Wader Wonderland, by Alice Ashcroft, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
There’s nothing quite like the swirling majesty of a flock coming in to roost. Watch the dark silhouettes undulate against the blazing hues of a moody winter sky, and lose yourself in the spectacle as bird and watcher alike begin their repose into night.
While we layer on scarves and hats with abandon, visiting birds from the arctic find the climate positively balmy. The natural and man-made environment of the Solent make it one of the most important coastal zones in the country, and some species travel nearly 3,000 miles to spend the winter here.
Here are some species that you may see around our busy local coastline…
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Dark-bellied Brent geese travel all the way from their breeding grounds in Siberia to spend the winter along the Solent. They predominantly forage on vegetation in the intertidal zone before moving to inland sites as the winter progresses. Brent geese are long-lived birds, with the oldest known UK individual being over 28 years old! They are faithful to traditional over-wintering, feeding and roosting sites – Farlington Marshes is a great place to spot them.
In winter, common redshanks flock to estuaries and coastal lagoons like those in the Solent to escape colder climes. They breed on wet habitats like saltmarshes, flood meadows and around lakes. Redshank can be found in muddy areas, where they use their long beaks to probe deep into the mud for worms. They can also rely on manmade structures, upon which they like to roost – a number of common redshank have settled on old sea defences along the shore of Portsmouth Harbour near Portchester.
The black-tailed godwit is a familiar and perhaps iconic species of the Solent and, along with the dark-bellied Brent goose, is one of the primary reasons for the Solent’s designation as a Special Protection Area. A small number of non-breeding black-tailed godwit reside along the Solent all year round, but many thousands more arrive here in winter to avoid colder weather in Iceland. They can be seen at many coastal and inland wetland sites, including Chichester and Langstone Harbours, Titchfield Haven and the marshes at Lymington and Keyhaven.
The haunting sound of Europe’s largest wading bird is unmistakable, though increasingly uncommon; curlew numbers halved between 1995 and 2011 and the species is now included on the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern. The largest flocks can be seen in Chichester and Langstone Harbours, and good numbers occur on the mudflats around Southampton Water and Beaulieu Estuary.