Review of Plymouth Branch talk on Exe Estuary by Dave Smallshire

Up to 30,000 birds are found on the Exe Estuary and its surrounding area at the mid winter peak each year in an area of special protection and conservation. Dave Smallshire presented ‘Birds of the Exe Estuary’  describing comprehensively the many habitats that attract such large numbers. 

During the winter Dave regularly commentates on river cruises and  guided the audience on an illustrated boat trip along with his excellent photography. He started at the south end from Exmouth, taking us towards Dawlish Warren, which gives protection from the ferocity of the sea by the sandy spit and ever changing sandbanks. Mussel beds give food for the Oystercatchers and Crows. Further upriver of this ten by two kilometre estuary the mudflats offer hydrobia for the probing bills of many waders.  Godwit and Brent Geese from the Arctic are here in nationally significant numbers.

In the middle part of the estuary a good number of Avocets wade in the shallows sweeping from side to side. Dave commented that some waders, like the Avocet, are down in numbers due to milder European winters. Numerous wildfowl  and gulls use the river and exposed mud at low water then transfer to fresher water sites at high water such as Bowling Green and Exminster Marshes and adjoining fields. Further sites towards Topsham provide food and shelter in the reed beds and further upstream the sewage works and old sludge beds attract insect eating birds.      

Dave’s enjoyable presentation included aerial views showing the expanse of the Exe Estuary, where three hundred species have been identified overall. The status of the Exe is significantly important as a crossroads for birdlife from Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and Europe as well as Africa, whether on passage like the Hobby and Osprey or over wintering.   Liz Harris