2013 was another record birding year on the Warren, although no new species were added to the recording area list, with the site list reaching an all-time high of 201 species despite a lack of autumn seawatching or ‘Vismig’ opportunities.
Highlights included Bonaparte's Gull, four species of American wader, Temminck’s Stint, Red-backed Shrike, Montagu’s Harrier, Stone-curlew, Short-toed Lark and Hoopoe. Breeding species included Shelduck, Feral Pigeon (for the first time), as well as four pairs of Herring Gull (although all unsuccessful) and two pairs of Little Grebe, on the downside both Ringed Plover and Coot continued to be absent.
Other low points include the continuing decline in wintering grebes, sea duck, wildfowl and waders, with many migrants such as Cuckoo, Whinchat, Garden Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat again scarce, with no Grasshopper Warbler at all. Other notable absentees included Kentish Plover, Spoonbill, Sooty Shearwater and Pochard.
Ringing returns increased considerably, in 2013 the recording group noted 117 different individual birds of 16 different species. Putting this into some context, the 214 reads made this year account for over 37% of all the recoveries ever made at Dawlish Warren! All of these recoveries were read in the field. The movements noted included the first Roseate Tern recovery (from Coquet Island Northumberland); Ringed Plover from Iceland; Curlew from Germany; Sanderling from Greenland, Iceland and Ghana; Dunlin from Spain, Great Black-backed Gull from Norway, France, Guernsey, Cornwall and Portland; and Sandwich Tern from Holland, Scotland and Wales. A more detailed account will be published online and in Devon Birds shortly.
The year started well with a Serin briefly in Dead Dolphin Wood on New Year’s Day, the seventh site record but the first since 1991, whilst the Bearded Tit and Black-necked Grebe both remained at the Main Pond. Other January highlights included Woodcock, Long-tailed Duck, another Black-necked Grebe, Water Pipit, Goosander and Yellowhammer.
February was a quiet month with a Black-throated Diver offshore and a couple of Water Pipit on the flooded Golf Course the highlights
March started with a lone early Wheatear and ended with a brief Stone-curlew, the fifth site record and the first since 1987, mid-month there was a record spring passage of Chaffinch, and a site record count of Chiffchaff. Many of these migrants were, however, struggling as the winter refused to let go and the conditions meant there was very little insect food available.
April opened with a Hoopoe, the first since 2004, and another brief flyby from the Stone-curlew, whilst a variety of migrants included a Long-eared Owl, Black Redstart and Firecrest began to trickle through and a movement of Jay overhead followed on from the 2012 autumn influx. A Marsh Harrier heading north was followed the next day by a second year female Montagu’s Harrier, the fifth site record and the first since 1979. Passage counts for both Whimbrel and Pale-bellied Brent Geese reached three figures.
Both Jay and Pale-bellied Brent Geese continued to move through in early May, the highlight though were Roseate Tern with numbers peaking at 20, comfortably beating the previous site and Devon record (14 in 1958). Rarities included a returning Bonaparte’s Gull, the fourth record of Short-toed Lark, the third Warren record of Temminck’s Stint, the first for 21 years and two Turtle Dove.
June was quiet and although it was good to have a Cuckoo in residence for a change, it was probably as successful in finding a mate as the Slavonian Grebe which completed its sixth summer on the river. Shelduck did however breed successfully with young seen around Warren Point, although a pair even prospected the Main Pond.
July saw returning waders and terns, although in contrast to spring Roseate Tern had a poor showing, a flock of 400 Common Scoter gathered to moult offshore and an early Long-tailed Skua hinted at autumn.
A Crossbill, early in August, turned out to be the only record of the year; wader passage picked up with three Green Sandpiper records and several Little Ringed Plover from midmonth. A Pectoral Sandpiper made a very brief stop in the Bight whilst the two Wood Sandpiper just flew over. The only Pied Flycatcher of the year was on Warren Point at the end of the month.
September’s highlight was unfortunately suppressed, the site’s second Lesser Yellowlegs that spent a little over an hour in the Bight, however other good birds were soon forthcoming including the first Red-backed Shrike since 1998, the site’s third Black Brant and sixth Rose-coloured Starling, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, a Wryneck and a Black Guillemot. Perhaps the most important sighting though was a record count of House Sparrow with 154 birds at roost. An area sadly now altered and no longer suitable.
October couldn’t quite keep up the pace but three Yellow-browed Warbler, a Lapland Bunting and three Whooper Swan, however three frequently overlooked species all weighed in with new record counts: Robin, Dunnock and Wren.
November lived up to its billing as one of the best birding months on the Warren with the third White-rumped Sandpiper (first since 1998) and fourth Great White Egret (first since 2002) turning up on the same day. Seawatching also produced the fourth Warren Red-crested Pochard, the first since 1999, and a Leach’s Petrel. Other highlights included a Snow and a second Lapland Bunting, a reappearance from the Bonaparte’s Gull, a Cetti’s Warbler and a White-fronted Goose.
December was a relatively quiet month although a late Little Auk arrived on Boxing Day and Spotted Redshank finally made an appearance for the year. 2013 drew to a close with Bonaparte’s Gull, Black Brant, Long-tailed Duck and two Velvet Scoter all present, so here’s to a Happy New Year to all.