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Top ten Boxing Day walks on RSPB nature reserves

November 2017

Oystercatcher flock in flight over water Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Oystercatcher flock in flight over water
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

After an indulgent Christmas many of us crave a refreshing winter walk and luckily, plenty of RSPB nature reserves up and down the country will be opening their doors (or gates!) on Boxing Day. There’s so much to see at this time of year, from starling murmurations to colourful winter ducks, in countryside laced with frost and crisp with ice.


Burton Mere Wetlands, Cheshire

Water rail feeding at water's edge Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)
Water rail feeding at water's edge
Mike Richards (rspb-images.com)

Welcome to a winter wildlife wonderland, full of birds! Probably the most spectacular (and noisy) are the thrushes and starlings that have come from the continent to feast upon our unfrozen farmland. Look out for hen harriers, whooper and Bewick's swans, and glimpses of the usually shy water rail.


Crook of Baldoon, Dumfries & Galloway

Redwing feeding on hawthorn berries. Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Redwing feeding on hawthorn berries
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Enjoy breath-taking views and the sight of thousands of winter visitors such as pink-footed and barnacle geese. You should also see a large number of shelducks, whooper and mute swans, redwings and fieldfares. There’s a guided boxing day walk along the flood bank at 2pm: details are on the RSPB website.


Frampton Marsh, Lincolnshire

Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed David Kjaer (rspb-images.com)
Starlings Sturnus vulgaris, gathering above reed bed
David Kjaer (rspb-images.com)

In winter Frampton Marsh becomes a magnet for thousands of birds who will make this fantastic place their home for the colder months. See the huge gatherings of wildfowl and waders that have flown from hundreds of miles within the Arctic Circle just to be there. The site is also very good for winter golden plover flocks, a starling murmuration, farmland birds and numerous birds of prey.


Labrador Bay, Devon

Cirl Bunting, Emberiza cirlus, adult male feeding in straw Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Cirl Bunting, Emberiza cirlus, adult male feeding in straw
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

This nature reserve near Shaldon was purchased in 2008 to help secure the future of the cirl bunting, a rare little bird whose population is almost entirely restricted to south Devon. The number of birds on the stubbles on the reserve should increase at this time of year as food becomes harder to find. Cirl buntings will sing all year round, so listen out for the males' rattling calls.


Leighton Moss, Cumbria/Lancashire border

Great bittern Botaurus stellaris, walking through reedbed habitat Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)
Great bittern Botaurus stellaris, walking through reedbed habitat
Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

Leighton Moss is the largest reedbed in north-west England, and home to some really special birds such as bitterns, bearded tits and marsh harriers. Teals, shovelers and gadwalls join the resident ducks to congregate in large numbers in the pools. You may also see water rails, siskins, wigeons, greylag geese, peregrines and merlins.


Portmore Lough, County Antrim

Lapwing, adult feeding in wet meadow Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Lapwing, adult feeding in wet meadow
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

Right now, there will be large flocks of golden plovers and lapwings congregating on the flooded meadows. On the lough, pochard and tufted duck numbers are at their peak. Greylag geese and whooper swans noisily come onto the water to roost just before dusk. Tree sparrow, linnet and chaffinch flocks are at their maximum on the crop field behind the car park.


Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex

en harrier Circus cyaneus, female in flight Mark Thomas (rspb-images.com)
Hen harrier Circus cyaneus, female in flight
Mark Thomas (rspb-images.com)

This tranquil wildlife oasis a couple of hours’ drive from London, a perfect getaway for a festive day out. Thousands of wintering ducks, geese, swans and waders use the flooded brooks. Look out for wigeons, teals, pintails, shovelers, mallards, lapwings, ruffs, snipe and Bewick's swans. Short-eared owls, barn owls, hen harriers, peregrines, merlins and sparrowhawks are also regularly seen hunting over the reserve.


Sandwell Valley, West Midlands

Pochard, Aythya ferina, swimming Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)
Pochard, Aythya ferina, swimming
Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

Winter wildfowl including wigeons, teals, pochards, shovelers and goosanders find refuge here. Resident tufted ducks are joined by their cousins from colder parts of the continent. Wintering lapwings flock to the reserve from the north. Fieldfares and redwings gather in the poplar trees before going to roost at the end of the short winter day.


Titchwell Marsh, Norfolk

Teal (Anas crecca) adult pair in snow Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
Teal (Anas crecca) adult pair in snow
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

A walk from the visitor centre down to the sandy beach takes you past reedbeds and shallow lagoons, which are often full of birds. You can sit on benches or watch from spacious, wheelchair-accessible hides. Winter is the time for wildfowl at Titchwell. The commonest species are teal, wigeon, mallard, gadwall and shoveler, with smaller numbers of pintails and goldeneyes.


St Aidan’s, West Yorkshire

Wigeon Anas penelope, flock feeding Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Wigeon Anas penelope, flock feeding
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

If you’re looking for a bracing walk with amazing views; this is the place to be. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking routes: there are 12km of trails, plus the transpennine trail which passes the nature park on the southern side. Large flocks of wigeon graze on the wet grassland. Flocks of wintering waders take to the skies when a peregrine appears on the lookout for a meal. Neighbouring Fairburn Ings will also be open so you can fit in two nature reserves in one day.

 

The RSPB manages over 200 nature reserves across the UK. Read more about them here: rspb.org.uk/reserves


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