GUIDED BIRD WATCHING – Thursday 8th February

The morning began wet and gloomy with some quite heavy rain showers but once again, as soon as we set sail, the rain stopped and we enjoyed a dry, comfortable trip up the estuary with some very interesting birds. 

Whilst visitors were queuing to board the boat, a Great Northern diver cruised slowly into the estuary mouth and past the boat. A few visitors managed to get views before it disappeared into the estuary. Luckily, we caught up with it later and all visitors on the boat had some excellent close views of this bird. 

Also noted just offshore from Dawlish warren were some Eider ducks so Jake took the boat closer to enable everyone to have a better view of these birds, a total of nine Eider ducks were swimming just off the end of Dawlish Warren.

In the wildlife refuge we had views of Herring gulls, Black headed gulls, Dark bellied Brent geese, Oystercatchers, Curlew, Redshank and Shelduck. A few Teal were feeding along the shoreline off Cockwood steps and we had good views of Greenshank on a nearby sandbank. 

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 two similar birds. We also had good views of a couple of Great black-backed gulls.

A Grey seal was hauled up on a pontoon and a second was swimming nearby in the middle of the channel. A few Turnstones were noted flying past the boat and up the estuary.

As we continued north past Cockwood Little egrets were noted in a field with cattle beyond the sea wall giving us chance to discuss the differences between these and the Cattle egrets which are now often seen with the dairy herd at Cofford farm, Cockwood.

The Great Northern diver surfaced quite close to the boat and visitors had some really good views of this bird.

As we approached Starcross we had distant views of a male Goldeneye with a few Red Breasted mergansers along the shoreline. And on the mudflats we saw more Redshanks, Curlew and Oystercatchers feeding. A couple of Common gulls were noted on a sandbank off Starcross. 

At the River Kenn outlet just off Powderham castle estate a further Greenshank was seen feeding along with a selection of gulls. 

As we approached Starcross yacht club two Common seals were basking close to the boat on the edge of the sandbank, an adult and a juvenile.

At Starcross yacht club a few Grey herons could be seen sitting on and around their nests in the trees above the yacht club on the Powderham Castle estate, an established heronry in this location.

As we passed Powderham cycle bridge there were good numbers of Dunlin scattered over the mudflats, Dark bellied Brent geese were seen both in flight and along the channel as we approached Turf hotel. As we turned the corner of the channel at Turf a group of around two hundred Black-tailed godwits were feeding along the shoreline. Good numbers of Avocets and tiny Dunlin were scattered over the mudflats and along the shoreline of the channel as we sailed towards the confluence of the Clyst.

A couple of Grey Plovers were noted at distance and around five hundred Lapwing could also be seen roosting on the mudflats North of Turf on both sides of the estuary.  A fairly tight flock of Golden Plover were noted on the mudflats as we sailed closer to Topsham and some took to the air before settling further North up the mudflats.  This gave visitors lots of opportunities to enjoy these birds and luckily the light improved and we could start to see their glorious golden colour. The Lapwing also started to show their iridescent plumage in the improving light. Later in the trip some visitors reported having seen a couple of Knot on these mudflats, a fairly plain looking wading bird in winter and one we would expect to see on the estuary at this time of year but usually in small numbers so not always easy to pick out as they tend feed amongst the other waders. 

At Topsham we saw many more Avocets and Black-tailed godwits, with a few Teal and Redshank.

Just before the boat started to turn to head back down the estuary an immature Marsh harrier appeared from Exminster marshes chased by a couple of crows and it continued to give visitors an excellent display as it flew over the reedbeds a couple of times and across the river further North until it finally disappeared towards the M5 motorway in the distance.

On the return journey to Exmouth a good number of Canada geese flew into the estuary and a couple of mute swans were seen swimming up the channel. As we approached to bottom of the estuary we had distant views of a couple of Sanderling on the shoreline of cockle sands, before getting closer views of a single Sanderling on the shoreline of Bull hill. A single Turnstone was also feeding on Bull hill amongst the basking Cormorants and an Eider duck was also swimming just off Bull hill. A further three Eiders were then seen as we approached the north shoreline of Dawlish warren. We also saw groups of Oystercatchers gathering on both Bull hill and Dawlish warren for their pre-high tide roost.

Jo King, Ornithologist

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Stuart Line Cruises


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