July 2016–17 Archive from November 2016

Welcome to the November 2016 issue of The Harrier

Posted November 24th, 2016 at 12:37 am in Welcome

There's just so much happening in the birding world in Devon at the moment. Migrants are back in big numbers - there were thousands of Fieldfares on Dartmoor in the early part of the month and the coasts are now heaving with birds, including four Cranes at Braunton Marsh. Rarities can turn up anywhere as Mike Passman proved when a Desert Wheatear landed on his roof.

In fact, there's so much happening that it's impossible to fit it all into a monthly issue of The Harrier. In order to bring you the news while it's still current, we are making changes to the frequency of The Harrier, so you can choose to receive your news more regularly in future. We'll keep you posted over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, get out and find some interesting birds and don't forget to submit your records.

Meet the new County Recorder and Membership Secretary

Posted November 24th, 2016 at 12:28 am in People

Devon Birds is pleased to announce that Kevin Rylands has agreed to accept the position of County Recorder for Devon.

Kevin's day job is working for the RSPB in the South-West as a Conservation Officer. When not at work, he spends much of his time birding at Dawlish Warren and he runs the website www.dawlishwarren.co.uk. He is acknowledged to be one of Devon's top birders so we're delighted that he takes over as County Recorder as well as chairing the Devon Birds Records Committee. And Kevin's knowledge extends well beyond birds as a quick look at his list of other taxa shows: http://www.brc.ac.uk/psl/users/kevin-rylands (though we were slightly surprised he's only seen two slime moulds!)

Devon Birds Council is also pleased to welcome Shaw Edwards as Membership Secretary. Shaw is a Devonian and life-long birder who lives in Moreleigh in South Devon. 

Shaw's passion for birds and conservation combined with his extensive business experience make him a great addition to Council. His role will be to ensure that we are doing all we can to look after existing members as well as to spread the word about Devon Birds to help us recruit new ones. Shaw has also offered to run a number of field meetings for the South Devon Branch next year, so please come along and meet him.

Both Kevin and Shaw have been co-opted onto Council until they can be elected officially at the AGM in March.


Time to submit your 2016 records

Posted November 24th, 2016 at 12:00 am in Records

Mike Lock writes:  If you have yet to do so, please can you submit your records for the year to Julia Harris at data.manager@devonbirds.org. You'll find full instructions here: https://www.devonbirds.org/birdwatching

Also, if you see a bird that is a Devon Rarity, that is, a species listed as a 'Devon A Species' at the back of the Devon Bird Report, then please do not forget to fill in a Devon Rarity Form and send it to Julia. These records will then be considered by the Devon Birds Rarities Committee or, if appropriate, by the BBRC.  A rarities form can be downloaded from the website or from Julia. Without this, records cannot be included in the Devon Bird Report and we would like this to be as complete as possible."





Bird of the Month - Desert Wheatear

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 11:44 pm in Bird of the Month

Photo: Desert Wheatear by Steve Hopper

A male Desert Wheatear was discovered by Mike Passman on the roof of his house in Thurlestone on the afternoon of 8 November. The bird has since taken up residence in the nearest habitat to desert in Devon on the sand at Leasfoot Beach by Thurlestone Golf Course. 


Haldon and Hatherleigh surveys - can you help?

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 11:29 pm in Surveys

One of the heathland restoration areas in Haldon Forest

Devon Birds is looking for volunteers to help with another two surveys in 2017. Haldon Forest is a 3500 acre conifer and broadleaf woodland on the western edge of Exeter, dissected by the A38. The Forestry Commission, which owns and manages the site has approached Devon Birds about the possibility of carrying out a bird survey in a number of key areas of the forest, particularly those parts where the conifer has been removed and heathland restoration is underway. 

Haldon is a fascinating site with good populations of a diverse range of birds and improving biodiversity. However, the bird records are patchy and so it difficult for the FC to know how quickly the habitat improvements are taking effect. Have Woodlark numbers improved? Are there Dartford Warblers? And are Turtle Doves still present? These are just some of the questions that a survey at Haldon can try to answer. And the good news about Haldon is that it's easily accessible from most of Devon so travelling time should be limited for most surveyors. If you'd like to find out more, please email kevincox@puna.co.uk

The second survey is at Hatherleigh Moor. Digby Greenhill writes:

Mid-Devon Birds has agreed to complete a full survey of the beautiful 450 acres of Hatherleigh Moor next year to create a baseline for future detailed observations. We are planning four mornings in 2017 birdwatching and recording with the help of as many volunteers as possible. There will be at least three groups of four birders, if you are interested please note the following dates, 4th April, 18th July, 26th September & 5th December, all are on Tuesdays starting at 9am.

