Reports 2021

Annual bird watching bonanza, Sunday 10th January 2021

Due to the most recent lock down restrictions this trip obviously had to be cancelled. Furthermore, because we are now required to stay in our own locality, even a few of us could not go down to see what we were missing.

However, just before Xmas I had reason to go to Dart’s Farm and was able to do some bird watching in the area. Although the car park at 10.00 am was packed, nobody else was bird watching although the numerous dog walkers didn’t help matters. Down at the hide – well it’s a shelter really – the feeders were missing which was a pity because that’s always a good place to see some of the smaller birds. However, a chiffchaff pitched up accompanied by a Siberian chiffchaff, so that was a good start. Out on the meadows were Brent geese, mallard, wigeon, teal and curlew. Round now to Goosemoor where there were plenty of redshanks and black headed gulls but the mistle thrush was not in his usual place guarding the mistletoe. The hide at Bowling Green Marsh was closed due to the Covid restrictions and the feeders in the recently established nature garden were either empty or missing.

Shelduck by Endymion

Out on the marsh were shoveler, pintail, shelduck, greylag, Canada geese and black tailed godwits. Apart from dunlin and a little egret there was nothing much to be seen from the viewing platform overlooking the River Clyst. Around to the Goat Walk to see quite a few avocets and a couple of red breasted mergansers plus the odd cormorant and grey plover. There were lots of birds too far down the River Exe to positively identify.

25th anniversary booklet.
I hope you all enjoy reading this booklet and thanks to all those who contributed articles, poems, photographs and especially to Endymion for collating it and organising the photographs.

25th Anniversary Booklet Cover

Isley marsh and the river bank. Feb 2021

Due to the current lock down requirements, we couldn’t go as a group outing but as it was only down to Yelland, then it was close enough for people to treat the walk along the riverbank as their daily exercise walk, independently, and report back. To make it more convenient for everyone it was decided that any day from Friday 5th to Tuesday 9th February would be acceptable.

Along the Tarka Trail there had very recently been extensive hedge trimming almost to the point of desecration, so the heavy machinery had probably frightened off the small birds. Similarly there had been close cropping at ground level so besides the gorse bushes the only flowers left were one dandelion and one clump of snowdrops. Several people braved the weather and the mud and sent me their bird lists for which I am grateful. The following account was one I received from John Short

After several weeks of Covid-19 lock down, it was good to get to get out and about again for a wander along the banks of the River Taw even if it was on my own rather than with other members of our BNA group. Along the Tarka Trail could be heard the uplifting sound of the occasional bird song telling us that our daylight hours were lengthening, and Springtime may be not too far away.

The tide was a low one and was rising slowly towards high water, ideal for viewing waders. On reaching the riverbank my first eye-catching moment was the resplendent bright orange bill colour of the oystercatchers. More difficult to spot was a small group of meadow pipits scurrying amongst the small stones on the shoreline. Looking further along the shore there stood four majestic grey herons, unmoving against the incoming tide.

It was good to see large flocks of curlew and teal. More spectacular was a flock of over 100 dunlin as they weaved their magic overhead, twisting and turning as of one. Passing the site of the former power station, all that is now left are large spoil heaps interspersed with areas of standing water – a feeling of eeriness descended. With the sky clouding over and with the stillness of the site there did not seem to be a living creature anywhere. At the edge of this site a row of evergreen trees stood tall against the darkening sky. All seemed still and quiet when from out of the canopy came the unmistakable cronk of a raven. They are known to nest in these trees so hopefully they will do so again this Spring.

Just past these trees is a large pond behind the river bank. The waters were still and as the sun reappeared. The surrounding tall reeds were reflected magnificently around the edges of the pond. In the quietness a moorhen could be heard clucking and fussing amongst the growth. Arriving at the Isley Marsh nature reserve, the usual array of ducks and waders were in residence and yes there amongst the marshy green growth were four spoonbills with their heads nestling down amongst their feathers.

Oystercatchers by Endymion

Berry Castle and Darracott Reservoir. March 2021

When these locations were requested it never occurred to anyone that we would still be in lock down. To make sure that everyone who wished to visit these places could still do so, it was decided that under the current restrictions you could, either on your own, or with one other person outside your bubble. So that we didn’t all go on the same day, it was suggested that we could go any day a few days before or after the original set date of March 21st. Several members participated in the field trip independently, and kindly sent me their lists of observations which I have amalgamated into a combined list.

