Society News from April 2013

Taw & Torridge Branch Indoor Meetings - updated

Posted September 2nd at 5:16 pm in Events by Mike Daniels

The Taw & Torridge Branch are restarting Indoor Meetings at the Castle Centre, Barnstaple. Start times are :7.30pm. Details for the remainder of 2022 and beginning of 2023 are:

8th November - John Walters, the Secret Life of the Long-tailed Tit

13th December - Philip Marlow, African Game Parks are not just the Big 5

10th January 2023 - Emma Scotney, An Introduction to Bats

14th February - James Fentom, Plovers of St Helena: A study

14th March - Stephen Powels, Tawny Owls

11th April - Ian Gaspar, Bird behaviour: an illustrated talk


TAWNY WOOD Reserve, East Devon

Posted April 29th, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Eleven  members and friends met at the reserve today (29 April) to mark the 30th anniversary since the reserve was bequeathed to the Society in 1983 by the late Pam and Laurie Williamson of Dalwood.  During the visit the group noted the presence of  Wood Warbler and were given information by Dr. David Allen concerning the botany of the area and advised as to how the reserve might be better managed to improve its ecology.

Tawny Wood visit by East Devon Members Apr 2013

Mid Devon Field Trip from Sticklepath to Belstone/open Moor/The Warren

Posted April 25th, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Sadly the weather was dull and very cool but ten members turned up and enjoyed a walk up the wooded Belstone Cleave beside the R. Taw where there were many sightings of singing Robin, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff Blue and Great tit, Chaffinch and Goldcrest.

Jackdaw were seen at tree nest holes, chaffinch were also busy with nesting material.  A pair of Grey wagtails were seen on the river . Treecreeper, Buzzard, Dunnock, Wood pigeon, Great spotted woodpecker, Jay,  Song thrush, Blackbird and Wren were also seen along with Coal tit, Long tailed tit and a smart pair of. Bullfinch.  Mallard flew from the river through the trees. Open moorland revealed 3 Mistle thrush, four singing Skylark, Meadow pipit, Raven, a pair of Stonechat, 10+ Wheatear.

DEVON BIRDS & DNP sponsor tagging 4 Cuckoos on Dartmoor

Posted April 22nd, 2013 at 12:21 pm

In July Away I Fly?Cuckoo John Walters

Cuckoo, cuckoo, what do you do?
In April I open my bill;
In May I sing all day;
In June I change my tune;
In July away I fly;
In August away I must.

If there is a bird that is very well known to birders and non-birders alike it must be the Cuckoo.  Its name is its song and its unique method of getting other birds to incubate and rear its young sets it apart from all other UK birds.  That song once heard across large areas of the Devon countryside is now mainly reserved for Dartmoor in April, May and June.

In those ten to twelve weeks female Cuckoos can lay between 2 - 15 eggs; all in different nests and in Devon mainly in those of the Meadow Pipit.  The hatchling  Cuckoos waste no time when hatched in ejecting any other eggs or young from the nest so that all food delivered to the nest is for their consumption and they even mimic the begging calls of their host’s chicks to keep supplies of caterpillars coming in.

Meanwhile, as they grow bigger, their real parents will start their return journey to Africa in July leaving their young to follow much later using their own “built in” sat nav.

Well, 2013 could be a very good year for the future survival of Dartmoor’s Cuckoos.  Four healthy male birds are being tagged to enable scientists to track them to understand the routes they take back to their wintering sites in Africa.  The scientists hope that the knowledge gained about where they fly, where they stop to feed, where they spend the winter and how they make the return journey will help to point to why numbers have declined by 60-70% over the last 20-30 years.

Some of the reasons for their decline could be due to changes in agricultural practices, predation and food availability in the UK but the data from tagging will tell scientists much about their whereabouts and survival during the other nine months of the year when they are out of the country.

Devon Birds are combining with the Dartmoor National Park Authority to fund these four birds to understand more about how to conserve them as an iconic species for Devon and Dartmoor.

Our website will carry news of their journey across Europe and the Mediterranean and then hopefully into Africa before crossing the Sahara Desert and settling down to winter in countries like Cameroon.

Our jointly funded cuckoos will be caught and fitted with their satellite tags in May this year.  Each bird has a customized tag and they will be named as they are released. 

The tagging is part of the national project run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). They have already tagged Cuckoos from Scotland, Wales and East Anglia.  How will our Cuckoos compare?  Most of the above Cuckoos cross the English Channel at the narrowest point, Kent, so will ours move east and then head south for Kent, or will they risk a longer sea crossing?

Information on earlier cuckoos here

Otter Estuary Interpretation Boards Unveiled

Posted April 19th, 2013 at 11:07 am by Steve Waite

On the morning of 18 April, the Otter Estuary Interpretation boards were unveiled by local volunteers Doug Cullen and Ray Hamilton. The boards were illustrated by Mike Langman, and funded jointly by Devon Birds, Pebblebed Heath Conservation Trust, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Otter Valley Association. An array of representatives from the above Societies, and the local council, met on the beach at Budleigh where the first board is situated.
The second board can be found along the path to White Bridge, where the new Otter Scrapes can be viewed. This is adjacent to the Hide which contains various information and leaflets including the Society’s membership application forms
Devon Birds were very pleased to have helped fund these excellent information boards, and hopes they will prove interesting to birders and non-birders alike.
Local volunteer Doug Cullen with the first board
L to R: Jonathan Ruscoe, Mike Langman and Steve Waite with the second board

Sand Martin Nest Sites

Posted April 18th, 2013 at 8:56 am by Steve Waite

This request has come in from Hannah Wickenden, a PhD student at Ocford Brookes University.