Hatherleigh Moor faces the northern edge of Dartmoor and is an open stretch of mostly grazed, unimproved grassland with willow dominated springs and water courses, together with fenced off patches of culm grassland. Previously this habitat was popular with Curlew, now sadly lost, but with a healthy population of Skylarks.

Parts are remarkably flower-rich. Cuckoo pass through but no longer stay to breed. Natural England & DWT are taking an interest in improving habitats and enhancing the wildlife of the moor in conjunction with Hatherleigh Moor Management Committee. It is hoped that a programme of improvements will roll out next year.

If you are interested in volunteering or require more information please register your interest by emailing digbygreenhill@gmail.com , Annabelle Strickland on jfajstrickland@outlook.com or Jerry Tallowin jerry.tallowin@hotmail.co.uk.

Good news for Cirls

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 8:18 pm in News


25 years ago it looked as though the Cirl Bunting was about to go extinct in the UK. Numbers had declined rapidly since the war to the point where only 118 pairs were found, all in South Devon. Since then, the RSPB has worked alongside farmers, land owners and conservationists to turn around the fortunes of our county's special bird. The first challenge was to identify the reasons for the decline and then to tackle them. 

It was discovered that Cirls need unmanaged hedgerows for nesting, a good supply of seed, especially in the winter and grasshoppers to feed their chicks. Agricultural intensification meant that hedgerows were either taken out or cut too frequently, arable crops were planted in the autumn so there was no winter stubble and seed left on the ground and the field margins, full of insects, were ploughed up. 

With the RSPB's support, a growing number of farmers in South Devon began to manage their land both for food production and Cirl Buntings. And the Cirl Buntings started to come back to the point where it was possible to carry out a reintroduction programme for the birds into Cornwall, where there is now a self-sustaining population of over 60 pairs. 

This year, for the first time in seven years, the RSPB, with funding of £5000 from Devon Birds, carried out a comprehensive survey of Cirl Buntings in all known and likely areas. Last week, the RSPB was delighted to announce that the number of pairs of Cirls now stands at 1078.

Cath Jeffs, the RSPB’s Cirl Bunting Project manager, said: “Cirl Buntings need real farmers growing real crops, and Cirl-friendly farmers don’t just help these birds but many other species too. For example, more than a quarter of the farms involved in the project now have nationally important assemblages of rare plants.

“Cirls are a very special bird for the South West because this is where the story began and without a lot of hard work by a lot of people over the last 25 years, this is where it could have ended.”

Let us hope that any changes to agri-environment support for farmers continues to recognise the work that nature-friendly farmers do and their importance for the continued survival of some of our rarest birds.

Photo: Cirl Bunting by Roger Backway

Hot off the press - the new Birds of Plymouth

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 7:53 pm in News

Devon Birds has just published Vic Tucker's authoritative new Birds of Plymouth - Additions, revisions and updates: 1995-2015. As the name suggests, this is the updated version of Vic's original Birds of Plymouth that was published in 1995. There is almost no duplicated material in the two books so they are best read together for a comprehensive view of Plymouth's birds since 1950. 

The new book brings the picture bang up-to-date even featuring a photo of this year's Lesser Grey Shrike that stayed for a while at Jennycliff. The book is a must-buy for anyone who has the original book and a fascinating read for all birders with an interest in the state of birds in Devon's largest city.

The new book is available from the Devon Birds Shop, priced £8 (if you collect) £10 (including p&p). There is also a special offer for anyone who would like to buy both books - £10 (collect), £13 (including p&p).


What's that bird?

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 7:30 pm in News

If you're having trouble identifying a bird you've seen, help is at hand. You can now email your photos to ID@devonbirds.org and one of a small band of dedicated birders will try to solve your ID problem. 

Photo of a Pipit - but which one? Answers on an email to kevincox@puna.co.uk

New Wardens for the Exe and Pebblebed Heaths

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 7:08 pm in News


Colin Randall writes: 

Devon Birds welcomes the news that the SE Devon Habitat Regulations Partnership has recruited two full-time wardens for the Exe Estuary, Dawlish Warren and the Pebblebed Heaths. Funded by three local authorities, their role will be to mitigate possible damage resulting from the increased use of these very special areas from the increased populations nearby.

James Chubb, the Countryside Team Leader for East Devon DC, says: “I am really excited about how this project will develop over the coming years, with an initial three year period funded securely. For the SPA sites, I am glad that the birds on the estuary and heathlands will have these two officers overseeing their protection from disturbance from any user."

