Thursday 31 December 2020

Thursday 31st December

Crisp clear conditions, with increasing signs of winter as the smaller ponds remained frozen over all day. Other than the lingering Redwing there was no real sign of any cold weather movement, but the site record of 14 Cirl Bunting may well be weather related. 

Counts from the estuary included a winter high 436 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 301 Teal, 161 Knot, 163 Grey and 37 Ringed Plover, 138 Bar and two Black-tailed Godwit, 106 Shelduck, 34 Wigeon and six Greenshank. The bushes still held a Firecrest, two Coal Tit and four Chiffchaff, whilst the Siskin flock had increased to 12. 

Offshore seven Red-throated Diver but no sign of the Black-necked Grebe today, Great-crested Grebe however had increased to 66 birds. 

Wildlife News: A Harbour Porpoise was offshore.


Wildlife Review 2020: Bugs & Beetles

Bugs

A distinct group of insects encompassing species as diverse as water boatmen, aphids and froghoppers. A total of 62 species, including 21 new for the Recording Area, were seen this year.

Capsodes sulcatus, a plant bug - Alan Keatley

The new species found this year came from several different families, some such as the Potato Leafhopper Eupteryx aurata and Birch Catkin Bug Kleidocerys resedae are widespread, but others were more scarce, often restricted to certain foodplants. These included Meadowsweet Leafhopper Macrosteles septemnotatus, Sand Sedge Planthopper Kelisia sabulicola, the plant bug Orthotylus moncreaffi and the beet bug Parapiesma quadratuma, both of which feed on Sea Purslane. 

The ant mimic Pithanus maerkelii was also a new species as were the lace bug Physatocheila dumetarum and Delicate Apple Capsid bug Malacocris chlorizans.

Cicadella viridis, a leafhopper - Alan Keatley

A cross selection of commoner bugs recorded included Green Gorse, Birch and Sloe Shieldbug, the leafhopper Cicadella viridisNettle Ground Bug Heterogaster urticae, the 'Radio Mic' bug Heterotoma planicornis and Common Froghopper Philaenus spumarius; the 'Cuckoo spit' producing bug. Dock Bug Coreus marginatus had a good year but their large size and relatively slow movements meant they were much enjoyed by the long staying one-eyed Melodious Warbler. 

Heterotoma planicornis, a plant bug - Alan Keatley

Other species recorded included Common Dogwood-grass Aphid Anoecia corni, new to site, Giant Willow Aphid Tuberolachnus salignus, Italian Alder Aphid Crypturaphis grassi and the psyllids Trioza alacris and centranthi, on Bay and Red Valerian respectively.

Common Dogwood-grass Aphid - Alan Keatley

Beetles

This year a further nine new beetles were added to the list, a challenge as the Recording Group are not permitted to take specimens for identification. This brings the overall beetle species total to 245, so plenty more to be found.  

Scarce 7-spotted Ladybird - Steve Fuller

Although there were just a few new species there were some exceptional finds, in particular two new ladybirds recorded; Adonis Ladybird Hippodamia variegata and Scarce 7-spotted Ladybird Coccinella magnifica. These nationally scarce species were both found on 6 July on the sea wall amongst an influx of 7-spot and 11-spot Ladybird.

Adonis Ladybird - Steve Fuller

Another exciting find was one of Britain’s largest beetles, the Variable Longhorn Stenocorus meridianus on 11 June , by contrast one of the smallest, Sphaeroderma testaceum, a flea beetle, was found on 10 November, both new for site.

Variable Longhorn - Alan Keatley

The other new beetles were Aphodius prodromusa dung beetle, on 1 March, Heather Beetle Lochmaea sutralis on 1 May, Rose Chafer Cetonia aurana on 22 July, Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus on 26 August and Rough Strawberry Root Weevil Otiorhynchus rugosostriatus on 13 September.

Aphodius prodromus - Alan Keatley

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Wednesday 30th December

The Black-necked Grebe reappeared off the seawall amongst 60 Great-crested Grebe, with six Red-throated and two Great Northern Diver offshore. In the estuary 296 Teal, 275 Dark-bellied Brent Geese, 132 Knot, 106 Shelduck, 84 Bar-tailed Godwit, 67 Redshank, 11 Red-breasted Merganser, just eight Wigeon and the Slavonian Grebe.

Elsewhere a Mistle Thrush flew inland, a Redwing and 11 Siskin were also new, three Chiffchaff remained in the bushes and two Coal Tit were around the feeders.


