Dawlish Warren: Where to watch

 

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Langstone Rock

Car park
and Buffer Zone

White Poplars
(Cuckoo’s Nest)

Entrance Bushes and the First Pond

Main Pond

Back Meadow

Main Wood
(Dead Dolphin Wood)

Greenland Lake

Wryneck Path

Dune Pond

Back Path

Dune Ridge

Beach

Warren Point

The Bight

Finger Point

Hide and Roost

Railway Saltmarsh

Golf Course

Home

 

 

Langstone Rock and the sea wall.

 

The main interest in this area is seabirds, both wintering and on passage. The seawall provides a good area to view out to sea and Langstone Rock provides a great vantage point across the mouth of the estuary and Dawlish Bay, although climbing it can be dangerous especially after rain. Both sites can be exposed in bad weather and LR is not recommended in strong winds.

 

Birds seen off these areas include Divers, Slavonian grebes, and Scoters.  During good sea watching conditions Shearwaters, Petrels and Skuas are often seen. Scarcities have included Surf Scoter, Little Auk, Grey Phalarope, Sooty Shearwater, Sabine’s Gull, Leach’s Petrel and White fronted Goose.

 

At low tide the rocks at the base of LR and on the sea wall used to be a regular haunt of Purple Sandpiper, but these are now rare. Turnstone and Oystercatchers still remain as well as good numbers of gulls.

 

The landward side of the seawall is often disturbed but Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits do feed here. In autumn and winter there is always the chance of a Black Redstart.

 

Plants of interest in this area include the only Hart’s Tongue fern on site, under a boulder in the old seawall and Rock Sea lavender on LR (LR was not included in the sites published flora so any records from there would be welcomed). The grassy area behind the sea wall has been much developed but some areas may still hold Early Meadow-grass and Small-flowered Buttercup.

 

The marine life to be found around LR and indeed much of the Warren is little known so again any information would be welcome.

 

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The Car park and Buffer Zone

 

The car park was only officially created in the late 1970’s and replaced an area of outstanding dune grassland. The Sand Crocus behind the visitor centre was transplanted to there from the car park during construction.

 

The area does not hold much in the way of birds, except for providing the only breeding sites for Starling and House Sparrow. Commoner species breed in the Bramble and Gorse and a pair of Stonechat is often present. Few notable birds have been recorded, although five Cirl Bunting were recently seen, but this might be because most people overlook this area!

 

Before the new drainage was installed, the car park would flood and after storms species such as Little Gull and Kittiwake had been recorded. One of these pools was even visited briefly by a Little Ringed Plover.

 

Botanically this is one of the richest areas away from the golf course, it is however not part of the reserve or SSSI. The heavy recreational use of this area does protect the reserve but the rarer clovers and other plants are getting hard to find. The disturbed nature of the area does however produce the occasional surprise, such as Sweet Violet and Water Figwort, with several garden plants also being recorded. The flowerbeds on the entrance roundabout used to hold a population of the nationally scarce Ivy Broomrape, but a change in planting schemes has removed this for the time being.

 

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White Poplars (Cuckoo’s Nest)

                                                       

 

 

 

 

The poplars have mostly been removed but the clump of Sycamores has the potential to hold something interesting. Sometimes this area can hold a good number of migrant warblers, presumably feeding on the abundant aphids. Several Firecrests have been recorded but as yet the rarest sighting is of the site’s second Monarch butterfly.

 

The only example of Tree Purslane on site grows under the Sycamores.

 

 

 

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Entrance Bushes and the First Pond

 

This refers to the area between the end of the car park and the visitor centre. The wide range of habitats mean there is always something of interest throughout the year.  The area around the First Pond especially, can hold good numbers of Phylloscopus and Sylvia warblers in both spring and autumn, this is also one of the better spots to find Pied Flycatcher on site. Chiffchaffs and occasionally Firecrest over winter. Both Radde’s and Dusky Warbler have been recorded, each the first to be twitchable in Devon. Several Yellow-browed Warblers have been recorded but as yet no Pallas’s.

 

The willows also provide a good area to see woodland species that are scarce on site, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit, and recently Treecreeper, can often be found at the right time of year. The pond holds breeding Reed Warbler in the summer, and in autumn and winter, Water Rail, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail may be seen.

 

The area near the visitor centre has a wide range of rare plants, the star being Petalwort, an internationally scarce liverwort. The transplanted Sand Crocus has spread and can be seen in several areas alongside Upright Chickweed and Subterranean Clover. The damper areas hold species such as Water Mint, Purple Loosestrife and Southern Marsh Orchid.

