July 2016–17 Archive from August 2016

Welcome to the August 2016 issue of The Harrier

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 2:18 pm in Welcome

Welcome to the second 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.

Photo of the Month August 2016

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:15 pm in Photo of the Month

Juvenile Cuckoo being fed by host © John Deakins

John Deakins has captured this striking image of a juvenile Cuckoo about to be fed by its Meadow Pipit host. That gape looks wide enough to swallow not just the worm but its foster parent too.

Devon Birds is looking for a new Treasurer

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:14 pm in People

Roger Little, Devon Birds’ Treasurer, is to step down at the end of the year
Roger Little, Devon Birds’ Treasurer, is to step down at the end of the year

After four years in the role of Honorary Treasurer, Roger Little has handed in his notice to Council and indicated that he wants to step down at the end of the year. Roger had done an outstanding job as Treasurer, he has modernised our systems, provided us with timely accounts and brought clarity and transparency to the Society’s finances. He has also been a source of great wisdom and support in his role on Council and the Executive.

Roger now wants to pursue some of his other interests, which include spending time on both Cyprus and Malta helping to combat the illegal hunting pressures on migrant birds on both islands as well as campaigning alongside Birdlife and CABS (Committee Against Bird Slaughter) to see greater enforcement of the laws preventing hunting and trapping of birds.

We are now looking for a new Treasurer. If you have financial or accountancy experience and you would like to support Devon Birds in a key role, please email chairman@devonbirds.org for a copy of the job description. If you’d then like to find out more, Roger is very happy to discuss the role in more detail and there will be a full handover of responsibilities before Roger steps down.

The Dartmoor House Martin Project

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:13 pm in Projects

Kevin Cox talks about the Dartmoor House Martin Project to an audience in Chagford
Kevin Cox talks about the Dartmoor House Martin Project to an audience in Chagford

House Martins are still busy nesting and raising second broods so there’s still time to submit records of active nests on Dartmoor – visit the website www.dartmoorhousemartins.org.

The project, a joint initiative by Devon Birds, Dartmoor National Park, Dartmoor Preservation Association and the Duchy, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, is proving a great success. Six well-attended meetings were held in June and July across parishes on Dartmoor at which John Walters gave an entertaining and informative talk about the ecology of the birds. And sixty lucky people each won a free House Martin nestbox to give more homes for the birds.

At the end of the breeding season, we hope to announce the Dartmoor House Martin Parish – the place with the greatest number of active nests. So far, Ilsington is in the lead with 58 active nests.

Devon Birds Development Day

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:11 pm in Events

Devon Birds Development Day

Devon Birds Council took a day out on Sunday 24 July to do a bit of birdwatching together at Seaton Wetlands followed by an afternoon’s strategy meeting.

Seaton Wetlands, including Black Hole Marsh and Colyford Common, is owned and managed by East Devon District Council, with a number of hides overlooking the roadbeds and scrapes along the River Axe.

Given the time of year, there were good numbers of birds including Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Dunlin and a Peregrine flypast. Mike Lock did an excellent job guiding us round his patch and pointing out much of botanical interest as well as the birds.

In the afternoon, we got down to business, discussing a range of topics including communications, conservation, reserves, records, publications, membership, finance, capacity and governance. It was a good, lively, open discussion, enjoyed by all who participated and it should lead to a stronger, more resilient Society, one that delivers more benefits for birds and their conservation.

Conservation Project Updates

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:10 pm in Conservation

A Pied Flycatcher being fitted with a geolocator
A Pied Flycatcher being fitted with a geolocator

Dr Malcolm Burgess wrote an update at the end of June: “I've not had a chance to take stock of the nestbox related work, but in general Pied Flycatchers I think did OK. Good occupancy rates but some brood reduction, but not everywhere. In the end we confirmed 10 returning Pied Flycatchers with loggers at Yarner, at 50% this is better than we could ever have hoped for. There was a possible 11th bird but the nest failed before we caught it. We caught all 10 and 7 still had loggers on, and I think loss must have been because the fit was ever so slightly too loose - this season we put on 20 more reducing the harness span by 0.5mm to avoid this happening. Of the control group 9 returned.

Wood Warblers – again I have not taken full stock but certainly better than last year. Joan, one of the field assistants, is particularly good, in terms of finding, observing and catching, which may have made things look better. We have got some amazing detail on males moving around Dartmoor. We have found 47 nests, and success seems reasonable. Catching males late in the season has been difficult for the tagging, but 17 males have now been tagged. I doubt we will get the 20 done but there are a couple more active nests so not yet impossible. Tagging itself has gone well.

