Monday 31 December 2018

2018 Wildlife Review: Birds

A total of 186 species were recorded on site this year with 33 species confirmed breeding including Water Rail, Little Grebe and at least two pairs of Cirl Bunting.

Although 2018 wasn't without its highlights this tally is below average being exceeded in eight of the last ten years. The most significant weather events came in March with two unseasonal cold weather movements and November when the continual beach erosion through the year was hastened by an overnight storm that finally washed away the Dune Path.

New site maxima were recorded for Great-crested Grebe (132 in Jan), Lapwing (9180 in Mar), Golden Plover (3154 in Mar), Mediterranean Gull (96 in Jul), House Sparrow (162 in Sep), Jackdaw (1304 in Oct) and Pheasant (14 in Oct - an unwanted sign of increased local releases).

Unfortunately counts of many other species are going in the opposite direction with many migrants having a bad year and numbers of wintering birds in continuing decline. The second winter period especially saw low numbers of wildfowl and waders.

2018 was also the first ever blank year for wintering Slavonian Grebe, a qualifying species for the Exe Estuary Special Protection Area. Herbert, now in its 12th year of residence, was the only Slavonian Grebe recorded this year.

Herbert June 2009 - James Packer

Migrants were in low numbers with just three Cuckoo, 34 Sand Martin, eight Garden Warbler, six Tree Pipit, five Spotted Flycatcher and no Lesser Whitethroat. Other omissions from the year list included Coot, Greylag Goose, Jack Snipe, Red-necked Grebe, Dartford Warbler and Spotted Redshank.

Rarities included the 2nd & 3rd records of Cattle Egret, 4th record of Red-crested Pochard, 4th & 5th records of Caspian Gull, 8-15th Great White Egret, 8th Rose-coloured Starling and 9th Barred & Cetti's Warbler. The regular wintering Bonaparte's Gull was present at the start of the year but failed to return for its 6th winter.

Bonaparte's Gull Oct 2014 - Simon Thurgood

A total of 73 species were recorded on the 1st, the highlights being a single Pomarine Skua in wet & windy conditions and the wintering Long-tailed Duck. Also offshore during the month average numbers of Red & Great Northern Diver, very few Common Scoter but good numbers of Great-crested Grebe with a site record count peaking at 132, other grebes were however noticeable by their absence. The wintering Cetti's Warbler reappeared early in the month with a couple of Firecrest moving between the Warren and mainland gardens.

Long-tailed Duck - Alan Keatley

The first rarity of the year was a German ringed first winter Caspian Gull on 17th, the fourth Warren record. This was the first of a good run of larids with immature Iceland & Glaucous Gull on consecutive days and the first appearance of the Bonaparte's Gull on site since November.

Caspian Gull - Lee Collins

Late in the month a Ruff was the first winter record since 2002 and a flock of 42 Golden Plover in the Bight was similarly unusual.


The highlight of the month was a successful Oystercatcher ringing session. More information here but by the end of the year the colour ringed birds had a recovery rate around 95%. A second Caspian Gull was seen midmonth and the wintering Long-tailed Duck, Cetti's Warbler and Firecrest remained throughout.

Oystercatcher (V8) - Lee Collins
More information on the project can be found here


The month was characterised by two cold weather events. The Beast from the East on the 1st saw record movements overhead but also a lot of visible casualties.

Greenland Lake 01/03/2018


A sad total of 109 Lapwing, 34 Golden Plover & single Redshank, Little Egret and Avocet were found dead onsite. Overhead there were site record counts of 9180 Lapwing and 3154 Golden Plover, amazingly twice as many Golden Plover flew west in one afternoon than the combined total of all previous records for the Warren. Other cold weather refugees included two Avocet on the Main Pond, four-fig counts of Redwing & Fieldfare, six Woodcock, the first since 2013, and three Woodlark, the first since 2014.

Woodlark - Luke Harman

Before mid month two more Iceland and Glaucous Gull were recorded and the first Sandwich Tern, Wheatear, Sand Martin and Swallow arrived. However Spring was put on hold on the 18th when more snow arrived and brought another big Golden Plover movement overhead along with Fieldfare & Redwing, two Woodlark and a Yellowhammer.

Glaucous Gull - Dave Jewell


Later in the month the earliest ever Little Ringed Plover arrived on 21st along with the only Spoonbill of the year, the eighth Great White Egret for the Warren flew upriver on 24th and the 25th saw over 1100 Chaffinch and Brambling head NE, a more typical autumn movement. The month closed with new Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.

Iceland Gull - Lee Collins


Migration remained slow to get going, but there was a steady arrival through the month. The majority of expected summer species put in an appearance with a lingering Osprey, a Red Kite, two Hobby, two Grasshopper Warbler, appearing in the middle of their expected narrow window on 20th, two Redstart and a Whinchat. Other migrants included a Puffin on 15th, Merlin, Purple Sandpiper and Ruff on 17th and two pulses of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, peaking at 230 on 27th. The only rarity during the month was a drake Garganey on the Main Pond on 12th.

Garganey - Lee Collins


The 2nd saw a brief Black Guillemot offshore, the 11th site record and the first since 2013. Other highlights on the sea included a Balearic Shearwater on 2nd and a Black-throated Diver on 11th. However it was otherwise a quiet month offshore with paragliders often outnumbering Sandwich Tern, the monthly peak of 30 was the lowest ever. A handful of Arctic and Little Tern were recorded but it was another blank Spring for Roseate Tern. These low numbers presumably influenced the poor Skua showing with just single Pomarine and six Arctic Skua.

