Bird Watching in Wales
Skomer and its near neighbour Skokholm are among the finest islands in Europe for breeding seabirds and host the major Puffin colonies in south-west Britain. Overview Skomer, a National Nature Reserve since 1959, is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. The largest of the Pembrokeshire islands and easily accessible when weather permits, the island has plenty to offer for a day’s birding. The Trust owns the smaller nearby island of Skokholm, where the accent is on longer stays. Fulmar, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Oystercatcher, Curlew, gulls, Kittiwake, Common Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Short-eared Owl, Chough. Passerine migrants can arrive in impressive numbers in the right conditions, and rare visitors have included several firsts for Britain and many for Wales. Watch Puffin amateur video on YouTube
Sites and access
There are trains to Haverfordwest and Milford Haven, and bus services to Martin’s Haven include the ‘Puffin shuttle’. Parking is available at Martin’s Haven. For more information, contact the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Information Centre, St David’s SA62 6NW (tel: 01437 720392)
A ferry operates between Martin’s Haven and Skomer daily (except Mondays and bank holidays) from 1 April-31 October (tel: 01646 603123). There is an information centre at Lockley Lodge in the village. In addition to the boat fare (adults £8, children £6), a landing fee of £6 is payable. Visits to Skokholm can be arranged but visitor numbers are limited.
The Cleddau estuary, a complex area of creeks, mud flats and saltings, so there is a need to view from several places. The following are recommended, Landshipping Quay, Lawrenny coast road ,Carew Mill Pond, East Angle Bay, The Gann near Dale , Westfield Pill Nature reserve at Neyland
Elegug stacks on the Castlemartin peninsula to see colonies of Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes. A handy way of seeing these seabirds for those unable to visit the islands. A few Puffins and Choughs also nest in this area. To check if the ranges are open, Tel 01646 662367
The Welsh Wildlife Centre at Cilgerran where you can find extensive reed-bed habitat abutting the Teifi estuary and flanked by woodland. There's a modernistic cafe and shop on site and the reserve is fully equipped with accessible hides
Strumble Head lookout is the finest sea watching site in Wales. It's especially good to spot migrating birds in spring and autumn, including auks, skuas, petrels and numerous species of wildfowl
Pembrokeshire birds blog - http://www.pembsbirds.blogspot.com/
Ramsey and Grassholm bird update - http://www.thousandislands.co.uk/bird%20watching.htm
Pembrokeshire birds update - www.pembrokeshirebirdgroup.blogspot.com.
Red kites are always a common sight. They had been eliminated from Britain except from a nearby isolated Mid-Wales valley. Now their numbers have recovered and nothing can beat the sight of red kites soaring and gliding above their beautiful Welsh haunts. Our local red kite feeding site is situated by a scenic woodland lakeside. The number of birds it attracts varies from day to day; 30 on a very poor day or up to 80,90 or more on the good ones!
We get very close views of the birds. Many have wings tags, fitted when the birds were nestlings. When tagged birds are perched we can read the tags to discover where the birds have come from and how old they are. In this way we can also identify the frequent visiting kites from the Scottish and English reintroduced populations.
Another frequent interesting visitor is one of the rare Welsh 'white' or leucistic red kites.
Peregrines also breed in very good numbers here and we have sparrowhawks, kestrels, merlins and goshawks.
Buzzards, together with ravens, are more numerous than anywhere else in Europe.
The rich diversity of habitats in Snowdonia attracts many species of bird to the area. Habitats include upland bog such as the Migneint (the largest expanse of blanket bog in Wales), rocky crags, coniferous woodland, sheltered ancient woodland, river estuaries, and coastline. Snowdonia is ideal for those with an interest in birdwatching.
There are reserves at:
- Conwy (RSPB)
- Traeth Lavan
- Coedydd Aber (NNR)
- Foryd Bay
- Maentwrog (NNR)
- Lake Vyrnwy (RSPB)
- Mawddach Valley (RSPB)
- Ynys-hir (RSPB)
Lolo Williams' favourite birdwatching locations in Snowdonia.
Lolo Williams was formerly the Species Officer for Wales for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), was the subject of the BBC series 'Birdman', and now presents the S4C digital program 'Byd Natur'. Below are some of his favourite birdwatching locations in Snowdonia (extract from 'Bird Watching in North Wales').
