Saturday 31 October 2020

Saturday 31st October

Total coverage from pre-dawn to post-dusk amounted to 10.5 hours solid birding for one of the five birders on site today. The day began with Storm Aiden that lashed down with gale force SSE until 10:30. The 'full house' for gales in last night's shipping forecast (below) instigated a 4.5 hour seawatch that was particularly rewarding. Everything detailed flew S or SSW down the coast, unless otherwise stated.

copy of Met Office shipping forecast map - acknowledgement and thanks to Met Office

An adult (or 2cy) Sabine's Gull flew through with a flock of Kittiwake 'mid-far' distance at 08:40. A small adult (male?) pale phase Pomarine Skua spent a few minutes close in and at one point flew over the seawall. A European Storm-petrel flew in toward the seawall at 09:50. And the last major highlight was after the rains had passed, a Sooty Shearwater passed at 10:55 some way out. The count of 598 Kittiwake was big and only surpassed about a dozen times here in recorded history. By contrast, 44 Gannet and single-figures each of Razorbill and Guillemot were remarkably poor.  Also, 21 Common Scoter, seven Great Northern Diver, five Red-throated Diver (plus a diver sp.) and a Great Skua. Small number of Oystercatcher, Curlew, a Bar-tailed Godwit and small number of mixed gulls struggled through, including an adult Mediterranean Gull.

Conditions flipped late morning to become pleasantly calm with warm sunshine. Perhaps due to no burning today, wooded areas were productive with a roaming flock that contained most of the 23 Blue Tit, 15 Long-tailed Tit, three Great Tit and two Coal Tit; the individual seen well was the britannicus British-race. Also four Chiffchaff, two Goldcrest and a Firecrest. A couple of Chaffinch and single Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch were also recorded.

Most finches appear to have migrated a few days ago and there remained only about 20 Goldfinch, six Greenfinch and a Siskin flew over. On the Main Pond, a Mallard and a Little Grebe.

The incoming evening high tide brought in a four-figure count of Wigeon but still no sign of the American Wigeon. Some counts were conducted and the best of these was 154 Turnstone, the highest count here since January 1989, many foraged on piles of green algae that have accumulated on mudflats out from Railway Saltmarsh. Larger counts regularly occur at their main roost on the old harbour wall at Starcross, located a little to the north of the recording area. Other counts were 359 Dark-bellied Brent Goose with two Pale-bellied Brent Goose with them; 243 Redshank, c.215 Dunlin, 184 Teal, 160 Great Black-backed Gull (including ten on the seawatch), c.40 Knot, 37 Curlew (including 13 on the seawatch), 35 Shelduck, 18 Mute Swan, c.13 Ringed Plover, seven Sanderling, five Greenshank, another four Mallard, four Lesser Black-backed Gull (including two on the seawatch), three Little Egret, two Grey Heron, two Black-tailed Godwit; also the Slavonian Grebe, the drake Eider and single Great Crested Grebe, another Little Grebe, Pintail, Red-breasted Merganser, Kingfisher and presumably the same Whimbrel. Earlier in the day, two Peregine hunted over the estuary.

In the evening around The Bight, the pre-roost flock reached 22 Linnet; a typical count of late. Of the two or three Rock Pipit present, one was the colour-ringed Scandinavian Rock Pipit.

Wildlife news: brief views of a large, butter-white and black checkered-patterned butterfly that flew out across the beach and lost from view looked very interesting but, sadly, was lost and unidentified. More standard fayre were a Speckled Wood along a wooded edge and a Migrant Hawker over the Main Pond.

Friday 30 October 2020

Friday 30th October

With sunrise here at 07:02 and sunset at 16:51 GMT, and with Exmouth Docks high tides at 05:41 and 17:54, birding to cover both tides was still just about achievable today as daylight around this season continues to shorten by about 3 minutes per day.  A full set of waterbird counts was attempted, 1,675 Wigeon, 800+ Oystercatcher, 730+ Herring Gull, 412 Dunlin, 369 Teal, 227 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 214 Redshank, 168 Black-headed Gull, 158 Canada Goose that departed soon after dawn; 91 Turnstone, 66 Common Gull, 61 Grey Plover, 59 Great Black-backed Gull, 39 Bar-tailed Godwit, just 38 Curlew - most of the estuary's population may be on their Exminster Marshes roost site; also 35 Knot, 32 Shelduck, 21 Mute Swan, 18 Black-tailed Godwit, 16 Cormorant, 15 Shag perched on the wreck as they do in usually small numbers during unsettled conditions; eight Pale-bellied Brent Goose, five Lesser Black-backed Gull, five Red-breasted Merganser, four Great Crested Grebe, four Greenshank, four adult winter Mediterranean Gull, three Sanderling, two Grey Heron, two Little Egret, two Common Snipe and the Slavonian Grebe.  A small number of Yellow-legged Gull were also reported.  Added together, there was in the region of 5,300 waterbirds on site today.

A few Rock Pipit including a Scandinavian Rock Pipit called in the saltmarsh.  The Merlin was back again to buzz the small waders in the evening twilight and
earlier two Raven joined Carrion Crows to predate another unidentified wader in The Bight.

Battered for days by high winds, rain and smoked out by grass burning, wooded areas only held eight Long-tailed Tit, very few other tits; also two each of Goldcrest, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chaffinch, and single Chiffchaff and Bullfinch. Only a few finches were present in Greenland Lake. On the Main Pond, three Mallard, two Little Grebe and a Grey Wagtail. And a Stock Dove flew into Turkey Oak Copse.

Wildlife news: single Red Admiral and Small Copper in brief sunny spells, and two each of Migrant Hawker and Common Darter, also a Water Vole happily munched a Common Reed stem stood next to the viewing platform at the Main Pond.