Tuesday 29 December 2020

Wildlife Review 2020: Dragonflies & Damselflies

The season started in May with the emergence of Blue-tailed and Azure Damselfly. A Broad-bodied Chaser on 18 May continued the recent run of records for a species that used to breed on all the ponds in the past. 

Amongst the regular breeders; Emperor Dragonfly frequented the ponds and meadows from 25 May to 6 September; the first Southern Hawker appeared on 24 June and they were seen sporadically until 26 September. First seen on 11 July, Migrant Hawker were numerous, frequently seen around the ponds occasionally pairing up and ovipositing, the last sighting was on 7 November. 

Migrant Hawker - Alan Keatley

Never common on site there were three of sightings of Golden-winged Dragonfly this year, all in July. The outstanding sighting of the year was the first record of Lesser Emperor when a female was seen near the Main Pond on 3 August, the 26th species for the Recording Area.

Always the last species to emerge Common Darter were late with the first on the wing on 13 August, and they were seen in much lower numbers this year. A few pairs were still being recorded in early November and there was an exceptionally late sighting on 4 December.

Common Darter - Alan Keatley

Dawlish Warren Dragonflies & Damselflies



Tuesday 29th December

Similar fayre to recent days with 48 Great Crested Grebe now offshore plus another three in the estuary; five Red-throated Diver, single-figures of Gannet, Kittiwake and Razorbill, and the imm Great Northern Diver stationed, as usual, close offshore from Warren Point.   

Low tide during daylight hours and the usual selection of waterbirds were out on the mudflats and in the channels, including three-figures of Shelduck, Teal and a few Wigeon.  Out on the exposed sandflats offshore and along the beach, only a single Lesser Black-backed Gull was noted among diminished numbers of late of c.305 Herring Gull.

As usual, small numbers of mixed tits, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Bullfinch and single Redwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinch in the trees, with at least a dozen mobile Siskin that sometimes mixed with up to 44 Goldfinch and 19 Greenfinch


Monday 28 December 2020

Monday 28th December

More-or-less full coverage dawn to dusk today in demanding conditions with a bitterly cold and strong north-northwesterly with rain at the start.  High tides were during hours of darkness, so despite the effort there was little to report.

Offshore, 48 Great Crested Grebe (plus 3 in the estuary); four auk spp. and the Great Northern Diver.  Four Mallard, including the domestic thing, two Shoveler and a Little Grebe were on Main Pond and the flooded area by the Visitor Centre (VC).  Single-figures of tits, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Bullfinch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were in the woods and 14 Siskin commuted with some Goldfinch between Entrance Bushes and the mainland, as they have been doing for some time now. About 50 Goldfinch and c.30 Greenfinch moved around the site.  Selected other sightings today were eight Cirl Bunting, a Peregrine and a Kestrel

Small gulls descended onto the estuary corner waters to roost at dusk and counts were 204 Black-headed Gull and 68 Common Gull. At least 300 Dark-bellied Brent Goose commuted between flooded and unplayable parts of the golf course and Eastdon Fields.   

Wildlife Review 2020: Spiders and Harvestmen

Spiders

A total of 46 species were recorded this year including no fewer than 14 new species for the Warren. 

A survey failed to find Euophrys herbigrada, a small jumping spider that occurs at only six other UK sites and was last recorded here in 1995. However it did reveal 10 new species to the Warren and nine not recorded for over 25 years. One of the new records was Royal Theridion Kochiura aulica, a Nationally Scarce B species associated with Gorse.

Other news species recorded during the year included the Green Crab Spider Didea dorsata and the impressive Green-fanged Tube Spider Segestria florentina.

Nursery-web Spider - Alan Keatley

Commoner spiders included an early Nursery-web Spider Pisaura mirabilis on 1 February and the first Zebra Jumping Spider Salticus scenicus on 2 March. Other spiders in evidence from mid-May included the wolf spiders Pardosa  monticola, nigripes and pullata, the Bleeding Heart Spider Nigma puella and the crab spider Xysticus kochi. 

Zebra Jumping Spider - Alan Keatley

Later in the year Copper Sunjumper Heliophanus cupreus and large numbers of the Garden Orbweaver Araneus diadematus were found.

