Saturday 17 February 2024

A 3 Egret Day at Slapton Ley

It was a glorious day on Monday 12th February with an overnight frost giving way to blue skies, sunshine and a light breeze and with the forecast for the rest of the week being the usual grey and windy mizzle we decided to make the most of it and head out for the day despite it being Half Term Holiday Hell.

I caught the early bus to Slapton, the road at Modbury has now reopened and the buses are running to the usual timetable again, and I arrived at the Slapton Turn at around 9:20am to begin my birding day by walking along the muddy footpath around Ireland Bay. Cetti's Warblers were very vocal along the way and I managed to get some brief views of them at times as they skulked in the vegetation, Water Rails were equally noisy but remained well hidden.

The male Ring-necked Duck was quickly found out on the water amongst the Tufted Ducks but there was no sign of the recent Lesser or Greater Scaups. All the usual waterfowl were present though - Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Mute Swan and Cormorant - and 2 Little Grebe and 2 pairs of Goldeneye were also found.

Ring-necked Duck

Tufted Duck and Ring-necked Duck 


Gulls were bathing out on the water - Common, Black-headed, Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Great Black-backed Gulls - and amongst them were at least 6 Mediterranean Gulls with their delightful laughing calls giving them away as they flew about.

I walked back to the Bridge and then along the Ley side to Torcross, keeping an eye out for the Scaup along the way but with no luck. However a strange sight (for Devon at least) were regular flyovers by Great White Egrets, they were huge looking and very white in the strong sunshine with 2 seen together at one point. There were also 2 Little Egrets roosting in the trees at the back of the Ley, looking very white too but much smaller. Later before heading home I saw 6 Cattle Egrets around the pond at nearby Stokenham Farm, reportedly gorging themselves on the local Frog population coming in to spawn there and completing my Egret trio for the day, the first time I have seen 3 species of Egret on a day out in Devon.

Great White Egret

Cattle Egrets

Offshore was quiet but I did find a Great Northern Diver, a Razorbill and 11 Common Scoter (1 male) out on the flat calm sea with the Scoters showing very well quite close in to the beach.

David duly arrived in the car and we had a fish and chip lunch in The Start Bay Inn at Torcross, we had Megrim which we don't see on menus very often and it was very tasty (and a massive size too!). A post prandial waddle along the sea front promenade in the sunshine was enjoyed afterwards before we headed home, having had an enjoyable day out - blue skies and sunshine make such a difference to mood after all the grey and drecky weather we have been enduring of late.

The next 3 days were wet, grey and windy, but following a rainy and muddy internment of Mother-in-laws ashes into Father-in-laws grave on Thursday 15th February the next day was forecasted to be dry with sunny spells and so I headed out for a birding walk. It was very grey when I awoke in the morning and I nearly changed my plans of going out to look for Goshawks but I decided to carry on anyway. 

On the bus journey to begin my walk the skies darkened and the heavens opened, not what was forecasted at all, but it quickly cleared and remained dry for the rest of the day. The sunny spells were, however, few and far between until later in the day and just as I was heading home but I had a very productive time anyway.

After getting off the bus I walked up to my usual viewpoint to begin my sky scanning. Along the way I had some distant views of 6 Fieldfare perched up in the trees before they flew down into the fields to feed. There were plenty of Pheasants about in the fields too but I never found any Red-legged Partridges this time. A big surprise were 2 Egyptian Geese flushed from a field and flying off out of sight, a bird I don't often see in Devon. A pair of Stonechat feeding along the roadside hedgerow was also unusual.


I set up my scope and began my scanning and quickly found a displaying Goshawk being harangued by 3 Carrion Crows, distant views but a large bird lacking some secondary feathers on its right wing and also lacking white underparts so presumably an immature bird. It eventually lost its Crow entourage and flew off out of sight just as I picked up another bird on the opposite side of the valley, another large bird with very white looking underparts which quickly disappeared into the trees. 

Goshawk Viewpoint

I then regularly saw the bird with the missing secondaries overhead in its distinctive butterfly display flight while another bird with very brown toned upperparts and very white looking underparts passed low over the tree tops scattering Woodpigeons and Corvids in its path. I also saw a pair in display flight too, the female being larger than the male and both birds very pale looking underneath so there were at least 4 birds present. 

Ravens, Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk were also seen overhead, the Buzzards were very vocal with a maximum of 14 seen in the air at any one time and the Ravens were very vocal too. A Goldcrest and 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers (2 seen) were also of note but distant Egrets in the fields amongst the cattle were all Little.

Saturday 17th February was back to being drecky and claggy and with more heavy rain forecast for later in the day I headed out to Wembury on the 9 O'clock bus for a short walk. It was grey and misty when I arrived but at least I could see The Mewstone this time and it felt suprisingly mild.

The beach and cliffs have been getting even more of a battering with all the recent stormy weather and a sad sight was another Common Dolphin corpse washed up on the tide line.

Common Dolphin Corpse

The Redshank and Curlew were both still present along the beach on the high tide along with the usual Oystercatchers, 13 Turnstone, 7 Little Egrets and 10 Mallards (7 males). The usual Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails were also seen and a Grey Wagtail was a splash of colour in the gloom. A pair of Peregrine were buzzing low over the beach, one even briefly hovered before moving on but I couldn't see what it was investigating.




A Cirl Bunting was heard singing in the mist and 3 Chiffchaff were seen, 1 along the beach, 1 along the stream and 1 in a village garden. A sad sight was the "habitat management" that has been undertaken at The Point by the National Trust, all the Gorse growing along the footpath has been cleared but this is where I find Green Hairstreaks in the spring, hopefully some will have survived. I understand that work has to be undertaken and vegetation cleared but sometimes you need to know what is present and where it is before you clear it all away.

Gorse clearance at The Point

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