Birds to see near sea water in West Wales - West Wales Holiday Cottages
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Birds to see near sea water in West Wales

West Wales has a most fantastic selection of Sea and Coastal birds. Some are resident on estuaries and shores or visit in the winter after breeding in territories to the north. Waterfowl (Ducks, Geese, Swans) and Waders make up a large proportion of the seabirds but there are also the fascinating species which prefer an offshore existence for much of the year - known as the pelagic birds. Read more about them on our page about Birds to see on the offshore islands of West Wales.

When to see pelagic birds

A number of Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Storm Petrel, Gannet and Kittiwake breed here in summer; some of these hang around our coasts all year and others are often seen in spring and autumn as passage migrants. For this reason, these birds have been described as ‘resident’ on our descriptions.

Flocks of low-flying black ducks - the Common Scoter can be seen offshore throughout the year.

Several varieties of Tern and Skua, other types of Shearwater and Petrel can be spotted at sea during spring and autumn as they travel to and from their nesting sites further north and their wintering grounds to the south.

When to see wading birds

Many of the wading birds are little dinky things about the size of a thrush or blackbird, with Sanderling and Dunlin being amongst the smallest. The best time to see them is in winter, but Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing and Redshank are around all year. Many species of duck also tend to arrive in the winter and so your out-of-season holiday can be especially interesting when visiting particular habitats such as the Dyfi, Teifi, Tâf and Loughor Estuaries.

Whilst not strictly a sea bird, the small, speckled Rock Pipit is a common sight in the ‘splash zone’ around coasts.

The Offshore Islands

The Pembrokeshire coast is famous for its offshore islands and many visitors are drawn here in summer for a chance to view the drama of the huge colonies of pelagic birds which congregate on the rocky cliffs to breed after spending the winter out on the ocean. Most famous amongst these are the Puffins on Skomer Island with their brightly striped beaks and comical behaviour. Mid-June to mid-July is usually the best time to see them.

If you’re the seafaring type, then it’s worth taking the 11-mile boat trip to Grassholm to see a huge colony of Gannets; graceful in flight, they suddenly fold their wings back tight against their bodies and dive like missiles into the sea, reportedly reaching speeds of around 70mph. It’s one of those things that you can’t imagine a nervous child Gannet (or is that a Gannette?) daring to do for the first time: was flying not enough?

Guillemot and Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar all nest on precarious cliff faces.

Manx Shearwaters are secretive; in order to avoid being picked off by the gulls, they return to their Skomer burrows at night but can be seen at sea during the day.

Islands and mainland cliffs and stacks

Guillemots and Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars all nest on precarious cliff faces. They also nest around the coast of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion so you can often see them on a walk round Dinas Island, around the cliffs of Castle Martin Peninsula - Elegug Stacks in particular. Further north, you might spot them during a kayak adventure with Mike Mayberry Kayaking, or on a boat trip with A Bay to Remember or New Quay Boat Trips.

There is more about sea birds on our Birds to see in Summer and Birds to see in Winter pages.

Boat trips to the islands of Ramsey (off the St Davids Peninsula) Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm (off the Dale Peninsula) are available from the end of spring to late October when weather conditions are suitable. More detail about these and about seabirds on our page about Birds to see on the offshore islands of West Wales.

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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

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

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

Linnet

Resident
Carduelis. Likes open heath and cliff scrub. Perches on bushes or wires. Male: rosy breast in summer; tawny brown on top with dark wings showing white streaks in flight. Tail black and white with deep fork. Feeds on seeds on ground, often flocking with finches and sparrows in winter. Chi-chi chiu plus warbling.
Size: 15cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland

Common Gull

Resident
Medium sized. Dainty bill not bright yellow. Grey and white. Herring gull is much more common in West Wales.
Size: 40-42cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland

Turnstone

Winter visitor
Sometimes resident. Likes rocks, shells and seaweed. Noisy groups. It is the ONLY bird of this size with such a black breast and white below. Dark stripe round neck and very mottled brownish wings. In flight: white patches on wings and back.
Size: 22-24cm
Where: Sea coast

Teal

Winter visitor
Likes the edges of lakes. Has large head with band of golden orange from base of bill leading over top of head down to base of neck. Face divided into green and wine red. Chest smart grey with thin black lines like Pintail. In flight: green rear wing, white mid wing stripe.
Size: 20cm
Where: Sea coast, Fresh water

Wheatear

Summer visitor
Early summer visitor. Appears March. Favours open grassland on cliffs. Back pale greyish brown and yellowish breast; black eyestripe edged white above; in flight: dark wings, bright white rump and black T-shape at tip. It runs along the ground rather than hopping around.
Size: 14cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peregrine

Resident
Much larger than Merlin. Male: dark grey head and back with pronounced horizontal grey barring on underside and fluffy legs, yellow at ankle and feet. Nests on cliffs and likes to catch pigeons and waders on the wing. Females much bigger.
Size: 37-48cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Island

Kestrel

Resident
The most common of falcons. Bright rusty brown upperparts spotted with black and long, slim tail barred with black, grey head and tail with black band at tip. Female has tail barred brown. Silvery underparts. Hovers or sits on posts.
Size: 33cm
Where: Sea coast, Inland, Island

Curlew Sandpiper

Summer visitor
Flocks with Dunlins. Similar but more elegant; longer, downcurved bill. White rump rather than speckled. Summer adult: spangled back black, white, chestnut. Face: brickish red. Young birds: most common here autumn with pale-edged feathers on back - look scaly. White belly; buff breast. Striking pale head stripe.
Size: 17-21cm
Where: Sea coast

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

Red-throated Diver

Winter visitor
Shallow coastal sea. Elegant, swims low; head held up. Long, sharp bill. In flight: neck stretched and legs trail. Winter: Loses smooth blue-grey on head and red throat. Grey on top with small white spots. White underparts and sides of neck. Fine black/white stripes on back of neck and side neck base.
Size: 55-65cm
Where: Sea coast
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