Throughout the autumn and winter, the New Forest coastline hosts an extraordinary array of migratory wading birds, ducks and geese.
Some will have travelled all the way from Siberia – that’s a flight of around 3,000 miles.
You may be wondering why the birds fly such a long way to get here, and what does the New Forest’s coastline have to offer them? The answer is simple: food!
The New Forest is home to lots of marvellous mudflats, and when the mud is exposed at low tides coastal birds can access the wealth of food that hides beneath the surface (small marine animals like insects, worms, and shellfish). However, when the tide comes in the buffet is closed, and it’s vital that birds can rest undisturbed during this time.
Ranger Julie will be out on the coast throughout the winter season, telling local people all about our migratory birds and what we can do to protect them. Here, she shares three of her favourite places to visit, and explains how everyone can enjoy them whilst keeping wildlife safe.
“Hurst Spit is a wonderful place to see a great variety of winter wading birds, ducks, and geese. The bird hide overlooking Sturt Pond offers an excellent view, and you may see curlews, large flocks of godwits, shelducks and dunlins. The hide is run by Milford Conservation Volunteers, and they keep it well stocked with helpful resources.
At this time of year, the birds are exhausted and hungry after their lengthy migrations, so it’s vital that they get enough time to feed and rest undisturbed. Lower tides are their only opportunity to feed, and if the birds are forced to fly away, or stop behaving naturally due to feeling threatened, this can have a big impact. We can all help them survive the winter by keeping an eye out for birds and giving them plenty of space.”
Lymington Keyhaven Nature Reserve
“The expansive Lymington Keyhaven nature reserve is, in my opinion, the best place to see coastal birds in the New Forest and beyond. You have a good chance of spotting anything from avocets to spoonbills, and every species of wader, duck, or goose that you might expect in this part of the world.
This nature reserve has lots of raised walkways which offer fantastic views and great wildlife watching opportunities. To ensure that the birds can continue to use this special reserve as a safe place to rest and feed, visitors and their dogs can stick to the path, leave spits and groynes for the birds, and always look for birds before heading down onto the shingle beach. Waders such as turnstone and grey plovers often feed and rest on the shingle, and can be almost invisible when they stand still.
The islands in Normandy Lagoon are protected with an electric fence and a ditch, creating a safe, secure space for birds to rest during the winter months. The path that runs around the outside of the fence is my favourite place to take my binoculars or telescope and see how many species I can spot.”
Lepe Country Park
“Curlews, dark-bellied brent geese, and oystercatchers are often visible from the Lookout café. So, grab a drink and spend a lazy hour watching an oystercatcher trying to break open a mussel, a curlew eating a crab, or just watch boats of all shapes and sizes navigate past. I once saw a great black-backed gull eat a whole starfish the size of my hand!
At high tide, dunlins, grey plovers, knots, redshanks and turnstones use the shingle beach and the blackwater marsh area as safe places to rest, while the waterline is the birds’ favourite place to feed. Walking at the top of the beach is an easy way to help them refuel undisturbed, but if you are keen to spend some time at the water’s edge, a ‘there and back’ trip is a good option as most of your walk will still take place at the top of the beach.
Coast and Country Canines have mapped out a walking trail around Lepe Country Park that’s perfect for dog walkers – it takes in stunning views and includes a great place to stop and play.
I lead guided bird walks at Lepe Country Park on the first Saturday of each month between the months of October and March each year. It’s a drop in, so feel free to join us! You can find more details on our events page.”