26th July 2018 – Horsefly horror!

Tabanus sudeticus 1

I’m used to being harassed by horseflies during the summer at SML but generally they’re less bother than the stinging nettles, which topple and lean into the net rides when my back is turned and catch me unawares. I hadn’t realised that horseflies lay their eggs in moist ground, which explains their presence at SML despite the lack of livestock nearby. In fact, this summer, the dry conditions seem to have reduced their numbers significantly.

So, it came as a surprise when I spotted the beast in the photos, caught in one of the mist nets. Bearing in mind that the mesh is 16x16mm, it really was a brute. I had no idea horseflies this size even existed in the UK but, after a bit of research, I have provisionally identified it as a female Dark Giant Horsefly Tabanus sudeticus, apparently the largest fly in Europe. I’m glad to have seen it but definitely don’t want to become part of its food chain!

Tabanus sudeticus 2

In terms of the ringing it was slow and steady with 42 new birds:

1 Blackbird, 6 Blackcap, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Dunnock, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Goldfinch, 8 Reed Warbler, 3 Robin, 7 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 8 Willlow Warbler, 3 Wren.


Juvenile Willow Warbler – 26th July 2018

Signs of change

Sign 1

In September 2017 a draft sign for the entrances to South Milton Ley Nature Reserve was circulated, which caused some concern. Devon Birds was proposing a change of access policy from members only to unrestricted access for the public and their dogs. After protests and a site visit by some members of Council, the proposal was amended and dogs will continue to be excluded.

Sign 2

From my point of view, access for dogs was completely unacceptable as there will always be a small minority of irresponsible owners. The risk of an unrestrained animal either attacking birds caught in a mist net during ringing operations or simply blundering into a net and knocking it over is significant. Mist nets are easily damaged and represent a considerable financial investment on the part of a ringer and, with an average of six nets dispersed over a route of 500m, it is impossible to monitor them all continuously.

Sign 3

Having said all that, the new signs are now in place, with access to sensitive areas prohibited. Only time will tell whether this will lead to an increase in visitors or have any impact on the ecology.

18th and 21st July 2018

With no sign of a break in the current, exceptional period of hot, dry weather I have been spoilt for choice when it comes to the selection of ringing days. My ability to recover from the 4am starts, necessary to give enough time for the hour-long drive to the site and to erect the nets at dawn, has become the limiting factor.

I have lumped the last two visits together again as there was little difference between them, although Saturday 21st was cloudier than it had been for some time and there was a threat of a shower in the air. Bird-wise, they were very similar and dominated by dispersing juveniles. The first Willow Warbler of the autumn was trapped on the 21st.

The grand total for the two days was 114 new birds: 4 Blackbird, 32 Blackcap, 6 Blue Tit, 16 Chiffchaff, 6 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 2 Pied Wagtail, 24 Reed Warbler, 3 Robin, 11 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 1 Willow Warbler and 4 Wren.

5th and 11th July 2018

The exceptional warm and dry spell continues with little sign of change in the immediate future. I’ve been getting the nets opened for 06:00 as it’s cooler then and the birds are more active. By midday it’s just too hot! At least the paths around the Ley have finally been mown. Trudging through knee high grass between the net rides and the ringing station for the last two months was no fun either. Nick Townsend and a colleague arrived at 09:00 to erect new signage to reflect the new, more-relaxed access policy implemented by Devon Birds. Unfortunately, the ground probably couldn’t be harder than it is at the moment so I don’t know how they got on trying to hammer in posts to attach the signs to.

The ringing on both days was steady and is now dominated by the offspring of local breeders. The grand total for the two days was 88 new birds: 2 Blackbird, 11 Blackcap, 3 Blue Tit, 1 Bullfinch, 13 Chiffchaff, 8 Dunnock, 3 Great Tit, 1 Reed Bunting, 23 Reed Warbler, 4 Robin, 6 Sedge Warbler, 3 Song Thrush, 1 Whitethroat and 9 Wren.