Birdwatching holidays in West Wales - West Wales Holiday Cottages
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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

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Curlew

Resident
Largest wader of its kind with long down-turned bill. Mainly grey-brown speckled plumage. Reveals white rump in flight. Calls "Cu-urlew" often late into the evening. Breeds on uplands but is often around the Teifi estuary in late summer as well as winter.
Size: 53-58cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Island

Cormorant

Resident
Water bird with dark plumage and white throat, white feathers on head in spring. Yellowish bill. White patch on thighs. Long and low when swimming. Dives for long periods. Flies low over water with head held well forward. Often stands with wings half spread.
Size: 90cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Kingfisher

Resident
Much smaller than you might imagine and hard to spot unless you’re in the right place! It prefers slow-moving sections of river with overhanging branches out of which it might flit for a few yards. Vivid turquoise and orange.
Size: 16cm
Where: Fresh water

Gannet

Resident
Pelagic. Huge colony breed on most remote Pembrokeshire island, Grassholm . Unmistakeable, it has long, narrow wings with black tips. Rest of upper body is white with yellowish head and neck. Very large grey bill and blue eye. It can be seen flying close to headlands all year.
Size: 90cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Manx Shearwater

Resident
Pelagic. Skomer, Skokholm and Ramsey It flies low over water with wings held stiffly. Dark upper and white under. It is a summer visitor and you only see it at night when coming back to nesting burrows. Legs not adapted for land so it can hardly walk.
Size: 30-38cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Fulmar

Resident
Pelagic. Skomer and Ramsey. Looks like gull but petrel family. Has tube nostrils. Flies with stiff, rectangular wings. Often groups to feed; breeds in colonies on cliffs. Regurgitates on intruder if alarmed. Blue grey on top and white under. Dark smudge around eye. Often lingers around breeding grounds all year.
Size: 44-50cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Kittiwake

Resident
Pelagic Skomer and Ramsey. Also Flimston in caves. Very pretty gull. Makes nest with mud, wet grass and saliva. Winter: blue-grey back and upper wing. Black wingtips. White elsewhere. Bill yellow, legs dark and dark patches on head. A few around harbours in winter. Offshore August to October.
Size: 40-42cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Moorhen

Resident
Dark plumage. Bright red bill has yellow tip. White flank line and white patch under each side of cocked tail. Raises tail when on water or walking and has nervous, springy walk and often flicks tail. Babies are little black pompoms.
Size: 33cm
Where: Fresh water

Storm Petrel

Resident
Pelagic. Skokholm mainly . Smallest seabird in British waters – a bit bigger than a sparrow! Dark plumage, white rump, showing as V shape in flight (like House Martin). It flutters near sea with feet dangling. Very square tail; white bar on underwing. Migrants pass close to headlands Sept/Oct – especially in stormy weather.
Size: 14-16cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Common Scoter

Resident
Pelagic. Flies in flocks (sometimes large) quite low over water. Black all over but for yellow bill patch. Close up it has some paler flight feathers. More numerous in winter but can be spotted all year although it does not breed here.
Size: 46-51cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Coot

Resident
Wetland bird with bright white facial shield; white bill, dark plumage, long pale green legs and very large lobed feet.
Size: 37cm
Where: Fresh water

Razorbill

Summer visitor
Pelagic. Most on Skomer; also Skokholm, Ramsey Lots between Angle and Stackpole on South Pembs coast and Needle Rock by Dinas Head. Easy to spot: huge chunky bill with distinctive white stripe. Black and white. Rarely seen outside breeding season.
Size: 38-41cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Guillemot

Summer visitor
Pelagic. Most on Skomer; also on Ramsey Few on Skokholm as ledges not good. Chocolate brown with white belly. Birds favour long, narrow ledges on sheer cliffs and cram themselves in. Lots between Angle and Stackpole on South Pembs coast and on Needle Rock close to Dinas Head.
Size: 41cm
Where: Sea coast, Island

Dunlin

Resident
Commonest tiny wader. Winter: dull grey-brown with whiter belly. More colour other times with russet back, greyer head and breast, black belly. Thin bill. Thin white line along wing in flight, dark rump with white sides. Does many quick dashes; not as fast and erratic as Sanderling and less ponderous than Knot.
Size: 18cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Fresh water

Common Sandpiper

Summer visitor
Like a Dunlin but legs are dull colour (not black like Dunlin's). It has very white underside but speckly elsewhere and on chest. Bill: medium length, straight. In flight: wide white stripe along centre of wing and white sides on tail. Tail looks rounded/blunt and dark (not white like Green Sandpiper).
Size: 20cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Sanderling

Winter visitor
Small. Paler plumage than similar waders. Dark rim along bottom of wing and tail. Bill: longish, straight, dark. Runs fast on thin legs. Forms small groups. Often roosts with dunlins at high tide. In flight: sharp wings, dark stripe down centre of rump and tail with white sides. Very white under and pearly above.
Size: 20cm
Where: Sea coast

Lapwing

Winter visitor
Numbers declining. Distinctive long head crest and loud ‘peewit’ call. Flocks swoop and wheel as if blown by wind. Distinctive broad wings with blunt end in flight. Dark greenish with purple of blue wings, white throat and belly plus inner part of underwing. Shows white band above black tail when in flight.
Size: 30cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water, Island

Whimbrel

Winter visitor
Likes rocky shores. Much smaller than curlew and darker with pale stripe edged by dark stripe each side on crown of head. Bill: downcurved with bend. Dumpier than curlew in flight and faster. Call is rapid rippling titter.
Size: 38cm
Where: Sea coast

Goldeneye

Winter visitor
Sitting on the water it is stocky with a big head and rounded, thick bill. Male has white spot on dark green head; dark upper wing and white underparts. Female has brown head and otherwise greyish. Looks dark on water. Both show white inner wing in flight.
Size: 40-48cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Fresh water

Pochard

Winter visitor
Easy to spot. Wide, typical round head and flat bill. Head chestnut, chest and tail black with pale grey elsewhere. Female duller with russet chest; same divisions of colour bands as male. Night feeder so drifts around sleepily by day.
Size: 44-48cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water
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