Five birds to find in January

Another new year has started in the heart of the first winter period of the year. It is a not a time of great change in bird populations, with a few cold weather movements making the bulk of the change in birdlife. However, it is a new year, a fresh start, another My200BirdYear list to get stuck into. Get out, go birding, find some great birds. Here are five to get you going this month.

Great Black-backed Gull

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Another new year has started in the heart of the first winter period of the year. It is a not a time of great change in bird populations, with a few cold weather movements making the bulk of the change in birdlife. However, it is a new year, a fresh start, another My200BirdYear list to get stuck into. Get out, go birding, find some great birds. Here are five to get you going this month.

Pic: FLPA/Alamy

Twite

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The northern, upland cousin of the Linnet is a classic Little Brown Job, but like many LBJs has its own charm. There are about 10,000 breeding pairs, but the numbers swell to a remarkable 100,000-150,000 birds in winter, with continental influxes, and gatherings near the coasts of Scotland, northern England, North Wales and eastern England. The size of the wintering population is remarkable as the Twite is often considered quite a scarce bird. They are flock-forming seed-eaters with apricot-buff faces (males have pink rumps) and a distinctive ‘twite’ twang of a call.

Pic: Evan Bowen-Jones/Alamy

Snow Bunting

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The mountain breeding Snow Bunting is one of those wintering British birds which everyone wants to see. And rightly so as they are lovely little birds, even when not wearing their black and white summer finery. Large and long-winged, they shuffle along gravelly or sandy coastal beaches, unobtrusively, looking to pick up seedy morsels, before flushing to flash white in the wings and emitting delightful little twitters and pure ‘pews’.

Pic: Patrick Nairne/Alamy

Smew

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Fewer than 200 Smew winter in the UK, and nearly all of these are south of the imaginary line between The Wash and the Severn Estuary. They are little sawbills (relatives of the Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser), which come over here in small numbers to avoid the deep freeze of continental Europe. Males are unmistakable in white with black markings. Females and youngsters are less so, but are still easy to identify. They’re small ducks (much smaller than a Tufted Duck), with a dark grey body and red-brown head with white cheeks and throat, and short black bill. Perhaps the easiest confusion with one of the smaller scarce wintering grebes (or the near extinct Ruddy Duck). Smew are usually painfully shy birds of lakes, gravel pits and reservoirs.

Pic: David Chapman/Alamy

Barnacle Goose

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The wild wintering populations of Barnacle Geese (from Greenland and northern Russia/Spitsbergen) total nearly 100,000 birds in the UK, but they are localised to the areas around the Solway Firth and Northern Ireland and the north-west of Scotland, including some Hebridean islands, such as Islay. They are distinctive little ‘black’ geese, with white faces contrasting against the black neck and breast; blue-grey-and-black backs and pale flanks and bellies.

Pic: Ann and Steve Toon/Alamy