Society News

Tawny Owl Surveys

Posted July 29th at 1:33 pm in Volunteers needed for Tawny Owl Surveys by Inga Page

The BTO is running another complementary pair of Tawny Owl surveys over 2018/2019 and would welcome the help of volunteers.

Firstly, from mid-August to mid-October they will be running a structured survey based on those carried out in 1989 and 2005 called the Tawny Owl Point Survey (TOPS). For this you choose a tetrad from those available and once signed up just listen two or three times for 20 minutes at or near the centre of the tetrad during the 2 hours after sunset. Full details at

Secondly, from 30 September 2018 to 31 March 2019 for the Tawny Owl Calling Survey (TOCS), they are asking you to listen for Tawny Owls for 20 minutes one evening a week from your own garden or other place that you choose. The more weeks the better but one is better than none! Full details at This survey repeats one carried out in 2005/6.

And always remember a zero result is as valuable as a positive!

Our BTO rep – Stella Beavan – is happy to answer any queries and she can be contacted at

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


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