Wildlife to watch in autumn & winter

During autumn and winter, the cold weather across the world brings migrating birds to the coast and countryside of Wales. Seasonal highlights include starling roosts, white fronted geese and grey seals with white furry pups. Here are some of the best spots for species-spotting.

Grey seals on Skomer Island

An Atlantic grey seal swimming in Welsh waters

Atlantic grey seal
The islands off the Pembrokeshire coast are two of the best places in the UK to see grey seals. Between September and November, you can often spot seals and their white-coated pups on the beaches and in caves around the islands. The easiest way to get close is via one of the boat trips to the islands, which run from 1st April to 31st October.

Search for boat trips in Pembrokeshire

Wader roosts at Deeside Estuary

Throughout the winter months, watch large flocks of birds gather to feed and roost at RSPB’s Deeside Estuary - Point of Ayr Reserve in North Wales. You can see the massive wader roost assemble just before high tide as the water forces the birds onto the salt marshes.

More nature reserves in North Wales

Red kites, Mid Wales

Red Kite (in flight)

Red Kite in flight, Brecon Beacons

The striking red kite is a graceful bird of prey with a distinctive forked tail, making it relatively easy to spot in the skies over Mid Wales. For a real spectacle, watch them at feeding time when hundreds of these huge raptors circle and descend in front of the hide at Gigrin Farm and Bwlch Nant Yr Arian Forest Centre.

More nature reserves in Mid Wales

Starling roosts at Newport Wetlands

A seasonal highlight at RSPB Newport Wetlands Reserve in South Wales is the starling roost. From October onwards, huge flocks of starlings gather at dusk to form shape-shifting black clouds. Around 50,000 birds swoop and soar in the sky, chattering noisily before dropping spectacularly into the reedbeds below for the night. 

Special starling roost events are organised at Newport Wetlands and RSPB Conwy Reserve in North Wales, where staff will interpret the breathtaking displays.

More nature reserves in South Wales

Great crested grebes, Bangor

Great crested grebe

Great crested grebe
The largest population of moulting great crested grebes in Britain can be seen at the Traeth Lafan Local Nature Reserve near Bangor in North Wales. The reserve is also home to large flocks of oystercatchers, red breasted mergansers and golden eye, plus it is designated a Special Area of Conservation.

More nature reserves in Snowdonia

Migrating birds, Brecon Beacons

During autumn and winter, the Brecon Beacons National Park attracts a host of migrating birds. At the National Park information centres, you can pick up a wildlife walks booklet with 12 short wildlife walks. All walks can be done in less than two hours, so they’re perfect for families with younger children.

Find out more about the Brecon Beacons National Park

Porpoises, Pembrokeshire Coast

Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire attracts large numbers of porpoises, including mothers with calves, all year round. As well as porpoises, the area occasionally attracts basking sharks, sunfish, humpback whales, minke whales and orca. You can help conserve the porpoise by taking a Sea Trust Survey boat trip, where you record your trip sightings.

Ducks and geese, Ynys-hir Reserve

The Dyfi estuary salt marshes at Ynys-hir RSPB Reserve in Mid Wales attract large numbers of ducks and geese throughout autumn and winter. You can expect to see wigeons, teals, shovelers and birds of prey. The star species to look out for is the Greenland white fronted goose. Between October and early April, the reserve attracts a small flock of around 100. These geese come from Greenland and have an orange billed beak.

Bittern and wildfowl, South Wales

Kenfig National Nature Reserve in South Wales is a great example of a coastal landscape. The large natural lake and sand dunes are a thriving wildlife habitat attracting wildfowl, butterflies and dragonflies. It’s also one of the few places in Britain where you can see bittern during winter. 

The WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre is a 450-acre mosaic of lakes, streams and lagoons set along salt marshes on the Burry Inlet, which attract thousands of birds, including bittern, notably in winter.

Nature trails

Family walking along the coast on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path near Porthclais

Wales Coast Path near Porthclais, Pembrokeshire by Visit Pembrokeshire
Across Wales, you’ll find nature reserves and country parks with well-marked wildlife trails. These trails are specially designed to help you spot the wonderful wildlife living in the area.

Great nature trails to visit include Swansea Canal and the Welsh Wildlife Centre on the Teifi Marshes. RSPB Wales looks after 18 reserves, each one a fantastic place for spotting wildlife. 

The 870-mile Wales Coast Path offers stunning nature walks, many through some great Welsh Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves