few tickets left

Posted March 27th at 3:24 pm in Field Trip by Kevin Cox

 

The annual Devon Birds trip to Lundy has almost sold out. If you're still thinking about going, book now as we cannot exceed the boat's capacity of 150 passengers. Details are below.

Also, if you are going, please consider car sharing. Email me at kevin.cox@devonbirds.org with your location (e.g Exeter, Plymouth, Princetown), email address and the number of spare seats and I will post details on the Society News pages.

As a start, if anyone is driving from Plymouth to Bideford, we've had a request for a lift from Devon Birds' member Trevor Harvey - please email him direct at lordharvey09@hotmail.co.uk

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