Society News from February 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


23 March Devon Birds AGM Exeter Court Hotel

Posted February 29th, 2016 at 10:07 pm

We look forward to welcoming all members to this year’s Annual General Meeting which will take place on Wednesday evening 23 March starting at 7.00pm at the Exeter Court Hotel, Kennford Exeter EX6 7UX.  The Exeter Court Hotel is just off the A38 on the westbound carriageway. Directions can be found on the hotel’s website here.

 The AGM is the ideal opportunity to hear from the Chair and Council about the work of the Society over the last twelve months. The Treasurer will also give an overview of the accounts and the Society’s current financial position.
Click here for our full AGM document for you to read in pdf format.  Anyone wanting a paper copy of the Report & Accounts should contact the Secretary, Mike Daniels Tel: 01822 853785 or by email
The aim is to have a short AGM followed by a coffee break allowing members to talk to various Officers and members of Devon Birds.  This will be followed by an interesting talk entitled 'Inglorious – Hen Harriers and grouse shooting' by Mark Avery, formerly Conservation Director of the RSPB since when he has become just as well-known as an author, blogger and campaigner. A life-long birder, Mark is also a passionate and knowledgeable conservationist; his book, “Fighting for Birds” is a good introduction to many of the nature conservation battles he’s been involved in over the last 25 years.  Mark is a passionate and engaging speaker and his talk is certain to be lively and controversial – one not to miss.

Buzzard plumages. Your sightings needed!

Posted February 25th, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Buzzard plumages  Your sightings needed

Members can actively contribute to an international research project at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology into geographical differences in the distribution of various Common Buzzard plumage types across Europe and whether plumage colour affects the Buzzard’s survival and reproductive success.Variation on Buzzard plumage types (very dark to very pale) shown here

There are currently only six records from Devon, one from Dorset and none from Cornwall.

To help in this research please submit your observations on their website at

Alan Pomroy

Devon Bird Atlas competition winners

Posted February 24th, 2016 at 10:52 pm

The Mid Devon Advertiser attended and reported on the launch of our Atlas at Stover and the following week organised a competition for someone to win a copy of the Atlas.

Geoffrey and Margaret Dixon, who used to run the pharmacy in Torquay Road, Kingskerswell, were the lucky winners of the Mid-Devon Advertiser’s highly popular Devon Bird Atlas competition.

Mid Devon Field Meeting Tottiford – Tues 23 Feb 2016

Posted February 24th, 2016 at 2:08 pm

On our approach by car to the lane leading to Tottiford Reservoir car park, 3 Yellowhammer were seen sitting on a wire above us.  At the car park 7 members met on a beautiful, sunny but cold morning and set off along the east side of the reservoir and immediately we heard birds singing around us and on the water were a group of Goosanders and many more seen further up on reservoir (approx. 16 in total). Other birds included Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Tree Creeper, Goldcrest, Raven and many other small birds.  

Goosander Tottiford Res Tom Wallis 22.2.2016

We stopped on the Road between Tottiford and Kennick reservoirs and saw a pair of Grey Wagtails fly across and down to the stream below us.  Looking much further around us we spotted 2 Buzzards in the distance circling enjoying the weather.  Walking up through the woods several birds were seen and heard including a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sparrowhawk.  We arrived at the shore of Trenchford Reservoir where Long Tail Tits were seen flitting between the trees on the edge and on the water there was a large group of Tufted Ducks, Little Grebe, and a pair of Great Crested Grebe, one who had just caught their breakfast!  Walking the footpath alongside the water we came to the road between Trenchford and Tottiford and sat in the sunshine on the grass below to eat our lunch.  It was a wonderful day with good company and 33 different species were seen/heard.

Next Field Meeting – Steps Bridge – Tuesday 15 March 0930

Recent talk: The wildlife and changes on Braunton Burrows

Posted February 14th, 2016 at 5:39 pm

The Taw & Torridge Group indoor meeting was held at our usual venue of The Castle Rooms in Barnstaple on 9 February.

