A beautiful sunny winter’s lunchtime, perfect for a birdwatching cruise on the Exe Estuary with great company.
We left Exmouth Marina and cruised along the edge of Pole sands where we nearly had superb views of Curlew, Oyster Catchers Herring gulls and DB Brent Geese, when a military aircraft flew low overhead and disturbed every bird on Pole Sands! However a few birds came back like the Oyster Catcher Greater Black Backed Gulls and a couple of Shag were seen at close quarters.
As we entered the mouth of the Exe, a Great Northern Diver was spotted fishing amongst the buoys off Shelley. Captain Jake swiftly manoeuvred the boat round to ensure everyone saw this beautiful bird which set the scene for a great day. We sailed on up the estuary where we had views of a few Shags and Cormorants giving visitors the chance to see the difference between these two similar birds.
Along the shoreline of the North side of Dawlish Warren we had views of a few Turnstone wandering along the shoreline. In the Dawlish Warren wildlife refuge we had views of Dark-bellied Brent geese, Oystercatchers, Curlew, several Shelduck and Little Egret.
As we continued north past Cockwood we had good views of Greater black backed Gulls on the sandbanks with many more Oystercatchers, Cormorants and Shags roosting on the sandbanks, some drying their outstretched wings.
A few Great Crested Grebes were diving near the shoreline from Cockwood to Starcross and we saw the female Goldeneye at a distance. A distant male Red Breasted Merganser was seen being the first of at least 12 seen throughout the trip. Also off Cockwood steps, a large gathering of Dark Bellied Brent Geese (up to 150) were resting. Up to 13 Turnstones were foraging on seaweed along the shoreline north of Starcross and as we passed a floating pontoon a large Grey Seal was resting again we stopped so everyone could see this beautiful mammal.
A single Greenshank, Shelduck Curlew and plenty of Gulls were bathing at the River Kenn outlet by Powderham estate. Redshanks and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit were also seen nearby. Around 20 Mallard and Teal were seen around Starcross Yacht club. On the Lympstone side of the estuary Pintail Mute Swans Dunlin good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Shelduck were seen feeding on the remains of the Eel Grass beds off Lympstone village. A common Buzzard was seen over the trees towards Exton.
At the start of Turf Lock straight two Common Seals were seen at close quarters on the mudbank. Hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits were feeding along the mudflats towards Turf locks and hotel and a large flock of DB Brent Geese lined the channel in this same area were spotted at a distance. Large numbers of Dunlin and Curlew were also seen along this stretch. Several Avocets were spotted here too.
As we sailed past Turf towards Topsham both mudflats had plenty of Avocets with groups feeding on the edge of the channel. Hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and a few Bar-tailed Godwits were feeding along the edge of the channel and at least 500+ of DB Brent Geese lined the straight to Topsham Quay also at least 6 Red Breasted Mergansers were seen here too. Redshank and around 30 Teal ducks were at Topsham. Looking across the left hand mud flats 450+ Golden Plover were resting and beyond this flock was a smaller flock of Lapwing. Avocets and Black tailed Godwit were numerous all the way to Topsham. Black Headed Gulls were also in good numbers.
On our return 30+ Canada Geese were spotted close to the Common Seals.
Plenty of Cormorants were viewed gathering on the sandbanks off Starcross with large flocks of roosting Oystercatchers and around the edge on the sandbanks several Sanderling were scurrying along the edge foraging for food in the wavelets. Off Cockle sands we enjoyed 4 Sanderling dashing along the shoreline like little clock-work toys dashing here and there; along the North shoreline of Dawlish Warren again Oystercatchers were gathering. Someone wanted to know what the 5 dark coloured ducks were off Bull Hill Sandbar; these turned out to be 5 Eider ducks and another 4 was spotted off the point at Dawlish Warren, one looked like a juvenile male.
Another great Cruise was had by all.
Derek Carter, Ornithologist
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