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Sleep@ Calon y Fferi is the right choice for visitors who are searching for local history and culture
Your birding can start right outside Calon Y Fferi itself, as the feeders are usually well stocked and attract a range of visitors such as Long-tailed Tits and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. You can hardly miss the Rooks and Jackdaws in the immediate area, and a skyward glance could easily detect a Raven or Red Kite. The nearby woods hold a range of common birds, such as Blackcaps, Treecreepers and Nuthatches, and in winter look out for Siskins, Redpolls, Fieldfares and Redwings.
The delightful, secluded village of Ferryside lies right next to the Twyi Estuary, which, together with the Taf Estuary opposite, discharges into Carmarthen Bay (as does the Gwendraeth Estuary to the south. From here eastwards into Llanelli is the largest estuary system in Wales, so every section of coast is highly tidal and attracts a wide range of birds all year round.
A quick stroll to the railway station and down to the shoreline should immediately show off some waterbirds, almost certainly the odd Cormorant and probably a few Shelducks. At high tide, especially in autumn and winter, you might see some of the local Common Scoters and Eiders, although you’ll probably need a telescope to spot them, as they will be far out. At low tide there are always some waders, with Curlew obvious, even in the summer. In winter there may be many more, and include Redshank, Oystercatcher and Dunlin. In late summer, terns may well fly by. There is a short walk you can take north from the station up the estuary, taking in a ribbon of woodland and some old dunes, but it doesn’t go far.
There are several walks that you can take around Ferryside, although they are mostly along roads. Ambitious visitors can take the Welsh Coastal Path north or south. The nearby rivers host Dippers and Grey Wagtails and the scrub attracts species such as Whitethroat, Yellowhammer and Linnet. But overwhelmingly, the local area is just a pleasant place to be, and an ideal start to your birding holiday.
(Car park reached by turning down small road opposite Fisherman’s Arms and going on over the railway crossing to the end.)
The locals swear by this area as one of the best birdwatching sites around, on a good day rivalling Llanelli Wetland Centre. It’s certainly got everything – fantastic views of the huge estuary and saltmarsh, as well as lots of scrubby habitats, a canal, a pond and even that staple of birdwatching adoration, a sewage farm. And despite the picnic tables it can feel lonelier and wilder than Llanelli.
Kidwelly (Cydweli) lies at the mouth of its very own mini-estuary, the Gwendraeth, an area of very extensive saltmarsh, dunes and mudflats. The view from the (abandoned) Quay and area is flat and distant, taking in the huge forest at Pembrey (see below) and bay itself. It can be seriously cold and windy here, so be prepared and take a flask of tea or something stronger. The nearest mudflats are right by the car park, and you will quickly see Shelduck, Little Egret and waders, except during the highest tides.
Getting the tide right is necessary here because when the tide is low, everything feels as though it is miles away. So, in winter, if you wish to see many Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and the odd Ringed Plover or Turnstone, you need to be here within a couple of hours of high water, before or after. The same applies to the Wigeon, Teal and other wintering ducks. It also gives you the chance to see the odd exciting bird out towards the bay, perhaps a Red-throated Diver or Common Scoter.
In winter, also look out for visiting raptors. Red Kites are, these days, always around, but if you’re lucky you might experience the thrill of a Peregrine chase, or catch a glimpse of that mini-executioner, the Merlin. Short-eared Owls are also occasionally seen, on the lookout for small mammals and you might even see a Hen Harrier. Summer on the estuary itself is much quieter, although egrets, Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover remain, but at this time of the year it is much better to go to Llanelli.
That said, the extensive scrub here does hold a pleasing range of nice birds. Cetti’s Warblers are always around and, from spring to autumn, look for the various scrubby species such as Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap and Willow Warbler, as well as Sedge and Reed Warblers in the wet areas. It’s also good for Bullfinches, Long-tailed Tits and Reed Buntings. In the winter, Water Rails lurk around the pond and the sewage farm is a noted site for Chiffchaffs.
(Country Park (parking fee) signposted from the main A484 between Kidwelly and Burry Port. Pembrey Burrows and Saltings Nature Reserve (SS 425997) reached by turning left before the Country Park and taking track to Cefn Sidan Beach).
