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RSPB giving nature a home




Autumn Arrivals

October 2018

Blue tit, Parus caeruleus, perched on branch in garden. Co. Durham. October. Ray Kennedy (
Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis, adult birds in flight, Coll RSPB Nature Reserve. Scotland. December. James Duncan (

Every autumn something truly amazing happens: the shortening of days triggers a mass movement of birds from the north and they flock here in their hundreds of thousands. These include geese from Svalbard, swans from Siberia, thrushes from Scandinavia and waders from Arctic Canada.

Why do they choose the UK as a winter getaway destination? Compared to where they’ve travelled from, our climate is fairly mild, warmed by the gulf stream. Also, we have the perfect places for these hungry visitors to spend the colder months: coasts, estuaries, lakes, marshes and farmland. These areas are absolutely crucial for birds like ducks, geese, swans and waders.

Some will have flown vast distances to reach us. For example the knot, a small wader which scuttles along the shoreline to find tasty food in the mud, can travel around 3,400 miles (5,500km) from northern Canada and Greenland, stopping off in Iceland before arriving on our coasts. Bewick’s swans begin their journeys north of Moscow, flying 4,500 (7,242km) miles through northern Europe to reach the UK.

To see some of these birds for yourself, head to the coasts and water bodies between October and March. Here are our top ten suggestions...

RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserves
A choice of three nature reserves (Burton Mere Wetlands, Parkgate and Point of Ayr) on the English/Welsh border where you can take in fantastic views of the visiting birdlife including dunlins, grey plovers, lapwings and redshanks.

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, adult standing on grassland, Isle of Tiree. Scotland. June.
John Bowler (

RSPB Dungeness, Kent
You never know what might turn up at this crucial landing point for many arrivals and departures, from delightful ducks like smew to tiny goldcrests and firecrests.

RSPB Loch Gruinart, Islay
Here you’ll see tens of thousands of Greenland barnacle geese and Greenland white-fronted geese arriving en masse to overwinter, along with ducks like pintail and shoveler and waders such as golden plover and black-tailed godwit.

RSPB Ribble Estuary reserves
These are amazing places for admiring pink-footed geese, wigeons, teals and other wildfowl in winter, along with big flocks of golden plovers, lapwings and black-tailed godwits.

Drake Teal, Anas crecca, feeding on mud. Brownsea Island Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve, Dorset England. March 2006. Andy Hay ( 

RSPB Mersehead, Dumfries
Watch flocks of Svalbard barnacle geese on the Solway estuary. This area is incredibly important for the geese: in fact around a quarter of the world’s population come here in winter.

RSPB Snettisham, Norfolk
This nature reserve is famed for its wader spectaculars, when hundreds of knot and other shorebirds retreat from the approaching tide. If you’re up early, try to catch the dawn flight of the pink-footed geese: a staggering spectacle!

RSPB Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk
While the lagoons attract a wide variety of ducks and waders, the beach is also a great place to watch winter birds. Cross the dunes and look out to sea for divers, long tailed ducks and scoters.

great northern diver
Great northern diver, moulting adult swimming at sea. Chris Gomersall (

RSPB Portmore Lough, Northern Ireland
Attracted by the open water, fens and wet grassland, greylag geese, golden plovers, lapwings and whooper swans can be seen here in the winter.

Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Rutland
Home to the annual Birdfair each August this Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust nature reserve is also a great place to see wintering grebes and divers along with plentiful ducks.

Bewick swans
Bewick's swan Cygnus columbianus bewickii, group of adults in Bewick.
Ben Andrew ( 

WWT Welney, Cambridgeshire
There are so many great places to see winter wildfowl in East Anglia, and if you’re heading to the coast on a birding trip it’s always worth stopping off in the fens to see whooper and Bewick’s swans at Welney.

Wherever you are in the British Isles you have a good chance of seeing these seasonal visitors. Even if you’re not near the coasts or wetlands where waterbirds gather, there’s a good chance that birds will be passing overhead as they search for food and safe places to roost. During a cold snap they may even turn up in your garden: when the “Beast from the East” hit last winter we had hundreds of calls and messages about fieldfares, handsome Scandinavian thrushes which visited lawns and bird tables to feed on fruit.

Find out more about RSPB nature reserves here.


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