Martin Hughes-Games: The best nature to spot this winter

Winterwatch returns to BBC2 this month, but wildlife spotting doesn't have to stop at the small screen, follow our expert guide to nature watching this season

The Winterwatch team Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Martin Hughes-Games will be back on our screens soon (9pm January 19 on BBC2), exploring how golden eagles, otters and red squirrels adapt to survive Britain’s harsh winter conditions.


Filming will take place once again in the breathtaking Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland, where crew will capture these fascinating creatures in the wild using military-grade thermal imaging to uncover the nocturnal behaviour of grey seals, wading birds and roosting rooks.

Martin Hughes-Games’ reveals which nature to spy on around the UK this season:
“The weather may be cold but things are definitely hotting up for our squirrels (both grey and red),” explains Hughes-Games. “I was watching three squirrels just outside the backdoor last week as they chased each other up and down, round and round a tree trunk with breathtaking agility. This is generally one female who is coming into season being courted by a number of male admirers. You may see the female wafting her enticing scent at the boys with her bushy tail. Sometimes there can be six or more males chasing one female. It really is spectacular to watch and it’s going on right now in gardens and parks in towns and in the countryside.”

“I have been watching an astonishing wagtail roost right in the busiest shopping centre, here in Bristol,” says Hughes-Games. “As dusk falls hundreds, perhaps thousands, of wagtails pour into just three trees right above rushing traffic and busy shoppers, yet as far as I could see no one seemed to notice either the spectacle or the noise the birds were making. I watched through my binoculars (passers-by thought I was bonkers!) and the branches were rammed with these delicate black and white birds, hundreds of them lit up by the streetlights. It is thought the extra warmth of the city provides the birds with a welcome bit of protection from the winter’s chill. Wagtail roosts occur in towns and cities all over the UK – I even found one in one of the terminals at Heathrow.”

“When I was a child, I had to go to the mountains of Snowdonia to have a chance of seeing (or hearing) a wild raven,” remebers Hughes-Games. “Now I see them flying (often in pairs) right over the city suburbs. These huge, truly magnificent members of the crow family are a modern success story, numbers have increased dramatically. Ravens are very early breeders, and lay their eggs in February, and sometimes-late January. Look out for them showing off to one another with a fantastic display of aerial acrobatics, rolling over, diving, stalling, even flipping completely upside-down – all accompanied by an wonderful range of belling, croaking and other strange cries.”

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“One of the first flowers of the year to appear are snowdrops, their green leaf tips specially adapted to drive up through snow if necessary,” says Hughes-Games. “Snowdrops can appear in breathtaking profusion creating a brilliant white carpet. There are many places up and down the country where you can go to see snowdrop displays, indeed many places have ‘Snowdrop weekends’ (generally in February) specifically designed to allow visitors to enjoy the show. I looked up where to see snowdrops on the Internet and there were dozens of possibilities right across the UK.”

“Our common swans, mute swans, are with us all the year around,” explains Hughes-Games. “This time of year I always try to check the colour of swans’ bills (beaks). Mute swan beaks are red and black but occasionally in winter you may see a swan with a yellow and black beak. These are much more exotic visitors who have travelled up to 2000km to spend the winter with us. They will either be whooper swans (who come to us from Iceland) or Bewick Swans from Russia. Last year I made just part of the actual journey the Bewicks make for Autumnwatch. I flew to Estonia, drove many miles cross-country and covered large distances on water, following the swans’ flight path. I was exhausted by my trip, even though I was using modern methods of travel. I came away with a deep respect for these extraordinary swans that make the journey entirely by their own efforts. Large numbers of yellow-billed swans can be seen at Slimbridge Wetlands Centre (WWT) in Gloucestershire, along with a fabulous array of other colourful winter visitors.”

Tune into Winterwatch between January 19 – 22 on BBC2 (9pm Monday and 8pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday).


See nature in the great British countryside with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details