Best Bird Watching in England

By Sian Williams

If lockdown has made you more appreciative of the birds in your neighbourhood, why not further your interest with a visit to a bird reserve during your staycation?

Birdwatching doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby – you don’t need to buy a huge telescope like you see some twitchers carrying, just as you don’t need to sit for hours munching on sandwiches, praying for that one elusive bird to show up!

If lockdown has made you more appreciative of the birds in your neighbourhood, why not further your interest with a visit to a bird reserve during your staycation?

Birdwatching doesn’t need to be an expensive hobby – you don’t need to buy a huge telescope like you see some twitchers carrying, just as you don’t need to sit for hours munching on sandwiches, praying for that one elusive bird to show up!

A good pair of binoculars (many reserves offer them for sale, or check out second-hand pairs on sites such as eBay), a bird book or app so you can identify what’s in front of you, and a little bit of patience will reward you with an absorbing day out.

Although spring and summer are great for spotting birds during the breeding season, autumn and winter also offer a great deal of variety as many species prepare to migrate.

Bird-watching is truly a year-round activity the whole family can enjoy.

Here are our top nine bird-watching sites in England.

Farne Islands

Farne Islands
Farne Islands. Credit: DomWPhoto

A 20-minute boat trip will take you to the dramatic Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast.

Once home to saints and monks, today the tiny archipelago supports breeding colonies of several species of seabird. At the height of the season (May to June), you could see around 70,000 Puffins!

The islands are also a haven for Eider Ducks, Razorbills, Little Terns, Arctic Terns, and Sandwich Terns. Look out for seals basking on the rocks or swimming, too.

Find it: Boat trips to the Farne islands run from Seahouses. Check out SerenityBilly Shiel’s or Golden Gate. The National Trust cares for the islands; non-members must pay a landing fee in addition to the cost of the boat trip.

Find out more here.

Bempton Cliffs

Known locally as Seabird City, the towering white cliffs at Bempton, near Bridlington, in East Yorkshire, attract up to half a million seabirds every year.

Between March and October, they come to nest and raise their young, making this place a must-see for any bird-watcher.

The cries (and smells!) are unforgettable as thousands of birds swoop around you.

Look out for the Gannets with their startling blue eyes and large grey bills. True romantics, Gannets mate for life – and often the male will offer the female little gifts of flowers.

Bempton is the only mainland seabird colony in England, so you’re guaranteed to see ‘the big eight’ of species that visit our shores: Gannet, Guillemot, Puffin, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Shag and Herring Gull.

Find it: RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Cliff Lane, Bridlington, YO15 1JF

Find out more here.

Coombes Valley

A Redstart
A Redstart. Credit: SussexBirder

A lovely oak woodland in a steep-sided valley, this Staffordshire spot provides an ideal habitat for migratory birds such as the Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Wood Warbler to nest.

A trail leads you around the site – look out for Dippers and Willow Tits in summer, and in winter, hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfare descend to feed on the berries.

A steep climb will take you to open moorland and pasture, where you may see Woodcock and Sparrowhawks.

Find it: RSPB Coombes & Churnet Valley Nature Reserve, Bradnop, Leek, ST13 7EU

Find out more here.

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Frankly, my dear, Blue Jays are quite something

None other than the blue jay can be described as bold, brash and beautiful — a feathered Rhett Butler in blue and white. (Who knows that name anymore?) This is a northern bird and often seen here on MDI year-round. It is one that easily rivals in looks any bird found in the tropics. Most of us forget about that. A birding friend visiting me from England brought that to my attention when she first caught sight of a blue jay and said, “Ruth, what was THAT beautiful bird?” I answered, “Oh, that’s just a blue jay.”

By Ruth Grierson

Mother birds do not always choose a good spot for their nest at first try. At my temporary vacation spot, I recently found a wren’s nest that had baby birds in it and I think their chances are slim. It must have been the female’s first try. The babies will be lucky to fly off safely.

My favorite wren on Mount Desert Island is the winter wren. It is the wren we get to see if we’re out and about from mid-April through January. There are five different wrens you might see throughout the year on the island: the winter wren, house wren, Carolina wren, sedge wren and marsh wren.

The winter wren is one of the easier ones to see for its short, cocked–up, stubby tail and barred belly are very eye catching. The bird acts like a feathered ping pong ball constantly in motion. Look for it in brush piles, ravines, woods, tangles and in the roots along the banks of streams. A feathered ping pong ball REALLY does describe it.

None other than the blue jay can be described as bold, brash and beautiful — a feathered Rhett Butler in blue and white. (Who knows that name anymore?) This is a northern bird and often seen here on MDI year-round. It is one that easily rivals in looks any bird found in the tropics. Most of us forget about that. A birding friend visiting me from England brought that to my attention when she first caught sight of a blue jay and said, “Ruth, what was THAT beautiful bird?“ I answered, “Oh, that’s just a blue jay.”

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The Wild Blue Turkey That Blew My Mind

TurkeyAppreciating the avian diversity that’s there to astound us—if only we look.

There are only two species of turkey in the world, and we’re all familiar with one: the Wild Turkey. A magnificent bird first domesticated by the Aztecs and later again by Native Americans, its farm-bred form will fill our Thanksgiving plates this November, while wild flocks continue their decades-long recovery from overhunting and habitat loss across the eastern United States.

Let’s first take a minute to appreciate the Wild Turkey’s comeback, or perhaps even savor its sweet revenge as the birds apparently terrorize growing swaths of suburbia.

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