Birds of Devon - Winter

Tour Summary

This tour we will spend three full days exploring the best birding sites on and neighbouring the River Exe estuary in South Devon. In our attempt to see the widest range of wintering birds, we will visit a mix of local habitats including the lowland heaths and mixed woodlands of Haldon, the rugged coastline and seas of Torbay, and the nutrient-rich mudflats and wetlands of the River Exe estuary. 

While most of our birding will be done from land, should the tide timings allow, we will take to the water via one of the special bird-watching river cruises to enjoy this unforgettable and unique way to get close to the birds – a much desired highlight of these trips. You will also have the option of a private boat tour around Torbay – more information available on request.

Given the limited hours of daylight at this time of the year, our days will be spent exploring the local area with various lunch and comfort stops along the way. Our days will end on our return to the accommodation, either just before or after dusk, giving you time to relax, grab dinner and enjoy your evenings as you wish.


Tour Details

Available: Nov – Feb

(please inquire to discuss specific dates)

Cost: £720 (from £120pp*)

Group size: 2-6*

* group size is decided by you at the point of booking with a minimum group size of 2 people. Each tour is charged at the same total cost as stated above i.e. for a group of 6 this equates to £120pp.


Outline Itinerary

While the order we visit these sites may change (dependent on local conditions & the birds) each tour will always visit three main areas:

  • Haldon Hills
  • Torbay Coastline
  • River Exe Estuary

Day One: Our first day will be spent scouring the Torbay Coastline in search of divers, grebes and sea ducks. This stretch of sheltered coastline is a well-known hotspot for wintering divers including Great Northern, Red-throated & Black-throated as well as flocks of Common Scoter and the occasional rarer Velvet Scoter. It can also be a good place to see Black-necked grebe and the scrubby headlands and vegetated car parks are notoriously good places to see Cirl Bunting and other winter rarities including Firecrest, Siberian Chiffchaff and Yellow-browed Warbler among the usual flocks of tits, finches and Yellowhammer. We will also stop off in Brixham for some lunch and the opportunity to catch up with some rocky coastal species including Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone and Rock Pipit. Being one of the busiest fishing harbours on the south coast, it’s also a prime location to scan for rare gulls such as Glaucous and Iceland Gull and to catch up with the resident and popular Grey Seals.

Day Two: Our second full day will start on the Haldon Hills, a local favourite spot for wintering flocks of Crossbill, Siskin, Redpoll and Brambling which vary in numbers related to the abundance of the local seed crop of Beech, Pines and other trees. If lucky, we may also catch up with one of winter’s most prized passerines, the Hawfinch, which is seen in small flocks most winters but can be tricky to track down even with local knowledge. The rest of our day will be spent on the East Devon heaths, home to Stonechats, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and the skulking Dartford Warbler which will be the focus of our efforts in the afternoon. The heaths are also home to a range of raptors including Goshawk and Merlin. As we head into the evening we will linger around at dusk in the hope of catching up with some of these birds and maybe even a Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl as they come to roost. We may even encounter Woodcock which fly out at dusk to feed on earthworms.

Day Three: Our final day will be spent visiting some of the River Exe’s premier birding spots at both ends of the estuary. Home to tens of thousands of birds each winter, the estuary represents one of the most important places for wildfowl and wading birds in the South West and among some of the world’s best sites for wintering bird assemblages. The ‘best’ sites to visit depend on the tides but may include Dawlish Warren NNR, the RSPB’s Exminster Marsh and several smaller sites in-between. If the tides allow, we will also take advantage of one of the bird-watching river cruises to search for birds from a boat! Whether by boat or land, we can expect to see impressive flocks of Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Redshank and Dunlin.  There are smaller numbers of Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Greenshank to be found; a nice challenge for us to spot. Brent Geese are present in their hundreds, mostly Dark-bellied but frequently the odd Light-bellied and a vagrant Black Brant could be mixed in. Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler are the most abundant duck but Pintail are common, as are Red-breasted Merganser, while Goldeneye can be found in small handfuls. There are also several local rarities including Slavonian Grebe, Eider and Black Redstart which we will make special efforts to see. With so many birds around, it’s no surprise to see a Marsh Harrier or Peregrine Falcon which commonly kick all the birds into the air providing one of the best winter spectacles of the trip!

Boat Excursions (add ons)

Opportunities to view birds by boat are available but are not included in the itinerary as standard. Outline information including additional costs are provided below with further details available on request:

River Exe – Stuart Lines Cruises (approx. £12.50 pp. for 2.5hrs)
Torbay – Private chartered boat (approx. £150 for 2.5hrs)

Booking Information

Deposit Required: £150

Accommodation: Exeter area – recommendations available on request

Included: Wildlife guiding services (approx. 8 hours per day)

Not included: Any transport, fuel, food, drink, accommodation or travel insurance

Please note: breaks will be taken at suitable locations on route and can be flexible to suit group needs. 

Intensity: Moderate – accessible walking on mixed terrain with a number of walks of moderate length spread across each day (7-10km per day).

Target Species:

Avocet, Godwits, Knot, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Curlew, Purple Sandpiper, Dark-bellied Brent, Slavonian Grebe, Black-necked & Red-necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Red-throated & Black-throated Diver, Common Scoter, Eider, Goldeneye, Kingfisher, Black Redstart, Dartford Warbler, Cirl Bunting, Hawfinch, Crossbill, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon & Marsh Harrier

How to Book:

For all inquiries relating to this tour, please get in contact via email or by phone 07989183437.