Guided Bird Watching cruise on 24 November 2018

Our afternoon cruise started with a Common Scoter in the mouth of the estuary and a Peregrine sitting on the top of the church in Exmouth. Off Cockwood we found the ‘resident’ Slavonian Grebe and then the Great Northern Diver first seen on the 22nd. About 15 Great crested Grebes were scattered in the central section of the estuary, where there were again many hundreds of Brent Geese and Wigeon, together with more than 100 Pintail, and 2 Greenshanks at Powderham.

Once again, the upper, ‘muddy’ section of the estuary held very large numbers of Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin, with smaller numbers of Lapwings and Golden Plovers, plus about 50 distant Knot. As we returned to the quay and started to disembark, someone spotted an immature drake Eider, in almost replacing the same spot as the Scoter seen earlier.

Dave Smallshire

This afternoon saw the last birdwatching cruise of the season, after yesterday’s exceptional cancellation due to snow and ice on the roads. There was still the unusual sight of Lapwings and Golden Plovers feeding on the sandy shore of Warren Point, otherwise the tides and drizzle had rendered the intertidal areas free of snow.

There was no sign of the Great Northern Diver today, but the Slavonian Grebe was again midway between Cockwood and Exmouth and a dozen or more Great Crested Grebes were scattered up the estuary. The best bird was a female Scaup with Red-breasted Mergansers near Turf. Six Goldeneyes (1 drake) were on the river near Topsham and again a large flock of Pintail was around the mouth of the Clyst.

There were 275 Avocets scattered between Powderham and Topsham, all feeding actively. Along with the hordes of other waders and wildfowl around the Exe, they’ll be off soon back to their breeding sites, once they’ve restored their fat reserves for the journey.

Dave Smallshire


So much for the Met Office’s ‘first day of spring’! With the temperature below zero, the ‘Beast from the East’ met with warm air from storm Emma heading up from the south, and the result was a blizzard of fine snow that covered the intertidal areas and brought in large numbers of Lapwings, Golden Plovers and winter thrushes, mainly Fieldfares.

Unfortunately, only five people turned up for this afternoon’s cruise, which is a shame because the weather provided some interesting observations. Lapwings were everywhere, including out on Pole Sands and at Dawlish Warren, where 250 hunkered down with dozens of Golden Plovers in the snow-covered dunes. All around the estuary, waders were behaving unusually, either feeding tight to shorelines or sitting disconsolately on the snow. It was weird to see Avocets, of which there were over 100, feeding in slushy shallows and several kept their legs retracted when they flew – something I have never seen before.

The Great Northern Diver was still off Cockwood and 10 ore more Great Crested Grebes were further up the estuary. Large numbers of Brent and Canada Geese had abandoned the fields and sat out on the snow-covered mud; two Snow Geese and two Greylags were with them.

Small passerines were also on the move: Fieldfares, Redwings and Meadow Pipits coming over from the east. A Pied Wagtail even joined the boat in mid-estuary, running around under our feet; we sent it on its way when we returned to Exmouth. Lapwings were even on the rocks at the entrance to the marina, and Ian Stuart said that later they were sitting on the pontoon where we disembark!

Dave Smallshire


Today’s cruise was a bit challenging, with the ‘Beast from the East’ bringing a chilling easterly wind (the temperature barely rose above freezing) and occasional light snow flurries. We saw the Great Northern Diver off Cockwood, where the Slavonian Grebe had retreated eastwards, presumably to get out of the wind. No doubt for the same reason, many waders hugged the eastern side of the estuary, including most of the Black-tailed Godwits between Lympstone and Topsham.

A single Greenshank was at Powderham, a dozen or more Sanderlings on the central sandbank and there were at least 300 Pintail were around the mouth of the Clyst, the most I’ve ever seen on the Exe.

Grey Plovers were well-scattered today, although most of the (100?) Bar-tailed Godwits were at Topsham. Avocets were feeding across the mudbanks at Topsham, with a few also at Powderham. Five Goldeneye (one drake) were on the river at Topsham, giving us some great fly-by views. A Buzzard flushed a large flock of Brent Geese near Turf, where we could see two Snow Geese in the distance with Canadas (in a snow flurry!).

