Bird Watching Cruises – 9th March 2024

With heavy rain forecast, we expected the worst but as often happens on these cruises we were pleasantly surprised that the worst of the rain held off until we got off the boat when we returned to Exmouth. Not that it would have mattered with a covered heated lower deck to our comfort!

As we set sail we were treated with good views of 3 Shags roosting on buoys near the marina.
As we sailed past Dawlish Warren Wildlife Refuge and Cockwood we had views of Herring gulls, Oyster Catchers, Curlew, and a single Dark Bellied Brent Goose.

Great Black Backed Gull with Large Fish

Several Shags and Cormorants were roosting on the sand banks, some showing their breeding plumage and visitors got the chance to appreciate the difference between these similar birds. We also had good views of Great black-backed gulls.
As we continued North up the Estuary we saw more Curlews, Oystercatchers, some Redshank, and a brief view of a single Guillemot diving in the middle of the channel, luckily we had more prolonged views of this bird on our return trip to Exmouth later in the afternoon.
At the River Kenn outlet just off Powderham Castle Estate, we saw Black-headed gulls, more Curlew and Redshank.
Sailing further North and looking towards Lympstone we saw around 25 Pintail ducks and a couple of Great Crested grebes, one of which was starting to show its breeding plumage with its russet-coloured headdress and spikey crest.
As we passed Powderham cycle bridge there were a few Dunlin scattered over the mudflats, a few Dark-bellied Brent geese were seen in flight and a group of around 25 Avocets were feeding in a tight group, heads down in the deeper waters with their rumps in the air, a group feeding strategy we sometimes see with Avocets.


A Spoonbill was feeding on the shoreline just South of Turf and very close to the boat which gave visitors excellent views of this charismatic bird. Almost immediately after the Spoonbill we had close views of an adult Common gull with 2 younger Common gulls along the same shoreline, followed by distant views of a single Grey Plover.
As we turned the corner of the channel at Turf a group of around 200 Black-tailed godwits were feeding along the shoreline and a flock of around 300 Golden Plover could be seen roosting on the mudflats in the distance looking back towards Lympstone. Dunlin and Redshank were scattered across the mudflats on both sides of the boat and more Avocets were seen feeding close to the boat.


Some visitors had brief views of 4 Canada geese and a possible Red Breasted Merganser in the waters by the lock gates. Luckily all visitors got a chance to see a further 9 Red Breasted Mergansers further along the channel towards the confluence of the Clyst and the Canada geese came out into the channel on the return trip.

Red-Breasted Merganser

A few more Grey Plovers were noted at a distance and a large flock of around 500 Dark-bellied Brent geese flew off Exminster Marshes and into the estuary just South of the boat. Visitors got excellent views of these geese on the return trip as they rested on the estuary waters along the shoreline of the main channel.
As we approached Topsham a male Marsh harrier was seen high in the skies above Exminster marshes and as we watched this bird fly closer to us a second Marsh harrier appeared. The second bird looked like a female and both birds flew out over the reedbeds towards us. We enjoyed an excellent display from these birds as they interacted with each other low over the reedbeds and quite close to the boat.
At Topsham we saw a few more Avocets, Teal, Redshank, and a few Mallard ducks and the Red-breasted mergansers we’d seen earlier continued to swim and fly past the boat.

Pair of Teal

On the return journey to Exmouth visitors were entertained by a Great black-backed gull that had managed to find a large dead fish and was struggling unsuccessfully for several minutes to fly off with it. Other gulls gathered around it but unfortunately, none were able to make lunch from this fish. We then picked up a Lesser black-backed gull roosting on a nearby sandbar. 5 Bar-tailed godwits were seen feeding in the rising waters on a rapidly disappearing sandbar and as they took to the air moments later, visitors were able to see they lacked the black tail band which we’d seen earlier on some of the Black-tailed godwits in flight.
As we sailed further South 2 Great Northern Divers were spotted fishing for crabs and Captain Jake took the boat closer so all visitors had excellent views of these two birds catching and eating crabs close to the boat.

Great Northern Diver with Crab

As we approached the bottom of the estuary we picked up the Guillemot we’d seen earlier and had better views this time. We also had distant views of 2-3 Sanderling on the shoreline of Bull Hill as they weaved among the Cormorants, Oystercatchers and Herring gulls which were now roosting on this sandbar pre-high tide.

Jo King

Posted in

Stuart Line Cruises


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