From avocets to woodpeckers, capsule the abundant birdlife throughout the Shotley Peninsula attracts ornithologists, twitchers and casual bird-watchers. Local resident Ian Peters, a lifelong birder and wildlife enthusiast, gave us his eagle-eyed observations.
The Shotley Peninsula is unique in that it is bound on two sides by the rivers Orwell and Stour and at its western edge by the Alton Water reservoir. With this much water about, it would be hard to avoid the great numbers of wading birds and waterfowl which abound.
The River Orwell, which is a relatively narrow, deep channel, has good numbers of diving ducks, including Goldeneye during the winter months, with high water roosts of wading birds including Curlew, Redshank, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Grey Plover using Hare’s Creek.
Shotley Marshes are still traditionally grazed during the summer months and there are occasions when they are used by breeding Lapwing, Redshank, Avocet, Gadwall and Shoveler. Gargany have also been seen in the Spring. However, it is during the autumn when hundreds of Dark-bellied Brent Geese arrive from the Taimyr Peninsula in the central Russian Arctic, to overwinter on our estuaries.
The marshes also provide important feeding areas for transitory Green Sandpipers, Ruff, and wintering Snipe and Jack Snipe. Short-eared Owl can often be seen during the winter quartering the river wall and marshes and, on occasions, Bearded Tit will accompany the Reed Buntings in the reeds alongside the dykes. Stonechats overwinter and Wheatear and Whinchat can be seen on spring and autumn migration.
Southern migration starts early for some of our waders with Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Whimbrel arriving during late June.
These will be failed or non-breeders which will have passed through on their northern migration just a few months before. However, the estuaries provide a rich feeding area before they move through to their wintering grounds in Africa.
At Shotley Point, good numbers of Turnstone can be seen throughout the winter months and look particularly splendid in their summer plumage before they leave for their breeding areas in Iceland, Greenland or Arctic Russia.
The Marina generally has a few Little Grebe during the winter and breeding pairs use the dykes which criss-cross the marshes.
The Stour is a much wider, more shallow area and is favoured by thousands of wintering Knot together with Golden Plover, Wigeon and Teal. Great-crested Grebes are regularly seen during the winter and on occasions, Great Northern Diver.
Alton Water reservoir has good numbers of summer visitors including several pairs of Nightingale, the males of which can be heard during May. To assist the Common Terns, floating rafts have been installed and this has resulted in a colony where large numbers of young are raised.
The area is also good for Tufted Duck and Great-crested Grebes. On sultry summer days the reservoir can play host to thousands of House Martins, Swallows and Swifts, often pursued by a single or pair of Hobby, a small Falcon which also winters in Africa but breeds here.
Areas which are good for viewing include The Strand, at Freston where Peregrine Falcon can be seen near the Orwell Bridge where they breed. Numbers of waders, Wigeon and Little Egret can be seen during autumn, winter and early spring.
Pin Mill, on a rising tide, can be good for close views of Black-tailed Godwit and Little Egret and Shotley Gate and Shotley Marina are good for excellent views of waders and Cormorants.
Alton Water reservoir has several car parks and a path and cycle way which encircle the reservoir. There are also bird hides which can be used.
Please keep your dog under control, especially where wading birds and wildfowl are at their high water roost. These are normally on the saltings which afford safety at high tide. However, they sometimes roost on agricultural land, especially when the saltings go under water. Since they can only feed when the tide is low, it is important that they conserve energy whilst at roost. Please do not allow your dog to roam the saltings.