My first spring visit to the lagoons

Spring is officially here at last. I could not make it for St Davids Day so a visit to Goldliff Lagoons had to done the following day. Storm Freya was on its way. The pre-dawn sky was full of dark grey clouds. As I headed for the lagoons I occasionally caught a glimpse of the sickle shaped waning moon through a break in the clouds.

The Gwent Levels were wet and covered in low cloud and mist.

Yet again the weather was not the best for photography but in these situations you've just got to roll with it and make do. As ever I was glad just to be just out at Goldcliff and full of expectation to see some birds.

Lagoon 1 (Monks) had a big flock of Black Tailed Godwits huddled together scarcely visible in the murky darkness. The ISO ( camera sensors light sensitivity) was maxed up so I could get some form of picture to identify what I was looking at in the semi-darkness. My scope was next to useless as it kept misting up in the damp air of the hide.

There was cacophony of bird calls from a mix of species sounding across the lagoons. I could make out Greylags, Canadian Geese,Shoveler, Wigeon and a flock of Black Headed Gulls. The piping of Redshanks and peewit of the Lapwings were also adding to the chorus of bird noises.

I could sense the "revving" up of nature as it prepared for another day.

I walked over to Lagoon 2 ( Priors) and peered out of the snipe platform. There was a huge amount of Shovelers almost all off them appear to have paired up. The males spend a lot of time following the females with amorous intentions.

Its amazing how birds behaviour changes from season to season. Spring signals a return and creation of life. The ducks certainly have that on their mind at the moment. Accompanying the ducks roosting on the bank was a flock of 22 Avocet. They seem to be gradually returning now in drips and drabs so 22 is quite a good number and bodes well for later in the year.

There was no sign of the Glossy Ibis and the rain was getting more persistent so I headed to the Seawall Hide.

As I set up my equipment I then noticed the Glossy Ibis as it walked out from behind a clump of thick grass. It stood on the bank between Lagoon 2 and Lagoon 3 (Becs) and seemed quite contented. The Ibis fed and preened itself rigorously for over 30 minutes. I took the opportunity to video it and you can view it on my The Wildlife Oculus Facebook Page. The other residents of the Lagoons appear to have to got comfortable with its presence - as long as its not airborne.

"Flossy" the Glossy on parade at Lagoon 2 (Priors).

Redshanks and Curlews joined it on the bank . There must be a rich supply of invertebrate food in the soil as the birds were making the most of it.

The Ibis then began to preen its wing feathers more and more and to me this signalled that it was preparing to fly. With a test flap of its wings, it moved to the edge of the water and took off. I was surprised to see it swoop back down and land on the grass close to Lagoon 3. The other birds were getting nervous around it now.

Glossy Ibis feeding

I guess they see something unusual in the bird and slightly predatory about its dark shape. Seconds later after a little walk, up it went, flying around in a circle as if to catch its bearings and then it headed West ( always West). No one really knows where it goes. Its been seen during the day at Uskmouth and at the river Ebbws estuary. We do know it returns usually to roost at Goldcliff.

Skyborne Ibis changes location

The undeniable couchette of a Glossy Ibis

As usual the Ibis in the air caused a small commotion amongst the ducks but they quickly settled and life returned to normal.

I was joined in the hide by a one of my birding friends who I always enjoy a chat with. He has also got a keen pair of eyes which always helps me out as he spots things quickly for me to photograph.

In the distance a big flock of lapwings went skyward. Flying high, a sure sign of the presence of a raptor. We scanned the skies and then my friend spotted the Peregrine in its usual place on the island at Lagoon 3 (Becs).

The sun had decided to show its face a little and we had a view of the falcon mantling over something. Raptors usually mantle ( cover with their wings) over their prey. An unlucky bird had fallen victim by the looks of things. The Peregrine did not dally and was soon off hauling it prey with it. From what I can discern from the grainy cropped photographs I am inclined to think it had caught a starling. On the day I suspected it was a Lapwing. Its difficult to tell.

