Migration is a magical and mysterious business. How do birds know when and where to go? One thing is clear: they usually head south. We see swallows gather on telegraph wires before flying to Africa. Arctic terns that breed on Foulney Island near Barrow venture all the way to Antarctica. You don’t get much further south than that.

South seems to be the way to go. But for some birds, this is the south. We may complain about the cold, dark months that are coming up, but if your breeding grounds are the Arctic or the far north of Europe then a British winter probably feels quite cosy.

One of the first signs of winter visitors is the sound of pink-footed geese. They fly in a V formation that allows them to slipstream each other, much as racing cyclists do. If you watch one of these skeins going over you can see birds rearrange themselves as some take their turn at the sharp end and others fall back to enjoy the broken air created by the wings in front.

Barnacle geese fly to the Solway from the islands of Svalbard, far north of Norway inside the Arctic Circle. It is thought that the entire barnacle goose population of Svalbard, around 24,000 birds, arrives here. That’s about 12 per cent of the whole world population.

It’s not just geese that join us. Whooper and Bewick’s swans arrive on our coastal marshes. The whooper is similar in size to the familiar mute swan, but has a yellow bill and no black markings on the face. Bewick’s swan is smaller and travels here to escape the winter in Siberia. Who can blame it?

Smaller visitors also appear. Many thrushes winter here. Large flocks of fieldfares and redwings can be heard chattering overhead. Numbers of garden birds like the blackbird, song thrush and robin are also boosted by continental arrivals.

I love to see all these winter visitors, but I do have a favourite. When the wind is right and food supplies are low in Europe, we sometimes have an invasion of waxwings. They are about the size of starlings, but pink, with extravagant quiffs like 1950s Teddy Boys and a rather cross expression.

Their favourite food is the berry of the cotoneaster shrub, which is often planted around supermarkets. So of all the many mysteries of migration, this must be one of the strangest: whose idea of a great winter resort isn’t just damp, chilly Britain, but an Asda car park?