Our speaker was John Breeds,who with his wife Mary, have been involved for many years with the Bio-sphere reserve at Braunton.

John's talk was on the history and wildlife of the reserve and the changes it has undergone. With plenty of photographs to show how the reserve has altered over the years and more recently, with the heavy storms, the changes to the seaward side of the dunes.

This area is very rich in plants, animals, insects and to a lesser extent birds. Surprisingly it needs more grazing to keep the rank vegetation under control and more rabbits to keep the grass short for the large population of scarce and some rare plants. The pressures on the reserve from people and especially dog walkers makes this a very hard place to manage.  Karen Sims

A very interesting talk from a very knowledgable speaker.

Further help needed for Dartmoor Birds

Posted February 8th, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Devon Birds is supporting this work on nesting birds on Dartmoor with a grant to help; but they also need to raise additional funds and have asked if we would display their request, set out below:

A group of Devon Birds members has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to support their study on Dartmoor birds. The Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group ( has been studying nests of ground-nesting birds on Dartmoor for the past 8 years, and has collected nest record data for over 1300 nests.  Although their main focus is on Meadow Pipits, Cuckoos, Stonechats and Whinchats, they have monitored nests of over 30 species, building an extensive dataset on the breeding of our Dartmoor birds. Their fieldwork has been volunteer-run for the last 8 years, but as their work has been expanding rapidly in recent years, the group is hoping to raise £6000 to cover part of the fieldwork costs to be able to continue and expand their work.

The aim of their group is to help bird conservation and scientific study by building an understanding of breeding success and breeding requirements. All their nest records are submitted to the BTO, nestlings are ringed, and the data is used by the group’s two PhD researchers from the University of Exeter. Sara Zonneveld, PhD researcher at the University of Exeter, said “The volunteers on our project are incredibly skilled and dedicated, and their work is essential for our scientific studies on ground-nesting birds at the University of Exeter. We hope that through this crowdfunding campaign, we will be able to continue the success of this valuable project on our fantastic Dartmoor bird community.”

To find out more, please visit the Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group’s crowdfunding website at A donation of just £5 allows the volunteers to ring 20 nestlings. The website also offers a range of rewards to thank you for your donations.

There are two ways to make a donation to the Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group’s fundraiser:
By credit/debit card using the crowdfunding site (before 13 March):
- go to
- press “sponsor”.
- Select a reward, or “£1 or more” if you wish to donate any amount without receiving a reward
- Select “sign up with your email address”Stonechat Dartmoor Charles R Tyler
- Choose a username, fill in your email address and choose a password
- follow the rest of the instructions to pay by card
By cheque (to be received before 9 March):
- Make cheques payable to “University of Exeter”
- Enclose your name and address with the cheque
Post the cheque and your details to:
Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group
 c/o Sara Zonneveld
Biosciences College of Life & Environmental Sciences
Geoffrey Pope Building
University of Exeter
Exeter  EX4 4QD


New Viewing Hide at Exmouth

Posted February 7th, 2016 at 11:01 am

A new hide / viewing screen has been erected overlooking the Exe Estuary at Exmouth and will provide substantial cover at the Mudbank Lane area which is familiar to local birdwatchers. 

New Hide at Exmouth © JSR

The hide is not easily found and is hidden from view as you approach via Carter Avenue.   To reach the hide park in Carter Avenue and enter the path at the northern corner of the playing fields where there is a safe crossing of the railway line.  On the estuary side of the railway track take the path (which runs along the estuary from the lorry park) and the hide will be found a short distance to the right overlooking the expanse of the mudflats. 

red showing position of new Hide at Exmouth ©JSR

The hide has been long in coming to fruition and was erected by the Exe Estuary Partnership.  The land and construction were provided by East Devon District Council; Exmouth traders and residents made the original proposal; the BTO gave advice and support and Devon County Council the funds to improve this part of the East Devon Way.  An interpretation board with artwork by Mike Hughes has been provided.  Thanks to Geoff Morris of Exmouth for bringing this to our attention and for the initiative behind the project.  Jonathan Ruscoe

Review of Plymouth Branch talk on Exe Estuary by Dave Smallshire

Posted February 6th, 2016 at 4:07 pm

Up to 30,000 birds are found on the Exe Estuary and its surrounding area at the mid winter peak each year in an area of special protection and conservation. Dave Smallshire presented ‘Birds of the Exe Estuary’  describing comprehensively the many habitats that attract such large numbers. 

