Black tailed godwits (c) Jim Higham
Hundreds of thousands of world travellers head for our estuaries for the winter.
Time your visit for an hour or so before high tide, and the birds will be pushed up off the mud by the incoming water
The winter may feel chilly to us, but for waders who nest up in the high Arctic, January on the British coast is positively balmy. Every autumn the tundra wastes and taiga boglands empty, and hundreds of thousands of wading birds make a beeline for the food-rich shelter of our estuaries.
The numbers are truly astounding and so are the journeys they make. One and a half million lapwings from across northern Europe, half a million dunlin from Scandinavia, 300,000 knot from northern Canada, 300,000 oystercatchers from Iceland and Norway, 60,000 bar-tailed godwits from north west Russia, 50,000 Icelandic redshanks and 40,000 grey plovers from the high Arctic join local birds to spend the winter jostling for space on our mudflats.
There’s nothing quite like the clamour and swirling patterns of flocks of birds wheeling together as they come in to roost or move from one feeding site to another. There is safety in numbers, even if the close contact with so many other birds results in some bickering and jostling.
How to do it
Time your visit for an hour or so before high tide, and you'll be there to see the birds pushed up off the mud by the incoming water. At high tide roost sites, thousands of birds gather together, jostling for space on what remains of the higher ground. The spring tides are the highest of the year, so will normally result in the biggest performances by the flocks.
If you can’t get to the special places listed below… The UK combines the ideal location, on the western edge of Europe, bathed by the warm Gulf Stream, together with wetlands and coastal muds that are extremely rich in invertebrate life. The result is perfect for wading birds. The largest numbers can be seen on the big sheltered estuaries, places like the estuaries of the Severn, Humber, Solent, Dee, Mersey, Thames estuary and especially the Wash. Head to one of those and you are bound to have a wader-filled day!
The Wash, on the east coast between Lincolnshire and Norfolk is one of the most important wetlands on the North Sea, home to upwards of 500,000 birds during the winter. The high tide roost at Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire regularly attracts more than 100,000 waders, including 80,000 knot as well as oystercatchers, redshank, godwits and dunlin.
Cumbria, South Walney
Devon, Dawlish Inner Warren
Dorset, Brownsea Island
Kent, Oare Marshes
Lincolnshire, Far Ings
Norfolk, Cley Marshes
Norfolk, Holme Dunes
Suffolk, Trimley Marshes
Sussex, Rye Harbour
Yorkshire, Spurn National Nature Reserve
Yorkshire, Kilnsea Wetlands
Ringed plovers and dunlin © Barry Williams