Feathered Friends: Birdwatching in Topsham


A telescope points out onto the Bowling Green Marsh, a site protected by the RSPB.

Quiet binoculars in the bushes and a flutter of wings in the trees above – a photo is snapped, a box is ticked. Birdwatching is a significant part of English culture. It can be very intense; it’s a serious sport and plenty of time and money are put into catching glimpses of rare species. Serious birdwatchers, or “twitchers” as they are sometimes called, have been known to take months off from their everyday lives in order to travel and attempt to spot as many different species of bird as they can in a year. But as with any sport, there are professionals and there are novices. For every huge competitor there are plenty of those who are interested in birdwatching but may not know where to start. Devon is a great point of access to the birdwatching world.

We didn’t know much about birdwatching when we made the trip out to Topsham, but in just one day, we were able to learn quite a lot. To delve in, we walked from town out towards the Bowling Green Marsh and visited the RSBP birdwatching hide.

Entering the wooden bungalow (and simultaneously entering birdwatching culture) was fascinating. We saw people who clearly were in the habit of coming often to the hide, every weekend at least, to watch the wildlife. They all had the right equipment and knew exactly what to look for: they seemed able to recognize what they saw and understand what to expect, they knew about the different patterns various bird species displayed, and they knew what they would need to do in order to check the next bird off their list.


A view from the open front of the hide.


Avocets, as seen from the hide, take flight over the waters of the marsh.

 The RSPB is a phenomenal organization that is very helpful to birdwatchers, and they had a volunteer stationed at the Bowling Green Marsh hide to answer all manner of questions. The volunteer we spoke to was incredibly helpful and eager to tell stories or give information. He even let us use his telescope, since we had no equipment of our own, so we could get a closer look at the birds on the marsh.

The telescope was pointed towards a flock of avocets, a common species of bird that lives around the Exe Estuary. Avocets are black and white with long beaks, and our volunteer helped us watch them resting in the waters in the distance. One of the reasons the Exe Estuary makes such a popular birdwatching destination, in fact, is because bird species such as the avocet use it as a resting location while in the midst of their migration.

The hide is a quiet, lovely space. Every now and then, it fills with chatter as birdwatchers point out details, discuss the birds they’ve been able to see recently, or brag about a new scope they’ve gotten their hands on. Other times, it is extremely peaceful – we could feel the morning air through the open viewing port, and we could hear the sounds of bird calls and flapping wings.

Birdwatching can be an intense sport, but it can also be a sweet activity, especially when done in a hide where lots of bird-lovers can participate together. Even when not in a hide, popular areas like the Bowling Green Marsh are full of walkers with scopes and cameras under their arms. There is a sense of community there, too. Sitting quietly with people and watching the birds just for the sake of appreciating them is a beautiful thing, and it’s easy to understand why it’s such a common way for Devon folk to spend their time.

For more information on Devon birdwatching and ideas on locations to visit if you want to give birdwatching a try, click here and here for some helpful extra sources.

 Works Cited and Consulted

"Bird Watching". Heart of Devon. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 May 2016.

"Devon Birds". Devon Birds. N.p., 2016. Web. 20 May 2016.

Faiola, Anthony. "In Britain, Bird-Watching Gone Wild". The Washington Post  2013. Web. 20 May 2016.

Text © Megan Otto
Photos © Megan Otto 



"The Hide," Bowling Green Road, Topsham