By Tilly Hopkins
The winter months can be dull, dark, grey and wet here in our part of the world but nature still offers us so much to see and enjoy, no matter the time of year. I used to dread the short winter days with the lack of sunshine and freezing cold conditions. However, this year I’ve started to embrace it and notice the beauty of the season, as well as how uplifted I feel after even a short time spent outside in the fresh air. From sparkling frost covered landscapes to the winter wildlife and natural spectacles on offer. I like that you don’t have to be out very late to witness a stunning sunset on chilly evenings, or starry skies on clear nights. Waking up to spectacular sunrises, foggy fields with dewy grass, finding icy lakes and frozen spider webs on local walks. If you venture out, winter can reward you with a feast for the senses.
Earlier in the winter I visited Rye Harbour Nature Reserve for some birdwatching and a walk in the rain. After a short while, the rain started to really pour down (luckily, I was wearing my much-needed waterproofs). I thought about turning back and calling it a day, but decided to keep pushing on against the wind and the rain. Eventually, I started to really enjoy the weather! It was refreshing, exhilarating, energising and pretty fun to get a bit muddy and wet and not care too much about it. I could hear powerful waves crashing along the shoreline, raindrops hitting the water and spot cormorants flying by overhead.
Wigeon and Coot feeding together
That’s the great thing about the reserve, there are still plenty of birds to see all year round, even in the winter as they’re busy finding the food they need to survive. Tufted duck, pintail, shoveler and gadwall to name a few. I personally love to watch teal at the reserve. They may be our smallest duck, but you’ll find it hard to miss the males, thanks to their colourful plumage. With a chestnut brown head, yellow-bordered green patches over the eyes, yellow and black tail and grey speckled breast; they’re beautiful birds to see. The females are less distinctive as mostly mottled brown, very much like a small female mallard in appearance, but with a more delicately shaped bill. Both sexes flash a striking bright green wing patch when in flight.
Did you know a group of teal is known as a 'spring'? This is because of the way they can take-off suddenly and vertically. If surprised, flocks will explode upwards as if they have jumped straight off the water and into the air! Teal are shy and nervous birds, even their calls sound a bit worried - A slightly shaky, quivering, whistled ‘cree’ noise. However, they are very sociable little dabbling ducks and often form tight flocks when in flight, circling, curving and changing direction in unison as they travel through the winter sky.
The wigeon is another favourite and can be thought of as the sound of the reserve at this time of year, with its distinctive whistling call filling the air. They pair up in the winter months and enjoy stealing the food of coots as they dive down and bring up the water weed. Rye Harbour Nature Reserve truly is a special place for both people and wildlife, no matter the weather or season. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to wrap up warm, get those waterproofs on and brave the elements this winter – it’s definitely worth it.