July 2016–17 Archive from October 2016

Welcome to the October 2016 issue of The Harrier

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 7:07 pm in Welcome

It's been an interesting month for birds in Devon. The Dalmatian Pelican finally arrived and then left. There was a Lesser Grey Shrike in Plymouth and an influx of Yellow-browed Warblers across the county. This issue of The Harrier has news about a number of surveys that are planned for next year, an update on the Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group, a reply from Natural England to our letter condemning their decision to grant a licence to kill up to ten Buzzards, plus information about the annual Lundy trip. And a crocodile...

If you have any comments or suggestions, please email the Harrier team at harrier@devonbirds.org.

Bird of the Month

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 7:05 pm in Bird of the Month

Dalmatian Pelican by Phil Naylor

Dalmatian Pelican taken by Phil Naylor on 5 October on the Taw side of the Braunton Toll Road.

After spending three months wandering around Cornwall, including teasing us on the far side of the Tamar, the Dalmatian Pelican finally saw sense and crossed the border into Devon. Most recently it was seen on the Taw/Torridge estuary around Crow Point and Fremington.

The nearest breeding Dalmatian Pelicans are found in Greece and Bulgaria though the greatest concentrations of the birds, classified as Vulnerable, are in the former countries of the Soviet Union. Fossil records show that pelicans bred in the UK until they became extinct here around two thousand years ago. What are the chances that this bird will be joined by a mate? Probably very slim, unfortunately.

Sadly, for those who missed it, the Pelican has returned to Cornwall.

Natural England replies to Buzzard letter

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 6:57 pm in Conservation

In August, Devon Birds' Chairman Kevin Cox wrote a letter to Andrew Sells, NE's Chief Executive, to express concern about the fact that Natural England had granted a licence for the control of up to ten Buzzard in order to protect pheasant poults, which following a judicial review are now classed as 'livestock'. You can read the full letter here: https://www.devonbirds.org/news/harrier/the_harrier?blogEntry=12031

We have now received a letter from John Holmes, Natural England's Area Manager in reply. This is reproduced in full below. The letter does not answer in full all the questions that we asked but we acknowledge the fact that Mr Holmes has offered to speak to Council about the matter and we intend to accept that offer.

Since the letter was written it now appears that four further licences have been applied for. This might not constitute a 'flood of applications' as suggested in the original letter to Natural England but it is a worrying trend. 

Much of the documentation for the granting of this licence has now been published by Natural England, though heavily redacted so it is impossible to discover even the region where the Buzzards are being destroyed. You can read it here:


We are not alone in our opposition to this decision. You might like to read a piece by the RSPB's Conservation Director, Martin Harper, who also condemns this and calls it 'a perversion of the licensing system'. 

If you feel strongly about this, please write independently to Andrew Sells or John Holmes at Natural England. Better still both - their addresses are on the respective letters.


Click each page below to zoom in.

Photo of the Month

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:37 pm in Photo of the Month

Lesser Grey Shrike at Jennycliff by Steve Hopper

This month we’ve chosen a fine photograph (click to zoom) by Steve Hopper but, of course, it’s as much about the bird as the photo. Steve has captured fine flight shot of the Lesser Grey Shrike that hung around the Jennycliff area of Plymouth at the end of September.

Lundy – next year’s date announced

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:33 pm in Field Trip

The Oldenburg docked at Lundy

The MS Oldenburg docked at Lundy for this year's Devon Birds trip

The annual Devon Birds trip to Lundy is always a great day out and eagerly anticipated by many members. Regulars will know what to expect – lots of nesting seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills and puffins, the chance to see some interesting migrants and a pint in the pub before catching the boat back. First-timers will enjoy the crossing on the MS Oldenburg and the opportunity to explore one of the UK’s most fascinating islands, just off Devon’s north coast.

The date for next year’s trip is Sunday 14 May, departing Bideford at 8.30am though you are asked to arrive at least 30 minutes before sailing. The cost is £32.

The trip is always a sell-out and tickets go fast. Numbers are limited to 150, so book early to avoid disappointment. Full details are on the website: https://www.devonbirds.org/shop

Volunteers wanted for South Devon survey

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:27 pm in Surveys

Carswell Farm

Devon Birds has been invited to do a full bird survey of a 1200 acre farm on the South Devon coast next year and we’re looking to recruit volunteers to join a team willing to spend four days next year birdwatching and recording. Dates have yet to be agreed but the four days are likely to be in January, March, April and early June.

Carswell Farm is a fully organic dairy farm that sits in the beautiful area between Noss Mayo and Mothecombe. It has a range of habitats, including meadows, hedgerows, woods, copses, scrub and coastal strip. The birding should be exciting – as well as Cirl Buntings and other farmland birds, there is a good chance of some interesting migrants especially in the rougher coastal areas.

The farmer is keen to improve the habitat for wildlife and so he is about to start planting new broadleaf woodland, hundreds of metres of new hedges, scattered copses and plant wild bird cover for winter feeding. To see the positive effects of this work, he would like to have a baseline survey completed now.

If you would like more information about the survey or to register your interest in taking part, please send an email to kevin.cox@devonbirds.org. Even if you can’t make all four dates, you will still be welcome to join us.

