Migrating birds on the Whitehaven Coast

Whooper Swans

The time is upon us for one of nature’s greatest journeys - the migration of birds. As the sun's energy decreases in the north, thousands of birds begin to move from their summer breeding grounds to the warmer south.

Where is that warmer south? Believe it or not, for swans and geese, it's here in the UK. Even in this far north-west corner of England on the Whitehaven Coast (you can see Scotland across the Solway) it's still warmer than the places they're leaving.

Travelling vast distances of 800 miles or more, pink-footed geese and swans are first to arrive and rest in estuaries where they find flat ground to land on and plenty of food in the form of plants growing on salt marshes or in fields.

Rest stop at the Solway Firth

The Solway Firth is a vast area which spans from the Mull of Galloway in south west Scotland to St Bees head in north west England. It contains many small estuaries and is an ideal rest place for these birds such as the pink-footed goose. With such good views over the Solway, the Whitehaven Coast is a great place to spot vast flocks on the move, some of which may travel on further south to over winter in the Ribble estuary or cross the country to the Wash where there can be over 300,000 of them.

Swans too, mostly Whooper, also make the journey from Iceland and, like the geese, you can see them flying in V formations along the coastline to help them navigate their way to the south west of the country. However some stay locally in the Solway area, in a good year around 600 might stay put.

Later into October come the Barnacle geese from Svalbard, almost their entire population overwinter on the Solway, some 30-35,000 birds. A great place to see the birds resting and feeding is Campfield Marsh RSPB reserve at Bowness on Solway.

Skeins flying north in winter

You may see the V formations heading north, this can happen when the birds overshoot the Solway, with such long journeys to make, energy is key and food and rest is essential, as such these birds should not be disturbed when on the ground.

Why not do the walk from Whitehaven to St Bees, along the Colourful Coast, and look out for the migrating birds on your way? You can catch the train one way and walk back along the cliffs. Wrap up warm and don't forget your binoculars.