Bird's eye view - the Pitchup.com big guide to UK birdwatching
Heavens above! We’re thumbing through our bird guides (yes, really) and eyeing up the best spot at the window (elbows at the ready), for it is RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch time yet again.
The biggest wildlife survey in the world is this weekend (25 – 26 January), with eagle-eyed enthusiasts encouraged to record sightings of birds in their gardens, submit their findings to the RSPB and thusly help keep an eye on bird numbers and conservation needs.
The big bird watch is the easiest way to twitch – if you’re clever enough to have your sofa by the window, you won’t even have to get up.
But if you’re like us and a bit raven mad about all things feathered, we’ve gamely compiled a bird’s eye view to birdwatching in the UK. Not that we’re crowing about it or anything…
Facts and figures
Some number crunching first… including winter migrants, there are over 590 species of birds in the UK making up around 166 million bird inhabitants, several million of which appear to be pigeons roosting noisily just outside the Pitchup.com office.
This should give even the most bird-brained beginner something to see on a birdwatching trip, as birds of all ilks can be spotted in all habitats from coast to countryside to city.
Peer out your very own window, take a trip to one of 200 RSPB reserves or march around a birdwatching haven with binoculars and a determined expression – see below for details.
The RSPB has a handy list of the main species families , ranging from common and garden species like sparrows , finches and tits (stop sniggering at the back) to more elusive birds of prey including falcons , hawks, vultures and eagles. How we live in hope of someday spotting a golden eagle.
Best birdwatching areas
Search for campsites on Pitchup.com within 15 miles of an RSPB reserve , or take your guidebook and Errol Flynns to a famed flutter spot or area of conservation for rare/declining species:
Bempton Cliffs, East Yorkshire
Bridlington bird sanctuary with over 200,000 nesting seabirds on its chalk cliffs. See puffins, gannets, kittiwakes, razorbills and more from the wheelchair-accessible clifftop viewing areas or via the close-up CCTV.
Rutland Water, Rutland
Up to 20,000 wildfowl to see all year round, birdwatching events, birdwatching family walks, birdwatching for beginners and photography courses.
Farne Islands, Northumberland
National Trust-managed group of 15 – 20 islands off the Northumberland coast, with around 37,000 pairs of puffin to spy. Seals and harbour porpoises are spyable here too: have a look at our coastal critters blog to find out more.
Orkney Islands and the Hebrides
Possibly one of our favourite birdwatching places on the planet, mainly because of early influence by Enid Blyton’s The Sea of Adventure and the prospect of chasing baddies around tiny bird-filled Scottish islands.
Both sets of islands have twitchers arriving from all over the world to see seabirds and birds of prey, and it’s easy to arrange boat trips and boat hire to join in.
Rainham Marshes, Essex
Guided birdwatching walks and events on the edge of the Thames.
Ramsey Island, Pembrokeshire
With choughs, peregrines, auks, razorbills and Manx shearwaters.
Exe Estuary, Devon
Coastal grazing marsh to spot avocets, lapwings and rare Cetti's warblers, the only bird in the UK to lay bright red eggs.
Isles of Scilly, Cornwall
Often the first port of call for migrating birds who get blown off-course on the way to their hotel. Several rare species are spottable here in autumn.
Dumfries and Galloway
The Galloway Red Kite Trail ; seabirds at the Mull of Galloway and white-tailed eagles, Britain’s biggest bird of prey, at Mull.
Several birdwatching sites including red kites at Bwlch Nant yr Arian; auks at New Quay and kites at Devil's Bridge.
Fluttery festivals and events
The country’s biggest birdwatching festival is Birdfair at Rutland Water every August, aka the birdwatcher’s Glastonbury, where there are events, exhibitors, lectures and rubbing wings with other twitchers.
To lark about at other birdwatching events, check the RSPB events page for classes, workshops, talks, day trips, guided walks and more.Also have a look at the Birdwatch site for events such as birdwatching for beginners at Rutland Water, introduction to wildlife photography and evening osprey cruises.
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has nine wetland centres around the country and plenty of events running year round at most, including boat safaris, duck tours and ‘guide in the hide’; find events by going to the individual centre’s page. No need to get into a flap if you’re on a budget – most events are free or cheep.
Other fluttery days out
What lucky ducks we are in Blighty, with a veritable flock of bird centres and bird parks to see the critters at.
Many of these will have bird species from around the world too, alongside other critters like crocodiles, which were not birds the last time we checked. But that is very much not a complaint.
Chick these out (click the county links for accommodation options):
Birdland, Cotswold Falconry Centre and International Centre for Birds of Prey, Gloucestershire
World Owl Trust and Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre, Cumbria
Blackbrook Zoological Bird Park, Staffordshire
Tropical Wings Zoo, Essex
Isle of Wight Owl and Falconry Centre, Isle of Wight
Yorkshire Dales Falconry and Conservation Centre, North Yorkshire
Cornish Birds of Prey Centre, Cornwall
Bird of Prey Experience at Warwick Castle, Warwickshire
Most pheasantly, it’s easy to combine birdwatching with swanning about on outdoor holidays: look for Pitchup.com sites within 15 miles of an RSPB reserve and filter your search by location, price, user review, leisure on site and loads more, eg family-friendly or sites with an indoor pool.
Also search for sites in a wildlife haven, our farm campsites or sites with a David Bellamy Conservation Award in Gold , Silver or Bronze : we’re fairly certain there should be some specimens flocking overhead.
If you’re going to a bird centre, bird park or birdwatching event, you can find accommodation within 5 – 60 miles by entering the place's postcode into the Pitchup.com search box.
A few of our fave sites for birdwatching and camping; all but Callow Top have pitches as well as glamping:
Lee Wick Farm Cottages and Camping, Essex
The road beyond the farm leads to the Essex Wildlife Trust Colne Point Nature Reserve. Pods for four from £50.
The Old Thorns Manor Hotel, Hampshire
Luxury pods, spa and champagne bar seven miles from Birdworld. Pods from £75.
Dinas Caravan Park and Camping, Gwynedd
A mile from Cwn Nantol nature trail and woodland walk. Caravans for hire from £327 for seven nights and pods from £30 a night.
Whitehall Farm Norfolk
Near the birdwatching of the North Norfolk Coastal Path, Holkham Nature Reserve and Blakeney National Nature Reserve. Pods from £40; up to two dogs stay free.
Crows Nest Caravan Park, N Yorkshire
Near the birdwatching of Filey Brigg and Bempton Cliffs. Caravan for hire from £345 for seven nights.
Callow Top Holiday Park, Derbyshire
With birdwatching hide on site and pitches from £8.75.
Bird conservation, birdwatchers’ code and useful links
Conservation and Garden Wildlife Health
Birding for All : resources for disabled birdwatchers
Bird Calls app : 4500+ bird sounds, bird songs, bird identification and bird guide (iPhone, free)
Birds of Britain : bird songs, photos, reference guide (Android, 69p)
Fatbirder : British and world birding
Birds of prey in the UK – on a wing and a prayer : RSPB-published report with findings from 26 organisations about the country’s birds of prey and conservation efforts [pdf]