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Day 4 (Wednesday, 6th October)

This destination had been in my mind for some years, the objective to see Cirl Buntings in Britain. I had seen this species on other trips to the Med in past years, but this prime site for a limited distribution bird in the UK seemed to stand out. The locality was much different to what I had expected. I pictured a cliff top car park, with a sparse bush lined coastal path, and copious buntings. The only part of this vision any where near the mark was the latter. The scenery was so much more impressive, and the coastal path a dream – cliff lined shores with a rocky backdrop, and next to no-one to share it with. Bliss! It didn’t take long for the bunting host to enter the scene, with obliging birds being buffeted by the strong south-westerlies early into the walk. They remained common throughout, and a male was even singing amongst the cliffs. The only birds which outnumbered the buntings were Meadow Pipits, and probably Pied Wagtails, which may have been passing through. Raptors were in the form of a very pale Common Buzzard, and a pair of Kestrels quartering the area. I did meet a local birder who mentioned a House Finch which had been in East Prawle for some time. Before I left Prawle Point, I videoed a bird which looked very much like a juvenile or female Carpodacus in the company of Goldfinches. Apparently, the bird in question was a full male, yet this made the situation interesting!

Prawle Point
Prawle Point

Cirl Bunting

Pied Wagtail

Cirl Bunting

Pied Wagtail

This site proved to be the opposite of Prawle – hugely disappointing. The NNR is set back from a mini Blackpool-by-the-Devonish-Sea (sorry Blackpool!). I hadn’t expected Dawlish Warren to be such a seaside town (or village in reality!). The warren is a large spit licking the Exe estuary, and can harvest a good range of birds. One problem I had was that the tide was very low, rendering the hide overlooking the estuary more or less useless. The walk along the dunes was particularly uninteresting, with only a couple of Stonechats and a flyover Grey Wagtail for company.

Dawlish Warren
Dawlish Warren

Exminster canal

Exminster marshes

The Turf Hotel at the end of the canal

Low tide exposed mud at Exminster Marshes

Enter the need for a rarity. I had seen Spotted Sandpiper a few times before in Britain, but the added bonus of a lovely view across the Exe estuary, a nice walk along the canal towpath, and virtually no-one else to share the spoils was a tonic indeed. This bird had been at the end of the canal, seen from the “garden” of the Turf Hotel for some days. It was also an extremely easy bird to nab, given its habit of feeding to and fro along the mud edge, not far from the shore, and also being one of the only small waders to be seen. It did have the company of a Redshank, as well as a Black-tailed Godwit and very long billed Dunlin (resembling a Curlew Sandpiper in many ways) throughout. I wanted decent video shots of the bird, so sat rooted to the same spot for some time as the tide slowly crept towards me. The end result was a very close Spotted Sandpiper. Earlier, it had also tipped me off to a flyover Peregrine – while I was watching, it craned its head sideways in alarm. A Little Egret also tried to get in on the act along the same stretch of the shore.

Spotted Sandpiper

Godwit & Egret

Spotted Sandpiper

Little Egret

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