How to see more birds this winter

Ross's Gull: Got a bogey bird? How can using our news services help you to plug the gap? (photo: Kevin P Elsby).

If you want to see more birds this winter, the BirdGuides news services can provide you with all the information you need. Here we suggest how you could use the BirdGuides services to help you get the most out of your birdwatching over the winter.

Winter is a great time to see scarce grebes, divers, gulls and wildfowl, or perhaps some wintering raptors or rare buntings and warblers. Many of these birds stick around in one place long enough to give you a decent chance of seeing them so the information provided by the BirdGuides news services becomes especially useful. Here are some suggestions on how you could make the most of what BirdGuides has to offer, to help you see as many birds as possible.

1. Choose the best areas to visit

When you are planning where to go, it's best to know which areas have the best birds. To do this, take a look at our Online Guide to Birding in Britain and Ireland. This allows you to look up the last 10 sightings reported from any county. If you are a Bird News Extra subscriber you can find out full details about each of those birds (exactly where and when they've been seen, how long they've been there, etc.) and you can look up further sightings going back to earlier dates (even the same time last year).

For subscribers, this information can also be accessed from within Bird News Extra by clicking on the Search link (in the left-hand margin of any Bird News Extra page) and calling up all the sightings from any county over any period of time.

If you want your search to be more precise than just a whole county, just select any location that you are visiting (e.g. by clicking on the site in the Online Guide to Birding or by searching for that site in Bird News Extra or just clicking on the name of that site wherever you see it). This will open up a page of information about that site, including a list of what's been reported from there recently. This page also includes a link to 'Nearby birds'; by clicking on this you will get a list of all sightings within 50 km of that site. This can be particularly helpful if the site is at the junction of two or more counties.

2. How to find any species

Whatever species you might want to see, a good starting point would be to use the 'search' facility in Bird News Extra. This would enable you to look up, for example:

  • All the sightings of Surf Scoter in the last month
  • All the sightings of Snow Bunting in November (in any year)
  • All the sightings of Hawfinch in Derbyshire (in any month).

Remember you can do this for ANY species (scarce enough to be reported via our news services), over any period of time (since November 2000) and in any county. It's a fantastic asset for finding out the best places or the best times of year to look for your target species.

If you want even more information about where to find these scarce species, take a look at the Online Guide to Birding in Britain and Ireland. This provides pages of information about birding in every county, including, if you are a Bird News Extra subscriber, details of how and where to find any scarce species that are regularly seen in that county. This information, originally published in Lee Evans' classic book 'Finding Birds in Britain' is particularly useful in this county-by-county format.

Little Auk: Here one day, gone the next. Their occurrence in our waters is difficult to predict, and paying heed to the latest news can alert you to a northbound movement along the east coast. Our news services not only point out the best places to go, but will also keep you updated regarding any stragglers left-over from the main movement – handy if you can't drop everything and head to the coast when it is 'happening'! (photo: Dean Eades).

Information such as this is fantastic for those species that occur regularly in the same areas year after year - but what about those that occur less predictably? Little Auks only occur in certain weather conditions, a Little Bunting could turn up anywhere; how do you make sure you don't miss out on these species?

One way would be to keep looking at the news page of the BirdGuides website and looking for sightings of the species you want. But a more reliable way to make sure you don't miss anything is to ask BirdGuides to tell you whenever a certain species is seen. Would you want us to tell you by sending an SMS message to your phone (Bird Text Alert)? Or would you prefer an email to your computer (Email Alert)? Or maybe you'd want both: Email Alert for when you're indoors with access to a computer and Bird Text Alert to be switched on whenever you set off on a birding trip. Whichever service you choose you will need to visit a 'settings page' in which you can define which news you want to receive; in both cases you can ask for all the reports of any species and we'll let you know as soon as we have them.

Lastly, for those of you who would prefer to find your own 'target species', you might want to know where and when you would be most likely to turn up, say, a White-billed Diver or a Ross's Gull. The best place for you to look would be in the Online Guide to Rarer British and Irish Birds.

This unique guide gives you details of every accepted sighting published by the British Birds Rarities Committee (BBRC) and their Irish equivalent (IRC). Not only are these sightings updated every year, they are also presented as graphs to show which years or months have had the most sightings and as maps to show which counties each species has most often been seen in. Many birdwatchers still don't realise that this fantastic asset is available free to all Bird News Extra subscribers. For a free demonstration of one of the pages in the Online Guide, just go to:

Free demonstration

3. How to make the most of birding in your area

BirdGuides news services aren't just for twitchers who will travel all over the country in search of birds – they're also fantastic for those of us who just want to go birding in our local area and see as many birds as possible.

For example, whenever you plan to go birdwatching locally, it makes sense to find out whether any good birds have been reported within easy reach of your home. You can do this if you subscribe to Bird News Extra by clicking on the Nearby link or by visiting Nearby

This allows you to input a grid reference for your home (or any other location) and define how wide an area you want to know about. Then, every time you visit that page you will see all the latest sightings within, for example, 20km of your home.

You can get the same information, even when you are not at your computer, by using the Bird News Anywhere service on your mobile phone.

Both these services allow you to look up, quickly, all the relevant information for your area, anytime you like. You can use them whenever you plan to go out for some local birdwatching. But, your information will only be as up-to-date as the last time you looked. If you go a week without checking this information, it might be that another good bird has been and gone during that time. If this would concern you, then the best solution is to use one of our 'alert' services which will send you a message whenever there is a report from your area. If you want the message to come as an email (to your computer or any other device that can receive emails) you need Email Alert; you just select the counties you want to get reports from. If you prefer to have the sightings sent as SMS text messages to your mobile phone, then you need Bird Text Alert – we'll alert you whenever we have news of a bird of a chosen minimum level of rarity for any county or region you choose. So, as soon as a bird is seen that you'd like to hear about, you can ask us to either send you an email or a text message so you get to know about it straight away and can make plans to see it.

For more details about Bird News Extra and Email Alert, take the free tour at:

Free tour

For more details about Bird News Anywhere, go to:

Bird News Anywhere

For more details about Bird Text Alert, go to:

Bird Text Alert

Hawfinch: Some species are just difficult to catch up with and no matter how much time you spend in the field they constantly seem to elude you. Sound familiar? Hawfinch is one such species, but throughout the course of the winter there will be a number of locations in the country at which you can (almost) guarantee seeing one. Using the 'search' facility in Bird News Extra will enable you to look up all Hawfinch sightings in the last week, last month, last year, or over any time period for which we have sightings. You can look for records in your own county or region. (photo: John Robinson).