How do you find the best places to visit in February? I’ve trawled the internet and come to the following conclusion:
Start with the brochures/websites of companies offering nature-based trips. Even if you don’t want to go on an organised trip, these will at least give you ideas of the top places.
Disclaimer – I have no connections with these tour companies, and have not used their services. However, as their websites have provided me with useful information, the least I can do is mention them.
- More nature-watching in Europe calendars
The northernmost part of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast is famous for being the wintering ground for hundreds of thousands of wild geese, among which almost the whole population of the globally threatened Red-breasted Goose. February may be the best time to see them as the hunting season is over, and birds generally are more settled. Branta and Neophron both offer winter birding and winter photography tours.
Neophron – Wolves & Vultures of Bulgaria. The Eastern part of the Rhodope Mountains is locked between the valleys of the big rivers Arda and Maritsa in southern Bulgaria, near the border with Greece. This area hosts exceptional biodiversity – a result of the mixture of Mediterranean and continental climate. This is the realm of the wolf packs, as here is one of the densest populations of the Wolf in Bulgaria. The most spectacular birds of the region in winter are the vultures – Eurasian Griffon and Eurasian Black vultures.
Naturetrek – Somerset Levels – The magical movements and acrobatics of a million roosting Starlings. Bitterns. Huge congregations of wintering wildfowl, Lapwings and Golden Plovers. Birds of prey; amongst them the possibility of Barn Owls, Marsh and Hen Harriers, Peregrine and for the very fortunate Merlin. These are just some of the possible highlights on offer at this special expanse of seasonally inundated lowlands that spans 650 square kilometres between the Quantock and Mendip Hills. This ancient habitat, which until recently had fallen victim to drainage and other modern farming demands, has now been restored to much of its former glory by the RSPB and other conservation bodies. It is a heartening modern-day conservation ‘success story’! The photo above shows old pollarded willows marking ancient field boundaries.
Naturetrek – The Forest of Dean covers an area of about 100 square kilometres and is England’s second-largest expanse of ancient woodland. From our comfortable hotel base in the heart of the forest, we will make daily walks exploring the surrounding trails during the day, and on one evening head out in search of Wild Boar! We will hope to see flocks of Siskin and Redpoll as well as Brambling and one of the stars of the forest – the Hawfinch. Mandarin Duck and Goosander should be present and we’ll also look for Dippers on the rivers.
January-February – the best time to observe Steller’s Eider when flocks can reach 1000 or more. Saaremaa, the biggest island in Estonia, and the most north-eastern point of the mainland at Cape Põõsaspea are the best places to see them, along with thousands of long-tailed ducks (below), goldeneye, goosanders and white-tailed eagles. Can’t see any trips advertised, but Natourest are probably the best people to advise – they also provide self-guided tours which can be tailored to your requirements.
All the big estuaries of the north and west coast are worth visiting, as is the Rhône Delta on the Mediterranean coast.
The Golfe du Morbihan provides a huge feast for wintering waders and wildfowl. Here are a few suggestions for places to watch them.
Neophron – Dalmatian Pelican Photography – Nestled picturesquely between two separate mountain ranges, Lake Kerkini is one of the true jewels of European birding and the core of a nature reserve that is a relatively unexplored wonderland of beauty and biological diversity. Plenty of Great White Pelicans, Dalmatian Pelicans, Greater Flamingos, Pygmy Cormorants, herons, ducks and other waterbirds, riverside forests and fantastic panoramic view from the mountains of Belasitsa and Krousia give it a characteristic atmosphere. The combination of wildfowl, flora and fauna, good weather for a large part of the year and a virtually traffic-free track around the lake make it ideal for birding and bird photography.
Neophron – Winter Photography in Bulgaria and Greece – To take photos of Dalmatian Pelican we visit either the Bourgas wetlands in the South-eastern Bulgaria or Lake Kerkini in Northern Greece, depending on the winter conditions and your preferences, and for Eurasian Griffon Vultures we visit the Eastern Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria, where we manage several fixed hides.
Neophron – Winter Birding in Northern Greece. In winter the wetlands of Northern Greece hold huge numbers of birds that have escaped from the harsh weather in Central and Eastern Europe. Join us for a great birding experience with opportunities to see a variety of highly sought-after species! This tour starts from Thessaloniki on the Aegean Sea. If time allows, we visit Kalohori Lagoon in the vicinity of Thessaloniki, which is a very good site for waterfowl and shore-birds in winter. Then goes on to various lakes, the Dadia Forest National Park (for vultures especially), and the Evros Delta.
Most tours to Iceland in winter concentrate on the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights, but this Naturetrek one crosses the country from south-west to north-east and includes the specialist winter birds too.
