The wonderful winter waders

The wonderful winter waders

Posted 19th January

Winter may seem incredibly cold to us but for waders who nest up in the high Arctic, January on the British coast will be positively balmy

Each autumn, the tundra wastes and taiga bog lands will empty, with hundreds of thousands of wading birds making a beeline for the food-rich shelter along our estuaries.

The numbers are astonishing, and so are the journeys they make. There will be one and a half million lapwings 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 will join local birds to spend the winter months jostling for space on the mudflats.

There's little quite like the clamour and swirling patterns of flocks of birds who are wheeling together as they come in to roost, or move from one feeding site to another.

This is a case of safety in numbers - even if close contact with so many other birds will result in some bickering and jostling.

How to do it

Make sure you get there for an hour or so before high tide - that way 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 will gather together, jostling for space on what remains of the higher ground. The spring tides are the highest of the year, so normally result in the biggest performances by the flocks.

If you can't get to the special places listed below...

The UK combines the ideal location on the western edge of Europe, bathed by the warm Gulf Stream, together with wetlands and coastal muds that are extremely rich in invertebrate life. This results in a perfect area for wading birds. The largest numbers will be seen on the big sheltered estuaries, in places like the Severn, Humber, Solent, Dee, Mersey, Thames estuary and in particular, the Wash. Simply head to one of these and you're set to have a wader-filled day.

Special spots

The Wash, on the east coast between Lincolnshire and Norfolk, is one of the most important wetlands on the North Sea, and will be home to upwards of 500,000 birds during the winter. The high tide roost at Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire will regularly attract over 100,000 waders, including 80,000 knot, along with oystercatchers, redshank, godwits and dunlin.

Cumbria, South Walney

Devon, Dawlish Inner Warren

Dorset, Brownsea Island

Essex, Thurrock Thameside Nature Park

Kent, Oare Marshes

Lincolnshire, Far Ings

Norfolk, Cley Marshes

Norfolk, Holme Dunes

Suffolk, Trimley Marshes

Suffolk, Dingle Marshes

Sussex, Rye Harbour

Yorkshire, Spurn National Nature Reserve

Yorkshire, Kilnsea Wetlands

Text and information courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts - image courtesy of Barry Williams 

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