Autumn & winter wildlife in North Wales
Atlantic grey sealLiterally hundreds of thousands of birds come to North Wales for their winter holiday, some turning up one by one out of the blue and others flocking in spectacular murmurations. While you’re in wintery Wales, you can see bobbing seal pups, clouds of acrobatic choughs, murmurations of starlings and the biggest roost of ravens in Europe. Here’s where.
Grey seals on the North Wales coast
Our largest resident carnivore is a common sight in Wales. In fact, there are around 5,000 grey seals living in our waters. They can be seen almost everywhere along the coast, but if you want to combine guaranteed seal-spotting with a fabulous walk, strike out onto the headland at Porthdinllaen on the Llŷn Peninsular to visit the resident colony.
The seal pups are born from August to December, spending their first month of life as cute bundles of white fluff on the beaches. On the way back, stop for a drink at the beachfront Tŷ Coch Inn pub while watching the waves.
Snow buntings at Gronant Sand Dunes
Gronant Sand Dunes are the best-preserved dunes on the North Wales coast. They comprise of a beautifully wild strip of sand dune, marsh, shingle and beach, stretching from Prestatyn to Point of Ayr. It’s the winter home to all kind of birds, including 100,000 waders and 20,000 waterfowl. Our favourite feathered visitor is the pretty little snow bunting, which comes down from its Arctic breeding grounds to spend the mild winter months here.
Spinnies Nature Reserve, Snowdonia
When early industrialists diverted the River Ogwen, they cut off a large loop in the river that has since evolved into a wildlife oasis. Set amid a small woodland, a series of ponds and a lagoon provide shelter and food for many species of wildfowl and waders. More than 185 species of bird have been spotted here. It’s one of the best places to enjoy abundant egrets and kingfishers.
RSPB Point of Ayr
RSPB Point of Ayr reserve really comes into its own in winter, when thousands of migrant birds flock to the marshes and dunes of the Dee Estuary. High tide is the best time to visit, when the rising waters force the birds onto the salt marshes; you’ll get even closer views of the waders and the commotion caused by a passing peregrine, merlin or hen harrier.
Raven roost at Newborough Forest
You might associate ravens with the Tower of London, which is home to seven of these fabulous birds, the biggest and cleverest of the crow family. Newborough Forest has – wait for it – more than 800 of them, who return at dusk to roost in the high conifers. If Europe’s biggest raven-roost isn’t enough of a draw, Newborough leads on to Llanddwyn Island, one of the most wildly romantic spots on Earth.
Colourful fungi at Eithinog
Here’s a great example of a community getting together to save its wild spaces from developers. Thanks to local campaigners, Eithinog's 10-hectare haven of unspoilt grassland, gorse, copses and gorse scrub is now managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust as a nature reserve. It supports an astonishing range of delicate multi-coloured fungi, such as pinkgill, waxcaps and earth-tongues, as well as Wales’s only fairy club fungus.
Roosting waders at Glan y Môr Elias
OystercatcherThe beach at Llanfairfechan is the starting point for a pleasant half-mile stroll to the saltmarsh of Glan y Môr Elias, which is like a luxury hotel for roosting seabirds. A raised path runs through the marsh, where you’ll certainly see several thousand oystercatchers, large numbers of wigeon, teal and pintail, as well as godwit, greenshank and little egret. As a bonus, there are also lots of interesting smaller birds like linnet, wheatear, firecrest and goldcrest.
Grebes at Traeth Lafan
The great crested grebe is a handsome fellow, with a fancy ruff and punk hairdo which it loves to display in the breeding season. In the winter, they retreat to coastal areas like Traeth Lafan's vast network of tidal sands and mudflats on the north mouth of the Menai Strait, where Britain’s largest population of grebes gather to moult and spend the colder months. Other beauties include red breasted mergansers and golden eye.
Choughs at RPSB South Stack
The chough is the show-off little brother of the crow family, with its distinctive red legs, red beak, and a cheerfully anarchic personality. Nationally they’re very rare, but you’d never guess it from a stroll along the cliff tops on RSPB South Stack. During autumn and winter, choughs gather here in flocks, offering wonderful aerial displays of diving and swooping.
Starlings at RSPB Conwy
It’s nature’s most spectacular free show: hundreds of thousands of starlings forming shifting clouds and mesmerising patterns in the dusk sky before falling to the reed beds to roost. They’ve reported as many as 350,000 birds in a murmuration (if you don’t believe us, you count them). Situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary, with magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, RSPB Conwy Reserve is delightful at any time of year.