Pembrey Country Park has all the facilities and parking, and provides a great base for some fabulous walks, but it isn’t the easiest place to watch birds. It can be good and it can disappoint, but it is definitely worthwhile, if only as the best way to enjoy the local dunes and the shoreline of Carmarthen Bay. The Welsh Coastal Path goes along the beach, Cefn Sidan and, briefly, through the woodlands.
Despite its status as a holidaymakers’ attraction (tobogganing, anyone?), it is very easy to get intentionally “lost” among the endless pines and along the beach – as far as the latter is concerned you can even be ambitious and walk as far as you can towards Tywyn Point. There is a pond and some scrub and broadleaved woodland. You might find Crossbills in the open coniferous forest, along with Siskins and a chance of Tree Pipit in clearings in summer.
It is, perhaps, most exciting in mid-winter, when there are no crowds and high tide brings some of the bay’s birds within reach. The Bay holds an enormous wintering flock of Common Scoter (up to 40,000) and you should be able to see some offshore, although the birds do shift around a large area. Look out also for gems such as Long-tailed Duck, only occasional here. You should also see Sanderlings, Oystercatchers, Curlews and other waders on the beach, as well as plenty of gulls. In late summer you might even catch a glimpse of a Manx Shearwater offshore.
The dune system at Pembrey is of global importance, and at the wonderful local nature reserve of Pembrey Burrows and Saltings is a tribute to recent dune conservation. In recent years, vast areas of Sea Buckthorn have been removed to create open dune habitat, which hosts carpets of wildflowers in the spring and summer, including Green-winged Orchids, Bloody Cranesbill, Kidney Vetch, Dune Pansy and the rare Sand Catchfly. The sandy areas are fantastic for insects, and there are over 150 types of Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps, Ants) so far recorded, including the Spring Mining Bee and the Brown-banded Carder Bee. There is also a good population of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Stonechats.
(Easily reached from Llanelli, follow the signs with ducks on them. The Centre is at postcode SA14 9SH. There is an entrance fee for non-members of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.)
Llanelli Wetland Centre isn’t just a great place for birds, but it also provides that smidgeon of luxury that everyone secretly loves – great facilities, a café, capacious hides to escape from the weather, and so on. It is also an ideal spot to take people who will appreciate seeing some birds close up in the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust collections, with a range of ducks from around the world that you can see at Point Blank Range. It is also a superb all-year round site. While the saltmarshes of Burry Inlet thrill in mid-winter, the marshes and scrapes host some noisy and characterful breeding birds throughout summer, so there is always something to get the ornithological juices flowing.
It is also big enough to get well away from other visitors. In particular, the Millennium Wetlands side has a mazy network of trails that encompasses woodland and scrub, as well as marshes, and it can be surprisingly quiet. And not all the visitors actually use the many hides, so once again, you can seem to have the place to yourself.
The birds are pretty much always amazing, and there is a helpful sightings board to direct you to anything unusual – not always birds, but Otters in the case of my most recent visit. Frequent less common birds include Spoonbills, which are often around, Kingfishers, Mediterranean Gulls and many others. Every visit is different.
Burry Inlet, a mass of saltmarsh and mudflat offshore from here, is of international importance for wintering wildfowl and waders, with thousands of birds present from October to March. These include Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew, Redshank, Knot, Dunlin and Golden Plover. Black-tailed Godwits are also here, but they can barely resist the ideal freshwater conditions in the Wetland Centre. The wildfowl on the flats include Wigeon and a few Brent Geese. The birds attract predators such as Marsh Harrier and Peregrine, which duly provide chilly day dramas for those who watch from the hides.
The wetlands area has primarily been created for breeding birds, and among the most visible and important are Lapwings, Redshanks, Little Grebes, Sand Martins and Reed Warblers. You will also usually see Teal and Shoveler, pretty much at any time of year.
There is also a very noisy and splendid Black-headed Gull colony, easily visible from the elegantly designed Heron’s Wing Hide. While not always enjoyed by purists, these birds make a great spectacle and it is great fun to while away the time watching the domestic scenes from life in a colony – full of hustle and bustle, bickering and fussing. These days the very smart, black-hooded Mediterranean Gulls often join the colony, outclassing the Black-headed Gulls in plumage and demeanour.
A visit to Llanelli is an absolute must for any birder visiting the area, and indeed South Wales itself. There is something for everyone here, and always something going on.