From our base around the River Exe, we will spend three full days exploring the best birding sites on and around 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.
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.
Available: Nov – Feb
(please inquire to discuss specific dates)
Cost: £600 pp.*
– A three night version of this tour is available at a cost of £450pp* –
Group size: 2-8*
* group size is decided by you at the point of booking with a minimum group size of 2 people. Small group sizes of 2-3 people includes an additional fee of £100pp. Group sizes of 4 or more are charged at the standard rate stated above.
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: We will meet you at your accommodation at 1pm or offer the option to be collected from Exeter train station should you wish to come by public transport. Once your bags have been dropped off, we will take the opportunity to go out birdwatching locally before heading to one of the many excellent local pubs for dinner and the chance to chat informally in a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Day Two: Following a nice breakfast, we will head down towards 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 and to catch up with the resident and popular Grey Seals.
Day Three: Our second full day will see us exploring the Haldon Hills, a local favourite spot for wintering flocks of Crossbills, Siskins, Redpolls and Bramblings 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 every winter but can be tricky to track down even with local knowledge. Outside of the forest, the heathlands are 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, or maybe even Woodcock which fly out at dusk to feed on earthworms.
Day Four: 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!
Day Five: With all the guided birding days done, you have the option to either treat yourselves to a well deserved leisurely breakfast or enjoy one last self-guided morning of birding before checking out. Should you require a lift to the local train station or bus depot, this can be arranged with us in advance.