Honeycomb reef at Dunraven Bay
There are many reasons to visit Dunraven Bay: the beach, the surfing, the multi-layered cliffs, the ruined clifftop castle. For the naturalist, it’s also a great place to find honeycomb reefs at low tide. They’re made by colonies of honeycomb worms, which use sand to build a series of intricate tubes to form living reefs, which in turn create a habitat for anemones, snails, crabs and seaweeds.
Salmon leaping in Bute Park
Just behind Cardiff Castle, right in the middle of our capital city, is Bute Park. It’s a vast 56-hectare park where you can go to lose yourself in tranquillity among parkland, the arboretum, nature trails and tucked-away cafes. Follow the Taff Trail along the river to Blackweir, through red-and-gold trees, where you’ll see salmon leaping upstream during late autumn.
Winter birds at Newport Wetlands
The RSPB reserve at Newport is at its best in autumn and winter when migratory wildfowl and wading birds arrive for their stay. Curlews, redshanks, dunlins and oystercatchers feed on the estuary at low tide using their long, pointy beaks to sift through the mud for worms and grubs. Up to 50,000 starlings form spectacular murmurations at dusk, and you may hear the eerie booming of the resident bittern.
Pied wagtails in Cardiff
Queen Street is at the pedestrianised heart of Cardiff’s shopping district, attracting flocks of shoppers to its department stores and arcades. It’s also a giant winter roost for pied wagtails: smart, sprightly little birds who gather in their thousands to huddle together in the street’s trees. If you know where to look, a Christmas shopping expedition can be a nature trek, too!
Waxcaps at Llanishen Reservoir
Olympic medallist Hannah Mills learnt to sail on Llanishen Reservoir, which was built in the 1880s to supply Cardiff with water. Its owners wanted to build more than 300 houses on the site (draining it first, obviously...). But their plans were scuppered by a vociferous local campaign and the discovery of more than 25 species of waxcap mushrooms on the reservoir’s grassy banks (one of the rarest and most beautiful fungi).
Autumn colours in the Wye Valley
Winter roosts at Magor Marsh
Magor Marsh is the last natural area of fenland on the Gwent Levels. It’s managed by the Gwent Wildlife Trust to preserve a precious ecological sanctuary that has hardly changed since the 14th century, with hay meadows and woodlands leading to marsh and open water, all criss-crossed by ancient reens (drainage ditches). Winter is the best time for birdwatchers, with plenty of wintering wildfowl and passing migrants, as well as a noisy chorus of roosting corvids.
Autumn colours in Bryngarw
The mansion and grounds of Bryngarw House told a familiar story of post-War decline until the 1980s, when Bridgend council hatched a plan to rescue the estate. The grounds are now a Country Park, and the five distinct areas of woodland have been superbly managed to create habitats that are not just great for wildlife, but also – especially in autumn – gorgeous to walk around.
Bittern at Cosmeston Lakes
To hear the booming of a bittern is on every naturalist’s tick-list. Judge the sound for yourself at Cosmeston near Penarth, where flooded limestone quarries have become a wildlife sanctuary, with a huge variety of species drawn to its lakes, woodland, meadows and – if you’re a bittern – its reedbeds.
Sea watching from Lavernock Point
Lavernock Point sits right on the ‘heel’ of Wales, with stupendous cliff-top views over the Bristol Channel. Marconi sent the first wireless signals across open sea from here, and it’s variously been used as a gun battery, nuclear bunker and observation point. Today, though, it’s a fine nature reserve and the local birders’ favourite spot for watching migrant birds.