Guide to Birdwatching in Alston

by | Activities, Alston

This article is part of our Discover Alston series. You can find more articles here


Nestled in the heart of North Pennines AONB, the historic market town of Alston offers an idyllic retreat for birdwatching enthusiasts. With its diverse landscapes, from rolling hills to dense woodlands, the area is a haven for a variety of bird species. This guide will provide you with everything you need to know about birdwatching in Alston, highlighting key species to look out for and the best spots to see them.

Birds You Can See in Alston

A red grouse standing in the heather moorlands of Alston, an ideal spot for birdwatching in Alston.

A red grouse in the heather moorlands of Alston, one of the many bird species you can encounter while birdwatching in Alston.

Alston’s rich and varied habitats support a wide array of bird species. Depending on the season, you might spot anything from common garden birds to rarer upland species. Here are some of the key birds you can expect to encounter while birdwatching in Alston:

  1. Red Grouse: Common in the heather moorlands around Alston, these birds are most easily spotted during the breeding season when males are highly vocal.
  2. Black Grouse: These birds are a highlight for many birdwatchers. Best seen at dawn during the spring lekking season, they can be found in the moorland fringes and open woodland.
  3. Curlew: Recognizable by their long, curved bills and distinctive calls, curlews are often seen in the grasslands and wetlands while birdwatching in Alston.
  4. Golden Plover: These striking birds are found in the higher moorlands. Their distinctive golden-spotted plumage makes them a delightful sight for those birdwatching in Alston.
  5. Hen Harrier: A rare and protected species, the hen harrier can occasionally be seen hunting over the moorlands. Their graceful flight and striking appearance make them a prized sighting for anyone birdwatching in Alston.
  6. Merlin: The UK’s smallest bird of prey, merlins can be spotted in open moorland areas, often seen chasing small birds at high speed. This makes for an exciting moment when birdwatching in Alston.
  7. Pied Flycatcher: These small, striking birds are summer visitors to Alston, often seen in deciduous woodlands, adding to the richness of birdwatching in Alston.
  8. Dipper: Found along fast-flowing rivers and streams, dippers can be recognized by their unique bobbing behavior and white throats, a delightful find for anyone birdwatching in Alston.

Best Birdwatching Spots in Alston

A scenic view of RSPB Geltsdale with rolling heather moorlands, hay meadows, and patches of woodland under a clear blue sky, perfect for birdwatching in Alston.

RSPB Geltsdale: A premier birdwatching location near Alston, offering diverse habitats and spectacular views for birdwatching enthusiasts.

RSPB Geltsdale

One of the premier birdwatching locations in the area, RSPB Geltsdale is situated a short drive from Alston. This reserve is a mosaic of heather moorland, hay meadows, and woodland, providing a habitat for many of the upland species mentioned above. The reserve offers several well-marked trails and viewing hides, making it accessible for both seasoned birdwatchers and novices.

South Tynedale Railway Path

This scenic path follows the route of the South Tynedale Railway and offers excellent opportunities to spot a variety of bird species. The mix of woodland, grassland, and river habitats along the path means you can see everything from woodland birds like the pied flycatcher to river specialists like the dipper.

Isaac’s Tea Trail

This long-distance trail offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the wider Alston area. Along the route of Isaac’s tea Trail, you will traverse different habitats, each with its own birdwatching potential. From upland moors, where you might spot red grouse and golden plovers, to lower valley woodlands and rivers.


The small village of Garrigill is a great starting point for exploring the surrounding countryside. The South Tyne River flows through here, providing excellent habitats for birds such as dippers and grey wagtails. The surrounding fields and hedgerows are also good for spotting farmland birds like skylarks and linnets.

North Pennines AONB

A greylag goose flying over a serene lake in the North Pennines AONB, a prime location for birdwatching in Alston.

A greylag goose in flight over the North Pennines AONB, one of the many bird species that make birdwatching in Alston a rewarding experience.

Alston is located within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), a designation that highlights the area’s significant natural beauty and biodiversity. The AONB is renowned for its rolling moorlands, picturesque valleys, and rich wildlife, making it an exceptional destination for birdwatching. The diverse habitats within the AONB support a wide variety of bird species, from upland moorland birds like the red grouse and hen harrier to woodland species such as the pied flycatcher and redstart. The extensive network of walking trails and the commitment to conservation make the North Pennines AONB a must-visit for any birdwatching enthusiast.

Practical Tips for Birdwatching in Alston

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time for birdwatching in Alston is during the spring and early summer when birds are most active. Dawn and dusk are particularly good times to spot many species.
  • What to Bring: A good pair of binoculars is essential for birdwatching. A field guide to birds of the UK can also be very useful. Wear appropriate clothing for the weather, and sturdy walking boots are recommended for the often uneven terrain.
  • Respect Wildlife and Habitats: Always follow the Countryside Code. Keep to paths, especially during the breeding season, and avoid disturbing nests.

Useful Links for Birdwatching in Alston

  1. RSPB Geltsdale
  2. Alston Moor Birdwatching Site
  3. Exploring North Pennines – Birdwatching
  4. North Pennine Bird Walks – AllTrails
  5. Birdwatching in the North Pennines
  6. Best Bird Watching Trails in North Pennines National Landscape (AONB)

Bridwatching in Alston

Birdwatching in Alston offers a unique and rewarding experience for both casual and dedicated birdwatchers. With its rich array of species and stunning natural landscapes, it’s a perfect destination for those looking to connect with nature. Whether you’re exploring the RSPB Geltsdale reserve, walking along the South Tynedale Railway Path, or venturing into the moorlands, Alston promises an unforgettable birdwatching adventure. The inclusion of the North Pennines AONB further enhances the region’s appeal, offering unparalleled opportunities to observe and appreciate the diverse avian life in this breathtaking part of England.

Salvin House Alston

Salvin House Alston serves as an ideal base for birdwatchers eager to explore the rich avian life of the region. This charming accommodation offers comfortable lodging with easy access to key birdwatching spots such as RSPB Geltsdale, the South Tynedale Railway Path, and the scenic trails of the North Pennines AONB. Its central location allows birdwatchers to conveniently visit diverse habitats, ensuring a rewarding and immersive birdwatching experience.




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