Fleeing the harshness of northern Europe


Neither the cold or short days are a reason for nature to take a break. As temperatures drop in central and northern Europe and the storms in the Atlantic grow stronger, many birds come to Galicia and thus provide the chance for excellent bird watching. 

It is easy to think that the cold causes the birds to remain under cover and out of view

 However, at this time of year, Galicia's natural areas are visited by various species that travel to distance themselves from northern Europe's harsh climates. Two gulls from Arctic latitudes (which are in general very scarce on the Iberian Peninsula) are a fine example of this phenomenon: the iceland gull and glaucous gull. As its name implies, the former nests mainly in the Arctic regions and the latter is circumpolar. The Costa da Morte, Ría de Ortigueira and Mariña de Lugo are good places to find them, although any concentration of gulls at any point along the coast may contain small surprises such as these. Species such as the european herring gull, similar to the yellow-legged gull but with pink legs, can also be seen. 

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
If the cold sets in heavily in Europe, it is the ideal time to go to the large coastal wetlands.

A Guarda, the Ría de Vigo, O Grove, the Ría de Ortigueira, the wetlands of the Costa da Morte such as the Ría de Ponteceso or the small Lires estuary, the Ría do Burgo, the Lagoa de Valdoviño in Ferrolterra, the Ría de Ortigueira and the  Rías de Ribadeo and Foz in Lugo provide ample opportunity for watching a good number of new species. In addition to the aforementioned gulls, there are cormorants, Anatidae, grey herons and little egrets, waders and small wintering birds such as meadow pipits.

It continues to be an exceptional month to head to the beaches and large bodies of still water

It continues to be an exceptional month to head to the beaches and large bodies of still water in search of black-necked grebes, red-breasted mergansers, great northern loons and murres. The middle section of the Ría de Ribadeo is ideal, as are the section between San Cibrao and O Portiño de Morás, in Mariña de Lugo, the Ría de Ortigueira, that of O Burgo, Baldaio beach, the coastal environment of Carnota e Louro, Corrubedo beach, A Lanzada beach, in O Grove, and the Ría de Vigo.

In the inland countryside

In the inland countryside such as that of A Limia, as well as in the regions of Lugo and Sarria and areas of A Terra Chá other species such as northern lapwings, european golden plovers, redwings and fieldfares can be seen, as can bramblings, which are only present in winter and are very scarce.

Mountain areas

Although they are scenically impressive, the mountain areas may not be the best destination at this time of year. However, a visit to the Macizo Central, Pena Trevinca e Serra do Eixe or the Serra do Xurés provides a chance to see golden eagles that, throughout the winter, perform their striking nuptial flights.

Not to be missed

  • The entire coast, for seabirds that come to Galicia from the harsh winter in northern Europe.
  • The best places are O Grove, the Ría de Ortigueira, A Guarda, the rías de Ribadeo and Foz and the Costa da Morte. Look not only for water birds in the marshes but also go to the beaches, the mouths of the estuaries and even ports, since they can provide excellent watching opportunities.
  • The gulls. Has anyone ever thought that gulls are boring or that they all look the same? Nothing could be further from reality. In one day we can see more than half a dozen species and, to do so, there is nothing better than stopping to look closely at each group.
  • The weather forecasts announce cold in much of Europe? It's the right time to go bird watching in Galicia! Both on the coast and in the inland countryside.