Undoubtedly the best day of birding that Dawlish Warren has produced so far this year.
Seawatching commenced from 05:15 in the Force 5 southwesterly and overcast skies created good visibility. A steady passage of 132 Balearic Shearwater headed south, often in loose small groups at various distances, mixed up with some that loafed and foraged around the bay, perhaps attracted in by the shoals of whitebait. This huge count has only been bettered here by the famous passage of Sep 2011. These included the full range of dark to pale morphs. At 06:45 a flock of three shearwaters flew in north watched by three site regulars: Ivan Lakin, Lee Collins and Dave Jewell. An initial call of two Balearic and one Manx was quickly retracted as the third smaller bird was clearly not a Manx and after a few moments to run through the features, was re-identified as a Yelkouan Shearwater or, it was stressed, perhaps a 'Menorcan Shearwater'. The group flew in as close as any shearwater seen today to land on the sea c.400 metres offshore for a couple of minutes, then took off to head south, which altogether provided some good views.
Presumably the same bird (tweeted field sketch plumage details, at least, seem to match) was seen by at least five other observers sea-watching from Berry Head about an hour and a half later, where it was described by some in words to the effect of a type of shearwater not seen before, and although was immediately obvious as something different, some opinions and hesitation were perhaps influenced by the bird being alone and it flew straight through.
A contemporaneous description was written and a submission to BBRC will be made shortly to describe the presumed Yelkouan Shearwater or 'Menorcan Shearwater'.
The shearwater was just the icing on the cake; it was also a 'four skua day' with at least 17 Arctic Skua around the bay chasing Kittiwakes and terns; four Pomarine Skua rafted close offshore in the evening, and a dinky Long-tailed Skua was with an Arctic Skua flock and was occasionally chased and although remained quite far out, enough was discerned to suggest this was either an adult or an older immature. To and fro flocks of at least 105 Common Scoter (excluding duplicates) passed for hours and flocks sometimes contained, presumably, the same flock of three Teal, equaling the same earliest return date. Far more unseasonal was a female/ immature Long-tailed Duck that flew south at 08:50 and a short time later flew back north towards Orcombe Point. This is the site's only fourth July record and follows the record of one of similar appearance seen here on 10th June - the same?
A run down of other seabird counts, c.175 Gannet, c.100 Kittiwake were mostly foraging; a dozen Common Tern, plus three Arctic Tern including the first-summer 'portlandica' type again; just three Fulmar and only three Manx Shearwater (cf. Berry Head count). All over the place were at least 36 Mediterranean Gull (4 juv, 4 fs, 10 ss, 18 adult). A flock of 19 Shelduck flew in off the sea.
The evening tide was quite high (3.8 metres Exmouth Dock gauge) and pushed in 248 Curlew, 212 Oystercatcher, 56 Redshank, 22 Great Black-backed Gull, 17 Whimbrel, 11 Sandwich Tern, six Little Egret, four Bar-tailed Godwit, four Dunlin, two Greenshank, a Ringed Plover and a Grey Heron. A Kingfisher guarded the entrance to Eales Dock and the autumn's first Common Sandpiper was on the railway embankment, a typical date. 'Herbert' the Slavonian Grebe was also in the estuary.
Overhead drifted two Buzzard; 21 Swift headed south whilst a dozen Swallow and three House Martin were likely local feeding birds. Other site notables were two Stock Dove and a Raven.
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