The Spotted Flycatcher project is still more live, we have tagged 13 birds now and 15 control birds. An appeal on the Devon Birds web-page has helped get us some more sites. We need another 7 nests to target and have a couple with eggs but will need to find a few more which I'm sure we will.

Also Chris Hewson from BTO came down as we figured out harness sizes for Wood Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers. He had some Cuckoo satellite tags to use up quickly and so we ended up catching and tagging a male Cuckoo behind my house on Lustleigh Cleave. So we got a free Dartmoor bird! It will appear on-line soon, along with the other 7 done nationally. We tagged this male on the 8th June – it left Dartmoor on the 18th and is now in SE France.

Also you will be aware that RSPB funded some Whinchat tagging which I did at Geltsdale. Very impressive set-up there but very hard catching on exposed moors. I spent five days there and we tagged 19 males, which in the circumstances was very good going. Good for Whinchats, there were almost no nest failures up there (if only for Dartmoor!).”

There will be a full update from Malcolm when he’s had a chance to catch his breath from another busy breeding season and analyse all the results from the extensive fieldwork.

New WeBS counters needed

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:08 pm in Surveys

Peter Reay writes: “Counters are currently needed for Fernworthy Reservoir (north Dartmoor) and Lower Bruckland Ponds (near Musbury), and possibly for other sites in the near future. The recent vacancy on the Axe Estuary has now been filled ? thanks to Ian McLean for stepping in. Thanks also to Kate Stapleton (Axe Estuary and Lower Bruckland) and Gary & Anna Easton (Fernworthy) for their WeBS counts over recent years.

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

Ideally all sites should be counted on ‘core count dates’, each on a Sunday near the middle of the month. However, counters should not feel too constrained by these dates and the important thing is to obtain a count on one day each month, as near the core count date as possible and for as many months of the year as possible. Another way of making these counts less demanding is to share the counts between more than one counter. Most counters do, however, enjoy the experience of recording the regular comings and goings on their sites, combined with the anticipation of seeing something unexpected ? it can be addictive!

Without a counter, bird numbers will not be fed into the national or county waterbird totals, and the importance of the sites may go unrecognized. Anyone interested in becoming a WeBS counter, particularly for the above two sites, please get in touch as soon as possible on 01364 73293 or peter.p.j.reay@btinternet.com.

What’s happening at South Huish Marsh?

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:05 pm in Reserves

Nick Townsend, Vic Tucker and Alan Pomroy discussing the management plan for South Huish Marsh overseen by one of our important conservation operatives
Nick Townsend, Vic Tucker and Alan Pomroy discussing the management plan for South Huish Marsh overseen by one of our important conservation operatives

Visitors to the Devon Birds’ reserve at South Huish Marsh over the last couple of weeks will have noticed a significant drop in the water levels. The front scrape is looking very dry and there is much less water in the field beyond. This is a deliberate action that’s been taken in order to dry out the area so that vital conservation work can be carried out in August before the winter migrants start to return.

Over the last few years, the reeds have started to encroach onto the scrape and they have been growing at such a rate we could lose the conservation value of the site completely. In order to tackle the problem, reduce the reed expansion and to open areas again before they scrub over, we need to get a digger on site. And to do that, the area has to dry out substantially in order to take the 7-ton weight. So even though the site looks dry, there is still a lot of water just below the surface. Take a look at the photos of Nick Townsend, Devon Birds’ Conservation Officer South as he pushes a metal rod into the ground – there’s a lot more drying needed before the digger can safely operate on the site.

Nick Townsend testing the ground     Nick Townsend testing the ground

As soon as the work is done, water levels will be raised and a welcome sign will be put up for winter waders who we hope will use the extended and improved habitat in even greater numbers.

Bird Day at Fursdon

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 12:00 pm in Events

John Strickland and Wally James man the scopes at Fursdon
John Strickland and Wally James man the scopes at Fursdon

Fursdon Estate, the home of Devon Birds’ members, David and Catriona Fursdon, hosted a special Bird Day on Sunday 24 July. There was a good turnout of 50–60 people whose spirits weren’t dampened by the drizzle.

This was a celebration of the birds of Fursdon and an opportunity to showcase the work of Devon Birds’ members who had carried out four bird surveys on the estate over the winter and spring this year. Building on the data provided by the surveys, David and Catriona are introducing a range of habitat improvements designed to make the estate even more bird and nature friendly.

The event was deemed such a success that there are plans to do another day next May, this time during the bird breeding season. Look out for more details nearer the time.