"As spring is trying to arrive, and some Sand Martins have arrived. Would it be possible for everyone to keep their eyes open for nesting sites and colonies this year. I will try to collect from more sites this year.

Please contact me on"

Don't forget to tell Devon Birds about them too though!

Wood Warblers and other Colour-ringed Birds

Posted April 4th, 2013 at 4:50 pm

As migrants start to arrive please look out for colour-ringed birds - there will be information on the Forum as well as here.

Ring Ouzels were "multi" colour-ringed last year, also Wood Warblers and some Pied Flycatchers had blue or red rings.  If you see any colour-ringed birds please let us know.

The Wood Warbler colour ringing project is to help:                                                          John WaltersWood Warbler sketch by John Walters

Investigate the decline of Wood Warblers in Devon

Since 2009, the RSPB has been carrying out research into the decline of Wood warbler populations in the UK. Initially working in one of the species main strongholds in mid-Wales, from 2012 we shifted emphasis to other regions -including Devon. The rationale behind this shift is that although the population in Wales has declined, by around 20% since the 1980s, the Wood warbler population in Devon has fared even worse, declining by almost 70% over the same period. If factors operating on the breeding grounds are driving these population declines, then we are more likely to identify this in an area  where birds have declined more severely.                     

In 2012 a total of 135 Wood warbler nests were monitored in woodlands across Dartmoor. Of these 38 were predated of which 19 could be attributed to actual predators through the use of nest cameras (6 Jay, 4 Buzzard, 4 Sparrowhawk, 2 Grey squirrel, 1 mouse, 1 rat and 1 Weasel). These predators are similar to what predated nests found in Wales, where jay was also the main predator. On Dartmoor in 2012 many nests were lost due to the terrible weather we all experienced which caused high rates of nest failure through starvation and desertion. Unfortunately comparisons of nest mortality, one of several possible drivers of the decline, between Devon and Wales were confounded by this. Work in Devon will be repeated in the same Dartmoor woodlands in 2013, and this work should enlighten us on whether poor nest survival is contributing to the species decline. We will also continue to collect data on invertebrate prey abundance, and predation, for comparison with equivalent data collected in Wales.

Now this is where you can help! As part of our work in 2012, 69 adult Wood Warblers (42 males and 27 females) and 191 nestlings that fledged were fitted with unique combinations of colour rings, and we hope to confirm that some of these return to Dartmoor woods in 2013. This will help us determine survival and recruitment rates, and the degree of site fidelity from one year to the next. Throughout their European breeding range Wood warblers typically show very low site fidelity, although return rates of birds are higher in the west of their range. As Wood warbler distribution in Devon has contracted to relatively small areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor we are hopeful that we can locate these returning birds – with your help. A small number of Wood warblers were colour ringed at East Dartmoor NNR in 2011 (19 adults and 37 young) and some of these did return to various Dartmoor woods to breed in 2012. So we do expect a significant number of returning Wood warblers this spring to be colour ringed. To help us we would be very grateful to learn of any sightings of colour ringed Wood warblers from birders out in the regions woodlands this spring and summer. The Wood warblers were ringed with a colour ring above a standard BTO numbered metal ring on the bird’s left leg, and two colour rings on the bird’s right leg. If you see one of these birds, please contact me with details of what you saw, when and where. In return we should hopefully be able to give you some history of the bird concerned.

I look forward to hearing from you, and let’s hope for a better summer!

Malcolm Burgess    Tel: 07816584083

Email:  Malcolm Burgess   

Excellent Start for Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting

Posted April 1st, 2013 at 2:27 pm

On the evening of Monday 25 March 53 members and non members gathered at the Hyde Park Social Club to relaunch the Plymouth Indoor Meeting activity after a gap of several years.

They were welcomed by Liz Harris and then George Harris, Chairman of Devon Birds, who described where some of the energies of Devon Birds were being directed.  He mentioned the completion of the Devon Bird Atlas as well as  projects to support Cuckoo, Pied Flycatcher and Ring Ouzel conservation. 

Liz then introduced Mike Langman.the well known Devon Birds member, illustrator and naturalist who got everyone involved in a fun and practical talk entitled "Make a Note of It".

The talk tested the audience on their observation skills and Mike gave sound advice on making notes on the bird shape, head size, wing length, beak size and feather patterns whilst observing the bird's behaviour.  By knowing our common birds in detail we are more likely to pick up similar but rarer species.  This hands-on talk was well suited to the audience who ranged across the whole spectrum of birding skills.  Mike was very warmly applauded for his contribution to their first Plymouth Branch Indoor meeting.

After such a successful meeting Liz has now arranged a follow up meeting on Monday 10th June at 7.30pm with Dave Norman giving a talk entitled 'Expand your Birdwatching horizons by exploring sites in the area'. Dave Norman is co-author of  'Where to watch birds in Devon and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly'.  The talk will take place at Mutley Baptist Hall in the Spurgeon Hall, Mutley Plain, Plymouth PL4 6LB.

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