Peregrine with its prey

Close up.Any ideas. Post a comment if you have any thoughts?

We were then joined by more birders and we all enjoyed a chat.

I decided to concentrate on the ducks and give them a check over for any rarities. My attention was drawn to a group of Tufted Ducks that had mingled with the Wigeons. One of them looked a bit odd. With a closer look through my now de-misted scope it looked like a female Goldeneye. I've now checked my books and ran the image through the Merlin App and confirmed it was indeed a Goldeneye. Believe it or not that is a bird first for me so I am really chuffed.

Goldeneye on Lagoon 2

As the morning progressed the  "Famous five" White Fronted Geese put in an appearance, joining the ducks on Lagoon 2.

The "Famous Five" White Fronted Geese

On our return journey around the Lagoons we checked the view of Lagoon 2 from the Snipe Platform. True to its name to the left we saw seven Snipe in the corner. Some of them were quite active and feeding.

At mid-day I remained on the levels and checked out Saltmarsh Lane. The fields remain waterlogged and the flash area at the end of the lane near the seawall had quite a few Teal and Mallard Ducks. I soon heard alarm calls and then looked up to see a big female Marsh Harrier swoop over the fields and disappear from view over the hedgerow.

As I surveyed the foreshore from the sea wall the tide was beginning to turn . I headed back to Goldcliff for a second helping of birding to finish the day off.

On my return to Goldcliff an hour or so before high tide was good one. A huge flock of Shelducks arrived at Lagoon 1. These big ducks really seem like roosting at the reserve at the moment. Lagoon 1 and 2 were both home to quite a few Redshank. The most I have seen for some time. Two Spotted Redshanks also made an appearance. A flock of lapwings was joined by a small flock of mixed Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. Every now and then they nervously took to the sky and hurtled past my view point.


Dunlins and Ringed Plover

Whilst I walked towards the Snipe platform bounding along the grass inside the perimeter fencing came a little red devil. A feverishly busy animal if I have ever seen one - a Stoat. It stopped peered at me through a gap in the fencing . I broke the stand off reaching for my camera and it shot off like quick silver into nearby bush. Only to then explode out of it and dart across the gap into the hedgerow.

The back end of a Stoat! Too quick for me. 

As I checked the Mash Platform a Kestrel hovered over the grass and then flew off to hunt elsewhere on seeing my approach.

Kestrel. Nice to see as not seen one at the reserve for a few weeks

The weather started to get worse as if the incoming tide was pulling it in as I reached the seawall. I had a job to stand up die to the force of the wind. I disturbed a flock of White Doves that the farmer keeps and they exploded into their like little white angels.

"Little White Angels"

The wind beat me into submission and so I headed for cover and walked to the shelter of hide 2. As I opened the slats I caught sight of a male Marsh Harrier fly in from the pill looking like it was on a mission. It began to quarter the reeds on Lagoon 2 with serious intent on one particular spot.

 Despite the strong wind it flew effortlessly low across the reeds caressing their tops with its wing tips. Down it went, then up it flew again rising effortlessly on the wind and just angling its wings to adjust. After a good five or ten minutes of quartering the reeds at times appearing to feign interest , it returned persistently to that one spot. Then swooping it down in a controlled stall it was gone. I waited , but this time it did not rise. I suspect it had caught its Sunday evening meal.

Male Marsh Harrier in all his Tri-coloured glory  (Cropped at distance).

About to stoop

Quartering the reeds

Strangely the ducks remained quite calm on this occasion as if they new they were not scheduled to be on the menu. But that changed. No sooner had the male vanished from a view a female Marsh Harrier cruised in over the reeds causing a huge commotion. Nothing feathered small than a goose took its chances around her. She nonchalantly soared above the reeds turned and headed back out towards the Pill.

That was a great end to my days birding. Marshys are my favourite , seeing one is great ,seeing two is even better :)

As I type this Storm Freya is now upon us and my thoughts turn to wondering - what surprises will it bring?


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