Society News

Stakeholders' attitudes to Dartmoor commons tradition - talk by Adrian Colston on 11 June 2018

Posted June 20th at 10:12 pm in Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting by Inga Page

“Stakeholders’ attitudes to the narrative of Dartmoor Commons tradition and the search for consensus in a time of change”    Adrian Colston

Of the many stakeholders using the Dartmoor Commons each have their own claims, ambitions and attitudes to the management of these vastly important spaces on the High Moor. The conflicting opinions pull the action for conservation in many different directions even though in most cases the aims are the same.

Adrian related each of the stakeholders’ stories, their beliefs and expectations for the future. Using scientific and sociological data he guided us through the maze of conservation theories for the changes on The Moor. A complex web of cause and effect have given concern for the dramatic and disturbing decline of our iconic species such as Curlew, Dunlin and Golden Plover - species that traditionally bred on the upland areas of Dartmoor.

He explored popular theories such as over-grazing, “Sheepwreck”.   Nitrogen overloading, atmospheric pollution and increased low altitude ozone leading to habitat reconfiguration reducing heather, which sheep eat, in favour of dominant Purple Moorgrass. Climate change has affected rainfall and seasonal temperatures. Increased soil acidity diminishes soil bio-diversity and our recreational activities cause soil erosion and compaction.  However archaeologists favour the grazed Commons to maintain exposed historic sites.

 Adrian concluded that there is a great need for compromise and consensus between all stakeholders – a massive sociological challenge for the future of these key habitats. This compromise may come through “Soft rewilding” where small changes alongside existing practice may herald the shift in attitude essential for these special eco-systems to thrive again.

Action has already been taken to improve nest areas for breeding Dunlin by improving the wet moorland. Cuckoos need trees to find Meadow Pipits’ nests to parasitize and breed.  Planting a few trees in key locations would be relatively easy but not detrimental to grazing.  Through a programme of marginal changes major species gains may be made.

Follow Adrian’s work and data that underpins these concepts by visiting “A Dartmoor blog”.

 John Lloyd

Challacombe Farm visit on 17th May

Posted May 30th at 10:16 am in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

A warm and sunny day boded well for the 25 Plymouth Branch (with other Devon Birds members) to walk from Bennett's Cross to Challacombe Farm looking for cuckoo and moorland species.  A very slow measured walk down the valley in bright sunshine showed Cuckoos calling and very good views of Whinchat (see photo above).  Due to the slow nature of the meeting lunch was taken at the Golden Dagger Tin Mine and while having lunch one of the highlights was a Red Kite that very slowly drifted over us to the South West.

The group then walked on to Challacombe Farm. In its vicinity Redstart (see photo above), Swallow, House Martin (see photo below) and Garden Warbler were observed and even a Tree Creeper was seen taking food into a nest situated in a fascia board on one of the buildings.   The group then split with some returning by car to the start, others returning on the same route and some taking the longer route back to the car via Headland Warren Farm.  The latter route totalled 7.6km.

Species list

Buzzard, Red Kite, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Cuckoo, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Robin, Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Stonechat, Blackbird, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Garden Warbler, Blue Tit, Blue tit, Marsh Tit, Tree Creeper, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, House Sparrow, Chiffchaff, Linnet, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting.   Total 36

John O’Connell-Davidson

Seabird Survey

Posted May 29th at 9:02 pm in Seeking volunteers to conduct breeding seabird surveys by Inga Page

Seabirds Count is the 4th breeding seabird census to be conducted in Britain and Ireland. Although data has been collected since 2015, there are still many sites needing to be surveyed. In Devon there are 29 non-urban seabird breeding sites that will need to be surveyed either this season or the 2019 season as set out in the spreadsheet here.

The timing for this season is getting tight but if you think you could take on one or two, either this year or next, please get in touch via email:

Summary of Membership Survey Responses

Posted May 9th at 3:43 pm in Devon Birds Membership Survey by Inga Page

Below we have summarised the results of the survey sent out to all the members of Devon Birds on behalf of the Council at the beginning of this year.  The results of this survey were presented to this year’s AGM, and it was thought that it might be useful to share a summary of the responses.  Overall there was around a fourteen per cent response rate which we are informed is not untypical.

