July 2016–17 Archive from July 2016

Welcome to the July 2016 issue of The Harrier

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 10:35 am in Welcome

Welcome to the first issue of the new monthly online edition of Devon Birds’ newsletter The Harrier! We hope you enjoy its new format and more frequent publishing.

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


Bird of the Month June 2016 - Lammergeier

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:33 am in Bird of the Month

Lammergeier © Noel Reynolds taken from Wikimedia Commons
Lammergeier © Noel Reynolds taken from Wikimedia Commons

On the morning of 16th May, Devon Birds member Barrie Whitehall was out doing a bird survey on Brent Moor when he must have done a double take. An enormous raptor circled over the Bala Brook and flew over the Shipley Tramway. Barrie knew what it was because he’d seen one before – in fact, he’d seen a hundred of them but that was back in 1979 and in the Himalayas. Barrie was the first person to see the Lammergeier in Devon, the same bird that had been spotted first in Gwent and before that in Belgium. A first for Devon and a first for the UK.


Devon Birds appoints new Chairman

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:31 am in People

Kevin CoxKevin Cox was appointed Chairman of Devon Birds at the AGM in March. He has been a member of Devon Birds for ten years since he moved to the county from Bristol. He now lives just outside Buckfastleigh so much of his birding takes place on Dartmoor. He is also a trustee of the RSPB and World Land Trust. As well as having a passionate interest in bird conservation in the UK, he is also involved in a project to protect the Blue-throated Macaw in Bolivia, one of the world’s rarest parrots.

Kevin said, “It’s a great privilege to be appointed Chairman of Devon Birds, an organisation with a long and distinguished history. I’m also aware that I’m following in the footsteps of a great Chairman, George Harris, who has done the job with huge commitment and energy over the past four years. During his time at the helm, Devon Birds has increased membership, launched the Devon Bird Atlas, organised the Devon Birds Conference last year and supported a large number of important conservation initiatives in the county. And throughout his time as Chairman, George has had the unwavering support of his wife, Julia, who has committed enormous amounts of her time and energy to the organisation. I would like to pay tribute to both George and Julia for all their hard work over the past four years. They are a great team and I’m delighted, and relieved, that they are still involved with Devon Birds, George as Vice-chairman and Julia continuing in her role as Data Manager and Deputy County Recorder.”

If you have any ideas about how you would like Devon Birds to evolve, or if you have some time you would be able to devote to helping the organisation, please get in touch with Kevin on 01364 644214 or kevin.cox@devonbirds.org.


The Dartmoor House Martin Project

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:29 am in Projects

House Martin © Charlie Fleming
House Martin © Charlie Fleming

The new Devon Bird Atlas paints a very alarming picture for our House Martins. They have gone from half their previous range in the county in just thirty years and abundance is probably reduced even further. They face a number of threats some of which might be on migration from the wintering grounds in Africa. But much of the problem is here, caused by us. Some people still illegally knock the nests off their houses because of the mess. Newer houses often don’t have eaves where House Martins can build their nests. And the agricultural landscape has changed radically over the last few decades. Since WWII, we have lost 97 per cent of our flower-rich meadows and that means a huge loss of insects, the food that House Martins rely on. They hoover up all that aerial plankton that now is much diminished.

The good news is that the birds still seem to be faring well on Dartmoor. If that’s true, it might help us to understand the reasons for the declines elsewhere and to do something about it.

The Dartmoor House Martin Project is a joint initiative by Devon Birds, Dartmoor Preservation Association, Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Duchy of Cornwall. We have also been fortunate to have secured a £5,000 grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery to support the project.

The aim of the project is to educate and enthuse everyone who lives or works on Dartmoor to look out for the birds and to record all the nests. In 2016, the project will start as a pilot in six Dartmoor parishes: Buckfastleigh West, Chagford, Dunsford, Horrabridge, Ilsington and Mary Tavy.

A number of events are planned across Dartmoor, including a series of talks on the birds by local naturalist, John Walters.

To find out more about the events and to see how you can get involved, visit the Dartmoor House Martin Project website.


Lundy Trip 2016

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:26 am in Events

Devon Birds Lundy Trip 2016

For many Devon Birds members, the annual Lundy trip is one of the highlights of the year. And this year proved to be an enjoyable trip with calm seas and some good birds. Even before we had landed, we’d seen good numbers of Manx Shearwaters, Guillemots, Razorbills and a few Puffins.

Once on dry land, it was clear that we were in the middle of a fall of Spotted Flycatchers as they were the most numerous birds in the trees on the way up to the village. A Turtle Dove was probably the best bird of the day but everyone had his or her special moment: a Peregrine stooping, Puffins coming into the cliffs, a pint of beer in the pub, catching up with old friends and making new ones. A special and memorable day.

We will be running the Lundy trip again next year but please don’t leave it until the last minute to book tickets. This year a number of people were disappointed because the boat was full before they tried to buy tickets.


Fursdon Estate Survey

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:25 am in Surveys

Fursdon Estate Survey

The Fursdon Estate lies in hilly country between Exeter and Tiverton. It’s a 750 acre mixed estate with ancient woodland, meadows full of orchids, veteran oaks, arable fields, grassland and grazed fields. The estate has been owned by the same family for over 700 years and the current owners, David and Catriona Fursdon, are keen to improve the variety of habitats for all wildlife, especially birds.

Devon Birds was asked to conduct a bird survey of the estate so the Fursdons had baseline data to see what species were currently on the land and whether habitat improvements would encourage new arrivals. The estate was divided into four blocks and a team of Devon Birds members have conducted four surveys, two winter, two spring, in each of the areas. A good variety of birds have been recorded, including Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, breeding Kestrel and, encouragingly, Woodlark.

