2. Belfast Lough RSPB Reserve, Northern Ireland
“This place is just behind Belfast airport, so it’s a perfect commuter reserve,” says Packham. “If you’re in Belfast on business, and you’ve got an hour before you need to be at the airport, then it’s five minutes by taxi from the terminal to the reserve – it’s literally on the other side of the airstrip.
“It’s a manmade reserve on a piece of reclaimed land with a heated hide and big glass windows. The benefit of this reserve is that, although it’s not big, the birds come right up to the glass and you get super views of everything and the comfort of being indoor. You don’t want to get cold and wet when you’ve just jumped on or off the plane, so it’s the perfect place to visit. I’ve had some sensational views of waders and wildfowl there – they’re centimetres away from your nose and they’re wild birds. It’s amazing, it really is; it’s one of the best bird hides in the world that I’ve visited.”
1. Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire
“A large number of Bewick’s swans can be found here,” says Packham, “as well as whooper swans, some from Iceland and some from Russia. There’s also a large number of white-fronted geese out on the mud, and you get a big murmuration of starlings – people love watching these swirling flocks of starlings. You also get peregrine falcons and sparrow hawks, which try and eat the starlings, so that adds to the entertainment. And there’s a chance of a few rarities like the white-fronted goose.
“Then of course you’ve got the captive collection, which at this time year is in its winter finery. All of our ducks are pairing up at the moment – this is when they do their mating behaviour – so the male drakes look sensational. Many of our birds look their best in spring but not the wildfowl – the wildfowl look their best in winter, and if you get close you can feed them.
“The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust also has an excellent café, an art gallery and educational facilities, I can’t think of anything finer than a day at Slimbridge.”
Winterwatch will be broadcast on Tuesday 26th to Friday 29th January on BBC2 at 8pm