Holidays & Travel

Celebrate spring days with these brilliant birding breaks in the UK

From world-class aerial spectacles to successfully reintroduced raptors, our birdlife is phenomenal, says Sarah Marshall.

Our nearby shores boast plenty of brilliant birdlife
Puffins in Scotland Our nearby shores boast plenty of brilliant birdlife (Alamy Stock Photo)

Nothing heralds the start of spring quite like birdsong. As trees blossom and daffodils flower, our feathered inhabitants are hurriedly gathering materials for their nests. It’s also a good time to wave goodbye to migratory visitors preparing to make their journeys home.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the UK when it comes to wildlife; we don’t have the big animals of Africa or the exotic creatures of the rainforest. But we do have an impressive number of bird species – currently, it’s believed there are 633 on the British list (including Scotland) and more than 450 in Ireland.

Once considered a bit of a nerdy sport, birdwatching has taken off in recent years, as more and more people begin to appreciate the nature immediately around us. Besides, we have our own share of Attenborough-worthy spectacles – including the great aerial displays of knots at Snettisham in Norfolk, and the largest gathering of northern gannets at Scotland’s Bass Rock.

Discover the brilliant birds of our skies with one of these trips…

Top up on twitching

Blackcap at the Muir Dinnet
Blackcap at the Muir Dinnet (Visit Aberdeenshire/PA) Blackcap at the Muir Dinnet

If you’re short on time but want to increase your bird count, David Leslie’s Big Day Birding Tours could be the solution. Packing as many feathered encounters as possible into one day (ideally more than 100), there are two tours available in Aberdeenshire, an area with a variety of habitats ranging from mountains and freshwater lochs to beaches and woodland. These can be done individually or combined to create a Big Day Birding Weekend.

Start the search along the River Don in Seaton Park, where dippers and wagtails can be found. Forvie National Nature Reserve is home to breeding colonies of common, Arctic and sandwich terns. Little grebes can be seen at Meikle Loch, while puffins, kittiwakes and skuas can be spotted on coastal paths.

In the Cairngorms, head to Cullerlie Stone Circle, where red kites were introduced just over a decade ago. Find osprey fishing at Loch Kinord and look out for several butterfly species and the occasional adder at nearby Loch Davan. Climb a viewpoint above the upper Dee Valley to spy golden and white-tailed eagles.

How: The two-day package costs £300, including transport from any Aberdeen accommodation and guiding. Visit aberdeenshirebirdtours.com.

Stay at the Sandman Hotel and Spa from £115 per night with breakfast. Visit sandmansignature.co.uk.

Exploring sky and land

Red knots at Snettisham (Alamy/UK)
Red knots at Snettisham (Alamy/UK) Red knots at Snettisham (Alamy/UK) (Alamy Stock Photo)

Birding trips don’t always have to be about check lists and binoculars. Many of the areas frequented by avian species also happen to be scenic and often only accessible by foot, making them ideal stops on a walking tour. North Norfolk is the perfect example; trails running through meadows, woodlands, vast sandy beaches and marsh areas are prime sports for some of the UK’s top birding spectacles.

From September until early April, thousands of wading birds gather at the Wash and Snettisham, an RSPB Nature Reserve. Spring tides are especially eventful, when water pushes birds from the mudflats causing a starling-style murmuration as they take to the air.

At Holme Dunes, find over-wintering migratory wildfowl preparing to make their journeys home and explore 4,000-year-old Bronze Age timber circle Seahenge. Ranked one of the most beautiful beaches in the UK, Holkham’s sand dunes, pine woods and grazing marshes also provide shelter for many species of nesting birds.

How: The six-night Seascapes of North Norfolk tour costs from £1,105pp (two sharing), including B&B accommodation, three dinners, luggage transfers and route notes and maps. Available from March 1. Visit inntravel.co.uk.

Meet the UK’s feathered marvels

Bustards lekking at Salisbury Plain
Bustards lekking at Salisbury Plain (Alamy/PA) Bustards lekking at Salisbury Plain (Alamy Stock Photo)

Throughout history, Dorset has always been a biologically rich region. Fossils found along the Jurassic Coast provide a glimpse into a world roamed by dinosaurs and life as far back as 185 million years ago. But even today, the south coast’s cliffs, woodlands, heaths and chalk grasslands are teeming with wildlife – albeit much smaller in scale.

Observe both bird and marine life on a wildlife-themed tour based in Dorset at Warmwell House. Naturalists Mike Dilger and Ed Drewitt will guide several excursions, including a trip to Salisbury Plain to learn about a successful project to reintroduce bustards. Take a cruise along the Wareham Channel to search for raptors, look out for goshawks in the New Forest and spend the day with Brownsea Island’s red squirrels and bats.

How: The eight-day South Coast Wildlife Extravaganza tour costs from £2,995pp (two sharing), including accommodation, most meals, transfers and guided activities. Departures on May 10 and 18. Visit wildlifeworldwide.com.

Follow in the footsteps of Attenborough

Gannets on Bass Rock
Gannets on Bass Rock (Alamy/PA) Gannets on Bass Rock (Alamy Stock Photo)

He’s travelled extensively across our planet, but a gathering of 150,000 northern gannets at Bass Rock in Scotland still had the power to amaze Sir David Attenborough. The birds begin to gather at this wild outcrop around mid-February, reaching a peak in the summer months to become the world’s largest gathering of the species. See the spectacle for yourself on a guided trip to Northumberland and Scotland, visiting several top seabird colonies.

Start the tour south of the border with a boat trip to the Farne Islands to see puffins and guillemots. Back on the mainland, the warden’s hut at Long Nanny is famous for its colony of terns. Best known for its photogenic Priory, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne also provides a home for several species of waterfowl.

In Scotland, once you’ve been wowed by the gannets, continue to the Isle of May. Watch seabirds cram onto ledges on the cliffs while the largest puffin colony on the east coast of Scotland can be seen in their grassy burrows.

How: A six-night Wild Isles trip costs from £2,295pp (two sharing), including accommodation, all meals, guiding and transfers. Departures on May 11 and June 15. Visit wildernessengland.com.