Mid-Devon Branch trip to Ham Wall

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:22 pm in People

Fourteen members of Devon Birds went to Ham Wall on October 13 where they were given a guided tour by the RSPB ranger. An in-depth report will follow next month but here is Tom Wallis’s outstanding photograph of a Bittern as a taster (click to zoom).

Bittern at Ham Wall by Tom Wallis

Willow Tit Survey 2017

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:13 pm in Surveys

Willow Tit by Ashley Banwell

Our Willow Tits are in trouble. The national decline between 1995 and 2010 is estimated at 79 per cent. The new Devon Bird Atlas shows a collapse in range: the number of tetrads for which breeding was confirmed or probable was just 31, down from 166 in the Devon Tetrad Atlas 1977-85.

Willow Tits are notoriously difficult to survey. They can be secretive and the habitat they occupy, wet scrubby woodland, is often inaccessible. Plus, they can be very tricky to differentiate from Marsh Tits in the field, except by call.

Devon Birds, in partnership with Devon Wildlife Trust and the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, carried out a successful survey for Willow Tits in February/March this year. The good news is that the birds were recorded in 12 tetrads where it was thought they had disappeared.

Most of the tetrads surveyed this year were in Mid and East Devon. In 2017, we will shift our attention to North Devon plus a couple of tetrads in the south. The survey is mostly done using playback of the Willow Tit call as the birds can be very responsive if they are around. Full training will be offered to those who are new to the survey at the Devon Wildlife Trust Meeth reserve on Saturday 14 January 2017.

If you would like to find out more or to help by surveying a tetrad, please contact either Kevin Cox (kevin.cox@devonbirds.org) or Emily Stallworthy (estallworthy@devonwildlifetrust.org).

The Holne Moor Bird Study

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 2:05 pm in Conservation

The Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group has been monitoring the breeding of birds on Holne Moor for the last nine years. The team puts in an incredible number of hours in all weathers on the moor, finding nests, ringing birds and monitoring the diet and foraging behaviour of Meadow Pipits and Cuckoos.

A single page summary of the 2016 breeding season is below (click to zoom in) but you can find more information on the website: www.dartmoornests.org

Devon Birds supported the work of the Group in 2016 with a £2000 grant that contributed towards the costs of equipment and transport.

Holne Moor Study

Repair Work at Prawle

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 1:42 pm in Reserves

Prawle reserve 

The Devon Birds reserve at Prawle is undergoing urgent repair work to the wooden steps, which have rotted and become a hazard. If you’re heading to Prawle, please bear with us while we’re carrying out this necessary work. Once the repairs are completed, the reserve will be accessible to members again and the steep slope will be much safer to navigate.

The Harrier digest

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 1:28 pm in Member Benefits

Over the past three months, we have been in more regular communication with the majority of members via email. The Harrier has become a monthly email update containing news and events about the Society with a link to the longer stories on the website. However, there remain a significant number of members for whom we don’t have email addresses or who don’t have access to a computer. We are now producing a quarterly digest of the stories from the website to be printed and posted as before. This is an expensive option but we feel it’s important to communicate with all members as regularly as possible. For members who would also like to read the Harrier digest, or print a copy for their records, a pdf can be found here: The Harrier Digest

Plymouth Branch Talk – 12th September 2016

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 1:06 pm in Events

Dave with Steppe Eagle chicks in Mongolia
Dave with Steppe Eagle chicks in Mongolia

Douglas Herdson writes: “A good crowd turned up at the Spurgeon Hall in Mutley to hear a fascinating talk by Dave Scott.

Dave is a photographer, falconer, ringer and runs a bird rehabilitation sanctuary, but his principal occupation is as a wildlife artist. Hence he began by showing photos of some of his impressive paintings from his travels in Botswana, Svalbard, Morocco, Mongolia and the UK www.dascottartist.com

As a side-line he takes photographs, but what photos. This practice requires patient observation in all conditions and temperatures. Wherever his travels take him his enduring passion is finding and photographing birds’ nests, and where possible ringing the young.

The stresses of their environment have led to the some of the most beautiful eggs, and ingenious nest-building behaviour. The techniques are wonderfully adapted to the rigours of the habitats, from the Arctic to African deserts.

However, everywhere he travels he encounters man’s destructive influences. His studies of the effects of hundreds of miles of poorly designed overhead power lines in Mongolia has shown that they are killing hundreds of birds of prey; and led to international meetings to try to find some solution.

Meanwhile on our own moors he has seen increased leisure use, by walkers, dogs and mountain bikers, give rise to disturbance that has driven away most of Dartmoor’s nesting waders and many other birds. Constant activity can scare the parent from the nest exposing young or eggs to chilling or the ever-present attention of crows and other predators; while an inquisitive dog can eat a brood of skylarks without the owner noticing. Unfortunately this can be made worse by the thoughtless actions of over-enthusiastic bird photographers.”

If you go down to the woods today...

Posted October 21st, 2016 at 1:01 pm in People

Alan Pomroy writes: Just to prove that WeBS counts are not without their hazards, this 2.5m long beast in the photo caused my heart to skip a beat when I stumbled across it during this month’s count at Kitley Pond. Shock was followed by amusement as I realised it was one of a number of life-size models used as targets during field archery events on the estate!

I have been completing counts at Kitley and the adjacent Yealm Estuary for 25 years and this was one of the biggest surprises so far.

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