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by Andrew Cooper
Devon naturalist and wildlife film maker Andrew Cooper extols the virtues of one of the county's avian inhabitants, the Silver Avocet. Devon is the best place in Britain to see one of our most spectacular and exciting birds.
The most elegant of all British birds is also one of the easiest to identify.
The avocet is not common, but with its needle-like, upturned bill, long legs and striking black and white plumage, it is very spectacular.
Once pushed to the edge of extinction in the British Isles, its return as a breeding bird is one of the greatest successes in wildlife conservation.
Avocets on the Exe Estuary
Intriguingly, even Adolf Hitler played a part in its return to British shores!
Today at least 650 pairs now breed along the south and east coasts of England, the majority on RSPB reserves.
Indeed, the organisation is so proud of its achievement that it became their emblem over half a century ago.
If just a glimpse of one avocet is enough to set the heart racing, imagine what the sight of a few hundred in a dazzling flock can do on a cold, bright winter's day.
Best of all we do not need to travel very far to see them.
Many of the avocets over winter here in Devon each year. Some reach as far as the Tamar but most stay on the Exe estuary.
From late November 300-400 birds regularly feed on tiny crustaceans out on the mud.
Topsham offers some of the finest views, especially when the tide is flooding and the birds are being gently forced towards the shore.
Devon naturalist Andrew Cooper
But to get the best views of these magnificent creatures, you will need to take to the water.
Twenty five years ago the RSPB organised its first Avocet Cruise.
This winter it celebrates the silver anniversary of what has become the wild highlight for hundreds of people every year.
Click on the audio link on this page to join one of the cruises and find out what all the fuss is about...
last updated: 22/02/2008 at 10:41