July 2016–17 Archive from February 2017

Welcome to the February 2017 issue of The Harrier

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 2:13 pm in News

Once again, it's been a busy month for bird news. The Waxwings are still around and the Desert Wheatear at Leasfoot Beach is looking very smart and it's coming into breeding plumage. It has even been heard to sing though it's chances of attracting a mate are, sadly, limited.

The Desert Wheatear at Leasfoot Beach (photo: Greg Bradbury)

Also, if you do nothing else this month, please make a note of the date for this year's AGM: Wednesday 22 March at 7am, Exeter Court Hotel. Full details are below in this issue of The Harrier.

Devon Birds AGM

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 2:01 pm in News

This year's Devon Birds AGM takes place at:

The Exeter Court Hotel, Kennford, EX6 7UX

7pm Wednesday 22 March 2017

At this year's AGM, there will be an opportunity to find out about the range of work that the Society has been involved with over the last year. We have supported a number of important conservation initiatives as well as made significant improvements to some of our reserves. This is also your opportunity to meet Council members and to ask questions about any areas of the Society's work. 

A number of new Council members are also standing for election at this AGM. You will be asked to ratify the appointments of our co-opted members:

Shaw Edwards, Membership Secretary

Kevin Rylands, County Recorder

John Towers, Taw & Torridge Branch Representative

Plus, I am pleased to announce that two members have also agreed to fill the vacant places on Council:

Mike Langman and Karen Simms.

Mike is well-known to many of you and he has been involved with Devon Birds for many years. I am delighted that he will be joining Council again. Karen has made a significant contribution to the Society's work, especially in North Devon, and we are grateful that she has been helping Roger Little with some of his work as Treasurer.

Please come along to meet and support our new Council members.

Following the AGM, there will be a talk by Devon-based Derek Gow. Derek has been involved with a number of reintroduction programmes for species such as water vole, beaver, Cranes and now White Stork. He will talk about how reintroduced birds and animals can restore a range of functions to habitats and landscapes. Find out how beavers have helped Red-backed Shrikes and how Water Voles are key to the Marsh Harrier's success.

Derek is a charismatic speaker with a fascinating story to tell about his work. You can find out more from his website here: http://www.watervoles.com/

This is sure to be an unmissable event - please make a note in your diary to join us.

White Stork - soon to be back breeding in Devon? (photo: Roy Churchill)

George & Julia Harris

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 1:14 pm in People

Over the past decade and a half, there can be little argument that two people have contributed more to Devon Birds than anyone else. George and Julia Harris have devoted most of their time to supporting the Society in a huge number of ways. George was Chairman of Devon Birds for four years from 2012-2016 and he has been Vice-Chairman for the last year. Julia has been Data Manager and Assistant County Recorder for as long as many of us can remember. But their job titles don't nearly come close to summing up their contribution. There is almost no area of the Society's work that they have not been involved with: membership, recruitment, communications, the website, records, branches, the Atlas, governance... The list is endless because there is probably no area that has not benefited from their support. Nothing was ever too much trouble or seemingly beyond their capabilities. Their energy and enthusiasm for Devon Birds was boundless.

So, it is with enormous regret that I have to announce that George and Julia are leaving Devon to move to the Thames Valley to be closer to their two sons and their families. To say they will be missed is an understatement. For many of us, George and Julia were not just the first place to go to answer any questions about Devon Birds or to ask for advice or guidance. Their knowledge was immense and probably irreplaceable. But above all, they were also good friends to many of us. We wish them well for their future and we hope that they find some time to catch up on all their birding in their new surroundings.

I am pleased to say that in recognition of their immense service to Devon Birds, Council has taken the decision to make them Life Members of the Society. We hope that by keeping up with news about Devon birds, they will be tempted back to visit us more often.

As of now, all membership queries should be addressed to our new Membership Secretary, Shaw Edwards (shaw_edwards@yahoo.co.uk) or to Inga Page (inge.page@googlemail.com).

If you have yet to submit your 2016 records, please hurry up and send them to Lee Collins (twitchukuk@yahoo.co.uk) who has kindly stepped in to help with the late records. All future records should be sent to: data.manager@devonbirds.org

If anyone is still submitting paper records, please send them to: Mr R Burn, 43 Larkham Lane, Plympton, Devon PL7 4PH.

I'm sure George and Julia will be in touch once they have moved with details of their new address for those of you who wish to send your good wishes.


