Birds On Exmoor
The Exmoor National Park has a variety of landscapes and habitats which support an abundance of wildlife and a great diversity of bird species many of which are more common than in the rest of the South West.
The landscape can be divided into five different types each with its own varieties of bird life:
Exmoor has about 34 miles of coastline from Minehead in the east to Combe Martin in the west.The shoreline in the vicinity of Dunster and Minehead is of sand and mud with vast areas exposed at low water providing a feeding area for many waders. Curlew, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Dunlin are present for most months of the year. Less common visitors at certain times are Knot, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Ruff and Curlew Sandpiper.
Away from the beach the fields and hedgerows near the coast are good for migrants like warblers, chats, redstarts and wagtails. The Snow Bunting is a regular visitor in the winter.
The rest of the coastline except for Porlock Bay consists of steep rugged cliffs which vary from 150 to 305 metres high and provide nest sites for Peregrines, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills and Guillimots with a few pairs of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls.
Behind the shingle beach at Porlock Bay lie the reed beds of Porlock Marsh and former field systems now exposed to the sea and tidal flooding. Apart from regular species an impressive list of rarer birds have been sighted. The development of the recently flooded fields as a permanent habitat is on-going.
There are about 96,000 acres of farmland within the Park used mainly for sheep and beef production together with limited arable.
Over 3,500 miles of hedgerow provide a breeding habitat for smaller birds including the Blackcap and Garden Warbler. The remains of crops in the fields are food for mixed flocks of finches, Brambling, larks and wagtails.
The short grass in grazed fields is attractive to waders. Groups of Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover are common
There are large areas of woodland totalling 21,000 acres of broadleaf and conifer and including shelter belts and copses. A fairly small proportion is ancient woodland and the large areas of coniferous woodland are of relatively recent origin.
The broad leaved woodland supports a greater diversity of birdlife with all three woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Tawny Owl, Buzzard, tits and finches all resident.
The conifers are not without their share. Flocks of tits and Goldcrests are common. Redpoll and Siskin are also present.
Rivers and Reservoirs
There are three reservoirs and many significant rivers with numerous tributaries due to the high rainfall on Exmoor.
Along the rivers there are respectable populations of Dipper, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail. Common Sandpipers, Green Sandpipers and Sand Martins appear along the river edges.
The largest reservoir is Wimbleball which also supports the greatest number of bird species. In winter, duck are present depending on the weather and regularly include Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goosander and Goldeneye. Less commonly Scaup, Gadwall, Shoveller and Common Scoter may be around. The lake is home to a large flock of Canada and more exotic Geese.
Waders are rare but Green, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Greenshank, Spotted Ringed Plover have been seen on passage. Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank are regular visitors. Around the lake are breeding habitats for Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Whinchat, Raven and Willow Tit.
The other reservoirs are smaller and do not boast such a wide range of species. Nutscale has Scaup, Pochard and Goosander. The surrounding area is home to Buzzard, Raven, Redstart, Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Cuckoo as well as commoner birds.
The moorland areas of Exmoor total about 47,000 acres. The landscape is harsh and inhospitable particularly in the winter. As a result many resident birds move to lower altitudes at that time of year.
Meadow Pipit and Skylark are common. Red Grouse are feared to be near extinct but there have been a few sightings in the vicinity of Dunkery. During the summer the moorland erupts with Stonechat, Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Wheatear, Cuckoo and Lapwing being among the species that breed. The Ring Ouzel has become increasingly rare but the Dartford Warbler is no longer an unusual sight.
There are a good number of raptors with Hobby and Merlin breeding on the moor as well as the Buzzards, Kestrels and Sparrowhawks.
Occasional visitors are Hen and Montagu’s Harrier, Red Kite, Great Shrike, Snow Bunting and Dotterel.