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Ranger Karima

Winter Coastal Spotting Challenge

Winter brings lots of brilliant wildlife to the coast with something for everyone to look out for on a waterside walk.

Here’s some challenges to inspire you, from easy to spot coastal birds to some of the more elusive wildlife we share our shores with.

We’ve split our nine spotting challenges into four categories: ‘piece of cake’ challenges to start you out; trickier challenges for the more advanced spotter; tough challenges for wildlife experts; and finally, a guru challenge for coastal spotters who are especially lucky.

What will you spot?

‘Piece of cake’ challenges

See dark bellied brent geese

Dark bellied brent geese fly 3000 miles from Siberia (in the Arctic circle) to spend the winter on our coast. A small mostly black goose with a white bottom and white neck collar. Their necks are much shorter than Canada geese necks. They can be seen in large numbers feeding on the mudflats at low tide but also in the grassy fields at high tide. Dark bellied brent geese do not “honk” like Canada geese, but instead make small bubbling chattering noises.

Find out more about dark bellied brent geese and listen to their call.

Dark-bellied brent geese group at Yarmouth

Spot some kelp

Kelp is the name given to several types of large brown seaweed. In some areas of the sea dense forests of kelp can form which are brilliant homes for lots of marine life. Kelp is often washed up on the beach and can be seen all along our coast.

Take care not to disturb seaweed along the high water line: there might be small creatures making their home there. If you do move a piece, make sure to put it back exactly where you found it.


Watch birds feeding on the mudflats 

Mudflats are large areas of mud exposed at low tide and can be found in various places around our coast including Langstone and Chichester Harbours. They are important feeding areas wading birds (birds with long beaks and sometimes very long legs) who probe into the mud to find tasty treats like lugworms, small shellfish, marine snails, cockles and ragworms.

It’s best to view the birds feeding on the mudflats from the top of the shore, avoid walking onto the mud as this can be dangerous to you and could also cause the birds to fly away which means you can’t see them anymore and they can’t enjoy feeding.

The Solent coast

Trickier challenges

Find a mermaid’s purse on the beach

These are the eggs cases of sharks and rays and can be found washed up on the beach often in the strandline. The strandline is formed on the beach by the waves washing up seaweed and other floating items, it is usually near the top of the beach where the highest waves reach. Take care not to disrupt tiny creatures that make their home in this area. A mermaid’s purse is a tough leathery pouch and some people pick them up thinking they are a piece of plastic. Different ones come from different types of shark or ray – you can identify the species and report your findings to the Shark Trust.

Mermaids purse

Hear or see a wigeon

Wigeon are a smaller than a mallard but larger than a teal and can be seen feeding in large groups on the mudflats and also on grassy fields. The males have a rusty brown head with a yellowy-white mohican and can also be heard whistling. Some wigeon breed in the UK but they are joined by larger numbers from places such as Russia, Scandinavia and Iceland in the winter.

Find out more about wigeon and listen to their whistling call. 

Ducks floating on the water

See or hear a curlew

Curlew are a large wading bird with a down curved beak which they use to probe the mud looking for their favourite food – lugworms and cockles. They can find their prey by touch alone as their beak has nerves and sensors within it. The curlew has a special call which can be heard from a long distance and has a haunting tone to it. Despite their size, curlew can sometimes be difficult to spot if they are lurking in the saltmarsh as they are so well camouflaged.

Find out more about curlew and listen to their haunting call.

Tough challenges

Glimpse a kingfisher

A beautiful brightly blue and orange coloured bird that can be seen fishing along the coast during the winter. Kingfishers are often heard before they are seen, a high pitched ‘peeping’ as they fly by. They can be found sitting on posts, branches, boats, pontoons and seawalls waiting to dive into the water and catch a tasty fish.

Find out more about kingfishers and their ‘peeping’ call.

Kingfisher sitting on a branch

Find a razor clam

Razor clam shells are long and thin and can often be found washed up on sandy shores after big storms. Razor clams are part of the bivalve family (animals with shells made of two parts), they dig themselves into the sand using a strong muscular foot.

Razor clam

‘Guru’ challenge

Catch sight of a seal 

Seals are a semi aquatic marine mammal which means they spend some of their time on land and some in the water. There are two species of seal that can be seen around the Solent coast. Grey seals are the larger of the two species with a long sloping head and nose. Grey seals give birth to their pups in the autumn. The smaller of the species is the Common or Harbour seal. These seals have a shorter head than the Grey seals and give birth to their pups in the summer.

If you see any seals ‘hauled out’ on the land, make sure you give them plenty of space and don’t go too close. Keep dogs under close control to avoid disturbing them. Seals can be inquisitive, especially in the water, but don’t approach them with your kayak or paddleboard, if they come to you then enjoy the view and keep your hands away.

A common/harbour seal resting