Society News from December 2016

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


Volunteers - South Milton Ley Reed cutting 21 Jan 2017

Posted December 29th, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Each year, Devon Birds' volunteers cut part of the reed bed in South Milton Ley to regenerate growth.  It is expected the reeds will be dry enough to cut and burn and so the reed cut will take place on Saturday 21 January 10.00am, so please let Vic Tucker or Nick Townsend know if you will be able to help and make a note in your diary.

Our mechanical reed cutter greatly reduces the work of the volunteers but there is still plenty to be done by hand, gathering and burning the reeds.  It is a friendly atmosphere and an enjoyable few hours of physical work!

Bring wellies, wear warm old clothes and if you have long-handled bagging hooks and/or rakes please bring them along as well.

Please contact  Vic Tucker (01752 216887)  if you are interested in helping with the reed cutting or Nick Townsend.  Tel: 01548 560243  Come along for 2 or 3 hours; join in and help make a difference.

Plymouth Branch Field Trip Reports

Posted December 22nd, 2016 at 12:41 am

Dawlish Warren, 19 November 2016

After a number of days of strong winds and rain the day started with bright sunny weather and little wind. There were 10 members at the field meeting and after a slow walk passed trees and bushes near the Field Centre we made our way to the hide for the high tide. By mid-afternoon the rain started so we all retreated to the café for a hot drink and discussion of the day’s sightings.

There were a number of highpoints during the field meeting these included:

Distance views of a Long Tailed Duck and a Red-throated Diver on the sea

From the hide excellent views of a Great Northern Diver and Grey Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, and Greenshank.

The trees and bushes near the Field Centre a Barn Owl roosting and a Cirl Bunting pair.

Species list

Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Common Scoter, Long Tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Shag, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Bar tailed Godwit, Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Barn Owl, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, Stonechat, Redwing, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Cirl Bunting, [60]                                        Compiled by John Lloyd

John O’Connell-Davidson

Kingsmill Lake, 10 December 2016

With the forecast of a dank and rainy day only six of us were tempted out to observe the sights on Kingsmill Lake, part of The Tamar Estuary north of the China Fleet Club.

The consolation was the knowledge that the hide on the south side would offer shelter if the rain became heavier which was the eventual scenario.

Highlights of the day were a pleasing group of twelve Snipe among a flock of Lapwing on the marsh, as well as twenty Avocet on the far side of the inlet in front of the hide as the tide rose.

The rise and fall of a flock of Dunlin were seen flying up the creek towards us. Redshank, Shelduck, Greenshank and Curlew all probed the mud, while Teal, Wigeon, Cormorant and Great Crested Grebe fished in the creek. Grey Heron and Little Egret waded in search of prey in the shallows.

An enjoyable day concluded with a rewarding sight of a Kingfisher flying from the near bank over the water past us several times. Thirty seven species sighted.

Liz Harris

Teal at Kingsmill Lake (Greg Solman)

An update on Godborough, the Devon Birds reserve near Bideford

Posted December 20th, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Godborough Update December 2016

2016 has been a year of significant progress at Godborough and the site ends the year in a far better condition as a nature reserve. Key developments during the year have been:-

  1. The opening up of fence lines with small gates to create a series of paths within the plantations.
  2. Removal of the majority of tree guards which needed removal.
  3. Greening up of the scrapes dug out last year and the newly opened water in the ponds increasing diversity.
  4. Erection of fencing to allow the site to be split into four separate grazing blocks. This will allow grazing to be controlled as recommended by Mike Lock and Jerry Tallowin.
  5. Introduction of Exmoor ponies to winter graze the main slope of Shirleys field.
  6. Introduction of Devons to graze other areas, especially the “finch field” which we hope will be well poached!
  7. Installation of a solar powered water trough to enable cattle and sheep to obtain water without entering the ponds which is underway as I write.
  8. Felling of some of the large willows overhanging the ponds.
  9. Support from Bideford College ceased due to a change of policy at the College. However, we have been lucky to forge links with Petroc College and a leader with a small group has joined us. They are proving very “workish”, a credit to themselves and a real bonus to the site.