Thursday 29 October 2020

Thursday 29th October

Unsettled conditions continue with a series of deep depressions crossing the North Atlantic driven on a jet stream reaching 220 mph over Newfoundland and that meanders only slightly before arriving over the UK where it is still a potent 120 mph  (netweather, online). At sea level the WSW moderate to strong breeze was again disappointing at sea where c.60 Gannet and a few auk spp. passed in 45 mins. Closer inshore to find sheltered waters were two Great Northern Diver and two Red-throated Diver.

Red-throated Diver - Alan Keatley

Wooded areas predictably held the mixed flock of tits, four Goldcrest and two each of Chiffchaff, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch. The Main Pond continued to host the drake Shoveler, a Little Grebe, the aquiline female Mallard, a few Moorhen and squealing Water Rail. Around Greenland Lake, the finch flock had reduced to c.30 Goldfinch, c.10 Greenfinch and a few Linnet. As usual, a few Stonechat and Cirl Bunting were scattered about the reserve. A late House Martin was also reported. A female Merlin over The Bight in the evening was likely the same bird seen earlier in the day.
Little Grebe - DW - 2020-10-29 - AKe

Same as for the past few days, most attention was on the incoming evening high tide. Wind, dankness and drizzle hampered observations and the presence of Carrion Crows continue to frustrate matters further, particularly when a lone exhausted small calidrid that raised mild interest was immediately dived on and chased into the dunes of Warren Point where it was attacked and killed. A desperate jog around by one observer was too late to save it. And the macabre theme continued as birders spotted crows pecking at a Short-eared Owl lying on the beach of The Bight, which prompted another jog, but seems that had been dead already for a few hours.

The 'AVP' colour-ringed Scandinavian Rock Pipit was again on the shoreline of The Bight and details returned by the 'Norwegian Rock Pipit Project' coordinator shared details today that it was mist-netted as a 1cy on 9th August this year at Farsund, Vest-Agder, which is at the south end of Norway. It called more convincingly today like a littoralis and its appearance, commented on yesterday as especially cryptic is possibly explained by its being a young bird.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit - Lee Collins
Scandinavian Rock Pipit - Lee Collins

Over 400 Dunlin appeared in The Bight and with them again were a juv Little Stint and at least one moulting juv Curlew Sandpiper. By coincidence, of the 35 Ringed Plover, the yellow-flagged 'XTX' bird was again present, ringed at Makkevika Giske, Norway, from where Dawlish Warren has had Ringed Plover before.  Those that breed there are still hiaticula, not tundrae, which breed further north. Apart from 57 Knot earlier, no other wader counts were made. 

Too dark and mostly too distant, the American Wigeon that was seen to fly towards Dawlish Warren from Exmouth this evening could not be found among the 1,380 Wigeon and 265 Teal. Also four Great Crested Grebe, another Little Grebe and the Slavonian Grebe were in the estuary.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Wednesday 28th October

No sign of yesterday's briefly seen Baird's Sandpiper. With 341 Dunlin, 34 Ringed Plover, four Sanderling, two juv Little Stint and the juv Curlew Sandpiper present in The Bight on the late afternoon tide, the carrying flock it was with yesterday was evidently present again today, but it was not.  The waders were less disturbed by crows today, which allowed regular checks by the small group of hopeful birders.  Again, little attention was given to the thousands of other waterbirds present and limited counts were c.15 Pale-bellied Brent Goose including the Irish-ringed returning individual, seen here again yesterday, was likely among them. The usual drake Eider and a third-winter Yellow-legged Gull were among c.50 Great Black-backed Gull that roosted on Finger Point.  Some of the 44 Cattle Egret in Eastdon Fields may have ventured into the recording area but no clear record of this has yet been received.  A Merlin again passed over The Bight.

The highlight was a 'AVP' Norwegian-ringed presumed Scandinavian Rock Pipit; details are being requested from the ringer.   Unlike last winter's yellow-ringed bird, today's bird was especially cryptic and more-or-less indistinguishable on appearances to petrosus, and audibly only once or twice was a softer less shrill littoralis-like call heard.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Tuesday 27th October

During a half hour period from 15:10, a juv Baird's Sandpiper was seen, sometimes only briefly among a swirling flock of c.350 Dunlin around The Bight, persistently disturbed from roosting on the waterline by foraging Carrion Crow and then to make matters worse, by a passing Merlin. Toward dusk, disturbance  abated but only two-thirds of the flock were present, along with the remaining juv Little Stint and juv Curlew Sandpiper, but the missing third of the flock spooked up the estuary, presumably took the Baird's Sandpiper with them. Many waders commute between the bottom and top end of the estuary, as seen earlier this year when a flock of Curlew Sandpiper, flushed from Dawlish Warren by a dog-walker on the golf course, re-located a short time late to Bowling Green Marsh, five miles to the NNW.  In August 1993 a Baird's Sandpiper at Dawlish Warren one day was seen at Bowling Green Marsh the next day and then back at Dawlish Warren the day after that. There are four previous records of Baird's Sandpiper here, one remained for only one tide (in August 2000) and the last record in autumn 2001 was a long-stayer.

