Birdwatching at Dawlish Warren

Although Dawlish Warren is rightly famous for its birdlife, it can appear a very ‘quiet’ site and if timed wrongly, trips may be rewarded with little of bird interest.  The following notes aim to outline the best times and conditions to see certain bird-groups.

Waders: Check the Exmouth tide-table, viewing around one or two hours either side of high tide is the favoured time. Please note that recent erosion means any high tide visit may require a prolonged stay at the far end of the Warren.  Waders are best viewed from the hide when they are in The Bight and surrounding mudflats on a mid-ranging tide (3.1 to 3.4m). During spring tides (3.4 to 4.6m tides) many waders roost on the beaches around the Bight. If these birds are on the beach they are only to be viewed from the dune-ridge from where they are rarely disturbed, however, problems by other visitors may arise. May, August and September are good months for variety, mid-December to early-February is a good period to see impressive numbers.

Wildfowl: Wintering numbers begin to build from late September but drop off early in the New Year. Ducks frequent Shutterton Creek whilst Brent Geese are often in the Bight on on the Golf Course. Other species can often be found with the Wigeon or passing offshore although most have also occurred on the Main Pond.

Wintering seabirds: The sheltered waters off the Warren support varying numbers of divers, grebes and seaduck from mid-November to February. It is best to find these birds on an overcast day in calm, flat-sea conditions.  The shallow, tidal-waters here are prone to becoming choppy and the aspect of the sun makes viewing these birds difficult in bright sunshine.  If few birds are present, try looking off Dawlish seafront, ‘our’ birds regularly drift around Langstone Rock depending on the tide-state and wind-direction.

Storm-blown sea-birds: If a storm is looking to provide interesting seabirds, you do not want to be seawatching here unless you are keen on your Dawlish Warren list!  The Torbay headlands or even Dawlish seafront tend to produce larger numbers. However, tired or exhausted seabirds will often concentrate here during or shortly after severe storms because this is the most sheltered location in Lyme Bay.  Saying this, storms from the southeast quarter often do produce interest throughout the year, particularly in August and September.

Migrant land-birds: The trees and scrub, more often than not have a peculiar eeriness about them, especially in the afternoon. Those situations when the bushes are alive with birds are very rare. These falls can occur when certain weather conditions force large numbers of migrants to land in a small area. April and May, August to mid-November are months which can receive ‘falls’.  Light south’ or easterlies with either fog or overnight drizzle have produced good numbers of grounded migrants in both seasons with light northerlies and rain also good in Spring. However seemingly ideal conditions can produce little and falls can appear unexpectedly! 

In autumn clear nights with easterlies or other light winds can be good for overhead ‘visible migration’ but cloud cover is often required to push birds down low enough to see here at sea-level. the exception is the flocks of Wood Pigeon that often pass high against a blue sky in early November.

Winter land-birds: Wintering birds tend to be limited to resident species but some years a BlackRedstart, Dartford Warbler or even a Coal Tit might overwinter. Large numbers of thrushes, finches and some waders rarely occur here as ‘cold-weather movements’.  Such events occur from early-December to early March, either during a rapid deterioration in conditions e.g. a snow blizzard, or a rapid and then prolonged decline in temperature caused by a dominating anti-cyclone.

Rarities and exceptional numbers often only occur during erratic climatic events, many migrants do not tend to linger here and the high level of (unintentional) disturbance throughout the day and throughout year, are all factors which can be perceived as making one anxious about attempting to birdwatch here.  Despite these problems, noteworthy birds occur practically every day (see Rare birds Day by Day) but to optimise seeing them, a birdwatcher should follow this advice.


Birding ‘do’s and dont’s’ at Dawlish Warren


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