July 2016–17 Archive from April 2017

Welcome to the April 2017 issue of The Harrier

Posted April 28th, 2017 at 12:38 am in Welcome

A male Pied Flycatcher already staking its claim to a nest box (photo: Kevin Cox)

The spring migration is now fully underway. Pied flycatchers started arriving in the first week of April and first eggs were laid at Yarner on Tuesday this week. Wood warblers made a bit of a slower start and were a few days later than in previous years. I saw my first House Martin on Dartmoor last week and a male Whinchat in some rough grassland near the moor. Yet over the weekend in Nottingham for the RSPB members' weekend, a party of around 20 Waxwings flew over. 

Time to make the most of the spring. Enjoy your birding and don't forget to submit your records.

Kevin Cox, Chairman


Off the beaten track in search of Ring Ouzels

Posted April 28th, 2017 at 12:32 am in Surveys

Scoping habitat suitability for Ring Ouzel and associated moorland birds in Dartmoor’s remote and less studied corners (photo: Chris Townend)

Fiona Freshney writes:

The Project         

Ring Ouzel is just one of a number of upland birds in decline in the UK and this trend is reflected on Dartmoor. The list includes Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover (the last of which no longer breeds on Dartmoor).

Whilst much valuable survey work has already been completed, it has always proven beyond the capacity of the Ring Ouzel monitoring programme to systematically visit areas of appropriate habitat beyond the well-used historic sites. Occasional breeding season records have been received of Ring Ouzel seen elsewhere on the moor, and some of these sites have been checked sporadically, but rarely has it been possible to complete a thorough or repeat visit.

In recognition of this, potential ‘New’ sites have been identified, based on observations from previous Ring Ouzel surveys and aerial photo interpretation. These will be the focus of attention for this survey project but visits will also be made to the traditional breeding sites. New sites will need to be ground-truthed to assess the extent, structure and quality of habitat. The survey will focus on Ring Ouzel, along with other vulnerable species likely to benefit from similar habitat improvement initiatives. Data will contribute to projects undertaken by partner organisations and other bodies with an interest in conserving Dartmoor and its species.

The key purpose of collecting habitat and topographical information is to identify whether these lesser-known areas on the moor have potential to support a healthy assemblage of moorland birds. The focus will be on areas containing a mosaic of all or some of the following features:

  • steep, rocky ‘gullies’ including tin streaming areas (nesting habitat);
  • dry heath, both heather and western gorse on steep slopes (nesting habitat):
  • tors with clitter slopes (nesting habitat);
  • the above with scattered trees (song posts, cover for fledglings);
  • short-grazed, good quality or damp acid grassland (foraging habitat);
  • bilberry slopes (late summer foraging habitat);

Some of these sites may be in sub-optimal condition, with issues such as over-grazing, over-frequent burning or lack of targeted grazing. Sites will be assessed for current and potential nesting and foraging habitat.

Full details of the survey methodology can be found here: Ring Ouzel Survey

If you would like to take part in the survey, please contact Fiona by email at ffreshney@devonwildlifetrust.org

A training session for those who wish to take part in the survey will take place at 5.45pm for 6pm, on the 3rd May at Cox Tor on the western side of Dartmoor. The site has been chosen for ease of access. Please meet in the small lay-by at SX525764 but let Fiona know beforehand.

The Ring Ouzel survey is part-funded by Devon Birds.

Photo of the Month

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 4:25 pm in Photo of the Month

Tom Wallis took this cracking photo of a male Redstart (with a ring) at Yarner this week. It's a deceptively simple shot but also deeply satisfying because of the way the rust and grey of the log reflect the colours of the bird standing on it.

Proposed development at Bantham

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 4:10 pm in Conservation

Many Devon Birds members will know and love Bantham on the south coast. In 2014, the 700-acre estate was bought by Nicholas Johnston who reassured residents in an interview in Devon Life magazine that 'under his stewardship there will be no development, no change, no music festivals and no more houses'. Just three years later, he is now proposing a significant development of the village to include a beach club, swimming pool, underground car park and 16 new houses.

Devon Birds has no plans to comment on the development proposals at this time though we are keen to collect as many bird records from the area as possible. If you are an occasional or regular visitor please submit records of all sightings.

If you wish to find out about the proposed development, you will find more information here: http://savebantham.uk/

Devon Birds member, Nick Cotter is involved with the Save Bantham Coalition and he writes that the group is seeking more people locally to help support this group and a planning expert. Please contact him if you would like to find out more or to offer help - cotter.nick@yahoo.com


Illegal Bird Trapping in Cyprus in 2016

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 3:33 pm in Conservation

Roger Little writes: The most recent BirdLife Cyprus survey estimates 2.3 million birds were illegally trapped in Cyprus in 2016. Illegal trapping takes place mainly at night and targets songbirds particularly Blackcaps. Trappers set mist nets and/or limesticks at dusk and then return at dawn to recover the trapped birds. All species of birds caught are killed. The song birds caught are typically sold to restaurants to form the main ingredient of ambelopoulia a local food “delicacy”! It is illegal for restaurants to buy or sell the birds used for this dish. Much of the trapping is now carried out by organised crime

Unfortunately 800,000 of the birds were trapped on the UK Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia.

This base is under the direct control and policing of the UK.

