Society News

Flightless birding to Extremadura

Posted April 19th at 1:35 pm by Kevin Cox

A talk by John O’Connell-Davidson, Devon Birds Plymouth Branch committee member at the Devon Birds Plymouth Branch Indoor meeting -  Monday 10th April 2017

John combines his love of travel with worldwide birdwatching and has visited many far-flung places in his search for species. Accompany John on a local bird watching trip and you will benefit from his expertise and ID knowledge and this skill was brought out in this engaging and informative presentation on birdwatching in Extremadura. The title of John’s presentation had nothing to do with some exotic non-flying species but referred to a cost effective and enjoyable trip which combined Plymouth to Santander ferry and car hire road trip down through Spain. John has kindly offered to give advice on travel and accommodation as well as birding hot-spots for iconic Iberian species of birds, insects and flora in this untouched and idyllic area of Spain.

Extremadura is located on a large flat plane and with varied habitat that has been shaped by an agrarian system that has been used for centuries and that allows for a harmonious relationship between farmer and wildlife. The bio-diversity is such that a rich and varied flora and fauna can exist and it is this ecology that is a key to the successful populations of resident, migrant and passing migrant birds. The management of the land with a more leisurely rotation of crops and livestock promotes the wild flowers, trees and insect life that in turn support the wide and flourishing bird populations. Even the towns and villages make homes for species such as Lesser Kestrel, Spotless Starling and Stork. The many lakes and reservoirs support warblers and water birds including Little, Great and Cattle Egrets, Purple Heron and even Whiskered Tern. Over the winter the many managed Oak groves that are an integral feature of the agrarian landscape support huge numbers of Crane which gorge themselves on the acorns before the find roosts at the local lakes.

John had visited Extremadura with his friend Peter whose photographs of many iconic species, such as Roller, Booted and Short-toed Eagle, and in the nearby Sierra Gredos Mountains Honey Buzzard, Goshawk and the sure-footed Ibex mountain goat featured in John’s presentation. The visit to the mountains also provided opportunities to see Alpine flora and to put one’s boots in the snow!

Information and advice about Extremadura is freely available both from the internet and in hardcopy from events such as Birdfair and help to make this area of Spain an easily accessible and rich resource for anyone who wishes to be immersed in a wildlife paradise.

John Lloyd

South Milton Reserve - track maintenance

Posted April 17th at 11:17 pm by Kevin Cox

The track on the north side of the Reserve between the treatment plant and just short of the boardwalk is to be re-seeded with a grass mix that does not grow so rapidly or prolifically. Work is due to start in the week ending 23 April with an initial coarse harrowing of the track, followed a few weeks later by fine harrowing before the new seed mix is sown.  The track will remain open throughout the work so please feel free to continue using it.

Photo's for the Digital Devon Bird Atlas

Posted April 6th at 9:09 am by Mike Langman

The digital Devon Bird Atlas is about to be launched and we need some new bird photographs preferable taken in Devon. Can you help?

This is the list of species required:

  • Whooper Swan
  • Bewick’s Swan
  • Eider (male & female or pair)
  • Velvet Scoter
  • Honey Buzzard
  • Marsh Harrier
  • Woodcock
  • Little Auk
  • Little Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Black Tern
  • Roseate Tern
  • Kittiwake
  • Little Gull
  • Feral Pigeon/Rock Dove
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Swift
  • Hoopoe
  • Wryneck
  • Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
  • Hobby
  • Golden Oriole
  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Chough
  • Willow Tit
  • Woodlark (adult)
  • Skylark
  • Swallow
  • Cetti’s Warbler
  • Bearded Tit
  • Garden Warbler
  • Lesser Whitethroat
  • Grasshopper Warbler
  • Starling
  • Nightingale
  • Tree Sparrow
  • White Wagtail
  • Water Pipit
  • Lesser Redpoll
  • Lapland Bunting

Photographs (up to 2MB) for selection will be collected in a ‘Devon Atlas Digital’ dropbox folder (  

For an invite to submit material contact Mike Langman at

Submission of any photo assumes that Devon Birds may use the image free of charge in any of their own publications, on the website or for Society publicity purposes, the copyright of course remains with the photographer.