1. The Aber Valley, near Bangor. A beautiful valley enclosed by the mountains of Snowdonia, it is a good site to see woodland birds such as the pied flycatcher, the redstart and the wood warbler, as well as mountain birds such as ravens, buzzards and choughs. At times it is possible to spot other birds of prey here such as the sparrowhawk, the kestrel and the peregrine falcon.
Best time - April to August.
2. Porthmadog. The cob is famous for its birds such as wigeons, curlews, and the rare grebe. At times the merlin can be seen hunting here in the Winter and a flock of whooper swans overwinters nearby.
Best time - Winter.
The Cob - Porthmadog
3. The Migneint, on the back road between Ysbyty Ifan and Ffestiniog. This moorland has lost many of its special birds but you can see the red grouse, the wheatear and the skylark on the high ground. Some pairs of curlews and snipes still nest here, and if you're lucky you may see the short-eared owl at dusk.
4. Aberdysynni near Tywyn. An excellent site for watching sea-birds such as the red-throated diver, the eider duck and the common scoter, and on the nearby Broadwater the bar-tailed godwit and the little grebe can often be seen.
5. Ynys-hir near Machynlleth. Once again, this is a RSPB reserve, and it is teeming with birds throughout the year. In the Summer, visitors such as the pied flycatcher and the redstart join the lesser spotted woodpecker in the woods, and in the Winter white-fronted geese flock to the estuary. Also at this time, birds of prey such as the hen harrier and red kite can be seen hunting over the estuary.
Extract above is © Iolo Williams & PJ WebWorks
The small Gower Peninsula offers a wide range of habitats for both native and winter/summer visiting birds, mountain, deciduous woodland, pine forest, marsh and coast. Towards the end of summer/early autumn you should be able to see Manx Sherwaters Kittiwakes, and terns. The rather neglected area just behind Oxwich Bay has a coastal reed bed, and breeding birds here include the Green Woodpecker and the Common Kingfisher. The scrub area should have migrants including the Stonechat and the Linnet.
The central ridge of Cefn Bryn offers a slightly barren and bracken covered habitat, grazed by sheep and mountain ponies. Here as you walk or ride along the tracks, you may well startle a skylark from the ground. as well as hearing them singing high in the sky above. If there are nests, the skylark may pretend to be injured to lead you away from her young (believe me, this can scare your horse).
Along the coast are sand dunes, where I have seen birds of prey such as sparrow hawks and marsh harriers, feeding well off the thousand of rabbits that breed here. The dunes are littered with mussel and sea shells from the many seabirds feeding here. The dunes have the famous Gower Llanrhidian Salt Marsh to one side, and there are long sandy/ rocky, beaches all around the Peninsula, offering ideal habitat for a multitude of birds - and for seals as well, which can be seen at Rhossili, on Worms Head. Crossing the Causeway takes you to the tip of the "Worm", where many seabirds breed safely, with no predators, but be aware that the tide here is fast and dangerous, and check the times before you cross.
At Cwm Ivy there are pine forests leading down to a bird hide, Burges island. with still water pools as well as the fast flowing waters of the Loughor estuary mouth. On the walk down you will pass Great Tor, where a family of ravens have lived for many years, - in the breeding season you will see one or two much smaller crows attacking the buzzards and warning them to keep away, and you should hear the croaking ravens high above.
In the woodlands leading to the dunes behind the Britannia Pub there are woodpeckers and buzzards as well as the usual thrushes and songbirds, and as you approach the Marsh a little further on you will see many types of wildfowl, - the shelduck are particularly stunning and bright against the marsh landscape. A fairly new visitor to our area is the Little Egret, snowy white and very elegant. Herons thrive here, teaching their young how to fish on the streams and pills that criss cross the marshland.
Foraging is great on Gower, adding interest to a walk for young children! - By the steel lighthouse on Llangennith beach are excellent mussels (also at OxwichBay). At various times of year, blueberries, blackberries, cockles, hazelnuts, wild mushrooms, even crabs (Oxwich Point, Slade bay) and lobster (if you are clever) at Rhossili can be gathered.
Quoting from the experts on the subject, Neil Donaghyy of Celtic Bird Tours describes December bird watching......
"There is a hide that offers a panoramic view over the vast salt marsh of the Burry Inlet and here we can expect close views of a large number of birds. Approximately one thousand Dark-bellied Brent Geese are normally present and there are good counts of Slavonian Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Eider most years.
