12 Days or Christmas Challenge

The holidays are rapidly approaching and it may be tempting to curl up in front of the TV and watch your favourite Christmas film or enjoy a  festive drink with friends and family, but this year why not set yourself a new challenge? Instead of spending the season indoors, wrap up warm and treat yourself (and a few lucky* family & friends) to the wildlife spectacles of the season! 

Here are 12 fantastic animals to add to your winter wishlist:

1. Red squirrel- everyone’s favourite! Why not try to snap a photo of these little guys at Abernethy in Cairngorms National Park or our Ken Dee Marshes in Dumfries and Galloway.

Red squirrel by Peter Cairns

2. Knot- They may not be particularly distinctive on their own, but when these winter visitors band together in large flocks, they are spectacular!  Try Udale Bay or Nigg Bay for the best opportunity to see these birds in big numbers.

Knot by Chris Gomersall

3. Waxwing- These little birds are often referred to as “supermarket birds” because of their preference for the berry-laden trees and shrubs found in large car parks. Waxwings arrive from Scandinavia in late autumn and will stay through the winter. Look out for them while you do your last minute shopping!

Waxwings by Andy Hay

4. White-tailed eagle- These awe-inspiring birds have been reintroduced to Scotland over the years and are becoming a more familiar sight in our skies. Lucky visitors to Loch Leven and Loch of Strathbeg have spotted them when the temperatures begin to drop. If you are lucky enough to see a White-tailed eagle, take note of its wing-tag colour and unique number and report to eastscotlandseaeagles@rspb.org.uk. Your sightings help us monitor their movements.

White-tailed eagle by Chris Gomersall

 5. Red kite- These stunning birds of prey are particularly active in winter as they take advantage of the feeding tables at Tollie Red Kite Centre, Argaty Red Kites and Galloway Kite Trail. Visit the websites for feeding times and events schedules.

Red kite by Chris Gomersall

 6. Geese- whether they have pink feet, white fronts or are of the barnacle variety, seeing 10,000+ lift off en masse is a noisy and unforgettable experience. Try Loch Leven, Lochwinnoch, Mersehead, Loch Gruinart, or Loch of Strathbeg.

Barnacle geese at Mersehead by Kaleel Zibe

 7. Whooper swan-  As graceful in the air as on the water, these large swans arrive with the geese in the autumn and will stay right through the winter. The sound of their wings flapping when taking off is truly impressive. Look out for them at Loch Leven, Insh Marshes, Mersehead, Lochwinnoch, Loch of Strathbeg

Whooper swan by Ben Hall

 8. Nuthatch- These lovely little birds have slowly made their way north to Scotland in recent years. Their spread north is thought to be linked to an increase in suitable woodland and also an increase in the use of nest boxes and bird tables. Try our Kenn-Dee Marshes reserve in Dumfries and Galloway for a chance to spot nuthatch.  

Nuthatch by Ray Kennedy

 9. Fieldfare- Like the waxwing the arrival of these little birds traditionally signals the beginning of winter. Fieldfares are highly social birds, spending the winter in flocks of a dozen to several hundred strong! They are often spotted feasting on windfall apples and late season berries.

Fieldfare by Kaleel Zibe

10. Starlings- A large flock of starlings is called a murmuration and is one of the greatest wildlife spectacles (in our humble opinion). Gretna in the Borders is a famous site and lucky visitors to Loch of Strathbeg reserve have also spotted the phenomenon. Here is an incredible video of a murmuration in Ireland to give you a taste of the experience.

Starling murmuration by David Kjaer

 11. Rooks- Usually associated with Halloween rather than Christmas, rooks are fantastic and misunderstood birds. Their appearance may bring to mind a crow but closer inspection reveals fascinating behaviour and history.


 Rooks by David Tipling (RSPB-images)

 12. Set yourself a garden birdwatch challenge- Our Big Garden Birdwatch is coming up in January. Why not brush up on your ID skills in preparation? Treat your garden birds to a special Christmas lunch and see how many species you can identify. If you get a few snaps, post them on our Facebook page!

Robin by Andy Hay

So, don’t let frosty air, snow and, let’s face it, FREEZING cold rain put you off. Winter is a great opportunity to see some of our incredible wildlife. We’d love to hear what’s on your wildlife wishlist!

*Disclaimer- they may not consider themselves lucky if the weather does not cooperate!