Doris Day

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 11:36 am in News

On Thursday 23 February, Storm Doris hit the UK. As well as high winds and snow in the north, it brought with it another unexpected and much more welcome visitor. A Humpback Whale was seen by a number of Devon Birds' members in Start Bay. 

Below is Mark Darlaston's photo of the tail flukes. You can see more of his photos and read about the sighting here: https://www.devonbirds.org/news/bird_news/devon_bird_sightings?blogEntry=13734

Photo of the Month

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 11:27 am in Photo of the Month


Bob Telford's lovely portrait of a female Kingfisher was taken at Stover Country Park just this week.

Lundy Trip 2017

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 11:12 am in Field Trip

This year there are just 150 tickets for the annual Devon Birds' trip to Lundy and they are selling fast. Don't miss out by leaving it until the last minute. It's a great day out and there's always the chance of seeing some cracking birds.

You can order tickets direct from the website here: Devon Birds Shop - Lundy or from Mark Humfrey, details below:

South Milton Ley – help sought for breeding bird survey

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 10:46 am in Reserves

Alan Pomroy writes: Chris Townend’s 2015 review of Devon Birds’ reserves identified the need for quantitative data on the numbers of birds using our reserves. Currently the only information available on the numbers and distribution of breeding birds at South Milton Ley has been taken from Devon Birds’ annual reports and gaps in the data and a lack of consistency in timing and methodology has prevented meaningful analysis of natural population changes or the impact of management actions. A preliminary survey to monitor the numbers of breeding Reed Bunting and Reed, Sedge, Cetti’s and other warblers within the reserve was completed in 2016 and a total of 57 singing male warblers and 6 reed buntings were recorded.

The survey will be repeated in 2017 and help is sought from anyone who can offer some time to walk round all or part of the reserve perimeter a couple of times in spring or early summer, recording the location of singing males on aerial photos as they go. I will be undertaking the core surveys but, as not all males will be singing during any one visit and may move from one song post to another within their territories, additional data will significantly improve the accuracy of the results. Anyone who can offer a few hours to help, please email alan.pomroy@blueyonder.co.uk for more information. All are welcome.

Curlew - a bird on the brink

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 10:39 am in Bird notes

Curlew on the River Exe

Curlew on the River Exe (photo: Carole Bowden)

On 2 February,  four members of Devon Birds, Jon Avon, John Walters, Dave Allen and Kevin Cox, attended a Curlew Workshop at Slimbridge to discuss conservation measures to protect our threatened populations of Curlews in Southern England. Curlew is a bird in big trouble. In the whole of Devon we may have just one breeding pair left, a 97 per cent decline in thirty years. The situation in Ireland is even more catastrophic, given that Ireland was until recently a hotspot for the species - there are now just 130 pairs left and there are real fears that the bird could go extinct there within the next seven years. The UK and Ireland are globally important for Curlew with 25 per cent of the world's breeding Curlews here. 

Birds still winter around our coasts in good numbers but the birds are long-lived and breeding productivity, especially in agricultural areas, is very low. The fear is that numbers could decline very rapidly once the current population starts to die. The reason for this rapid decline are not fully understood but they include changes to agricultural land management and the increased pressure of predation on small, isolated populations. The aim of the workshop was to share information, especially amongst those who are working directly on Curlew conservation such as Jon Avon on Dartmoor.

The workshop was instigated by Mary Colwell, a writer and producer, who walked 500 miles in April 2016 to bring public attention to the plight of the Curlew. 

Below are her notes on the key points that came out of the workshop:


