Guided Bird Watching Review – Tuesday 9th February 2016
Another much improved day, with lovely afternoon light for the cruise. The highlights were a Great Northern Diver at Exmouth, 2 Slavonian Grebes off Cockwood and an adult Mediterranean Gull with hundreds of other gulls gathering to bathe and preen on the river between Topsham and Turf. A Peregrine was just visible sitting on the church tower in Exmouth.
In addition, there were three Great Crested Grebes, dozens of Shags and Red-breasted Mergansers and three Goldeneye – two distant females near Exmouth and a fine adult drake at Topsham.
Yet again we saw 16 species of waders, which is the full complement of those likely to be seen in winter on the intertidal areas. These included hundreds of Avocets, 3-400 Golden Plover, a hundred or more of both Black- and Bar-tailed Godwits, about 20 Knot and a Spotted Redshank with 4 Greenshank at Powderham. Some of the Turnstones were scavenging on the mussel-processing craft off Dawlish Warren, where we finally added Sanderling to the list just before returning to Exmouth.
The Harbour (Common) Seal was again hauled out on Bull Hill sandbank.
Guided Bird Watching Review – Sunday 7th February 2016
What a difference a day makes! We travelled up to Topsham in bright conditions with occasional sunshine, though a strengthening wind on the return brought some showers.
We saw our old friends like the Harbour (Common) Seal on Bull Hill sandbank and the Slavonian Grebe off Cockwood, but happily the latter has a been joined by a second bird. The rough sea ensured that plenty of Shags were fishing in the shelter of the estuary. A scattering of Sanderlings and Turnstones feeding along the edge of the sandbanks and Spotted Redshank with Greenshanks and the first Avocets at Powderham bode well for our wader list …
Approaching Turf and Topsham we had better views of Red-breasted Mergansers, not to mention lots more waders on the mudbanks: thousands of Dunlin, hundreds more Avocets and over 100 Bar-tailed Godwits, with smaller numbers of Ringed Plover, Grey Plover and Knot. Several hundred Brent Geese gave a spectacular fly-past, and even a Buzzard went by!
Black-tailed Godwits were noticeable by their almost complete absence (I only saw one!): presumably they were harvesting worms in the floods on Exminster Marshes. In return, it seems, a flock of 300-400 Golden Plovers had flown in from the marshes and sat on the mud for a while, before taking off to join hundreds of Lapwings in the air; these brought our wader total up to 16 species – a full set of those likely to be found on the estuary in winter!
A combination of high water, strong wind and rain meant there were very few birds seen on this trip.
Small waders were nowhere to be seen with the most common species being Avocet and Bar-tailed Godwits, there were good close views of these birds.
Just a few Brent Geese on the water, the rest were in the fields behind the wall at Turf with Shelduck.
Shag and Red-breasted Mergansers braved the choppy waters and one Seal was seen.
Great Black- backed Gulls were toughing it out with only a handful of other gull species located.
Extreme conditions but many opportunities to converse with passengers on birding matters whilst they were enjoying the convivial atmosphere downstairs.
Homemade mushroom soup was excellent!
Guided Bird Watching Review – Friday 22nd January 2016
The old adage “rain at 7, fine by 11” held true today and we left Exmouth in sunshine, which made for very pleasant conditions!
There were 2 Great Northern Divers in the channel off Exmouth, with 2 others more distant. Shags were plentiful, maybe over 60 in all, while 5 single Great Crested Grebes were seen in the estuary. The Slavonian Grebe was seen only distantly, but our resident Harbour (Common) Seal was hauled out on Bull Hill and gave us great views.
We saw the first Avocets at Powderham, plus a Spotted Redshank and 4 Greenshanks. There were about 35 Pintail off Lympstone Barracks. A few Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers were seen among the hordes of Dunlin on the mudbanks, plus dozens of Grey Plover. A large flock of Avocets was just visible up the Clyst, and dozens more were seen at Topsham, plus several hundred Godwits, mostly Black-tailed. Three Goldeneye (one drake) were on the river here, where Red-breasted Mergansers gave their closest views.
Guided Bird Watching Review – 23rd January 2016
A slightly cooler day today, with hazy sun which turned to cloud and then light drizzle on the journey back from Topsham.
Windsurfers were active at Exmouth, so only a few Shags were to be seen here, although a Sparrowhawk flew over the beach before turning back inland. Turnstones were busy scavenging on the shellfish processing craft behind Dawlish Warren. Frustratingly, a Bonaparte’s Gull was seen heading towards Exmouth as we went to have a closer look at the Harbour (Common) Seal hauled out on Bull Hill. Further up the estuary there were 3 Great Crested Grebes and over 30 Sanderlings on a mid-estuary sandbank – a good total.
The Spotted Redshank was with a few Greenshanks and the first Avocets off Powderham, while on mudbanks at the top of the estuary we saw a few Knot, 200+ Lapwings and about 180 Golden Plover, plus a large mixed flock of godwits. As we approached Topsham, at least 2 Goldeneye (one drake) were on the river amongst the Mergansers.
On the way back to Exmouth, 3 small grebes seen distantly probably included 2 Slavonian and a Little.
Guided Bird Watching Review – 24th January 2016
While the surrounding hill remained murky this afternoon, the sun god shone typically on the Exe and we enjoyed a bright and dry cruise with huge concentrations of birds in the upper estuary!
