It was a calm, dry morning when I pulled up at Hill Head beach in one of our unmissable, sky-blue vans. Low tide was early afternoon so there was going to be plenty of exposed mud for the birds to feed in while the sun was out. During high tides the sea water covers up the sand and mud so instead of feeding, the birds use this time to rest and conserve energy in areas we call high tide roosts.
The tide was still quite high at the start of my visit, so I headed to one of these roosts first. Using my binoculars, I spotted 143 sanderling huddled together on the shingle.
These are one of my favourite coastal birds and I was very grateful to everyone who let them rest undisturbed by keeping their distance. One of the most important roles we have as rangers is to raise awareness of our wonderful birdlife to people visiting the coast so they give them the space they need to thrive.
As the tide steadily dropped, the sanderling seemed to sense that it was time for breakfast, and they all took off to feed in the shallow waves. I walked around to the main part of the beach and immediately heard an unmistakable sound from the water. Amusing “wooOOoo” calls floated in from around 40 eider ducks bobbing, bowing, and flapping about in the sea. Upon closer inspection I also noticed several common scoters nearby too which was a first for me!
By the end of my visit here, the mud flats were full of turnstones, oystercatchers, redshank, sanderling, and little egrets, all feeding along the water’s edge. I also spotted a sandwich tern who had decided to stick around for the Winter instead of flying South with the others.
After lunch I drove West across the river to Hamble Common. Straight away I noticed a large group of dark-bellied brent geese feeding in the mud, along with more oystercatchers, redshank and turnstones. There were also several ringed plovers, almost invisible against the muddy shingle except for the white ‘scarf’ around their necks. Everyone I chatted to was enjoying watching the wildlife, and were keen to make sure the birds could go about their day undisturbed, spending as much time as possible resting and feeding.
Birds are not the only things to look out for at Hamble Common either. As I wondered through the woods, the beautiful Autumn colours in the trees and interesting fungi peeking out through the undergrowth caught my eye. It was getting chilly now and I would soon be leaving the wildlife and returning to the warmth of the van and home.
My day was rounded off perfectly with a view of the sun setting behind Fawley power station (one tower short now) while dark-bellied brent geese peacefully bobbed about in the gentle waves in front.