Devon Birding Weekend - 18th to 20th of August 2016.
Thursday the 18th of August.

An early start to pick up my two birding buddies Gary Hobbs and Steve Nikols from Nuneaton and then travel to the Somerset levels and our first destination, the RSPB Ham Wall Reserve one of many locations we visited over the weekend.

The weather was very cloudy as we began our route, however upon arriving at the Reserve we were soon baking under a very hot sun.

This was my first visit to Ham Wall, a small reserve but the species seen was very notable, these included, Glossy Ibis, Bittern, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Black Tailed Godwit, Snipe, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Kingfisher, Curlew, Green and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Swift, Swallow, Lesser and Common Whitethroat, plus many of the usual birds you would expect to see on such a reserve.

Before leaving for North Devon, we settled down to a picnic lunch generously provided by Gary who excelled with a superb pasta meal which got him nominated as master chef for the next weekend away! We left Somerset and made our way west, ensuring that we would make high tide at Northam Burrows before moving on to our  B & B. Our timing was perfect as we arrived an hour before high tide which gave us superb views of the incoming tide and with it, many birds.

The day was topped off with Fish and Chips at Westwood Ho! and a few beers at the B & B.
Friday the 19th of August.

After a great full English breakfast we set off from Appledore to Hartland Point for some sea watching and hopefully Butterflies, Cetaceans and Seals. The weather had by now changed to intermittent rain and strong winds. Upon arriving we explored the bay area, here a total of 5 Grey Seals we observed just a few metres off shore. A pair of Raven had the gulls up and circling the cliffs. Out at sea were Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed, Black headed and Herring Gull, Kittiwake concluded the birds seen here.
 Whilst scanning the sea from the Coast Guard Station area a single Bottlenose Dolphin was spotted about half a kilometre out, it was accompanied by several Gannet overhead no doubt chasing the same fish?

Later in the morning Butterflies were also seen as the weather changed to sunny spells, Wall, Specked Wood, Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Whites and Painted Lady all made brief passes by our sheltered position on an old wall.

Our next location was Marsland Nature Reserve managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. The road leading down to the centre was challenging, but we made it and found a place to park. Steve is very much in to Butterflies, therefore spending a few hours here was on our agenda. This reserve is known for its two rare Butterflies, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary as we got out of the car both species were seen within minutes, tick-tick!

We left after several hours and travelled to Fremington Quay a disused station from the days of steam for an hour viewing the inlet and estuary. Many Redshank, Curlew and Little Egret were the notable birds.

Our last stop of the day was RSPB Isley Marsh, parking at Yelland Quay we took a circular walk along the Tarka Trail, on to the Marsh foot path and around to Instow and back.

Birds of note here were, Grey Heron, Little Egret (33) Osprey, Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Common and Green Sandpiper, the usual Gulls, plus Kittiwake and Mediterranean Gull. Three species of Tern passed by, Common, Black and Sandwich. A Kingfisher flew at great speed past our viewing spot and we were treated to a huge feeding frenzy of Swallows and House Martins over the water. As we made our way back along the Tarka Trail, Buzzard and Raven were high over the surrounding fields and Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Linnet were also spotted.

The first time I visited the Taw estuary there were really good numbers of Shelduck, all along the estuary and the Fremington inlet. Not one single bird was seen which is worrying?
Saturday the 20th of August.

Today we were booked to go over to Lundy Island aboard MS Oldenburg, this weekend was one of my MARINElife wildlife officer trips, sadly the poor weather meant that the sea crossing was cancelled! This day has since been called an “Extreme Birding Day” due to the weather and what was found at the end of the day.

Plan B was implemented, a trip across the estuary to Morte Point for some high sea watching. As we made our way up past the church at Morthoe the wind became increasingly stronger, arriving at the highest point, we could hardly stand up! Not a good start to our day as we left after only twenty minutes. A brief stop at the Esplanade at Woolacombe gave views of the resident Stonechats, plus a few Gannet and Oystercatcher passing through.

Next stop was Braunton Burrows and Crow Point. This area is always good for seeing something out of the ordinary and today didn’t disappoint. Firstly we stopped at the weir on the river Caen to look for Dipper, the resident pair were viewed at reasonable distance, however taking photos was not easy as the rain was pouring down! We managed record shots and then moved on to the Burrows and then along the toll road the Crow Point. Notables were Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Curlew, Kingfisher, plus the usual common bird species.
Dipper taken in torrential rain
Curlew Sandpiper with Dunlin a distant record
 After a morning and afternoon of severe bad weather we decided to call it a day and head back to the B & B and then out for an Indian meal.  I suggested a slight detour to Northam Burrows for half an hour and then head back. We all agreed and as we arrived the high tide was making its way towards the sandbanks. The weather was still poor with rain and high winds, so we thought a quick look around and then leave.

Steve pointed to a large black and white bird in the distance which as slowly coming closer as the tide came in. Scopes out and on to the bird “Pomarine Skua!  What a great surprise and not expected, however due to the severe weather over the last few days, who knows what may have turned up. A local birder turned up and we soon had him on to it too, a couple of phone calls to his mates and there was soon a convoy of cars, headlights shining and heading our way along the Burrows. We tried to get record shots, however the light was gone and the wind got even stronger!
Distant and poor weather record shots
 The night out at the local Indian restaurant was abandoned and a take away was ordered as we all looked for decent record shots to send to the local bird recorder. What a fantastic end to a day of extreme weather.

Sunday the 21st of August.

We started the day with another few hours at Northam Burrows before leaving for Exeter in the hope that the Pomarine Skua was still around, as today’s weather had improved and the sun was shining. No luck, however some of the birders we spoke to the night before said it had been seen a dawn. Birds of note were Dunlin, Curlew, Ring Plover, Oystercatcher, Linnet and Wheatear.

Our next location was in the Dawlish area of South Devon looking for Cirl Bunting. Sadly we didn’t see any, we therefore moved on to the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh Reserve. Here we saw 23 species of bird, which included Ruff, Curlew, Black Tailed Godwit, Shelduck, Common and Green Sandpiper. Reports of a Wryneck had us all scanning the trees, however this didn’t show and we left to start the journey back to the Midlands.
Another superb weekend with good friends who share a common passion for Birds and wildlife. Our weekend total number of bird species was 113; this was an increase from last year’s trip of 108.

I now look forward to my penultimate Lundy trip in September and I hope the weather stays fine for it, plus plenty more birding trips with Steve and Gary.

Twitter links for more reports and photos.

@nuneatonbirder  (Gary Hobbs)

@nikols_steve  (Steve Nikols)

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