Graeme and Stephen leave Somerset

RSPB Labrador Bay

RSPB Labrador Bay

Occasionally, just occasionally, Stephen and Graeme go looking for birds outside the county.

Today we crossed the border into Devon as guests of the RSPB at their reserve at Labrador Bay near Teignmouth. We were met by Tony Whitehead and Cath Jeffs the RSPB’s team who have been nurturing this costal reserve for one very special bird – the cirl bunting.

It can be a worry when you go somewhere to see a particular bird. The tension is palpable. The excitement builds. Will it show?

We needn’t have worried for we had hardly finished our welcome handshakes and a bright male cirl bunting was singing from the top of a flowering hawthorn tree. Within the first 5 minutes we had seen a dozen birds in the hedgerows of the field adjacent to the car park.

What a cracking little chap the male is, with his black and yellow striped head and an olive and rust breast. The female it is fair to say is a somewhat drab LBJ, similar to its cousin the yellowhammer.

The increase in breeding numbers has been a fabulous success for the RSPB increasing the UK’s numbers from a worryingly low 86 pairs in 1989 to around 1000 pairs today.

Cath and Tony’s expertise in all things Cirl Bunting has been ground-breaking and a credit to their good relations and co-operation with the local farming community. More power to their elbows.

The reserve offers spectacular coastal views and a collection of good birds. In addition to the buntings we saw kestrel, buzzard, linnets, skylarks and heard drumming woodpecker and warbling blackcaps from the woods below. Occasionally a passing peregrine can be seen along with seabirds such as gannet and shearwaters.

If you are on holiday in the South West this summer it is a great reserve to visit. It is easy to find and I’ll eat my hat if you don’t see its star attraction.

Graeme Mitchell