Changing Climate: Exotic Birds in Wales

They’re normally spotted in the more exotic climes of Africa, South America and the Mediterranean. But changing global climates are bringing some unusual avian visitors to Wales, as Sion Morgan reports  on “WalesOnline”.

From the African plains to the mountains of the Himalayas, from the wilderness of Alaska to the South American jungle, it seems the world’s most exotic birds are increasingly visiting the Welsh shores. A number of exotic species are now appearing in its gardens and could soon change the landscape of the countryside forever. Bird watching is changing and the scale of rare, colourful and plain alien species in Wales has been revealed by the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS). According to their records, in the past 12 months African bee-eaters and purple herons have been seen in Anglesey, North American great white egrets in parts of the former Gwent and a stunning South American bobolink in St Davids, Pembrokeshire. The RSPB says that the growing trend has been partly caused by the deep winter freeze across northern Europe and Russia, which drove many exotic and unusual birds into Britain’s back gardens, combined with the fact that the warm springs of the last couple of years have seen migrating Mediterranean birds being attracted further north than usual. Daniel Jenkins-Jones, head of public affairs at RSPB Cymru, said: “With the warmer climate there has certainly been an increase in numbers of little egret, Dartford warbler, and Cetti’s warbler across the UK. “With temperatures warming up, soon we could very well see more exotic visitors, such as the purple heron, grace the Welsh shores.” So far this year, twitchers have been lucky enough to see a North American lesser scaup duck in Cardiff Bay. The birds typically migrate south, as far as the West Indies and Bermuda.

In Little Haven, Pembrokeshire, two months ago, an ivory gull which breeds high in the Arctic was spotted by twitchers. A Siberian chiffchaff which usually winters in the Himalayas turned up in Sudbrook, Monmouthshire, during January. And a month later, a great white egret, typically found in the South American rainforests, was seen in the same county. Richard Dobbins, from Pembrokeshire Birds, said: “We see rare migrants particularly when the weather is warm at this time of year, as migrating Mediterranean birds drift further north than usual because of the rising temperatures. “The trend depends on the weather, but certainly if we see more warm springs we will see more rare migrants.” He added: “As far as the winter goes, it isn’t so much cold temperatures that cause birds to wander further from their natural habitat, it’s the conditions. “Large winds can blow birds off course and into unfamiliar territories. Of course what we also see is British birds being spotted in warmer parts of Europe because of the freezing temperatures here.” Other notable recorded sightings include the stunning purple heron, which breeds in Africa and Asia, turning up in Dwyran on Anglesey, and a black kite, common in tropical parts of Australasia, flying over Marloes Mere in Pembrokeshire. A glossy ibis which loves warmer regions like the Caribbean was also seen at Dunraven Bay in the Vale of Glamorgan in recent months. Scientists have previously stated that with temperatures set to rise even further in years to come because of global warming, new species from France and central Europe will migrate to the UK, putting native birds under strain as they compete for food sources. Those species expected to come across the channel in the next few decades include the hoopoe and bee-eater, colourful birds currently only found in southern Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said the British landscape will look completely different. By the end of the century, cliff-faces currently covered in kittiwakes and puffins could be colonised by hoopoes and bee-eaters, he believes. “The trend is for birds to fly north with some struggling to survive, while new species colonise the UK,” he said. “We are in an evolutionary maelstrom because species are having to cope with new pests and new parasites, new threats and new opportunities all introduced by climate change. Some species will thrive and others will struggle to survive.”

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