There is so much to explore out there, but we've put together our Top 10 things to do, areas to go and wildlife to spot during your visit. Use this as a guide to plan your visit beforehand or screenshot it to follow during your day here.
A truly delightful place to visit at all times of year, but autumn brings with it something special as our biggest spectacle makes itself known. Listen for the eerie call of red-listed curlew and watch in awe as they come in to roost when dusk draws in. Northumbrian Water hide is a great spot to see them flying overhead, while Paddy Fleming and Diageo hides provide a full view of the lake. Other seasonal stars include lapwing, greenshank, snipe, teal, wigeon and the occasional passing visitors such as whooper swans and black-tailed godwit.
The main highlight of the lagoon is one of the most vibrant birds we get around site. The elusive kingfisher can often be seen using the various perching points around the lake, hunting for fish and flitting along the river. Views across the lagoon are spectacular and often bring other visitors such as little egret, cormorant and the occasional Eurasian otter for good measure. Patience is definitely a virtue in this hide so if you're planning a visit, allow a bit of extra time to really make the most of this spectacular place.
Additional tip: Head to the lagoon meadow viewpoint which overlooks the meadow. Curlew like to forage for food in the grass and muddy plains and it's a great opportunity to see them a little closer.
Brambling feeding on the ground, bright peach-coloured bullfinch gorging on the feeders, great-spotted woodpeckers moving from tree to tree and hopeful sightings of willow tit help make Hawthorn Wood a wonderful place to enjoy some time out during the autumn period. Look for swooping sparrowhawk searching for a brisk brunch and listen for calling robin who fiercely defend their territory. Other hide highlights include nuthatch, treecreeper, blue tit, chaffinch and flocks of long-tailed tits making a noisy appearance.
Migrating thrushes make a welcome return to our reserve and can be seen and heard all throughout the autumn and winter months. Redwing flock in their dozens around the tree lines of the meadow in search of berries, while blackbird noisily flit and sing in the treetops! Fieldfare are occasional visitors too, so keep an eye out for larger flocks as they tend to hang around in one group.
Fantastic fungi is all around in Hollowood. It's not always obvious, so if you're visiting be sure to look around areas of deadwood, tree bases and even along wooden logs. With a huge variety including candlesnuff, turkey tail, scarlett elf cup, brittlestem and shaggy inkcap (the list goes on and on...) there is plenty to keep an eye out for. While not everyone's favourite thing, they are incredibly interesting and make for some fantastic photography! Other Hollowood highlights include treecreeper, great-spotted woodpecker and the occasional tawny owl!
A favourite spot to stop and listen to the sounds of the trickling stream and wind through the trees. There are many things to love about Spring Gill Wood including the nearby call of curlew from Wader Lake, loud cries of overhead buzzard and jostling jay fiercely searching for food. But the true beauty lies on the ground, where fungi sprouts through the leaf-lined surface, voles scuttle along the path edges and roe deer bound through the woods with distant glimpses of their white rump leaving a satisfied glow inside. Other highlights include redwing, treecreeper, willow tit and the occasional European hare.
With views across the river Wear to local landmark Penshaw Monument, our reservoir is a picturesque spot to absorb and appreciate nature. With wildlife highlights including tufted duck, gadwall and teal, there is plenty to spot. Look at our living willow fence, lovingly planted by our reserve team a little over 6 months ago. It has new shoots growing and is quickly becoming a habitat of it's own!
Stroll through the gates of Close Encounters and experience wildlife closer than ever. With coo'OO'ing common eider, goldeneye, smew, Chiloé wigeon, South Georgia pintail and noisy black swans, there's lots to see. Spend a while watching the birds in the water; noting their behaviour and listening to their different calls. They are all so unique!
Our most impactful exhibit and a definite 'wow' factor when arriving at our centre, the stream channel is home to our popular Eurasian cranes, white-fronted geese and barnacle geese. These birds are entertaining in their own right. Watch out for the cranes as they throw sticks, raise their wings and display using head-bopping routines, until finally performing their mighty call, which can be heard up to 2 miles away. Clatterings of jackdaw soar overhead as they come in to roost nearby. Their calls are collectively very loud and a great spectacle to see each evening!
Additional tip: Soak in the scene from our Waterside Cafe, where you can enjoy spectacular views from the comfort and warmth of the indoors with a hot cuppa and slice of cake! Open until 4pm.
And finally, we couldn't not mention our reedbed shelter. With mallard, moorhen and coot to be seen regularly in search of food (it's a great place to feed the birds with leftover corn!) Penshaw Monument stands proud in the distance and the nearby woodland gives way to calling wren and robins. This is another favourite space to just 'be' for a moment and enjoy the sights and sounds of autumn nature!