Berry Castle is located in Huntshaw Woods in the triangle between Barnstaple, Bideford and Torrington. It is a bronze age hill fort some 2600 years old and currently lies in land belonging to The Clinton Estate. In 2015 all the trees that had appeared within the confines of the original hill fort had been felled to reveal an area some 140 metres by 70 metres. Several of the original stone faced earth ramparts still remain and also some of the deep outer ditches. It is thought that it was used as a meeting place or market place rather than a place with dwellings. There have been several others in the Torridge Valley at Buckland, Higher Kingdon, Hembury Camp, Castle Hill at Beaford and Ten Oaks Wood at Roborough, although not all still exist today.

Just over a mile away towards Torrington is the more modern construction of Darracott Reservoir varying in depth down to 27 feet by the dam and covering some three acres. The fish there include carp, bream, roach, rudd, perch and eels. Depending upon which day you went, the observations were quite interestingly different as one observer was serenaded by chiffchaffs and skylarks, one saw a wren with nest building material, there were pairs of ravens and buzzards whilst others saw many different flowers or were irritated by gnats.
However, I am very grateful for all your varied contributions.

Spring flowers – wood anemone and lesser celandine by J Short

Halsdon Nature Reserve 23rd-25th April 2021

Shortly after gathering at the entrance to the reserve a grey wagtail was spotted in the stream below the nearby old stone bridge. This was a good beginning to our walk around the 142 acres of mixed mature woodland and meadows managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. As we entered the woodland the sun shone down from a clear blue sky through the emerging leaves. Walking along the broad earth path it was particularly pleasant as the trees shielded us from a keen easterly wind. Either side of us wood anemones and celandines were in abundance whilst we were serenaded by a mixture of bird song. The birds were not easy to spot but the clear notes of several blackcaps were heard along our walk together with the repetitive songs of the thrushes.

Early Purple Orchid by Endymion

This is the time of the year when many “firsts” are spotted and it was not long before we came across an early purple orchid with it’s spotted leaves and emerging flower head. A good photographic opportunity. Soon the stream we were following adjacent to the path merged into the wider, faster flowing River Torridge. This stretch of the river, which runs alongside the reserve, is a popular haunt for otters. Occasionally the clear waters of the Torridge are slowed down as they ripple over a collection of low stone weirs. It was on one of these larger stones that a dipper was seen bobbing up and down in characteristic manner only to be replaced by a very smart pair of grey wagtails.

Further along the path a kingfisher flashed past making its way upstream. This is an ideal habitat for this bird with many bank-side tree branches hanging low out over the water. Ambling on past an old water mill we emerged into an open meadow with the occasional very mature oak trees. Cuckoo flowers were beginning to appear in the damper areas as we made our way towards the bird hide accompanied by orange tip butterflies deciding on which plant on which to lay its eggs.

Unsurprisingly the bird hide was closed due to the Covid restrictions. Nevertheless sitting on a bench outside to eat our packed lunches we were enjoyed magnificent views of the passing river. A pair of mallards could be seen criss crossing the river sometimes accompanied by some ducklings. Moving on across another meadow and looking up into the riverside trees was a wonderful example of a “witches broom”. Another first for the year was a large red damselfly sunning itself on the vegetation.

Further along, where the sandy riverbanks climb higher above the water was an ideal place for migrating sand martins to nest. One was actually seen entering its nest hole but they were not there in the numbers we had hoped for. Notable throughout our journey was the gorse with its brilliant yellow flowers and its attendant hordes of buzzing insects.

Dog’s Mercury by Endymion

Leaving the lower meadows and climbing up the steep path through the woods, past the evergreen dog’s mercury was the only clump of daisies seen all day at the entrance to the upper parking area. It only remained for us to polish off a cream tea at a nearby farmhouse where we sat outside on the lawned area watching swallows swooping about above the adjacent meadows.

The above report was compiled by John S. Due to the Covid restrictions we could only have a maximum of six in a group, so some went on the Friday and some on the Sunday.

Lists of our observations were taken as always, and are a combination of the two visits. My thanks to those who did all the note taking. If national members would like a copy emailed to them, please contact our branch Chairman Brian Sims.