Unfortunately after a 20 year presence there were no reports of Wasp Spider Argiope bruennichi this year, a spider that had become a late summer feature on site. The loss of areas of longer vegetation overwinter has impacted heavily on this species and many other invertebrates. 

Another potentially lost spider is the Dune Jumper Marpissa nivoyi, a nationally scarce A species at its only south Devon site, the rapidly increased erosion has removed the majority of its known habitat. Both species are priorities for monitoring next year. 

Harvestmen

Six species were recorded including Dicranopalpus ramosusLeiobunum rotundum, Phalangium opilio and the introduced species Opilio canestrinii, only the fifth Devon record.

Leiobunum rotundum - Alan Keatley

Sunday 27 December 2020

Wildlife Review 2020: Mammals

Usually little change in sightings year on year, but 2020 through up a couple of unexpected sightings. The most surprising being the confirmed presence of Hedgehog on site with a report from the Buffer Zone and regular sightings from the Golf Course; the first confirmed sightings since the 1990s. 

Stoat - Alan Keatley

Stoat were seen on a couple of occasions, with one enticed into the open by making a squeaking noise. No sightings or positive evidence of Weasel, Otter or fortunately Mink were found this year. At least two successful Fox dens were on site, but sightings were confined mainly to dawn and dusk although their tracks are always in evident along the beach and remaining Dune Ridge. Overnight on 18 Apr a Badger left tracks along the Dune Ridge at Warren Point, the first record for several years.

The presence of small mammals was more obvious this year, possibly taking advantage of quieter periods during Covid restrictions. Several Wood Mouse were seen in the open in Greenland Lake with the occasional Common Shrew noted running across paths. Not unusually, a dead Water Shrew, found near the Main Pond and a dead Pygmy Shrew in Skipper Meadow were the only evidence of their presence on site. 

Brown Rat were only occasionally seen around the car park and Amusements, but 'Ratty' the Water Vole is now well established with frequent sightings or signs of their presence noted and one was even predated by a Kestrel. Early mornings from the Main Pond viewing platform presents the best opportunity of seeing them.

Perhaps due to the drier Spring, fewer fresh molehills were found at Mole's only location onsite, by Funder Park, indicating a probable reduction in numbers.


Rabbit - Alan Keatley

Rabbit numbers, and therefore the required grazing pressure, continue to suffer, with the ever present myxomatosis, several seen infected by this disease. This in itself may not significantly affect the numbers, the presence of two strains of viral haemorrhage disease (VHD) has a far greater affect in reducing the overall population. The only bat species confirmed this year was, not unexpectedly, Common Pipistrelle.

Away from the land a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin on 15 July and at least 11 on 25 December, were rare occurrences in recent years, with Common Dolphin noted on 15 August. Harbour Porpoise were noted infrequently at both ends of the year.

Grey Seal - Alan Keatley

Grey Seal remains a common sight in the estuary or offshore, with one or two present almost throughout, often hauled out on a barge or sandbank. In contrast there were only two sightings of Common Seal, in Apr and Dec, the first records since the resident individual was last recorded in 2018.


Sunday 27th December

 'Storm Belle' made the headlines today with widespread flooding in Britain and damaging winds of up to 106 mph (recorded at The Needles, Isles of Wight). Parts of southwest England were on Met Office 'amber alert' status last night.  This was a really deep depression at 956 mb which on average only occurs every few years in Britain. At Exmouth, winds reached 67 mph, heavy rain fell throughout the early hours and had cleared through by about 08:30.  The rest of the day was quite pleasant.  Damage on site was negligible with only small branches down and a little more floodwater.  A dead Kittiwake on the golf course was the only possible victim found.  

Offshore was predictably uneventful since Dawlish Warren tends not to do well in westerlies.  During the first 1¼ of light pasage moved south, 108 auk spp. (with a Guillemot bias); 94 Gannet, nine Kittiwake, five Common Scoter, five Red-throated Diver, three Great Northern Diver and three more diver spp., and 30 Great Crested Grebe bobbed about on the choppy waters.

Main Pond and surrounding flooded areas had four Water Rail, four Mallard (including the domestic drake thing) and three Shoveler.  At dusk, c.360 Starling roosted. 