Willow Tit Project – Intern needed

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 11:59 am in Projects

Willow Tit © Ian Butler
Willow Tit © Ian Butler

The Willow Tit Project is a partnership project from Devon Birds, Devon Wildlife Trust and the Devon Biodiversity Record Centre (DBRC). This year was the first of the two-year project that saw volunteers, most from Devon Birds, surveying sites across the county that had previous records of the birds from which they had seemingly disappeared. The good news is that 12 new records were found.

A lot of work goes into organising the survey, talking to landowners, producing maps as well as carrying out site visits. Now DBRC is looking for a 3-day a week intern to help with the project starting in mid-late September. This is the perfect role for someone who is starting a career in conservation or who wants to gain more experience working alongside a professional team of ecologists. This year’s intern has now been appointed to a full-time paid role, for example.

If you’d like to apply, or you know someone who is looking for an internship, please contact Fiona Freshney at DBRC - ffreshney@devonwildlifetrust.org.


Assist with identification of sites which offer potential willow tit habitat, identify relevant landowners and arrange survey permissions, conduct site surveys and liaise with volunteer surveyors from Devon Birds.

What the tasks involve

  • Data entry (terrestrial): entering species records from  survey forms onto the Recorder 6 database.
  • Aerial photo identification of wet woodland/scrub.
  • GIS: using MapInfo.
  • Liaison with landowners, coordinating site survey permissions and selection.
  • Single species field survey using audio equipment.


To assist DBRC, Devon Wildlife Trust & Devon Birds to carry out survey of 100 tetrads within Devon, to confirm presence or absence of willow tit.

Skills and abilities

Knowledge of computers and Microsoft Office programmes. Preferably an understanding of Excel spreadsheets and some experience of a database, e.g. Access, but training will be provided specifically for Recorder 6. Previous working experience of GIS, preferably MapInfo.


Conscientious and reliable approach, attention to detail strong interest in wildlife, confident driver with map reading skills.


Devon Biodiversity Records Centre Office at 27 Commercial Road, Exeter, EX2 4AE and on site surveys within Devon.

When and how often

TBC, probably 3 days a week.

October – Dec desk based at DBRC, 27 Commercial Road, Exeter, EX2 4AE.

January – March site surveys.

Who is the supervisor?

Fiona Freshney, Emma Magill, Emily Stallworthy.

Expenses/equipment available

Travel expenses.

What’s in it for the volunteer?

To increase skills, understanding and experience of using GIS mapping, aerial photo analysis and database input and management.  Liaison with landowners, stakeholders and volunteers within a professional setting. Learn about the work of an environmental records centre and how to use the Recorder 6 database and MapInfo. A chance to participate in and drive, a volunteer led project on a flagship species.

Task start date

Mid/late September 2016.

Task end date

March 2017.

Plymouth Branch Indoor Meeting, Monday 13th June 2016

Posted August 4th, 2016 at 11:52 am in Events

‘RSPB Projects for priority birds in Devon with a focus on Dartmoor’

Helen Booker, Senior Conservation Officer for RSPB

Ring Ouzel © Steve Hopper
Ring Ouzel © Steve Hopper

John Lloyd writes: ”Dartmoor is a special place for wildlife and for us, but some iconic species are in danger of disappearing.

This informative and thought provoking presentation by Helen was well attended. The audience heard about the RSPB rationale and strategies for conservation of a number of species ranging from Manx Shearwater on Lundy to Ring Ouzel on Dartmoor.

Helen outlined the structured approach of diagnosis, analysis, and the trial of solutions and the rolling out of successful methods across a wider area. She then went on to explain how monitoring these solutions over time would lead to a tapering off of support with increasing species populations to then refocus resources on other species and environments as necessary.

Ring Ouzel, Curlew and Lapwing are all ‘red-listed’ species for Dartmoor. Helen’s studies had led to the conclusion that habitat conservation and improvement were key to preserving and increasing populations of species under threat. She illustrated this principle with the example of the specialised habitat to suit Dunlin – a species that has a nationally important population, if small, on Dartmoor. She was able to clearly demonstrate how managing bog areas to create small pools by controlled damming of streams had significantly increased the Dunlin numbers at these developed sites.

She also showed us the work that was being carried out to support Ring Ouzel habitats to aid both nesting and feeding sites. This work is in its early stages and will continue to be monitored and analysed to consider its impact over the coming years.

It was clear that the RSPB are having a great impact on the populations of these treasured species but also there is still considerable work to be done to secure the future of our most vulnerable and highly prized species.”

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