Based at Hope Cove – 20 members; weather – squally with periods of bright sunshine interspersed with showers, driven by a blustery NW wind. Species total: 90
Day 1: We started at Matford Marsh, an informal newish reserve for flood relief between main roads just south of Exeter, to look for an American Wigeon – not there; though Eurasian Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit and Snipe were.
Next, Labrador Bay, a coastal farmland reserve just south of Teignmouth, for Cirl Bunting. We found abundant Linnet and Chaffinch, and Skylark and Meadow Pipit as well as up to 20 Cirl Buntings sunning on a sheltered hedgerow waiting to be fed. It was many people’s first view of these lovely birds with striped heads with olive surround, and they became the favourite ‘bird of the trip’.
Next, a sea watch on the calm seafront by Paignton Pier, finding Gannet, Shag and Great Northern Diver.
Finally, the Clennon Valley Reserve, Torbay, a modest urban-fringe reserve with woodland, stream and lake, to look for Yellow-browed Warbler. We didn’t find it, though it was there earlier and would be seen later; but we did find a Firecrest and Kingfisher.
Day 2: The early morning beach at Hope Cove had Oystercatchers, Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails and Kestrel, Guillemots and Gannet flying close in.
Next, to South Molton Reserve, Thurlstone, a mile west of Hope Cove – a modest wetland area behind the beach and dunes, with Wigeon, Snipe, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwits, Stonechats, and a Kingfisher balancing in the reeds. The large sea stack off the beach had Cormorant and Shag, with a Grey Heron huddled high on the sheltered side.Next, to the long flat stretch of shingle beach at Slapton Ley, where on the sea side were Shags, a diver which photographic scrutiny resolved to be a Red-throated Diver; and, surprisingly close inshore, a raft of 25 female and two male Common Scoters (Jane’s ‘birds of the trip’…) bobbing on relatively calm waters and easy to view even with bins; with a dolphin diving further out. Then, into the reserve round the Ley (lagoon) behind the beach – strikingly calmer and warmer. We saw or heard a good list of water and woodland birds including Water Rail, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay, Song Thrush, Redwing (one of only a handful of winter thrushes seen on the trip), Treecreeper, Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Bullfinch; with Cormorant, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Coots and Moorhen on the Ley.
Next, to Bowcombe Creek, a quiet inland arm of the great tidal Kingsbridge Estuary, to see Shelduck, Little Egret, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Common Gull – and strikingly, a Cormorant catching and swallowing an eel whose writhing progress down the neck we followed… it became one member’s ‘bird sight of the trip’.
Finally, to South Efford Marsh Reserve by Aveton Gifford (on the tidal headwaters of the River Avon which debouches at Bigbury on the coast west of Hope Cove) – a relatively new reserve with a path running betweenenclosed wetlands on one side and the river on the other. We saw Mute Swan, Heron, Little Egret, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Wigeon, Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Stonechat, an LBJ that resolved to a Water Pipit, and Otter prints.
Day 3: Through the beautiful wooded lowlands of Dartmoor Forest national park, to Steps Bridge and Dunsford Nature Reserve on its north-east edge – ancient woodland along the River Teign. Two Goosanders on the river and a Dipper calling loudly as it patrolled up and down. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Mistle and Song Thrush, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Coal and Marsh Tit, Goldcrest, Siskin – and for a lucky minority, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showing fleetingly in low tree growth.
On the drive back we returned to a less obvious area of wetland at Matford Marsh, where kind locals pointed out the American Wigeon sitting with Eurasian Wigeon on the banks of a stream, its dark green face pattern almost black against a greyish face. It was here last year too – a distinctive patch of dark feathers on the creamy crown identified it to the local birdwatchers. And finally our first, and only Fieldfare.
Many thanks as always to Jane for her fun yet focused leadership, and to Keith and Alastair the gallant drivers of a minibus round the too-small, too-steep Devon lanes. Lois Pryce