This has been an excellent project and much thanks must go to Annabelle Strickland of the mid-Devon branch for organising it, to John Strickland, who prepared all the maps, to all the Devon Birds volunteers who turned up in a variety of weather conditions to do the surveys, to Lynne Kenderdine from Devon Wildlife Trust who approached us in the first place and to David and Catriona for being welcoming and generous hosts. It was best summed up by Devon Birds member, Mary Wallis, who said that it was ‘birdwatching with a purpose’. We hope to go back in subsequent years as the habitat improves and bird numbers increase.

If you would like to visit Fursdon, come along to the Fursdon Bird Day on Sunday 24 July when Devon Birds will be helping to organise an event to tell visitors about the birds on the estate and to take them on guided walks.


Devon Willow Tit Project 2016

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:23 am in Surveys

Willow Tit © Ian Butler
Willow Tit © Ian Butler

Approximately 40 volunteers from Devon Birds were involved with the Devon Willow Tit survey this year, as well as DBRC and DWT staff and other volunteers. Surveys were carried out between January and the end of March 2016, the time when Willow tit are potentially most vocal and territorial, and over 70 tetrads were visited. Only tetrads where there appeared to have been a loss of willow tit between the two Devon Bird atlases were formally surveyed, although some roving records were also incorporated in the results.

The survey consisted of a transect walk within areas of suitable habitat. Every 100 metres surveyors played a willow tit song for two minutes to lure the birds to the surveyor; the most reliable method of identifying them in view of their similarity to Marsh tit. The number of willow tit seen were recorded along with potentially relevant habitat variables such as the amount of suitable deadwood available for nesting cavities, the density of tree canopy and the overall habitat type.

Not all of the data has been received yet, but so far willow tits have been recorded within 11 tetrads where they were previously thought lost. Encouragingly willow tit were found in a tetrad in East Devon in the Blackdown Hills; the last Devon Bird Atlas suggested they were no longer present in this area. However, the survey confirms that Torridge is still the main stronghold in the County for the species.

The majority of the willow tit records came from areas with wet woodland and marshy grassland present.  The woodlands where willow tit were found generally had a fairly open canopy and little shrub layer, and most of the sites contained wet features such as streams or mires. 

Preparations for next winter’s survey will commence from September 2016, where potential willow tit sites will again be identified using aerial photos. The survey will focus on tetrads in the South Hams, Teignbridge, North Devon and West Devon and surveys will be carried out again during January to March 2017.

Emma Magill and Fiona Freshney
Devon Wildlife Trust and DBRC

Tetrads Visited and Confirmed Willow Tits 2016


National Cirl Bunting Survey 2016

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:22 am in Surveys

Cirl Bunting © Barry Bowden
Cirl Bunting © Barry Bowden

Seven years after the last one, we are again undertaking a full survey of cirl buntings across their known range. Due to the continued increase in their population and range, brought about by continued conservation effort, the scale of this year’s survey has increased significantly, with over 480 tetrads to survey. Many of these tetrads will not have recorded cirls in recent times, though are adjacent to ones which have, so by surveying these ‘buffer’ tetrads we should record any range expansion. Each tetrad will be surveyed twice – once in the early part of the season and again in the latter part.

Surveying started in early April and some pairs have already begun their first nesting attempts. Most birds have, so far, been detected by their calls, with sustained singing seldom encountered. However, where a cluster of closely-located territories has been recorded, singing between competing males has been more evident.

As cirls are most active in the early part of the day, surveying is best undertaken from day-break. Making such an early alarm call is well worth the effort, as you always see and hear so much more in the natural world at this time of the day.

As in previous surveys, a range of other farmland birds is being recorded, which will provide useful comparisons of their populations. So far, in parts of south Devon at least, yellowhammers are regularly being recorded, with flocks of up to 24 being most notable.

Until all the data is received and analysed at the end of the season, we will not know whether the cirl population has increased or decreased in size and range. Many miles of roads and footpaths await us before we get to that point! 

Stuart Croft, RSPB
April 2016

This survey has received funding from Devon Birds as part of our commitment to working in partnership on important conservation projects in the county.


Ring Ouzels on Dartmoor

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:20 am in Conservation

Ring Ouzel © Chris Townend
Ring Ouzel © Chris Townend

In last summer’s edition of The Harrier, Nick Baker gave a mid-season update on Dartmoor’s breeding Ring Ouzels. The season ended with a confirmed eight breeding pairs and a further three territorial males. This total included five birds ringed as juveniles in previous years. Overall breeding success was relatively poor at 2.5 fledged chicks/pair.

Alongside the monitoring we have continued to work on habitat enhancements and there are now three temporary grazing exclosures, two in Tavy Cleave and a new one (0.5ha) at West Mill Tor. After one year, vegetation within the top Tavy exclosure has shown an increase in the height and cover of heather and bilberry compared to outside. In the larger one, vegetation is taller.

In 2016, monitoring of the birds and grazing exclosures will continue, as will work to gain further habitat improvements (without fencing).

This work continues to be supported by Devon Birds, RSPB, DNPA, volunteers, landowners and farmers.

Fiona Freshney


15% discount for Devon Birds members at Cotswold Outdoor

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 9:10 am in Member Benefits

Cotswold Outdoor has generously offered Devon Birds members a 15% discount whether you buy in store, online or by mail order.

Details of how to take advantage of this offer are in the attached letter.

Cotswold Outdoor Discount Letter


Photo of the Month

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 8:33 am in Photo of the Month

Skylark © Colin Scott, 3/5/2016, Hound Tor, Dartmoor
Skylark © Colin Scott, 3/5/2016, Hound Tor, Dartmoor

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