Going cheep … perfect breaks for getting the bird

Something guaranteed to thrill birdwatchers and walkers at this time of year is the sight of a rare hen harrier hunting or ‘skydancing’. The perfect place to enjoy this display is the Forest of Bowland, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covering parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire and internationally recognised for its special birds, habitats and wildlife.
Keep an eye out, too, for Bowland’s other birds of prey. It now has seven or eight pairs of peregrines breeding annually, along with merlin and short-eared owl. The region’s farmland and moorland attracts more than 6,000 pairs of wading birds such as lapwing, snipe, curlew, golden plover and redshank, while Barnacre Reservoir is an important staging post for hundreds of migrant whimbrels. These fly in to roost in late-April and early-May evenings, giving their loud piping calls.
Gibbon Bridge Hotel is handily situated for exploring Bowland and currently has a special Spring Break.
Another magnet for birders and twitchers – and for those who simply enjoy a walk in wonderful surroundings – is Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail, a 34-mile route from the ancient market town of Frodsham to rural north Shropshire.
Frodsham itself overlooks the Mersey Estuary, where feeding and roosting waders descend in large numbers. Among them are pintail, teal, widgeon, shelduck, redshank and dunlin. Delamere Forest is home to wrens, tits, finches, blackbirds, jays, woodpeckers, tawny owls, sparrow hawks and buzzards. In the heart of the forest, Blakemore Moss is now a shallow, ink-black lake whose visitors include Canada geese and rare Mediterranean gulls.
Leave the Sandstone Trail at Delamere Forest and you can hop on a train back to Chester where the Green Bough Hotel is a comfortable base for hanging up your binoculars after a hard day’s birdwatching.
Down in Dorset, April onwards is the best time to see sand lizards and smooth snakes while ambling along the heathland trails at the RSPB Arne nature reserve. You’ll also enjoy the melodies of woodlarks and Dartford warblers from the heath, and the calls of nuthatches and warblers – and perhaps the drumming of woodpeckers – in the woods.
The setting is spectacular. You can look out across Poole Harbour and watch the arrival of the first summer visitors, which include Sandwich terns and swallows.
Mortons House, at Corfe Castle, is the closest hotel to Arne and currently offers a two-night Spring Escape.
If you’re seeking a remote and dramatic landscape, Moor House, the National Nature Reserve in Upper Teesdale, offers striking geological formations, waterfalls and panoramic views.
Follow the network of well-signed footpaths and you could discover many species of wading birds during the April-June breeding season. Among these are lapwing, curlew, redshank and golden plover. The reserve is famous for its rare spring gentian as well as England’s largest juniper wood, breeding ground of the rare black grouse, golden plover and ring ouzel.
A good base for exploring Moor House is the picture-postcard dales village of Romaldkirk, where the Rose & Crown, an 18th century coaching inn, has a midweek Spring into Summer Break from May to July.
Up in the Lake District, Borrowdale Gates had one keen guest who spotted no fewer than 57 bird species from, or near, the hotel in just a few short visits over two years. Located in the picturesque hamlet of Grange, near Keswick, the hotel has a couple of rather special guests most days. It reports that a greater spotted woodpecker and a “very cheeky” red squirrel are attracted to the garden – by the complimentary nuts.
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