A day in the life of Goldcliff Lagoons

It was cold,damp and visibility was down to about six meters.There was a sense of pending excitement amongst us. Perhaps the adrenaline levels remained high in our blood following Saturdays spectacular Welsh Rugby victory over  England or perhaps it was the thrill of wondering what would come out of the gloom.

 After amazing weather on Saturday my friend Paul Joy and I stood peering through the slats of the Snipe Platform at Goldcliff Lagoons  in a real "pea souper" fog. Despite the clear heavens and the moon and stars twinkling high above us at dawn a thick layer of foggy mist had fallen over the lagoons. The chances of us seeing the Glossy Ibis at day break was looking slim.

Clear Sky above and a blanket of mist.

The moon just before dawn

The mist was eerie and slightly spooky. The wild sounds of the lagoons at one moment loud and then indistinct and muffled. We could hear lots of birds. Ducks quacking, a water rail squealing, crows cawing and Geese cackling. Wing beats and water splashes could suddenly be heard . Alarm calls were honked and whistled. Ducks and geese hurtled briefly into view and shot through the murk before fading from view and their calls muffling away to silence.

The thought "there be dragons" sprung to mind. Something was out there scaring the feathers off the birds.

We waited. Cursing softly to each other about the lack of visibility and our lenses constantly misting up..

Then suddenly a "dragon" came out of the gloom. We could see just a silhouette of a big raptor. Shovelers exploded into all directions, Teal whistled and Geese honked joining all the alarm calls.

Beating its classic "v" poised broad wings barely  enough to stay airborne was the unmistakable shape of a Marsh Harrier. I could just about make out it was a big female.

Back and forth she twisted at almost stalling speed in the air tracking her prey. Then she was gone disappearing back into the gloomy mist.

There be dragons. Female Marsh Harrier comes out of the gloom.

What a fantastic sight. I love having wildlife encounters like this. Whilst we don't like the mist for photography these weather conditions are ideal for Marsh Harriers to sneak up on their prey. I really enjoyed being a spectator and having a grand stand albeit mist obscured view of her hunting.

Then following the drama our silent contemplation was disturbed by the approach of a band of birders. They had visited the reserve hoping for a view of the Ibis. To say they were a little disappointed by the mist would be an understatement. Everybody gets different things out of bird watching.

 Some like to just watch and be quiet , some like to dress in full camo and pretend to be a bush, some love being with others for the company, others like just being outdoors with no one but their own company  and some like to talk - and not just about birds :) There is no right or wrong way of enjoying our hobby but this is how it is.

I sat there waiting for the gloom to lift, passing the time, whilst listening to the equivalent of a mix of "Spring Watch" and  "Talk Sport" commentators giving each other a full brief on the weekends sporting and best "bird tick" locations almost in the same breath. It made me chuckle and I half expected the Ibis to pop its head out of the gloom and squack that the "Chelsea Managers" going to be sacked by this time next week and join in on the chatter.

The "Talk Sport" band then departed and we were now joined by another regular birder named John.
Hes got a good set of eyes on him and is quiet. The birds liked that and despite the gloom a Little Grebe dived up out of the mist covered waters into view. A rare sight at Goldcliff and a good spot.

The Marsh Harrier made a couple more sudden appearances but never stayed for long in front of the viewing platform.

Then out of the mist came something prehistoric looking. The Ibis swooped in front of us ever so briefly and turned back into the mist. It looked like that would be our last chance as it tends to fly west to Uskmouth and spend most of the day somewhere in that direction.

We packed up our kit and decided to go for a walk to warm up. The cold mist really gets into your bones.

As we walked the mist began to lift and a lovely blue sky was making an appearance.On approach to the sea wall hide the lagoons were being revealed to everyone at long last.

On entering the seawall hide,  Goldcliff's equivalent of a birding sharp shooter Brian said "Have you seen the Ibis?" . After I told him it had flown off he said "no there it is" and pointed at it preening on the bank between Priors and Becs Lagoon. It stood their shining in all its glossy glory.

Glossy Ibis at Piors (Lagoon 2)

Glossy Ibis

It was good to finally catch up with it at ground level for a change. Usually I see it flying away from me as big black shape that is a nightmare to focus on.

The Ibis was accompanied by a group of small flock of White Fronted Geese, various ducks and Oystercatchers. The Glossy Ibis preened, drank and appeared to feed for a while longer. After about twenty minutes it took to the air, circled and then headed west as it usually does.

I left Paul to it in the hide as he was busy munching his sandwiches and decided to head to Hill Farm to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive Black Redstart.

Whilst I was out Paul probably had the sighting of the day. As he scoffed his breakfast a House Martin shot past the hide. Now that was a surprise. Several birders also caught a glimpse of something "Martiny" near the seawall. It would be an early bird migrating. Probably the warm southerly air driving up the Atlantic may be a cause for its early arrival.

High tide was now upon us and the lagoons were busy mainly with ducks. Shovelers being the most numerous species, followed closely by Shelducks and then smaller numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted and Mallards. Canadian and Greylag Geese were quite busy all morning flying back and forth between lagoons.


On Monks Lagoon there was a flurry of movement and then the air was filled with Lapwings and Dunlins. They swirled for some time and went high. We were unable to establish what exactly was causing them to fret. On Becs lagoon was sat a Peregrine Falcon in its usual spot.

Lapwings mobbing the Peregrine

Lapwings over Monks

A couple of Lapwings mobbed it but it did not move at first. Eventually it did change its perch and Curlews went sky-borne in response . Up until that time they had been quite content to roost close to the Peregrine. They were not taking any chances now.


At mid-day there was a bit of a lull. The tide was receding and life on the lagoons was starting to calm down somewhat.

Suddenly up went the lapwings and there soaring above our heads was the protagonist. "Bosprey", the white-ish buzzard entered the scene. Its a beautiful bird and I cant blame people for thinking its an Osprey from a distance.


As the weather was so good we decided to have some refreshments at the Seawall Cafe and then return later for another opportunity to see the Ibis on its return to roost.

Later in the afternoon the reserve remained full of birders. A number of them had visited just to see the Glossy Ibis. We helped a few out telling them where to wait.

We headed for the Seawall. I had high expectations that the sunset would be good. Goldcliffs sea walls offer some amazing evening vistas and I like to make the most of any opportunity to take pictures of the setting sun.

Already camped out on the sea wall were some of the birders from earlier this morning. Scopes and big lenses were in abundance.

We were not disappointed. Despite some clouds the sunset was spectacular I will let the photographs speak for themselves.We were joined by a number of friendly people who wanted to chat about bird-watching, scopes and cameras. I hope Paul and I made good ambassadors for the reserve. Its great to speak to people taking an interest in the reserve and its wildlife.

Sunset at Goldcliff

Awesome sunset

 As the sun turned orange and the sun dropped behind the clouds a black bird swooped across Becs lagoon and landed on the grass beside the lagoon. The Glossy Ibis had returned. It stood there for a short time ruffled its glossy feathers and then took to the air and descended into the reeds to roost for the night.

Return of the Ibis

A great days bird-watching from dawn until dusk the reserve just kept on giving - over 40 species seen in all.


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