Birdwatching cruise, 27 November 2019

This afternoon’s cruise was perhaps most notable for an amazing succession of rainbows! That aside, we began with an immature drake Eider off Exmouth and a Peregrine had a go at a Stock Dove over Warren Point before flying off over Exmouth. ‘Herbert’, the resident Slavonian Grebe was off Cockwood as usual and nearby the first Great Crested Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers. Off Powderham there were 2 Greenshanks and about 10 Sanderlings. Brent Geese and Wigeon were plentiful grazing on the intertidal areas, together with maybe 150 Pintail around Lympstone. A second notable duck came in the form of a female Common Scoter off Starcross Yacht Club, quite possibly the one seen on my last cruise.

Beyond Turf the mudbanks held 2-300 Avocets, hundreds of roosting Lapwings and Golden Plover, c110 Knot, a few dozen Bar-tailed Godwits, about 10 Ringed Plover and a mere 100 Black-tailed Godwits – presumably most of the last species were on Exminster Marshes floods (as over 1000 had been on Sunday). Back towards Exmouth, a Mediterranean Gull was on Bull Hill sandbank and finally some of us saw  a Grey Seal behind the boat as we disembarked.

Dave Smallshire

A dry cruise! Following a very wet Saturday there was plenty of floodwater in the estuary which had an impact on the number of birds on show around the Topsham area of the Estuary. There were none of the large numbers of Black Tailed Godwits that normally frequent this area of the Estuary. It was suggested they were all on the surrounding flooded farmland feeding on Worms and other invertebrates succumbed to the saturated ground. Other wise the visitors were delighted with seeing a Peregrine on lookout on Holy Trinity Church Spire a Kingfisher near the Marina and the two Grey Seals on the pontoon and on a Trawler off inner Dawlish Warren. Good numbers of Dark Bellied Brent Geese with several juveniles on show across the estuary. 100+ Widgeon in front of Dawlish Warren Hide took off and flew over the boat, with distant views of the Slavonian Grebe near the wreck off Cockwood. A few Great Crested Grebe, good numbers of Pintail and Shelduck showing off Lympstone. Greenshank were at their normal haunt near the River Kenn confluence. Between Turf Lock, Topsham and Exton one female Goldeneye a few Ringed Plover good numbers of Dunlin 300+ of Lapwing 300+ of Golden Plover and as ever the stars of the show 300+ Avocets thrilled the visitors.

Derek Carter

This afternoon’s cruise yielded really impressive flocks of wildfowl off Dawlish Warren and especially between Exmouth and Lympstone. These were mostly Brent Geese and Wigeon, but off Lympstone included 11 Pale-bellied Brents, 2 Black Swans and some 230 Pintail. However, the best was perhaps the female Common Scoter off Powderham. The Slavonian Grebe again had a Little Grebe companion off Cockwood, and a female Goldeneye was nearby. Equally impressive were the waders feeding around Turf-Topsham (as on Saturday), with some 300 Avocets, several hundred Lapwings and well over 500 Golden Plover roosting near Turf; Black-tailed Godwits could well have been into four figures. A couple of dozen Knot, a dozen each of Sanderling and Turnstone added to the variety. We had good views of Red-breasted Mergansers at Topsham and a total of five sightings of seals, two seen well being Grey Seals (one on a pontoon off Dawlish Warren).

Dave Smallshire

After an early morning frost, heavy frontal rain came through to mark the first birdwatching cruise of the 2019/20 season – not the best start! Fortunately, the rain eased off and much of the cruise was spent in nice sunshine and calm conditions. Almost the first bird we saw was a Red-throated Diver just offshore at Exmouth. Although regular off Dawlish Warren, this species is uncommon in the estuary; it was still diving close to the marina whan we returned later on. Continuing the piscivore theme, we added the long-term resident Slavonian Grebe with a Little Grebe giving a niice comparison, then the first of more than a dozen Great Crested Grebes. Shags were quite numerous in outer estuary, a few even sporting signs of the crest that will form their breeding plumage.

Brent Geese and Wigeon flocks were grazing algae and seagrass, while Shelducks dabbled in the surface of sandbanks; a nice flock of Pintail took flight at Lympstone. An Avocet was well down the estuary at Powderham; later on, some 300 of these were scattered over the mudflats towards Topsham, along with several Ringed Plovers and a large flock of roosting Golden Plovers. Small numbers of Knot were with much larger numbers of Black-tailed Godwits on the edge of the river. After seeing small numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, it was yet another fish-eater that stole the show for many people: a Kingfisher that performed admirably on the boats and quays at Topsham (later we glimpsed another near Turf and one even flew past the boat after everyone had disembarked at Topsham!). what a great start to the season!

Dave Smallshire

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