For anyone who hasn’t chanced across it before, the #30dayswild challenge by the Wildlife Trusts, a collection of UK nature groups. It spans the month of June and encourages people to immerse themselves in the natural world as the northern hemisphere’s summer months roll round.
After spending five months chasing wild and wonderful experiences in nature, today’s post, keeping with this theme, shares our top 30 UK wildlife experiences, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and everywhere in between.
Breakfast with Red Squirrels, England
“Shhh… there it is!”
An amazing place to experience several iconic British birds and mammals, including the fluffy but fiery Red Squirrel is RSPB’s Haweswater reserve, thanks to a purpose-built hide.
The RSPB at Haweswater (in partnership with United Utilities) is dedicated to restoring “wild connections” in the landscape to demonstrate how hillside farming and habitat restoration can be achieved side by side for the benefit of people, water, nature and agriculture.
When we went in autumn, huge flocks of migrating Siskin were easily seen from the hide: so many bright yellow birds that littered the ground, hopping about in search of fallen seeds.
As we sat captivated by the buzzing birdlife, a red ball of fluff shimmied down a tree and bounded across the clearing, making a beeline for a log where it sat cautiously, watching intently for immediate danger before foraging furiously amongst the branches until, success! It pulled out a huge nut.
Click click click
Our cameras went crazy all morning. All up, seven or so Red Squirrels and a croissant and hot cup of tea later, we left feeling completely mesmerized by the past few hours in nature.
And, if you head down the driveway in springtime, keep your eyes open for flocks of bright-red Bullfinch, nibbling on the buds of flowering blackthorn trees!
Bird feeders, UK
You don’t usually need to travel very far for this one! With data showing that over half of UK households feed wild birds, backyard bird feeders are a great place to start experiencing and appreciating our feathered friends.
Although the assemblage of regulars varies depending on where you live across the UK, some of the usual suspects you might expect to see include the iconic Robin red-breast, a collection of colorful tits (Great, Blue, Coal – and even Long-tailed Tits if you’re lucky!), the striking Goldfinch and the zooming Nuthatch. From dawn ’til dusk, these cuties take turns on the feeder, darting in to take seeds before rushing back to the safety of the surrounding branches. Seeds fly everywhere! Down on the ground, the Chaffinch hops about and clean up these fallen seeds.
House Sparrows, who nest high in the rafters, often buzz around the birdfeeder, the noisy socialites that they are! Quiet and unobtrusive in contrast, the Blackbird and the Dunnock are probably two of the most overlooked of our backyard birds as they creep through the bushes surrounding the feeder. If you’re lucky, you might even observe a visit from the mighty Woodpecker or a Squirrel!
Spending time watching your local bird feeder is a great way to get to know your feathered neighbors in an intimate way from the comfort of your kitchen window, and experience their antics!
Haweswater Nature Reserve, England
Another must-have wildlife experience, again at RSPB’s Haweswater Reserve is in the Badger hide. Such an intimate experience! We had glimpsed badgers once or twice before, skulking away in a distant field, or dead on the side of the road – but never like this.
Dusk in Cumbria.
The darkness gathers on the fells. The light drains away from the land until only the shadows are left behind. The sky glows in contrast until that too fades.
We sat in the wood cabin, excited. Our eyes, unsure where to look, scoured the shadows and strained into the growing darkness for signs of movement.
The minutes slipped past. Our eyes flick towards the clock and back to the scene in front of us. Will they show up? We listened to the birds in the nearby woodlands, singing their final notes before bed. An owl calls from just outside the hide.
And all of a sudden, we looked up and there it was!
The silhouette of a badger glides down the hill slope and waltzes across the grass in front of the cabin. Its fur shines beneath the spotlight in unmistakeable black and white.
Fearlessly, it makes a beeline for the rocks.
We caught our breath… and smiled. You can’t help but smile when watching this incredible creature.
Click, click, click
Our cameras are out, snapping furiously to capture the moments, the nuances of the badger.
It waddles across the grass, effortlessly uses its paw to move a rock to one side, exposing a dish of peanuts. Success! We watched it dig into the ground then looks up slowly, surveying its surrounds.
Click, click, click
It looked directly at us.
Instinctively, we froze, holding our breath. Even though the badger can’t see us through the reflective glass, I am always blown away by how humbling and powerful these moments feel.
City parks, UK
Although the heart of the bustling cities might not be the most likely of places to experience wildlife, think again. Mute Swan and Mallard ducks glide on the ponds of Hyde Park. Rock Doves and introduced Grey Squirrels, cautiously approach picnickers, hustling for a spot at the table (or a handful of seeds!). And if you’re up and about at dawn or dusk, keep your eyes open for Rabbits, Deer and even Red Fox who come out of hiding at this time to forage and move around the city.
And it’s not just London! Why not take a stroll through your local park or visit your local wetland or woodland – you never know what you might see!