Call of the Curlew Workshop, Slimbridge, 2nd Feb 2017


  • Viable breeding populations of Curlew still exist in Southern England, the main areas being in the New Forest, Salisbury Plain, Somerset Levels, Severn and Avon Vales, Upper Thames and Shropshire.  Other remnant populations survive, notably on Dartmoor, in Herefordshire and Breckland. These Curlew hotspots are critical to maintaining the current range of the species and for their strong local, cultural connections. 
  • David Stroud, JNCC, made explicit statement with regard to our legal obligation as a signatory to the Birds Directive, and the Afro-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement Single Species Action Plan for Curlew. Specifically, the agreements require member states to take requisite, or special conservation measures to maintain [population] range and  habitats, to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. There is also clear requirement for member states to take account of the cultural significance of a species in establishing ecological objectives.  Southern Curlew are vital to the whole UK strategy.
  • There was unanimous agreement for urgent action to conserve breeding Curlew in southern England, to avoid the population crash experienced in Ireland (97% decline since 1980's). This action should comprise targeted research, conservation measures and public awareness activities
  • Fragmentation and loss of habitat through changes in land use and farming practices are a major feature in the decline in Ireland and southern England.   The dispersed nature of Curlew breeding populations requires landscape scale solutions, not just solutions limited to nature reserves.  Curlew conservation goes hand in hand with conservation of other features of the landscape, including flower-rich hay meadows, butterflies and other invertebrates.
  • Disturbance (by ramblers, joggers, dog-walkers) is potentially a major factor in causing nest failure in the south.  New Forest work shows if people and dogs keep to existing paths, nesting birds may tolerate their presence. Awareness raising measures need to be incorporated in conservation implementation plans, e.g. signage
  • Existing study, monitoring and protection efforts must be continued and strengthened where Curlew still breed. It is known that Curlew respond well to conservation measures. Understanding the reasons for poor productivity in the remaining populations is vital.  Financial support is required. 
  • Research (RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust) shows Curlew breeding success increases when predators are controlled or excluded during the breeding season.   Lethal predator control should be localised and targeted around breeding sites.  Predator exclusion (fencing around nests as carried out in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany) improves hatching success, despite the risk of disturbance, and should be investigated further. Natalie Meyer (NABU, Germany) stressed this is not a sustainable, long-term solution.
  • It is imperative that solutions should be based within communities, including farmers, landowners and local people.   There was general recognition that the Curlew, as a much-loved bird, provides unique outreach potential.  Curlew have rich cultural connections, which can be re-discovered and re-invigorated.  Wider public awareness needs to be increased. Specific Curlew conservation ideas emerged, e.g. establishing Curlew towns and villages near breeding areas, twinning between Curlew breeding and wintering grounds, finding local Curlew 'champions' to focus action. 
  • More targeted financial support should be provided for farmers who already have, or want to encourage back, breeding Curlew on their land.
  • There was unanimous support for a forum / network / group to share knowledge and experience, and work for Curlew across southern England. 


How good are your bird ID skills?

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 10:10 am in Bird notes

Alan Pomroy writes:

We all like to think that we are good birders, able to identify most species we might encounter in the UK. Here is an opportunity for you to test that assumption and rectify potential shortcomings. Several years ago the BTO e-newsletter mentioned a new Bird ID website and commended its readers to take a look. Created by Nord-Trøndelag University College in Central Norway, the site provides bird study in a fun way and it is particularly satisfying to see your personal identification score gradually improve towards the goal of 100%.

Nord ID

The site’s key features are training quizzes on bird appearance and sounds using randomly presented photographs and sound clips. Questions are multiple-choice and can be preselected for difficulty level, covering a chosen country or the whole of the Western Palearctic. It’s an enjoyable way to improve your bird recognition skills but somewhat addictive on dark winter evenings! Once registered on the site, it automatically records those species which are proving difficult and this information can then be used to create personalised tests concentrating on problem species. The photographs are a bit like the old British Birds “Mystery Species” accounts and all include at least one critical identification feature for the species concerned. The sound clips were more difficult and required practice. I struggled with the songs of the various continental Sylvia warblers and, as a southerner, had no idea that the song of a whimbrel was superficially so similar to that of a curlew!

More crucially, you can choose to take formal tests on bird identification, thereby earning study credits. The formal test is web-based, free of charge and when you pass, you get a HiNT certificate and a free t-shirt with the BirdID logo – now a proud possession! Once the formal appearance and sound tests for the Western Palearctic have been passed you become eligible to take part in any of three, low-cost, annual field study trips. The destinations and current prices are:-

  • Morocco (Atlas mountains, Sahara desert and wetlands) in March (10 days for 250 Euros)
  • Bulgaria (in conjunction with the BSPB) in late April/early May (10 days for 150 Euros)
  • Northern Norway (Finnmark, Pasvik and Varanger) in June (6 days for 380 Euros)

These prices are significantly lower than similar itineraries with UK based companies and include all accommodation, transport and guides. (Flights to and from the destination are not included). Breakfast and dinner are also provided on the Bulgarian and Moroccan field trips. With a mixture of nationalities participating the field trips are conducted in English, which keeps things simple for UK based birders. Places on the field-study trips are on a ‘first-come first-served’ basis and, as you might expect, are eagerly sought. So it makes sense to register interest early.

