Birdwatching holidays in West Wales - West Wales Holiday Cottages
West Wales Holiday Cottages
01239 810033

Birdwatching holidays in West Wales

A holiday cottage in West Wales is the perfect base for a birdwatching holiday: wherever you may be, there are interesting opportunities for spotting some exciting birds. The geological diversity and variety of habitats of West Wales allows many species of birds to find a niche here: you’re rarely far from the coast or an estuary and, inland, the sparsely populated countryside provides an ideal home for a number of bird species.

Of course, your cottage garden may attract a variety of the more sociable birds – this can be a good introduction to birdwatching for children.

Many birds make their permanent home in Wales, but others only make an appearance as summer or winter visitors. We have categorised the birds in our list as Resident, Summer or Winter. Summer visitors start arriving as early as March. Winter visitors include many wading birds and ducks which fly south from their breeding grounds. Our estuaries are teeming with them in the colder months, so your out-of-season break can hold a special allure. For further details about breeding and migration, please see the recommended books listed below.

West Wales specials

A successful project has recently reintroduced a large bird of prey, the Red Kite, which has now become a familiar sight in many areas - soaring overhead displaying its distinctive plumage and forked tail.

Another bird of prey which is particularly prevalent here is the Buzzard: sitting atop a telegraph pole or fence post, it will draw gasps of admiration from all who spot it from the car window. Sadly, it’s unlikely to be a Golden Eagle: these are massive and mountain-loving and are not known in Wales.

Conservationists near Machynlleth have encouraged Ospreys to return to the area, initially by building them a suitable nest. Since 2011 a pair of birds, Glesni and Monty have reared one or two chicks each year. The Dyfi Osprey Project is open from April to September, 10am to 6pm.

On the coast and estuaries, you’ll spot many a Cormorant, Curlew and Herring Gull as well as the marvellous Oystercatcher with its bold black and white feathers setting off the bright orange of its bill and legs. The Canada Goose increases in numbers each year and is particularly fond of the Teifi, Nevern and Dyfi Estuaries. Grey Herons and Kingfishers are fond of slow-moving rivers or lakes and ponds and there are plenty of chances to spot them if you’re quiet and alert.

A trip to the offshore islands of Pembrokeshire will reveal colonies of birds which favour a life at sea, including Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets and the delightful Puffin with its striped bill and clumsy gait.

If you’re walking chunks of the Coastal Path, you’ll see Rock Pipits, Wheatears, Stonechats and Linnets as well as Choughs circling near the cliffs.

Take care not to hit birds while driving. At particular risk are blackbirds in autumn and winter as they insist on foraging for food amongst leaf litter at the sides of roads and fly up suddenly in front of the car. Also be aware of flocks of goldfinches which love to gobble the seeds from flowering grass, dock etc on road verges.

Birdwatching ‘tools’

If you are seriously interested in identifying birds, it’s worth investing in a good pair of lightweight binoculars and a couple of bird books. The Internet has many virtues, but when you’re out in the field you may find a book to be a handier reference tool than a smartphone: it has no battery to suddenly give out on you; you can see the illustrations clearly even in bright light and it won’t cost a fortune to replace if you drop it in a bog!

Books will include illustrations of:

  • Birds in flight: very useful as it is often only possible to state “that was a Bullfinch” because you have caught the all-important glimpse of the tail with black tip and wide white bar above.

  • Juvenile Plumage: Young birds can often take some time to develop their adult colours and patterns. We have probably all seen young gulls with their brown speckled feathers and can see that their shape is much like their parents’; however, other birds can be quite deceptive and set your heart aflutter in the hope that you’ve spotted a rare visitor.

  • Female Plumage: due to the need for camouflage on the nest, female birds are often much duller than their male counterparts, but display some of the more distinctive plumage patterns such as white bands on side of tail for instance. Often, if you’re not sure about a dull-coloured bird, look out for a similar shape in brighter shades and this’ll give you the clue to her likely partner.

  • Seasonal Plumage: Male birds often show varying amounts of contrast or intensity of colour at different times of year.

Your bird book will also give detail on other distinguishing features such as detail of habitat and perhaps answer the following:

  • How do they move on the ground? Some birds hop; others walk. It’s quite useful to know this sometimes. Wheatears will walk sedately over short turf on cliff-tops so you can eliminate all hopping birds such as Stonechat from your identity parade. Where birds are out in the open on grassland it is particularly useful.

  • What type of song do I listen for? Bird books will attempt to describe phonetically the sounds made by birds, but there’s no substitute for actually hearing them sing or chatter. You can download an App, or listen to recordings on the internet. Choose sites which will have got their facts straight like the RSPB: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/ rather than YouTube as birds can sometimes be wrongly identified.

Recommended books

We have found the following books useful:

Shell Easy Bird Guide – good illustrations of birds in flight plus photos and Lookalikes box.

Collins Complete Guide to British Birds – has photographs but not much detail on birds in flight.

Where to Watch Birds in Wales – David Saunders. A serious ornothologists’ guide to particular areas of Wales. Few illustrations, just information.

Birds to see in West Wales

We have compiled a list of the birds you are most likely to spot during your holiday in West Wales with brief details to help you identify them. You can view the full list below or click one of the links to see a subsection of just the birds you might spot depending of the time of year or location. There is also a page just for the birds of prey, often some of the most dramatic and easiest to spot.