 

Cepero’s and Common Groundhopper have been recorded in this area and recently Long-winged Conehead has colonised.

 

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Main Pond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the largest area of freshwater on the reserve and as such holds a range of species found nowhere else on the reserve. In the summer there are several pairs of Reed Warbler and a pair of Reed Bunting as well as Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe – the latter a rare breeding species in Devon. Mute Swan and Canada Goose have also bred in the past.

 

Kingfisher, Water Rail, Grey Heron and Cormorant are regular visitors but few waders have been recorded except Snipe. Rarities have included Bittern, Bearded Tit and Great Reed Warbler.

 

Wildfowl on the pond is usually confined to Mallard and a few Teal, but in the past species such as Shoveler and even Tufted Duck were regular in winter and there are several spring records for Garganey.

 

The scrub around the pond, like that around the First Pond, can hold good numbers of warblers but has yet to hold any rarer species. Occasionally Tawny and even Long–eared Owls have roosted here.

 

A range of aquatic plants present includes Mare’s Tail and Spiked Water-milfoil, both rare in Devon. Southern Marsh Orchid, Brookweed and Ragged Robin can also be found in several areas. Fritillary was even found flowering here recently. The path between the VC and here is a good area to look for Early Meadow-grass.

 

The pond is a good site for Odonata; the rarest of these is Hairy Dragonfly, which is seen in small numbers each year. Commoner species include Emperor, Broad-bodied Chaser and Migrant Hawker. The reedbeds also support a number of moth species with a good range of Wainscots, in particular, being present. Some of these, along with Cream-bordered Green Pea, which breed in the sallows, occur at few other sites in Devon. Large numbers of Common Toads breed in the pond.

 

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Back Meadow

 

This small area of grassland is a good area to view the edges of the woodland; this is a good place for Spotted Flycatchers and Redstarts during migration.

 

Yellow Bartsia, Cuckooflower and Yellow Rattle can all be found here. Its sheltered nature is ideal for butterflies with Orange Tip and Common Blue being particularly numerous, there is also a small population of Marbled White.

 

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Main Wood (Dead Dolphin Wood)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the largest area of Alder woodland away from the golf course. The alders can hold migrants but viewing can be difficult. Holding some of the tallest trees on site both Carrion Crow and Magpie breed, Sparrowhawk has in the past. Breeding numbers of other species are low, due to the lack of natural holes, but Great and Blue Tits regularly use nest boxes. Rarities recorded here include Nuthatch, Nightjar and amazingly Red-eyed Vireo, which was first found here before moving nearer the Main Pond.

 

The ground flora is fairly impoverished under the trees; the combination of leaf litter, grass cuttings and even a dead dolphin has heavily enriched the soil. The flush of nettles and bramble does however provide good nest sites for Blackcap and Dunnock. Other species present include Skullcap and Greater Pond-sedge, which is spreading in from Greenland Lake.

 

The rides hold good numbers of Speckled Wood, and are regularly patrolled by Migrant Hawkers in autumn. Lunar Hornet Clearwing has been recorded breeding in the sallows.

 

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Greenland Lake

 

This area has a fascinating human and natural history. The area was originally a tidal creek separating the two sandspits.  The name originated from the 19th century, when fishing and whaling vessels were laid up over winter for repair before heading back to fishing grounds off Greenland. The area was also used as a commercial shell fishery for several years. The entrance was blocked up and the creek was partially infilled in the 1940’s in an effort to stabilise the Warren. Once it ceased to become tidal, the area eventually began to dry out and the process of succession moved on rapidly.

 

Being a large area of open ground this is a favoured site for Wheatear, but a wide range of rarer migrants has been recorded here including Hoopoe, Woodlark and Great Spotted Cuckoo.

 

In winter, if flooded, the area can hold Snipe and during storms even other waders such as Turnstone, Dunlin and Lapwing, Whimbrel often use the area in spring. This is also one of the best areas to see the rarer (in Dawlish terms) thrushes; Ring Ouzel has been recorded as well as flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing.

 

In summer the wetter areas are covered with Southern Marsh Orchid, several thousand spikes can be present. Other species present include Marsh Helleborine, Adder’s Tongue Fern as well as the exotic Blue-eyed Grass. This area also holds the only examples of Guelder Rose and Creeping Willow on site. Towards the eastern end of the lake the drier grassland holds species such as Autumn Ladies Tresses, Restharrow and Portland Spurge.