Apart from 21 Ringed Plover and seven Sanderling also within this wader flock, most other waterbirds understandably received little attention. Dawlish Warren is notoriously harsh on birders for playing all too often only fleeting host to rarities and at least two birders actually on site failed to connect with it, and this was especially exasperating for one regular birder who saw the Baird's Sandpiper twice but constituted UTV's.  This is a common lexicon of birders and it stands for 'un-tickable view', describing the unpleasant and sometimes upsetting experience of failing to get enough detail on a bird to be sure of its identification, independently.  The last word is the important one that de-couples whatever other's say the bird is from the individual's personal experience of that bird.  Particularly with rarities, the line recognised by birders that should not be crossed is that if you can't identify the bird for yourself with reasonable confidence based only on your experience of that bird, then you can't tick or count it. This, of course, isn't limited to the actual timeframe of seeing and/ or hearing the bird, and legitimate 'ticking' of birds (or removal from lists) afterwards, after careful reflection is commonplace, and can even be years later, based on awareness to crucial details that have since transpired about a particular bird's identity and status.    

A site record of 44 Cattle Egret descended to loiter for a time in the saltmarsh corner at high tide before they flew north to their nocturnal roost on the Powderham Estate, and in a similar fashion to yesterday some first paused to forage around cattle in Eastdon Fields.

In the morning a 3.5 hour seawatch lacked quality in only 220 Gannet, 104 auk spp. that involved large proportions each of Guillemot and Razorbill; 93 Kittiwake, 20 Common Scoter and two Great Northern Diver. In the woods, four Goldcrest, two Bullfinch, two Chaffinch and a Chiffchaff. And in Greenland Lake a flock of 38 Goldfinch, nine Greenfinch; some Cirl Bunting and a Reed Bunting.

Monday 26 October 2020

Monday 26th October

An afternoon visit in pleasant weather conditions focused on the neap tide and counts were 295 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 269 Curlew, 171 Redshank, 141 Teal, 63 Turnstone, 32 Shelduck, 32 Knot, 31 Grey Plover, 19 Bar-tailed Godwit, 18 Mute Swan, 13 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 11 Cormorant, just nine Great Black-backed Gull, eight Greenshank, three Great Crested Grebe, two each of Canada Goose, Mallard, Red-breasted Merganser, Black-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe; and single Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Mediterranean Gull; the autumn's first intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kingfisher and the Slavonian Grebe, which has now more-or-less moulted into its uniquely odd-looking non-breeding plumage. Not counted, four-figures of Wigeon and three-figures of Oystercatcher and Dunlin were also present.

The heron split was again a sign of changing times with three each of Grey Heron and Little Egret outnumbered by 31 Cattle Egret that assembled in the estuary corner before they flew north before dusk.  Some paused in Eastdon Fields around the cattle where a few more Little Egret were also foraging, then on their way presumably toward their roost site at Powderham.

Two Little Grebe were on the Main Pond where also were the regular squealing Water Rail, a few Moorhen, drake Shoveler and single Mallard. A roaming tit flock contained some of the nine Long-tailed Tit, nine Blue Tit, four Goldcrest, three Great Tit and two Chiffchaff found in wooded areas. A scattering of Stonechat and Cirl Bunting were present, as usual. And a glance offshore produced only a distant small raft of Common Scoter and a few Gannet.

Also noted, two Kestrel, a Sparrowhawk, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a splendid male Green Woodpecker that gave a moment of joy to a young family out for a stroll in the sunshine as it took flight. A flock of ten Pied Wagtail headed NE and a single Grey Wagtail flew N at dusk, again presumably to roost sites.

Sunday 25 October 2020

Sunday 25th October

Strong winds continued into yesterday evening then eased through the night as clocks returned to GMT and by dawn weakened to only a light southwesterly with a few squally showers. Sea-watching for a couple of hours produced 158 auk spp., that included a larger proportion of Razorbill to Guillemot than yesterday's passage; also 63 Kittiwake, 36 Gannet, 35 Common Gull plus another 30 on Railway Saltmarsh; 8 of today's 34 Great Black-backed Gull; two of the three adult winter Mediterranean Gull; a single Common Scoter, a Red-throated Diver and another diver sp.

A Cetti's Warbler called a few times from around the edges of Main Pond and was a new species for the year. Annual here since 2017 with long-stayers, this is actually only the site's 11th individual. An elusive Little Grebe made a brief appearance; at least three Water Rail called from the reed-beds, a vocal Kingfisher, and the drake Shoveler escorted a rather long-billed female Mallard around to its liking.

The lunchtime predicted 2.8 metre neap tide was boosted by an extra half metre (Exmouth gauge) by rainwater and with that The Bight was almost completely covered. Waterbirds counted around that time were 1,735 Wigeon, the year's max  count so far; 845 Oystercatcher (plus another 91 in nearby Eastdon Fields), 239 Dark-bellied Brent Goose (just 17 juveniles), 237 Curlew, 78 Dunlin (many more roosted on the railway wall north of Cockwood Harbour entrance); 33 Bar-tailed Godwit, 30+ Teal, 28 Shelduck, 18 Mute Swan, 16 Cormorant, 14 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 13 Ringed Plover, six Shag plus only three more offshore; five Greenshank, four Great Crested Grebe were joined for a while by the resident Slavonian Grebe, three Red-breasted Merganser, two Grey Heron and a Common Snipe. Redshank, Turnstone and Knot were also present in numbers.

Notables were two juv Little Stint and a juv Curlew Sandpiper again joined small wades beside the wader island. A Cattle Egret joined four Little Egret in the saltmarsh.

In the woods and bushes, 14 Long-tailed Tit but very few regular tits, three Goldcrest, and about two or three each of Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin and Reed Bunting; and a single Song Thrush. A site wide count of 28 Robin had the feel of a modest influx and was the largest count since Oct 2015.  Also today, a Mistle Thrush and seven Swallow.

The main highlight was a winter male Snow Bunting that remained only for about half an hour on groyne 14 and the spilled rocks of long since broken up gabion baskets. The bird was good enough to remain just long enough to attract a mini twitch of six well-spaced out admirers before, of its own volition, flew up and south out to sea as far as it could be followed.  Not annual, this is the 20th individual since 2000.

