Slapton Ley: Great crested grebes and sunset skinny dipping

I could barely make out the outline of a sea angler through the car window as we pulled into Slapton Memorial for the barrage of rain beating on the windscreen. It had taken me an hour to drive from my townhouse to this blustery shingle beach, passing through every single small village in the South Hams, and for a brief moment I regretted my choice of May Day activities.   slaptonmap

When I first decided to visit Slapton Ley I knew nothing more about it than what I could discern from plonking my taloned finger on a map of South Devon and declaring that looks interesting!

I could see from the OS map that the shingle bar bar held back a substantial amount of fresh water that experience told me should be a fantastic habitat for nesting migrants. I hoped for reed beds similar to Thurlestone Marsh where I was ringing chiffchaff, warblers and blackcaps a few weeks previous.

After 5 minutes of watching the fisherman bait and re-bait his hooks I decided that the view from a ford fiesta’s washed out windscreen was overrated, I should stop being such a snowflake and … buy an ice cream.

Everything is better with an ice cream and it certainly is the best reward for Eurasia’s pastoral heritage.

Refueled for the walk along the shingle to Torcross. One of my big wants this year is to see a great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) with her stripy zebra babies and although it is a little early in the year I am hopefully after watching a number of pairs on Lower Ley.


After watching my host pair of grebes fend off a couple that were getting rather too close to the nest for comfort (and after going for a little hunt for my own dinner) I decided to head back up the shingle beach and investigate the boardwalk area of Slapton Ley Field Centre. I was surprised by the number of birds nesting next to the trail between reeds and yellow irises, and how they seemed to ignore my existence as I bumbled past.


After being distracted by a family of ducks as the light changed again from brilliant sunshine to golden hues my day was finally topped off by a 5th pair of great created grebes, this time floating within 200 meters and perfectly frames by reeds.


As I walked back to the car I had a sudden burst of energy that caused me to rush over the car park wall and across the shingle. The clear red sunset, so unlike the weather when I arrived. My clothes sprawling across the beach I jumped in and the beach shelved off. So refreshing, I floated around watching the sunset as it dipped behind the monument to the thousands who died to make D-Day possible.

If you’re interested in seeing more of my images, and for live updates on my location over the coming weeks, keep an eye on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.



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