Exe Estuary-Devon

Devon - winter birding in the West Country

This short break take us to some of the best sites in Devon and Somerset in search of birds of the wetlands and coast.
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16 – 20 January 2023


Mike Symes


To be confirmed


To be confirmed

Not included

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Group size

To be confirmed

Devon is the perfect location for a winter break and this trip will introduce us to some of the special winter wildlife of this beautiful county and give us a chance to encounter some of its rich birdlife.

From our base in rural Devon, where we will stay in a restored 13th Century mill, we will visit some of the important local areas for wintering birds.

We explore the Exe Estuary on a gentle cruise giving us the opportunity to see some of the wintering waders and wildfowl for which the area is internationally recognised. Striking Avocets are joined by Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, godwits and plovers, and wintering divers and grebes should be spotted in the shallows.

Our next day sees us head to the extensive wetlands of the Somerset Levels in neighbouring Somerset. Here we can expect to see a good range of birds including Lapwing, Pintail and Great White Egret, along with hopefully, a Bittern or two. Our day ends watching the vast Starling roost murmuring its way back into the reeds.

We will also spend a day in Torbay, stating with some time around Brixham Harbour where we will look for wintering Great Northern Divers along with Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers, before we turn our attentions to the fields and hedgerows as we search for the Cirl Bunting; a Devon speciality!

As well as the avian stars we also have chances to see mammals including Grey Seals loafing in the estuary or harbour, along with a chance of Water Voles and Otters on the Somerset Levels. All in all we expect to enjoy some fantastic West Country wildlife. 

Day 1 Our holiday starts near the village of Kingskerswell where we will meet at our hotel in time for an introduction to the holiday and our first dinner together.

Day 2 We take the short drive towards Stover Country Park. Birds here could include Great Crested Grebes, Tufted Duck and Pochard, which may be joined on the water by Goosander and shy Mandarin Ducks. 

We will then drive to Exmouth to join a three hour cruise exploring the Exe estuary, an area of international importance for its populations of wintering waders and wildfowl. This is the perfect way to enjoy the rich birdlife of the estuary. We can expect to find a great range of waders, along with Brent Geese, wintering divers and grebes, and perhaps Red-breasted Merganser. We will also keep watch for Grey Seals that can be spotted hauled out on mudbanks or keeping watch from the water.

Day 3 We cross over the border to Somerset to spend a day exploring Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath, at the heart of the Somerset Levels and Moors; one of the largest lowland wetlands in the country. From the hides and viewing platforms overlooking the extensive wetlands we hope to see Marsh Harriers quartering, along with a range of ducks. We have a good chance to see Great White Egret here, and we will search among the vegetation for Water Rail and Bittern, whilst we keep an eye out for some of the area’s increasing number of Common Cranes and listen for the ‘ping’ of Bearded Tit. 

As the evening starts to gather we will turn our attentions to the famous Starling roost; one of the largest in the UK, usually with tens of thousands of birds involved, and we will find a good spot to wonder at the sight and sound of them swirling into their roost for the evening.

Day 4 Today we drive south to the charming fishing town of Brixham and spend our morning exploring the harbour area and breakwater, where we should see Gannets plunging into the waves, and hopefully close views of Great Northern Diver in the inner harbour. We should also spot Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers as they pick their way along the breakwaters, and Grey Seals are often spotted here.

After lunch we take the short drive to Broadsands, where we may spot more divers, or perhaps grebes and scoters offshore. We will also check the nearby fields and hedgerows, where we hope to find a real Devon speciality and one of the stars of the area; the beautiful Cirl Bunting.

Day 5 One final breakfast, and then it is time to bid farewell to Bickley Mill and to Devon, and to head home, hopefully taking some good memories of the spectacular flocks and beautiful views of the West Country.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

Our accommodation will be at Bickley Mill Inn, a restored 13th Century mill in an idyllic Devon valley. The Inn is near the village of Kingskerswell, which lies 30 minutes south of Exeter, just off the A38. All rooms have private bathrooms.

Evening meals will be taken at the hotel (price included). Requests for special diets can be accommodated. We shall be buying items for picnic lunches each day (not included) .

Our transport for this trip will be by a small coach/minibus.

Travel to Kingskerswell

The holiday starts and finishes at our accommodation in Kingskerswell.

You can reach Newton Abbot by train, from there you would need to take a taxi to Kingskerswell.

Kingskerswell lies around 20 miles south of Exeter, just off the A38.

The English weather is of course anything but predictable. We should expect cool and possibly damp conditions, although who knows, the weather could be bright and sunny on some days and cold and wet on others! We will adapt our itinerary to the weather. It can be ‘breezy’ or even windy on the coast at times. We will not walk for long in adverse weather conditions. Evenings can be cold.

We will be walking for much of the day, each day, albeit at a slow pace and never covering any great distance. There are likely to be steps at the hotel, as well as into/out of the boat. In some locations ‘facilities’ are scarce! You therefore need to have a reasonably good level of fitness although none of the walks are strenuous. 

During the holiday, we will ask you to wear face coverings in enclosed places, including on the bus, in communal areas of the hotel and in any other indoor spaces we may visit during the day.