The fantastic run of day totals this month continues with 86 species, the seventh '80+ day' so far.

Wildlife news: two Water Vole showed well from the viewing platform. In brief spells of sunshine single Small White and Red Admiral took to the wing.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Saturday 24th October

Seawatching from dawn for about 4.5 hours was hard work in wet conditions in a Force 6 southerly. The highlight was a satellite-tracked Sandwich Tern that passed close enough past the seawall to clearly show a black box attached on its mantle, as it flew south at 08:05 and again at 10:00. Birds circuiting Lyme Bay during storms is well known, which can complicate counts. This bird may have been ringed in the Netherlands; investigations are underway.

Five Great Skua and at least one each of Pomarine Skua and Arctic Skua plus about three skua spp. moved around offshore irregularly and spent time on the sea, so counts were approximate. Also 455 Gannet, 129 auk spp. (roughly 70:30 in favour of Guillemot over Razorbill); 24 Common Scoter, three Great Northern Diver and the first Fulmar to return after their pelagic moult since late-August.

As for gulls, the seawatch produced most of today's 76 Kittiwake, c.50 Common Gull, four Lesser Black-backed Gull and two Mediterranean Gull, but 101 of today's c.110 Great Black-backed Gull were on Finger Point where joined by a 4cy Yellow-legged Gull.

Beside the wader island on the ebbing tide, two juv Little Stint and a juv Curlew Sandpiper joined hundreds of Oystercatcher, 358 Dunlin, 68 Grey Plover, four Sanderling plus another three on the beach, and a single Ringed Plover. Hundreds of Wigeon, Teal, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew, also tens of Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Dark-bellied Brent Goose and other regular waterbirds roosted on site. Selected counts were 19 Pale-bellied Brent Goose (a single plus three family groups of 5, 6 & 7 birds); 19 Shelduck, two Red-breasted Merganser and the drake Eider. Six Cattle Egret were in fields just outside the Recording Area.

Blown out, four Goldcrest, two Bullfinch and a Song Thrush were the only interest found in the woods.

Friday 23 October 2020

Friday 23rd October

From dawn it was evident that birds were simultaneously on the move overhead, at sea and in the estuary, so with only two observers present, the site was under-resourced today. Nevertheless, an impressive 88 species were recorded and a nearly comprehensive set of representative or indicative counts of waterbirds and seabirds were achieved. At sea, a cloud of gulls contained c.630 Black-headed Gull, 52 Common Gull, five Kittiwake, two Sandwich Tern and only modest numbers of Herring Gull. A steady passage of 100+ auks flew SSW that involved more Guillemot than Razorbill based on the small sample close enough to identify; also 40+ Gannet, five Common Scoter, two Red-throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver and the winter's first Goldeneye (imm/♀); the earliest since 2010. Two very distant skua sp. were most likely Arctic Skua. Presumption that all late autumn small skua sp. are invariably Pomarine is incorrect since passage of both species extends into early-Nov. Also, although the balance of likelihood favours Pomarine from November onwards, this is not exclusively so, and exceptionally Arctic have occurred after the New Year; see chart.

data analysis and chart - Ivan Lakin

Mudflats edges and The Bight were inundated  quite a while before the late morning tide that was also higher than predicted, perhaps due to recent heavy rains on Exmoor and across the wider watershed. Counts were 1,458 Wigeon, "high hundreds" Oystercatcher, 477 Teal, 317 Redshank, 186 Canada Goose and 116 Dunlin.  One with a yellow-flag 'CP5' (right tibia) and a plain orange (left tibia) was seen here on 1st Oct, just nine days after it was ringed as a juv at
Ynyslas, Borth, Ceredigion. Structurally, this was a schinzii 'Western' Dunlin, so likely a migrant; and clearly smaller, shorter-billed and short-legged than the swelling number of alpina 'Scandinavian' Dunlin it was with that will winter here.    

A surprise influx of 33 Ringed Plover that included a metal-ringed German-ringed bird seen here before and a new, 1cy Norwegian-ringed bird that sported a yellow-flag 'XTX' on its left tibia and a small plain red ring on its right. A number of Ringed Plover seen here originate from southwest Norway coast.

Continuing with the counts, there were just 84 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 45+ Grey Plover, 23 Mute Swan, 22 Cormorant, 18 Great Black-backed Gull, 17 Shelduck, nine Greenshank, eight Pale-bellied Brent Goose that included a single family of seven birds; also three 'red-head' Red-breasted Merganser, three juv Little Stint - the latest autumn record since 2006, two Grey Heron, two Little Egret, two Common Snipe, two Great Crested Grebe plus another offshore, two Lesser Black-backed Gull, two Shag plus a few offshore, the drake Eider on Finger Point; a Kingfisher and the Slavonian Grebe.

A Cattle Egret dropped into the estuary corner. At the same time in a role reversal, a number of Little Egret moseyed around cattle grazing in Easton Fields. At least one of the six plus Rock Pipit in the Spartina and The Bight tideline had features that supported Scandinavian Rock Pipit, but did not call.

A large flock of corvids again assembled around The Bight and unusually with them two Rook and two Jackdaw; more typical were single figures of possibly passage birds. Early morning passerine passage was light with only single figures of Chaffinch, Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Skylark and Pied Wagtail. A juv Yellow Wagtail that ditched at the feet of the ponies was the latest here since 1987. By its appearance and call, it was just an ordinary flavissima. A Short-eared Owl was high over the estuary mid-morning.

As usual, the drake Shoveler was on the Main Pond, as were 14 Mallard (pre-dawn only), six Moorhen and two Water Rail. [The last confirmed sighting of a Coot here was 6 years and 2 months ago].

