Tributes to ornithologist Barrie Whitehall

“Bryan Ashby, Barrie Whitehall and I were pirates at Higher Ley. Our captain was this year’s nature reserve officer for Slapton Leigh, Rebecca Barrett. Rebecca was taking us to check out the cane patches that looked like they were broken. Barrie wondered if there had been a plague of Wainscot Moth caterpillars gnawing the heart of the cane stem. Rebecca and Barry led the way; “Barrie is our pilot!” Rebecca said. Bryan and I paddled and followed Barrie and Rebecca through the overhead reeds until we reached an area where many of the trunks were peppered with small holes that Barrie must have been the work of the grubs. Some had larger exit holes for Wainscot Moth larvae. A few had been attacked; Barrie thought it might be where Bluebreasts or Cetti’s Warblers were pupating. Where some of the cane trunks were split, Barrie speculated that the Water Railway might have been responsible.”Bryan Ashby and I ran the annual Family Naturalists course at Slapton from 1998 to 2010 and most years Barry went along to help. Great with the kids. 2001 In August 2016, “We had the advantage this year of having Rebecca Barrett and Barrie Whitehall working the moth traps as well as having our own. Rebecca and Barry were soon adopted by the children. Barry also went with us to the Launch Point where he showed us the flying rock waters at sea. showed. In August 2005 ” Barrie Whitehall and Brenda Child joined our Family Naturalists course for a couple of excursions this year. We saw parties of Manx Shearwaters out at Prawle and Barrie picking out Balearic Shearwaters with them. We were amazed when Barrie brought back the caterpillars of the Oak Egg Moth. He used a trick his uncle had taught him: he hung a female Oak Egg he had caught in a netted cage ; a man had come at lunchtime, attracted to her scent. She put the two in a box, and the next day, when she released them both, she laid more than a hundred eggs. Now they were small, writhing Oak Eggs. On the last morning of our course, Barrie joined us at the moth trap and set a White Line Dart that even Barrie had never seen before. Barry joined us every year, identifying all the moths that no one else could. In June 2006 she caught a Banded Hawk Moth and in 2022 there was another invasion of this rare moth and Celia Strong caught one at Kingsbridge. Barrie gave many presentations at research seminars at the Slapton Field Centre, always illustrated with his excellent photographs. In November 2000, “At the Slapton Field Study Centre’s annual workshop, Barrie showed us some shocking pictures of how the Ley’s waterfowl have fared this year. Blooms of pea soup algae that occur in August and September have drastically reduced food availability. Almost 30 Great Crested Grebe chicks and Mute Swans starved to death. He told Brenda Child how she picked up this sunken chick while recording the success or lack of waterfowl from the boat. He hoped it was one of the survivors. In December 2004, at the Slapton Field Centre’s annual workshop, local birder and scientist Barrie Whitehall gave an interesting presentation on his work mapping nesting bird territories around Slapton Nature Reserve. He showed how Cetti’s Warblers needed the clearing close to the reed bed, Whitethroats were almost entirely in the scrub on the backslope of the spit ridge off the A379 and Blackcaps were in the scrub under the trees on the inland side of the river. .” Earlier that year, a nature diary noted: “Barrie examined some birds around Slapton Ley. He found over 200 Reed Warblers. Near Torcross he heard a bird singing more loudly through the reeds, and at last he saw it, like a reed warbler, but about as large as a thrush. This was the Great Reed Country, not usually found north of France. Barrie’s ability to identify birds by their songs and calls was phenomenal. In May 2004 “Barrie joined me on a General Bird Census at Andrew’s Wood. He has sharper hearing than I and heard all the birds before me. His presentations were special. After one of Barrie’s seminars, someone said, “I could hear and understand every word Barry was saying!” One optimistic, lasting image I have of Barrie is from an early morning in May 2005, his twinkling eyes describing: “Barrie Whitehall had a surprise birdwatching along Slapton Line last week. He saw a bird the size of a blackbird sitting in the treetops near Ali Ley. By chance, he raised his binoculars to check and saw black wings, bright yellow head, breast and shoulders – a beautiful, male Golden Oriole. After a few minutes, he flew off to the north, Barrie watching longingly after him. This was written by Barrie for a nature diary article for the Kingsbridge Gazette in January 2021. He was very excited about this close encounter. It is characterized by his passion for birds, meticulous note-taking and sense of humor.

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