Winter, it’s the time of year to wrap up warm and head out across the Solent coast to behold the thousands of wintering waders, ducks and geese that use the variety of special habitats the 250 km of coastline has to offer.
The sheltered coast and harbours of the Solent provide an extensive range of different feeding habitat types including coastal grazing marsh, estuarine habitats such as mudflats, saltmarsh and sandy beaches.
A lot of species depend on intertidal areas to find their food, this is the area that is exposed at low tide and goes underwater at high tide. This means the shorebirds are restricted to the rhythm of the tides and have a short window to find enough prey species to sustain themselves.
So, as the tide falls and the mud becomes exposed the waders gather to feast on what the Solent Coast has to offer. Let’s have a look at what’s on the menu!
Starter – Shrimp Cocktail or Oysters
Main – Crab with Sea lettuce or Ragworm Spaghetti
Dessert – Periwinkle Pudding
As you can see estuarine habitats, such as mudflats, are packed full of calorie rich prey species including shellfish, crustaceans and marine worms which provide local feathered residents and over-wintering visitors with vital sustenance. In fact, there’s as much energy in a square metre of estuary mud as there is in an average-sized chocolate bar!
With thousands of different waders, ducks and geese gathering to feast at these habitats at low tides the big question is; who’s eating what?
To answer this question, we are going to focus on a few of the waders we can spot across the Solent. Prey species, such as limpets and lugworms, can be found dispersed at various levels throughout the mud and to take advantage of this each species of wader is specially adapted to feed at different depths on a different type of food.
Here are some examples:
Oystercatcher – Contrary to their name, oystercatchers rarely eat oysters. They use their long bill to probe down into the mud to feel for cockles and mussels. Their extrodinary bill is strong and flattened which enables them to force or hammer open shellfish.
Curlew – The distinctive long, downcurved bill of the curlew enables them to probe down the furthest into the mud reaching molluscs and crustaceans in their deep burrows. Their bill is very sensitive and is packed with nerves which allows the Curlew to find food solely by touch. The upper and lowers parts of the bill are controlled independently and act like tweezers, grasping at prey.
Grey Plover -This species, like most plovers, have relatively large eyes and a short beak which have developed to allow them to use visual cues to locate food at the surface. They scan the surface for any sign of activity before running forward to capture the prey. Grey plovers are not fussy and will readily eat most things including molluscs, worms and crustaceans.
As you can see there’s something for all down at the Solent Coast Diner, but you must bring your own feeding utensils!