Other notables were a Peregrine, two Sparrowhawk, a Kestrel and a Raven. As the breeze got up and moved to a southwesterly direction, smoke that billowed from the reserve demonstrably caused an evacuation of birds from the Greenland Lake area with 80+ Goldfinch, 20+ Greenfinch and single-figures of Stonechat and Cirl Bunting along Warren Neck, where at 750 metres away the air was still smoky but bearable.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Thursday 22nd October

In the calmness of a col and under a weak occluded front that occasionally produced a few spots of light rain between long spells of balmy sunshine, a reasonable selection of 81 bird species were seen today. 

Overhead passage was light and drawn out, and totals that include birds that paused to forage were 125+ Goldfinch (NE), 45+ Meadow Pipit (NE), 32 Greenfinch (NE), 23 Skylark (most W), 22 Woodpigeon (WSW), 20 Siskin (NE), 14 Linnet (NE), eight Pied Wagtail (WSW), seven Chaffinch (NE & N), four Rook, three Reed Bunting, two Swallow, two Lesser Redpoll (NE), a Grey Wagtail (NE), a Bullfinch (NE), a Song Thrush (SW), a Redwing and a Mistle Thrush NE). The highlight was seven Coal Tit, including four that flew NE and of two seen well enough these appeared to be 'intermediate' types.

On the Main Pond, 146 Starling flew out of their reed-bed roost; also present the drake Shoveler, a Kingfisher, a Mallard, a few Moorhen and a couple of Water Rail called.

Before yet again enveloped in a veil of smoke by TDC's questionable habitat management practices, wooded areas supported single figures of tits, five Chiffchaff, five Goldcrest, three Blackcap, another Bullfinch and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Also noted, six Stonechat, six Cirl Bunting and single Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and a Raven. An orangey 'Greenland' Wheatear postured on Warren Point.

On the 11:00 high tide, counts in the estuary and The Bight were hundreds of Oystercatcher, 279 Curlew, 249 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 229 Redshank, 206 Dunlin, 138 Teal, 61 Grey Plover, 57 Turnstone, 52 Bar-tailed Godwit, c.40 Canada Goose, 37 Knot, 29 Great Black-backed Gull, 21 Mute Swan, 19 Shelduck, 17 Cormorant, ten Common Gull, six Pale-bellied Brent Goose, five Greenshank, four Ringed Plover, three Little Egret, two adult-winter Mediterranean Gull, two Sandwich Tern, two more Mallard, another Kingfisher and the drake Eider roosted again on Finger Point; the Slavonian Grebe and a single Grey Heron. A Whimbrel in the estuary corner may winter. Rarely up until the early-2000s, singles have since wintered in the Exe Estuary in most winters since 2005/06.

On the ebbing tide, six Cattle Egret flew in from the north and dropped into a creek in the estuary corner.

Offshore, just single-figures of Common Scoter, Gannet, Shag and a Great Crested Grebe plus another in the estuary. A single Sanderling was only wader at high tide on what remains of the beach.

Wildlife news: one or two Red Admiral, Small White and Migrant Hawker.

Monday 19 October 2020

Monday 19th October

The morning spring tide was watched but that in the evening was after dark and the damage it caused to the beach by an unexpected additional third-of-a-metre in height (Exmouth gauge max 4.43 m) was not seen until the following day. The geotube ('sand-sausage') was further undermined, the dune cliff receded a bit further and more sand disappeared from the beach.

At dawn, lots of gulls offshore; two Sandwich Tern and single Red-throated Diver and Great Northern Diver. The previous site record was exceeded again today with 42 Cattle Egret in the estuary corner perched on the old saltings bank. Other highlights were two late Little Stint and a Golden Plover stood on the wader island.

A few selected counts of waterbirds include approximately a thousand Wigeon, 320 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 311 Dunlin, 230 Teal, 56 Grey Plover, 53 Bar-tailed Godwit, 19 Mute Swan, 15 Great Black-backed Gull, 15 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 11 Cormorant, five Little Egret, four Sanderling; and single Grey Heron, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kingfisher; the usual drake Eider and the Slavonian Grebe. Other notables today were two Jackdaw and a Grey Wagtail.  Six Rock Pipit, many in the saltmarsh was quite a large count and coincides with a typical period for max counts of this species.

Cattle Egret and Little Egret - Dave Jewell

flock of Cattle Egrets - Lee Collins

Cattle Egrets - Lee Collins

Golden Plover - Dave Jewell

Sunday 18 October 2020

Sunday 18th October

Long before dawn, 28 Mallard and two Aylesbury Duck with a large flock of Teal were on the Main Pond. Later that morning, an unseasonal Reed Warbler there was checked carefully and heard to call. It is by coincidence that a vagrant Acrocephalus appeared in another part of the county today.

Overcast and dank, light faded for a time in the morning to become almost unbirdable, but even when the rain fell, the site produced quality as a flock of five Cattle Egret flew SSW and disappeared over Langstone Rock 08:40-08:45. At c.09:30, one observer saw a lone Great White Egret fly north low over the Main Pond and into the estuary, so with the few Little Egret present completed another three egret day.

Despite the conditions, visible migration was quite good, all flew northeast unless otherwise stated; 195 Goldfinch, 117 Siskin, 57 Meadow Pipit, 46 Chaffinch, 18 Greenfinch, 17 Lesser Redpoll, 16 Linnet, 13 alba wagtail (W), nine Skylark (W), three Grey Wagtail, two Swallow, two Song Thrush (left site) and a Redwing. A female Merlin rapidly flew low NE at 09:25.  One or two Goldfinch of groups examined more closely were distinctly more robust and subtly different toned, suggestive that  a few Continental carduelis were among the usual British britannica on the move.  Significant influx of Continental birds to Britain is suspected (e.g. Wernham et al, 2002) but remains only hypothesised since too few ringing recoveries support this assumption and racial identification is especially challenging.   

