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Seasonal highlights

Each season brings a different experience at our nature reserves. In spring, the air is filled with birdsong as they compete to establish territories and attract a mate. In summer, look out for young birds making their first venture into the outside world. Autumn brings large movements of migrating birds - some heading south to a warmer climate, others seeking refuge in the UK from the cold Arctic winter. In winter, look out for large flocks of birds gathering to feed, or flying at dusk to form large roosts to keep warm.

Spring

Spring is an exciting time of the year, bringing the return of breeding waders. Look out (and listen) for noisy oystercatchers and the aerial displays of redshanks. Hunting birds of prey could include a locally breeding marsh harrier or kestrel. In March and April, the sea-walls attract feeding wheatears en route to their northern breeding grounds. The mudflats will be home to shelducks and a range of passage waders including whimbrels, grey plovers and dunlins. Look along the sea wall for some of the more interesting plants such as sea clover, salsify and sea barley.

OystercatcherRedshank - non-breeding plumageSkylarkWheatear - male
OystercatcherRedshankSkylarkWheatear

Summer

The summer is a relatively quiet time for birds but there is plenty of other interest to enjoy. The saltmarsh flowers will reach a lilac peak in July with the flowering of sea lavender. Butterflies come into their own, with common species like small heath and meadow brown joined by migrants such as painted ladies and, if you are lucky, clouded yellows. From late June, wading birds start to come back from their breeding grounds. Some, like the stunning silver and black grey plovers, may still be in breeding plumage.

Dunlin - breeding plumage (illustration)Grey plover - winter plumageKestrel - hoveringMarsh harrier - male
DunlinGrey ploverKestrelMarsh harrier

Autumn

Wader migration continues throughout the autumn, with the chance to see a good range of species. The best viewing will be on an incoming tide as the birds are pushed into view and further up the shore. Numbers peak in late August/early September when up to to 500 ringed plovers can be present, joined by avocets, dunlins, curlews, greenshanks and redshanks. It is also worth looking out for the more unusual species such as little stints and curlew sandpipers.

AvocetGreenshank - breeding plumageRedshank - non-breeding plumageRinged plover - breeding plumage
AvocetGreenshankRedshankRinged plover

Winter

The winter months are the best for sheer numbers, with peak wader and wildfowl numbers reached in January and February. Listen for the evocative whistle of the wigeons, the low 'bark' of the brent geese or the mournful whistle of the golden plovers. Other waterfowl include shelducks, teals, lapwings, curlews, dunlins and redshanks. Look for the panic caused by a stopping peregrine; other birds of prey using the area for winter feeding include hen harriers, marsh harriers and merlins.

Brent goose - dark-bellied formGolden plover - in breeding plumagePeregrine - adult Shelduck - male
Brent gooseGolden ploverPeregrineShelduck

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Where is it?

  • Lat/lng: 51.617045,0.808777
  • Grid reference: TQ945946
  • Nearest town: Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex
  • County: Essex
  • Country: England

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