could be written on topics like these
but here are just a few suggestions to get you started on some easy but
enjoyable outings. None of these
locations are arduous and at many you can even buy coffee or ice-cream!
Some basic binoculars and the odd identification guide might be useful
but are definitely not obligatory - these are not the haunts of nerdy
birders. If you are thinking of buying some gear many 'showcase' reserves have a small
stock field guides and optics, often you can try them out in 'field
conditions' too. All photos © by Neill / Dilys King.
New Forest, Hants:
Try some short walks round the pools in
early to mid summer to see dragonflies and summer nesting birds plus a few
young waterfowl here and there, even Snipe if you're lucky. The large pool at the road junction on
the B3056 just South East of the Station is an excellent place to start
with a pleasant circular walk that we usually do anti-clockwise.
You can even start and finish with an ice cream from the seller in the
car park. There are of course many other walks and cycle tracks in
the Forest taking in fine trees, vistas, birdlife, deer and the famous
ponies. There are several good campsites run by
(Forestry Commission) with the ones at Matley Wood (no toilets),
Aldridge Hill and Denny Wood offering a
more informal experience; I think all the sites have walks going off directly
into the forest.
Formby Point, Lancs:
Owned by the National Trust this is a
perfectly normal access to the coast and car park but the speciality is
Red Squirrels. The pines just inside the entrance can be alive
with them and many become quite tame as the summer progresses, some will
take nuts out of your hand.
There is a parking fee for non-members and they'll sell you squirrel food too
but we try to take monkey nuts and hazel nuts with us, the squirrels really do
like those! Short walks through the woods with both nuts and children
can be very entertaining. There are picnic tables near the road
and often an ice-cream van too but do watch small children near the cars.
The squirrels are there all year but are less active in the colder
months while mating chases take place from late winter through to summer.
Natural Food is often in short supply in July but you'll find the Formby
squirrels totally satiated come every Sunday afternoon in fair weather
for visitors! A note for photographers - take plenty of film or
memory and watch out for red-eye!
Martin Mere, Lancs / Slimbridge, Glos:
Both are Wildfowl and
Wetland Trust Reserves (WWT) with captive collections as well as wild
Pretty dismal at peak summer holiday time these reserves come
alive in winter when thousands of migrating duck, geese and swans come
to the UK to escape the severe weather to the North. They are also
great places to visit in spring when chicks seem to be everywhere.
There is an admission charge for non-members but there's also a cafe, things to do for
younger children and all-weather paths. There's a Caravan Club CL
just down the road from Martin Mere (but it's not very good for
motorhomes in wet weather) and there's a campsite near Slimbridge too, near
the canal but we've never stayed there. The whole of the coast
near Martin Mere from Formby just below Southport right up to Grange
over Sands is excellent for birds and peppered with top notch reserves.
Bradgate Park, Leics:
Often very busy with dog walkers and
joggers but an early morning visit in Autumn - mid October - is favourite
if you want to see the deer. Red stags at rutting time are
really quite impressive beasts and the park offers some semi-natural
habitat in which to see and photograph them. A caution though,
don't ever get too close to rutting Deer, they are dangerous close up
but not overtly aggressive otherwise; they'll leave you well alone if you don't
crowd them. Admission is free, we often park on the West side but
there are several pleasant walks all round the park and both a folly and
a memorial as well as the deer.
An RSPB reserve on the North Norfolk
coast with a public footpath running through the reserve from the road
to the coast. There's a parking charge for non-members but otherwise
it's free. The pools attract wintering wildfowl and migrating
waders or shore birds as the Americans call them. The North
Norfolk coast attracts all manner of strange migrants so almost anything
can turn up at any time. In summer harriers hunt low over the
marsh and in late evening barn owls might be seen taking over from them
on the night shift. There are also a few resident oddities all
along this coast from Hunstanton to Cromer but Blakeney
are favourite places for a walk with binoculars. Cley reserve is
owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and there is a non-member
admission fee to their reserve - just check in at the centre above the
car park just to the east of the village. If you do the winter
walk past Arnold's marsh and then along the Shingle bank be sure to stop
for warming soup at the shack, the food is much better than the
architecture! Further along the coast
is a good spot for Nightingale and Nightjar - a
wonderful after dark experience on a warm early May evening. Campsites are not too obvious but
there are a number of CS & CL sites along the coastal strip and a very
pleasant site called Old Brick Kilns north-east of Fakenham at Barney -
not far from Thursford, home of a mighty collection of steam engines,
mechanical organs and a wurlitzer.
The Farne Islands, Northumberland:
A little adventure for
the seafarers amongst you. The Farne Islands are National Trust
and home to thousands of breeding seabirds from May to mid July.
Boats go from Seahouses on 'short' or 'all day' trips neither of which
are very lengthy. We've always favoured Billy Shiel's operation as
experienced and committed. There's a tour round several islands
with landing on Inner Farne and sometimes on Staple too - usually on the
'all day' trips where an island transfer takes place at lunch time. When
disembarking non-members are charged an NT landing fee after which you
make your way to St Cuthbert's Chapel by running the gauntlet of
breeding terns defending their nests by dive bombing you. Although
access is restricted the nesting seabirds are very close - as is the smell!
The Bass Rock further up the coast at North Berwick is a special Gannet
Experience either on shore by video or out there on the rock with 30,000
pairs of them! For visits to both the Farnes and the Bass do wear old clothes and stout footwear and take water & windproof
clothing just in case. There are no real facilities on the islands
so go prepared.