Dave Smallshire

Tuesday 13th, Weds 14th, Thursday 15th February
Three successive trips and as always each one different.
On Tuesday water was high and there was a strong Northerly wind which pushed the majority of birds
up river where it was more sheltered.
This did not apply to the Slavonian Grebe as it showed just a few yards away from the boat as we negotiated
our way through the mussel farming vessels. Probably the closest view yet.  Seemingly unconcerned at
our presence it swam along the length of our boat.
Brent Geese were well scattered with hundreds being on the fields near Turf Lock, although some impressive
flights were seen later.
Five Greenshank spotted in the Powderham area and five Goldeneye were seen at Starcross on our return.
A couple of hundred Pintail were in their usual place near the mouth of the Clyst.  A common sighting for
all three trips.
Between Turf and Topsham the wader spectacle began.  Large flocks in the air and on the mud including the Avocets.
Closer inspection of one flock revealed Bar and Black-tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Avocet and a couple
of Sanderling. Great opportunity to compare species.
High above was a Peregrine, its presence contributing to this wonderful display.
On Wednesday a strong Southerly wind blowing straight up the river with persistent rain caused visibility
problems.  Red-breasted Mergansers and a few Great Crested Grebes kept us company as we went up river
and at Topsham Avocets, Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers showed well.
These three species rely on the mud for their food supply so tolerate the bad weather conditions.
As usual at this time of year Herons were nesting in the trees behind the Sailing Club.
On our return some Brent Geese landed at Dawlish Warren joining hundreds of Oystercatchers.
Despite the conditions as the passengers disembarked it was apparent that they had enjoyed the trip.
On Thursday, lighter winds and much lower water levels.
As we inspected sand bars at the mouth of the river, a Peregrine Falcon looked down from its perch on Exmouth Church.
Once again the waders at Topsham really impressed in numbers and views, including approximately three hundred Golden Plover.
Two Goldeneye were seen, first a female and then a stunning male.  Both birds were close to the boat and remained so
giving excellent views of their plumage and their ‘sparkling’ eyes.
And now for the ‘Wow’ moment!
As we returned passing Turf there was a cacophony as at least a thousand Brent Geese took off from adjacent fields
flying over and around the boat chattering away.  It was a magnificent sight, one which I and many others will not forget.
The spectacle resulted in lots of smiling faces and contented murmurings on board.
Just before we returned to the Docks there were several Turnstones on the mussel vessels, the final birds of the day.
Ian Waite
Photos by Sue Smith.
Tuesday 30th January
Large numbers of birds today particularly Golden Plover and Lapwing.
Between Turf and Topsham, on either side of the boat, there were large flocks of both species.
Total recorded, 1,100 Golden Plover and 1,300 Lapwing. Certainly the most I have noted.
Plovers were close enough to see the coloration
Very low water levels provided vast feeding areas, so birds were well spread with Avocets, for example
stretching out all the way from the edge of the river to Exminster Marshes.
Always a wonderful sight.
Two male Goldeneye were at Topsham, Slavonian Grebe at Starcross and two Great Northern Divers were spotted.
There were a couple of hundred Pintail Ducks at the usual location near the mouth of the Clyst.
Wednesday 31st  January
Still low levels of water with some blustery showers today, but many birds and highlights.
Although fewer Lapwing and Golden Plover, the mud was well covered with waders and numerous
Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls near Topsham.
A Peregrine Falcon featured twice, once at Bull Hill where it made attempts to catch an Oystercatcher
then a Black-tailed Godwit and then a Crow, unsuccessfully before settling on the sand, looking
a little lost.
It appeared again at Topsham where it caused a wonderful aerial display of waders and then went towards
Exminster Marshes, putting up hundreds of Brent Geese.
Five Goldeneye were seen, three females and two males, with one of the females providing some
confusion as it had paired up with a male Red-breasted Merganser.
At least twenty Great Crested Grebes counted today with one line of eight looking quite majestic as they
swam past in single file heads held high.
Five Greenshank were at Powderham on our return, and just before we docked a Great Northern Diver showed well.
Well spotted Skipper!
Both Common and Grey Seal seen on this trip.
Ian Waite

Guided Birdwatching review – Wednesday and Thursday 17-18th January

Both cruises were sandwiched between periods of heavy rain, but as is usually the case, the weather on the estuary wasn’t at all bad.

Great Northern Divers featured on both cruises, with one off Exmouth seafront and two others inside the estuary affording better views. Likewise, the ‘resident’ Slavonian Grebe was off Cockwood and about 10 Great Crested Grebes were seen both days. Only a few Shags were present in the outer part of the estuary, where a Guillemot was hanging around the Marina. On Thursday, a Kingfisher flashed past the entrance to the dock, but few of us managed to see it, and a Peregrine sat on Exmouth church tower – with its back to us!

A few Sanderlings and Greenshank were feeding in the central sections of the estuary, with hundreds of Shelduck, Dunlin, Avocets and both Godwits as we progressed towards Topsham. Dozens of Grey Plovers and Knot were also seen (although we couldn’t find any Knot on Thursday), plus a few Ringed Plover. Over 300 Golden Plover were roosting on the mudflat opposite Topsham, a regular site for them, but surprisingly no Lapwings were with them.

