JIM BALDWIN OF THE NATURAL HISTORY & ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY WRITES: The winter may feel chilly to us but for waders and wildfowl nesting in the Arctic, the Isle of Wight’s northern coastline is positively balmy. They are mainly found feeding on mudflats, saltmarsh, coastal grazing marsh and resting in their high-tide roosts, either on the shore or sometimes in fields.

The Island holds nationally important wintering populations of Brent geese and sanderling as well as good numbers of other Arctic breeding species, such as dunlin, black-tailed godwit and wigeon.

All of the wintering waterbirds are monitored by a team of volunteers who undertake a monthly count of each species at a number of key sites across the Island. The counts form part of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) which is organised nationally by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to monitor the species population trends.

January traditionally sees waterbird numbers peak, not just in the UK but across Europe, and WeBS counts from this month feed into the International Waterbirds Census (IWC), making the January count of even greater significance.

It’s a wonderful wintery sight and sound to observe flocks of Brent geese chattering away to one another feeding just offshore on the seagrass beds on Ryde Sands or gathering in large numbers at Newtown. Ryde Sands also host sanderling frantically working the tide line like clockwork mice gathering up tiny marine invertebrates. However, these birds are under pressure facing increased disturbance by humans and dogs.

Such disturbances can stop the birds feeding or worse still, cause them to fly away. In fact, It can take them a whole day to refuel the lost energy, and if the birds cannot feed and rest undisturbed, they will not have enough energy to survive the winter and fly back to their summer habitats.

There  are lots of things we can do to help, such as taking care not to disturb the birds feeding or resting on the coast. Move away if birds become alert and stop feeding, exercise your dog away from coastal birds and keep your dog in sight and on a lead if you cannot rely on its obedience.

More information on birds in The Solent can be found at www.birdaware.org