Southerly winds brings a swift visitor and a Gwent first

The autumn storms we have had this week have been caused by warm air from the South blowing up and hitting the colder North air. The result has been some very wet weather. In fact every day this week has been wet and dark. But at least its been warmer ;)

I've been itching to get out with the camera and the feeling has only intensified as the week has progressed. There has been reports of  rare birds such as Ring Ouzels, Yellow Browed Warblers, Hoopoe's and Rough Legged Buzzards to name but a few this week around the country - some of them in Wales that has got me quite envious at times.

Closer to home there has been increased sightings of Fieldfares and Redwings. These winter thrushes migrate to the United Kingdom in their thousands every year to feed on the autumnal and winter bounty of abundant berries in hedgerows.

This year the hedgerows at Goldcliff Lagoons are absolutely overflowing with berries ( especially Hawthorns) and for the last month I've been scanning them every time I visit for the presence of the winter thrushes.

I arrived before dawn today at the lagoons. Surprisingly after an evening of torrential rain the early morning skies around Goldcliff were clear. Looking South though a stormy front was threatening on the horizon and ominously moving in.

Entering the reserve as the sun began to rise I scanned the hedges and saw lots of movement. Flocks of birds perched on the top of the hedges and they were making that clucking chattering noise that I recognised  as Fieldfares. There were a lot of them - hundreds silhouetted against the glow of the rising sun. I crept in closer using the hedges as cover . Fieldfares and their smaller cousins Redwings can be really skittish to get close to in the field.

Trying to get super sharp pictures in the murky light against the bright sunrise backdrop was practically impossible so I elected to try some silhouette shots instead. It was great to see the thrushes feeding and every now and again they would get nervous and explode into the air in a huge flock.

As high tide approached and the sun began to rise higher in the sky, the storm front began to hit the reserve. The wind whipped up and it began to rain lightly.  At the seawall hide there was not a great deal to see other than the Peregrine Falcon who is now working full time trying to imitate a statue!Its great to see but its hell of a wader deterrent.

Flocks of Redshank, Lapwings, Curlews, Wigeon and Dunlins descended towards Bec's lagoon only to hit their afterburners to max when they noticed the "goal hanging" Peregrine sat perched on the island. Its almost as if the falcon was squawking "Boo" at them and laughing as it frightened the feathers off them.

As there was not much to see I headed back around the reserve intent on watching the Fieldfares. I met up with a few of the regular birders ( one of whom is the Gwent Bird Recorder).I then made my way to the hedgerows but the clouds burst with heavy rain and I had to run for cover into Hide 2 (The Curlew Hide).

Another birder friend then joined me and helped me identify a pair of Grey Plovers on Monks Lagoon whilst we chatted.

The rain eased and it was dry enough to go outside. As we began to leave the hide we saw a Merlin sweeping across the hedgerows causing all the winter thrushes to startle. We watched it for a short time  shoot around before it disappeared from view. I realised my camera settings were rubbish for sky pics so decided to remain scanning the skies hoping for its return with a better setup.

It didn't and the rain got a little worse again.

Then the rain stopped and "something" hurtled across the fields at the rear of the hide. The thing is it did not behave like a bird of prey such as Merlin. The flight behaviour looked more like a hirundine. I looked at the back of my camera and zoomed in and tried to make out what it was. I posted on Twitter "There is some form of Martin/Swift flying around back of Curlew hide." This would turn out to be an epic understatement - which was pointed out later - you know who you are ;).

I took many pictures of this small sleek bird flashed across the sky back and forth.

Then my birding friends arrived again. The Gwent Recorder was quite animated. He looked at my pics from the display of my camera and proclaimed it could well be a "Pallid Swift".

Later the bird was sighted again near Boathouse Lane and Redhouse Barns and afforded the recorder and others another view of it.

As it turned out after the Gwent Recorder analysed the pictures of this "Swift" it was  deemed to be a "Pallid Swift" ( Apus pallidus).

Its not an easy bird to identify and I have done some research myself and consulted with a good birding friend and the pictures cause some deliberation.

To be honest if it was judged a Common Swift it would have been a good spot for this time of year and also quite unusual.

According to my RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe Book this species breeds in Southern Europe mostly in Spain and Italy in towns and villages. It then migrates south to Africa in winter. The Pallid is a very rare migrant to the North including the UK.

This apparently is the first ever sighting of a Pallid Swift in Gwent since recordings began.

Once again Goldcliff has delivered a big surprise and a Pallid visitor will be a first for Gwent and for me :)

Pallid Swift


Pallid Swift

Pallid Swift


Sunrise at Goldcliff

The Winter Thrushes - Fieldfares at sunrise

The sun rises

Fieldfares at day break

A consolation of Fieldfares

Fieldfares at Goldcliff Lagoons


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