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 interest.  The following notes aim to outline the best times and conditions to see certain bird-groups.


Wading birds: purchase an Exmouth tide-table, viewing around one or two hours either side of high tide is best.  Waders are best viewed from the hide when they are on The Bight and surrounding mudflats on a mid-ranging tide (3.1 to 3.3m). During spring tides (3.3 to 4.6m tides) many waders roost on the beaches of Warren Point. 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.  The beaches are popular with walkers and a Bird Warden is employed from September to March to ‘police’ and ‘educate’ visitors about the roosting flocks of waders.  At other times of the year it is best to view waders on the rising tide before they get disturbed.  August and September are good months for variety, mid-December to early-February is a good period to see impressive numbers.


Storm-blown sea-birds: if a storm is threatening 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, injured 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.


Wintering seabirds: the sheltered waters off Dawlish Warren can support many 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 very few birds are present, try looking off Dawlish seafront, ‘our’ birds regularly drift around Langstone Rock depending on the tide-state and wind-direction.


Migrant land-birds: the trees and bushes here, more often than not have a peculiar eeriness about them, apart from the ever present Dunnock, Dawlish Warren does not have an abundance of resident birds.  Those situations when the bushes are abounding with birds are very rare, these are known as ‘falls’.  ‘Fall’ conditions 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 receive ‘falls’.  Light south’ or easterlies with either fog or overnight drizzle have produced ‘land-falls’ and clear nights with easterlies, early morning in October can be good for heavy ‘visible migration’.


Winter land-birds: do not as a rule winter at Dawlish Warren.  Large numbers of thrushes, finches and some waders however, do rarely occur here as ‘cold-weather movements’.  Such events occur from early-December to late-February, 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.


Birds of ‘interest’ often only occur during erratic climatic events, birds 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.


·        assess the state and height of tide (mid or spring tides are best)

·        visit at least in the early morning (the first few hours after first light are best)

·        watch local weather reports (overcast, still conditions or storms or snow are best)

·        keep updated with regional bird-news (birds which appear elsewhere nearly always relate to what birds appears here)

·        patience (owing to its characteristics, simply shear number of hrs in the field count)


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


Dawlish Warren’s unenviable attributes of supporting wildlife susceptible to damage and disturbance and equally being a very popular and busy place, have partly led to the inclusion of this section.  It is not without some reservation its inclusion is also in part owed to infrequent ‘situations’ in recent years whereby birdwatchers, and particularly twitchers need to be reminded of their obligations as representatives of their ‘interest-group’.  Please follow the following advice:

·        follow the ‘Birdwatching Code’ (Birdwatchers Year-book etc.)

·        adhere to all NNR bylaws (displayed on noticeboards and within the Visitor Centre)

·        do not abuse other users of the site (educate, do not confront; find a Warden if necessary)

·        provide the Wardens with your records, if the Visitor Centre is closed, slip your notes under the garage door (any records passed to the website will be forwarded to the wardens)

·        do not disturb birds, particularly roosting waders and rare migrants (this is a nature reserve, people come second to wildlife here)

·        access is limited, observe signs, do not go on the Golf Course, mudflats or the saltmarsh




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