Do you have a New Years Resolution?
For 2013, I thought that it was time I got out into the Great British countryside and saw more wildlife. So here’s my selection of 13 wonderful wildlife sights for 2013. Some you can see from your garden, some require a bit more effort, but let’s make 13 our lucky number this year. Fancy joining me?
1. Watch red deer rutting
Ok, so you have to wait until autumn for this one. But it’s worth it as the testosterone-fuelled stags bellow and battle it out for the ladies. Top spots are the Highlands and islands of Scotland, Richmond Park in London and Exmoor.
The deep bellow of a male red deer is somewhat primeval, as is the rutting itself. It’s nature laid bare: the dominant stag will stop at nothing to protect his harem of females from challengers, ensuring that he is the father of next year’s calves. Essential viewing for 2013!
2. Lose yourself in a bluebell wood
Quintessentially British, the springtime spectacle of bluebells has inspired poets for generations. But whether you’re planning on penning a lyrical ode to bluebells or not, a trip to a bluebell wood in early spring is a trip worth taking. The timing depends on the good old British weather, but it says spring is here to me.
3. Take a closer peek at your garden birds
How often to you stop and look at the birds in your garden? They’re always there, aren’t they? The robins, blue tits and blackbirds, but do you actually watch them? Why not make 2013 the year you really get to know your garden birds. The best thing about this is that, unlike some of the others on my list, you don’t have to leave your house!
And don’t forget Big Garden Birdwatch is here on January 26/27, so remember to count your birds over the big weekend!
4. Watch pink-footed geese wake up
Getting up early and heading to a cold saltmarsh whilst it’s still dark may not sound like fun, but hear me out. Wrap up warm and you’ll get to watch tens of thousands of pinkies erupt from the mud as one and head inland in long Vs like invading bomber squadrons. I’m an avid fan, so there is no way this spectacle was going to be missing from the list! The only way to top it is finishing up in a local cafe for a cooked breakfast. Birds and breakfast? Heaven!
5. Stare skywards at screaming swifts
Swifts are wonderful birds. Quick, mysterious and enigmatic, they join us for just a few short months in summer to raise their chicks. Like our garden birds, they’re always around during summer, so perhaps we tend not to look too hard at them. This year, I’m making an effort. After all, they’re not here for long, so when you spot one on a summer evening, stop. Look up and watch these scythe-shaped masters of the skies screaming past. It’s worth it, trust me.
6. See a starling murmuration
OK, this is a real classic of British wildlife watching, and you may have seen it all before. But so what? The sight of thousands, even millions of these thrush-sized birds swooping and swirling as one above a reedbed is something else. It’s amazing, it’s awe-inspiring, it makes me want to leap up and exclaim just how wonderful nature is. So that’s why it makes my list!
7. Keep an eye out for butterflies
Another easy one. You can attract many species such as peacocks, red admirals and commas to your garden. Visit a nectar-rich summer meadow and you’re bound to catch sight of butterflies.
Take a closer look at these fragile little critters – they’re a lot more than just bird food! If you like your butterflies more elusive, head to woodlands in Southern England from mid-June to mid-August and maybe you’ll get an audience with the holy grail of UK butterflies - the purple emperor. Or for my favourite, head to Norfolk. Strumpshaw Fen is a good spot for the Britain’s largest butterfly, the swallowtail.
8. Listen to the dawn chorus
As the sun rises on a still day in early May, I’ll visit a scrub patch near my Bedfordshire home and listen out for mellow blackbirds, scratchy whitethroats and hopefully purring turtle doves. It’s only a little scrub patch, but the song is uplifting and reminds me that British summer time is great! The choir of warblers have made the effort to come all the way from Africa, so the least we can do is go and listen to it! And then you can return to your warm duvet. I promise.
9. Be seduced by seal pups
With the UK’s resident seal species giving birth at different times, you have two bites of the cherry here! Our common seals pup in summer, and greys during the winter. Take a trip out to somewhere like Blakeney point in Norfolk during summer and you’ll see plenty of seals, including the newborn pups as they stare inquisitively at us with those big eyes. Greys pup from October through to November, often in inhospitable places. But you can get up close to them on the windswept sands of Horsey in Norfolk, and Donna Nook in Lincolnshire.
10. Watch an osprey soap opera
A staggering success story, ospreys only returned to breed in the UK in 1959. Since then they’ve spread out through Scotland, into Wales, and Cumbria. Thanks to a reintroduction scheme they also returned to the English Midlands.
However, Loch Garten in the Highlands is the first place these long-distance migrants came back to. Here you can watch the adults as they scour the lochs for tasty trout, the perfect meal for their boisterous youngsters, which you can see on the nest. However, you don’t need to hotfoot it to the Highlands, as you can follow the annual soap opera via our webcam. The female will be back in late March, with the chicks hatching out in May/June. So stay tuned!
11. Go whale watching
My first (and so far only!) UK whale encounter came when I was 10. I sat with my family at Ardnamurchan point, the most westerly point on the UK mainland. As the sun went down, covering my world in gold rays, the long black back of a minke whale broke the still surface of the sea. It stayed for a few minutes, and then was gone. The west coast of Scotland, and the Isles of Mull and Skye in particular, are fast becoming the tourist hotspots for UK whale watching, so a trip there from mid-June to the end of September gives you a great chance of seeing these giants of the deep.
12. Visit a seabird colony
It’s summer, and the sun is shining in cloudless, azure skies. What better than a trip to see the UK’s famous seabird colonies? Nothing prepares you for the sight, the noise and the smell of thousands of seabirds coming together on our cliffs to raise their young. It’s a cacophony, and they all have their place. Kittiwakes scream their name, razorbills and guillemots bicker, gannets patrol the cliffs, and you might even spot some puffins too. Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire is home to a spectacular seabird city, but there are plenty of others.
13. Spend a summer with dragons and damsels
Take a summer stroll alongside a lake, river or canal and look for the jewels of UK summertime: dragonflies and damselflies. Even if you can’t identify them, you can appreciate their beauty, from dainty demoiselles up to the Emperor himself.
What do you think?
So there you have it, my 13 for 2013. Although I have to say that picking just 13 was incredibly tough! There’s just so much good wildlife in the UK. Here’s some that just missed out:
Watching kingfishers fishing, hares boxing, sunsets, badgers and glow worms.
What do you think? Are there any that I’ve missed out? What makes it onto your list of wildlife to see this year? Leave a comment below and let me know.
Hi Kevin, thank you very much for your list; I've saved it and I'll follow your suggestions during the year. In my personal list there are also waxwings, just because I've never seen any, and otters!
Hi Kevin as above thank you for your list . My partner and I go beach fishing or sea wall fishing and we have seen many oyster catchers and sea birds flying low across the bay .
this year and yesterday we saw the geese flying over the mussel beds lots of starlings too.
By my partner's home there is a large park where we have robins blue tits and other birds flying around . This year I will be taking more notice of the beach and park land .
Thanks for your comments guys. Noc - Waxwings, yes certainly on a lot of people's list! Definitely keep an eye out for them, as there's a fair few knocking about at the moment. Lynn - good to hear that you've already got the geese and the starlings! It was really tough to narrow the list down to 13, initially I had it at around 30. There's so much good wildlife in the UK, but is there anything else missing?