Water Germander: this wild flower is nationally rare, found only here and at Braunton Burrows on the northern side of the estuary. Sand Pansy: another nationally scarce plant is found among the short grass just off the saltmarshes and in the sand dunes. Curlew and Oystercatcher: just two of the many species of wading bird that make this a nationally important site. The summer months are naturally the quietest but still offer plenty to see. However, it is during the spring and autumn that large numbers of wading species either pass through or stay for the winter.
Large flocks of Golden Plover, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Lapwing are common in winter with smaller numbers of Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Greenshank and Ruff. Other species are always a possibility.
Other waterfowl likely to be seen in winter are Brent Geese, Mallard, Widgeon and Teal. Shelduck can be seen all through the year. Diving ducks such as Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser are regular visitors. A King Eider spent much of 2008 in the Taw-Torridge Estuary.
In the summer Sandwich Tern and Little Tern can sometimes be seen either roosting amongst the gulls or diving into the water for fish. Other birds normally found further out to sea such as Guillemot sometimes turn up in the Estuary, particularly, during onshore gales.
An excellent way to view waders from the comfort of your car is by parking beside the Appledore access road two hours before high tide. An evening tide is best as the sun will be behind you and the flooding tide will push the birds over the mud flats and saltmarsh known as the Skern to within a few metres of the road.
Migratory Wheatear can often be seen feeding amongst the dunes and grazed grassland paticularly during their spring and autumn migration with some staying to breed. Grasshopper Warblers are also recorded as breeding so listen out for their reeling grasshopper-like call. Pied Wagtails and Stonechats can be seen all year round while flocks of Linnet, Goldfinch and Starling are rarely far away. Kestrels can often be seen hovering over the dunes hunting for small mammals and lizards and Skylark also hang in the air above the grasslands. Little Egret fish in the tidal ditches and on the mud flats along with Grey Heron.
These are just a few of the species that you may see and there is always a chance of a real rarity.
The various habitats available in a relatively small area ensure a diverse range of species can be found in even a short visit at any time of year. Pyramidal Orchid, Sea Stock, Common Restharrow, Viper’s-bugloss, Lady’s Bedstraw are at their best in June and July whilst Sea Spurge, Marram, Sea-holly and Glasswort species can be spotted at any time. Hound’s-tongue, Sharp Rush and Rock Sea-lavender are all notable plants in Devon found at this site.
The sand dunes and other ungrazed areas are the best places to see butterflies. Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Gatekeeper and Small Tortoiseshell are common.
Red and black Burnet Moth fly during the daytime over the dunes and ungrazed areas from late May to early September. Other moths that thrive in this coastal habitat such as Archers Dart and Yellow Belle can also be seen flying in the daytime. In the summer, little grass moth species such as Agriphila tristella may be disturbed from the long grasses but soon settle back on a nearby grass stem.
Common Lizard may be seen basking in the sun particularly around the dune system. Hoverflies such as Helophilus trivittatus sip nectar from flower heads. Blue-tailed Damselfly flutter along the extensive grasslands and drainage ditches. The paper-like cocoons of the Burnet Moth are common among the grass stems.
Northam Burrows Country Park is a headland on the southern shore of the Taw-Torridge Estuary. It is on the North Devon coast overlooking Barnstaple Bay. Northam Burrows has a diverse range of habitats including a pebble ridge, dunes, saltmarshes and a grassy coastal plain as well as a golf course! The grasslands are grazed by horses and sheep. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is managed by Torridge District Council. Northam Burrows lies within the ‘buffer zone’ of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
Parking: large car parks with seasonal tolls on access roads near Appledore and Westward Ho!
Facilities: the nearest facilities are in Appledore
Walking: The car parks provide easy access to the whole of the Country Park. Some of the walks form part of the South West Coast Path.
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