The Yellowhammer was still present in bushes around Greenland Lake, as well as two Reed Bunting and a few Cirl Bunting. In the woods and bushes, eight Chiffchaff, five Blackcap and four Goldcrest.

The only wader count achieved was 296 Dunlin and as the tide dropped the wildfowl drifted out and among the Wigeon and Teal flocks were 24 Shelduck, a pair of Gadwall, only the second record of the year,and a Pintail. Scavenging out on the exposed mudflats were 166 Carrion Crow, the highest count here since Nov 2010, and among them two Rook.

Gorping skyward, a distraction for the assembled birders from undertaking waterbird counts was the awesome sight of three separate Short-eared Owl that cruised around for some time over Warren Point and moved up and down the site at height, sometimes harried by crows.

Miscellaneous other notables were two Kestrel, two Sandwich Tern, the drake Eider and the Slavonian Grebe. A total of 103 species were recorded for Global Bird weekend.

Saturday 17 October 2020

Saturday 17th October

The benefits of birder saturation was in evidence today with all 'regulars' and a number of other local birders present from well before dawn and with constant coverage through to dusk. The site species list of 89 has only been equaled or exceeded before eight times since 2000.

In the twilight before dawn, a Tawny Owl drifted beside the Back Path into Dead Dolphin Wood; the first of the year. The 2nd new species for the year before dawn was a Fieldfare that flew N. Visible migration started about 15 mins later than yesterday (c.07:40), was more rushed and more-or-less ended after about 2.5 hours. Highlights were two Great White Egret that languidly cruised across the lower estuary, rose over Exmouth town and were lost from view over the wooded ridge four miles away to the east at 09:05. This raised the site year-list to 174. Ten Crossbill (5,4,1) flew NE at higher elevation than in previous days, across a sky with receding cloud cover and only a breath of wind from the NNW.

Other counts of birds on the move, c.175 Goldfinch (NE), 63 Meadow Pipit (NE), 53 Greenfinch (NE), 42 Siskin (NE), 38 Swallow (NE), 31 Skylark (35 W, three on W Pt.); 17 Lesser Redpoll (NE), 14 Linnet (NE), 25 alba wagtail (WSW & NE), 22 Chaffinch, 11 Shelduck (SSE), 11 Rook (SW & NE), five Great Spotted Woodpecker made sorties NE then headed back; three Coal Tit (NE, incl. one in the bushes); of two briefly seen both looked like britannicus or intermediate types. Also two Grey Wagtail, an adult winter Mediterranean Gull (N), a Buzzard (E), a Jackdaw, a Raven (E), a Mistle Thrush, and randomly a summer-plumage Great Northern Diver that circled high above a couple of times before heading back out to sea. In the middle of the day, a Short-eared Owl flew over across the site.

Presumably the same as yesterday's Yellowhammer loitered with finch flocks that dropped into the Greenland Lake area before moving on. Also six Cirl Bunting and two Reed Bunting.

The ebbing spring tide had dropped by the time most observers reached the far end of the reserve and a selected counts managed were "hundreds" of Teal, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew; 257 Dunlin, 58 Knot, "tens" of Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone; 21 Mute Swan, 19 Cormorant, 11 Greenshank, six Little Egret, five Sanderling, five Common Snipe rose from the saltmarsh; two Grey Heron, just one Ringed Plover, the drake Eider was on Finger Point and the Slavonian Grebe. At low tide, four Cattle Egret flew toward the estuary corner beside the railway line at c.15:00, completing a three egret day.

Of the 15 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, an adult of a family group of five was ringed with a yellow '9' (left leg) and a blue 'V' (right leg). This was ringed as a juvenile at Alftanes, Fotbaltavollur, SW Iceland on 11 May 2017 and was last seen at Dawlish Warren from 19 Oct to 20 Nov 2017.

This taxa is an autumn migrant here with a few individuals that remain to overwinter, and is most notable as a spring migrant with sometimes 3-figures present. These are from the NE Greenland hrota population that predominately winter in Ireland (chiefly at Strangford Lough) with smaller numbers in Britain, the Channel Islands and on the north coasts of France and Spain. The other discrete population of hrota that winter in NW Europe nest in Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land and winter in NE England (Lindisfarne) and Denmark.

The drake Shoveler was still on the Main Pond, as were six Mallard before dawn and six Moorhen. Offshore, c.40 Common Scoter, 20 Gannet, seven Kittiwake and a few auk spp.

A flock of 13 Long-tailed Tit with some of the eight Chiffchaff and five Goldcrest roamed wooded areas. Also a Blackcap, a Song Thrush

A mixture of other sightings, seven Stonechat, three Rock Pipit, three Bullfinch, two Kingfisher, two Sparrowhawk, a Peregrine, a Kestrel and a Green Woodpecker made it across to the site from the mainland, where one has been heard calling periodically for some weeks.

Wildlife news: a few Migrant Hawker and Common Darter still on the wing. Two Water Vole swam across channels of the Main Pond.

Friday 16 October 2020

Friday 16th October

A few different species but the same impressive list of 82 species recorded today. To achieve this, individual birders have each spent up to 17.5 hours on site over the past two days; it's been worthwhile.

