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17 September 2014
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City park activities

Lapwing (Image c/o Lee Valley Regional Park Authority)

The green spaces within our towns and cities are becoming increasingly important habitats for wildlife. With much of the countryside turned over to intensive farming, it's often the humble local park that provides vital food and shelter for animals in winter.


Bird watching heaven - city parks boast many different species in winter

Here is a range of nature watching activities that you can get involved in at urban parks in three of our major city centres - Glasgow, Belfast and London.

Jack Snipe spotting in Glasgow

Jack SnipeHogganfield Park is a good place to spot these rare birds.

The Jack Snipe is a master of camouflage and often sits motionless so can be difficult to spot.

Look for these birds in marsh areas, their favourite habitat.

The Jack Snipe is smaller than its Snipe cousin with distinctive stripes on its head and buff and white stripy chest. It has a longish beak.

Join a bird group. You need a licence to disturb these birds so joining a group is an ideal way of getting close to them.

One of the best groups is the Clyde Ringing Group who work in Hogganfield Park.

Bird watching in Belfast

Curlew (Image: Chris Gomersall and RSPB Images)There is a big over-wintering population of Black Tailed Godwits at Portmore and they don't get upset by humans looking from the hide.

As a result you can get really close to these birds all year round - but you have to time your visit right.

The beginning and end of the day are the best times to see them - keep an eye on the tides.

It's best to see the birds when they're pushed close to the hide.

The area around Belfast Airport is another good wildlife watching location.

The proximity of the airport offers protection from people visiting the site - and despite the noise the birds are pretty resilient.

There are winter walks where you can explore this area with one of the rangers.

Look out for Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe.

Time your visit so you don't miss out on watching a sensational sunset - there's something magical when the reserve, the docks, and the mountains in the background are all bathed in the late afternoon light.

Watching Bitterns in the Lee Valley

Bittern hiding in reedsThe Bittern is a big bird at about 70-80cm but this doesn't make it an easy bird to spot!

The Bittern's favourite habitat is reed beds in wetland areas.


The Bittern can be identified by its brownish plumage, dumpy appearance and huge feet.

If the Bitterns are alarmed, it's even harder to see them because they stand with their bill pointing up as straight and reed-like as they can, even swaying with the reeds. Sometimes they keep up this behaviour for several hours.

The Bitterns are best observed from several hides in the Lee Valley Park.

Before you visit, check on the park's website for recent sightings.

Winter is the best time of year to see Bitterns in the Lee Valley - you'll never get closer to one of these birds in its natural surroundings.

Use your ears and listen for the Bittern thrashing around.

Wear camouflage colours and avoid clothing that rustle loudly.

These secretive birds move silently through reeds looking for fish near the water's edge.

The Bitterns occasionally fly low over the reed beds but they tend to blend into the colours of the habitat so you'll need to watch carefully and patiently.

The birds can be quite noisy when they're not hunting - they can sound like they're crashing through the reeds as they move between feeding areas.

When breeding the Bitterns make a strange booming call - the male booms like a fog horn and the sound carries further than any other European bird - up to three miles.

You won't hear this at the Lee Valley as the birds don't breed in this reserve.

The park rangers are available during the day to give advice and tips.

Other good places to see Bitterns are Leighton Moss in Lancashire, Titchfield Haven in Hampshire, and Minsmere in Suffolk.



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