We set off from Exmouth quay into the sun and cruised along the edge of Pole sands, just offshore
from Dawlish warren, where we had good views of Curlew, Oyster Catchers and Herring gulls
feeding. Towards the back of Pole sands some visitors had distant glimpses of the 8 Eider ducks
which have been around this area for a few days, unfortunately the very welcome winter sun was so
low in the sky and giving dazzling reflections on the water it made it difficult for everyone to get
good views of these rare visitors to the Exe Estuary. A Greater black backed gull on the sandbank
gave visitors the chance to compare this large gull with the better known Herring gulls.
As we started sailing up the estuary we had good views of a few Shags resting up on buoys and a
young Peregrine flew right over the boat towards Dawlish warren, chased by a few Herring gulls. As
we sailed towards Dawlish warren wildlife refuge a Kingfisher was sitting on a large buoy and gave
visitors quite a prolonged view. On the North shoreline of Dawlish warren and the edge of the
Wildlife Refuge we had close views of Shelduck, Dark bellied Brent geese, Oystercatchers and
A Grey seal was hauled up on a raft in the middle of the channel and as we continued north past
Cockwood many more Dark bellied Brent geese, Oystercatchers and Curlew were seen. A few Little
Egrets, 3-4 Greenshank, Curlew, Grey heron, a young Mute swan and a few Redshank were feeding
along the shoreline. A pair of Red Breasted Mergansers were frantically diving in one area just off
Starcross and proving very difficult to photograph as they only surfaced for the briefest of moments.
Clearly they’d found something interesting to feed on in this area. On the sandbanks in this area
there were a few Cormorants and Shags roosting and drying their wings in the sun and a Common
gull was on a sandbank next to a Herring gull, giving visitors chance to note the differences between
these two gulls. Black headed gulls were also noted in this area quite close to the boat and a few
Mallard ducks swam by. A couple of Great crested grebes were seen diving not far from the boat
and we had good views of one in flight.
3 Common seals were relaxing on the sandbank just off Starcross yacht club, an adult with 2
juveniles. A large huddled group of Avocets were feeding bottoms up in a tight huddled group just
North of the Starcross yacht club, a slightly unusual feeding strategy we sometimes see with these
As we followed the channel towards Turf hotel there are hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and
Lapwing scattered over the mudflats and large numbers of Avocets were feeding along the shoreline
of the channel to both sides of the boat giving us close views. A single Ruff landed on the shoreline
just South of Turf and around 100 Dunlin were scattered across the mudflats. A few Bar-tailed
godwits were feeding among the Black-tailed godwits and a couple of Knot which were hiding
amongst them only became evident when checking photos later on! A flock of around 350 Golden
plover were roosting together on the mudflats just off Turf and luckily a passing cloud made way for
the sun in time for us to appreciate their beautiful golden plumage.
As we approached Topsham we saw many more Avocets, Redshank, Curlew and Black-tailed
godwits. A few Teal were on the muds further up the estuary towards Topsham lock but
unfortunately a bit too far up the river for us to get close views and a female Red breasted
Merganser just about evaded us as it swam away from the boat further up river.
On the return journey we saw many more Dark bellied Brent geese both in flight and on the water,
along with a group of Canada geese which had just flown in.
As we sailed past Cockle sands and Bull hill we enjoyed watching over 30 Sanderling dashing along
the shoreline like little clock-work birds. We also had around 20 Great black backed gulls roosting on
the sandbanks, again a Common gull and a couple of tight flocks of Oystercatchers roosting up.
Around 200 Oystercatchers were roosting in a huddled group on finger point on Dawlish warren.
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