Friday, 23 November 2012

Avery's Ark (part 2)

It's the moment you've all been waiting for, the second blog of the week with my final five Devon species that I'd love to see more of and learn more about over the coming year. Hope there weren't too many sleepless nights trying to figure out what they would be! Since Monday I've found that there's a lovely drawing of the Devon cup coral in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum which I would probably have never noticed before. It's great how learning something new makes you look at the world differently.

So, without further ado, here are my final five, as I said on Monday, all of these animals can fly but they aren't all birds, just most of them.

By John Haslam from Dornoch, Scotland
(Nesting Herring Gull) [CC-BY-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Sea Gulls: Now I've cheated here, because I'm including all the "common" gull species you find on the Devon coastline and inland; blackheaded, herring, greater and lesses blackbacked too, all the ones that people complain to me about during my day job. I didn't have strong feelings about gulls before I moved to Devon, now, because so many people seem to hate them, I have become somewhat of a gull champion. To most people's surprise all UK gull species are protected by UK and EU law because they are either on the amber or red list of conservation concern, this means their numbers are declining steeply and widely enough that smart people are getting worried. While they may be noisy, they might try to steal a chip or ice cream and it might feel like they're encroaching on our towns and villages we've got to remember that they were here first, it's quite normal for them to nest/live inland and have been doing it for decades and that many people would love to see this marine wildlife in the numbers we have. I'm sure a future blog dedicated to gulls isn't far away so for now I'll just say that these intelligent, fantastically designed birds are brilliant and they can definitely have a hassle free (but also chip and ice cream free) place on my ark.

By Seglea (Own work) [GFDL (,
CC-BY-SA-3.0 (
or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons
Avocet: Here is a bird I have followed south. After watching them breed (not very successfully this year) at the RSPB Marshside reserve I'm looking forward to a winter watching them out on the Exe estuary. In fact, I'm even booked onto one of the RSPB's Avocet Cruises  to watch them from the water in January! Other than being the RSPB logo bird these are some of the smartest dressers in the avian world. I always imagine they're in the equivalent of dinner jackets and ties with their neatly preened black and white plumage. Watching their courtships is fascinating but seeing whole flocks fly across the estuary is a real Devon wildlife spectacle.

Starling:  Talking of wildlife spectacles how could I not include this flocking wonder. I've never seen a full, large starling murmuration (the name given to the large acrobatic flocks seen over winter) but have seen lots of smaller ones around Preston, Mere Sands Wood and other UK venues. Whilst the big famous ones in Somerset are something to be seen I'll be looking out for more local spectacles, like these ones videoed at Okehampton ( very near Exeter) last winter (Video from YouTube). I'd love to see one of these and then when I see the starlings in the park I can wonder if they were there, in a massive flock.

By Júlio Reis (Original file) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Marsh Fritillary: My one, non bird flier out of the five today is a beautiful butterfly. Most commonly found in the south and west of the UK, Devon is a prime location to go hunting for a sight of this lovely insect, although I'll have to wait until April to start my search. With yellow eggs, black caterpillars and gorgeous brown, gold, orange and black checkered wing patterns as adults this creature's interesting at all point in its life cycle. Marsh Fritillary is in decline although at sites in Devon owned by the Wildlife Trust numbers have been increasing in recent years, a sign of hope that things are getting better for this scabious eating butterfly. I'll be looking forward to sunny summer days searching for this beauty, and doesn't the wing colour look just perfect for a warm summer's day?

By Cirl_bunting.jpg: Paco Gómez from Castellón, Spain derivative work:
Bogbumper (Cirl_bunting.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Cirl Bunting: My final Devon species is a very special one (almost exclusively found in the county), and one that I cannot remember seeing before, although I might have done when young. The cirl bunting used to be widespread but when I was born there were only 118 pairs in the UK. Things have improved thanks to the hard work of farmers and RSPB staff (as well as others) working together on agri-environmental schemes to help improve habitats for this farmland bird and in 2009 numbers were up to 862 pairs. This is definitely a species which needs a helping hand and maybe a lift on an ark. While the native, wild population's range is still limited to the southern edge of Devon there is now a successful reintroduction scheme in Cornwall helping this lovably bird spread it's wings across the UK countryside again. So maybe in future it will be a bird of the whole of the south, or with climate change maybe the whole of the UK, again, but for now I'm going to relish being so close to this rare bird and see it as much as I can. Hopefully a truly wonderful Devon export.

So there we have my ten Devon species that I'd love to see more of this year. Some are rare, some are hard to spot, some feel like they're everywhere, others are loved by locals, some are misunderstood or undervalued but the thing I find most amazing is how many fantastic creatures and plants there are to see even close to my home. I could easily have made a list of 20, or even 100 brilliant species in Devon. We may not live in a country of panda's, tigers and hummingbirds but the countryside and towns and still full of absolutely astonishing wildlife to explore and value, even in just this tiny corner of Devon. What's on your doorstep? I'd love to hear from you, or if you've got some more Devon wildlife you think I should go and see, let me know that too!

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