Return of wintering birds draws visitors to the Wales Coast Path
Walkers on the Welsh coast are being invited to explore the stunning landscape and to spot some of the birdlife identified by RSPB Cymru.
The Dee Estuary, identified as a Wetland of International Importance, is a busy spot during the winter as it offers a home to some 120,000 waterfowl and wading birds along the shore. Common birds like ducks, geese and swans can be seen in numbers along parts of the Coast Path in this area. Families who are out enjoying some fresh air can take some scraps of bread and feed the birds - a lovely activity to do as a family that won’t cost a penny. The rare hen-harrier is sometimes visible hunting its prey along the Dee estuary and in the evenings short-eared owls can sometimes be seen in the marshland.
The Isle of Anglesey, recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is a stunning place to visit all year round. The colder months provide an excellent opportunity for visitors to explore the terrains on the island’s section of the Wales Coast Path. Walkers are encouraged to explore the areas close to the shore and the sand dunes. The low areas that form in between the dunes, known as ‘dune slacks’, are often wet during winter months – providing ponds for the breeding common toad populations as they come out of hibernation around March and a refuge for insects like the ‘Tiger Beetle’. Keen bird spotters may come across a gentle brown winter bird known as the ‘Meadow Pipit’ which is renowned to ornithologists for its sweet little chirp.
The stunning stretch of coastline around Llŷn is well worth a visit, if only to take in just a mile or two of the beaches in this area. Traeth Penllech in particular is brimming with bird life over winter, look out for the rare jet black feathered chough which can often be spotted during the colder months. Gwynedd is rich with flying wildlife which can be seen at all points of the day. The hauntingly white barn owl can be seen at this time of year at dusk, flying over coastal plains in search for prey.
The RSPB reserve at Ynys hir in Ceredigion is where BBC Springwatch is filmed, but it’s equally active in winter, as it welcomes a seasonal flock of white fronted geese over from Greenland to add to the resident population of Canadian geese. Birds of prey like the ring-tailed hen harrier, marsh harrier, peregrine, red kite and buzzard all also feature heavily at this reserve in winter.
Flying visitors to the Pembrokeshire coast during winter months often find our chilly temperatures a lot milder and the landscape a lot richer than the environments they’ve left behind. Some larger flocks of birds that arrive at the beginning of winter include the redwing and the fieldfare species of the thrush family who settle in the area after a long journey from icy Eastern Europe. Similarly to other parts of coastal Wales, Pembrokeshire is home to many species of ducks and geese in winter. The male goldeneye duck in particular is a beautiful creature with glossy black upper parts and a white tummy with a white circle of feathers around or below the eye - watch out for the characteristic tipping back of the head which makes them easy to spot.
Much of the Coast Path provides stunning views across Carmarthen Bay, and is home to two of the most expansive sand dune systems in South Wales - Pembrey and Pendine. Carmarthen Bay is the overwintering ground for internationally important numbers of common scoter sea duck and for this reason was designated as the first marine Special Protection Area in the UK. The best season for spotting at Pendine Sands is deemed to be winter, although it is recommended that keen watchers visit within two or three hours either side of the high tide to guarantee the best views at Ginst Point. Regular visitors include the Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and sometimes a Merlin or Hen-Harrier.
The transition of seasons from autumn to winter is a busy time for the birds atNewport Wetlands, The reserve, which is managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) in partnership with RSPB and Newport Council, lies on the southern stretch of the Wales Coast Path right next to the Severn Estuary. Keep an eye out for wading birds with characteristically long beaks, like the Dunlin (shown right) and the Oystercatcher who wade through shallow water on the edge of the estuary. Families on the lookout for an ornithological adventure can visit the Welsh Hawking Centre in Barry which is open all year round, located just off the Coast Path in the Vale of Glamorgan.