Best sites to look for owls and birds of prey
1 Findhorn Valley
More properly called Strathdearn, this is a long-time favourite on Bird Watching Reader Holidays. Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Buzzards and Kestrels are regular above the hillsides (the end car park at Coignafearn is a good vantage point) White-tailed Eagles also turn up, and Goshawks are also often seen near the turn-off to Farr (check the pylons for perched raptors).
2 Lough Foyle
All Northern Ireland’s loughs and sea loughs attract raptors such as Peregrine and Merlin in winter, to prey on the wildfowl and waders gathered there, and this is perhaps the best of all. Along the north coast of Northern Ireland, also keep an eye out for Hen Harriers, plus both eagle species drifting across from Scotland.
3 Leighton Moss RSPB
In spring and summer this is a great place (and one of the most northerly in the UK) at which to watch Marsh Harriers skydancing and carrying out food passes, but in winter Peregrines and Merlins should also be present, trying to take advantage of the gatherings of wildfowl, waders and smaller birds.
4 Blacktoft Sands RSPB
Marsh Harriers and Barn Owls breed here, so you can watch them displaying and hunting during spring and summer, but in winter they’re joined by others of their species, as well as Hen Harriers, Merlins, Peregrines, Short-eared Owls and occasionally Long-eared Owls, too. A late afternoon visit is best, as the raptors start to arrive to roost in the reedbeds.
Both the RSPB reserve here and the nearby sections of Wirral coastline are famous for the gatherings of raptors and owls that occur during spring tides – as the incoming water pushes small animals off the saltmarshes, the predators take advantage of the glut of prey.
6 Thornham Harbour
Lots of north Norfolk coastal sites are great for raptors, but try this one if you like to find your own birds, as it’s quieter than the likes of Titchwell and Cley. Marsh Harriers are here year-round, as well as Buzzard and Kestrel, but in winter Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Merlin, Barn Owl, and Short-eared Owl are all likely over the wide expanses of saltmarsh.
7 Great Fen, Cambs
Another favourite with BW, this time for winter birding expeditions by the team. Buzzards, Red Kites and Kestrels are plentiful, Rough-legged Buzzard has turned up before, Merlin and Peregrine and Short-eared and Barn Owls are very possible, and both Marsh and Hen Harriers often quarter the flat fields. A non-raptor predator, Great Grey Shrike, is another possible winter visitor.
8 Gigrin Farm, Powys
A bit different, this one, because it’s really only one species you’ll see – Red Kite. It’s the number, though, and the close-up views, that are absolutely amazing, as the birds come in to be fed. Worth reflecting, too, that it’s not so long ago that this area looked like being their last UK stronghold.
9 North Kent Marshes
Another great example of how coastal marshes attract raptors in winter – look for Peregrines, Merlins, Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers and Short-eared Owls, while the local Buzzards are joined by the Rough-legged Buzzards in many winters.
10 Somerset Levels
Marsh Harriers can dominate the skies here, although you’ll also get plenty of practice at telling them apart from Buzzards. Kestrels and Barn Owls are also likely, and in winter the reedbeds and thickets can attract species such as Long-eared and Short-eared Owls.
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