Taking the Bird Watching trip on the Avocet Railway Line

NAMED after one the Exe Estuary's most famous birds, the Avocet Railway Line whirls alongside the coast giving bird enthusiasts the opportunity to spy some of the most beautiful bird havens in the country.

NAMED after one the Exe Estuary's most famous birds, the Avocet Railway Line whirls alongside the coast giving bird enthusiasts the opportunity to spy some of the most beautiful bird havens in the country.

As I ventured inside the train, my hand clutched the new RSPB leaflet for dear life; I am not a bird enthusiast I can barely tell the difference between an Avocet and a swan so I most definitely needed the easy-to-use guide for my bird watching trip.

The leaflet, available at all train stations, was launched by the RSPB and the Avocet Line Rail Users Group to encourage bird lovers to jump on a train and travel to key sites to enjoy the best grounds of the flocks of birds all year round.

My journey began at Exmouth - before I had even boarded the whistling train I travelled to visit the first site on my exciting journey: the Exmouth Mudbank Lane.

Following the East Devon Way markers, the site is actually tucked just behind the railway station; I was met with a flurry of birds.

The mudbank is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Common Scoter and the Common Teal, although by spring their numbers were dwindling.

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Springtime is an unusual time to go bird watching, if you're lucky you can catch a glimpse of the last few eminent wintering birds picking for food in the rich mud of the Exe.

Hearing the call of the train, I boarded, eagerly waiting the next stop of Lympstone Village where I was sure to catch an array of ducks and geese.

The coast line is a beauty to see with the waters sparkling under the sun and tiny villages tucked into pockets of the rolling hillsides across from my side of the Exe.

A short walk from the train station to the estuary - it seems all roads lead to the river - I was able to sight the Grey Heron feeding on the estuary's rich supply of fish and the Little Egret, with its white plumes on its crest, back and chest.

The train schedule fits quite well with the trip, with a train every half an hour it is enough time to jump off with the binoculars and scout the river.

The next stop on my bird watching trip was Exton, the tiniest of villages.

As you step off the train, make sure you tell the driving instructor you wish to alight, there are some convenient benches to park yourself on and view the array of waders; I caught a glance of the young Curlew, with its down-curved beak is longest of any wading bird, which had stayed for the summer, and the Redshank which has a distinctive 'teu-teu' call.

Flagging down the train away towards Exeter I was about to make my final port of call and by far the most anticipated.

Topsham has the Bowling Green Marsh nature reserve, a 15 minute walk from the station, and easily the prize of the day.

This is the nature reserve that was described by celebrated naturalist and television presenter Chris Packham as one of the top places to go bird watching in the world.

Although best seen in winter I was still not prepared for the hundreds of ducks and birds that greeted me, I could definitely tick all the birds of my leaflet in this one place.

Arriving just a few hours before high tide, the best time to visit the area, I decided to catch the action from the bird hide.

Flocks of common birds gathered around the freshwater pool and the large reed bed which continues along the ditch into the next field.

Although the birds were less in number compared to winter, it was easy to understand the truth of Chris Packham words.

The nature reserve was surrounded by Bar-tailed Godwits and Black-tailed Godwits with their distinctive eye-strip, Goldeneyes, Pochards and Dunlins probing rapidly in the mud.

After having my fill of the main area, and unable to name the countless of rare breeds, I went further down Bowling Green Lane and down a path beyond a iron gate to look at the excellent views of the mouth of the River Clyst joining into the River Exe estuary.

And there it was - the almighty Avocet, the symbol of the RSPB, congregating in the marshes with its distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a long up-curved beak, symbolising the bird protection movement in the UK.

The third area to visit was the Goatwalk, reached by continuing down the lane, where its well built elevated footpath running alongside the River Exe at high tide is the perfect place to end the sightseeing tour with a glimpse of Red-breasted Mergansers.

Taking the uninterrupted train journey back to Exmouth I could sit back and just enjoy the rolling estuary from my window, happy in the knowledge that at last I could tell the difference between an Avocet and a Swan.

THE top three places on the Avocet Railway Line according to RSPB officer Tony Whitehead:

1.Bowling Green Marsh in Topsham: "Thousands of birds visit in the winter with some fantastic views - it is quite unique. Personally the one I really like is the black-tailed Godwit which should be called the most elegant of birds. It is accessible all year round but January ahs some of the best sights."

2.The Nature Reserve at Exmouth Recreation Ground: "If you look towards Exeter you can see countless Brentgeeese flocking in from Siberia, where they spend their summers, eating the eel grass."

3.Exton Station: "You can watch over the estuary for the Little Eggit and at this time of year the Whimbrel which come in great numbers in May to eat the creepy-crawlies of the mud."

The RSPB leaflet can be picked up at any railway station.