Bird Watching Around the Exe Estuary

Bird Watching at the Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve

Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve is one of the most important places for wildfowl and wading birds in the whole of the South West. Thousands of birds come to feed, on migration, or to spend the winter here. There is open access to most of the Reserve, including the bird hide, at all times. The reserve is owned and managed partly by the Devon Wildlife Trust and partly by Teignbridge District Council.

Each autumn up to 23,000 wildfowl and wading birds travel to the Exe Estuary from the far north to escape the cold. They start arriving in August and stay until late March. The Warren is vital for their survival providing the main roosting (or resting) place on high tides. For about 3 hours before and after high tide several thousand birds gather on the Warren’s shores. These include important flocks of Dunlin, Grey Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher. Brent Geese, Wigeon and Teal also shelter in inshore waters. Take a look at my Pinterest board to see pictures of some of these birds.

Devon Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves

The Devon Wildlife Trust also own the Old Sludge Beds Nature Reserve which lies within the Exe Estuary and is sandwiched between the Exeter Ship Canal and the River Exe. The site supports a mosaic of wetland habitats, open water, freshwater reedbed and scrub, on land that was previously occupied by the sewage treatment works at Countess Wear. There is good access for visitors and it is another great place to watch dragonflies, starling flocks and wading birds. The old sewage pump house has been converted into a roost for bats.

RSPB Nature Reserves

The RSPB have several reserves around the Exe Estuary: Bowling Green Marsh, Darts Farm, Exminster and Powderham marshes. These reserves have public trails that are open all year round. In spring, you may see lapwings and redshanks can listen for rare Cetti’s warblers. In the evenings swallows and sand martins feed over the water and  migrant warblers may be seen in the hedgerows. As summer wears on wading birds turn up, some still in their magnificent breeding plumage. In winter, during floods or around high tide, there are thousands of waterbirds including black-tailed godwits, avocets and wigeons.

Bird Watching Cruises

From November to February, the RSPB run 90 minute Avocet cruises run from Trout’s boatyard in Topsham. With informed commentary and help from volunteers it is possible to see many of the birds that are wintering here in the estuary.
Stuart Line cruises also run bird watching trips around the Exe estuary, starting and finishing in Exmouth and lasting 3 – 4 hours.