Figures shown below are percentages.

How satisfied are you with Devon Birds?

Extremely satisfied - 47%;  Satisfied - 46%;  Neutral - 3%;  Dissatisfied - 1%;  Extremely dissatisfied - 3%

Which events have you attended in the past 12 months?

AGM - 24%;  Field meetings -  38%;  Indoor meetings - 38%

Have you participated in bird surveys in the past 12 months?

Yes - 20%;  No - 80%

Do you feel that surveys are important for DB?

Yes - 98.5%;  No - 1.5%

Have you visited a DB reserve in the past 12 months?

Yes - 39%; No - 61%

Have you carried out any voluntary activities?

Yes - 12%;  No - 88%

Are you willing to participate in voluntary activities?

Yes - 28%;  No - 72%

Do you feel that DB should support conservation activities?

98.5%;  1.5%

Are you satisfied with the information you receive?

Yes - 91%;  No - 9%

Are you satisfied with the DBR?

Yes - 95%;  No - 5%

Are you satisfied with The Harrier?

Yes - 90%;  No - 10%

Are you aware that The Harrier is now a blog?

Yes - 52%;  No - 48%

Have you subscribed to The Harrier blog?

Yes - 29%;  No - 71%

Are you a member of one of the Branches?

Yes - 37%;  No - 63%

How do you keep informed about DB activities?  (Shown as percentage of overall responses)

Website - 74%;  The Harrier - 81%;  Other - 13%


Mid Devon Branch 2 day visit to Avalon Marshes

Posted May 9th at 10:45 am in Mid Devon Branch by Mike Daniels

Monday 30 April

We all gathered at Ham Wall Information Centre for a RSPB guided walk around the Reserve. Our guides,Peter and Giles, gave an overview of the habitat and how it was created and carefully designed, particularly for Bitterns. The weather was the opposite of what had been forecast and we had no rain for 2 days, so that was a bonus. Lots of spring warblers were seen and heard along the hedgerows, including Cetti's, Blackcap, Garden, Sedge etc. Swifts, Sand & House Martins, Swallows have arrived in good numbers. Great White Egrets and Marsh Harrier were seen flying over the reedbeds and Bittern were heard booming in several places. From the Avalon hide Hobbies were seen flying and perching on a nearby post.

Back at the centre having lunch, a Cuckoo was heard and Red Kite flew over. We then carried on to the Shapwick Reserve where a large number of Hobbies were swooping over the reeds and we had good views of Whitethroat near the path. From Noah's hide we watched a pair of Great Crested Grebe looking beautiful in the sunshine.

Butterflies included Speckled Wood, Peacock, Orange Tip and Brimstone.

Most of the group overnighted in Glastonbury and met up in the evening for dinner where we all enjoyed a good evening chatting about the day.

Tuesday 1 May

The group met at Catcott Lows Reserve and were joined by 3 more members and walked to the Tower Hide. We spent about 3 hours spotting many birds not seen on the previous day including: Skylark, Reed Warbler, Kestrel and Song Thrush. Then on to Greylake for lunch and another couple of hours where we watched a Lapwing mobbing a Harrier. Birds seen included Peregrine, Hobby, Greta White Egret, Gadwall, Redshank, Wigeon and Shoveler.

Onwards to Aller Moor for our final challenge of seeing the Cranes who are currently into the breeding season. We were pleased to watch 2 Cranes on the ground feeding and a short flight.

Mission accomplished, a grand total of 71 birds over the 2 days and everyone headed happily homewards having made new birding friends.

Annabelle Strickland


Dawn Chorus at Magpie Bridge - 5 May 2018

Posted May 8th at 7:27 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

The dawn had not broken when the 10 brave members of the group assembled at Magpie Bridge on the River Walkham. The moon was rising over the valley which was shrouded in mist but head torches were needed at the start. This was a new site for us so we waited with anticipation. 