Having both passed the formal exams, my wife Nikki and I applied to take part in the 2016 Northern Norway field trip, thinking that this was an economic opportunity to visit northern latitudes and also that, as the shortest trip, we would not suffer too much if the pace was intense. In the event, we had a fantastic time, visiting a wide variety of habitats from lakes and boreal forest to snow covered tundra and an offshore island with thousands of breeding seabirds. The Norwegians were perfect hosts, taking the time to explain the habitat requirements and identification features of the various bird species, and were more than happy to answer our questions about the ecology, history and culture of the region. The pace was relatively relaxed and, although there were target species and some early starts, the trip lacked the “tick and run” nature of some UK based tour companies. We learned a lot from the experience. As a group we also bonded very readily and there was a lot of laughter and knowledge-sharing throughout. I would really recommend you have a look at some of the links below and think about what HiNT and their field study trips have to offer. 

To whet your appetite, I have listed some of the regional specialities we saw, most of which were in breeding habitat: Whooper Swan, Bean Goose, King Eider, Smew, Willow Grouse, White-billed Diver, White-tailed Eagle, Rough-legged Buzzard, Crane, Dotterel, Temminck`s Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Woodcock, Red-necked Phalarope, Ruff, Long-tailed Skua, Brunnich`s Guillemot, Hawk Owl, Shore Lark, Red-throated Pipit, Waxwing, Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, Brambling, Twite, Arctic Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Little Bunting, Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting.

We are taking part in the field trips to Morocco and Bulgaria this year and will be happy to answer any queries readers may have once we get back.

Relevant links:

HiNT BirdID homepage: https://www.birdid.no/bird/index.php

HiNT BirdID training quiz: https://www.birdid.no/bird/IDprogram.php

Information on formal tests: https://www.birdid.no/bird/infoFormalTest.php

BirdID field study trips: https://www.birdid.no/bird/page.php?pageID=23 

Bulgaria 2014 field trip blog: http://danbirder.blogspot.co.uk/ 

BSPB site: http://bspb.org/ 


Insects of South Milton Ley

Posted February 24th, 2017 at 9:57 am in Reserves

Alan Pomroy writes: I have just received the final data from the Devon Fly Group's visits to South Milton Ley reserve in 2016. This pushes up the total of spiders and insects identified there since 2015 to 477.

Members who are interested can read about the more interesting records under Articles here: South Milton Ley Insect Survey. These include a fly from North Africa, a dance fly, a flesh fly, a nationally rare snail-killing fly and stiletto fly. For those of us who think of flies as little more than bird food, this is a whole new world. 

One area where we currently have a lack of records is the Coleoptera or beetles. If you have an interest in beetles or know someone who could help in this specialist area, please email alan.pomroy@blueyonder.co.uk for more information.

Stomorhina lunata - a North African fly whose larvae are parasitic on locusts. 

By Alvesgaspar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3970618



Posted February 24th, 2017 at 9:27 am in People

Sadly, we lost two long-standing members of Devon Birds last month. Norman Briden, who knew them both well, has written this tribute:

William John Doughty (Bill)
November 1938 – January 2017
Retired Chairman of Taw & Torridge Branch
Bill moved to North Devon some 15 years ago from Coventry. He moved around the Bideford area before settling down in Yelland, where he enjoyed his time there with his wife Enid who sadly died in 2011.
Bill was an avid golfer until he went birding with his son Mike who is a 500 club member. Bill went on several twitches and saw some first-class birds.
Whilst in Bideford, Bill found the Skern and met Anne Ford, who like many of us, was put in the right direction of Devon Birds. Bill joined in December 2002 and stood as local chairman for several years.
Sadly at the end of 2015, Bill’s health deteriorated and eventually he had to use oxygen cylinders. This made moving about very restrictive but he put on a brave face and still tried to do as much as possible.
In 2016 he was moved to The Warren Care Home where he was very happy. He passed away on  23 January 2017.
His funeral was at Barnstaple Crematorium on 10 February.
Elizabeth Locken
Sadly on 25 January 2017, Liz Locken, wife of another retired chairman, died in the Fremington Manor Care Home.
Liz and Ron were long-term members of the Taw& Torridge Branch. They joined Devon Birds in July 1978. 
Ron who is not well himself is feeling greatly the loss of Liz.
The funeral was at the Barnstaple Crematorium on 9 February.


What's that bird?

Posted February 23rd, 2017 at 8:16 pm in Bird notes

A reminder that if you are having difficulty identifying a bird, you can get help by emailing id@devonbirds.org

The more information you can include, the greater the chance that our experts can help. A full description is vital, a drawing is helpful and clear photos can clinch it. Please be patient though and don't expect an instant reply.

What's that bird? There's a Stone Curlew in here somewhere, honest.

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