Best Places to Go If You Are an Avid Bird Watcher
I’m going to suggest seven gems for you, though would direct you to your local bird-watching club or ornithological society for your appropriate nearby ‘best place’, which will vary globally with season and terrain / habitat.
First, some confessions: I don’t do ‘LBJ’s’ (the so-called “little brown jobs” – could be anything from a warbler to a sparrow to something drab, yet exotic as far as my expertise is concerned); I don’t carry a pair of binoculars everywhere, much less a ‘scope; I no longer keep a tick list; I was unable to identify a pair of Green Sandpipers that lived on the shores of our small slurry lagoon last year without seeking help.
That being said, bird watching holds great fascination for me and always has – I love to talk birds with experts and enthusiastic amateurs alike, and avian observation completes any walk for me. I remember being in the ‘Field Club’ at school, and travelling to moorland to spot Red Grouse very early in the morning. One evening we had a trip to the Somerset Levels to try and see Nightjars (mission accomplished) – truly magical. At school they taught me a lot of useful things about appreciating ornithology through life, yet not getting too obsessive: learn to look for field marks (distinctive colouring, shape or habit for example), and above all observe and enjoy the moment and everything it’s immersed in. These memories, with birds as highlights, are as much about place and occasion and comrades as they are the waiting and anticipation of the ‘spot’.
There was a Gyr Falcon at dusk in Northern Iceland in September (that was truly magical – probably the highlight of anything that might pass as a bird-watching hobby in my life) – white, silent, low flying out of a growing evening snow shower: magnificent! The sound (and sight) of Divers on Scandinavian lakes; Eagles terrorizing ducks in Morocco; and hundreds of thousands of flamingos decorating the edges of receding Kenyan lakes. What about the Red Kites slowly recolonising the British Isles from the bottom of the M40. I was hooked by those wonderful birds, their forked tails and amazing flight patterns (aerial antics even – they can catch food mid-air and ‘turn on a sixpence’), when I first saw one as a kid on a long, snowy weekend in remotest West Wales (I also remember the cottage, the Rabbit Stew and tobogganing on trays: see how the bird is a memory catalyst?) So many memories – but what about the ‘Best Places’, ‘gems’?
Your back yard! It’s a great place to watch birds: from the comfort of your own home, drink in hand, toilet nearby, comfy chair ditto. You’ll be surprised at what visits a bird feeder, and it’s great training, bird book in hand. We have Green Woodpeckers as regular visitors to our lawn, and Bullfinches and a Little Owl live in the lane outside.
The nearest water. Rivers (on a walk with a good mate last year the ‘spot of the day’ (usually him having spotted deer at three hundred yards by seeing the silhouette of an ear) was Cormorant on a river many miles from the nearest coast), reservoirs or coastlines are brilliant places for a quiet walk with your eyes wide open.
The Somerset Levels. Great all year round for species associated with water and reeds, but particularly spectacular in the Autumn and Winter when the Starlings do their ‘murmuration’ thing in groups of tens of thousands; in the Spring when the Bitters boom; and as a feeding station on the migration route for all sorts, including the Ospreys that I had the privilege of seeing this year (2015)
The Gambia. Senegambia is one of the best parts of West Africa to watch birds – all sizes, shapes and magnificent colours. A great place to catch the bird watching ‘bug’ with many many birds to see.
The Falkland Islands. From ‘Johnny Rooks’ (Striated Caracara) to King Penguins, Macaronis to Black Necked Swans. All quiet and unspoiled – truly spectacular if you’re fortunate enough to be able to visit.
Iceland. ‘Wow’ for all sorts of reasons: for me it was the Great Northern Divers and the Falcon I mentioned above.
Any Hawk Conservancy type of place (I can thoroughly recommend the one in Andover, UK, for example): You’ll get to see lots of different species, including flying displays which are the one time educational and entertaining: Peregrines and Condors stooping and soaring, Barn Owls sliding silently between the spectators, kites and vultures doing what they do best.
Things to Do in Wales
Take a Bike Ride With the Family on an Activity Holiday in Wales
If you are looking for an active weekend break for your family to enjoy, why not consider a weekend of cycling in Wales?
The country is ideal for those who are keen to get out and enjoy the great outdoors – whether you are keen on taking a day trip or have a few days to explore Wales by bike, you’re guaranteed to find safe, family-friendly paths to enjoy. In fact, there are some 331 miles of traffic-free bicycle trails in Wales, so you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to planning your adventure!
If your little ones are new to cycling, you may want to start with a day at the seafront in Swansea, or the Celtic Trail, which allows you to cycle along the Millennium Coastal Path. More experienced cyclists or families who want to try something new may wish to investigate mountain biking – forest trails at Yr Afon at Coed y Brenin could provide the perfect gentle introduction to this popular pastime.
No matter whether you are planning to explore the Welsh coastline, the rolling green hills of the countryside or lush forests, you’re sure to find the perfect base for your getaway at one of 11 Cycle Break centres dotted around the country. Each is linked to a well-established network of family-friendly biking trails, perfect for exploring on a daytrip or a longer adventure.
You’ll want to choose your starting point based on your family’s cycling ability and interests. If your kids are keen on learning about the local animals, a good place to begin is the Ceredigion coastline. On land, they may spot foxes, rabbits, badgers or buzzards – and you may even be lucky enough to spot porpoises and dolphins playing in the waves when you look out to sea.
This region boasts a brilliant combination of mountains, coastline and countryside, so you are sure to spot the best of Wales’ scenic natural beauty. And when the weather is warm, you may want to take advantage of the sunshine and enjoy a swim in the sea.
If your kids are confident cyclists, you may want to start your journey at the New Quay Tourist Information building and set off on a 30-mile journey incorporating the coastline and a visit to the New Quay Honey Farm. However, the big hill at the beginning of this trip isn’t for everyone – if your young cyclists are just starting out, you may prefer a more gentle ride to Llanerchaeron, a National Trust property that offers a discount on admission to those on bikes.
Other easy, family-friendly rides can be found at Cardigan, which is the perfect base for a great weekend of cycling. On your breaks, your little ones might want to splash in the sea and try to spot seals or otters in the coastal waters. From your bikes, you’ll also be able to spot birds of prey such as red kites and enjoy the warm sun and seaside atmosphere.
The nearby National Trust lands provide you with the perfect chance to see the best of Wales’ natural beauty firsthand – and with several easy cycle routes in the region, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the country’s flora and fauna.
Pembrokeshire is another great place to enjoy a cycling holiday and Preseli in particular is an area worth exploring. It is here that the magnificent bluestones used to create Stonehenge were collected – from your base in Newport, you can marvel at how these huge rocks were transported centuries ago to a field in Salisbury.
Beach lovers will find plenty to love about this region – you can cycle right out onto the sands at Newport to enjoy the spectacular sunsets and spot dolphins in the surf. And if you’re keen on history, you’ll also find Carn Ingli – an Iron Age hill-fort – could be well worth a visit.
Cycling as a family can be a great way to promote a healthy lifestyle to your children and get back to nature at the same time. No matter where you plan your UK weekend break, your adventure on your bikes in Wales is sure to be an experience your whole family will remember for years to come.