Ears at the ready the first song heard was Blackbird at 04:50. From then the variety and volume increased as we headed up away from the river. Robin was next with a few Pheasant leaving their roosts. A Cuckoo was heard repeatedly from above us on the Down and a Tawny Owl heard and then seen by some as it drifted through the woodland. Soon Song Thrush had taken over and seemed to be everywhere but nowhere to be seen despite it just becoming light enough to use binoculars. Eventually we all saw one perched on the highest part of an Oak tree in full voice. The drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker was constant and the melodious song of the Blackcap accompanied us to the canopy viewed from Gem Bridge.

It was cold here and the mist dominant. We did manage to hear the call of Dipper before heading up to the Down and sunshine. Cuckoo was again calling and so were several Yellowhammers who obligingly, stayed in the same perch for long periods, so all had excellent views.

Returning to the cars Marsh Tit were seen and Green Woodpecker heard rounding off an excellent three and a half hours of birding. The breakfast at Drake’s Café was enjoyed by all.

 Here is the full list of 31 species

Mallard, Pheasant, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Green Woodpecker, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Dipper, Robin, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer

Phil Stevens, photos by Roy Harris

Plymouth Branch Visit to Yarner Wood on 23rd April

Posted April 30th at 3:07 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

It was a chilly start to the day for the 28 members and non-members who arrived for the meeting. This was a slight disappointment as the previous day’s reconnoitre was completed in T shirts. As a result the birds were less willing to show themselves.

 We were able to split into 3 groups for the day and had a great start with singing and showing Blackcap and Garden Warbler in neighbouring shrubs. This was a fantastic opportunity to be able to compare the songs in length, pitch and variation. Someone then reminded us that birds can be accurate mimics and that one or other of Blackcap and Garden Warbler is known to imitate the other, very tricky.

 Walking across the heath failed to produce the usual Tree Pipit but Linnet and Willow Warbler were more obliging.

 Into the woods we soon had excellent views of male and female Pied Flycatchers. They were frequent throughout the day flitting in tops of trees, calling and visiting the numerous nest boxes. One group spent a while watching a female trying to manoeuvre a small Oak twig through the hole into her nest box. We were surprised how long it took before she realized that despite repeated failures getting the twig in with the length across the hole was just not going to work.

 Thanks to Dave Batten for the photo he took of this male.


The cold start to spring had delayed many species. For example the first Wood Warbler had just arrived and the first was heard today, but unfortunately not by any in our group. Even Redstarts proved elusive.

 We also managed to visit the new reservoir hide which gave easy close views of most the Tit family as well as Swallows drinking.

Here is the full list of 39 species.

Mallard, Mandarin Duck, Pheasant, Buzzard, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Tawny Owl [H], Green Woodpecker [H], Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Barn Swallow, Dunnock, Robin, Redstart, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren, Pied Flycatcher, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Chaffinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Bullfinch

Phil Stevens


Mid Devon Field visit to Fernworthy

Posted April 24th at 9:41 am in Mid Devon Branch Field Meeting by Mike Daniels

On Tuesday 17th April, 8 members joined the Mid Devon field meet at Fernworthy Reservoir. Visibility was marred by heavy rain and although Swallows continued to fly over the water a decision was made to leave and regroup for a walk through the woods at Yarner in the hope of better conditions. The new hide overlooking the small reservoir at Yarner afforded views of a male Mandarin. Another male Mandarin was perched on a branch in what little remains of the former pond. Six male Pied Flycatchers were singing; one female was observed. Pairs of Bullfinch, Coal and Marsh Tits were seen from the hide and a single Redpoll was feeding in the alder trees. The rain didn't stop!

Nick Armstrong

Two-day visit to Somerset Levels NOW FULL

Posted April 10th at 4:36 pm in Mid Devon Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

We've been inundated with bookings for our outing to the Somerset Levels on April 30 and May 1, and I'm afraid we've now reached the limit of people we can take.  Sorry to all those who have missed out.

Up the Creek and Beyond!

Posted April 3rd at 5:42 pm in Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting by Inga Page

Plymouth Branch indoor meeting 29th January 2018.

With Rupert Kirkwood aka "The Lone Kayaker"


Rupert at the Eddystone Lighthouse

Rupert’s enthusiasm and determination to navigate the waterways and coasts of the Southwest have afforded him great opportunities to see wildlife up-close and personal.

