Bird watching doesn’t have to stop because it’s winter

Eider
Eider

The harbour at Holy Island, locally known as the beach is a fantastic place for bird watching in the winter months.

It has a head start being part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. When the tide is low the ouse, a sinky, muddy sand is exposed.

This sand contains organic matter and is home to many invertebrates unlike the rather barren silica and shell sand.

An outlet from the freshwater lough also opens onto the beach and trickles down to the sea. The eels found in the lough must have used this route for their long migration.

All in all the beach is good source of food for birds! Wading birds have long thin beaks to probe the sand and pick up small worms and crustaceans.

Different species have different lengths of beak so they are not competing with each other and can co-exist peacefully. The smart black and white oyster catcher with red beak and legs is one of the larger waders evident and is mixed with the more slender bar tailed godwit which is one of the important species on the reserve.

Slightly smaller are the redshanks identified by their red legs and their shrill call as they rise when disturbed.

About the same size as the redshank but chunkier there’s an occasional grey plover in the mix.

Smaller waders such as dunlin are also running around and the similarly sized rock pipit can be seen near the pier.

The star winter species on the reserve is the light bellied brent geese.

This is the only place in Britain that regularly hosts large flocks of them.

When they arrive in August they frequent the more inaccessible parts of the reserve but by November when food is getting harder to find they come nearer the village and gather in the ouse and in the rocket field behind the beach.

They are a small goose and as they fly in or out you can recognise them by their rather messy V formation.

When you get too close they have a distinctive cackle unlike the more common greylag and pinkfoot geese found in Northumberland.

There are usually two or three species of gulls present and sometimes a rarer one. On the water there’s often a pair of eider ducks with the male splendid in white and black. Occasionally a heron stands upright in the shallows. And this being Holy Island there’s always the possibility of a rare species turning up!

Behind the beach the wet rocket field hosts a number of birds. There’s a new hide here called “window on wild Lindisfarne” which offers information and shelter if it’s wet. There’s usually a large number of the small duck, teal, in the rocket field. If you’re lucky you may hear their beguiling “seep” sound as they rest.

It’s well worth a trip to the beach at low tide at this time of year. You’ll be crossing the causeway at safe crossing times, and if you get cold you can get a hot coffee in the hostelries in the village which is just behind you.