Salmon leaping at Gilfach, Rhayader
November is peak season for salmon-spotting, when these magnificent fish swim home to their birthplace in shallow streams deep in the countryside. You can see them on most rivers but we love watching them leap up the waterfalls of the River Marteg at Gilfach Nature Reserve, a gorgeous 410-acre hill farm nature reserve that's owned and managed by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust for the benefit of wildlife, with its own Nature Discovery Centre.
Starlings at Aberystwyth
The seaside town of Aberystwyth has around 16,000 residents, a further 8,000 students, but more than 50,000 starlings, who spend their winters roosting underneath the pier. It’s one of our greatest winter spectacles, as the birds gradually gather at dusk, one small flock at a time, until they form a mighty black cloud that wheels over the waterfront making fabulous shapes in the air. The show takes place every evening, and it’s absolutely free.
Red kites at Gigrin Farm, Rhayader
The reintroduction of red kites has been one of the big success stories of conservation. While they were extinct almost everywhere in Britain, they survived, just, in remote pockets of Mid Wales. Nowadays they’re a common – but never commonplace – sight all over Mid and West Wales. For the best display of all, the daily feedings at Gigrin, which are run every afternoon except Christmas Day, attract up to 600 of these stunning birds as well as a supporting cast of buzzards and ravens.
Divers and grebes at Sarn Cynfelyn
Halfway between the resorts of Aberystwyth and Borth is a curious shingle spit called Sarn Cynfelyn which, according to local legend, led to the fabled sunken kingdom of Cantre’r Gwaelod (actually, it’s debris left behind by a glacier, one of three similar reefs that stretch out miles into Cardigan Bay). The reefs attract fish, which in turn attract dolphins, porpoises, seals – and major colonies of great crested grebes and red-throated divers.
Autumn colours at Llanerchaeron
They love autumn at this small 18th-century estate, which has survived virtually unaltered since it was created by local gentry. Llanerchaeron is an elegant John Nash house complete with its own dairy, laundry, brewery and salting house, walled kitchen gardens, and a working organic farm. There’s an apple festival each October, which is a lovely time to enjoy the blaze of colours in the woodlands that surround the ornamental lake and parkland.
Winter birds at Llangorse Lake
The largest natural lake in southern Wales was gouged out of the Brecon Beacons by glaciation, and as well as having Llangorse Lake watersports centre, it’s an important refuge for wintering waterfowl like mallard, teal pochard and tufted duck, some of 20 species that arrive for winter. Hundreds of water voles were recently released into the area to help revive the fortunes of this cute (but sadly, increasingly rare) animal.
Boggy heaven at Llyn Mawr
We didn’t invent the term ‘boggy heaven’ – that’s how Llyn Mawr is described by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, who manage this 12-hectare Site of Special Scientific Interest. This upland lake is one of three dotted among the moorland, which all attract lots of feathered winter visitors. For the best vantage point, walk up the sleeping-monster spine of Garreg-hir for bleakly stunning views.
Raptors at Elan Valley
We get a bit sniffy about Welsh places being called ‘the middle of nowhere’ – everywhere is close to somewhere, after all – but this 70-square-mile wilderness of reservoirs, lakes and woodland called the Elan Valley is the ultimate getaway. Ten species of birds of prey are regularly seen here: kite, buzzard, peregrine, merlin and goshawk are common. What you probably won’t see is other people.
Wildfowl on the Dyfi Estuary
The RSPB Ynys-hir reserve was the perfect location for the BBC’s hugely popular Springwatch series, thanks to its array of habitats ranging from saltmarsh to grassland to ancient woodland. It also helps that it’s gorgeous to look at, of course. Autumn and winter is just as busy, as ducks, geese and waders arrive – and try to avoid the attention of the marsh harriers.