The highlight was unexpected due to the lack of migrants, a male Red-backed Shrike on the 8th. Only the third record in the last 20 years and the first male since 1989.

Red-backed Shrike - Lee Collins

Other notable records included a Sedge Warbler holding territory for the first time since 1990, 10 Red Kite on 13th, the only Spring Spotted Flycatcher on 26th and a Rose-coloured Starling on 31st, the eighth site record but the first in Spring.

 Rose-coloured Starling - Simon Thurgood


A quiet month with a few late migrants including a Willow Warbler on the 3rd and an Osprey on the 14th; a Cuckoo on the same date was however probably already heading south along with a Siskin on 17th and the first returning Willow Warbler on 30th.

Stonechat - Alan Keatley

Other records included a summer plumaged Great Northern Diver mid month, two summering Eider and the resident Slavonian Grebe.


The start of the month saw more autumn migrants in the shape of a Green Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover on the 4th with the overdue first Roseate Tern of the year the next day. In a poor year for this species the only other record was on the 21st. Numbers of gulls, terns and waders increased through the month with the first of six juvenile Yellow-legged Gull on 9th and a record passage of Mediterranean Gull later in the month peaking at a minimum of 96 on 28th. Ringing recoveries showed many of these came from breeding colonies in the Solent.

Mediterranean Gull - Dave Jewell

Other records included the first Garden Warbler of the year on the 19th, a Nuthatch on 26-27th, an Osprey on 28th and 10 Storm Petrel and a Sooty Shearwater, both firsts for the year, next day.


The first Marsh Harrier of the year, a juvenile, passed through on the 3rd, an elusive Pied Flycatcher arrived the next day and become the first ever to remain overnight. The only Treecreeper of the year arrived the same day, remaining for three weeks.

Wader passage included three adult Curlew Sandpiper, a Little Stint, at least three Little Ringed Plover and two Ruff, with at least five Yellow-legged Gull, nine Little and two Black Tern during the month.

 Little Tern - Alan Keatley

Black Tern - Lee Collins

Passage offshore included a Sooty Shearwater on the 12th, the same day as four large shearwater sp and the peak count of 19 Balearic Shearwater. Skua numbers remained low with just 13 Arctic and four Pomarine during the month.

The month's highlight was seen from Exmouth when a flock of seven Cattle Egret flew over early morning on the 19th, only the second site record. Other notable records included a Great White Egret that flew east distantly offshore on the 9th, later seen at several sites in Dorset, an unseasonal Velvet Scoter flew through the bay on the 26th and the first returning group of seven Wigeon were in the estuary the next day. A Citrine Wagtail was briefly in the Bight on the 23rd, potentially the first for the Warren, but remained as 'one that got away'.


The highlight was an elusive Wryneck on 8-16th but it was generally a quiet month for migrants. Numbers included a good total of nine Whinchat with four Spotted Flycatcher, two Garden Warbler, two Redstart and a Grasshopper Warbler.

 Whinchat - Alan Keatley

Spotted Flycatcher - Simon Thurgood

Other records included a Short-eared Owl on the 27th, a juvenile Marsh Harrier the next day and totals of 18 Balearic Shearwater, a flock of 11 Avocet, three Curlew Sandpiper, three Little Gull, just two Arctic Skua, two Storm Petrel and two Black Tern.


Due to Climate Change, many of the month's highlights may turn out to be regular visitors in future. The fourth site record of Red-crested Pochard was in the estuary with Wigeon on the 9th, it was followed by the ninth site record of Cetti's Warbler on the 17th, six Great White Egret over on the 18th, five of which had been tracked west through Dorset, and the third site record of Cattle Egret, a flock of at least four the next day. A juvenile Barred Warbler on the 18th was the ninth site record, but is a species getting rarer, this was the first since 2011.

Barred Warbler - Luke Harman

Other scarcities included two Black-throated Diver early in the month, only one Yellow-browed Warbler on the 17th, a White-fronted Goose over next day, the only Black-necked Grebe of the year on 29th and four Barnacle Geese on 30th.

Visible migration highlights included a new site record of 1304 Jackdaw west on 20th, a Crossbill on 22nd and a Yellowhammer on 18th with two the next day. A Merlin lingered for a few days late month and a total of four Short-eared Owl were recorded.

Merlin - Lee Collins

Peak vis mig counts included 11,560 Wood Pigeon west on 27th, 315 Skylark on 18th, 225 Goldfinch on the same day, just 80 Chaffinch on 31st, 63 Greenfinch on 23rd and 28 Siskin on the 3rd. Monthly tallies included 18 Redpoll and just four Brambling.


The main news was the loss of the path along the Dune Ridge following storms overnight on the 6-7th, this has reduced access to the hide and Warren Point and remains a continuing issue.

Although often considered one of the best periods of the year, the early autumn reduced the amount of passage during the month. The only Black Redstart of the year on the 5th was the highlight, with two Firecrest on 23-24th the only autumn record.

Other sightings included a new site record of 12 Cirl Bunting, a Black-throated Diver on the 1st, two Pomarine Skua on the 7th, a Purple Sandpiper on the 8th, two Woodcock on 24th and the Cetti's Warbler on a couple of occasions.

Purple Sandpiper - Lee Collins

Overhead a very late Common Swift on the 17th was the stand out record, but also moving mid month peaks of 802 Redwing, 148 Chaffinch and 115 Fieldfare; also overhead there were four Mistle Thrush, four Brambling and a Swallow 


The year ended quietly with five Avocet on the 15th, the elusive Cetti's Warbler, two Firecrest, a long-staying pair of Coal Tit and the resident Slavonian Grebe.

Cirl Bunting - Alan Keatley

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