 

Brown Argus can also be found in these drier areas, Common Blue, Large and Small Skippers are also present. The longer vegetation supports a good colony of Long-winged Coneheads and several Great Green Bush-crickets. Other species that have been recorded include Wasp Spider and Red-veined Darter, the latter, a teneral male, was found drying its wings and had presumably emerged from the Main Pond.

 

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The Wryneck Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the name suggests Wryneck has been recorded here, the short turf and surrounding cover provide ideal feeding areas for this rare migrant. This area between the main path and the dune ridge is part of Greenland Lake, but the habitat is markedly sandier. The area has recorded Hoopoe as well as Wryneck, but the bramble and elders hold most avian interest. Whitethroat, Linnet and Stonechat all breed, but also occur in numbers on passage, migrant Whinchat also favour this area. Rarities have included Barred Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Rose-coloured Starling.

 

The grassland here also holds a similar range of species as the dry areas in Greenland Lake, including Autumn Ladies Tresses. More unusual species include Asparagus, Butcher’s Broom and recently Pyramidal Orchid. Lesser Centaury grows in damper areas near the path.

 

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Dune Pond (Far Pond)

 

This small pond despite its size has held breeding Moorhen and Mallard and regularly attracts flocks of birds to drink and bathe; in autumn this is the best place on site to find Sedge Warblers.

 

The only population of Glaucous Bulrush on site grows here, also around the pond, orchids, Marsh Pennywort and Lesser Centaury can be found. Several species of dragonfly breed, but the small population of Ruddy Darter was lost several years ago, although migrants are still seen occasionally.

 

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Back Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This path runs from the visitor centre to the windmill, alongside the golf course boundary. The habitat along the length of this path is a mix of dune grassland and bramble and Elder scrub. This is a good area for breeding species, Sylvia warblers in particular and similarly is a good area for them on migration, especially nearer the Dune Pond. Species regularly recorded include Dartford Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat; rarer species include Red-backed Shrike, Nightingale and Rose-coloured Starling.

 

The mown areas are slowing recovering their botanical interest, although Yorkshire Fog is becoming dominant in some areas. The older areas hold a good range of spring ephemerals, including several species of Chickweed and clovers. Rarer species include Shepherd’s Cress and Hairy Rockcress. Along the edges of the path itself there is a variable population of Cut –leaved Dead-nettle, another rare species in Devon.

 

The areas of scrub around the Back Meadow and Greenland Lake are a good place to find the Great Green Bush-cricket. This, the largest cricket in the UK, is a Devon BAP species and is present in good numbers on the reserve.

 

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Dune Ridge

 

“Along the dune ridge” can mean anywhere between the seawall and Warren Point. The whole length of the site is underpinned by a series of stone filled gabions; these were put in place in the 1970’s to protect the site from coastal erosion. It has been calculated that without the Warren, the high tide up estuary would be six feet higher!

 

The whole length provides a good view both up the river and out to sea. Visible migration and seawatching are the two main activities on this part of the reserve; favoured areas include the end of the promenade, the windmill and the end of the golf course for seawatching. Visible migration can be rewarding almost anywhere but is probably better from the windmill eastwards.

Few birds are actually recorded on the ridge, but Snow Bunting have been found feeding on the path on several occasions. The few bushes along the top of the ridge have held rarities such as Wood Warbler and Tree Sparrow.

 

The main plant of this area is Marram, without it there would be no dunes, growing amongst it can be found Sea Bindweed as well as Hare’s Tail Grass but little else can survive. Fungi can be obvious in autumn with stinkhorns especially so. Convolvulus Hawkmoth caterpillars have been found occasionally feeding on the sea bindweed. Emperor dragonflies often patrol along the ridge along with robberflies and sand wasps, this is also one of the few areas on the reserve where Wall butterflies can be seen. Most sightings of Stoat tend be along the ridge, the open terrain making them more obvious as they hunt for Rabbits.

 

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The Beach and sandbars

 

 

Conveniently divided into sections by the installation of groynes in the 1970’s, this one of the main high tide roosts on the estuary. The majority of the birds gather at the eastern end and wardening and signs help to prevent disturbance to the roosting flocks beyond groyne nine.