The sun came out and in the woods foraged the usual single-figures of tits, Goldcrest and Chiffchaff with brief views of a 'grey chiffchaff' probably the Siberian Chiffchaff; two each of Song Thrush, Siskin, Bullfinch and a Redwing.  Commuting between the depleted bird-feeders and Greenland Lake were flocks of 58 Goldfinch and 32 Greenfinch  

During the early evening high tide, 4-figures of Dunlin, high 3-figures of Oystercatcher and 425 Dark-bellied Brent Goose descended on site, a big count for December here. Of these 24 were juveniles (5.6%). Interestingly, all 10 juv of 347 birds (2.9%) that were in The Bight were around the flock and waterline margins, and a disproportionately large 14 juv of 78 birds (17.9%) were on the adjacent flooded 7th fairway grazing.  Sub-flocks that contain significantly different proportions of juveniles can persist over-winter and this is influenced by social status.  Aware that this evening's observation was just a snapshot, the greater proportion of juveniles on the grassland habitat and generally around the edges of those sub-flocks reflects findings of studies on this species, e.g. Lambeck (1989) and Lambeck (1990).  This emphasises the importance of taking multiple counts of sub-groups in different habitats to calculate an accurate breeding productivity percentage. 

Other counts were c.230 Black-headed Gull, 153 Grey Plover, 133 Bar-tailed Godwit, 122 Shelduck, 113 Knot, 48 Turnstone, 35 Ringed Plover, 33 Redshank, 14 Shag (estuary), nine Great Black-backed Gull, eight Red-breasted Merganser, two Mute Swan, two more Great Crested Grebe, ♀ Goldeneye, the Slavonian Grebe, adult Mediterranean Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull, and the female Scaup continued its stay accompanying wildfowl tight to the saltmarsh edge.

Saturday 26 December 2020

Wildlife Review 2020: Reptiles, Amphibians & Fish

Reptiles

Common and Sand Lizard numbers were difficult to gauge this year as the Spring emergence from hibernation was largely missed, and sightings thereafter were few. The possible presence of the introduced Sand Lizard prevented essential repairs to the 'coastal defences' in December. 

After the removal and burning of the only known site hibernaculum, there were unfortunately no Slow-worm records this year. 

Amphibians

Toad - Alan Keatley

Some lethargic and dead Common Toad were again found in flooded areas during early winter, the cause remains unknown. Few toadlets were seen this year but numbers were still higher than recently. 

A single Common Frog was in Greenland Lake on 22 Jul. This species has a chequered history on site with past records possibly relating to deliberate releases instead of a natural occurrence, this was the first record for several years. No newt records were received this year.

Fish

The big surprise, in more ways than one, was a Bluefin Tuna entering the estuary on 16 September. This was a first for the Recording Area, with increased sightings in Lyme Bay it will probably not the last, but the next is more likely offshore. 

Fisherman report another poor year offshore, especially for Bass, blaming the changes on the 2018 works. Beachcombing revealed eggcases of Thornback Ray and Lesser-spotted Dogfish.

Saturday 26th December (Boxing Day)

On a mild overcast day with a moderate westerly, there was a light passage of c.30 Gannet, 30+ auk spp., eight Red-throated Diver and five Kittiwake first thing this morning.  Also offshore, 40 Great Crested Grebe, a flock of 19 Common Scoter and the regular Great Northern Diver.

A pair of Shoveler on Main Pond, single-figures of Mallard, Moorhen and Water Rail also, and the Little Grebe carried weed in what appeared to be premature and no doubt short-lived bout of nest-building activity.  At dusk, the murmuration was  c.400 Starling; a cross-check against photos, if possible, will check accuracy. 

Similar range of birds in the woods to recent weeks with a dozen Long-tailed Tit, eight Blue Tit, five Great Tit and a Coal Tit. Also nine Goldcrest, four Siskin, three Chaffinch, a pair of Bullfinch, two Song Thrush and still the Siberian Chiffchaff and Firecrest beside Butterfly Ride area again.  New in were two Redwing, the first since 8th Nov.  A flock of 60+ Goldfinch roamed around site; also 12 Linnet, eight Greenfinch and six Cirl Bunting