"Thousands of shorebirds are present including Dunlin, Sanderling, Red Knot, Eurasian Curlew and Oystercatchers, and large flocks of Common Shelduck and Eurasian Wigeon are also present. There is always the chance of an unusual grebe and Snow Buntings could be on the shingle ridge. Common Crossbill, Coal Tits and Goldcrest are often noted and it would not be unexpected to find Green Woodpecker, Common Raven and Bullfinch.
"Small numbers of Firecrest normally spend the winter in the area and common woodland species should be present on the walk out. We check a small copse for Woodcock, and if time permits, we will drive back along the coast to Penclawdd to view the salt marsh.
"Water Pipit is a regular, if uncommon migrant and there is the possibility of finding a wintering Common Sandpiper or Greenshank and one or two Spotted Redshank are also found most years. Eurasian Spoonbill has also been recorded during winter.
"In the late afternoon, visit Llanrhidian Marsh, where we hope to encounter a Hen Harrier or two as they fly into roost, Little Egrets on the salt marsh and Short-eared & Barn Owls, Jack Snipe and Green Sandpiper are also possible."
Source: Gower content http://www.dovetaildirectory.com/DTSch.php?Code=4993
There is much more to the Cardiganshire coast than Choughs, there is an astonishingly diverse range of habitat to keep the most demanding birder happy - and it all makes for some of the most fantastic scenery in Britain.The day begins at the RSPB's picturesque reserve of Ynyshir (SN682964,) signposted off the A487 north of Furnace), nestling between the River Dyfi and the edge of the Cambrian Mountains. Ynyshir's rich variety of habitat includes oak woodland, saltmarsh, freshwater pools, reedbeds, scrub and pasture, ensuring there is something to be seen all year round. As with most RSPB reserves, the first birds you are likely to encounter will be those clinging to the impossibly huge bird-feeder outside the visitor centre. If you're lucky you may see the odd Siskin, which breeds on the reserve, among the crowds of tits and finches.
The only regular wintering flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese is found on the saltmarsh, along with a small flock of Barnacles and several hundred Canada Geese. By early April however, most of the wildfowl will have departed for more northerly breeding grounds. But the woods will be alive with birds, and it will be worth concentrating on one of the many woodland walks that can be enjoyed at Ynyshir. Trail maps are available at the centre. Among the more familiar woodland species, several Welsh specialities can be easily seen, including the Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts that make use of the many nestboxes.
Wood Warblers, although plentiful, are more often heard than seen as their beautiful silvery green and yellow plumage blends in perfectly with the emerging oak leaves, patience is required for a good view. In the more scrubby areas, 'parachuting' Tree Pipits take up residence, while common crossbills occasionally breed in stands of mature pine. The reserve is possibly the only place in the county where all three woodpeckers can be found and it is worth scanning the tree-tops for Lesser Spotted. Mature willow and alder carr are home to breeding Marsh and Willow Tits, providing a tough identification challenge. Part of the reserve consists of an area of damp pasture supporting small breeding populations of Lapwings and Redshanks.
As a result of modern farming practices, these are species that have become all too uncommon in recent years. Fortunately, the RSPB has recently acquired a large area of farmland next to the reserve which will be managed for breeding waders. Common Buzzards, Ravens, Peregrines and Red Kites are all regularly seen and it is always worth scanning any distant horizon. From Ynyshir it is a short drive to Ynyslas (SN610940, park on the beach), at the mouth of the River Dyfi. The dunes by the estuary are a National Nature Reserve run by the Countryside Council for Wales.
During the spring and early summer plants such as restharrow, biting stonecrop and common centaury can be found. Several species of orchid are present, including early and northern marsh, bee and pyramidal and marsh helleborine. A good variety of waders is recorded during passage, with the mouth of the River Leri and adjacent saltmarsh being the best place to look (SN617940). Recent highlight include Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover, still an unusual bird in west Wales. Red breasted Mergansers, Shelducks and Shags can be found in the main river channel, while passage terns can often be seen in the mouth of the estuary. Offshore small numbers of Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes and Common Scoter are present well into May.