The officers’ time will be spread over a vast area and so a strategic approach to engagement with all user groups will be key to the success of this initiative and all the actions of the new officers will be guided by the SPA/SAC Disturbance Study compiled some years ago by Footprint Ecology. While the officers will carry powers of enforcement relating to Local Authority Byelaws, it is expected that in the first instance on the Estuary and Pebblebeds, their role will be one of education and engagement with current users to encourage responsible use of the protected sites and to make sure everyone knows where they stand on sites which have a historical assumption of being unrestricted (even when this hasn’t been the case).


Photo:  Dartford Warbler on the East Devon Heaths by Coliin Scott

Wetland Bird Survey – new counters and 2015/16 report

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 6:57 pm in News


Peter Reay writes

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) is a national survey organized by the BTO, which involves monthly counts of waterbirds on freshwater, estuarine and marine sites. In Devon there are about 70 sites and 100 counters. More information is available on www.bto.org/webs.

Recent new counters. Thanks to the following for volunteering to become Devon WeBS counters: Howard Ackford (Burrator Res); Mike Comber (Fernworthy Res); Andy Daw (Bicton); John Lloyd (Plym Estuary); Mike Lock (Lower Bruckland Ponds); and Ian McLean (Axe Estuary). Thanks to outgoing counters, George & Julia Harris (Burrator), Roger & Barbara Swinfen (Plym) and Sarah-Jane Vanstone (Bicton), for their contributions to WeBS.

Devon WeBS 2015/16 report. This has now been distributed to counters. It may soon become available on the Devon Birds website, but I can also email a pdf to anyone interested.



Photo: Dunlin at Dawlish Warren by Colin Scott

Devon Egg Collector Convicted

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 4:38 pm in News

A retired solicitor, William Beaton, 73, of Burrator Road, Dousland was fined £4700 after he was caught with an illegal collection of 435 eggs that he had amassed over a number of years. He had already been convicted earlier in the year of a similar offence in Orkney.

In his mitigating statement to Plymouth Magistrates' Court, he wrote: "I'm guilty of collecting wild birds' eggs and having a collection of the same. I am sorry for that but there are collectors and collectors. I'm going to try and say a few things which show I am not the worst of the worst or the baddest of the bad."

You can judge whether you agree with that by taking a look at the photograph that appeared on the BBC website. It shows that Mr Beaton collected a Cirl Bunting egg from South Milton, quite possibly from the Devon Birds reserve there, a Ring Ouzel egg from Headland Warren, where the birds no longer nest, and a number of other eggs from near his home in Yelverton.


For the full story: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/pensioner-fined-after-police-found-life-long-collection-of-rare-bird-eggs/story-29882209-detail/story.html


Buzzard update

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 4:06 pm in Conservation

Natural England issued the latest update on their grant of a number of licences for the 'control' of Buzzards to protect pheasant poults. You can read the full update here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/buzzard-licensing-applications but the key fact is that four licences were issued, granting permission for the killing of up to 26 Buzzards, though in the end only 11 birds were destroyed. All the licences have now expired so if you find any evidence that Buzzards are being persecuted, it is certainly illegal and it should be reported to the police. 

The clearest indictment of these licences came from Martin Harper, RSPB's Conservation Director in his recent blog:

"Natural England has issued three further licences for killing of buzzards to protect pheasants for shooting. Their announcement says that these licences were issued for the killing of up to 26 buzzards, with 11 buzzards having been killed.

As I have written previously, the RSPB believes that killing of a recovering bird of prey to protect an introduced gamebird for the benefit of commercial interest is wrong.

The fact these licences have been issued without any public knowledge, let alone scrutiny, only makes things worse. Transparency is vital if the public is to have any confidence in the system.  I don't blame Natural England - they are operating within the rules that they have been given.  What we need is a public debate about how killing buzzards to protect commercial shooting of a non-native gamebird can ever be acceptable.

In my view, the legal framework is broken and the onus must be on Defra to fix it."

John Holmes, SW Area Manager for Natural England, has kindly agreed to talk to Devon Birds Council at our January meeting when I am sure this issue will be raised. We will give Devon Birds members a full update after the meeting but if you have any questions on this or other matters concerning NE that you would like Council to put to John, please email them to kevincox@puna.co.uk

Photo: Buzzard at Stover Country Park by John Lee


And finally...

Posted November 23rd, 2016 at 3:33 pm in Comments/Responses

Steve Waite, Devon Birds' former County Recorder, has been writing a a blog since 2008. The blog is called Axe Birding, so it's no surprise that it mostly documents his birding on his local patch around the Axe estuary. But every so often Steve writes about birding in general and conservation issues and we think that his post on 28 October deserves a wider audience. It's called Not Another Petition and you can read it here: http://stevesbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/not-another-petition.html

And if you live near the Axe or go birding there, then it's well worth following Steve's blog. Here's a map of his local patch that he's chosen to enter for the Patchwork Challenge (and if you don't know what that it, read Steve's blog).


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