As we watch the autumn leaves begin to fall and feel the daylight hours getting shorter, an incredible natural phenomenon has begun – the seasonal movement of thousands of birds from their breeding grounds in the north to their wintering grounds further south. The Solent is about to fill up with life, over 125,000 wading birds, ducks and geese will soon be returning to our beautiful coastline for the winter.
Birds are prompted to leave the Arctic by shortening daylight hours, for many, their summers have been filled with days of nearly 24hrs of sun light. Lots of birds have already returned, and many more are still on their way here, from places like Siberia, Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Some birds who are currently hanging out in the Solent may just be stopping off on their way to lower latitudes in Europe or even Africa. The Solent’s intertidal mud is a draw for birds from far and wide, its depths hold a buffet of invertebrates to feed on and the silty substrate provides habitat for marine plants which are also a tasty treat.
One incredible migrant species that travels to our shores is the dark-bellied brent goose, the arrival of large numbers in early October times perfectly with the start of our Ranger’s winter season out on the coast. The Solent welcomes thousands of ‘Brentys’ (as our Rangers fondly refer to them) from Northern Russia where they have spent their summer munching on Siberian vegetation. Their journey of approximately 3000 miles takes a few weeks including, for some, stops at staging grounds (places for feeding and resting) in Scandanavia and on the east coast of the UK. Some of the brent geese returning to the Solent will have spent time in Foulness, on the Essex coast. In the Solent, these mallard duck sized geese spend time at two main habitats, intertidal mud and coastal fields. Where they are, depends on the state of the tide.
At falling tides, they head to the muddy seashore to feed on eelgrass, a flowering plant that lives in shallow marine waters. Eelgrass is exposed as the water level drops and the hungry geese flock in. Low tide is a feeding bonanza, but every good time has to come to an end and, as the water level rises back up, they start to leave the shore and head for higher ground. Fields are a good place for brent geese to rest and, in the latter parts of the winter, when intertidal mud reserves dwindle, a secondary source of food for hungry birds. Look out for these white bottomed geese flying in V formations between their resting spots and feeding grounds at changing tides.
And if the brent geese are back, so are we! A team of seven enthusiastic and excited Rangers are ready to meet you all around the Solent coast this winter. Do look out for us when you head out on your trip to the seaside, we’re always available for a friendly chat and would love to show you our favourite feathered friends through the telescopes. The Ranger team is a key element of the Bird Aware Partnership’s strategy aiming to minimise bird disturbance on our coastline. We can offer you advice on how to go about your coastal activities with the birds in mind. It’s important that we ensure the birds’ time in the Solent is full of feeding and resting which is crucial for them as they try to survive a winter outside and prepare for their long migration back in Spring.
It’s not just the Solent that welcomes thousands of birds at this time of year though, birds are arriving all around the UK. If you want to know more about birds to see in this autumn, not just on the coast but in the countryside too, take a look at these links:
- https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/six-top-migrant-birds-to-see-this-autumn (opens in a new window)
- https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/where_to_see_birds_migration (opens in a new window)
Enjoy this fabulous season with changing colours and bird arrivals, but don’t forget that raincoat given last weeks weather!