A second NNR is found close by, this is Borth Bog, or Cors Fachno in Welsh. Access is gained by following a public footpath over the golf course at SN608912 (halfway between the villages of Ynyslas and Borth). Once you cross over the railway line you enter the reserve to find a hide overlooking the Leri pools. These peaty freshwater scrapes often attract passage waders such as Common Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits. It is also worth checking through the resident Common Teal as Garganey have bred on the reserve. The surrounding pasture is managed for breeding waders and supports Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Common Snipe. During periods of passage, Yellow Wagtails, which sadly no longer breed here, can occasionally be seen feeding among the grazing livestock.True Nature
From the hide, take a short walk east towards the canalised banks of the River Leri. The reedbeds alongside the footpath support breeding Reed and Sedge Warblers, and Whinchats and Stonechats can often be seen perched on the fence--posts. From the raised banks of the river the true nature of Cors Fochno reveals itself - the reserve is the largest area of lowland raised mire in Wales. More often than not the bog can appear birdiess, but it is worth spending half an hour simply scanning and waiting as small numbers of Hen Harriers, Merlins and Short-eared Owls winter and can remain until early spring. Marsh Harriers, Hobbies and Ospreys are also seen most years. Last spring's Star attraction was the stunning male Montagu's Harrier that spent several weeks delighting hundreds of birders, at times giving stunning views. One local birder was also lucky enough to have a Common Crane flying over head in late April. The reserve has a healthy popula-tion of Grasshopper Warblers, and reeling males can be heard from the river bank.
Black Grouse was thought to be extinct as a breeding bird in this part of Wales, but a recent record of three birds on the bog has renewed hope that these handsome birds may still nest here. Of further interest is the colony of rosy marsh moths discov-ered here in the mid-1960s, more than a century after this rare species disappeared from East Anglia.
The next port of call is the University town of Aberystwyth, where the Victorian pier (5N581819) is more than just an Indian restaurant and nightclub. During the winter months enormous, swirling flocks of starlings roost on the pier's pil-lars and beams, while College Rocks, on which it stands, support a small number of Purple Sandpipers, which remain until early May While in Aberystwyth it is worth having a quick look in the harbour; half a mile south of the pier (5N579808), as the odd Mediterranean Gull is often present among the commoner species. Little and Iceland Gulls have also been recorded during recent springs.
From Aberystwyth, head south along the coast road towards Aberaeron. It is worth stopping en route at the beach car park near Llanthystud (5N524692, turn opposite the petrol garage) where the large, flat coastal fields attract migrant pipits, wheatears and wagtails, including small flocks of White Wagtails in late April. Aberaeron's planned Georgian archi-tecture is unique among Cardigan's settle-ments and it's worth spending a little time exploring the town's squares and harbours. The houses are a riot of colour and would not look out of place on Ireland's west coast. The rocky beach between Aberaeron and Aberarth a mile to the east supports Oystercatchers, Turn-stones and Grey Plovers. At low tide the remains of several prehistoric fish traps can be seen. Rock Pipits fish traps can be seen. Rock Pipits are plentiful but are best looked for in the inner harbours while enjoying a honey ice cream.
On the outskirts of Aberaeron (NS463620) a one-and-a-half mile cycle path follows the River Aeron up towards the National Trust country house of Llanerchaeron. Typical of many of the county's river, Dippers and Grey Wagtails are present and best looked for from the bridge at the upper end of the path. Here Otter spraints can be found on the rocks below the bridge, although the animals themselves are seldom seen. The wooded slopes on either side of the valley are home to Common Buzzard, Red Kite and Sparrowhawk. Goshawks are occasionally seen flying from one side of the valley to the other. Our final destination is the pretty seaside resort of New Quay, above which Cardiganshire's coastal footpath leads off south from New Quay Head towards Llangranog.
A mile along the path stands a deserted coastguard's lookout. Below the Birds Rock, which gets its name from the large seabird colony there. This is a great place just to sit and watch the coming and goings of thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. Beyond the resident seabirds, small groups of Gannets and lines of Manx Shearwaters can be seen as they head south towards their island colonies on Skokholm, Skomer and Grassholm. New Quay head is the best place in Wales to look out for Cardigan Bay's resident Bottlenose Dolphins.
They can be seen all year round but are most likely to be encountered during spring and summer. Porpoises are often present in the waters hers, as are Grey Seals, which can sometimes be seen basking on the rocks at the base of the cliffs. Probably the most enjoyable way to experience the area's varied wildlife is to join one of the many guided boat trips out of the harbour. Before leaving, the cliffs above New Quay have one more surprise as they support several pairs of breeding Choughs, their evocative calls and tumbling acrobatics are very much part of Cardiganshire's richly varied birdwatching experience.