14th and 17th August 2018


Male Great Green Bush Cricket 14/08/2018

A hard drive failure has prevented me from updating the blog this week. Luckily, I had suspected that it was terminally ill and almost everything except for a few recent files had been backed up. It’s still taken me a couple of days to get the new pc set up and all the files and software re-installed though. Two relatively uninspiring ringing sessions on the 14th and 17th were both terminated early due to increasing wind strength and a lack of birds. Just 71 new birds in total: 9 Blackcap, 1 Blue Tit, 2 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 18 Reed Warbler, 1 Robin, 26 Sedge Warbler, 1 Tree Pipit, 11 Willow Warbler and 1 Wren.

Passage birds on the 14th included a steady trickle of hirundines down the valley c. 150 Swallow and 15 House Martin with 5 Swift. Another juvenile Marsh Harrier passed through NW at 09:30. 2 Swifts also passed through on the 17th and the first Kingfisher of the autumn flew up South Milton Stream. The main interest was a couple of additions to the insect list, both sufficiently large for me to spot and identify. The first was a Great Green Bush Cricket on the 14th, followed by a Hornet Robberfly, Britain;s largest predatory fly, on the 17th.

Hornet robberfly

Hornet Robberfly Asilus crabroniformis 17/08/2018


9th August 2018

With an ever changing weather forecast and the certainty of rain on Friday, I squeezed in another ringing session in anticipation of a few days off. There was a steady flow of birds into the nets for the first few hours dominated by Sedge and Willow Warblers. As the ringing began to tail off I noticed a large bird of prey flying low over the reeds further down the reserve. Initially, I assumed it was just another Buzzard but something didn’t quite fit. Naturally the bird then disappeared behind the only tree between me and it. Once it popped out the other side it was clear it was a young Marsh Harrier quartering the reedbed. The first I have seen here for a couple of years.

69 new birds were ringed: 3 Blackbird, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Dunnock, 1 Long-tailed Tit, 11 Reed Warbler, 2 Robin, 21 Sedge Warbler, 1 Whitethroat and 24 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.

7th August 2018

The last hot, windless day before the weather was forecast to break found Dave Scott and I ringing by the sewage works and at the boardwalk. In the event it was surprisingly quiet compared to recent visits and I only processed 26 new birds before cutting my losses and heading for home.

6 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Garden Warbler, 4 Reed Warbler, 4 Sedge Warbler, 7 Willow Warbler and 3 Wren.

Visiting birders (from up North) also reported a Treecreeper and two Spotted Flycatchers at the eastern end of the reserve.

1st August 2018

Just a few spots of rain and the threat of a shower first thing this morning were enough to drop a few birds. It was pretty hectic for the first couple of hours and I had to break out extra bird bags. Things were compounded by a netful of tits during the busiest period.

94 birds were processed: 1 Blackbird, 5 Blackcap, 10 Blue Tit, 1 Chaffinch, 6 Chiffchaff, 2 Dunnock, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 1 Great Tit, 3 Long-tailed Tit, 16 Reed warbler, 41 Sedge Warbler, 2 Song Thrush, 2 Whitethroat, 2 Willow Warbler and 1 Wren.

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.

Objective 7

Prasocuris phellandrii

Prasocuris phellandrii © Geoff Foale

It’s not all about the birds at SML. Objective 7 of the current management plan seeks to fill gaps in our knowledge of the flora, fauna, hydrography and chemistry of the reserve. To that end, members of the Devon Moth and Devon Fly Groups have visited in the last couple of years and Dr Martin Luff is currently working on beetles there. Together, they have produced an arthropod list, which now stands at an impressive 712 species. No individual has added more to the list than Geoff Foale from Salcombe and he continues to turn up new species at almost every visit. Coupled with the fact that these are usually documented by high quality photographs, I will use this blog to publicise his efforts.

Actually, the beetle in the header photo, Prasocuris phellandrii, was identified independently by both Geoff and Martin. It normally feeds on Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) and Geoff reports that “they are uncommon in this part of the country with only 3 previous records for the whole of the south west area on NBN”. The latest discovery, the Alder Signal Moth (Stathmopoda pedella) could be one of the first records west of Bristol.

Stathmopoda pedella

Alder Signal Moth (Stathmopoda pedella) © Geoff Foale