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Brent geese on the water

There’s probably no better time of year for spotting birds along our beautiful coastline.

With numbers peaking in the midwinter months, it’s our best chance to see – and hear – many of the thousands of birds who find a haven here during colder weather.

Find out where they will be heading off to in the spring.

Flock of godwits

If you’re out on the coast in the next few weeks, it’s a perfect time to look out for streams of dark-bellied brent geese ribboning across the sky, black-tailed godwits stabbing their bills up and down in the mud, or snow-white sanderling scampering along the water’s edge.

This is a crucial time of year for all migratory birds. They need to build up as much energy as possible before their perilous return journeys. Thanks to everyone who gives them the space they need to feed and rest without being disturbed.

Before too long, these birds will be heading north to their summer breeding grounds and we’ll need to wait until autumn to see and hear them again.

So what are some of the winter migrants we can expect to see over the next few weeks – and where will they be heading in the spring?

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Black-tailed godwits

The black-tailed godwits we see along the Solent coastline will spend the summer in Iceland.

They’ll have split up from their mates over the winter, spending the colder months around 1000km apart, and will be reuniting back in Iceland.

Black-tailed godwit
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These large wading birds, with their extraordinarily curved bills, will start setting off for Scandinavia and Russia as early as February, so we’ll not hear curlews’ haunting ‘cur-lee’ calls along our shores for much longer.

Other curlews, which are spending the winter further south in Spain and France, will soon be heading north to UK nesting sites including the New Forest.

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Dark-bellied brent geese

Ten percent of the global population of these much-loved geese spend the winter months on the Solent coastline.

In the spring they’ll be making their extraordinary journey back to their summer breeding grounds in Arctic Siberia where temperatures are currently about -30 degrees Celsius. Brrrr!

Dark-bellied brent geese on the shore
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This small wading bird is on the red list for conservation concern but we’re lucky enough to have thousands along our coastline every winter.

Despite their diminutive size, they travel here from Russia and Scandinavia to escape the these regions’ colder climates.

A dunlin on the shoreline
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We fortunate to be able to see oystercatchers all year round, but we get to see many more over the winter when year-round residents are joined by birds from Norway and the Netherlands, as well as those from other areas in the UK.

Oystercatchers on the shoreline
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It’s hard to believe the little sanderlings we see scampering along the water’s edge like clockwork toys will be heading off to the Siberian Arctic and Greenland in the spring.

Individual sanderlings have been known to make annual round trips of nearly 20,000 miles between their breeding and wintering grounds.

Sanderlings on the shoreline
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Our smallest ducks travel enormous distances to get to our coastline in the autumn.

It won’t be too long before our teals are preparing to make the return journey to the Baltics and even as far as western Russia.

A teal duck
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Over the colder months, turnstones are a familiar sight at many spots along the Solent coastline. They’re plucky little birds which aren’t as easily spooked by humans as other species, which means you’re more likely to see them close by as they scavenge for food.

Turnstones don’t breed in this country (some non-breeding turnstones stay all year): they’ll be flying unbelievable distances, to Lapland, Northern Greenland and Canada for the warmer months.

Turnstones roosting next to the sea
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Whistling wigeons with their creamy-yellow ‘punk’ crown stripe, will head back to Iceland, Russia, Scandinavia and Ukraine in the spring.

Like all our other winter residents, we wish them well on their perilous journeys.

Thanks to everyone who looks out for them and gives them the space they need to feed and rest without being disturbed.

Wigeons on the sea

Find out more about bird migration in our Magical Migration blog.