It is essential that every photo submitted is file named to identify species, age (if applicable) location (unless a vunerable species in which please just mark as 'undiclosed site' or UdS), date and photographers initials some file names are restricted to 28 characters in which case they can be abbreviated  i.e. a Mediterranean Gull 2nd summer photo taken at Instow on 20 July 2012 by Jo Bloggs (please use your known Devon Birds initials if you have or know them) could be: MedGull2sInstw200712JBs.

We really look forward to seeing what you can offer.

Plymouth Branch Field Meeting Report

Posted March 24th at 3:15 pm by Kevin Cox

Topsham and Bowling Green Marsh 6th March 2017

With heavy rain forecast throughout the day 6 intrepid birders met started at Holman Way car park SX968881 for what they hoped would be a day’s birding without getting too wet. In the event the weather was kind and a good birding was achieved.  

We started at the Key at Topsham Quay car park before walking along the road towards the Marsh. First stop was the viewing platform overlooking the river at SX 97284 87296 where we had very good views of a Common Seal eating a large Mullet.   Moving on to the Bowling Green Marsh hide for an hour either side of high water before walking to the NCN Goosemoor & River Clyst Bridge path for views across the moor.  

Bird list

  1. Wood pigeon
  2. Collared dove
  3. Carrion crow
  4. Canada goose
  5. Robin
  6. House sparrow
  7. Dunnock
  8. Starling
  9. Blue tit
  10. Great tit
  11. Goldfinch
  12. Blackbird
  13. Blackheaded Gull
  14. Herring Gull
  15. Red-breasted Merganser – 6
  16. Teal
  17. Feral pigeon
  18. Redshank
  19. Avocet
  20. Blacktailed Godwit
  21. Cormorant
  22. Pied Wagtail
  23. Dunlin
  24. Golden Plover – 500 to 1000
  25. Curlew
  26. Mute swan
  27. Shelduck
  28. Mallard
  29. Grey plover – 10+
  30. Song Thrush – 1
  31. Common Gull – 2
  32. Magpie
  33. Jay
  34. Wigeon
  35. Moorhen
  36. Bartailed Godwit
  37. Shoveler
  38. Goldcrest
  39. Snipe
  40. Pintail
  41. Lapwing
  42. Coot
  43. Tufted duck – c. 5
  44. Little Grebe – 3
  45. Little Egret – 1 or 2
  46. Buzzard – 3
  47. Sand Martin – 2
  48. Greenfinch
  49. Chaffinch
  50. Grey heron
  51. Greenshank – c.7
  52. Spotted Redshank – 1
  53. Water Rail – 1 heard


Red fox – 1

Common Seal – 1 Medium sized; eating a Thick-lipped grey Mullet.

John O'Connell-Davidson

Mid Devon Field Meeting Steps Bridge – Tuesday 21 March 2017

Posted March 23rd at 7:41 pm by Inga Page

Dipper © Ron Champion, 15/3/2017, Dartmeet, With nest building material.  Same site for 35+ years.

16 members attended Steps Bridge today for a most enjoyable field meeting. Ably led by Tim Channon who has great knowledge of this area, his local patch, so many thanks to him!  It was very encouraging to have 2 friendly and knowledgeable prospective new members in attendance, hopefully they will join us again.  It was good to hear people happily sharing their knowledge with each other and discussing various points of the sightings.

The weather was typical for early spring, mixed sunshine and showers allowing us 32 different species seen and heard.  Most notable, were at least 2 lesser spotted woodpeckers, 3 pairs of dipper – 2 seen coming from their nest about 6ft up a tree alongside the river, several song thrush, nuthatch, redwing, siskin, jay, tree creepers, pair of bullfinch, pair of goosander, kingfisher, heron, marsh tit, gs woodpecker, sparrowhawk, goshawk and to end the day a tawny owl was heard nearby.  All the other usual suspects, eg goldcrest, grey wagtail, buzzard etc were present so a good birding day was had by all.

