Society News

Bowling Green Marsh and Darts Farm visit on 14th March 2019

Posted March 20th at 3:18 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

After a number of days of strong gales and rain, the forecast was abysmal and so the weather proved to be.  However, six brave souls from Devon Birds ventured out.

From Holman Way car park, we walked towards the hide with high water due at 11:00. We stopped briefly at Goosemoor before ambling to the hide where we remained until after high water.  The water levels on the marsh in front of the hide were higher than expected as the sluice had been defective and was only lowering the level slowly.  From the hide, we managed a brief stop at the platform to look over the River Clyst before progressing to the Goat Walk and viewing the River Exe.   However, the wind was so strong that nobody felt it safe to put up a ‘scope. 

After lunch it was decided to venture to Darts Farm for the final stop of the day where a pair of Black Swans seemed to have taken up residence.  On the way back to Holman Way car park on Bowling Green Road, as we were looking at white violas on the top of the bank, we noticed a Slow Worm sunning itself.

Although the weather, especially the wind, did not make for a good days birding we agreed that we had a lot better visit than expected with a total of 53 species observed.

Species list

Mute Swan, Black Swan, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Buzzard, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Snipe, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wren (heard), Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Rook, Starling, House Sparrow, Linnet, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch.

John O’Connell-Davidson

Annual General Meeting

Posted March 17th at 9:50 am in 2019 Annual General Meeting by Mike Daniels

The 2019 Annual General Meeting will take place on Wednesday 27th March 2019 at the Exeter Court Hotel, Kennford, Exeter EX6 7UX at 7pm. The meeting will be followed by a talk by Nick Baker titled: "A screaming success - Churches as bird boxes, or how to make a church goer out of a non-believer"

Visit to West Charleton Marsh on 15th February 2019

Posted March 1st at 4:23 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

On a bright sunny morning, a group of fifteen members gathered outside the West Charleton Water Treatment works.  Unfortunately, there was a man working there and only one grey wagtail, two chiffchaffs and a greenfinch were of note. On moving down the marsh, a couple of grey herons and stonechats were seen but few other birds. Due to a breakdown of the sluice, the marsh had been inundated with seawater for two weeks in January, with a strandline of debris marking the extent of the flood. The marshland vegetation was looking in a poor state, presumably due to the saline invasion.  Hence, we were very pleased to hear two water rails and glimpse one, as we feared they might have been driven away. The channels and pool held a few mallard, teal, grey herons and little egrets.

On arrival at the hide, we were disappointed to find that the tide was right up to the sea wall below the hide, although it was still almost three hours before high water. Consequently, less shore birds were found than had been anticipated. There was a smattering of the usual wintering estuarine birds, and numbers of curlew and oystercatchers could be seen roosting on a distant shore. A highlight were the regular groups of dunlin seen flying in across the bay, until eventually several hundreds put on a lovely, if distant, display.

Towards the end of our visit, a medium sized grey seal appeared about 100 metres away in front of the hide.  On the way back up the marsh, peacock and red admiral butterflies were observed fluttering in the February sun. A total of thirty four species of birds were observed by the group.


Jackdaw, Blackbird, Herring Gull, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Carrion Crow, Stonechat, Water Rail, Mallard , Teal, Buzzard, Robin , Wren, Chaffinch, Magpie, Chiffchaff, Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Tit, Little Egret , Moorhen


Brent Geese, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Wigeon, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Shelduck, Redshank, Greenshank, Great Black-backed Gull, Cormorant

Doug Herdson

A 10 year study on Dartmoor ground-nesting birds - talk by Sara Zonneveld on 28th January 2019

Posted February 1st at 9:56 am in Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting by Inga Page

Sara comes to us with a wealth of ornithological research experience as a resume of her research career shows. Since 2017, she has been working as a SWEEP impact fellow (alongside the Dartmoor bird work she presented to us), on a project that brings together academics, policy-makers and researchers to solve some of the challenges of managing the natural environment in the south-west. 

She started the work on Dartmoor ground-nesting birds in 2013. Before that she worked on a range of projects in different countries as part of her undergraduate and masters degrees, for example a large field study on Great Tits at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, and a project on Collared Flycatchers on Gotland (Sweden). 

Her current PhD at Exeter University focuses on understanding the factors affecting breeding success in ground-nesting birds and Cuckoos in Dartmoor National Park. A combination of extensive field surveys, ArcGIS and ecological modelling is used to understand the effects of habitat, weather conditions and other biotic factors. Her main interests centre around understanding how ecological factors affect bird breeding and distributions.

The complexity of land management and conservation of essential habitats can only be un-picked and understood through studying nesting behavior and success. Sara outlined the methodology of her team’s work and how data can be used to determine conservation policy.

