Pied Flycatcher

Top Five Birding Sites in the UK

Dominic CouzensBy Dominic Couzens
9th August 2019

Dominic is a Naturetrek tour leader and one of Britain's
best known and most prolific natural history writers.

The UK is one of the most intensively bird-watched countries in the world. There are multiple places to watch, often with excellent facilities, and mountains of information on when to go and where. In fact, there is so much information that, for a visitor or beginner, it can be very difficult to know the best areas to explore. Here, though, are our suggestions for places to go to get a rounded experience of Britain’s much-loved birdlife. They won’t necessarily get you the biggest species list, nor many rarities, but as far as pure, enjoyable birding in a British setting is concerned, these are hard to beat.

The Somerset Levels

Once a somewhat overlooked corner of England, the Somerset Levels is now a hot destination, partly because of the march of the ‘long-legged wonders’ – it is the headquarters of Britain’s tall, lanky birds such as herons, Bitterns and Common Cranes (Great and Cattle Egrets and Little Bitterns have also bred recently) – and partly because, in the winter, it hosts Britain’s largest Starling roost, regularly numbering a million or so birds – although it’s hard to count them to check! If you add in large flocks of wintering wildfowl and waders, some delightful extras such as Barn Owl, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit, and a host of warblers in summer, you can see why Somerset has become such an irresistible draw.

Days: 3 

Price: £325

Tours to The Somerset Levels

Eurasian Bittern


Arguably the best place for birding in Britain, Norfolk is a land of ornithological plenty, with marvellous reserves, excellent viewing, a fabulous range of species and, in winter especially, dramatic spectacles, particularly of geese, swans and waders. A truly stellar range of species visits from the north in winter, with scarce birds such as Twites, Snow Buntings and Shorelarks mixing with seaducks, uncommon grebes and divers, while waders such as Knots form swirling multitudes, and geese commute in noisy skeins at dawn and dusk. The breeding birds are no less spectacular, with huge reedbeds providing refuge for Bitterns, Marsh Harriers, Bearded Tits and Common Cranes, while inland there are prizes such as Stone Curlews and Goshawks.

Days: 3 

Price: £295

Tours to Norfolk


The Forest of Dean

Britain is full of gems and the Forest of Dean, by no means a household name among birders, is one of them. The second largest expanse of ancient woodland in England, the forest is close to the Welsh border, and is home to a wonderful range of common birds with some choice species, such as Hawfinch and Goshawk, thrown in. Among the huge trees, the lovely Sessile Oak trio of Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Wood Warbler burst into song in spring, while in autumn and winter, rare and decreasing waifs such as the Willow Tit and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker can be more easily found. On the rivers you can find the curious tree-nesting combination of introduced Mandarin Duck and native Goosander, while the fast-flowing rivers host Dipper and Grey Wagtail. This quiet 100 square kilometre corner of England offers eclectic and surprising delights!

Days: 3 

Price: from £325

Tours to The Forest of Dean

Wood Warbler

The Inner Hebrides

It doesn’t matter where you’ve been in the world, the landscape of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides will inevitably stun you. Whether it’s the flower-rich machair in summer, or the brooding, stark mountainsides and seascapes of autumn and winter, there can be no finer setting for your birding. Year-round, the area is wonderfully rich in raptors, from the tiny, dashing Merlin to the mighty, ‘flying-barn-door’ White-tailed Eagle, taking in Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle in good numbers, too. In autumn and winter the island of Islay bursts with geese, including 10,000 giggling White-fronted and 40,000 yapping Barnacle Geese. There are divers and grebes, Corncrakes, lots of ducks, Black Guillemots and Snow Buntings in season, and the play of light and colour offers the best backdrops for them all.

Days: 7 

Price: from £1,350

Tours to the Inner Hebrides

White-tailed Eagle

Northumberland and the Farne Islands

On a global scale, Britain is home to some of the best seabird colonies in the world, and there is simply no better place to enjoy them, be immersed in them and see them literally at your feet, or unexpectedly diving at your head, than the fabulous Farne Islands. The islands, a short boat trip offshore, are home to large colonies of noisy and quarrelsome Arctic and Sandwich Terns, while the cliffs are chock-full of braying Guillemots, Shags and caterwauling Kittiwakes. Even so, the comical, waddling Puffins usually steal the show. There are also colonies of Little Terns and Roseate Terns on the wild and lovely coast, while inland on the unspoilt Cheviot Hills you will revel in seeing Dippers on rushing streams and Red Grouse muttering on the moors.

Days: 6

Price: from £945

Tours to Northumberland and the Farne Islands


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