 

The remainder of the beach is often disturbed, but birds can be found roosting and feeding almost anywhere, especially during spring and autumn. In winter Sanderling and Turnstone are often present even at low tide, but the majority of Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover etc are present over high tide. Depending on where they roost or the recent patterns of erosion/deposition these flocks can be easily viewed from the dune ridge.  Many of the rare waders seen on site have been recorded roosting on the beach including Baird’s, Broad-billed and White-rumped Sandpiper.

 

As the beach widens towards Warren Point, the increase in vegetation and embryo dune can attract large numbers of Linnet and other finches in autumn and winter. These birds are feeding on the seed of plants such as Sea Rocket and Prickly Saltwort, which often grow here in abundance. Other plants recorded in the embryo dune include a range of Oraches and occasionally Yellow-horned Poppy. Other species, which have been recorded along the tide line, include Thorn-apple, Sunflower, Hazel and Beech.

 

Storm tides often change the shape of the beach but they can also bring large amounts of debris from further up the Exe. This debris accumulates on the beach and provides habitat for a range of species including a nationally rare woodlouse, although this has not been recorded recently. Larger debris is often used as a feeding perch by local Peregrines.

 

At low tide the sandbars offshore are exposed, large numbers of gulls can gather here to feed. Other species that can be present include Curlew, Oystercatcher and Brent Geese. Red-breasted Merganser can be seen feeding in the channels sometimes with scarcer species such as Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter.

 

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Warren Point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another area of the site with an interesting geological and human history. The Point has been at various times, an island separated at high tide from the remainder of the Warren, since the installation of gabions in the 1970’s the prospect of this occurring again has been much reduced. During the middle of last century (c1920-1960) a series of holiday homes and dwellings were built on the Point, but these were abandoned over time to winter storms and the shifting sands. Their legacy however continues with many of the reserve’s alien plants thought to have originated from the gardens of these houses. Examples to be found on the Point include Yucca, Tea-plant and Tree Lupin.

 

Birding the Point can be very unrewarding, a long walk often for little more than a few Skylark and maybe a Chiffchaff, however it can hold migrants, even when the rest of the site appears quiet. The open ground, with a few Sycamores and brambles, is ideal for migrant Wheatear, Whinchat and Redstart. Warblers and Spotted Flycatchers can also be present in good numbers in the Sycamores. Occasionally Warren Point does live up to its promise with Great Spotted Cuckoo, Savi’s Warbler and Lesser Grey Shrike all being recorded.

 

Being the largest area of relatively undisturbed dune on the reserve, especially now dogs are banned, breeding Skylark are present in greater numbers than on the rest of the site. Other breeding species present include Reed Bunting, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat, Shelduck and possibly Red-breasted Merganser have bred in the past along with the last Devon breeding record of Common Tern.

 

The dune grassland is similar to the rest of the reserve with few plants found only here, although the large areas dominated by lichen and stonecrop, which are not found elsewhere. Sea Spurge can be found and recently Sea Holly has been rediscovered on the Point. This species was widespread in the 1950’s but had disappeared from site, despite still being present in good numbers on the Maer at Exmouth. The rarest plant on Warren Point is however Pennyroyal, discovered in 1998, this Nationally rare species is present at only one other site in the county. Several species of Fungi were recorded as new to science after being discovered here by Victorian naturalists, it is not known whether these species are still present, but in good years several species of Earthstar fungus can be found.

 

The few Buddleia bushes on the Point can attract migrant butterflies, including Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady in good years; Hummingbird Hawkmoths have also been recorded. Breeding species include Brown Argus and the nationally rare Jersey Tiger moth can be found around the Sycamores midsummer, along with the increasing scarce Scarlet Tiger.

 

All three species of native cockroach can be found in the open grassland and the reserve’s only record of Speckled Bush-cricket was found in an isolated Dogwood clump. This flightless species must however have been overlooked elsewhere on site. Perhaps the most unusual record is a species of leafhopper that was recorded here in 1980, when found it was a new species for Britain, but the reserve has no other indication of its status; Was it just a vagrant? Is it still present? Has it spread to other areas of Britain?

 

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The Bight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This shallow bay on the estuary side of the spit is one of the last places on the Exe to be covered by high tide. Because of this, it is also one of the first and last places waders can feed either side of the tide, were they can be checked and counted relatively easily. Dunlin and Ringed Plover use the area most on the falling tide, the larger waders preferring to wait to feed on the wider estuary, however on the incoming tide larger waders such as Curlew and Godwits gather before moving to roosting areas. There is often a build up of larger gulls also either side of the tide with 600+ Greater Black-backed Gulls being counted. At high tide it also provides a feeding area for Brent Geese and Shelduck, although diving duck, such as mergansers, prefer the deeper water of the main estuary. Rarities recorded using the Bight, include Semipalmated and Greater Sand Plover, although most of the rare waders recorded on site have also used the area. Other species include Iceland Gull, Shorelark and Leach’s Petrel.