In addition there has been a large amount of routine maintenance as we try and avoid getting carried away with new projects and losing the benefits of what has been done before. For example:-

  1. The fencing and fence posts at the top by Mary’s memorial has been replaced.
  2. The bottom of Weasel’s wood has been cleared to allow some of the specimen hornbeam and service trees to develop.
  3. Clearance of the large spring fed sump which feeds the ponds.
  4. Clearing back bramble and blackthorn in the developing plantations.
  5. All the boundaries walked and replacement stakes inserted plus extra strands of barbed wire to ensure we could contain the livestock. Convinced we were secure the Devons then found a weak spot which necessitated a new 40m section of fence!

We were pleased to entertain the Devon Wildlife Trust North Devon branch. They were most impressed by the incredible selection of berried shrubs on the site. These were a major attraction to redwings and fieldfares when we had the cold snap. We planned to hold an open Moth evening but Force 7 winds and heavy rain meant that was postponed.

We have had a wide range of mammal sightings ranging from roe deer to stoats and the first mole hills on site. We have had sightings of most of the bird species we would expect. It was pleasing to see grey wagtail, skylarks and meadow pipit in the winter months but they did not stay to breed. This autumn we had our first snipe and yellowhammer sightings, two more on our target list of local species. Perhaps the biggest surprise was to see kingfishers visiting the site.

A meeting of the volunteers who regularly help at the site was held in early December to draw up a plan for next year. Inevitably there was some debate on priorities but we finally agreed that the main tasks for next year should be:-

  1. Starting a regular coppicing regime as we have badly overgrown hazels and sycamores in some of the planned coppice areas.
  2. Clearing further large willows.
  3. Creating a screen overlooking the scrapes and ponds and a path to the screen.
  4. Closing off the bottom corner of the site by the bridge.
  5. Attempting to clear the area around the ancient hornbeam by the cross ridge dyke.
  6. Improving the path through Turner’s Wood.
  7. Growing a crop of spring barley in the “finch field” which will be left for the winter feeding of finches and other species.
  8. Cleaning out the bottom pond and the last section of the centre pond.
  9. Keeping on top of day to day management, e.g. gorse in Shirleys field and the top meadow, brambles and blackthorn on the paths, cutting the long grass and reeds round the pond area, etc.
  10. Confirming a regular recorder for the site. We think we have a candidate but he has had illness within his family of late.

Looking further ahead to the 2017/18 winter season we will need to replace some fencing on the east side of Shirleys field and consider the placement of nest boxes in the young plantations and bat boxes around the pond. If resources are available we will consider the use of green hay on the slope between Weasels Wood and Marys Wood. Barring major accidents like one of the large trees falling and creating damage it is unlikely that further major expenditure will be required

Devon Highways are working adjacent to the site and as rent for placing their welfare unit on site they paid to have our roadside hedge and bank trimmed and will replace one section of fencing near the entrance which needed replacement. This will save £400 -£500 of expected expenditure. Their skip has also been a useful source of material.

None of this would have been achieved without the dedicated band of volunteers who turn up regularly to our weekly work parties. Most are Devon Birds members but three are local villagers who support what is being done on the site. A special mention must go to Norman Briden who was there when Godborough was first bought and is still working as hard as anyone to see the site develop. At present the work parties are mid-week tied to College dates but we will look to some weekend dates as there are members who would like to help but have working commitments during the week.

Finally we have to thank Devon Birds for the financial support without which we could not tackle the continuing development of the site.

Philip Marlow

Dec 2016

How do you use the Plymouth Sound and Tamar Estuaries? Survey invite

Posted December 5th, 2016 at 8:54 pm

Can you help? We are looking to collect information on how people use Plymouth Sound and Tamar Estuaries. Please take part in our survey:

I would like to bring this online survey to your attention about recreational activities around Plymouth Sound and Estuaries on behalf of the Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum (TECF). Could you please circulate this survey link amongst your club members/contacts and take the time to fill it in yourself.

