Report on Berry Head talk and Plymouth Branch AGM

The Jewell of Berry Head

For the last meeting of the year Mike Langman gave an excellent pictorial guide of Berry Head during his presentation ‘Forty of Berry Head’s Four Million Years – a Brief Birding Encounter’. This headland, which is two hundred foot high, makes up one side of Torbay and supports an old Napoleonic fort. The fort once housed a garrison to protect the English fleet on the south coast. Now it offers protection for migrant birds attracted by the light from the lighthouse particularly during poor weather.  The lighthouse claims to be the smallest but highest in the British Isles and is ideal for observing large numbers of passing birdlife.

The contorted layers of limestone on the cliffs gives suitable nesting ledges for a thousand guillemots, the largest colony on the South Coast and is viewed from the hide on the top of the west side of the headland.  Out to sea, basking sharks, bottle nosed dolphins and harbour porpoises can be spotted as well as many gulls and gannet, which follow the trawlers heading for Brixham. The old quarry can give shelter on the east side and allows good views of skuas, auks and shearwaters.

Areas of scrubland and woodland offer habitat for birds such as Firecrest, tits and warblers. More unusual species like the Wryneck, Long-eared Owl and Hoopoe have been found. The rare white rockrose and many orchids grow and adders, common lizard and painted lady and clouded yellow butterflies survive here.

By surveying the same site over 40 years, since being a YOC member, Mike is able to note an increase in species like the yellow-browed Warbler and Cirl Bunting but a decrease in some species such as Whitethroat and Tree Sparrow. However wildlife has to compete with disturbance from many dog walkers and visitors.

Being an illustrator and artist, Mike sketches and makes notes of skulking shapes in the bushes to help identification. Indeed his sketch book is an art form in itself. His excellent photographs reflected his great skills and his time spent covering the area.

There are few places where one can enjoy so many variable habitats and witness fifteen thousand Redwing and Fieldfare flying overhead, as was recorded during one migration count. Mike quoted a friend- ‘If you’re not out, you’ll see nought’.

A short AGM preceded the talk and two new committee members, Jill and Phil Stevens were elected to add to the nine who are prepared to continue next year. I wish to thank all the committee who have worked to produce another successful year.            Liz Harris