This was an entertaining and informative presentation given with passion. It revealed the many and varied flora and fauna of our region (and beyond) from the unique perspective of a kayaker.

Stunning and inspirational photographs of birds, sea creatures and landscapes viewed from the sea can be found on Rupert’s blog at and, with accompanying commentary, making a visit to this site is highly recommended. We saw many examples of the birdlife that can be seen in Plymouth waters and this presentation certainly whetted our appetite for our forthcoming boat trips on Saturday 14th July. We hope that this will provide us with opportunities to see species such as these photographed by Rupert and shown below.                                                                       John Lloyd


 Storm Petrel                                                                                     


Juv. Puffin


Plymouth Branch Visit to West Charleton Marsh, near Kingsbridge

Posted April 3rd at 5:32 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

10th January 2018

A great birding day was had by the 15 members who attended this meeting. Nobody
fell in the very muddy conditions for a start! The sewage works area is always worth
an inspection and at least 6 chiffchaff were present, a gold crest and a redwing and
also 20+ fieldfare flew over and landed in a nearby tree. Jacki’s sharp eyes found a
fire crest – only seen by a few. A grey wagtail and 2 blackcap were found when we
returned to our cars.
On route to the hide 2 male cirl buntings were spotted and seen by half the group,
which had divided up so that viewing from the hide would be more comfortable.
A stonechat was also easily seen.
The feeders at the hide made easy viewing of various tits, 2 reed bunting and
eventually a water rail. The bay held plenty of widgeon and 2 pintail and 5 shoveler
with 4 red breasted merganser.
Some of the group stopped off at Bowcombe creek on the way home and were
rewarded by good views of a kingfisher, red breasted merganser and greenshank.
Over 50 different species of bird were seen and our thanks go to the volunteers who
maintain the hide and keep the feeders full at the marsh.

Lesley Goonesekera

Plymouth Branch visit to Topsham and Bowling Green Marsh

Posted April 3rd at 5:27 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

9th March 2018

After a number of days of showers and rain the day was mostly cloudy with a gentle breeze.  There were 13 members at the field meeting which started at the Holman Way car park.  From the car park the first stop was the Quay at Topsham for views from the over the river.   This was followed by a slow walk from Quay car park, along the Strand to the Goatwalk to the hide at Bowling Green for the high tide roost .  The water levels on the marsh in front of the hide were higher than expected as the sluice had become defective.  This did not stop the group enjoying good views of a large flock of Avocet, over 15 snipe and distance views of a kingfisher.   By early afternoon the rain had set in for the day so after lunch in the hide the group walked towards Goosemoor, where the rain shortened the meeting as we all agreed that we should call it a day.

Although the weather was not enjoyable the birding we all agreed was very good with a total of 57 species observed.                               

 John O’Connell - Davidson

  1. Mute Swan
  2. Brent Goose
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Shelduck
  5. Wigeon
  6. Mallard
  7. Pintail
  8. Shoveler
  9. Teal
  10. Pochard
  11. Tufted Duck
  12. Red-breasted Merganser
  13. Little Grebe
  14. Cormorant
  15. Little Egret
  16. Grey Heron
  17. Peregrine
  18. Moorhen
  19. Coot
  20. Avocet
  21. Grey Plover
  22. Lapwing
  23. Dunlin
  24. Green Sandpiper
  25. Redshank
  26. Greenshank
  27. Black-tailed Godwit
  28. Bar-tailed Godwit
  29. Curlew
  30. Snipe
  31. Common Gull
  32. Herring Gull
  33. Great Black-backed Gull
  34. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  35. Black-headed Gull
  36. Feral Pigeon
  37. Wood Pigeon
  38. Collared Dove
  39. Kingfisher
  40. Pied Wagtail
  41. Dunnock
  42. Robin
  43. Redwing
  44. Fieldfare
  45. Blackbird
  46. Wren (heard)
  47. Great Tit
  48. Blue Tit
  49. Long-tailed Tit
  50. Magpie
  51. Jackdaw
  52. Carrion Crow
  53. Starling
  54. House Sparrow
  55. Chaffinch
  56. Goldfinch
  57. Greenfinch

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