Overhead movement commenced 07:25, a little before sunrise (07:40) and one of the first birds in was a
Yellowhammer that remained around the Dune Pond area for a few hours. October is the peak month for this less than annual migrant and raises the site year-list to 171 species. In the company of up to three migrant Reed Bunting and some of the six Cirl Bunting was a notable mix of buntings here. Similar to yesterday, 20 Crossbill flew NE (1,1,9,6,2, 1) including some males. A slaty-bluer-mantled Coal Tit that moved NE was probably an 'ater'.

Also on the move, 79 Siskin (NE), 68 Meadow Pipit (NE), 23 Skylark (21 W, 2 NE), 15 Lesser Redpoll (9 NE, 6 SW), a large count here; 14 Chaffinch (NE), seven Swallow (most NE), five Pintail (in off), four Rook, four House Martin (NE), three Grey High high up in off the sea flew west; two Lesser Black-backed Gull (S), two Song Thrush (high W), two Mistle Thrush (briefly landed in The Spinney, then NE); the latest Sand Martin (NE) since 1997; and a Grey Wagtail (NE). A large finch flock assembled in Greenland Lake and added to those that leap-frogged to continue passage north-east were c.240 Goldfinch, 21 Greenfinch and eight Linnet.

When still dark, 20 Mallard lifted from roost on the Main Pond where later two Water Rail were heard and a Kingfisher perched up on the posts. Brief looks offshore revealed rafts of 34 Common Scoter, a few Gannet, the drake Eider and a Great Crested Grebe.

As yesterday, the morning tide was foregone to concentrate on visible migration. On the evening tide, masses of birds assembled on site with counts that included 1164 Oystercatcher, 1152 Wigeon, 887 Teal, 256 Dark-bellied Brent Goose (included the first juv); 111 Turnstone, 107+ Dunlin, 58 Knot, 55 Grey Plover, 18 Mute Swan, just ten Great Black-backed Gull, nine Pale-bellied Brent Goose (included a family group); eight Greenshank, two Shelduck, two more Mallard, another Pintail, another Kingfisher, a late Whimbrel, a Black-tailed Godwit; the long-staying juv Little Stint and the Slavonian Grebe. A Jackdaw out on the mudflats was an unusual sight here.

The bushes were a bit neglected; one or two Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were noted and the nomadic Long-tailed Tit dominated tit flock again passed through. O
ther expected sightings included single Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Thursday 15 October 2020

Thursday 15th October

Some years it happens just once and only a few times in others, the species list threshold for what constitutes a great day here is eighty. With 82 species recorded today, this was the highest total so far in 2020 and was a total infused with quality birds. Low elevation visible migration from pre-dawn continued until late morning with highlights of 19 Crossbill (four flocks) that flew NE, vocal and close enough that bright red males were visible without optics. Not annual, records exist in 12 of the past 20 years and this count was the second highest ever here. Continuing an exceptional influx this autumn, 11 Coal Tit with a flock of nine later followed by two progressed NE through the site, briefly alighting on tree-tops as they moved through. Again, views were insufficient to determine race. 

Other totals were 205+ Goldfinch, 85+ Siskin, 81 Meadow Pipit (most NE), 24 C
haffinchmost of the 22 Skylark (W), 20+ Greenfinch, 14 Linnet, 13 Lesser Redpoll, ten Pied Wagtail (W), three Rook, two Swallow (NE), one of two Common Snipe (in off the sea), two Grey Wagtail (W), and one Lesser Black-backed Gull (S) and a Brambling, the first of the year and a species that was absent here last autumn.

The mixed flock of 12+ Long-tailed Tit, some tits and three Goldcrest contained some of the eight Chiffchaff on site; and also in woods and bushes, three Blackcap (mmf). Other migrants were six Reed Bunting (highest count for nearly two years) and two migrant Song Thrush.

The morning tide was foregone due to action overhead and the only species noted was a large flock of Cattle Egret. A return to cover the evening spring tide found a site record count of 31 Cattle Egret stood in the saltmarsh and estuary corner before most moved into fields as the tide rose.

Many hundreds of Teal and Wigeon assembled in the estuary corner and other counts made were c.1,050 Oystercatcher, 338 Curlew, 263 Redshank, 219 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, c.200 Dunlin, 74 Turnstone, 47 Knot, 38 Bar-tailed Godwit, 29 Canada Goose, 28 Grey Plover, 25 Mute Swan, 12 Great Black-backed Gull, ten Shelduck, nine Greenshank, eight Little Egret, four Grey Heron, two Mallard, two Sanderling, singles of Pintail, the same juv Little Stint, Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Kingfisher and the Slavonian Grebe. The last recorded date this bird saw one of its own kind was on 9th March 2017, 1,315 days ago. 

At least five Rock Pipit indicated new birds. Two Water Rail, another Mallard and Kingfisher, and the elusive drake Shoveler was still on the Main Pond. Scans of the sea mid-afternoon revealed a raft of c.30 Common Scoter and 29 Gannet.

Also noted today, six Stonechat, five Cirl Bunting, two Kestrel, single Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a pale-looking Wheatear.

Wildlife news: a late Clouded Yellow on Warren Point; two Red Admiral and single-figures of Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood and Small Copper.  Sunny pockets attracted a few Common Darter and Migrant HawkerSquash-bugs sunned themselves on bindweed leaves; a worn Carder-bee and lots of Common Wasp.
Small Copper - Alan Keatley

Clouded Yellow - Alan Keatley

Sunday 11 October 2020

Sunday 11th October

Visible migration was more evident throughout the morning and totals that include grounded individuals (with main direction in brackets) were 56 Jackdaw (54 W, 2 NE), the first big flock of the autumn; 47 Meadow Pipit (mostly grounded), 43 Skylark (W), 26 Rook (most W), 26 Woodpigeon (WSW), 15 Swallow (NE), 13 Siskin (NE), ten 'alba' wagtail (WSW) three Grey Wagtail (SW), three Raven (ENE), two Chaffinch (NE), a Lesser Redpoll (NE), a Buzzard and a Lapwing flew in off. Three Coal Tit worked their way NE, again were too brief to race. Same as yesterday, finches arrived early from the SW and stopped to linger in the Greenland Lake area, where 88 Goldfinch, 21 Greenfinch and some of the 18 Linnet fed.

