Wader Wonderland

Brent Geese © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

The Solent is a wonderland of migratory waders, and winter is the best time to see them

There’s nothing quite like the swirling majesty of a flock coming in to roost. Watch the dark silhouettes undulate against the blazing hues of a moody winter sky, and lose yourself in the spectacle as bird and watcher alike begin their repose into night.

While we layer on scarves and hats with abandon, visiting birds from the arctic find the climate positively balmy. The natural and man-made environment of the Solent make it one of the most important coastal zones in the country, and some species travel nearly 3,000 miles to spend the winter here.

Here are some species that you may see around our busy local coastline...

Adult dark-bellied Brent goose

© Jason Crook

Dark-bellied Brent goose

Dark-bellied Brent geese travel all the way from their breeding grounds in Siberia to spend the winter along the Solent. They predominantly forage on vegetation in the intertidal zone before moving to inland sites as the winter progresses. Brent geese are long-lived birds, with the oldest known UK individual being over 28 years old! They are faithful to traditional over-wintering, feeding and roosting sites. Farlington Marshes is a great place to spot them, and they are seen frequently at Ryde, where they feed on the eel grass beds beside the pier. 

Redshank

© Tom Marshall

Redshank

In winter, common redshanks flock to estuaries and coastal lagoons like those in the Solent to escape colder climes. They breed on wet habitats like saltmarshes, flood meadows and around lakes. Redshank can be found in muddy areas, where they use their long beaks to probe deep into the mud for worms. They can also rely on manmade structures, upon which they like to roost – a number of common redshank have settled on old sea defences along the shore of Portsmouth Harbour near Portchester. Also look out for their long red legs at Newtown Creek!

Black-tailed godwit

© Amy Lewis

Black-tailed godwit

The black-tailed godwit is a familiar and perhaps iconic species of the Solent and, along with the dark-bellied Brent goose, is one of the primary reasons for the Solent’s designation as a Special Protection Area. A small number of non-breeding black-tailed godwit reside in the Solent all year round, but many thousands more arrive here in winter to avoid colder weather in Iceland. They can be seen at many coastal and inland wetland sites during the winter, including Chichester and Langstone Harbours, Titchfield Haven and the marshes at Lymington and Keyhaven. On the Island, they can usually be spotted in the Yar estuary.

Curlew at Bucklers Hard, New Forest

© Tony Bates

Curlew

The haunting sound of Europe’s largest wading bird is unmistakable, though increasingly uncommon; curlew numbers halved between 1995 and 2011 and the species is now included on the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern. Curlew can be spotted on the salt marsh near Bembridge Harbour, although they can be camouflaged and tricky to spot. The largest flocks can be seen in Chichester and Langstone Harbours, and good numbers occur on the mudflats around Southampton Water and Beaulieu Estuary.

Dunlin

© Tom Marshall

Dunlin

This diminutive wader is one of the Solent's most familiar winter visitors, however in the UK numbers have declined steadily since the mid-1990s by approximately 50%. Most dunlins wintering in the UK breed in north-west Europe and Russia, but during the winter these petite waders can be spotted feeding by the water’s edge at Newtown Harbour, and at Farlington Marshes on the mainland.