Annabelle Strickland, Mid Devon Co-ordinator

Raptor Rescue

Posted February 22nd at 11:13 pm by Kevin Cox

Devon Birds Plymouth Branch - Indoor Meeting of Monday, 13th February 2017

A talk by Steve Hopper, South Hams Hawks & Owls

Steve has dedicated much of his life to birds of prey and his extensive knowledge and his great passion for these birds was deftly communicated to an enthralled audience. He illustrated his presentation with many outstanding photographs that showed another great talent that this engaging birder possesses. Many of us will have met Steve on his ‘peregrinations’ and he is always a helpful and informative guide willing to impart his bird ID tips to enrich our birding experience.

His presentation clearly showed us the complex and involved care that is needed to rescue the birds that come his way. His rapport with many local vets and land owners has meant that his reputation has spread far across our county and beyond. Many occasions have seen Steve venturing out late at night (sometimes in his pyjamas!) to attend to a raptor in trouble. The success rate of recovery is impressive too and Steve is always saddened when a bird is beyond his and the vet’s skills.

In the second half of Steve’s presentation we were introduced to three of Steve’s charges. The audience were thrilled to meet Scamp the Barn Owl, Marley the Kestrel and the impressive and imperious Hazzard Hawk (Harris x Buzzard hybrid that Steve had bred).   From his skills in falconry we learnt about the importance of weight and condition when flying birds of prey and how birds hunt both from the falconer’s arm and in the wild.

We all came away from the evening with much admiration for the sterling work that Steve does, a great deal more knowledge and a desire to get out birding and see more raptors!

John Lloyd

Thurlestone Walks

Posted February 22nd at 9:36 am by Shaw Edwards

Kestrel © Keith McGinn, 11/4/2016, shaldon

 Just a brief note to say thank you to the people who came on the two Thurlestone walks, over forty in all.  We saw a good range of birds on both occasions, with clear identification of 30 on the January walk and 37 on 19th of February, on top of which we had good weather! We had great views of the Desert Wheatear, which is now acquiring his breeding plumage and according to local reports is beginning to sing.  There were also good viewings of a Water Pipit, several Snipe, Cattle Egrets and two White-fronted geese on South Huish Marsh and a female Black Redstart on the rocks by the flats.  Another highlight was the wonderful views of a Kestrel, on the 19th, who most obligingly hovered a few feet above us, giving many people a chance to take photographs.

From some of the feedback that we gathered on both days a lot of people enjoyed meeting, talking and sharing their knowledge with each other, therefore if people feel it would be of interest maybe it would be worthwhile organising similar informal events. Valerie and I have some ideas of walks that we may like to organise, but if anyone else has suggestions on where they would like to explore, please let us know.

Again, many thanks to everyone who joined us, and also considerable thanks to Mike Passman for his local knowledge and advice, and to those members who helped in January.

Shaw and Valerie Edwards –

Successful Reed Cut on Saturday at SML - with thanks to all who helped

Posted February 18th at 6:41 pm by George & Julia Harris

A beautiful spring-like morning greeted the twenty-plus volunteers who turned out for the second reed cutting and burning session of the winter at South Milton Ley today. With Rory Sanders driving the reed-cutting machine and ably coordinated by Nick Townsend, the team of Devon Birds’ members, local birders and residents from South Milton and the surrounding area, was able to cut, clear and burn around 7,000 square metres of reed bed in about three hours.

With a relatively high average age, the volunteers were in agreement that spreading the cutting over two sessions made the process more enjoyable and less physically demanding than in previous years. It also enabled a larger total area to be cleared, which fully meets the requirements of the management plan agreed with Natural England for the reserve.

Slash and burn

Mowing sections of the reed bed on rotation helps to rejuvenate it by preventing the accumulation of plant debris. If not managed, this can accelerate the drying out of the marsh and encourage colonisation by willow, alder and other trees. Cut sectors are always adjacent to established stands of mature reeds to ensure rapid recolonization of the new growth by invertebrates from the surrounding areas. In the short term, this minimises the impact on the birds breeding and feeding in the reed bed and, in the longer term, produces a diverse mosaic of healthy reeds.

Reed cutting team

Devon Birds extends its thanks to all those who took part.

Alan Pomroy


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