GUIDED BIRD WATCHING – Wednesday 7th February

The morning started gloomy and drizzly, but as we set sail up the estuary the rain stopped which set the scene for another excellent and comfortable birdwatching trip. Oystercatchers were seen feeding and roosting on Cockle Sands as we sailed away from Exmouth Marina.
We had views of a few Shags and Cormorants roosting on the sand banks, some showing their breeding plumage and one with its wings outstretched drying them in the now mild air. Visitors got the chance to appreciate the difference between these two similar birds. Later as we sailed up the estuary we had much closer views of Shags resting up on buoys near the boat.

As we approached the Dawlish warren wildlife refuge we noted an Oystercatcher ringed with an old black and white Darvic leg ring, a bird I recognise as one ringed on Dawlish warren in 2004. In the wildlife refuge we had views of Herring gulls, Black headed gulls, Dark bellied Brent geese, Oystercatchers, Curlew, and Shelduck. A few Teal and Wigeon were feeding along the shoreline off Cockwood steps, a couple of Bar-tailed godwits, two Greenshank and a Curlew were seen on one of the sandbanks nearer the boat.

A Grey seal was spotted briefly swimming towards us in the middle of the channel but we only had views of its head before it dived and disappeared. On the return journey a Grey seal also appeared in this area and seemed intrigued by us, possibly the same inquisitive seal we’d seen earlier.

As we continued north past Cockwood we had views of Black-headed gulls, Herring gulls and a single Lesser black backed gull but we quickly became distracted by a single Guillemot which was diving near the boat. An unusual bird to see on the estuary rather than offshore and was likely taking shelter after what had been a stormy night. During this distraction one of the visitors noted a Mediterranean gull flying up the estuary and a couple of visitors had brief views of a Great Northern diver. Despite our efforts we were unable to relocate this bird. Little egrets were noted in a field with cattle beyond the sea wall giving us chance to discuss the differences between the Cattle egrets which are now often seen with the dairy herd at Cofford farm, Cockwood and the Little Egrets which are regularly seen around the estuary.
As we passed Starcross two Red Breasted mergansers were swimming just South of the pier and three Great crested Grebes were seen diving in the area between Cockwood and north of Starcross. Redshanks, Curlew and a few Black-tailed godwits were seen feeding along the shoreline North of Starcross and a few Mallards were seen just off Starcross yacht club. Around a dozen 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 and a large group of Pintail could be seen at distance in the water. Dark bellied Brent geese were seen in good numbers both in flight and in the channel as we approached Turf Hotel. A large flock of waders took to the air in the distance further up the estuary and later, as we got nearer they came down to settle onto the muds, we could see they were a large group of over 400 Golden Plover. Curlew and Lapwing were feeding and roosting on the muds and as we turned the corner of the channel at Turf a group of around 200 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 up to Topsham. Plenty of Lapwing could also be seen roosting on the mudflats North of Turf.

At Topsham we saw many more Avocets and Black-tailed godwits, with a few Teal and Redshank.
As we started to sail back down the estuary several flocks of gulls and waders took to the air but we were unable to find the likely predator which was causing this disturbance. We did however get to appreciate these large flocks of birds which included around 200 Lapwing, more than 400 Golden Plover, 200 or so Black-tailed godwits with smaller flocks of Curlew, Dunlin and a good number of Black headed gulls in the distance.

On the return journey to Exmouth we had very brief distant views of around a dozen Sanderling which managed to camouflage themselves into the nearby grey and white stones on a distant sandbank before getting closer views of a single Sanderling on the shoreline of Bull hill alongside Cormorants displaying their breeding plumage and superb close views of an immature male Eider duck at the Southern end of Bull hill. As we sailed past Dawlish Warren bight we managed to pick out at least four superbly camouflaged Turnstones feeding in the flotsam.

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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