She outlined the main factors influencing breeding birds success rates, these can be listed as: Predation; Site location; Vegetation; Timing; and Land Management. She discussed how the ecology of breeding was influenced by these factors and showed us how the data and observations were painstakingly made.

The study of ground nesting birds, in particular, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Whinchat led to a study of Cuckoo breeding success. Forensic analysis of Meadow Pipit rearing of Cuckoo chicks was brought to bear with observation of foraging for, and make-up of prey (DNA mapping techniques to examine chick’s fecal matter eliciting vital information here) used to feed the Cuckoo chicks showing how the broad ecology of the habitats was essential to success.

The research information showing greater understanding of nesting behavior and breeding success is promulgated both regionally and nationally and is combined with Sara’s work on the SWEEP program which seeks to consider the wider implications of human interaction with Dartmoor. This project tries to predict the future use of the national park with an expanding population around its periphery and looks at the benefits to humans but also recognizing the costs to Dartmoor and its wildlife.

This excellent presentation so eloquently emphasized how the future of our unique national park needs, more than ever before, to be an intricate and carefully balanced system that works for all stakeholders but most of all for cherished wildlife.

John Lloyd

Trip to Broadsands and Brixham on January 17th

Posted January 21st at 4:42 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

This, our first field meeting of 2019, led by Doug Herdson, was strongly supported by 26 members who enjoyed a cold but bright January day. We were well rewarded by the sighting of some 44 species with highlights being Cirl Bunting, Red Necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Razorbill and Yellow Browed Warbler at Broadsands and Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Rock Pipit around the breakwater and Great Northern Diver & Kittiwake out at sea.

Cirl Bunting (Dave Batten)

Turnstone (Dave Batten)

In addition to these avian highlights we saw a pod of fifteen Common Dolphin, including at least two calves, at Broadsands and, at Brixham, five Grey Seal.

Common Dolphin (Dave Batten)

Grey Seal {Dave Batten)

Full species list:

Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Longtailed Tit, Blackcap, Raven, Song Thrush, Yellow Browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Cirl Bunting, Reed Bunting, Dunnock, Blackbird, Robin, Woodpigeon, Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Peregrine, Magpie, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Great Black Backed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Bullfinch, Cormorant, Shag, Gannet, Fulmar, Little Egret, Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Razorbill, Great Crested Grebe, Red Necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Rock Pipit, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Jay, Goldcrest.

John Lloyd

Volunteers Needed for Bird Surveys

Posted January 12th at 12:26 pm in Mid Devon Branch by Inga Page

Mid-Devon Branch of Devon Birds is seeking volunteers to help out with two bird surveys as described below:

1. A monthly bird survey of Cove Farm, located just north of Tiverton.  Two adjoining landowners plan to undertake a rewilding project.  Cove Farm is composed of pasture, mature hedges and small copses together with a larger plantation and deciduous woodland that in total constitutes an area of approximately 80 acres.  The land is fairly steep in places.   A 2019 base survey will help substantiate the change that we anticipate will occur as agricultural practice gives way to natural regeneration.  We propose to kick off with the first monthly survey during the last week of January.  Please contact Nick Armstrong for further details: or tel: 01363 866860

2. Local people are need to help monitor Stoke Woods, at the edge of Exeter, adjacent to the Exe Valley.  . The focus will be for Pied Flycatchers but we intend to maintain a database of all bird species and wildlife.  A number of nest boxes were placed in position last year. Stoke Woods was incorporated into the Piedfly network last year.  Please contact Annabelle Strickland: or tel: 01392 439685. 

Visit to Kingsmill Lake on 17th December 2018

Posted January 1st at 6:55 pm in Plymouth Branch Field Meeting by Inga Page

A lucky break, after a week of torrential rain, allowed thirteen members to enjoy a calm sunny morning walking up the west side of the River Tamar to the hide by Kingsmill Lake. 

A female blackcap took advantage of the bird feeders by the club.

Towards the far shore in the Tamar a Great Northern Diver was identified.

On reaching the hide owned by Cornwall Wildlife Trust, we found that repairs had been completed this year with a financial contribution from Devon Birds.  The hide is well positioned on the south bank of the creek to offer some sanctuary for our winter visits.

Grebe (Dave Easter)

Grey Plover (Dave Easter)

 A flock of seventy Avocet lined the waters edge intermingled with a flock of Dunlin, as well as Curlew, Redshank and Shelduck.  Twenty Snipe sat in vegetation on the mud bank opposite, some appearing very exposed and similarly four grey plover showed well. Other highlights included a single knot and ‘hard to find’ pintail and the blue streak of a kingfisher flashed in front of the hide.

Thirty seven species were identified. 

Liz Harris


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