Avocet on the Exe Estuary mud off Topsham
Cirl Bunting and Avocet
Starling roost-Ham Wall RSPB
Five of us set off for a visit to South Devon with the question of target birds were raised en-route, it was clear that Cirl Bunting was a priority. I have made a few visits to S. Devon before and seen this species well at Exminster but I felt it best to try a site with a better chance of seeing them in numbers. A cruise along the N side of the Teign to check over the stubble for finch flocks produced none so I looked for Labrador Bay RSPB armed with directions from the friendly Teignmouth Railway Station staff. Soon after arriving at the cliff top car park and reserve we were watching a flock of these charming buntings in the hedges, about 30 were to be found in the area.
Having convincingly ticked that box and all having lovely views we went off through Dawlish to the Exe and adjacent wetlands. At Cockwood we stopped to look at Greenshank among the Redshank flocks, a single Turnstone and nearby a flock of close Dark-bellied Brent Geese with Curlew and Oystercatcher also feeding on the golf course turf. Many of these species have probably fed and roosted in this spot for thousands of years so the recent addition (relative to time) of a golf course has not put them off. I hope they are allowed to continue to do so.
The north side of Starcross offered a flood pool with Shelduck, Wigeon, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and another Greenshank with Redshank. A few Meadow Pipits fed on the grass. Returning to Cockwood, we crossed the bridge when Val spotted a Kingfisher perched on the bow of boat, the tide was dropping and it was trying its luck. A stop nearby to scan over the estuary and Shutterton Creek produced three distant Little Grebes, around 20 Red-breasted Merganser, a couple of Shag including one stood on the wreck alongside the Cormorants for comparison.
Heading back upriver we crossed to Topsham, parked and walked down to Bowling Green Marsh RSPB. First stop was at the viewing platform at the mouth of the Clyst. Avocets, Redshank and another comparison of Black and Bar-tailed Godwits could be made. At least seven Goldeneye were out on the main channel. A flock of Dark bellied Brent flew over and landed on the estuary mud. On the seawall at Topsham we enjoyed more views of sifting Avocet and the waders including Grey Plover. Five Red-breasted Merganser were in the creek.
A stop at the hide added Snipe, Pintail, Gadwall and Shoveler but the draw of Waxwings had a searching again. Soon after we were watching a flock of at least 38 as they raided berry trees in a back garden adjacent to the river Exe. We had great views above us and it was a treat listening to the calls of these smart birds for 20 minutes or so. Another short drive to look for the wintering Rose-coloured Starling at Exminster resulted in great views of it as well as a pair of Brambling.
It was time to make a decision, search for American Wigeon at Darts Farm or try our luck in sunny Somerset. Everyone was keen to head for the latter so we transferred to Ham Wall RSPB. A lovely sunny end to the day was on offer as we walked out along the wall. Lots of wildfowl were present and Great Crested Grebes were paired. Bitterns were booming, a pair of Marsh Harrier floated about over the reeds causing panic. Large flocks of Lapwing, five Little Egret, a single Curlew and a variety of wetland birds entertained while we waited for what turned out to be a spectacular Starling roost. Other birds present at this reserve during this weekend included Great White Egret, Pied billed Grebe, Ferruginous and Ring necked Duck. It would be worth a return visit at some time. Thanks to Bettie, Val, Anne and Keith for your company on a pleasant and bird-filled day out.