Outline itinerary

Day 1                     Arrive
Day 2                    East Devon Pebblebed Heaths
Day 3                    The River Exe


15th – 17th Jan (Wed-Fri)


Birds & other wildlife


Beginner – Amateur


Easy paced; all walking will be for slow birdwatching

£275pp      Double room or Twin room
£300pp      Double room (single occupancy)


  • Exploration of the largest expanse of lowland heathland in Devon
  • Heath specialists like Dartford Warbler & potentially Great Grey Shrike
  • The amazing mix of winter birds on and around the river exe; waders, wildfowl & more
  • Large congregations of ducks, avocets, both  godwits and brent geese
  • Sea-watch for winter diver and grebes
  • Two nights at the beautiful Royal Beacon Hotel situated on the coast by Exmouth




This part of the county undoubtedly offers very good birding opportunities suited to both the beginner and amateur birdwatcher. This tour aims to provide a taste of the excitement of identifying birds during winter here on the River Exe Estuary and East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, the places where I first learnt to identify birds. Our base for this tour will be the seaside town of Exmouth, situated at the mouth of the river Exe and within easy reach of our other tour locations. For more information on the species we hope to encounter and some of the sites we are likely to visit, see the itinerary and site descriptions below.


Day 1 – Arrival

I will meet you in the lounge area of the Hotel at 6.30pm where we will have the opportunity to all meet before sitting down to dinner. Shortly after, I will give a short introductory talk outlining the programme for the next couple of days and some of the birds we will hope to spot. You will also have the chance to highlight any particular species you hope to see and ask any questions you may have.

Day 2 – East Devon Pebblebed Heaths

Situated over 1,400 hectares of lowland heath, the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths represents the largest expanse of lowland heathland in Devon and is one of the largest in the country. With countless easy walking paths and trails, exploration of the thriving habitats couldn’t be easier and there are plenty of opportunities to take in the beautiful views.

Woodbury Common/Bicton Common
Covering over 230 hectares, these two areas offer two contrasting types of heath; Bicton Common dominated by wet heath, scattered scrub and scrubby woodland whilst Woodbury is mainly dry heath with a small area of mire. During the summer months, cattle and Dartmoor ponies graze these areas and play a key part in the heaths management plan which allow the sites to support significant populations of Dartford Warblers, Nightjars, Silver-studded blue butterfly and the Small Red Damselfly. The sites are also home to many archaeological features with the most significant being the Iron Age Woodbury Castle which is a Scheduled Monument.

Aylesbeare & Harpford Common
The reserve is 213ha of southern heathland and is one of the largest outside the New Forest where its geology makes this heathland unique in Britain. The Commons are made up of quiet heathland, fringed by woodland, streams and ponds. Both sites are abound with butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies and support significant populations of Dartford warblers, nightjars and stonechat. As a great place for wildlife, Aylesbeare Common is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Natura 2000 site. It is one of many sites owned by Clinton Devon Estates and managed by the RSPB who promote it as a flagship reserve.

River Otter Estuary
The heath is also home to the River Otter Estuary, stretched over 33 hectares of stunning views and teeming wildlife. The estuary runs adjacent to Budleigh Salterton and, along with the cliffs of Otterton Point, is designated a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of the fine saltmarsh habitat it supports and the adjacent Triassic sandstone rocks of considerable paleontological interest. The estuary itself contains a wide range of saltmarsh communities, which together with additional areas of reed bed, tall herb and scrub support high numbers of breeding and overwintering bird species. Over 120 species of bird have been recorded on the site, including a number of particular conservation interest, including the whimbrel and black-tailed godwit.

Day 3 – River Exe Estuary

Eight miles long and a mile across at its widest point, the Exe Estuary represents one of the most important places for wildfowl and wading birds in the whole of the South West. Designated as both a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and international Ramsar site, the Exe Estuary sits amongst some of the world’s best sites for wintering bird assemblages with tens of thousands coming to feed. It’s during winter that the estuary really bursts to life with a spectacular number and variety of waders, wildfowl and seabirds to be enjoyed.