- Pulsing green, blue & red glows & dancing patterns of the Northern Lights
- Barrow’s Goldeneye, Snow Bunting & Ptarmigan
- Stay in scenic Skútustaðir, under the flight path of a Gyrfalcon!
- Glaucous & Iceland Gulls
- Wintering sea-ducks near Husavik
- Boiling mud pools, cinder cones, black lava fields & steaming fumeroles
The Travelling Naturalist provides a great winter break searching for birds and whales in south and west Iceland, at a time when they struggle to survive the harsh winter conditions and often congregate around the coast or other sheltered areas. Travelling as part of a small group in a specially prepared winterised 4-wheel drive vehicle allows us to reach some out-of-the-way places.
Some excellent advice about photographing the Northern Lights here
The Po Delta is good once the hunting season is over.
Skua Wild – Eider Special – In February, the King Eiders, one of the North Sea’s wonders, exhibit their colourful plumage over the icy, snow-covered waters. With it, the Steller’s Eider, the smallest of the Eider family, which is seriously threatened by a decline in its breeding range, primarily owing to climate change. These two unusual seabirds spend most of the winter in the Barents Sea, which stretches from northern Norway to Arctic Russia, but they begin their journey to the Siberian Peninsula in late March. Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks can be observed all year in the Varanger Peninsula, and they congregate with the two species listed above in February.
The Travelling Naturalist has a tour that focuses on the large, yet elusive mammals of the Biebrza Marshes and Bialowieza Forest. Studying tracks in the snow, we look for European bison, wild boar, elk, red deer and, if we are extremely lucky, some the country’s predators. We also search for the smaller, yet equally fascinating species such as otter, beaver, red squirrel (above), pine marten and up to ten species of bat.
Classic places for winter birdwatching in Portugal include several wetlands in the Algarve easily accessible by public transport and from tourist resorts, and the Tejo estuary near Lisbon where a car is definitely needed.
Oriole Birding – Islay is perhaps best known for its geese, and watching flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese will certainly be a major focus as we search for rarer species that can include Cackling Goose or Snow Goose from across the Atlantic. In fact we can view geese from the sun room of our fantastic accommodation near Port Ellen in the south of the island, where we hire two self-catering houses for the tour and enjoy a house party experience which is perfectly suited to this holiday. Over the few days we will enjoy wintering divers and seaduck in secluded bays, both species of Eagle over the hills and such Hebridean specialities as Red-billed Chough, Twite, Black Guillemot, Hen Harrier, Merlin and of course Otter (below) around Islay’s varied coastline.
Naturetrek – The Coto Doñana is regarded as one of the best birdwatching sites in Europe and rightly so. At all times of year this superb wilderness of wetlands and woodland is teeming with birds! On this short winter break we explore a great range of habitats and birds will range from the great numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders to a whole host of raptors including Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black-winged Kite. Bluethroat winter here and are another highlight, while mammals may even include the Iberian Lynx if we are lucky within the private reserve! With so much to offer a visit to Coto Doñana is a must!
Read my recommendations for getting the most out of the The Doñana National Park
Naturetrek – On this wildlife holiday we visit three of the Canary Islands – Tenerife, Gomera and Fuerteventura – in search of the five endemic birds, many of the 600+ species of endemic plants, and other wildlife. On Tenerife we explore the pine forest and high slopes of Teide National Park, then we cross by ferry to the tranquil island of Gomera, where we will spend a full day exploring the marvellous Garajonay National Park. We finish with three nights on Fuerteventura, flatter and more arid than the other islands, and home to a totally different flora and fauna, more African than European. The unusual, exotic and magnificent subtropical Canary Islands with their endemic flora and fauna, and spectacular volcanic scenery will make this a memorable and rewarding tour.
For the botanist visiting the Canary Islands, flowering depends more on rainfall than on date, but Febuary is considered a good month for botanising in Lanzarote.
My best February trip to Spain has to be the Laguna Gallocanta and its tens of thousands of Eurasian Cranes (below). Several companies offer trips to the area, usually combining it with looking for wallcreepers and other species in the mountains.
Also take a look at this round-up of the best of Spain in January – most of the information applies to February too.
NatureTrek – Winter birdwatching in northern Scandinavia is very special. Though there are a limited number of species present, such beautiful species as Waxwing and Bullfinch look even more exquisite in the magical winter light of the far north and against a backdrop of snow, and keen photographers will be in their element. We’ll be based in the lowlands of Svartadalen in central Sweden and make daily excursions to look for finches, tits, Nutcracker and woodpeckers (including Grey-headed) in the forest and at bird feeding stations. We should be able to get very close to some of our target species on this trip; this, combined with a stunning quality of light, hearty local food, log fires and hospitable hosts, make this a very memorable holiday.
More nature-watching in Europe calendars
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