Wowed by wintering waders

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions


Now that winter has arrived, mudflats all over the UK are full of flocks of wading birds here to feed over the winter months. When the tide is out, exposed expanses of mud are a magnet for waders keen to feast on easily-accessible wriggling invertebrates. Species such as dunlin, curlew, black-tailed godwit, oystercatcher, grey plover, redshank, snipe, lapwing, avocet, sandpiper, white-fronted geese, wigeon, pintail and teal highly commonly seen.

Lakes are also rich in wildfowl, attracting tufted duck, gadwall, teal, pochard, shoveler and little grebes. For the most impressive flocks head to rich, fertile feeding areas where vast numbers of wintering birds wearing their cold-weather plumage provide a truly awesome spectacle – a wonderful wading bird “wow”.

RSPB Snettisham, nr Hunstanton, Norfolk. Tel: 01485 542689
Have your binoculars at the ready to witness two of the UK’s great wildlife spectacles at this scenic nature reserve. On big tides, as water covers the vast mudflats of The Wash, tens of thousands of wading birds are pushed off their feeding grounds and onto the roost banks and islands in front of the RSPB hides. In the middle of winter, a dawn or dusk visit may reward you with the sight of thousands of pinkfooted geese flying from their overnight roosts inland to feed. Large numbers of black-headed gulls and smaller numbers of common terns nest on the reserve in summer, when there is a spectacular display of shingle flowers.

birds in the Thames estuary

RSPB Exe Estuary, nr Exeter, Devon. Tel: 01392 824614
This amazing wild, marshland expanse, just a stone’s throw from Exeter city centre, offers an eye-popping array of bird-life all year-round – but is arguably at its most rich in birds during the winter month. Providing a vital feeding and resting area for large numbers of visiting birds during the colder weather, the Exe Estuary is a haven for big flocks of migrant geese, ducks and waders – and is also one of the last few nesting sites in south-west England for lapwings and redshanks. Feast your eyes on hundreds of feeding birds in a location steeped in fascinating human history – the land was originally part of the estuary until the Exeter Ship Canal was built in the 19th Century, and the remains of the RAF’s World War II signal interception base can still be seen today.

Morecombe Bay, Lancashire. Tel: 01524 701601
Look out to sea for great crested grebes, divers and wigeons and the occasional eider duck as you absorb the breathtaking spectacle of thousands of wading birds coming in to roost just before high tide – a magnificent sight. On a clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of a peregrine or merlin hunting along Lancashire’s rugged coastline. Providing essential feeding grounds for a quarter-million wading birds, ducks and geese, Morecambe Bay’s sandflats and saltmarshes are carefully conserved and managed between Hest Bank and Silverdale as the one of the UK’s most important estuaries. An hour before high tide, spectacular flocks of waders gather at Hest Bank – so expect to see thousands of bar-tailed godwits poking their long beaks into the mud to feed.

Belfast Lough, Belfast
Tel: 02890 461458
This unlikely tranquil oasis of calm attracts vast flocks of wintering wildfowl – just 10 minutes from the bustle, noise and traffic of central Belfast. Observe several hundred wading birds and ducks around the brackish lagoon within the Belfast Harbour Estate, part of the city’s important Nature Conservation Area (NCA) and a crucial feeding site for waders seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. Expect to see oystercatcher, lapwing, curlew, black-tailed godwit, redshank and snipe plus large numbers of wildfowl such as teal, wigeon, shelduck and shoveler. Also keep your eyes peeled for heron, swan, greylag goose, moorhen, coot and cormorant – plus numerous species of gull.

For details on the RSPB’s 200+ UK nature reserves and seasonal wildlife highlights and family events click here.

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