Dawlish Warren
Locally known as ‘The Warren’, this National Nature Reserve (NNR) is an area of grassland, sand dunes, beach and mudflats, centring on a 1½ mile long sandspit across the mouth of the Exe Estuary.  This varied Reserve has many different habitats including salt marsh, fresh water ponds, wet meadows and woodland which attract a wide variety of birds including waders, grebes, ducks and geese. The site also picks up several small wintering passerines including Siskin, Linnet and Stonechat, and even the odd local rarity such as Firecrest and Cirl Bunting. With its close proximity to the sea, it’s the perfect spot for sea watching with both Great Northern and Red-throated diver common and the regularly seen Bonaparte’s Gull often found sitting on the sandbreaks.

Exminster Marshes
As Devon’s premier wetland area, Exminster Marshes is a reserve featuring marshland and wetland habitats interlaced with canals and rivers. The area consists of wet grassland drained by dykes and ditches and provides important feeding grounds with hundreds of brent geese grazing on the marsh or estuary. Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Ducks and Shoveler are common on the main pools whilst there is also a chance for the less common Pintail and Gadwall. Waders also commonly feed here with Oystercatcher, Avocet, Redshank, Greenshank and Knot regularly seen. The large areas of reedbed attract large numbers of cetti’s warbler, and both Snipe and Jack Snipe are frequently recorded here skulking along the reed edge.

Topsham/Bowling Green Marsh
Situated on the east bank of the Exe Estuary, just outside the small town of Topsham, Bowling Green Marsh is one of the main critical high tide roosts for the Exe Estuary providing birds a safe place to rest up and feed when the tide is at its highest and the mudflats are covered. As a great place for wildlife, it is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as well as a Natura 2000 and Ramsar site. During the winter, the open water attracts many different species of wetland birds; godwits, Avocet, geese, a variety of ducks and often a Kingfisher or two. As a permanent area of standing water it is also a magnet for migrating waders including Dunlin, Ruff, Knot and Whimbrel, but also several raptor species including Merlin and Peregrine Falcons. This little reserve is best enjoyed from a wonderfully comfortable hide with open views across the pools.

Additional bird we may see at sites in between (season dependent):

Slavonian grebe                         Red-breasted merganser                      Goldeneye

Black-necked grebe                   Common Scoter                                     Mediterranean Gull

Eider                                             Long-tailed duck                                    Skua sp.


There will be some easy and moderate walking on this tour, covering between two and four miles per day including some steep elevations and walks on sand. However, this will all be taken at a slow birdwatching pace, and will be interspersed with time spent in hides and cafes/pubs. With suitable footwear and a can-do attitude there should be no problems for most.

Unfortunately this tour is not suitable for those who need significant assistance with walking be it walking stick or wheelchair.

Food & Accommodation (included in the cost)

Accommodation will be at the Royal Beacon Hotel in Exmouth with double or single occupancy rooms available, all en suite and with tea and coffee-making facilities. The hotel is situated close to the coast and beach and is within easy reach of the key birding and other wildlife sites we will be visiting during this tour. The hotel is beautifully furnished with a mix of old and new with meals served in an attractive restaurant. The food is reviewed very highly and is cooked by a resident chef of over a decade.

Breakfasts and evening meals are included in the cost, beginning with the evening meal on Day 1 and finishing with breakfast on Day 3, and will be served in the hotel restaurant. Ingredients are sourced locally and they happily cater to vegetarians, vegans and any other dietary requirements.

Note: Lunches are not included in the cost of this tour. We will stop at a mixture of cafes/pubs for lunch and, depending on weather and other factors, we may make another comfort stop during the day. Snacks, and drinks that you require (apart from at breakfast), are not included in the price of the tour and are not provided, so you will need to make sure you have what you need independently for a day’s wildlife-watching.

Included in tour cost

The holiday cost includes 2 nights’ accommodation, half board (breakfast and evening meals) plus guiding and transport during the tour. Lunches are not included, nor travel to and from the hotel prior and after the tour have ended.


Book your place!

In order to book your place on this tour or to find out more information, please give me a call on 07551866043 or drop me an email at matt.collis@live.co.uk.

Payments can be made either by bank cheque or online transfer (details will be given by email). You will then receive a receipt and further information regarding the tour via email or postal dependent on your preference. Please do remember to stipulate any special requirements, for example dietary exclusions, at the time of booking.


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