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.


Dave Smallshire

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!

Dave Smallshire

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!

Ian Waite

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.

Great Nothern Diver IMG_4594


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.

Shag ad bp IMG_4858


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.

Dave Smallshire

Curlew against the light IMG_4999

Three consecutive trips with variable weather conditions but excellent birding every day.
Saturday, despite wind and rain proved the day of surprises.
A Sandwich Tern, which would normally have migrated south months ago was seen fishing at Cockwood
and also a Guillemot drifting  down river near Turf.
Recent flooding has caused a change in feeding areas with Avocets as far down as Starcross.
They, and other waders were well spread but there were still excellent views of all of them.
Slavonion Grebe and Goldeneye featured daily with a couple of fly pasts allowing us to admire this beautiful duck.
A Great Northern Diver was seen briefly on the sea off The Warren each day and a few Pintail showed with Wigeon and Mallard.
Four Greenshank favoured their usual location at Powderham  and Bar-tailed Godwits, in excess of 200 were very close
to the boat.
Black-tailed Godwits were distant on Friday, but on the other trip approximately 1000 were at Turf, and then in flight.
Only two Sanderling were seen at the start of the weekend, but Sunday saw double figures as temperatures dropped.
Teal at Topsham unusually noticed by their absence. They were most probably on Exminster Marshes.
A lack of Brent Geese on the river on Saturday was certainly made up for by large numbers particularly in flight on
Friday and Sunday.
Thousands of Dunlin spread over the mud was a constant, as were large numbers of Shag and Cormorants plus
Red-breasted Mergansers and the occasional Great Crested Grebe.
Numerous gulls on the river included large numbers of Common Gulls
Ian Waite

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!

Best wishes


Bonaparte’s Gull sighting 24th November 2015
My first trip of the year was a real treat.  At least forty species seen with some surprises amongst them.
As we headed out towards the Mouth there were many Brent Geese feeding on the vegetation at the edges of the shore
the first of the many hundreds that we saw throughout the trip but unfortunately, no young sighted.
Out at sea a distant diver species was spotted.  Not a good view but later on we had a Great Northern Diver
as we approached Powderham where we had Greenshank and watched for some time a Kingfisher perching, hovering and fishing.
Good numbers of Wigeon on the river, one group in a mixed flock with Pintail.  Not many Red-breasted Merganser but they showed well.
Great Crested Grebes were in double figures and Shags outnumbered Cormorants today giving a good opportunity to
spot the differences.
Following a cold spell some wader numbers had increased especially Black-tailed Godwits and Dunlin.  Amongst the former were
a small group of Golden Plover to compare with the Grey Plovers that were sprinkled amongst the Dunlin.  Very few Bar-tailed Godwits
at present and no Sanderling seen but approximately 300 Avocets in smallish groups were admired.
First of the surprises was a Bonaparte’s Gull.  It was seen very close to the boat as we were watching Oystercatchers and Turnstones
on the shoreline at the Warren.   Photographs confirmed the black bill of the North American vagrant which is very similar
to our Black-headed Gulls.
The other surprise was a Short-eared Owl above us being mobbed by Crows.  It then came down to land on the river side of
Exminster Marshes.
That’s a first for me on the trips!
Ian Waite
Sunday 8th November 2015 – our first cruise of the season

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.

Bird Watching with Dave Smallshire, Saturday 7th March

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 ….

Best wishes


(image is of a Snow Bunting taken by Dave)

Bird Watching with Ian Waite, 5th March 2015
My last trip of the winter featured a couple of smaller birds.
At Topsham a Kingfisher posed for photographs, and at Powderham on our return sitting on a wall was the Snow Bunting.
A very confiding bird which fortunately for us chose the closest location possible to the boat, which Jake had stopped for us..
Most on board saw the bird, a very white looking male, and photos taken were viewed by many as we left the bird still sitting on the wall.
Of course the waders were as usual impressive.
The Spotted Redshank was clearly seen with Greenshank and Topsham had a good mix of waders although only a handful of Avocets today.
With the recent fine weather most have now probably left for their nesting sites in the Netherlands, Northern England and other places.
Herons were on their nests in the Heronry and most Great Crested Grebes were in breeding plumage although the two Slavonian Grebes
were still very much black and white.
The two Goldeneye were still at Topsham and near Turf a very unconcerned Common Seal was sleeping on its back as we passed.
As we returned to the Harbour, Turnstone, Sanderling and a Greenshank provided the finale to another excellent trip.
Already looking forward to next winter’s!
Ian Waite