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Rainbow over water

November has been another challenging month for the team, not only with the unpredictable weather that the autumn brings, but also with the announcement of another lockdown in England. The Rangers are nothing if not adaptable, and we have still been able to conduct our site visits safely out on the coast over the last few weeks. Adhering to social distancing rules and Government guidelines has meant that engagement has been more difficult, but with many people having an increased interest in their local natural spaces and wildlife, we have continued to raise awareness of our wonderful winter birds.

We have also been undertaking additional monitoring work this season, to observe how people are using the coast in these strange times. It is an interesting year to see how Covid and lockdown have changed things around the Solent. Our local beaches and coastlines have been a lifeline for many throughout this difficult year, with people enjoying the benefits these environments provide to both physical and mental health. It is important to remember however that these natural spaces are also the home of our precious wildlife, so we must share and use these areas responsibly.

Over the last few weeks, we have been busy patrolling our sites across Hampshire, Chichester Harbour and the Isle of Wight, and bird numbers are still increasing as migratory species continue to arrive. It’s been a mixed bag of weather so far, with some lovely calm sunny days, but also some intense storms and very high tides! Sanderling ringed

Ranger Mark and I have been out photographing the birds around our local patches and we both managed to get some pictures of two different ringed sanderling. Mark spotted the one on the left at Hill Head and I saw the one on the right at Ryde. The purpose of colour rings is to better understand the movements and migrations of birds by making them easier to identify and track. Having now traced their histories it’s interesting to learn that both of these birds were ringed in 2013, meaning that they are at least seven years old and have been coming back to the Solent every winter! Hill Head and Ryde are two of our busiest sites in terms of visitors and recreation, so it’s really important that everybody looks out for these special little birds and helps to protect them by keeping their distance and not disturbing them.

This month also saw the return of the Great Solent Birdwatch, our local citizen science project. Whilst Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t run the event in quite the same way as last year, we were still so excited to see the enthusiasm from everyone who took part. The aim of the project is to help people increase their knowledge of the birds that are with us throughout the winter, whilst also contributing to our data set and learning how to protect these incredible species. We are currently looking at all the returned recorded forms and will be publishing the results soon, so watch this space!

It’s not just birds that we get to see on our visits to the coast, Ranger Dave had an encounter with this inquisitive common seal who popped up to say hi at Northney recently.

We have both grey and common (also known as harbour) seals here in the Solent.

A highlight for me recently was seeing two of last years white-tailed eagles during a site visit. They are impressive birds, with a wingspan of over 2 metres! The most interesting part for me was watching how our winter species (the ducks, geese and waders) reacted to the presence of these very large birds of prey. For the most part they were not too bothered, there were even some oystercatchers and dark-bellied brent geese feeding very close by. White-tailed eagles feed on fish, birds and small to medium-sized mammals and will also scavenge carrion (dead creatures they find). Many of our overwintering coastal birds migrate through areas where white-tailed eagles are already established, and so they are already habituated to their behaviours. I was also lucky enough to see an osprey on the same visit, which looked rather small in comparison to the two eagles!

It’s certainly been a busy start to the season for us and no one knows exactly what might happen over the next few months, but we will keep patrolling our sites and help everyone to look out for the wildlife found around our special coastline. Have you noticed any differences in your local area this year? Come and say a (socially distanced!) hello and let us know.

Ranger Charlotte