Tuesday 27th April 2021

After a completely clear, windless night with a full moon I wasn’t expecting much in the way of grounded migrants this morning and I wasn’t disappointed! Nevertheless, despite the lack of numbers, there was a reasonable selection including eight species of warbler and the first Reed Bunting, Garden Warblers and Whitethroat of the year. A French ringed Sedge warbler provided the icing on the cake, although this is known to be a local breeder, ringed as a 1st year at Trunvel, Treogat, Finistère, France on 6th August 2018 during its first southwards migration. Now returning to South Milton to breed for the third successive year.

Once again, my time was most profitably spent, between net rounds, clearing more grass from the boards in Marsh Ride. With 42 metres of board now fully exposed, just six remain to be cleared during my next visit.

Final totals were: 1 Blackbird, 5 Blackcap, 2 Blue Tit, 1 Cetti’s Warbler, 3 Chiffchaff, 2 Garden Warbler, 1 Reed Bunting, 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 6 Sedge Warbler, 1 Whitethroat and 1 Willow Warbler.

South Milton Ley Biodiversity

One of the major shortcomings at South Milton Ley, identified in the last management plan, was the lack of comprehensive, contemporary information on the flora and fauna of the reserve and the complete absence of monitoring both before or after major projects, which may have affected species distributions and diversity. Since 2015, I have made considerable efforts to encourage specialist teams to visit the reserve and the fruits of their collective efforts have been considerable.

Whilst this blog primarily concentrates on bird ringing at SML, Devon Bird’s current lack of an archivist causes me concern that, in the event of my sudden demise or that of my pc, many records could be lost. Consequently, I have sent copies of species lists to Natural England, who oversee the SSSI, and made the decision to post copies on this blog as well.

My own contribution to today’s lists is minor when compared to the efforts of visiting specialists and, whilst I have made every effort not to omit anyone, it was safer to name the parent groups rather than individuals and I apologise in advance if anybody feels overlooked.

In summary, since the current management plan was written in 2015:

The number of plant species identified has increased from 95 to 208 thanks to surveys by John Day.

The number of arachnid species identified within the reserve has increased from 10 to 26, thanks to Geoff Foale from Salcombe. Flies and related insect species have increased from 130 to 514, thanks principally to the efforts of Geoff Foale and members of the Devon Fly Group. Barry Henwood and members of the Devon Moth Group have increased the number of moths from 6 to 174, whilst Dr Martin Luff has increased the number of beetles from 15 to 192.

In terms of vertebrates the number of amphibians and reptiles remains the same at three and four respectively. One additional fish species has been identified, taking the total up to a majestic three and a comprehensive bird list has been compiled with the assistance of Mike Passman, Bob Burridge and Vic Tucker. Only species recorded either within or flying over the reserve have been included and several rarities, shearwaters, divers, auks and waders, recorded either in the bay, on the beach or at South Huish are now omitted. The current avian total stands at 206 species.

Finally, local resident John Ward has recorded fourteen species of bat adjacent to the reserve and Jess Smallcombe and Ellie Knott of the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre have just provided conclusive proof of the presence of both Water Voles and Otters, taking the mammal total up from 22 to 32 species. Species lists for all of these groups can be accessed here: South Milton Ley Species Lists

Monday 19th April 2021 – Avian lockdown?

Another cold and frosty start greeted me this morning and, for the second time in a row, conditions were almost perfect for ringing with just a gentle NE breeze and clear skies. However, the persistent blocking area of high pressure over the UK seems to have stopped migration in its tracks with birds being held up in N Africa and S Europe. It was as if they were observing their own lockdown! An all-time spring low of 18 were trapped in a five-hour session with just six new birds amongst them. The first Sedge and Reed Warblers of the year and three passage swallows provided a glimmer of hope but my time was more profitably spent continuing to clear grass from between the boards in Marsh Ride using hand shears.

Final totals were: 1 Blackbird, 3 Blackcap, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 5 Chiffchaff, 1 Reed Warbler, 2 Robin, 1 Sedge Warbler and 3 Wren.

Friday 9th April 2021 – A little bit of quality

Adult male Cirl Bunting

I’m not keen on cold mornings and was not exactly overjoyed whilst clearing ice from the mist net poles and ringing table at 06:30 today. However, despite the low temperature, conditions were almost perfect for ringing with virtually no wind at all first thing. Unfortunately, there were virtually no birds either! Just 24 were trapped in a six-hour session and fourteen of these were re-traps. There was little evidence of passage of any kind apart from a solitary Grasshopper Warbler reeling away somewhere in the reedbed and a lone swallow which moved through later in the morning.

It wasn’t all bad though. Two of the re-traps were resident male Cetti’s Warblers and another four were local Chiffchaffs returning to their breeding site for the second or third year in succession. Of the new birds, the highlights were an adult male Cirl Bunting and a late Siberian Chiffchaff, both of which were trapped in nets beside the STW. There cannot be many places in the country where a ringer can trap Cetti’s Warblers, Cirl Bunting and Siberian Chiffchaff in the same ringing session.

Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis

The lack of birds gave me the opportunity to start spring cleaning the boards across Marsh Ride. These gradually disappear under a thatch of grass if left untended, which makes it all too easy to misjudge where their edges are. In the interests of my personal health and safety, I like to cut away the grass to expose the boards. This is a slow process, using edging shears to slice through the matted roots along both sides of the net ride, a total distance of 96 metres. Once completed, the cut material must be raked to one end of the ride for disposal. It’s surprising just how heavy wet, matted turf is! All that remains now is for me to repeat the exercise, using hand shears, and cut the remaining 48 metres between the boards along the middle of the ride. This will enable me to set the bottom of the net a little lower in future, rather than having to avoid birds in the bottom shelf potentially encountering cold damp vegetation. Final totals were: 2 Blackcap, 3 Blue Tit, 2 Cetti’s Warbler, 8 Chiffchaff, 1 Cirl Bunting, 2 Long-tailed Tit and 6 Wren.