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UK wildlife to look for in autumn 2020 close to home, from the salmon run to deer rutting and murmurations

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Deer and pigs in the New Forest

For a second season, Autumnwatch’s Chris Packham has been presenting the show from his home patch in the New Forest, where the annual deer rut – testosterone-fuelled stags fired up and fighting for their mating rights – is taking place.

As well as its famous ponies, the New Forest is home to native red and roe deer along with non-native species fallow, sika and muntjac. Grab a camera to capture images of the wild fallow and red deer.

In addition, the annual pannage is taking place – around 600 pigs have been released into the forest, a tradition that dates back to the time of William the Conqueror.

They hoover up the acorns, chestnuts and beechnuts carpeting the woodland floor that are poisonous to wild New Forest ponies. Keep your eyes peeled for free-roaming Tamworth, Wessex Saddleback and Gloucestershire Old Spot rootling through the fallen leaves. A bumper crop of nuts this year means that the season has been extended into December. thenewforest.co.uk

Starling murmurations in Aberystwyth and beyond

Autumnwatch presenter Iolo Williams has been based near Aberystwyth this season.

12 March 2012: Starlings roosting, Aberystwyth Wales UK ,. (Photo by: Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Starlings in Aberystwyth (Photo: Photofusion/Universal Images Group/Getty)

This Welsh seaside town is home to one of the most breathtaking – and free – autumn spectacles: the starlings’ mesmeric murmuration.

A cloud of 50,000 birds darkens the sky at dusk and swoops and swirls in a heart-stopping, choreographed dance before diving down to roost under the pier.

The Wildlife Trusts (wildlifetrusts.org) lists further locations around the UK where you can view murmurations

Pink-footed geese in Angus

Around 400,000 pink-footed geese leave their summer breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland and fly south to winter in the UK.

The Montrose Basin, a 750-hectare estuary on the north-east coast of Scotland hosts one of the largest gatherings in autumn (around 80,000). At night they roost on the open water then at dawn take off for nearby fields to feed.

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MONTROSE, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 05: Pink footed geese take off to feed from Montrose Basin on 5 November 2014 in Montrose, Scotland. Staff and volunteers at the Scottish Wildlife Trust have recorded more than 78,000 geese arriving to spend the winter in the reserve, eclipsing a previous record, set in 2010, which saw 65,060 geese arrive at the nature reserve. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pink footed geese take off to feed from Montrose Basin (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)

The Tayock Blind hide, a metal structure with viewing slits, is one of the best places to view the geese. The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s visitor centre has new admission measures in place and increased social distancing; pre-booking is essential.

Angus is currently under level two restrictions. For more: gov.scot, montrosebasin.org.uk, scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Eider ducks at Tentsmuir NNR, Fife

Autumnwatch’s Michaela Strachan has been based at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve on the Fife coast. This wildlife-rich coastal forest is threaded with trails and fringed by sand dunes.

Eider Ducks (Somateria mollissima) resting at Sands of Forvie NNR. ?Lorne Gill/SNH For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Libary on tel. 01738 444177 or www.snh.org.uk Credit NatureScot Image from Catriona Webster
Eider Ducks resting at Sands of Forvie (Photo: NatureScot)

During the autumn, the largest gathering of eider ducks in the UK descends on the reserve. You can also see grey and harbour seals, red squirrels, otters, badgers, kingfishers and white-tailed sea eagles, while other wintering birds to check out include greylag geese and the bar-tailed godwit.

Fife is currently under level two restrictions. For more: gov.scot, nature.scot

Birds of prey in the Elan Valley

Social distancing isn’t a problem in the Elan Valley, 70 square miles of wilderness in the heart of rural Mid Wales with designated International Dark Sky Park status (closed during the firebreak until 9 November).

There are 10 birds of prey species logged regularly here, from the red kite to goshawk and peregrine falcon. Nearby family-run Gigrin Farm is also a red kite feeding centre.

RHAYADER, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 15: A red kite descends on Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding Centre on July 15, 2020 in Rhayder, United Kingdom. As the pandemic lockdown eases in Wales, the famous Gigrin Farm Red Kite Feeding Centre, is ready to open again on 18 July after implementing social distancing measures in the hides and visitor centre. Visitors are now able to book online to see the birds at the Powys farm which is endorsed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Wild red kites are fed everyday of the year by farmer Chris Powell and has continued throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.. In the 1970's the population of the bird of prey dropped to only 30 but a sustained conservation project by Chris Powell and his team has been a massive success with up to 500 red kites visiting each afternoon creating an aerobatic spectacle as the birds swoop for morsels of beef. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
A red kite descends on Gigrin Farm (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Once firebreak restrictions are lifted you can book a hide visit for the daily feeding at 2pm. elanvalley.org.uk, gigrin.co.uk

See the salmon run in Wales

Firebreaker lockdown-permitting, November is the time to see Atlantic salmon swimming back upstream to the place they were born to spawn in the shallows.

Along the Marteg, a tributary of the River Wye in the Gilfach Nature Reserve in Mid Wales, you can view them leaping waterfalls.

