These coming weeks are a last opportunity to see Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s top wildlife experience for February – the wintering waders and wildfowl that visit our shores in their thousands.
The winter may feel chilly to us, but for waders who nest up in the high Arctic, January on the British coast is positively balmy.
Every autumn the tundra wastes and boglands empty, and hundreds of thousands of wading birds make a beeline for the food-rich shelter of our estuaries.
The numbers are truly astounding and so are the journeys they make.
One-and-a -half million lapwings arrive in the UK from across northern Europe, half-a-million dunlin from Scandinavia, 300,000 knot from northern Canada, 300,000 oystercatchers from Iceland and Norway, 60,000 bar-tailed godwits from north-west Russia, 50,000 Icelandic redshanks and 40,000 grey plovers from the high Arctic join local birds to spend the winter jostling for space on mudflats.
Here in Hampshire these winter migrants are attracted to our ice free waters, saltmarshes and mudflats. There’s nothing quite like the clamour and swirling patterns of flocks of birds wheeling together as they come in to roost or move from one feeding site to another. There is safety in numbers, even if the close contact with so many other birds results in some bickering and jostling.
It’s easy to get involved. Time your visit for an hour or so before high tide, and you’ll be there to see the birds pushed up off the mud by the incoming water.
At high tide roost sites, thousands of birds gather together, jostling for space on what remains of the higher ground. The spring tides are the highest of the year, so will normally result in the biggest performances by the flocks.
At some of our busier nature reserves, birds are well-used to many people walking by, and they’ve learned that deep mud and wet ditches mean that people and their dogs rarely stray from the paths. As a result, you can views lots of species without disturbing them.
Find a coastal path, such as the ones at Farlington Marshes and grab a pair of binoculars.
Choose a few easy species to look out for, like the striking black and white avocet or the curlew with its unmistakable long bill.
We’d love to hear more about your favourite wildlife experience on Twitter using the hashtag #lovewildlife.
Go to hiwwt.org.uk/top-wildlife-experiences.