Current Reports

Seaton Wetlands Reserve. Sunday 14th January 2024

Before leaving North Devon for the South Devon coastal town of Seaton, we were serenaded by the early morning chortling song of a blackbird. In front of the car a magpie flew up from its roadkill breakfast, leaving it to the last second and then a flock of sheep clattered their way across the road before entering a grassy field en masse.

A slight drizzle descending from grey skies fell, as we began our journey across the county. Further on thick mists hung in the valleys. Two buzzards were spied, one at the top of a tree and the other atop a telegraph pole.

Nearing our destination we passed a clump of daffodils by the roadside as the skies began to clear and the wind dropped to nothing.

Our destination was the Seaton Wetlands Reserve adjoining the town. This area of marshland, reed beds and lagoons by the River Axe was created as a flood defence project. As a result of this a habitat of tidal lagoons was formed where the water levels and salinity could be controlled.
Artificial Sand Martin Nesting Site pic by John Short.

Seaton Wetlands reserve consists of three main areas, Colyford Common, Black Hole Marsh and the separated Seaton Marshes. On arrival in the car park, goldfinch, chaffinch and long tailed tit were immediately recorded. Entering the reserve we were treated to spectacular views across the valley under clear blue skies. It was hard to imagine that only two weeks ago “Storm Henk” caused flooding over this area leaving some paths under inches of water, evidence of which could still be seen. Some of the bird life here appeared to be accustomed to the many visitors who have travelled the well constructed walkways over the years, as dunnock and blackbird came very close to us, plus a robin that almost fed from my hand.

Shelduck swam serenely across the still waters of a pond as we made our way to the Tower hide from which we could see across the tramway and the river, as redshank and oystercatchers patrolled the far mudbank. The vibrant colours of lapwing glistened brilliantly under the sun. (This green plover has many local names, one of which is chewit named after its familiar call and in Bradworthy they are known as horniwinks).

Next stop was the Island hide aptly named for its position in the middle of a lagoon and connected to the shore by a screened walkway. This hide provided us with nearly 360 degree viewing. It was interesting to watch the many teal alternately dabbling and then splashing their wings on the water. Those of us who had not yet eaten then moved on to the Discovery hide to consume our packed lunches whilst watching a brace of moorhens feeding around the small pond outside.

On then to the bird hide overlooking the Axe and Colyford Common as we passed wooden sculptures, some adorned with bobble hats, to walk over the well constructed boardwalk. From the hide we had the sighting of the day. Among the grazing Canada geese was an unmistakeable bar headed goose. Plenty of wigeon were seen here plus a lone greenshank.

Time now for our last visit, half a mile along the road to Seaton Marsh. First a walk around Borrow Pit, a secluded pond, where otters have previously been seen before heading out to the bird hide. Here we were rewarded with sightings of a curlew plus a kingfisher in the lower branches of a tree overhanging the stream running past the hide. JS

Lee Bay Woodlands. Sunday 17th March 2024

Our March outing once again found us heading for a venue on our West Country coastline. Nearing our destination an ominous persistent drizzle descended from a grey sky, as a thick sea mist appeared in the distance. However, the weather began improving as we wound our way down the steep twisting road of the narrow Borough Valley leading to the quaint little hamlet of Lee nestling beside the bay of the same name.

Hugging the sides of this valley are trees of the rare Atlantic rain forest. These woodland habitats are found on the western coasts of the UK with its mild climate and relatively high rainfall. This provides the ideal habitat for the lower plants such as lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts and ferns. These areas are least affected by air pollution and can be especially rich in lichens, an abundance of which generally indicates a cleaner atmosphere.

Today we were lucky to have the services of Dr Eirene Williams, a consultant environmental scientist who would be leading our walk.

Dr Eirene Williams talking about Lower Plant Life (E Beer)

After a short introductory talk we found ourselves entering the woodland and it was not long before we came across a variety of lower plant life. First off, were a couple of mosses. Eirene explained to us the two different types, pleurocarps (sprawling) and acrocarps (vertical). Often difficult to identify with the naked eye, small samples were collected in a tray to be more accurately identified later on under a microscope.

Following the clear waters of a raging stream we plodded up the adjoining muddy path with plenty of lush growth around us. Two varieties of liverworts were plucked from the banks of the stream as the bright colours of a scarlet elf cup fungus peered out from under a fallen tree.

Making our way up through the woods we were serenaded with a variety of bird song. Numerous displays of primroses, celandines, wood anemones and golden saxifrage brightened our journey. A polypore bracket fungus clung to the side of a tree stump and on another was a ”King Alfred’s cake” normally associated with ash trees. Among other fungi noted were the hairy stereum, an orange-yellow bracket like fungus and the very tiny candle snuff with its young, white antler like stems, usually found on dead wood. Other mosses included the common thuidium similar in form to a tamarisk tree and the usnea, the familiar beard like moss.

As it was early in their growing season only the unfurling crosiers of the young ferns were becoming visible. However the mature ferns of the previous year’s growth were still present and Eirene was able to give us a guide to their growth forms. These went from a pinnate frond (undivided) to a tripinnate frond (three times divided). We were able to identify examples of each category along the way from the undivided Hart’s tongue, the pinnate fern of the many fingered polypody, the bipinnate lady fern and the tripinnate broad buckler fern.

Lady Fern (E Beer)

It was now time to head back to the car park of the ancient Grampus Inn and to show our appreciation for the use of their car park, by consuming a Sunday lunch. This we did under an outside veranda which was now warming up from the Springlike sun.

A very interesting walk on a subject very often overlooked. The day was rounded off with tea and cakes overlooking the ebbing tide of the River Taw with a lonely looking little egret standing on a now revealed sandbank above which we could see the faint outline of a crescent moon.
JS