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.
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.
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.
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.
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.