The 3.1 metre 15:50 tide (Exmouth Docks gauge) saw waders arrive before dark to  collect mostly around The Bight and were 1,824 Dunlin, c.975 Oystercatcher, 128 Grey Plover, c.95 Knot, 88 Bar-tailed Godwit, 62 Curlew, 36 Ringed Plover and 24 Sanderling.  The five Greenshank roosted on the saltmarsh edge opposite 17th tee, as usual; and two-figure counts of Turnstone and Redshank were also present.  Wildfowl in the estuary included 62 Dark-bellied Brent Goose with another 262 in Eastdon Fields that flew down from Starcross direction; 152 Teal, 121 Shelduck (with another 30 or so off Exmouth); 18 Wigeon, seven Red-breasted Merganser, two Mute Swan and the female Scaup still present. Of c.25 Great Black-backed Gull, two were regularly seen colour-ringed - P.87B has been recorded >130 times here since Oct 2015, after it was ringed a pullus on Portland breakwater in June 2015. It was first seen this season on 11 Aug after a long absence, later than in any previous season, although this year it matured into an adult so perhaps it was on a breeding site.  The other bird, JT288 has been recorded here >55 times.  This bird was ringed as a pullus at Knibringen, Strand, Rogaland, NORWAY in July 2014.  It's first sighting this season was on 16th September. For more details see 'ringing reports', e.g. 2019.

Friday 25 December 2020

Wildlife Review 2020: Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies

All of the regular Spring butterflies were seen, such as CommaGreen-veined WhiteHolly Blue and Orange-tip, the latter having a better year at least.

Small Tortoiseshell - Alan Keatley

There were a trickle of Wall Brown sightings between May and September, as the species retains a tenuous hold to the Warren. Scarce on site, the only Brimstone was seen on 8 August. Small Tortoiseshell had its best year in a long time with several sightings from 25 June. Brown Argus were difficult to find during hot spells of weather and were only seen in ones or twos. Rarely seen on site, on 31 July there was a record of a Silver-washed Fritillary.

Brimstone - Alan Keatley

Other species like Meadow Brown, Common Blue and Small Copper were recorded regularly in usual numbers and Gatekeeper were very numerous. Both Small and Large Skipper were down and only a few Marbled White and Ringlet were seen. However several Peacock caterpillar nests were found indicating a good breeding year and emphasising the importance of Nettle as a food plant.

The standout sighting of the year though was the second site record of the rare migrant Long-tailed Blue on 9 August. This mirrors other sightings along the English Channel coast at the same time. 

Amongst other migrants Painted Lady were notably scarce with only four well spread sightings, in contrast it was an exceptional year for Clouded Yellow with multiple sightings from June onwards. Double figures were seen on several days, and sightings continued into October. 

Clouded Yellow - Alan Keatley

Red Admiral had a long season passing through in steady, but not substantial numbers until November, however both Small and Large White moved through in good numbers this year.

Dawlish Warren Butterflies

Moths

No light trapping took place this year but just over 100 species were still recorded, with eight species added to the Warren list. Remarkably amongst these was the first record of the Nationally Scarce Red-tipped Clearwing, with one found nectaring on Water Mint on 1 August. 

Red-tipped Clearwing - Alan Keatley

More expected newcomers included Fox Moth, Orange-spot Piercer Pammene aurana, Oak Carl Tischeria ekebladella, Gorse Midget Phyllonorycter ulicicolella and Mottled Umber, bringing the Dawlish Warren Recording Area total to 672 species.

Mottled Umber

The day flying migrant Silver Y started to appear from mid May, with steady numbers through to October; a large influx on 13 June was alongside exceptional numbers of migrant hoverflies. Smaller numbers of Rusty-dot Pearl and Rush Veneer were noted with a Vestal on 16 September.

Dawlish Warren Moths

Devon Moth Group article

Friday 25th December (Christmas Day)


sunrise on Christmas Day - Ivan Lakin

For those whose festive break plans to see family and friends were scuppered by movement restrictions in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was some consolation in the form of a glorious morning that broke with bright tangerine skies that drew many onlookers with phone cameras to the seawall and welcome in the new day. Calm, crisp and clear; the sea was flat and floating about on it were 47 Great Crested Grebe (with another in the estuary); three Red-throated Diver, three Razorbill, the same imm Great Northern Diver and a Gannet.  With minus temperatures overnight across much of the country, some waterbirds were on the move with >100 Dunlin in off, seven Pintail (plus a pair in the estuary corner), some Dark-bellied Brent Goose, seven Wigeon, three Teal and a Shoveler all in off during the first hour of daylight.

Perched on seawall was the colour-ringed '632' Scandinavian Rock Pipit and another two un-ringed birds foraged in The Bight; only one petrosus Rock Pipit was seen today. 