The Marine Biological Association is currently undertaking research for TECF through Plymouth City Council, into how these waters are used for recreation. The results will help inform the management of these complex waters, so that the nature conservation interests are maintained and recreational activities can continue sustainably into the future.

As part of the research we have devised this questionnaire to collect information about the sport and leisure activities visitors participate in when they visit the Plymouth Sound and Estuaries area.

It should take no more than 10 minutes to fill in, and as a thank-you, there is the chance to win some prizes (include £50 of vouchers, an annual membership of the Marine Biological Association of the UK and a family ticket to the National Marine Aquarium  in Plymouth) through a draw. All data will be held by Plymouth City Council and used for TECF work only in accordance with the Data Protection Act. Data will not be passed onto third parties.

You can access the survey here:

The survey will be available between 18th of November and 30th of December 2016.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

Kaja Curry
Natural Infrastructure Officer & TECF Coordinator
Strategic Planning & Infrastructure
Plymouth City Council
Ballard House

West Hoe Road

T +441752304339
M +447788353627

What's On in December

Posted December 2nd, 2016 at 10:57 pm

Dec 6                         10:00–12:30                         Mid Devon Field Meetings 
Meldon Dam Walk and Christmas Lunch. Meet at Meldon Dam car park SX561917 at 10am. Followed by Lunch at Betty Cottles Inn at 1pm.
Contact Annabelle Strickland - or tel 01392 439685 to book lunch.   

Dec 10                       09:30–14:00                         Plymouth Field Meetings
China Fleet Club - meet at far right car park SX429604. A walk by the edge of the Tamar and Kingsmill Lake to the hide for a variety of waders and wildfowl.
Enquiries: Lesley Goonesekera, 01548 856011

Dec 11                       10:00–14:00             Taw & Torridge Field Meetings
Barnstaple to Ashford ­– meet Leisure Centre car park SS559325. Carry lunch or visit Garden Centre Café where hot food is available. 
Enquiries: Jackie Bosley or Maria Fernandes, 01237 470089

Dec 12                       09:30–15:30                         East Devon Field Meetings
Escot Park, Talaton – meet at car park SY080979. Field meeting followed by Christmas Lunch, or just lunch if you wish. (Lunch at 12.30). Essential to book lunch with Sheila Sherburn  – or tel 01395445130. Pay at end of meal.

Dec 13                       19:30–21:30             Taw & Torridge Indoor Meetings
Members' Evening – short presentations, quiz, etc - The Castle Centre, Barnstaple, EX31 1DR  Admission is £3, including refreshments
Enquiries: Vicky Hassell  01237 452167

All Devon Birds members are welcome at any meeting organised by the Society or its branches. Many meetings are free or require only a nominal charge to cover hire costs and refreshments. Non-members are also welcome – bring a friend and encourage them to join. 
Please check the website in case of last-minute changes to the programme and for links to Google Maps for venues and meeting places.

A Brief History of the Exeter Peregrines by Nick Dixon

Posted December 1st, 2016 at 11:06 pm

This booklet gives an interesting insight into the Peregrine Falcons that use St Michael's Church in Exeter.  The birds have been breeding there for the last twenty years. Proceeds from the sale of the booklet will help fund a new HD nest camera there for us all to enjoy.

This publication can now be purchased direct from Nick Dixon, Churchgate, Drewsteignton, Exeter EX6 6QU

£6.00 inc p&p.  phone for more details to 01647 281681

Mid Devon Field Meeting Ham Wall – Tuesday 18 October 2016  

Posted December 1st, 2016 at 7:55 pm


Annabelle Strickland writes: "What a fabulous day we had – 14 members of Devon Birds met at Ham Wall car park at 0930. John Crispin, our RSPB guide for the morning, gave us all a good overview of where we would be going, what birds to look out for, & how we should behave in the “off piste” areas! He explained some of the history of RSPB Ham Wall, how the 500 acre site had been acquired from Fisons in 1997, all the work carried out to date, current projects and future plans for continuing improvements, new scrape etc to the reserve.

