From dawn until dusk

It was a cold start. It was five below zero and the car required some serious de-icing as I prepared to head to Goldcliff.  I could see the stars for a change. No clouds, the sky was clear. As I set off driving South I had a great view of the crescent shaped moon , the planet Jupiter which shone really brightly and the star cluster Antares. They really stood out. On the horizon the dark night blue of the sky was slowly turning a pinky orange colour signalling that the rising sun was on it way.

My radio was playing ELO's Mr Blue Sky, things were looking good , after a long wait,perhaps at last I would get a clear sunrise to photograph.

On arrival at Goldcliff Lagoons almost every thing  was frozen. Puddles, reens and most of the lagoons were covered in a layer of ice.

The waning moon presided over the scene, it began to descend to the horizon where a band of vivid colour from the sun reached out to embrace it. I love this time of day. Its a time of change and I always feel close to the rhythms of nature. There is both a calmness and also a growing excitement that a new day is starting.

Crescent Moon above Goldcliff Lagoons

A view from the reeds

I quietly peeked through the slats of the Lapwing platform to see what bird life was on Priors (lagoon 2). There were lots of Wigeon, Shovelers and Lapwings. Hundreds of birds were on the banks. Whistling and quacking nervously back and forth to each other. They too seemed to anticipate the arrival of the sun and appeared to be getting as excited as I was.

From the sea wall I had a panoramic view of the Seven Estuary. The high tide was receding and on the waters edge I watched Curlews, Shovelers,Shelducks, Oystercatchers and Redshanks feeding.

The first rays of the sun were casting an amber glow across the mud and water appearing which warmed my heart to watch but I don't think it did anything to temper the biting wind.

As I set up my camera equipment I was joined by my friend and fellow blogger Neville Davies.
Like me Nev is passionate about birds and he writes some great stuff about the Gwent levels and further afield in warmer climates such as Majorca. His latest story has been about a trip to Norfolk which he was keen to talk to me about.

Watching the sun rise

We then watched the sun rise behind Hill Farm. A fantastic sight which I never tire of watching - or photographing. The birds on the mud were now becoming easier to pick out on the mud in the better light and soon Avocets, Grey Plovers, Dunlins and Curlews could be observed energetically searching for their breakfast of invertebrates.

Sunrise at Hillfarm

The chilly wind eventually ate into our bones and so it was time to find somewhere more sheltered - such as the Seawall hide. Actually it was anything but warmer - anyone who has spent serious time in their will know - its more akin to a fridge. I think we need to ask the NRW to put a log burner in it :)

Now in the sea wall hide I had a good view of the huge flock of ducks on Priors I had noticed earlier. Wigeon and Shovelers made up the bulk of species but there was Teal and Tufted ducks mixed in here and there.

Geese were everywhere. Canadian mainly but also some Greylags. These big waterfowl tend to dominate the lagoons all year round these days. Some birders are not fussed on them, I personally like them. They are big and noisy and I love taking pictures of geese in flight.

Nev decided to pop out the back of the hide for a bit. I sat watching the ducks grazing the grassy banks of the lagoon. Then "boom" they exploded into the air. My cameras lens was filled from edge to edge with flying ducks.

Shoveler and Wigeon

I immediately thought they must have been spooked by Nev. However that notion would evaporate from my thoughts as soon as I made it.
There spiralling in the sky above the reeds was something big, black and prehistoric looking.

Glossy Ibis at Goldcliff Lagoons

The Glossy Ibis rose out from the reeds where it had been roosting and it had caused the commotion.I shouted to Nev and he burst back into the hide in excitement. Woohoo that is three weekends on the trot I've been in the right place at the right time,

The Ibis circled in front of the hide and then soared away up towards Uskmouth. I wondered - when will it be back? More about that later.

After the excitement of watching that feathered rarity we were soon to be treated to even more.

The lagoons were busy with geese. It was akin to something like the Geese version of Heathrow airport. Waves of noisey honking Canadian Geese began to arrive at Priors ( lagoon 2) and Becs ( lagoon 3). Then a line of five geese began to descend towards Priors. At first they looked like Greylags. As they neared we had a better view through our lenses and they were revealed to be White-Fronted Geese. Super stuff. These birds had thus far escaped being photographed by me.

White-Fronted Geese coming in to land.

There were 5 White-Fronts

White-Fronted Geese at Prior's (Lagoon 2).

They landed on the grassy bank between Becs and Priors and settled down to preen, graze and drink.

Becs Lagoon was very quiet due to some extent to the water but mainly because a Peregrine Falcon at perched up on the island. I have not seen one do this for the last couple of weekends but it appears to be up to its usual tricks again camping out after a good feed by the look of it.

Peregrine Falcon at Becs ( Lagoon 3)

Nev and I got joined by two of our birding friends who were also excited to see the White-Fronted Geese. A Skylark was spotted feeding near the White-Fronts which stood out. Three Snipe were also observed on Priors  Stonechats and Meadow Pipits showed but not in large numbers. Scanning the Canadian Geese on Becs two Barnacle Geese were spotted.

Barnacle Geese at Becs ( Lagoon 3)

After a good mornings bird watch it was time to make our way home. As I walked back I decided as the weather was so good I would return later in the afternoon for more.

I am glad I did so. I have missed my evening visits so was eager to try and catch a sunset in the same day.

As the tide returned the sun began to set. Along Priors lagoons grassy banks were a small flock of Fieldfares. I tracked them along the fence line. They were joined by the odd Redwing . The winter thrush numbers had really dropped off in recent weeks so the colder weather appears to have drawn them back.

Whilst stood on the sea wall with two of my birding friends I noticed something small dart from the fence near Hill Farm and saw that it was the elusive Black Redstart. It did not remain for long before disappearing behind the farm house.

I then got treated to a fantastic sun set. There were good numbers of waders doing some last minute feeding as the high tide approached. I watched a big ship being guided by tugs to Newport Docks with the sun setting in the back ground.

Sunset from Goldcliff Lagoons sea wall

Ship being guided into the docks at high tide.

Sun down

As the sun disappeared behind the clouds on the horizon I turned to make my way back through the reserve. As I did so I caught a glimpse of the Glossy Ibis swooping in off the estuary. I had suspected it would return at sun down and it did.In it flew, circling and then it vanished in the reeds for the night.

Glossy Ibis Returns to roost

An awesome days bird watching.  The reserve has such a plethora of species that visit it from all over the world. When you stop and think how precious the Gwent Levels are for wildlife conservation. If I use today some of the species seen as a snapshot in time and examine where these winter migrating birds have come from, it really is amazing -

  • Glossy Ibis - Breeds in France , South East-Europe, Romania and Ukraine.
  • White-Fronted Goose - Depending on the race - Siberia and Greenland.
  • Barnacle Geese - Three seperate races - but all from the Arctic ( Greenland and Siberia).
  • Fieldfare and  -Scandnavia/Northern Europe
  • Greylag Goose - Scandanvia and Iceland ( there are increasing numbers that breed in UK)
  • Wigeon - Iceland and Scandanavia.
  • Shovelers - some of these may be winter migrants from Europe

* Note this is just a brief overview. I have not delved into identifying the White-Fronted Geese race yet.

It just goes to show that Goldcliff Lagoons and the wider Gwent Levels are vitally important as a habitat for  winter migrants from large areas of Europe. That's not to mention the resident and summer visitors its gets ( from all over the Globe). I will save a blog about those for another time.


  1. Some great photos Blair. I've got to get there before the Glossy Ibis disappears.


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