Main Pond saw the return of five Shoveler; also two ♂ Mallard and a few Water Rail and Moorhen.  The Siberian Chiffchaff and a Firecrest were along Butterfly Ride/ Dead Dolphin Wood, and also in the woods was a high count of nine Great Tit plus single-figures of other tits, four colybita Chiffchaff, four Goldcrest, three Chaffinch, two Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Sparrowhawk and a Bullfinch.

Most of yesterday's Greenfinch were absent but 45+ Goldfinch were still present and mobile with at least four Siskin with them.  Two Raven and two Rook cruised overhead.

The tide took its time to rise and despite recent rains, observed height was for the most part less than predicted due to the dominant anticyclone (centre is 1042 mb).   Some 315 Dark-bellied Brent Goose were off Starcross but only 18 or so were within the site boundary today; another 152 Teal, another 13 Wigeon, six Red-breasted Merganser and the female Scaup was again present in the estuary corner.  On the rising tide were 103 Turnstone, 43 Redshank, seven Sanderling, five Greenshank and larger numbers of regular waders.  A Curlew with blue, yellow and black colour-rings was a locally ringed individual.  Among the gulls were c.320 Black-headed Gull, 25 Common Gull, six Great Black-backed Gull and an adult Mediterranean Gull

Wildlife news: distinctly smaller individuals (juveniles?) in a pod of 11 Bottlenose Dolphin leapt acrobatically clean out of the water at times and frenzied breaching as a tight group, back and forth across the bay this morning, seemed to involve hunting fish and social interaction. 

Merry Christmas to all.

not exactly a snow-covered shovel-handle, but it is an obligatory Robin




Thursday 24 December 2020

Thursday 24th December

A brief sleety shower made this the 18th consecutive day with precipitation and the the wintry feel was curtesy of a stiff north-northwesterly. This limited interest offshore to a dozen Great Crested Grebe, two Red-throated Diver, and the regular Great Northern Diver and drake Eider close offshore from Warren Point.  A pair of Shoveler returned to Main Pond; there, on Entrance Pond and on flooded areas were single-figures of Moorhen, Water Rail, two Mallard and two Common Snipe.  Around their margins were most of the six Meadow Pipit and four Pied Wagtail.

Woodland and scrub hosted 13 Long-tailed Tit, c.10 Blue Tit, five Great Tit, five Goldcrest, two Coal Tit, three Chaffinch, three Chiffchaff, two Bullfinch, two Song Thrush (one a singing ♂); one of the Firecrest and a ♂ Great Spotted Woodpecker.  Some of these birds and some of the mobile finches, which included increases of up to 45 Greenfinch and c.50 Goldfinch on site, made use of the bird feeders.  In more open areas were six Stonechat, six Cirl Bunting, five Skylark (on Warren Point, as usual) and a ♂ Kestrel.  Also seen, a Peregrine with prey flew toward Exmouth.

High spring tides are not always the best time to count all varieties of waterbirds here and instead neap tides and mid tides ranges can be a good time to attain representative counts of wildfowl before they melt into the saltmarsh to hide, or before they depart to roost or forage elsewhere.  Counts late morning included 169 Black-headed Gull (including those that departed south at dawn); 126 Turnstone (a December record); 159 Shelduck (a new site record count - see 13th December post), 76+ Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 51 Teal, 51 Common Gull, 34 Curlew, 22 Cormorant, 19 Redshank, 11 Shag (including a few seen offshore), eight Red-breasted Merganser, seven Wigeon, six Greenshank, another seven Great Crested Grebe, an adult Mediterranean Gull; the other Little Grebe that has befriended the resident Slavonian Grebe; the ♀ Scaup again on the near estuary shoreline; a Mute Swan and a Little Egret.  Another ten were in close attendance around the hooves of grazing cattle in Eastdon Fields, but they weren't Cattle Egret.   

The December record count of 126 Turnstone today was 'completely out of the park' with the previous record of 95 set back in 1987.  Initially, this might suggest a lack of attention given to this species but there have been 325 December count since 1980, and instead the answer is a little more interesting. Turnstone is unique in its habits on this estuary compared to other waders in that the majority roost at high tide along the Starcross breakwater, located only 1,100 metres north beyond Dawlish Warren's northern recording area boundary.  Three-figure counts are regular there from early-autumn to early-spring; by contrast, just a stone's throw away, over the past four decades there have been only about 24 counts of >100 Turnstone at Dawlish Warren.  However, another five such counts have occurred during 2020 alone - so what's changed?  The pattern of records here show that huge counts occur erratically, implying opportunism. Evidence of eutrophication (perhaps agricultural run-off or sewerage overflow) has been prevalent on the estuary since the summer with large piles of green algae piling up along the shoreline during certain states of tide and wind direction; Turnstone seem to like it and instead of pebble flipping elsewhere, a large proportion of the estuary's Turnstone descended along Dawlish Warren's neap tide waterline today, during what was a fresh northerly, and on the day after heavy rains brought lots of organic material down the river to mix up with still lots of algae.  Together, these conspiring factors created, it seems, the perfect set of conditions to attract Turnstone to the site today.    

