Wintering migrants on the Pill

I had a great day yesterday bird watching at Goldcliff Lagoons, the Saltmarsh Grasslands and the Pill.
There was an enormous amount of birds congregating on the grasslands and mud around the Pill.
Goldcliff Pill is quite a remote and isolated area of the Gwent Wetlands. Its situated on the edge of the Goldcliff  reserve, prone to flooding by the high tides and in order to view the wildlife it has to be done from a distance using a long lens, binoculars or a scope.

Its no surprise that the birds like to congregate in this location. Its close to the food rich estuary mud, the shoreline and has hardly any disturbance from people.

A black and white capture showing the Goldcliff Pill area. Top of the picture is a huge flock of  Lapwing. Middle Left are Wigeon and to there right a big flock of Dunlin. On the mud are Wigeon , Curlew and Mallards

My visit to the Goldcliff area started with a walk around the lagoons. Whilst the weather forecast was promising and there was a hint of sunshine early on it turned out to be a quite a muggy and cold day.

The reserve was relatively quiet. There was the usual residents but that was about it. Two of my birder friends saw a Short Eared Owl, high in the sky above the Saltmarsh and it flew out onto the estuary.

There has been a lot more sightings of these enigmatic owls lately but they seem to rarely stay in the same spot twice this side of the Severn. Another sighting was reported later in the day observed at Uskmouth. It could have been the same bird.

One notable species on Lagoon 1 were 4 Black Tailed Godwits. I have not seen these birds for sometime so it was good to see them returning. It was reported by another birder that a large flock was seen out on the estuary. I missed them later so they must have moved on.

Black Tailed Godwits and Lapwings on Monks Lagoon.

All the bird action at high tide appeared to be out on Goldcliff Pill. There were hordes of birds out there in the distance roosting as the tide reached its peek. A huge flock of Lapwings entertained the birders watching by erupting into two huge flocks that would swirl above the pill making a huge commotion and was a real spectacle for the eyes.

 I did not see what caused them to fret so much but there were plenty of predators about in the area.  A Peregrine Falcon, two Buzzards and a Marsh Harrier were seen in the Goldcliff area and it could have been anyone of those species that caused the birds to take flight.

I got a little frustrated with my view from the sea wall at Goldcliff so I decided to head off up the Saltmarshes for a walk and to get a better view of the pill area.

From the wall at Boat Lane I had a panoramic view across the Pill, Saltmarshes and of the lagoons.

On the mud and the grassland on the edge of the water there were hundreds of birds. A big flock of Wigeon were roosting on the mud with a Pintail hiding amongst them.  I counted the Lapwings best that I could , I estimated at least 650 birds. On reviewing my pictures later I think it could be more closer to 1000 birds.

Panorama showing just part of the Lapwing flock

A closer look at the Lapwings

On the shoreline were Oystercatchers, Redshank, Avocet , Curlews , Shelduck, Mallards and Dunlins. I think it really captured what a winter gathering of waders and wildfowl is like in Gwent.

Avocets on the shoreline and Wigeon flying past

I think its amazing that many of these birds have travelled huge distances to grace our shores. Take the Dunlins  for example. They are likely to be the Calidris alpina alpina  species that have migrated from there summer breeding grounds of Scandinavia, Russia and other Northern Europe .

Lapwing flock dwarfs the Dunlins.

Lapwings can be migrants also. Whilst Lapwings breed in the UK, a very large proportion of winter birds can be from Scandinavia and Russia.

Curlews breed in the UK in very low numbers and are considered under serious threat in the UK. So the flocks of Curlews that were seen on the Pill are very likely to comprise of winter migrants from Northern, Central Europe and Russia.

Then there are the Wigeon. These are also migrants. Some Wigeon breed in Northern Scotland and England but most of the winter birds would have travelled to South Wales from Iceland, Scandinavia and Northern Russia.  Its absolutely amazing how far birds will travel to feed in the food rich habitat of the Severn Estuary. Its a real marvel.

Wigeon hurtling along the Pill. They really do motor at full speed with complete abandon almost looking like they are on the edge of crashing into each other.


It just goes to show how vital the Gwent Wetland Reserve is for wildlife. These birds are dependant on the estuary for survival and are willing to fly enormous distances to get to it. I appreciate that I am just describing a snapshot in time here. I could write more about other great migratory species that visit but I will leave that for another special blog post I am planning for next year.

Whist watching the waders I was accompanied by two fellow birders who have a huge amount of knowledge between them about birds in general.

I got talking to them about how to count and record birds. I post regularly on the Gwent Ornithological Society Sighting Web page but was wondering what else I could do to get more engaged and make the sighting information I collect to serve some greater purpose.

They told me about "Bird Track". Its a service the British Trust for Ornithology provide for people to submit there sightings. Its free, you don't have to be a member. There is also a Phone App that you can install so that you can input what you see whilst on the move.

I have been trying it out and it looks really good. I would recommend it to my readers that if you wish to contribute your sightings to the BTO  you should seriously think about using this service.

The New Year is quickly approaching and I am now wondering whether I will I get one last  chance to visit  Goldcliff in before 2019?








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