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.
Thursday 9th February 2017
Sunshine took the edge off a keen easterly wind today, and made the Shags and Red-breasted Mergansers shine like green bottles!
Large numbers of gulls were loafing around on Pole Sands and also on several of the sandbanks and mudflats. As usual, they were mainly Herring and Black-headed, but with a fair number of Common and Great-blacked Gulls as well. Just inside the estuary off Exmouth, the adult Bonaparte’s Gull gave us nice views (as it did during a low-tide count cruise yesterday).
As usual, a Greenshank was feeding in the outlet of the River Kenn at Powderham and the first of about 500 Avocets were seen soon after. Brent Geese gave great views near Turf, after which we had spectacular displays by the myriad waders at Topsham. Hundreds of Avocets, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin, Redshanks and a few Knot wheeled around the boat before landing in their masses near the Goat Walk.
Three Goldeneye gave nice views as they flew around the boat at Topsham. Large flocks of Lapwings and Golden Plovers over Exminster Marshes were rather too distant to appreciate properly, perhaps having been spooked by a Peregrine or the wintering Marsh Harrier. Having missed them on the way out, our regular ‘couple’ of Slavonian Grebes were picked up on the way past Cockwood. Finally, we passed close to a group of Turnstones roosting on a buoy.
29th December 2016
Thankfully, the fog lying in the estuary cleared and we had a pleasant cruise in the afternoon. Two Slavonian Grebes were again off Cockwood, though we had better views of them off Starcross on the return journey. A total of 13 Great Crested Grebes and about 20 Shags were also in the estuary, but ducks stole the limelight today. At least 130 Pintail were around the mouth of the Clyst, while the Long-tailed Duck was seen distantly by the ferry at Topsham. Good numbers of Teal were feeding between Turf and Topsham, while Brent Geese were scattered around the estuary, with about 300 in flight over Exeter Canal.
The waders included Avocets feeding widely across the mudflats around Topsham, with good numbers of Dunlins and Black-tailed Godwits there also. Small, distant groups of Knot and Sanderling were nothing to shout about, but a large roosting flock of probably 500+ Golden Plover were on the mud around Turf, with a flock of Lapwings nearby. A couple of Greenshanks were at the outlet of the River Kenn on the return journey.
A very pleasant final trip for the year. I wonder what 2017 will bring?
Wednesday 30th November – Dave Smallshire
One of the features of today’s cruise was the abundance of gulls throughout the estuary … and not just the usual five species! Soon after heading into the estuary we saw the adult Bonaparte’s Gull that has wintered in the area for several years, showing off its pale underwing as it dipped into the water to feed.
Two Slavonian Grebes were off Cockwood, the ‘resident’ bird having found a friend. Also diving nearby was a Guillemot. Plenty of Shags, shining green in the afternoon sun, were in the lower half of the estuary, where we saw the first of a dozen Great Crested Grebes. Two seals, almost certainly the Grey Seals seen recently, surfaced briefly off Lympstone. A female Long-tailed Duck was at Topsham ferry, visible in the distance as the boat turned round to head back.
Well-scattered across the mudbanks of the upper estuary were 250+ Avocets, about 30 Golden Plover, hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and thousands of Dunlin, but Greenshanks were scarce, with sightings of three singles only. A few Sanderlings were on the central sandbanks, while on the return to Exmouth there were two groups of Knot, totalling over 100 birds, and a Kingfisher in the fading light at Powderham.
All-in-all, a lovely afternoon with impressive numbers of birds.
Wednesday 16th November
What a highlight on this trip, a Spoonbill, Wow!
We were virtually stationary close to the shore at Powderham watching the Spoonbill feeding amongst a group of Mute Swans. It wasn’t concerned about our presence and it carried on feeding with its wonderful bill until we moved off.
The supporting cast included large numbers of Wigeon and Brent Geese and usual waders.
Interestingly, Greenshanks on these first trips of the year have been seen in various locations but NOT Powderham
Approximately 100 Golden Plovers at Turf lifted off the mud into the air showing their golden hues contrasting with the black and white of the Avocets.
Red-breasted Mergansers were in double figures and six Great Crested Grebes were noted.
A very distant Slavonian Grebe at Starcross was accompanied by another diving bird.
Distance and poor light made identification difficult and caused some debate.
I suggested Goldeneye which I can now confirm, following close examination of photograph.
A Kingfisher at Turf added to the list and a Seal on the mud as we approached Topsham actually bothered to move, look up at us and appeared, with a little imagination, to wave!
The last of the season’s birdwatching cruises proved to be a good one with reasonable weather and good range of species, especially waders. With high pressure keeping the tide low, we progressed rather slowly up the estuary, as we waited for sufficient water to keep us from grounding.
Shags and Cormorants sporting their respective breeding plumage gave us some good views in the outer part of the estuary, where Red-breasted Mergansers were scattered widely. After finally finding a Sanderling, we had distant views of about 25 on a sandbank in the middle of the estuary. Several Great Crested Grebes were still in the estuary, while the resident Slavonian was with another off Powderham again. Here we also saw four Greenshanks, but not the Spotted Redshank – though one of these was with the godwits later at Topsham.
Several Ringed Plovers, lots of Grey Plovers and a total of about 40 Knot were on the sandbank and mudflats towards Turf, where most of the Avocets were, as usual. After seeing two groups totalling about 125 in the shallow water along the river channel, the majority of Avocets – a further 220 – were feeding all across the mudflats. As we approached Topsham, over 300 Brent Geese flew in and landed on the river, most of them returning to the marshes to feed on our return.
A Goldeneye was with Red-breasted Mergansers at Topsham, flying past us downriver, while about 60 Teal dabbled in the mud. As we returned for more views of the Brent Geese, Avocets and large flocks of both Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, a Sparrowhawk flew across the river and onwards to the canal.
Looking forward already to next winter!
Good light for today’s birdwatching cruise, though a cool northerly breeze stopped it feeling very spring-like.
I glimpsed the wintering adult Bonaparte’s Gull briefly off Exmouth as we left the marina, but failed to find it again later. Amongst the Brent Geese near Exmouth there were at least four birds of the Pale-bellied race.
The resident Slavonian Grebe had moved to Powderham, where we also had excellent views of all three ‘shanks’ together: a Spotted Redshank with Redshanks and one of two Greenshanks. At least 10 Great Crested Grebes and about 40 Red-breasted Mergansers were scattered throughout the estuary, with about 20 Shags in the outer part giving us good comparisons with the heftier Cormorants.
Only a few people were lucky enough to pick out the wintering Black Brant in a large flock of Dark-bellied Brents on the river near Turf. There were still hundreds of Avocets, Grey Plovers, Dunlin and both Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits at the top end of the estuary, plus about 15 Knot and a few dozen Teal.
On our return journey, the resident Harbour (Common) Seal hauled out on Bull Hill sandbank had been joined by a young Grey Seal, the latter much greyer and showing off its classic ‘Roman nose’ profile as it stretched up in the water to look at us. It seemed quite playful, coming out onto the sand and then splashing back into the water again, while the Harbour Seal just carried on sleeping! Great to see the two species together.