Sizergh Castle, England
We were surprised when we first heard of this experience, but upon arrival at the National Trust’s Sizergh Castle early one morning, we were not disappointed!
Although it is more commonly seen on mainland Europe, the chunky Hawfinch is unusual to encounter in the UK but can reliably be seen between March and April at Seizergh Castle near Kendal in Cumbria.
Here, these delightful orange-colored birds fly to the ground where they bounce about, foraging for hornbeam tree seeds, alongside Bullfinch, Chaffinch and other finches. By chance, the morning we went to try our luck for Hawfinch, there was a research team catching and ringing the birds so we were fortunate to experience some birds in the hand!
Leighton Moss, England
What a magnificent location for nature enthusiasts! Reed beds as far as the eye can experience vast congregations of waterbirds in wintertime, the booming of Bitterns in spring and even otters hidden throughout this network of wetlands and surrounding woodlands.
Leighton Moss is managed by the RSPB for its high conservation value to all of this wildlife. One of the most exciting birds to call this place home is the delicate and elusive Bearded Reedling that lives exclusively within the reed beds. The easiest time to experience them is in autumn when they form flocks and collect grit from purpose-built platforms where the birds are more easily seen.
It took us two visits until we finally laid eyes on a pair of birds, nestled together on a branch, deep in a reed bunch beside the boardwalk. We were over the moon, especially considering it was late spring!
Geltsdale Nature Reserve, England
Geltsdale Nature Reserve, England
Geltsdale is another RSPB reserve in northern Cumbria, protected because it is a safe haven for a wide array of important plains birds including the charismatic but threatened Black Grouse, who emerge in springtime at leks in elaborate displays of courtship. Other beautiful birds to encounter here include Redshank, Curlew and Red Grouse. Another unlikely but thrilling species to encounter here is the Adder, which can reliably be found basking in the sunshine on overgrown mounds.
Isles of Scotland
Isles of Scotland
Scotland’s Isles are renowned for being rich in wildlife: from the Isle of Skye where we experienced White-tailed Eagles, Otters and other more traditional marine mammals like dolphins and seals, to the outer Hebrides, famous for Corncrake and the Isle of Mull, famous for Golden Eagle and colonies of seabirds including the cute and charismatic Puffins.
High on the grassy sea cliffs of the Treshnish Isles we sat quietly amongst hundreds of Puffins as they created their burrows and travelled to and from the ocean to forage for sand eels, the tiny, protein-rich fish that comprise a majority of their diet. Children nearby were snapping puffin selfies and everyone present was simply reveling in this incredible experience to bask in the sunshine with the puffins as they prepared to lay their eggs and raise the next generation of these gorgeous “ocean toucans”
Boat o’ Garten, Scotland
In the heart of the Caingorms National Park, RSPB’s Boat o’ Garten visitors center is emersed in old pine forests on the shores of Loch Garten. If you find yourself there in search of Capercaillie or Pine Martin, you will have to be incredibly lucky to site this rare and elusive species. And although we were unsuccessful with them, we were excited to find we could view powerful birds of prey including Osprey and White-tailed Eagle as they sat on their nests through scopes at the Visitors Centre, as well as an array of much smaller song birds including the Crested Tit and Brambling.
As we arrived at Boat o’ Garten, we were excited to find breeding toads scattered throughout the carpark as they moved between small ponds to lay their eggs!
Ben Nevis, Scotland
For hikers and adventure-lovers, Ben Nevis is likely on the list of mountains to conquer in the UK. But not many people recommend it as a wildlife destination!
On our hike upwards, we were serenaded by Skylark and Meadow Pipit as they move between the low vegetation. We were delighted to find a welcome party of Snow Bunting upon summiting Ben Nevis as they fossicked about between the rocks beside the path. We were also told it was quite common to encounter the majestic Golden Eagle and other birds of prey in this rugged mountainous country!
Seasonal migrants, UK
For us, one of the most beautiful experiences that nature has to offer is observing the turning of the seasons. And this is so much more than the changing of the weather! Across the UK, the dropping of leaves, snow and Christmas celebrations that we associate with winter time are accompanied by a change in the migrant bird populations. Siskin, Brambling, Bohemian Waxwing and large flocks of geese and shorebirds arrive to winter in the UK for the cold months of the year.
And as the summer months roll around, these birds disappear, only to be replaced by a wide assortment of new characters returning from Africa: Wheatear, Pied Flycatcher, Barn Swallow and a whole host of warblers like Chiff Chaff, Blackcap and other little brown jobs, most easily distinguished by their calls rather than appearance!
As you can see, there are so many incredible ways to experience wildlife across the UK – and so many of these opportunities are in our backyards, or within a few hours drive away. So, why not make the most of these long summer days and make some time for your own #30dayswild soon!?
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