Posted by: Ross Gardner | December 4, 2016

The Joys of Winter


Waders gathered on the Thames Estaury shoreline at Leigh on Sea. Ross Gardner 2013.

One of the undeniable joys of the British wildlife year is the building of the winter flocks along those sheltered stretches of our coastline.  Where the calmer waters allow the mud to settle and for the invertebrate multitudes to ready the seascapes for their own part in the seasonal flux.  If we are given to feel a melancholy for the well-passed summer and the throng that goes with it and which filled the wilder places, then the ascending bustle of birdlife along our shores is an antidote indeed.

I am fortunate in my proximity to the coast.  Some malign the gaping mouth of the Thames Estuary as a ‘poor man’s excuse‘ for the sea.  Yet as it widens sharply as it passes Southend to the south and the Isle of Grain to the north, the sense of the sea is difficult to ignore.  Replace my part of the Essex with the land that abuts the shores of say, The Wash in East Anglia and The Severn to the West, The Forth in the north and Chichester Harbour to the South, and most of us in the UK live within striking distance of the gathering hordes of waders and wildfowl and the spectacles that they can bring with them from the now ice-clenched realms of their Arctic breeding grounds.

Such movements more than double the  50,000 strong resident population of the redshank to a huge 130,000 and adds around 100,000 more birds to the 200,000+ resident oystercatcher.  For the likes of the knot and wigeon the increase represents a jump from none or a mere handful up to several hundred thousand.  Many millions of waders, ducks and geese combine to bring about a change to the countryside that is as wonderous as it is profound.  Indeed all over the world its a transformation that is replicated, even if the names of the protagonists may change.


UK redshank (Tringa totanus) numbers more than double in the winter. Ross Gardner 2016.

It was with such expectation that I recently walked the seawall between Leigh on Sea and Benfleet.  I was not to be disappointed, with the dunlin scattered along the ribbon of mud unclaimed by the rising tide, or the flocks of knot that sped across the water and billowed above the saltmarsh.  Neither the groups of little teal in their collective hundreds, dabbling the shoreline or foraging among the dykes and ditches of the grazing marshes landward, or hundred groups avocet, losing none of their grace among the grey mud.

Perhaps one of theses days I’ll get up to Scotland to see the barnacle goose flocks or the winter roosts of Berwick swan at Slimbridge.  And who knows, perhaps even one day I’ll find myself trying to pick out the canvasbacks and redheads among the gathered flocks of the Louisiana wetlands.


  1. One day soon!

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