The Mid-Devon Group at Ham Wall Visitors' Centre

We were fortunate with the weather as it had been raining on the way up on M5, but cleared up as we arrived and the rest of the day was largely sunny albeit rather chilly.

John showed us some otter markings under the bridge as we entered the Ham Wall Loop. Moving along we entered a normally padlocked gate and into the private areas of the reserve where he pointed out the nesting area for Kingfishers. We then saw a large number of Gadwall in flight and John advised to look at the white square on the trailing edge (same on M & F) and a ‘grey looking bird’! Amongst the reeds we heard a number of Bearded Tits and then saw a pair flying over the reeds in the sunlight which was very exciting especially for me as never seen one before. A Sparrowhawk was spotted nearby and Cetti's heard. There were also Moorhen, Jay, Kestrel, Long Tail Tits, Cormorant, Coot, Heron, Stonechat, Lapwing, Great White & Little Egret, Shoveler, Water Rail heard (at end April a Water Rail survey is carried out on the reserve), Little Grebe etc. There had been 7 GW Egret nests this year and 3 of the young ringed. We moved on along paths where John explained the various pieces of machinery, reed cutters, pumps etc. The reserve is keen to use the chopped reeds for compost, guaranteed to be free of Himalayan Balsam etc, ultimately selling to general public. The reeds are planned to be utilised for thatched roofing. On to the Avalon Hide where 2 Glossy Ibis flew over and a Bittern and Marsh Harrier were seen. Moving along we spotted a Peregrine chasing ducks in flight with apparently no luck despite a Harrier joining in.

As we stopped at Waltons East (where we would return late pm for starling murmuration) we had another flypast of the 2 Glossy Ibis – elegant and a wonderful sight. Then back to the car park where John said his farewell and received a unanimous warm thank-you from us all. It is definitely good value to have local guide here. We had our lunch break in the carpark sitting in the sunshine.

In the afternoon, we walked into the Shapwick reserve. At the new Tower Hide we had a wonderful view of 300+ Lapwing flying – what a wonderful sight! The 2 Glossy Ibis were on the water opposite together with Green Sandpipers, Snipe (6-10), Little Egret and then the excitement of an Otter swimming in front of us. The Heron and Egrets were totally unperturbed by its presence.

We then walked on to Noahs Hide and were treated to a wonderful view of a Bittern just a few feet in front of the hide amongst the reeds together with a beautiful Grey Heron. One of the group then spotted a Kingfisher sitting on the reeds in front of us diving for fish. We enjoyed watching Wigeon, Greylag Geese, amongst many others on the water.

We waited until 5pm to return to Waltons to watch the starling murmuration which was well worth the wait. Oh boy what a treat when it all started! There were at a guess 5,000 coming in from all directions and gathering up and dropping down into the reeds. Digby Greenhill said “this is worth getting out of bed for”. Suddenly a military helicopter flew over and up they all went but a great sight for a second time of them all descending into the reeds. Apparently, they descend in order – female at bottom of reed then male with kids on top.

6 of us stayed overnight in Glastonbury to enable an early start at Steart the next day. A nice coincidence was running into John Crispin again who was there with his ‘bazooka’ of a camera on a lovely vantage point overlooking the breached sea defences. We had another really good day birding seeing huge numbers of Shelduck, Common Gulls, Avocet, Wheatear, Skylark and 1 Swallow before our return home.

All photos by Tom Wallis (click to zoom)


Bearded Tit

 Bittern in flight

 Flock of Gadwall


 Grey Heron




Mute Swans

Starling Murmuration


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