Get your bird watching off to a flying start this month as SOPHIE BROWNSON looks at the best places to bird watch in Gwent.

THOUSANDS of people enjoy bird watching across the country and with many locations across the county to see a variety of birds, Gwent is a Ornithological lover’s paradise.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says that Wales has a wonderful variety of habitats and wildlife, offering many opportunities for people to enjoy the benefits of fresh air and the countryside.

There are many RSPB nature reserves in Wales which incorporate many different habitats, from oak woodlands and estuary to Internationally Important seabird colonies.

They attract many visitors and are home to exiting birds.

Such locations include the Newport Wetlands which provide a habitat for bitterns, lapwings, and redshanks, as well as other wildlife such as otters and water voles.

Kevin Dupe, manager of The Newport Wetlands said that many varieties of birds can be found in the Gwent area, with types depending on the season.

“There are loads of different types of winter birds to see at The Newport Wetlands,” he said.

“The types of birds depend in the time of year- but in winter there are generally ducks and waders at the wetlands.”

Ducks to see include the shoveler a surface feeing duck with huge spatulate bills.

The males have dark green heads, with white breasts and chestnut flanks, while females are mottled brown.

In the UK they breed in southern and eastern England, with the UK being home to more than 20 percent of the North West European population, making it an Amber List species.

Other favourites include the wigeon; teal; gadwall; tufted duck and the pochard.

The wigeon is a medium-sized duck with a round head and small bill.

The head and neck of the male are chestnut, with a yellow forehead, pink breast and grey body.

Many birds visit the UK in winter from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.

The gadwall is s very grey-coloured dabbling duck, a little smaller than the mallard, and with an obvious black rear end.

It shows a white wing patch in flight.

When seen close up the grey colour is made up of exquisitely fine barring and speckling.

It nests in low numbers in the UK and is mostly seen in the winter when numbers increase as birds migrate to spend the winter in the UK, away from harsher continental weather.

While the tufted duck is a medium-sized diving duck smaller than a mallard.

It is black on the head, neck, breast and back, and white on the sides.

It has a small crest and a yellow eye.

It breeds in the UK across lowland areas of England, Scotland and Ireland, but less commonly in Wales, with most birds being residents.

Their numbers increase in the UK in winter because of birds moving to the UK from Iceland and northern Europe.

Meanwhile waders at the wetlands include the dunlin, lapwig, and curlew.

The dunlin is the commonest small wader found along the coast.

It has a slightly down-curved bill and a distinctive black belly patch in breeding plumage. It feeds in flocks in winter, sometimes numbering thousands, roosting on nearby fields, saltmarshes and shore when the tide is high.

The avocet wader is a distinctively-patterned black and white wader with a long up-curved beak.

It is the emblem of the RSPB and symbolises the bird protection movement in the UK more than any other species.

Its return in the 1940s and subsequent increase in numbers represents one of the most successful conservation and protection projects.

Birds of prey can also be found in the Gwent area such as the peregrine falcon, merlin, hen harrier, and marsh harrier.

The peregrine falcon is a large and powerful falcon.

It has long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. It is blue-grey above, with a blackish top of the head and an obvious black 'moustache' that contrasts with its white face.

Its breast is finely spotted and it is swift and agile in flight, chasing prey.

The strongholds of the breeding birds in the UK are the uplands of the north and west and rocky seacoasts.

Peregrines have suffered illegal killing from gamekeepers and landowners, and been a target for egg collectors, but better legal protection and control of pesticides have helped the population to recover considerably from a low in the 1960s.

Some birds, particularly females and juveniles, move away from the uplands in autumn

Mr Dupe said that in March time these winter birds leave the wetlands and are replaced by birds such as the avocets wader and other migrating birds from Africa including the sedge warbler.

“Rare birds in Wales include the penduline tit which was the first to be seen in Gwent last October and hundreds of people came to see it,” Mr Dupe added.

“One of the best things about the Newport Wetlands is the RSPB guides which tell bird watchers where the best places to go bird watching are.

“From the Wetlands you can see the birds on the Severn Estuary and the reed beds and you can also see Cardiff Bay.

“Young families of all ages can enjoy bird watching, but people don’t just do it for the birds they enjoy the walking aspect of it as well.

“Beginners will just need a pair of binoculars and ideally a telescope by at the centre RSPB members can lend these.”

Verity Picken, Chairwoman of The Gwent Ornithological Society, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, agrees that bird watching is a good hobby to have to make walking more interesting.

“It is a good thing to do, to go outside in nature,” she said.

“It makes it more interesting to go for a walk if you are looking for birds to identify rather than to just go for a walk.

“It takes you to parts of Gwent that you never knew existed.

“Gwent is blessed with lots of different places to bird watch.”

Ms Picken said that you find different birds in different areas and recommends places in Gwent including Llanwenarth, west of Abergavenny, for a riverside bird watching walk.

Bird watchers have the chance to see birds including the Kingfisher, and Woodpeckers.

Other good birding locations include Wentwood, Monmouthshire, to see bramblings, siskins and redpoll; as well as Waunafon near Blaenavon to see bird of prey the merlin and the occasional short-eared owl.

Ms Picken also recommends bird watchers to look out for the dipper near lowland rivers.

The short-tailed, plump bird with a low, whirring flight, has the remarkable method of walking into and under water in search of food.

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