I headed off on the train to Dawlish Warren spending only £6.70 for return ticket, such a bargain, and despite some delays and packed trains full of people heading home for Christmas carrying loads of presents, I arrived at Dawlish Warren at around 11am. It was bright and sunny but was a brief reprieve from the rain and gales we have been experiencing this week and which are set to return again tomorrow.
I checked out the main pond first where a black necked grebe has been reported recently but there was nothing showing on a very overflowing pond so I headed off to the bird hide as it was high tide. Amongst the grey plover, dunlin and oystercatcher flock in front of the hide I managed to find 4 knot, a sanderling and a bar tailed godwit. A few curlew and redshank were also seen and a small flock of turnstone were flying around the mussel dredger and other boats in the estuary.
Brent geese, wigeon and shelduck were feeding in The Bight by the hide along with a lone female teal. Cormorants were drying their wings on the shingle spit and 7 skylark were feeding along the shoreline in front of the hide.
Brent Geese in The Bight
4 great crested grebes, red breasted mergansers and a male goldeneye were feeding around the wreck in the estuary and I thought I had a brief view of a Slavonian grebe too but I failed to relocate it. A nice find was a kingfisher flying low over the water by the railway embankment, having been disturbed by a passing train. Another nice find was a water rail which suddenly appeared from the saltmarsh vegetation in front of the hide before quickly disappearing from view.
I headed back to the main pond and found 4 little grebes, 1 in semi-summer plumage, and eventually the black necked grebe appeared giving amazingly close views. It was difficult to get a clear view of it on the water due to the flooded paths around the pond and the surrounding vegetation but eventually it showed very well, down to a few meters, and appeared very unconcerned by my closeness as it frequently dived for food.
A very tame Black Necked Grebe - with very red eyes
Black Necked Grebe
Black Necked Grebe
Back of the head view of the Black Necked Grebe
I also heard water rails squealing around the pond while a great spotted- and a green woodpecker were seen flying overhead. A pair of stonechats were feeding on the flooded grassy area by the visitors hide and a feeding party of long tailed tits moved through the bushes.
The sea was flat calm and I managed to find around 6 great crested grebes and a red throated diver while an adult gannet flew West. There was no sign of the occassionally reported Bonapartes gull and the only other sea birds of note were fulmars prospecting the cliffs between Dawlish and Teignmouth as I went by on the train.
Heading home and the sky had clouded over but it had been a very pleasent few hours away from the Christmas madness currently enveloping people. The black necked grebe had given brilliant views and brings my year list up to 182, a total unlikely to be increased before the year end due to work and Christmas commitments.