Bird Watching in the Lake District and Cumbria
Cumbria, including the Lake District, is probably the best place in England for bird watching. With the total contrast of habitats from the coastal marshlands up to the highest mountains in England, the area provides an ideal environment for a whole range of bird species throughout the year.
The Lake District fells are home to several species that are rare elsewhere in England, none more so than the Golden Eagle. Haweswater is the only place in England where Golden Eagles nest, although in recent years only a solitary Golden Eagle has returned, the only one in the country. Conservationists are making efforts to attract another bird from Scotland to breed in the Lake District once again. Another success is the increase in the number of buzzards, which until recently were very rare. These, along with Peregrines and Ravens can been seen all year round.
Ospreys are now on the increase in the Lake District, having been extinct as a breeding species in the UK. The recent return to breeding in Cumbria is one of the great wildlife conservation success stories. The RSPB viewpoint at Dodd Wood provides dramatic views of ospreys over Bassenthwaite Lake. It is now thought that Cumbria has a total of eight pairs of breeding ospreys.
At the Forestry Commission's Whinlatter visitor centre you can see an insight into the behaviour of the Lake District ospreys. A camera inside the nest gets you close to the action from egg-laying through to the first flights of the young.
Cumbria also has some of the best areas in the country for shore bird habitats. It is bounded to the south by Morecambe Bay, which is a vast area of tidal sand and mud, which provides food for thousands of waders in the winter, and is one of the most important wintering sites in the country. All the usual waders are present, and nowadays a good number of little egrets can be seen. Rarities are always possible; there have been sightings of a white stork and spoonbill in recent years.
Over the last few years, some of the coastal fringes have been colonised by Spartina Grass. Although considered undesirable by some, its seeds, and the cover it provides have proved very attractive to many birds, so that a walk along the seafront at high tide at Grange-over-Sands or Arnside in the winter should provide sightings of large numbers of small finches, including chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, brambling, and also good numbers of twite, reed-buntings and skylarks. Snipe are also flushed out by the tides, and can be seen in flight. If you are very lucky, on a very high tide, you may see water rail being forced out of hiding, scampering to higher ground. One of the most spectacular sights in birding, is the sight of thousands of knot flying in tight formation, wheeling about the skyline at high speed, catching the sun as they twist and turn.
The west coast of the county is excellent for seabird viewing. At Hodbarrow near Millom, the R.S.P.B. has a reserve which is well worth a visit. It combines sea bird colonies, including breeding terns, waterfowl, and an area of scrub which contains many migrants, especially warblers.
From Walney in the south, to St Bees Head in the north, the coast abounds with opportunities for enjoyable bird watching.