From red-crowned cranes and snow leopards to bobcats, bison and lynx, the world’s most alluring species are most active during the colder months. While others seek the warmth and coziness of their living room, true wildlife lovers wrap themselves in thermals, grab their binoculars, and head out into the cold to spot an elusive bird or beast.
But while a back-and-forth attitude and a pair of leggings are both invaluable, the real trick is knowing where to go and when. To get you started, here’s a quick guide to some of the best highlights the animal kingdom has to offer over the next three months.
Leading the roost
We humans can “roost” alone or in pairs, but many types of birds doze off in collective roosts. As winter day gives way to night, these group sleepovers put on quite a show – and Britain has a lot of them. On the Norfolk coast, up to 30,000 short-billed geese bark down an invisible jumble to the Holkham Marshes. In the Broads, watch 50 Common Cranes awaken and then majestically pound their feeding grounds in nearby fields. End the day spellbound by tens of thousands of crows and jackdaws that blacken the evening at Buckenham Carrs.
How to do: Winter Bird Watching Tours in Norfolk from £ 845 per person for five nights, including accommodation, full board, ground transport and guiding. Departures January and February. Oriole Birding (oriolebirding.com)
The lynx effect
On the rocky slopes of the Sierra de Andújar, in the south of Spain, the mist that emerges reveals a shape strangely similar to a sphinx. With long limbs, incredibly bushy ears, and a stocky excuse of a tail, the Iberian lynx is unmistakable. For decades, this cat was as mythical as the legendary Egyptian creature – and extinction was imminent. Fortunately, conservationists saved the species by releasing captive-bred felines back into the wild. The descendants of these animals now roam the lavender-scented hills in search of rabbits, delighting an ever-increasing number of human visitors with daily sightings during the winter mating season. Also look for Spanish ibex, long-horned goats that do light work on the steepest cliffs before triumphantly laying astride the craggy outcrops.
How to do: Iberian Lynx Tour from £ 1,495 per person for six nights including accommodation, full board, ground transportation and guiding; international flights extra. Departure in January. Green wings (greenwings.co)