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5 October 2016

The Best Winter Wildlife You Can See in the UK

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Britain might not seem like the best place to go wildlife watching in the colder months when you put it up against the rest of Europe, especially places like Scandinavia and Switzerland, but it has more to offer than you might think.

Winter only seems bleak for as long as you stay confined to human contact, and a day or weekend trip to somewhere a bit wilder often does a world of good. Beautiful walking routes will often lead you to sightings spots, and after that, all it takes is a bit of patience.


Short-Eared Owls

Image Source: rspb.org.uk
A trip to Dee Estuary, the Severn Estuary or just about anywhere with saltmarsh or even just tussocky pasture (coal pasture, ideally), you’ll find short-eared owls hunting. They much prefer hunting in the cold, and in the fading light, so the best time to spot them is in the mid-afternoon.

In many marshy areas, you’ll probably also see other birds of prey out hunting for bigger things, like hen harriers or merlin. Harder to spot, on both counts, but if you happen to see one swoop in or even just circling overhead, you’ve turned a worthwhile trip into an amazing one.


Red Squirrels

Image Source: blogs.ft.com
After the ill-advised introduction of the grey squirrel to British soil, these little guys were almost entirely wiped out, and are now extremely rare. While they might gather nuts, squirrels don’t hibernate, and in some parts of the country red squirrels are actually making a comeback.

Travel to Kielder Forest in Northumberland, for instance, and your chances of spotting one verge on inevitable. With so many trees bare and the ground pale, they’re easy to spot and easier to hear. Some areas of the forest actually have feeders installed to attract them.


Ravens

Image Source: tenweb.co.uk
A winter trip to North Wales is a very worthwhile undertaking, but to make it all the more magical, it’s worth taking a detour to Llanddwyn Island, near Anglesey. Alongside the adjacent Newborough Forest, it houses a colony of over 800 ravens, who roost in the high conifers.

During the winter, it’s even easier to spot them, and they’re likely to be more active in the daytime as food is scarcer. They’re big, they’re clever and they’re a joy to watch, tilting their heads, hopping from one leg to the other and figuring things out.


Harbour Porpoises

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Although you can spot these around the Hebrides all year round, winter is a great time to see them as the areas best for spotting will be quieter in the absence of summer visitors like dolphins, whales and basking sharks. They’re small, compared to other cetaceans you might see at other times, but they’re entertaining to watch as they breach in groups of 4 or 5 and ‘puff’ their blowholes.

Generally speaking, the Hebrides is a beautiful, if bitterly cold place to visiting in the winter, and a trip out to watch porpoises doing their porpoise thing makes it all the better. Some dolphins will still hang around during this time of year, but I wouldn’t bank on seeing them, that’s what summer is for.


Starling Murmurations

Image Source: scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk
This is hands down one of the most stunning things you’ll ever see in the UK or anywhere else. The Royal Pier in Abersystwyth plays host to 20,000 starlings during winter, and in the evening they take off, flying in incredible morphing formations that look almost too abstract and bizarre to be natural.

The Newport Wetlands in South Wales play host to similar displays, as do Gretna Green in Dumfries, North Warren in Suffolk, Plumstone Grid in Pembrokeshire and a number of other spots.  It’s not to be missed.


Grey Seals

Image Source: wildlife-photography.uk.com
If you’re intent on seeing some form of marine life during a winter wildlife trip, seals are your best bet. They love the cold, and sightings on the coast are common nearly everywhere, but especially in North Wales, Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland. In some areas, colonies are visible by land, like the Porthdinllaen headland.

Go there in January and you’ll see a mixture of young pups (1 or 2 months old), juveniles and adults all interacting. Generally speaking though, if you find an idyllic stretch of coastline for a winter walk, you’ll probably see a head come poking out of the water.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.