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.
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