This film by Chris Packham provides up to date objective information: https://youtu.be/5oFOkqTtXFw

As an annual visitor to Cyprus since 2013 to take part in the survey that provides the data used to produce the annual BirdLife Cyprus trapping report, I confirm that from direct personal experience this is the current situation in Cyprus.

The latest illegal trapping report from BirdLife Cyprus is available here:


The RSPB actively support the efforts of BirdLife Cyprus. The conservation director Martin Harper has also written blogs on the subject. You can read the latest here: 


I urge you to take positive active to stop this bird slaughter.

Please sign the e-petition here to “Stop the Illegal Slaughter of Migrating Songbirds on MoD land in Cyprus”. 


Please also write to your MP and MEP.

Devon Birds will be writing to the appropriate government department.


Ringing at Slapton

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 1:16 pm in Conservation

The Slapton Bird Observatory Ringing Group has just published its annual report for 2016. 

Nik Ward writes: Overall it was quite a good year for the group again with the Constant Effort Project running and another successful beginners' course delivered.

You can read the full report here: Slapton Ringing Group Report 2016

Harmless fun or deadly for wildlife?

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 12:49 pm in News

Douglas Herdson writes: Have you attended an event where balloons have been released? It seems to be an increasingly popular activity at weddings, funerals, fundraisers or product launches. And you might think of it as just harmless fun but it can prove deadly to wildlife including birds of prey as this story on Facebook from Canada shows:

To find out more about this problem, visit the Marine Conservation Society website: http://www.mcsuk.org

Plymouth City Council has banned mass balloon releases on county-owned land but if you live outside the Plymouth area, you might like to write to your local councillor to encourage Devon County Council and Exeter City Council to follow suit. 

And if you are invited to an event that includes a balloon release, please talk to the organiser to point out the problems and to try to encourage them to celebrate the occasion in a more environmentally-friendly way.

New screen at the Devon Birds reserve, South Milton Ley

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 12:28 pm in Reserves

Nick Townsend writes: Over the last few weekends a small group of volunteers has been busy putting up a screen in the copse on the south side of South Milton Reserve, opposite to the treatment plant.  It can be reached from the treatment plant by taking the public footpath across the Reserve, through the gate on the right and following the track for about 150m.


The screen overlooks an area of cleared of reeds with small stretches of open water.  A line of willows running across the Reserve can also be seen clearly from the screen.

 Our thanks to Roger Blackway, Alan Doidge, Dave Pakes, Mark Passman and Eric Wotton for their initiative and hard work in creating this new viewing point.  Hopefully their efforts will be rewarded with some good birds.



Peregrine found shot in Devon

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 12:18 pm in News

X-ray of Peregrine with shot lodged in right shoulder (photo courtesy of Westmoor Veterinary Hospital, Tavistock)

On 6 March, a female Peregrine was found shot outside the Milton Abbot Primary School, Tavistock. As of 31 March, the Peregrine was still alive and being cared for by a local falconer.

This shameful incident shows that persecution of our birds of prey is still happening and Devon has one of the worst records in the country. If you see anything suspicious or become aware of illegal persecution of any wild birds, please contact your local Wildlife Crime Officer via 101.

For more details about this incident, see the story on the Raptor Persecution UK site here: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/peregrine-found-shot-in-devon/

And for a shocking report that shows Peregrines are still being targeted around the country, read the RSPB Investigations Team blog here: https://www.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/investigations


Cuckoo site is now live

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 11:56 am in Records

A reminder that if you have seen or, more likely, heard a Cuckoo anywhere in Devon, please log it on the Cuckoo Sightings page here: https://www.devonbirds.org/birdwatching/recording/cuckoos

Numbers of Cuckoos are building up with an expected concentration on Dartmoor. 

All records are hugely important to help us build a picture of Cuckoo numbers and locations. The information will be used for research by scientists working on Cuckoo research at the University of Exeter who are looking into the causes of the bird's decline so that it can be reversed.

 Cuckoo map shown here on 27 April 2017

Update on Godborough, Devon Birds reserve near Bideford

Posted April 27th, 2017 at 11:42 am in Reserves

The wood at Godborough that was being coppiced before the final clear up as the ransoms were just coming through.

Philip Marlow writes: Godborough has turned from mud heap to baked clay almost overnight. We have tilled barley in strips of the finch field which has germinated though we still need more rain if it is to establish itself. The mixed sheep, cattle and pony grazing has worked well and stopped the rapid regrowth of gorse on the main slope and the top meadow.

The site has Mallard nesting again together with all the usual species. One that appeared to be missing or at least not as obvious as last year is the Green Woodpecker but there was one there on Tuesday evening.

Opening up the woodland and the season has resulted in a marvellous flush of spring flowers.

Butterflies are around and speckled wood, tortoiseshell, orange tip, peacock and comma have all been seen.

In May and June we will have working parties on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays (2nd and 16th May and 6th and 20th June). The main tasks will be finishing the screen, putting a gate and fencing up by the bottom corner and keeping paths open. In addition we will be looking for help when we put in the two trackways once we have a date when a digger is available.

If you would like to join us on any of these dates, please drop me an email at pandgmarlow@btinternet.com

The main slope at Godborough with the Exmoor ponies that have helped prevent the gorse from taking over.

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