Places to see birds

Symonds Yat Rock

Symonds Yat Rock
Gavin Black

Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint is well known as one of the best, if not THE best site to watch Peregrine Falcons. However, there is much more to be seen and regular birdwatchers can be well rewarded for their patience. Goshawks seen here show much more detail than at New Fancy View because, although fewer in number here, when seen they tend to be closer. If a life or year tick is all that is required you will waste less time at New Fancy but if you want to enjoy or study the Goshawk and have time to put in, Symonds Yat may be worth while. As everywhere, mid-morning to early afternoon, on a day with a light breeze and sun during March is usually best for Goshawks when they are displaying above the treetops.
The picturesque, carboniferous limestone cliffs seem to be a magnet for raptors and escapee falconers' birds often turn up here such as Lanner, Gyr and hybrid falcons. The county's only Golden Eagle record was found here but is unlikely to occur again. Sparrowhawks are frequent and breed in the trees in the valley as do Buzzards which can be seen from above whilst soaring. Ospreys often stop off here on spring and autumn migration although it is the River Wye below which interests them rather than the cliffs. Juveniles on autumn passage may stay for some time and one in 2007 stayed for over three weeks and was joined for a day by a second juvenile.
Tawny Owls are sometimes seen roosting here and hooting males are occasionally heard during the day in spring and anybody prepared to stay until dusk will almost certainly hear them (check car park closing times. It may be necessary to park elsewhere). Barn Owls have twice nested in the cliff caves in recent times and are a surprising and interesting discovery. Kestrels usually nest at the northern end of Coppet Hill, opposite and sometimes wander along the valley. They have nested below the view point.
It is not just birds of prey that are to be found here. Ravens nest in the nearer (hidden) cliff face and their aerobatic displays often entertain and amuse visitors particularly those fortunate enough to see a barrel roll at eye level just yards from the viewpoint. Jackdaws nest in the cliffs in some numbers and the flocks are easily identified because, even in a flock, they are paired with their life partner. Stock Doves nest in holes in trees and in the cliffs and can often be seen. Spotted Flycatchers often nest in the trees below the viewpoint and are seen to fly up from a treetop to grab a passing, flying insect. Nuthatches and Coal Tits, Bank Voles and Wood Mice regularly join the commoner Tits and Finches to take the seeds put out by the RSPB staff in spring and summer and visitors in winter. Marsh Tits are more occasional at the seed. Treecreepers are more in evidence in winter but are seldom very far away. Goldcrests are frequent and a Firecrest has been seen near the refreshments cabin.
The river below attracts a number of species. Kingfishers and Sand Martins may nest in viewable sections of the river bank and Swifts, Swallows and House Martins will feed on the numerous insects emerging from the river. These may, in turn, attract a hawking Hobby which are sometimes so frequent as to suggest local breeding which is, as yet, unconfirmed. In 2012 Mallards have nested for the past two breeding seasons high on the cliff just below the viewpoint but the nest appears to have been predated in daylight by a Tawny Owl which was seen there by a regular visitor. The very hungry female duck had previously been walking along the safety wall begging food from the many people there.
Hole-nesting Mandarins have been breeding in the trees along this and nearby stretches of the River Wye in annually increasing numbers. Goosanders over-winter here and there is a regular winter roost of 20+ Cormorants which frequent the same riverside tree year after year. A few non-breeding individuals will stay through the summer.
Occasional Crossbills pass overhead and even the odd Hawfinch but this not the best place to search for these species. Siskins are frequent along with Goldfinches but neither come for the seed which is too close to the people. Winter Thrushes, particularly Redwings, pass through regularly.
Ultimately, it is the Peregrine Falcons that dominate here and attract regular birdwatchers and have done so since 1982 when a pair arrived after a long absence due to near-extinction and pairs have occupied the territory ever since.
To get there, park at the Forestry Commission car park off the B4432 at SO 564 159 then walk up the slope and, keeping the refreshments cabin on your left, cross the footbridge and turn left.