Always look for the unusual

I was meant to have a rest today and have a lie in. I woke early and could not resist the impulse to get out and make the most of the nice weather and the Bank Holiday. What better way to do it than to head to my favourite reserve.

I arrived at just after dawn. The sun was rising in a fiery blaze and as I headed into the reserve everything was bathed in a warm orange colour.

From Hide 1 with the rising sun behind me I had fantastic light to work with. At the end of the Island was a flock of Dunlins.  I immediately scanned them. In my previous blog you may remember my mantra, "Always look for the unusual". This is particularly important when scanning flocks of birds.

I looked hard checking for Curlew Sandpipers. Nothing stood out. For a moment out of the corner of my eye on lagoon 1 I thought I saw a Spotted Redshank but when I looked again it was a lapwing ( more about that later).

The Dunlins were skittish and regularly took flight whizzing around doing a loop of the lagoon. I got some amazing shots of them flying over the water with their reflections.

The little waders soon moved to the other end of the Island near the Redshank Platform so I decided to head there. Its my favourite spot at Goldcliff Lagoons. I've spent a serious amount of time on it waiting patiently. You just never know what could turn up. That is part of the the joy of bird watching.

As I waited I was joined by Darryl the Gwent Bird Recorder. Apart from the Dunlins there was not that much else other than the norm around. The Spoonbill was absent - it had been seen by him up at Boat Lane earlier. A Little Egret flew by and I thought for just a moment it was the Spoonbill.

I resumed my watch now on my own as the recorder headed off to the seawall hide. I decided to video the Dunlins as I looked down for a moment to set up the camera , I took my eyes of the lagoon momentarily. I then looked up to mount it on the tripod - there right in front of me was the Spoonbill. I then had great views watching it feed and preen before it flew off to Lagoon 2.

Things went quiet again. Then from my left whizzed in a small flock of Dunlins. By instinct I always try and grab some flight shots as I love pictures of birds in flight.

Red-Necked Phalarope in with the Dunlins ( Second bird in from the left)

The group of birds landed near the other Dunlins. I scanned them and noticed something was amiss. One of the birds really looked unusual. With shaking hands I tried to take pics, video it and post on Twitter all at once. I knew Darryl was close so made sure he was aware as he would be able to confirm what it was. I checked my Collins Birdbook and it looked like a Phalarope.

Soon I was joined by the recorder who had hastily "legged it" from the seawall and it was confirmed to be a Red-Necked Phalarope. Only the second time it has been seen at Goldcliff Lagoons. A lifer for me. Twitter became alive. Birders were en route from everywhere.

Red-Necked Phalarope. Third bird up from the bottom.

Phalarope centre

Phalarope in with the Dunlins

Fortunately the Phalarope stayed around and as things would turn out show regularly.

Whilst the Phalarope could be argued as being the star of today's show it was not the only cool species to make an appearance.

A beautiful Spotted Redshank in summer plumage was present on Lagoon 1 (Monks) for a good period of time. I just love the plumage. A Grey Plover (one of three present) was in magnificent summer plumage. It dropped in at high tide in front of the first hide. I ran from the first platform carrying all my kit puffing away like a steam engine only to get there and find out it had flown off.

Spotted Redshank ( Pic taken using my Panasonic Lumix for record shot)

Grey Plover in summer plumage.

The Spoonbill feeding on what looks like a little fish.

Back at the first platform later four Bar-Tailed Godwits flew in. I needed some help with identifying these birds. They look awfully like Black Tailed Godwits. A great tip I had of two very helpful birders was that there brilliant chestnut reddy colour covers the whole front of the body from head to tail. In Black Tailed Godwits it only really covers down to just under the chest before it becomes white and striped. In another post I will do a comparison for readers using some of my pictures.

Three of the four Bar-Tailed Godwits 

Again the reserve was full of the songs of both White Throat species and a host of other songbird species. Keep your eyes peeled and ears open near the entrance to the reserve as its a hot spot for Whitethroats.

As I left the Phalarope continued to show and more expectant faces were turning up on the reserve.

It was great to see so many friendly happy birders today. I guess that is what Easter should always be about,people getting on, being friendly and thankful for the wonderful birds we have got.

I will end today's post with one of my Dunlin pictures that started my day off. If I had not been so focused on them I would never have seen the Phalarope. A great day that I will remember for a long time.

A reflection of Dunlins.


  1. Excellent write up. It captures the pleasure and excitement of finding the unexpected and enjoying the abundance of birds found at Goldcliff. An exceptional time with so many waders in full breeding plumage.

    1. Thank You. It was great day enjoyed by all I think.


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