All birds

Next

Red Kite

Resident
Now quite common in Ceredigion, this striking bird of prey is often seen gliding overhead with its deeply forked tail fanned out. Grey head and rusty underparts with white patch behind angle of wing.
Size: 58-64cm
Where: Inland

Puffin

Summer visitor
Pelagic. Skokholm and Skomer. None on Ramsey. They are around from March to end August but you won't necessarily see them till they have laid eggs June to mid-July.
Size: 30cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Buzzard

Resident
A large bird sitting on a fence or telegraph post is usually a buzzard; not a golden eagle. Flies with stiff wing beats, then glides. They eat carrion from roads but also small live prey. Streaky brown with paler breast and very dark wing tips with spread 'fingers' in flight.
Size: 55cm
Where: Inland, Island

Chough

Resident
Crow family but more attractive. Slim bird with striking slim, curved, orange beak. Legs orange. It uses upcurrents near cliffs to soar and dive around. In flight: feathers end of wing spread and curled upwards like fingers
Size: 40cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Grey Heron

Resident
A large bird with a very long neck which is often hunched up while it stands stock-still looking for fish. Huge wing span. Unmistakeable.
Size: 90cm
Where: Fresh water

Little Egret

Resident
A recent arrival in the area, this is an elegant bright white bird very similar to but much smaller than a heron. When it flies, it tucks its neck in and sticks its legs out to the rear.
Size: 53-58cm
Where: Fresh water

Oystercatcher

Resident
Black and white with long, narrow orange bill. Black head and rump with white underparts. Flight shows broad angled white stripe on each wing and white rump with black tail tip. Large flocks often utter high-pitched twee-twee when in flight. They land in a big tumble and set to feeding on shore or mud.
Size: 43cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water, Island

Redshank

Resident
Dark tail, rich brown rump with dark streaks. White belly. Legs rich orange red or scarlet. Juveniles have paler legs. Bill has dark tip and red base. In flight it shows big white patch along back and broad white wedges on the back of each wing.
Size: 27cm
Where: Sea coast

Jay

Resident
A glamorous bird often seen in flight near oak woods or on tree-lined verges. Striking blue on front edge of wing, white in centre and black at lower edge. Wing tips grey; white rump and black tail. Russet elsewhere.
Size: 34cm
Where: Inland

Mallard

Resident
The duck everyone knows. Male with dark green head, grey and brown body with patches of dark blue. He goes much duller in the summer though. Female is dull brown with patches of purple blue on back of wing when in flight. The only duck which utters a loud 'QUACK'
Size: 58cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Shelduck

Resident
These are large and goose-shaped with very striking dark green head and red bill with a knob at the base. White neck, chestnut band at front of body then dark upper wings and white underparts. In flight it shows white bands at front of wings with dark band behind.
Size: 60cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Herring Gull

Resident
Large and noisy. Grey and white with large yellow bill which has red spot on lower tip. Legs pinkish - NOT yellow.
Size: 56-62cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Island

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Resident
Nests in many coastal locations. Like Herring Gull but dark grey back/upper wings and very yellow legs. Wingtips darker than rest of wing. Inner two thirds of trailing edge of upperwing is white. Bill yellow with orange spot. Red ring around yellow eye. Roosts on reservoirs and lakes.
Size: 55-60cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water, Island

Greater Black-backed Gull

Resident
It is largest gull; very dark on back and upper wings. Bill very large and chunky and adult legs pink. Broad white trailing edge on wing plus white patch at tip of wing. Bill yellow with orange spot. Winter can be seen inland but not in W Wales. Nesting pairs are solitary.
Size: 65cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Canada Goose

Resident
Brown speckled body, black neck ending abruptly. Very distinctive white cheek patch. In autumn, see them fly across Teifi Estuary at dawn and dusk in gaggling formations which are lovely to behold.
Size: 100cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Mute Swan

Resident
The most common swan. White plumage and reddish orange bill with black patch above it. Some birds stay in their territories all year; some move short distances to form winter flocks.
Size: 150cm
Where: Fresh water

Rock Pipit

Resident
Whilst not strictly a water bird, this one always hangs out near the coast, walking around the rocks. They often come close, so if you see a small, speckled brownish bird around cliffs and beaches, it's going to be a rock pipit! Most numerous in spring.
Size: 16-17cm
Where: Sea coast

Pied Wagtail

Resident
It's that little grey bird with black and white tail and head which you can see hopping about with wagging tail often in supermarket carparks or bits of wasteland. But they love water, too.
Size: 18cm
Where: Inland, Fresh water

Grey Wagtail

Resident
It's grey on top and male is very yellow underneath in spring. Tail is black with broad white edges. Belly goes paler in winter. The whole rear end bobs up and down. Very similar to yellow wagtail, but these are rarer.
Size: 18cm
Where: Fresh water

Dipper

Resident
Always near streams and rivers. They bob about on the rocks and dive into water to feed. They can even walk into water and hold on with their feet while looking for insects. Looks like a female blackbird with a big white bib. Unmistakeable.
Size: 18cm
Where: Fresh water
Next