The 2 Slavonian Grebes near Cockwood behaved better today and we got reasonable views. Unusually, there were 2 Greenshanks on Bull Hill sandbank, but the Harbour (Common) Seal there was rather more predictable (we also had glimpses of two other seals in the estuary: one near Turf and the other near Exmouth). Up to 10 Sanderlings were seen together on sandbanks in the middle part of the estuary, where a few Great Crested Grebes were present.
At Powderham, the regular Spotted Redshank was with several Greenshank and the first Avocets were seen. The mudflats between Lympstone and Topsham were crammed with waders and gulls: a truly spectacular sight! There were about 500 Avocets in several flocks, about 1000 Black- and 100+ Bar-tailed Godwits, 300+ Golden Plover, about 500 Lapwings and masses of Dunlin, topped off with a large flock of Brent Geese that landed on the river bend before Topsham.
At Topsham there were 3 Goldeneye (including a drake) and a second Spotted Redshank, plus small numbers of Teal.
Almost the final bird of the cruise was a Bonaparte’s Gull feeding in mid-river between Exmouth and Cockwood, no doubt the bird that has wintered in the Exmouth-Teignmouth area in recent years.
Today’s cruise was simply brilliant! The weather forecast seemed to put some people off coming, but apart from a bit of light drizzle, everything was fine. So often the weather is much better in the estuary than in surrounding areas: please don’t be put off by a bad forecast! That said, wind surfers were taking full advantage of the fresh south-westerly, which perhaps explained the presence of maybe 100 Shags in the outer half of the estuary. Great Black-backed Gulls, plus a few Lessers and rather more Common Gulls were also sheltering in the estuary.
The resident Slavonian Grebe was off Cockwood, while further on we saw 5 Great Crested Grebes and a couple of distant Goldeneye. At least 20 Sanderlings were feeding on the very edge of a sandbank in mid-estuary, while nearby on the shoreline by Powderham Castle were first two Greenshanks and then a Spotted Redshank, one of very few that winter in Britain. But then the biggest surprise of the cruise came with a Sandwich Tern flying past us; it should have been in West Africa!
As we approached the mouth of the Clyst there was a large gathering of Pintail, at least 110; we rarely encounter them like this. Further on we ran into perhaps a couple of hundred Bar-tailed Godwits and over 300 Lapwings feeding, plus100 Golden Plovers roosting on the mud. As we approached Topsham, hundreds of waders lined the edges of the river, while many more were feeding over mudflats. The flocks of over 500 Avocets and about 1000 Black-tailed Godwits were spectacular! Of course there was the usual supporting cast of hundreds of Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. There were Grey Plovers also and even three Snipe got up from the saltmarsh at Topsham.
Red-breasted Mergansers gave their best views at Topsham, with at least a dozen here (and over 30 in total). As we returned, a large flock of Brent Geese alighted in the fields west of the railway, too distant for us to see them properly.
The wader variety (14 species) and impressive numbers really made the day for me!
It was good to be back for the first bird watching cruise of the winter. Although breezy with drizzle at first, it proved to be a good one. In the estuary mouth, just off the seaward side of Dawlish Warren, was a female or immature Long-tailed Duck – let’s hope it stays for the winter! Perhaps the ‘flock’ of kite surfers offshore moved it inshore.
Inside the estuary, off Exmouth, was a Great Northern Diver, which we later saw on the other side of the estuary. Near the Warren were two Great Crested Grebes and a Little Grebe. Shags were very evident up as far as Starcross, with probably more than 50 seen. Red-breasted Mergansers are still rather few in number, but lots of Brent Geese were in the lower part of the estuary, grazing algae on the mud; they appear to have had a bad breeding season, as very few young are present.
Towards Topsham there were about 250 Avocets, 200 Lapwings, 6 Golden and about 15 Grey Plover, and hundreds of Dunlins, Redshanks and Black-tailed Godwits – at one point circling in panic when a Peregrine flew though! A few Bar-tailed Godwits, Greenshanks and Turnstones added to the variety. Amongst the gulls were a few Lesser Black-backed and rather more Common Gulls, while dozens of Great Black-backed sat asleep on Bull Hill sandbank.
We had a lovely afternoon for the last birdwatching cruise of the season, with the early spring sunshine showing up the colours of many birds to good effect. The inevitable human activity off Exmouth meant rather few birds there, although a couple of Turnstones were sat on rocks near the marina. We couldn’t find the Sandwich Tern seen in the morning: apparently it was sitting on a groyne at Dawlish Warren!
Sanderlings were feeding on the edges of several sandbanks, probably 15-20 in total, and two female Goldeneye were in the channel off Starcross. After seeing one then another two Great Crested Grebes and good numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, we crossed over to Powderham, where the ‘usual’ Spotted Redshank was with Greenshanks.
The Harbour Seal was hauled out on a sandbank towards Turf and then someone spotted the Snow Bunting that’s been on the sea wall for the last couple of months. (We had even better views of it on the return.) A large flock of Brent Geese flew over into the fields and there were big concentrations of Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin on the mudflats. Smaller numbers of Grey Plover, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Shelduck were also present and the Avocet flock was down further to only about 30 birds.
Lots of Teal were dabbling in the mud at Topsham, where we picked up a pair of Goldeneye on the way back and then the (resident) Slavonian Grebe near the Harbour Seal (it’s obviously had wanderlust recently, being absent from the Cockwood area).
So, it’s the end of another great season of birdwatching cruises and birds are already starting to move off towards their northern breeding grounds as the first summer migrants arrive from the south. But it won’t seem too long before the winter migrants return and the cruises begin again in November ….
(image is of a Snow Bunting taken by Dave)