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Mud, glorious mud... Some great places to see overwintering birds

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 19:55 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010

An incredible 1.5 million waders spend the winter on the UK's tidal mudflats. That's nearly half of all Europe's population. So if you're thinking winter's a bad time for watching wildlife, then get yourself down to an estuary to see all manner of birds, often in spectacular numbers (and then read our guide to enjoying winter wildlife).

Redshank foraging by Ivan Ellison

Redshank foraging by Ivan Ellison

Exe estuary, south-west England
The Exe, the largest and most important estuary in the south-western peninsula, is designated a Special Protection Area and SSSI. It's made up of five key habitats: mudflat, saltmarsh, reedbed, eel frass and mussel beds and holds international importance for wading birds.

Look out for avocet, greenshank, redshank, dunlin, curlew, red-breasted merganser and lapwing. Brent geese will overwinter here too and osprey may be seen passing through on their way south in autumn.

Dee estuary, north Wales
The Dee estuary, situated at the north-west border with England, is the most important wetland site in Wales. It has cockle beds, mudflats, salt marsh and sand flat habitats. Over 110,000 waders and 20,000 wildfowl spend the winter here including around 1,500 black-tailed godwit, hundreds of lapwing and pintail, and many bar-tailed godwit, golden plover, grebes and eider ducks. It's a big favourite of Autumnwatch guest presenter Iolo Williams.

Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland
Strangford Lough attracts huge flocks of overwintering birds. Its mud flats and sand flats are perfect feeding grounds for birds fuelling up to survive the winter or indeed to continue their vast migrations. Nearly all the world's population of light bellied brent geese (some 30,000 birds) overwinters around the loughs of Northern Ireland. Brent geese, knot, bar-tailed godwit and terns will also arrive in the autumn months to spend the winter here.

Right now, strong northeasterlies have brought in large numbers of knot and bar-tailed godwit.

Loch Gruinart, Islay, west Scotland
A stunning nature reserve on the stunning island of Islay, Loch Gruinart's mudflats are a great place to see roosting barnacle geese during the winter. Also look our for waders like snipe, oystercatcher, turnstone, redshank and curlew and hen harriers, golden eagles and peregrine falcons on the hunt.

Wash estuary, east England
As one of the largest estuaries in Britain, the Wash provides a rich supply of food attracting waders and wildfowl in large numbers such as grey plover, dunlin, oystercatchers and godwits will overwinter here and are best spotted on the rising tide.

So there's a few of our favourites. What are yours?


  • Comment number 1.

    Hello everyone,
    I just wanted to give The Waterworks on the Antrim Road, a 10 minute walk from Belfast city centre, a mention. This place has swans all year round and geese and ducks in spring and summer.. When my daughter was about 3 we were in feeding the birds at the waters edge when out of the sky swooped a huge gull (greater black back possibly) and lifted a gosling into its beak. It then hopped about 20 feet away from the mother and swallowed the meal whole as the mother made some noise at the gull that made no difference..A rare time i didnt have my camera with me..My wee daughter still talks about that poor baby goose :)
    Be well all,Stephen...Belfast

  • Comment number 2.

    have had a baby green finch who we found asleep on our feeder this summer

  • Comment number 3.

    you can't beat the Solway Firth in SW Scotland / Cumbria
    on one recent "watch" I saw more than 35 species of bird in less than 2 hours, plus porpoise and seal
    27 000 barancle geese quite like it too!

  • Comment number 4.

    Has to be the Ribble Estuary in Lancashire for me. I live in Blackpool so I can get to St Annes (Granny's Bay) in about 5 minutes and then I work in Preston so can walk down the River Ribble towards the estuary and see the likes of Red Breasted Mergansers, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, various Ducks and Geese and the occasional Kingfisher.

    Ribble Estuary NNR is 7 km west of Preston and includes land on both sides of the Ribble Estuary: as far as Lytham, on the northern bank, and Crossens (near Marshside), on the southern bank.


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