Scaup - Alan Keatley


Wednesday 23 December 2020

Wednesday 23rd December

In unsettled conditions, a first-winter Glaucous Gull appeared in the estuary corner just after 09:00 where it was mobile and only remained for about 15 minutes before it flew WSW over the railway and disappeared inland. It was, surprisingly, successfully twitched, which served as a reminder that running for a bird can make all the difference between dipping and scoring.  The female Scaup was also still present along the golf course shoreline so remains difficult to see from publicly accessible viewpoints.  

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Tuesday 22nd December

Of the few casual waterbirds counts made, 143 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 20 Wigeon and 18 Teal were likely to be genuine reflection of diminishing numbers in those species since, as is their established pattern, the majority of the estuary's populations move up the estuary at this time of the winter to flooded grazing meadows.  Also noted, two Mute Swan flew in from the south; two Little Egret, the Slavonian Grebe and the ♀ Scaup again. Offshore, some of the 19 Great Crested Grebe, two Razorbill and Red-throated Diver.  Two Collared Dove that crossed over the railway line into the site boundary airspace from the village were first to do so since 10th October.   

Sunday 20 December 2020

Sunday 20th December

Apart from the incessant pervasive cacophony of yapping dogs all day, it was lovely out with a lighter than predicted westerly, prolonged sunshine and temperature that rose to just shy of 11°C. The conveniently timed and moderately high morning tide additionally leant to the favourable conditions for waterbird counts in the estuary and a full set (except Herring Gull) was achieved. The run down was - 1,592 Dunlin, 760 Oystercatcher with another 57 in Eastdon Fields; 188 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 172 Knot, 169 Grey Plover, 124 Shelduck, 100 Bar-tailed Godwit, 47 Common Gull, 48 Teal, 42 Common Snipe plus a Jack Snipe in the saltmarsh; 39+ Turnstone, 38 Redshank, 35 Ringed Plover, 31 Cormorant, 29 Black-headed Gull, 20 Curlew, half of which dropped in from foraging on Eastdon Fields; just 15 Wigeon, 12 Great Black-backed Gull, ten Sanderling, eight Red-breasted Merganser, six Canada Goose, four Shag, four Great Crested Grebe, three Greenshank, three Little Egret, two Grey Heron, a Kingfisher and the Slavonian Grebe joined up with a Little Grebe.

The highlight was yesterday's ♀/imm Scaup, which was again present in the estuary corner and moved further out so may be possible to see, at times, from publicly accessible viewpoints. 

A perplexing large larid stood on Finger Point was momentarily thought to be a 4 or 5 cy Yellow-legged Gull but on closer inspection was considered to be a hybrid of sorts, perhaps Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Close offshore, another ten Great Crested Grebe, a few Gannet, the Great Northern Diver again close off Warren Point with the ♂ Eider, and a Red-throated Diver.

The Siberian Chiffchaff was calling in Entrance Bushes and likely the same bird seen near the hide, exactly 1 km NNE away, where twice seen before so this bird does range.  In addition, six regular type Chiffchaff, and also in the trees and scrub were ten Long-tailed Tit, eight Blue Tit, four Great Tit, three Goldcrest, two Bullfinch, a Coal Tit, a Chaffinch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A flock of nine Cirl Bunting took advantage of an abandoned tee on part of the golf course not in play today due to flooding. Other notables were six Stonechat and two each of Scandinavian Rock Pipit (un-ringed) and petrosus Rock Pipit and a Water Pipit at an inaccessible location; a Sparrowhawk, a Song Thrush and a Rook overhead. 

Wildlife news: a Common Seal swam almost up as far as Eales Dock, flushing some duck; and a Buff-tailed Bumblebee was disappointed to land on a blue flag that wasn't a flower, though many plants do still remain in bloom.