Winter birdwatching: it’s a shore thing

As the seasons change and the days grow colder, damper and darker, there’s still plenty of wildlife at the coast to brighten up a winter wander. In fact, now is a brilliant time to go birdwatching, as ducks and waders from Scandinavia and the Arctic have arrived to overwinter on our shores.

Birdwatching brings year-round rewards. In a season when most other wild animals will be hibernating, hiding in piles of leaves or underground, you may be lucky to spot a pawprint or poo, but not much else! However, if you keep your eyes (and ears) open, you’ll be able to see birds – and some very special ones at that!

The Tyne to Tees coastline is internationally important for shorebirds, such as purple sandpiper and turnstone. Thousands of birds call our coast home, with many travelling thousands of miles in spring to their breeding grounds on tundra and moor of the high arctic, then returning back to us at the end of summer. You may see them digging in the sand, rummaging under seaweed on rocks or searching amongst the pebbles.

They’re searching for tasty marine worms, crabs and sea snails, and if they look as if they’re in a hurry to find them, they are, as they feed best when the tide is out and the shore is exposed. It is especially important to give the birds space at high tide when it is a squeeze on the beach.

The best places to see our feathered winter visitors are the same places that you may go rock pooling in the summer, such as Marsden Bay, Whitburn Bents, Parson’s Rocks at Roker, Hendon Beach, Red Acre Beach at Seaham, Blackhall Rocks and Hartlepool Headland.

If you have binoculars take them with you and check the tide times too. The best time to spot shore birds is about two hours before high tide, when the water is coming in and pushing the birds up the beach towards you. Make sure you watch them from a distance, so they’re not disturbed, and always keep dogs on leads when there are birds or other wildlife around.

If you’d like to join us for a guided coastal bird walk, we have a series taking place at a variety of locations along the Tyne-to-Tees coast, so check out our website to see what’s on near you.