As our warm autumn turns colder and the clocks go back, the very last of the summer birds are leaving. The first really cold weather will soon hit Europe, and many waterbirds will find our warm Sussex coastal wetlands to their liking. At Rye Harbour Nature Reserve we have created large areas of saline and freshwater habitats with little disturbance, and these provide a safe winter refuge for many waterbirds.
Wigeon is the species of duck we see the most, with the Golden Plover the most common wader. A handful visit in September, several hundred in October, and a few thousand over the winter.
Where have they come from and why do they come here?
Wigeon (male and female above) – is a medium sized duck with a short bill and neck that feeds by grazing grass, like sheep, or dabbling in shallow water for seeds and water plants. They have a distinctive whistling call and breed in Russia and Scandinavia. In winter they form large flocks on saline or freshwater habitats and, if disturbed, are quite happy swimming on the sea. Other common dabbling ducks include the larger Mallard, Gadwall and the smaller Teal.
Golden Plover (above) – is a medium sized wader with a short beak and large eyes that feeds mostly on worms, mostly at night, on the sheep-grazed grass around Rye. By day, they seek an undisturbed area to roost, to escape the attentions of hunting Peregrine. They often choose a place that matches the colour of their plumage. They breed in Iceland and Scandinavia, and have a distinctive whistling call. They like our mostly frost-free coastal grazing marshes. Other plovers are the similar Grey Plover (not so brown, with black spot on the underwing) and the much smaller, Ringed Plover.
On the rare occasions when the ground and water is frozen for several days, both these waterbirds will use their stores of fat to fuel another long flight further south to warmer conditions.