Day 1 of 4 - Dartmoor / Exmouth
On the morning of Friday 22 February, I headed off to Devon with my Dad, Dave 'Leapy' Lyons and Dave 'Ivor' Thomas. It was to be an intensive birding weekend, with trips to Dartmoor, Dawlish Warren, Broadsands and Bowling Green Marsh planned. We also intended to hit a few sites on the way back to Birmingham, although Ivor would not be joining us for these as he was staying on in Devon for another day or so.
We had a great run down the M5 and arrived in Budleigh Salterton before 8:30am. The car was quickly unloaded and without further ado we headed for Dartmoor. At about 10:00am we arrived at the Warren House Inn area, where a Great Grey Shrike has recently taken up residence. The weather was a little inclement, which made viewing tricky, but on Leapy's advice, we headed off the road towards the valley opposite the pub. Once we had a reasonable vantage point along the valley, I quickly located the Great Grey Shrike [lifer 196!] [year tick 83!] perched on top of a small bush. We didn't have great views and the bird took off shortly afterwards, but fortunately we all managed to get onto it.
After a bite to eat and a swig of whisky to celebrate the lifer we headed off to Fernworthy Reservoir. I didn't know too much about this site, but it was quite nearby and from what I could gather, it had a reputation for attracting some good species. True to form, within a few minutes of arriving we heard the distinctive calls of Common Crossbill. They revealed themselves moments later on the top of a stand of larches to our left [year tick 84!]. Definitely one of my favourite birds and a nice year tick. A short walk down the road revealed little else, so we decided to head off.
The next site on the agenda was Steps Bridge. I had seen reports of Marsh Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker here recently and I also understood that it was a reliable sight for Dipper. A scan from the bridge revealed nothing, but we did get a Grey Wagtail [year tick 85!] along the river. On the way back, however, Ivor had a second scan from the bridge and got us our Dipper [year tick 86!]. Another great bird in my opinion.
Next up was Dunchideock, a small village where Little Owl is regularly reported. In fact, I had been told that this bird was 'virtually guaranteed' - dangerous words in the birding fraternity. Finding the village was hard enough, let alone the owl. We never saw it, but one of the locals kindly 'gripped us off' by showing us a photograph of it perched on the roof of the village hall, not ten feet from where we were standing. He said it tended to show at dusk, but we weren't prepared to stand out in the cold any longer and made our way back to Exmouth.
A quick walk along the seafront and marina got me some regulation year ticks in the shape of Oystercatcher, Great Black-Backed Gull, Red-Breasted Merganser, Brent Goose, Turnstone and Redshank [year ticks 87, 88, 89, 90, 91 & 92!]. A Black Redstart had reportedly been in this area in the last few days, but we failed to locate it.
The birding finished for the day, we headed back to the house for pizzas and red wine. A brilliant day. We only hoped that our success would continue ...