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65 Mike Langman


KATE COTTON TAKES A WALK IN THE WOODS WITH BIRD ILLUSTRATOR AND GUIDE MIKE LANGMAN.


A


flash of orange darts out from a treetop as I sight my first firecrest. On closer inspection the tiny warbler


displays wonderful punk-black eyeliner, complementing its tangerine mohawk and green back. We’re in the woods behind Noss


Marina and, with Mike’s expert guidance, an abundance of wildlife is revealing itself - blackcaps, bullfinches, chiffchaffs, song thrush, robins and blue tits. A long- tailed tit’s nest, woven with hundreds of spider webs, is stuck tight to a broom’s branches. Mike’s especially keen to show me the firecrests and calls out to attract them. He discovered them in this woodland five years ago - the first known breeding record in Devon. He said: “I was walking here and heard its high-


pitched c-c-c-c-c call. That summer I found 13 pairs. “It’s a tiny bird, the weight of a 20 pence piece,


equivalent to the goldcrest, Britain’s smallest bird. People think the wren is the smallest, but fire and goldcrests are smaller. Originally from southern Europe they’re now successfully breeding here. Last year I walked from Paignton to Kingswear through these estuary woodlands and found 46 territories. This is by far the best area for firecrests in Devon.” Mike explained the firecrests particularly like the


evergreen ivy-covered trees, full of delicious insects. They’ve flourished recently with the mild winters but, if their luck changes, high breeding rates should help them recover. With the spring open


canopy, I’m amazed at how many different birds we see. Although, of course, it helps to have a professional birder with you! Mike’s always been a


keen birdwatcher and illustrator – as an active member of Torbay’s RSPB,


Young Ornithologists’ Club, RSPB illustrator and activities organiser, and now freelance bird illustrator and


sketch of Firecrest guide. More than 70 books feature


his artwork and he’s regularly commissioned for BBC Wildlife and Countryfile magazines. Most RSPB reserves have Mike’s illustrations on


their interpretation boards and his work can be seen locally at Sharpham House and Stover Country Park. Mike was born in Plymouth and moved to Paignton,


aged four, when his dad was at Nortel. He said: “We were in the workers’ new-build houses and the gardens were wild at first. There were butterflies and grasshoppers all over the place, which fascinated me. “After dad tamed the garden I’d go to a nearby


meadow with a friend and watch the birds and butterflies. We found out it was being built on so became eco-warriors and made traps for the bulldozers. But we were only seven and didn’t make much impact! “I joined my school’s RSPB group and Torbay’s Young


Pomarine Skua


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