 

Being a tidal area few plants occur but those that do are regionally important, due to the scarcity of this habitat in the southwest.  Six species of Glasswort have been recorded along with other species such as Annual Seablite and Sea Purslane. At present it seems the bay is slowing silting up with areas of cordgrass and saltmarsh increasing.

 

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Finger Point

 

Since the early 1990’s this promontory on the western corner of Warren Point has developed into an important roosting area. Prior to this the area would be cut off and even covered by high tides but coastal processes have built up the spit, the addition of fencing to protect the area over high tide has also reduced disturbance to roosting birds.  As the point has built up, several strandline and embryo dune plant species have colonised, these include Sea Beet, Marram and Sand Couch.

 

The area can become the main roost depending on weather and disturbance, Curlew often use the point on an evening tide or if the Railway Saltmarsh is disturbed. A few waders have been recorded here over a high tide before disappearing, these include Kentish Plover, Purple, and most recently, Pectoral Sandpiper. The only reserve record of Lesser Yellowlegs spent it time on the northern shore of Finger Point, where it was not visible from the hide.

 

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The Hide and Roost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hide is situated on a small promontory of land adjacent to the golf course overlooking an area that is a popular roost site on lower tides. It gives good views across the Bight and onto Finger Point as well as across the reserve to the Railway Saltmarsh. The same coastal processes that have built up Finger Point and areas of the Bight had reduced the potential of this area as a high tide roost, so an artificial island has been constructed. This too is constantly altered by the power of the tides, but remains a key roost for species such as Oystercatcher. The wooden posts also provide roosting sites for terns, although most now remain on the mud around the roost.

 

These flocks, mainly Sandwich Tern, often hold Roseate Tern in midsummer, the Warren is a nationally important site for this species, rarities have included Gull-billed, Caspian, Elegant and Lesser Crested Tern.

 

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Railway Saltmarsh, Shutterton Creek and Wreck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This area along with the golf course is not open to the public and because of this lack of disturbance is an important roosting and feeding site. Curlew and Godwits, along with smaller numbers of other waders, roost on the Railway Saltmarsh before moving onto the mudflats with the receding tide. Large numbers of Black-headed Gulls roost here over high tide and in the evening, with Mediterranean Gull often being picked out. In the summer the tern flock can also gather here. Grey Heron and Little Egret also roost in this area, these have been joined by rarer species such as Spoonbill and Great White Egret. In autumn and winter large flocks of Brent Geese, Teal and Wigeon can be seen, other wildfowl can be scarce on site but are most often picked up with these birds. In winter over the high tide, Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and sometimes Long-tailed Duck can be seen feeding in Shutterton Creek and around the Wreck. Cormorant and Shag use the Wreck as a roost at high tide.

 

The saltmarsh vegetation is similar to that found around the Hide and Bight but is slowly being eroded by higher sea levels and Cordgrass is only present in many areas. This may soon also disappear; hopefully the displaced birds will be able to adjust to other roosting areas on the reserve.

 

This area can be difficult to view and a telescope is essential, on sunny days the heat haze and evening sunset can cause severe problems. The tern flocks are often flushed by passing trains, this is the best time to try and pick up any Roseates, before they settle down again amongst the saltmarsh vegetation. Trains rarely flush the waders, except Common Sandpiper; in July they can often be picked out flying along the estuary wall as a train passes.

 

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Golf Course

 

This area, along with the mudflats and saltmarsh, is owned by the Devon Wildlife Trust and is not open to the public at any time. The lack of disturbance allows many species to thrive, many waders and wildfowl feed along the saltmarsh edge and exist happily alongside the golfers. In winter Brent Geese, and in spring Whimbrel, can regularly be seen feeding on the fairways between groups of players. The fairways are also favoured areas for Wheatear, whilst the Gorse supports good populations of Linnet and Whitethroat.

 

The management of the fairways allows for several dune plant species to survive, Sand Crocus is the most well known of these, but many rare or scarce grasses, clovers and storksbills also occur. Other interesting plants found elsewhere on the course include Allseed, Royal Fern and Grass Vetchling.

 

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