Exe Estuary, Devon:
Devon as a county is still very rich in
wildlife and the Exe Estuary is an exceptional place. Like all
estuaries timing is critical since most activity takes place in the
couple of hours before and after high tide. The whole ecosystem is
interesting and we've taken winter boat trips from Exmouth Quay, watched
kingfishers from Exton Station, visited the reserve at Exminster
Marshes, walked from Powderham along the sea wall and trudged along the
beach to Dawlish Warren. All were wonderful in their own way but
some really stand out like the walk to The Turf. Parking near
Powderham Church and walking north along the side of the estuary on a
rising tide is always special. The tide drives the estuary birds
ever closer to the shoreline and good views of Godwit, Dunlin and Curlew
are regular with sightings of less common birds like Little Egret not
uncommon. As the tide gets higher still, small flocks of these
shore birds wheel around looking for
roosting places while the local
sailing club takes advantage of the tide. If you time it right, by
the time the relative quiet of high tide arrives you're at The Turf PH
where you can indulge in crisps and ale or coffee and biscuits or a bar
snack of some kind. Suitably replenished you can walk back on the
falling tide or even take a diverting ferry over to Topsham and back,
when you might see a seal or perhaps a wintering Avocet. No wonder
we keep going back! There are numerous campsites all around the
estuary but we
tend to prefer the quieter ones grouped around Woodbury.
Donna Nook, North Somercotes, Lincs:
Now this is a novel
place, a combination of seal breeding ground and an RAF bombing range!
Bizarrely the range actually protects the seals from other disturbance.
Note that the Grey (Atlantic) Seal pupping season at Donna Nook is only
from mid-November through December. A lane leads from North Somercotes down to the car park right next to the sand dunes and beach.
Park and take the very short walk through the dunes and turn right along
the dune side of the fence to the warden's hut at the end. He will
tell you all about it and you'll most probably see many seals and pups along
the way. During the week there is no admission to the main beach
because the RAF use it as an approach for low level bombing runs with
live 'flashes'. You can still turn up to look at the seals that
come right up into the dunes but you'll find yourself winking at passing
pilots and checking on their accuracy too! All this is quite
exciting or horrifying depending on your perspective! At weekends
the bombing stops and you can walk right out across the sandflats to a
sandbar about a mile or so out where the seals haul out - a wonderfully
wild spot. I must
emphasize that you need to organise this properly, you must know the
tide times, set out as soon as the tide has fallen to give yourself time
to walk out to see and photograph the seals and walk back again, wear
sensible warm dry clothes and wellies, start back in good time before
the rising tide and use the man-made landmarks to guide you. I
suggest you talk to a warden the day before to get the latest local
advice. If this doesn't sound up your street stick to the dunes,
that's where the most pups are born in any case. There's a CS/CL
in North Somercotes with camping away from the road near a fishing pool.
Gigrin Farm, Rhayader, Powys:
The home of the Powell family and I believe of Kite Country too.
Every day at 2 pm in winter (GMT) and 3 pm in summer (BST) the farmer
puts out beef scraps and bones - a ¼ tonne a week - for the birds. They come
for miles across mid-Wales for this feast, first the corvids and a few
Buzzards and then the marauding acrobatic Red Kites who prefer to steal
rather than scavenge! There are several substantial hides that get
you really quite close to these impressive birds, plus a small informal
gift shop with coffee, bird food and the like. On peak weekends
there might be 200+ visitors and maybe a 100+ Kites. Peak time for
the Kites is winter - early winter for the highest numbers which are then
mostly juveniles. A frost or light covering of snow is wonderful
for photography because it lights up the underside of the birds.
Many of the birds continue to feed on and off for a couple of hours and
these later visits can be best for photography. Be prepared to
waste a lot of film!! You can B&B and camp on the farm and there
is splendid walk up the hill overlooking Rhayader and the surrounding
hills - but not during the afternoon Kite feeding since people on the hill put them
A rare opportunity to watch wild badgers as they
go about their nightly lives. From a ground level hide in the woods you
can watch up to a dozen badgers above and below ground and you might
even get a glimpse of a Tawny Owl too. Open Mon - Sat April to October
but places must be pre-booked. As well as the usual watch nights with
commentary there are also special photographers' and children's
sessions. Unsuitable for small children under 7 years or just plain
Motorcaravanners please note that
the standard directions include a 3t weight limited bridge - so remember
to ask for directions for heavy vehicles!
One of our favourite winter trips especially between
Christmas and New Year. There are lots of attractions here covering
wildlife, walking, mountain biking, history, food, TV, allsorts in fact.
We go mostly for the winter birding, bracing walks plus some excellent
food and drink! Some of our favourites include: Caerlaverock WWT
reserve with winter wildfowl, swans and just thousands of geese plus
maybe a hunting barn owl - not to mention the excellent cafe.
Nearby Caerlaverock castle and the Burns trail in Dumfries. The Galloway
Smokehouse at Carsluith and Wigtown and the bay a major nature Reserve
in itself. The Galloway Forest Park, the '2000 Acres of Sky' location at
Port Logan, Loch Ryan by Stranraer for some easy roadside birding.
The Ken-Dee RSPB reserve plus the Kite feeding station nearby at
Laurieston and then of course the extensive coastal bird-watching and
occasional sunset wild camping all along the coast from Powfoot to the
Mull of Galloway - Scotland's most southerly point.
Coming soon: Wicken Fen, Cambs: Paxton Pits, Hunts: