Great places to see Winter Waders and Wildfowl in Cumbria

Midwinter isn’t necessarily bleak! It can be a wonderful time to get outdoors and enjoy the wealth of wildlife found all across Cumbria. You’ll see a myriad of migratory wildfowl over-wintering on our milder shores and you could be treated to the superb spectacle of large flocks of waders. Our guide to Great places to see Winter Waders and Wildfowl in Cumbria recommends some great lakes and areas of the coast to spot these amazing sights.


1. Bassenthwaite Lake

Lake District National Park Authority

Red-breasted merganser. Photo: Amy LewisThis lake is one of the largest in the Lake District but one of the least populated, with no major settlements on the shore. It hosts a variety of wildfowl, including pochard, wigeon, goldeneye, tufted duck, great crested and little grebe, goosander and red-breasted merganser. The merganser is one of the most attractive diving birds, especially the male with its iridescent greenish-black head and scarlet-orange beak.

Where is it?

By car: From Keswick head towards Cockermouth on the A66. As it meets the lake drive on a little further until you see a layby on the right. Park here and walk out to the viewing point.
By bicycle: The lake is on National Route 71 (Sea to Sea).
By public transport: Regular buses run from Keswick to Cockermouth. 

More information on Bassenthwaite Lake

Photo: Red-breasted merganser by Amy Lewis

2. Eskmeals Dunes Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Curlew. Photo: Amy LewisThese are internationally-important dunes for plant species and the estuary is an excellent feeding ground for waders. Winter is a great time to see flocks of wintering birds, including oystercatcher, wigeon, goldeneye, turnstone and curlew. Europe’s largest wading bird, the curlew is instantly recognisable by its long, downcurved bill and evocative call.

Where is it?

By car: From A595 at Waberthwaite, take minor road through the village and continue for 1.4miles. Under the viaduct the road swings left. Park on the left. Reserve is accessed via a field gate.
By bicycle: The reserve is 9.5 miles from National Route 72 (Hadrian’s Cycleway).
By public transport: Trains from Whitehaven and Millom to Ravenglass/Bootle Station. Buses from Egremont, Gosforth and Seascale to Ravenglass. 

More information on Eskmeals Dunes Nature Reserve

Photo: Curlew by Amy Lewis

3. Campfield Marsh Reserve


Barnacle goose. Photo: Dave AppletonThe reserve is made up of a mosaic of saltmarsh, peatbogs, farmland and wet grassland providing homes for a wide variety of native wildlife. There are good numbers of barnacle geese in December and January. They fly in packs and long lines, with a noisy chorus of barking or yapping sounds. Pink-footed goose numbers peak in February and March.

Where is it?

By car: The main entrance is at North Plain Farm 1.5 miles west of Bowness-on-Solway on the unclassified coast road.
By bicycle: The reserve is on National Route 72 (Hadrian’s Cycleway).
By public transport: Carlise train station is 13 miles away; 93 bus from Carlisle terminates at eastern end of Campfield Marsh Reserve. Access to North Plain Farm and Bowness Common is 1.5 miles west along the road by the saltmarsh.

More information on Campfield Marsh Reserve

Photo: Barnacle goose by Dave Appleton

4. Siddick Ponds Nature Reserve, Workington

Allerdale Borough Council

Pochard. Photo: Tom Marshall

Despite its proximity to industry and traffic, this is a great site for birdwatching. The large reed beds and extensive open water habitat attract a distinctive community of birds, including teal, goldeneye, shoveler and pochard. In winter and spring the male pochard is very distinctive with a bright reddish-brown head, black breast and pale grey body.

Where is it? 

By car: From the A596 between Workington and Siddick, park in the Dunmail Park (Asda) car park. Head for the old mineral railway embankment (now a cyclepath) to the right of Edgar’s car showrooms.
By bicycle: The reserve is on National Route 72 (Hadrian’s Cycleway).
By public transport: Buses run regularly from Workington to Dunmail Park.

More information on Siddick Ponds Nature Reserve

Photo: Pochard by Tom Marshall

5. Humphrey Head Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Aggregation of knot. Photo: Jim Higham

With excellent views over Morecambe Bay, this limestone promontory is a great place for watching birds on the estuary. Curlew and redshank can be seen and as you look down on the wader roost on the saltmarsh at high tide, you may be treated to the dramatic spectacle of large numbers of knot and dunlin.

Where is it? 

By car: Follow the road towards the Head. Pass the farm and continue until a track with a public bridleway leads off left. Park here. The reserve is reached by walking up the drive of the field centre and bearing right.
By bicycle: The reserve is 3 miles from Route 700 (The Bay Cycleway).
By public transport: Trains run from Barrow-in-Furness, Ulverston, Grange-over-Sands and Lancaster to Kents Bank. Buses run from Cartmel and Grange-over-Sands to Allithwaite and Kents Bank.

More information on Humphrey Head Nature Reserve

Photo: Aggregation of knot by Jim Higham

6. Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve

National Trust

Redshank. Photo: Derek Moore

During the winter thousands of wading birds and wildfowl may be seen on this beautiful sandy beach, which has views across the Duddon Estuary. They include pintail, knot, curlew and redshank, with their distinctive bright orange-red legs and matching orange bill. (NB: Avoid the dangerous inter-tidal area of the estuary due to deep channels.)

Where is it? 

By car: Take junction 36 off the M6, head west on the A590. Drive through Ulverston towards Barrow-in-Furness. After passing Dalton-in-Furness, take Oaklea Road on right, signposted Roanhead
By bicycle: There are cycle paths and marked cycle lanes from Barrow-in-Furness along the A590 (a mixture of on and off-road).
By public transport: Buses to Dalton and Barrow-in-Furness. Nearest train station is Barrow-in-Furness (4.5 miles). 

More information on Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve

Photo: Redshank by Derek Moore

7. Elterwater, Ambleside

Whooper swans. Photo: Susanna Bird

Elterwater means ‘lake of the swan’ and it is usually the first of the Cumbrian lakes to be visited by whooper swans migrating from Iceland. Elterwater is the smallest of the 16 lakes in the Lake District, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Langdale Pikes. It’s a serene spot to watch these winter visitors, as well as the mute swans which are resident here.

Where is it? 

By car: From the A593 between Ambleside and Coniston reach Skelwith Bridge. Turn westwards on to the B5343 to Elterwater. There is a pay and display car park and also a large open space close to the Britannia Inn.
By bicycle: Elterwater is on National Route 637.
By public transport: Bus no. 516 runs from Ambleside to Elterwater. 

More information on Elterwater

Photo: Whooper swans by Susanna Bird

8. Hodbarrow Reserve


Black-tailed godwit. Photo: Amy Lewis

This is the North West’s largest open water lagoon. The reserve occupies the site of a former iron-ore mine which has since flooded. You can see large flocks of wintering wildfowl including redshank, knot and black-tailed godwit, whose winter colouring is a subdued greyish-brown. They are distinguished by their long beaks and legs.

Where is it?

By car: From Millom town square, continue east beyond the pedestrian crossing, taking the second right (Mainsgate Road signposted for Hodbarrow RSPB). Continue for about 0.5 mile, turning left by the lagoon for the reserve car park.
By bicycle: The reserve is 18 miles from Regional Route 37.
By public transport: Millom train station is 1.5 miles from the reserve. 

More information on Hodbarrow Reserve

Photo: Black-tailed godwit by Amy Lewis

9. Foulney Island Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Eider. Photo: Gillian Day

Once a true island, Foulney Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway. It is a wonderful location to view winter birds such as brent goose, wigeon, knot and dunlin. You might also see long-tailed duck, Slovenian grebe or the occasional diver on the sea, amongst thousands of eider. Eider are heavy ducks and are renowned for their very soft breast feathers which they use to insulate their nests.

Where is it?

By car: From Rampside take the road towards Roa Island. Path from car park takes you alongside the stone causeway onto Foulney Island. No dogs during breeding season (1 April-15 August). Please note the island may be cut off for several hours at high tide.
By bicycle: The reserve is 6 miles from National Route 70 (Walney to Wear).
By public transport: Buses run from Barrow-in-Furness and Ulverston to Roa Island. 

More information on Foulney Island Nature Reserve

Photo: Eider by Gillian Day

10. South Walney Nature Reserve

Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Dunlin. Photo: Tom Marshall

With stunning views across Morecambe Bay, this shingle island is full of interest and a fantastic place for birdwatching. In winter you will marvel at the high tide roosts of waders and wildfowl including curlew, golden plover, black-tailed godwit and dunlin, the most common small wader found along the coast, with its slightly down-curved bill. You can also see spectacular numbers of overwintering gulls.

Where is it? 

By car: From Barrow-in-Furness follow signs for Walney Island. Cross Jubilee Bridge onto the island and follow brown signs turning left at the traffic lights. Follow this road for about 0.6 miles then turn left down Carr Lane. Continue on road past Biggar village. The reserve is 0.6 miles beyond South End caravan site. No dogs allowed on the reserve (except assistance dogs). Please note the island may be cut off for several hours at high tide.
By bicycle: The reserve is 3 miles from National Route 70 (W2W).
By public transport: Buses run from Barrow-in-Furness to Biggar. 

More information on South Walney Nature Reserve

Photo: Dunlin by Tom Marshall

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Great places to see Winter Waders and Wildfowl in Cumbria

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