The reserve, on a 410-acre working hill farm in the Cambrian mountains, has a circular walk to a viewing platform above the falls – where you might also spot otters waiting to catch the salmon. rwtwales.org

Grey seal pups, Norfolk

Blakeney National Nature Reserve and Blakeney Point in Norfolk is home to the largest colony of blubbery, big-eyed grey seals in the UK – almost 3,400 pups were born here last autumn.

You can’t see the pups on foot, and boat trips are suspended at the moment.

Grey Seal, Halichoerus grypus, pup, North Norfolk, UK. (Photo by: David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Grey Seal pup, in North Norfolk (Photo: David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty)

However, it is possible to see seals on land on the east coast at Horsey Gap and Winterton during the winter months – more than 2,000 were born there last season. explorenorfolkuk.co.uk

Red deer rut, Exmoor and beyond

The red deer rut is one of autumn’s most enthralling wildlife spectacles. During mating season, the stags’ roar resounds across the moorland and the mightiest males lock antlers to fight for dominance of the herd.

View the native wild deer walking across rough ground on Exmoor, where they are most active just after dawn. Take care, especially if walking with dogs, to keep a safe distance from the hormonally charged deer and move slowly and quietly in their presence.

Deer pictured during Rutting season at Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, England, on September 20, 2020. (Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
It is red deer rutting season across the UK (Photo: Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto/Getty)

The rut can also be witnessed in the Cairngorms, Isles of Arran and Jura, Richmond Park in London, Lyme Park in Cheshire, Foulshaw Moss in Cumbria and RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk. exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

Red squirrels in Cumbria and the Isle of Wight

Red squirrels are in overdrive in autumn, foraging for their winter hoard of seeds and nuts. One of the best places to view them leaping between trees and feasting on hazelnuts is the Smardale Nature Reserve in Cumbria, created along a disused railway line.

Now a species-rich mix of habitats from grassland to woodland, it is also one of only two sites in England where you can see the Scotch argus butterfly. Keep an eye out, too, for flocks of fieldfare gorging themselves on berries.

A red squirrel forages for food ahead of winter in the Widdale Red Squirrel Reserve in North Yorkshire. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 14, 2020. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
A red squirrel forages for food ahead of winter (Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Red squirrels can also be seen on the Isle of Wight, where the Solent provides a safety barrier from grey squirrels and there are no deer to destroy their habitat. Though timid, they are more easily seen at dusk and dawn, around Shanklin Chine, Robin Hill, Borthwood, Quarr, Fort Victoria and along the Newport to Cowes cycle track. cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk, wightsquirrels.co.uk

Barnacle geese at Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve

Along with whooper swans and other waders and wildfowl, Svalbard’s entire population of Barnacle geese (40,000) winter at this nature reserve on the Solway Firth in south-west Scotland.

Dawn and dusk are the best times to view the wading birds feeding on the mud flats and saltmarsh – as well as the spectacle of the geese taking off in noisy formation to feed in fields nearby, returning in their V-shaped skeins in the evening.

Dumfries and Galloway is currently under level two restrictions. For more: nature.scot

Pine martens in the Cairngorms National Park

Hole up for an evening in Speyside Wildlife’s hide, surrounded by Caledonian pine forest near Aviemore. During the winter, from November to Easter, a three-hour session can currently be booked on an exclusive basis for your bubble/group. The hide is roomy (in non-Covid times, it can take 10 people).

Embargoed to 0001 Monday July 13 Undated handout photo issued by Forestry England of a pine marten. The first pine martens to be reintroduced to England have had kits, marking a milestone in efforts to boost their recovery, conservationists said. PA Photo. Issue date: Monday July 13, 2020. The native carnivores all but vanished from England in the face of extensive hunting and loss of their woodland homes over the past two centuries, and were pushed to a stronghold in the North West Highlands of Scotland. See PA story ENVIRONMENT PineMarten. Photo credit should read: Mark Hamblin/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Pine Martens can be spotted in Scotland (Photo: Mark Hamblin/PA Wire)

Nightly visitors include pine martens, badgers, red and roe deer and tawny owls. They also offer tailor-made trips in search of ptarmigans, mountain hare, snow buntings, red squirrels, otters, red deer and other Highland wildlife.

The Cairngorms are currently under level one and two restrictions, depending on the local authority area, speysidewildlife.co.uk

Migratory birds in Sussex and Kent

Coastal neighbours Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and Dungeness National Nature Reserve are witnessing a flurry of activity as birds prepare to head south over the Channel and winter birds, waders and gulls settle in for winter.

Pied flycatchers and a great skua have been spotted in Rye Harbour, with buzzards and harriers possible sightings at Dungeness. sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk, rspb.org.uk

Lockdown

If you live in England (until at least 2 December), in Wales (until at least 9 November) or Northern Ireland (until at least 13 November) you should not travel beyond the area in which you live, but outdoor exercise is permitted.

In Scotland, local protection levels are now in force, with restrictions on outdoor activity varying according to level.

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