Every winter, a fantastic variety of coastal birds fly thousands of miles to reach the rich feeding grounds and sheltered bays of Hayling Island.
From shingle beaches to energy-rich mudflats, this special island is a lifeline for migratory birds – which is why Rangers Alice and Dawn are out on the coast this winter telling local people all about the spectacular birdlife on their doorstep.
Ranger Dawn enjoys visiting many coastal sites on Hayling Island.
Here, she talks about her two favourites, and what makes them so extraordinary.
Hayling seafront is quite a dramatic place to be in the winter months, the sea is often large with wave after wave hitting the shingle relentlessly.
If you’re there at the right time, you may be lucky enough to see a flock of sanderling that use the beach to rest when the tide is high. These charming birds, shimmering silver when the sun is out and about the size of a blackbird, stop off to rest in the Solent after an exhausting journey from the Siberian arctic.
I’ve seen them most often between groynes 16 and 17, so keep your eyes peeled, and if you do see them give them plenty of space and keep dogs close to you.
Another of my favourite spots on the island is Northney. Tucked away beyond Langstone Quays Resort, this quaint village boasts a lovely Norman church and a rather unique tourist information office (an old red telephone box!). There’s a car park off Northney Road leading to a small nature reserve with a path that follows the coastline.
Here you’ll see a myriad of waders, ducks and geese whatever the tide’s doing, so it’s a great place if you’re looking to improve your bird ID skills or if you simply want to get away from it all.
The path is, for the most part, well above the water so you’re able to enjoy the birds without disturbing them.
Expect to see Brent geese, wigeon, teal, redshank, greenshank, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, curlew, as well as various gulls and perhaps even a Sandwich tern fishing – it appears they like it so much on the island that some of them have decided to stay for the winter!
Here, Ranger Alice describes the habitats and birdlife of Gunner Point and the Oyster Beds, two of Hayling Island’s much-loved wildlife gems.
If you live on Hayling Island and have a dog, you and your furry friend have probably spent time at Gunner Point. If you have visited this winter, you may have spotted me and my dog Conrad walking along the beach or standing with our telescope at the Kench. If you see us, come and say hello! We come to Gunner Point to tell local people all about the amazing birds that use the site – and there is a lot to talk about.
The fence that runs along the shingle provides a safe space for little wading birds like ringed plover, dunlin and sanderling to rest and feed undisturbed.
The Kench is another haven for birds that join us for the winter.
Keep to the path, and you may be treated to some enchanting sights and sounds; listen for the high-pitched trill of oystercatcher and the mournful call of curlew, or look for the redshank’s red legs and the little egret’s bright white plumage.
Gunner Point is one of Hayling Island’s treasures, and I’ve been delighted to see visitors taking care of it by keeping their dogs close by, and looking out for their local birds by giving them the space that they need to thrive.
The Oyster Beds is another jewel in the crown of Hayling Island. As the name suggests, the site was used for farming oysters before it was restored in the 1990s to create the invaluable habitats that we have today.
Dunlin congregate there in their thousands, often forming breath-taking murmurations as they twist and wheel through the sky, before settling on the small islands that serve as resting places during high tides.
At lower tides the mudflats are exposed, offering up an all you can eat buffet for an impressive variety of wading birds.
Turnstone, godwit, curlew and grey plover are a small selection of the species you might see delving into the mud with their beaks, picking out the tasty morsels hiding beneath the surface.
This is an essential (and often limited) part of their day when they can take on the energy that they need to keep warm as temperatures drop. Brent geese are also a joy to watch as they bob around in the lagoons, bickering and chattering in family groups. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the peregrine falcon that frequents the site in search of its next meal.
By sticking to the footpaths and not venturing too far out onto the spit, local people are ensuring that the Oyster Beds stays special and wildlife-rich for years to come.