During the winter Dave regularly commentates on river cruises and  guided the audience on an illustrated boat trip along with his excellent photography. He started at the south end from Exmouth, taking us towards Dawlish Warren, which gives protection from the ferocity of the sea by the sandy spit and ever changing sandbanks. Mussel beds give food for the Oystercatchers and Crows. Further upriver of this ten by two kilometre estuary the mudflats offer hydrobia for the probing bills of many waders.  Godwit and Brent Geese from the Arctic are here in nationally significant numbers.

In the middle part of the estuary a good number of Avocets wade in the shallows sweeping from side to side. Dave commented that some waders, like the Avocet, are down in numbers due to milder European winters. Numerous wildfowl  and gulls use the river and exposed mud at low water then transfer to fresher water sites at high water such as Bowling Green and Exminster Marshes and adjoining fields. Further sites towards Topsham provide food and shelter in the reed beds and further upstream the sewage works and old sludge beds attract insect eating birds.      

Dave’s enjoyable presentation included aerial views showing the expanse of the Exe Estuary, where three hundred species have been identified overall. The status of the Exe is significantly important as a crossroads for birdlife from Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and Europe as well as Africa, whether on passage like the Hobby and Osprey or over wintering.   Liz Harris

Bittern on Plymouth branch visit to West Charlton Marsh on 4 Feb

Posted February 5th, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Five intrepid birders from the Plymouth branch braved a somewhat coolish overcast day, on a rather damp West Charleton Marsh, near Kingsbridge.

Before we got muddy, the area close to the sewage works revealed a fine total of 21 birds. Arguably the best were 15 Fieldfares, which try as we might, we were unable to convert any of them into Redwings. Also a smattering of Goldcrests flashed their yellow crowns at us from nearby bare trees, and a beautiful male Bullfinch looked truly magnificent.

Even summer walks across the marsh can be quite muddy, but after three very wet months, ‘wellies’ were the order of the day.  A further 12 bird species were added to our tally as we crossed the marsh, chief amongst them being a beautifully marked Buzzard, and a group of 9 Cirl Bunting were busily showing themselves from the shrubs at the end of the marsh.

From the hide a further 17 birds were recorded.  On the water two aggressive Red-Breasted Mergansers were busy stretching their necks in courtship display to their potential partners.  The bird of the day however was fortunately viewed from the back of the hide. If you were quick the reward was a 2.5 second view of a large brown bird, flying low towards us before it dropped into the reeds.  Much excitement as a Bittern was immediately and excitedly identified!

A fine group of approximately 200 Dunlin, followed by a lone Snipe took our final count to 50.  A rather cold but happy group slithered back across the marsh; a wan sun giving comfort to our departing backs.  Good birding in convivial company.

Ash Crawford

Humphrey Sitters - Close call in Brazil

Posted February 3rd, 2016 at 8:06 pm

As many of you know Humphrey Sitters who lives in Beer apologised to us for not being free to attend the launch of our New Devon Bird Atlas last Friday although he'd kindly written the foreword.  He explained that he was spending three weeks doing wader surveys along the north coast of Brazil.

Today we discovered from the local Seaton free paper "The View from Seaton" that he and the team of scientists he is working with had a close call when the catamaran they were on sunk suddenly. See information below.Humphrey Sitters' catamaran sinks in Brazil - extract from "The View from Seaton" newspaper 3.2.16

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