Winter brings many visiting birds from the north and east in search of milder winters and greater abundance of food. These include many types of wading birds and ducks as well as less common species of swan. Some wader species like Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and Grey Plover are divided about their preferences for overwintering: some of them choose to remain in the UK whilst others continue south to winter in Africa.
There are also species which we consider ‘resident’ in the UK due to there being a number which choose not to migrate; however, their cousins from summer breeding grounds further north will pass through in autumn on their way to wintering grounds further south. For example, Strumble Head near Fishguard is a popular place for observing passing flocks of migrant Skylarks, Finches, Starlings and Thrushes. These can be seen from mid-October.
Waders are almost exclusively to be found on estuaries and mud flats close to the sea. Some ducks just like any water whilst others prefer the fresh water of lakes and reservoirs to brackish sea water.
The many resident inland birds often change their behaviour in winter; for example, Bluetits and Great Tits flock together with other members of the same family and are sometimes joined by two or three pairs of Long-Tailed Tits. Garden bird tables are attractive to these foraging parties, as they are to other species which might be elusive in the breeding season such as Nuthatch and Siskin - especially when food is scarce in severe weather.
Other birds which flock together in winter are Fieldfares and Redwings, both members of the thrush family. A covey of smallish, greyish birds flashing white or red under their wings, rising from fields in front of your vehicle will most likely turn out to be these. Or you might get quite close to them as they descend to a holly tree to strip it of berries.
There are many pelagic birds around our coasts - that is those which spend most of their lives at sea. In fact, some spend so little time on land that their legs are barely functional! Examples are those belonging to the Petrel family such as Manx Shearwater and Fulmar. You will read on our Birds to see in Summer page that many nest on cliffs around our coast but spend the rest of the year further south. Some of those which breed here hang around our shores all year and sometimes appear close to the coast in stormy weather. These include Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet. Some, such as Terns and Skuas are only passing migrants to be seen spring and autumn. Trying to spot these birds provides a chance to make the most of some less than clement weather: get your togs on and head out to the mouth of one of the estuaries or a headland such as Strumble with a good pair of binoculars.
Cardigan Bay is a key wintering ground for divers (Red-throated and Great Northern) and Grebe (Great Crested and Red-necked). Mainly offshore are Scaup, Eider, Long-tailed duck; Common and Velvet Scoter. Several varieties of Skua and Tern can also be seen on autumn passage. Divers can also be seen in Carmarthen Bay.