FOR me, the true wildlife stars of the Devon estuary at Cambus in winter are the teal, such attractive little ducks, so perfect in form and their flute-like whistling calls completely addictive to the ear.

The early 20th century field naturalist Thomas Coward described their vocalisations so eloquently: “There are few more talkative ducks than the teal; birds in winter flocks chuckle conversationally, and on the meres, the loud clear call, a short sweet whistle, rings out incessantly.

"When the drakes are courting the low double whistles run into a musical jumble, a delightful chorus”.

I regularly venture down to the estuary in early winter, keen to achieve a close insight of the wildlife, and each time it is the teal that enrapture me by their busy activities, often feeding by the muddy water’s edge, their bills eagerly sifting the glutinous ooze for minute creatures.

The estuary is a sanctuary for waterfowl because it remains ice-free no matter how cold the weather turns, and food is forever accessible.

Teal are shy and always on the alert, and on one visit I watched a peregrine falcon swoop above the estuary, scattering the ducks into the air.

Teal are a favoured prey for peregrines, but they are challenging to catch when in flight, as they keep together, turning and twisting all the time, and engaging in spectacular corkscrewing dives.

On another occasion on a mild day in early January, boisterous groups of teal engaged in what I presumed was early season courtship, the drakes and females chasing each other in short flights, before splashing back down into the water again.

Teal are mainly winter visitors here and once spring takes hold, they move off to their breeding grounds in bogs, pools and reed-fringed lochs throughout Scotland and beyond.

Further upstream on the Devon, where it runs true and fresh, one of my favourite winter experiences is to seek out a secluded vantage point above rush-spiked pools on the haugh (flood meadow) just prior to dusk, from where I can watch teal flying in to settle in their boggy margins to feed.

As darkness descends, these wonderful little ducks can be heard whistling to each other in the night air, a soft and flute-like call, a mere whispering in the wind. It is the essence of winter on the haugh, the call so gentle and hypnotic, it is the very music of nature itself