An outstanding sighting was a large flock of Pintail off Lympstone Barracks: I quickly counted 290 on Wednesday (the most I’ve seen here in 30 years), but there were only about 100 next day. Other duck interest was provided on Wednesday by a drake Goldeneye at Topsham and 6 (2 drakes) on the way back off Cockwood. Most of the Brent Geese and Wigeon are feeding on grassland around the estuary now – we could just about see large flocks of geese over the sea wall near Turf.

The large flocks of gulls gathering in late afternoon held a Mediterranean Gull on Thursday, but it was hard to spot amongst the blizzard of Black-headed Gulls.

Dave Smallshire

Birdwatching Trip.  Sat. December 30th
Water levels were up following rain and wind but conditions for the trip were excellent.
An even light with just some sunshine to illuminate the flocks of waders at Topsham.
Large groups of Dunlin in their thousands certainly impressed in flight and on the mud and Avocets
of course gave much pleasure with close views.
Most of the Black-tailed Godwits were spooked by the sound of a shotgun but remaining waders were undisturbed
and a mixed flock of approximately 200 Bar-tailed Godwits with Black-tailed Godwits, Avocet, Knot, Grey Plover and
Dunlin was a real treat.
A small group of Ringed Plovers was also noted and half a dozen Sanderling.  Four Greenshank were seen at Powderham.
Three species of geese today – Brent, Canada and five Greylag not usually seen on our trips.
Approximately 50 Pintails were near the Clyst and a few Wigeon were seen at various points but no Teal at Topsham!
There were many Red-breasted Mergansers and Great Crested Grebes on the river and a male Goldeneye flew past the boat.
The highlight of our trip was two Great Northern Divers which conveniently didn’t dive for some time, giving
excellent close views thanks to Ian’s manoeuvring of the boat.
Very impressive last trip of 2017.
Ian Waite

Exe Estuary Cruise and EDG Review

On Saturday just gone, I was thrilled to join my Dad on a Stuart Line Cruise up the Exe Estuary, which set off from Exmouth at 1pm. Dad has led some of these winter trips for many years now, and I always like to try and get on at least one a winter.

With no telescopes on the Stuart Line Cruise, it’s a great place to test out binoculars and get a true feel of their capabilities and limits. So no better place than this to try out the Nikon EDG’s that were sent to me to try out earlier in the week…

The light remained nice and flat throughout the three hour cruise, there was no wind and plenty of birds – a fantastic trip!
On the lower part of the Estuary, hundreds and hundreds of Brent Geese proved a spectacle, along with good numbers of Shag, and in the deeper water here two Great Northern and a surprise Red-throated Diver (rare in the river), the resident Slavonian Grebe, only a few Red-breasted Mergansers (still lots of these to arrive) and a very distant Long-tailed Duck, which was way way off to the east north of Mudbanks.
As we travelled up the Estuary towards Topsham, the usual change in species occurred with AvocetDunlin, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit becoming the most numerous species. A flock of c230 GoldenPlover roosting on the mud were nice to see, along with good numbers of Lapwing among the usual smaller numbers of Grey PloverGreenshankBar-tailed GodwitKnot and a lovely little flock of 30 Sanderling.   There were also impressive numbers of wildfowl present, mostly around the Clyst area with thousands of Wigeon and probably well over a hundred Pintail. Three Kingfishers pleased the punters on the boat, as always.
It was nice to see three Common Seal on the trip, including a small youngster. Two allowed their photographs to be taken…
Steve Waite

My first trip of the season featured divers.

Two Great Northern Divers and a Red Throated Diver. All three sighted in the Starcross area where
we also saw a Slavonian Grebe.

Wigeon numbers were very high especially round the Clyst where they were joined by Pintails.
This is one of the benefits of an early trip as there is an abundance of eel grass for Wigeon to feed on.
Brent Geese also in good numbers were well spread along our route, but we could only find two young,
indicating a poor breeding season.

Another Arctic visitor is the Sanderling and a flock of thirty showed well.

Usual spectacle of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits at Topsham and amongst the Dunlin flocks were Grey Plover and Ringed plover.
Greenshanks were seen at various locations, up to ten in total.
Just a few Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-breasted Mergansers and Turnstones seen, but up to 300 Golden Plovers were
on the mud with Lapwing at Topsham and several Great crested Grebes were on the water.

At least three Kingfishers were seen and three Seals, including one young were pulled up on the mud.

Ian Waite