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.
Three excellent trips this weekend with high numbers of wading birds seen every day including spectacular views in the air and on the mud.
Knot even showed well amongst the Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers and Ringed Plovers in double figures were at Turf, a species not usually seen this far up river.
Avocets, although well spread from Powderham to Topsham, were magnificent, especially in flight.
At least twenty Sanderling showed well but top wader had to be Spotted Redshank.
Seen every day up to a maximum of five, even outnumbering the four Greenshank.
Our timing on Saturday coincided with a ‘stand’ of approximately 200 Golden Plover on the mud before they left for Exminster Marshes to join the Lapwings.
Three Goldeneye were seen on Saturday and five on Sunday.
Amongst the gulls, many Common and five Lesser-black Backed and on Friday the Bonaparte’s Gull seen mid river at Starcross.
Each trip had its moments.
Friday approximately twenty Turnstone perched on the side of a rowing boat as we approached the docks
Saturday eighteen Sanderling were very close to the boat and 1000 plus Lapwings in flight over Exminster Marshes.
Sunday Common Seal with pup seen on a sand bar.
There were signs of Spring on these trips. Herons on nests and some of both of the Godwit species
showing their breeding colours.
I hardly know where to start to describe what a wonderful day it was, so I’ll go with this: Avocet Cruise is a misnomer. Not because there weren’t avocets – there were hundreds and hundreds of that most glamorous bird: vast flocks doing all the F’s – flying, feeding, fighting. It’s a bit early yet for the other one you might be thinking of, though they no doubt will be soon enough – Ian Waite, the excellent commentary man, said the pairing up starts any time from early March, which is when they disperse to their breeding grounds, and only occasional non-breeders will be seen on and around the Exe through the summer months.
It’s a misnomer because there was so much else to marvel at. I enjoyed watching the kite surfers as we pulled out of the harbour, but once Ian started talking I immersed myself in the wildness and the birdlife of the estuary. In the trip’s three hours I saw a fabulous range and huge numbers of waders and waterfowl, 34 species in all, including Slavonian Grebe, a first for me. A lifer, the birders call it, although I prefer to save that label for my most personally powerful experience of a species. This was one small bird one large distance away – though still good to have ‘on the list’. The power of this day resided more in sheer numbers, variety, and expansiveness of views rather than in a particular moment of behaviour. There were some lovely moments though, particularly in the feeding frenzies, and when birds were flying low over the boat, showing off their colours and plumage patterns in the occasional flash of sunlight.
Ian was very good at telling you where he was seeing what he was seeing, which, with my poor vision, is worth a lot, although he also gave interesting snippets of behaviour and other information about some of the birds. For example, thanks to him, I can now tell, finally, the difference between a shag and a cormorant – others have tried, and failed, in this task – and I gained new information about several other species. Like a little rule for telling Bar-tailed and Black-tailed godwits apart, or that some Golden Plover, which I’d always seen inland, choose to feed in coastal marshes and estuaries. And so on…
Such a brilliant day. The wind was cold, and the sky mostly grey, but the rain held off, and I had the right amount, and type, of clothes on, which always helps. And when I felt chilly, there was plenty of warmth and good things to eat and drink below deck.
So it has to be three cheers too for the cream scone. I know I’m in the home of the cream tea – Devon may even be going for Protected Designation of Origin – but I’m afraid I have to report that from my year of in depth research, standards are falling in comparison with my Devon grandmother’s cream teas. However, not so with Stuart Lines.