Tuesday 14th March, 2017
The final birdwatching cruise of the winter found a hint of spring in the air, with a Skylark singing its heart out over the dunes at Dawlish Warren. After a few days of summer visitors arriving, clearly some of the winter visitors had also begun departing, including many of the Avocets that normally leave in early March. But there were plenty of birds left for us to see ….
Offshore there were again hordes of Herring Gulls feeding over extensive areas exposed by a very low tide. Groups of Brent Geese were also taking advantage of the algae exposed, while both off Exmouth and inside the estuary small numbers of Shags were still diving for fish. We were able to get the boat reasonably close to the two Slavonian Grebes off Cockwood: one of them showed signs of breeding plumage. Further up the estuary, most of at least 10 Great Crested Grebes were in breeding plumage; at one point, seven of them flew past the boat – quite a sight!
19 Sanderlings foraged along the edge of one sandbank and a wintering Greenshank was near the Kenn outflow as usual. Five Goldeneye, including a nice drake, gave us reasonably good views in the middle of the estuary. Due to the low tide, we got stuck on the mud for a while near Lympstone, but it gave us chance to look at a Harbour (Common) Seal that swam by. Several groups of Pintail, maybe 50 in total, were dabbling on the oozy mudbanks here too.
As usual, most of the waders were feeding busily on the mudbanks between Turf and Topsham, including a roosting flock of maybe 500 Golden Plovers that really glowed in the late afternoon sun. Groups of Knot were also fairly conspicuous amongst the still large numbers of Dunlins and Grey Plovers. The Avocet flock had declined to only a couple of dozen, but as ever they looked stunning amongst the hundreds of Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits. Lots of Teal were still feeding around Topsham and we had great views of Red-breasted Mergansers, showing off their glorious colours and patterns in the sun as the drakes postured in display to the ducks.
After we turned around at Topsham, we were surprised to hear the staccato song of a Cetti’s Warbler drifting on the breeze from the tidal reedbed beside ExeterCanal! Further down the estuary, Little Egrets, which had been quite abundant today, were flying into their woodland roost site near Powderham. At Dawlish Warren, Oystercatchers were in pre-high-tide roost gatherings, Turnstones and Pied Wagtails foraged along the shoreline, and that Skylark was still singing away over the dunes!
What a great end to another season’s exciting bird cruises on the Exe. I can’t wait for November!
Sunday 28th February, 2017
A fine though windy afternoon’s cruise, during which notable sightings included the 2 Slavonian Grebes as usual off Cockwood, later with 6 Goldeneye. There were also 7 Great Crested Grebes, including a group of 5 together. Two Greenshanks were off Powderham, one of them by a sandbank in mid-estuary where Sanderlings were also feeding. At least 130 Pintail were off the Lympstone Marines camp.
Amongst the hordes of Dunlin spread over the mudbanks at the northern end of the estuary were a few Ringed Plover, 100+ Grey Plover, 50+ Knot and a roosting group of 3-400 Golden Plover. Plenty of Avocets and both godwits were in the relatively sheltered channel at Topsham, where lots of Teal were feeding.
Common Gulls were present in good numbers, along with a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Guided Bird Watching Review – Sunday 26th February
There were plenty of kite-surfers off Pole Sands this afternoon, taking advantage of the fresh westerly wind. The rain held off as we headed up to Topsham. A large flock of Brent Geese flew up from Starcross and landed on the mud. Ten Sanderlings had returned to feed on the central sandbank after being absent in previous days, the Greenshank was still in its favoured Kenn channel and four Great Crested Grebes were also in the central parts of the estuary.
A sizeable flock of Pintail off Exton totalled about 200 birds. As the river channel narrowed at Turf, we had close encounters with Red-breasted Mergansers and saw our first Avocets feeding in the shallows; hundreds more of the latter were scattered over the lovely oozy mud towards Topsham. Dunlin were also widely scattered here, seething across the mud like little clockwork toys. Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers were also much in evidence today, though Black-tailed Godwits were present in relatively small numbers. After 30 Teal near Turf, over 100 more were feeding close to habitation at Topsham.
On the return back to Exmouth, another large flock of Brent Geese flew up from Exminster Marshes. Checking carefully between Starcross and Cockwood, we saw first a Little Grebe, and then two Slavonian Grebes, plus a female Goldeneye.
Guided Bird Watching Review – Sunday 12th February
The cold easterly wind persisted for this afternoon’s cruise. There were many gulls off Dawlish Warren again as well as inside the estuary. Photographs confirmed that the blob on Exmouth church tower was indeed a Peregrine!
The 2 Slavonian Grebes were off Cockwood, as usual, with 3 Goldeneye nearby (another 2 were on the opposite side of the estuary, though very distant). A Greenshank was feeding in its regular haunt in the outflow of the River Kenn, while about 150 Pintail were around the mouth of the Clyst.
The mudbanks at the north end of the estuary supported large numbers of Avocets, Dunlin and Black-tailed Godwits, plus over 100 Grey Plover and a small group of roosting Golden Plovers. Two Greylag Geese that flew up from the riverbank as we approached Topsham were unusual for the intertidal area. The female Long-tailed Duck was seen distantly by Topsham Ferry as we turned around for the return journey.
Saturday 11th February, 2017
There was a raw easterly wind blowing this afternoon, but at least the morning’s snow flurries had ceased.
The afternoon’s birdwatching began with a splendid male Black Redstart that appeared on scaffolding as passengers were waiting to board the boat. Apparently there was also a Peregrine nearby, having caught a pigeon earlier.
There were hundreds of gulls, mainly Herring Gulls, feeding and roosting off Dawlish Warren, taking advantage of the lowest tide for several years; we failed to spot anything rare amongst them though. A Harbour (Common) Seal popped up briefly near Exmouth. The two Slavonian Grebes and a pair of Goldeneye were off Cockwood, and a few Great Crested Grebes further up the estuary. A Greenshank was in the Kenn outflow as usual.
Hundreds of Avocets, Dunlins and both godwits were scattered over the mudbanks at the northern end of the estuary, and a flock of Golden Plover flew over. Flocks of Brent Geese flew up and down from the fields over the sea wall and some were resting along the river channel. Lots of Common Gulls were amongst even larger numbers of Black-headed Gulls as we approached Topsham, where again the female Long-tailed Duck was with Red-breasted Mergansers. The Long-tailed Duck behaved very well and actually flew right around the boat giving us lovely views – a definite highlight! A further pair of Goldeneye were also at Topsham.
Friday 10th February 2017
Another chilly day with an easterly breeze. Again, many gulls were around Pole Sands, together with fair numbers of Oystercatchers and Curlews. The 2 Slavonian Grebes were off Cockwood, as usual, plus four Goldeneye (one drake) there as well. Two Greenshanks were seen off Powderham, and a few Great Crested Grebes.
Hundreds of Avocets were well scattered over the mudflats near Turf, together with large numbers of Dunlin and small numbers of Grey Plover and Knot. As we approached Topsham, there were about a hundred Golden Plovers with Lapwings by the edge of the river, giving nice views. We had even better views of a female Long-tailed Duck with Red-breasted Mergansers – the highlight of the cruise. Good views were had of both Black-tailed And Bar-tailed Godwits at Topsham.
Although not seen on the cruise itself, two Little Grebes were diving close to boats in Exmouth marina.