Migrants in the woods and bushes were three each of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest; a Reed Bunting was on Warren Point. Also in bushes an increase to 21 Robin suggests a small influx; numbers of other resident species were more typical with nine Stonechat, eight Long-tailed Tit, six Blue Tit, five Cirl Bunting, three Great Tit, two Great Spotted Woodpecker and single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Bullfinch.

The Main Pond had the dubious honour of supporting two Aylesbury Duck with five Mallard, all assumed to be visitors from Dawlish town; and the drake Shoveler still. Offshore, 15 Common Scoter and a few Gannet.

Dry neap lunchtime tides can be discouragingly poor and the presence of just a single Ringed Plover and Dunlin in The Bight were certainly that. The curious timings of WeBS counts that coincide with neap tides over recent years has stirred some constructive discussion to address this issue. A moment here is taken here to thank dedicated WeBS counters, some of whom have committed their time to this survey for 30 years, and thanks also for sharing and posting these records today, which have already been collated, sifted and combined with those from other observations on site, then fed by a nominated person into a joint account on BirdTrack to produce a set of comprehensive and accurate records. Since the Dawlish Warren to Starcross WeBS sector extends well beyond the Dawlish Warren Recording Area, best judgement is sometime needed to assume where the birds actually were. Parallel counts assist with this; WeBS counts and site counts have different purposes and applications, and in some respects have different criteria, so this is not duplication nor nugatory effort.

So, whilst the Dawlish Warren outer WeBS sector struggled for birds, by contrast the estuary corner and Railway Saltmarsh (part of the Dawlish Warren to Starcross WeBS sector) was packed with birds and there the day's highlight was 24 Cattle Egret that dropped in at high tide (the 24th bird joined the 23 as news was released about those). Up to 27 have been reported locally between Cockwood Marsh and Powderham since 2nd October. This record is reminiscent of 25 & 26 Cattle Egret that visited the site in Jan 2020 during a period when up to 41 were around the estuary and many remained into late-March.

Counts (believed to be within the recording area) were 776 Oystercatcher, 754 Teal, 376+ (all 548?) Curlew, 339 Redshank, 233+ Wigeon, 177 Black-headed Gull, three-fig count Canada Goose, 68 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 35 Bar-tailed Godwit, 29 Cormorant, 24 Mute Swan, 18 Shag (including those inshore), 17 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, 13 Knot, 11 Greenshank, ten Grey Plover, eight Common Gull, eight Sandwich Tern, five Little Egret, five Lesser Black-backed Gull, just four Great Black-backed Gull, three adult winter Mediterranean Gull, three Red-breasted Merganser (one in off), two Grey Heron, a late Whimbrel, a Shelduck, the usual drake Eider and 'Herbert' the Slavonian Grebe.

Saturday 10 October 2020

Saturday 10th October

At least five birders made the conscious decision to not travel to Lundy today and, in birding parlance, instead 'worked the patch'.  Only light passage overhead was noted early morning in a light north-westerly and little cloud cover.  Combined with grounded individuals, counts of some species (with abbreviated direction in brackets) were 31 'alba' wagtail (W), 30 Woodpigeon (W), 22 Meadow Pipit (W), 14 Rook (most W), four Skylark (W), three Swallow (NE), two Grey Wagtail and a Buzzard.  At least 85 Goldfinch, 61 Starling, 20 Greenfinch and a Reed Bunting dropped from the southwest into Greenland Lake and along Back Path to feed, where also some of the six Cirl Bunting were present.  

The highlight was five Coal Tit, three as a flock that flew NE along the dune ridge and another two singles in the woods. None were seen well enough to determine race.  Debate about the occurrence of the Continental race Periparus a. ater in Devon has stirred since at least the early-1990s and the overall picture continues to be confounded by intermediate-looking individuals, some noted here in the past.  Late-Sep to mid-Oct is peak passage for Coal Tit here and today's sighting nicely fits the established pattern, and is the largest count here since the invasion of up to 16 in a day during late-Sep/ early-Oct 2015, which involved ater along the English south coast, preceded by reputedly up to thousands at sites on the Continent.

Before the wind strengthened and skies clouded over to produce showers, wooded areas had eight Chiffchaff, three Goldcrest, two Great Spotted Woodpecker, two Blackcap, two Bullfinch, a Lesser Redpoll and a mixed tit flock.

On Main Pond, the drake Shoveler still and a noisy Water Rail. The lunchtime neap tide pushed in some waterbirds and those that would have utilized Cockle Sands, Exmouth to roost were yet again displaced by up to 18 kite-surfers there.  The incongruous mix of large and small counts here of some species led to speculation that sanctuary further up the estuary was in use. Selected counts were c.570 Teal (max count, by far, this year), c.390 Curlew, c.240 Wigeon, c.225 Redshank, 142 Canada Goose, 53 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, 32 Knot, 26 Mute Swan, eight Greenshank, seven Shelduck, five Little Egret, three Red-breasted Merganser (first of the autumn) two Grey Heron, the drake Eider and the Slavonian Grebe. Two Kingfisher chased each other across the saltmarsh.

Offshore, a feeding flock of gulls was joined by nine Sandwich Tern, eight Gannet and a Common Scoter.

A flock of Cattle Egret were in Cockwood Marsh, seen from Warren Point.