There is knotting to see at high tide

Hundreds of Knots


On Thursday the NRW had posted on Gwent Birders that there was going to be some disturbance at Goldcliff Lagoons. They were going to mow the grass on the lagoon islands as part of the annual maintenance work. I had planned an evening visit so was a little bit perturbed at hearing this and started worrying that may be quiet when I turned up with "knotting" to see ( sorry I know my post titles are getting awful). How wrong could I be.

Arriving at the lagoons always with a spring in my step I got to the first hide and took a look out onto the reserve. Sure enough the NRW were just about finishing up on Becs lagoon and packing the mower onto the trailer.

Scanning Monks Lagoon it was difficult to see a great deal. At this time of day- early evening the sun is very harsh and causes everything to become silhouetted and an eye watering glare shines off the water. Well, what is left of the water as the levels are low at the moment with a shallow covering and lots of mud exposed. Kind of ideal for waders.

Monks had a a good gathering of Black Headed Gulls opposite the Redshank platform with the odd Black Tailed Godwit and Lapwings. High tide was approaching and already I could see a line of gulls starting  to descend into the reserve.

From the newly expanded snipe platform I could see a big flock of Knots and Black Tailed Godwits near at the far end of the "T" shape the reeds make on Priors Lagoon. There appeared to be over 400 Knot and good numbers of Black Tailed Godwits. The Knots tended to huddle together.

The new extension affords better views of not just Priors. To your right you can now scan across Monks Lagoon and from a good angle that avoids staring directly into the sun.

Now I had a better view of what was roosting on Monks. More birds appeared to have flown in with the tide and three rather good looking Greenshanks really stood out.

A big flock of Ringed Plovers and Dunlins had also turned up and were feeding on the far mud opposite hide 1.

Behind me in the fields there was a big flock of starlings. It looked like over a hundred birds swarming together feeding on insects around the feet of the grazing sheep. Every now and again they would all startle and rise up into the air swirling over the hedgerow.

Starlings


I watched the NRW depart and decided to head for the Seawall Hide and better light to work with.
The tide was now well in with what appeared to be the wind pushing it in further than usual. Looking out to the salt marshes they were becoming flooded. Cattle were grazing on them without a care in the world and Oystercatchers had gathered to feed on the last patch of mud.

As I neared the seawall hide a flock of Yellow Wagtails passed over head and seemed to be flying towards the herd of cattle that were now grazing on Priors.

In the seawall hide I set my camera equipment up and enjoyed scanning with my scope.

Patiently I waited for birds to arrive as high tide was at its zenith and I suspected that a predator may be attracted to the big flock of birds on Piors and cause some action - in better light.

My patience was rewarded. Suddenly the Black Headed Gulls panicked and filled the skies above Monks, then like a "Mexican Wave" the Ringed Plovers and Dunlin took to sky, next Priors erupted into a huge vertical swirl of feathers. The Knots exploded into the air with the Black Tailed Godwits and filled the sky. I quickly searched the lagoons during the chaos and there swooping low over the reeds came a Marsh Harrier.

Marsh Harrier (Juvenile?)


It was a smart almost brand new looking raptor and I think its a juvenile bird. As usual it had that "non-chalant" look that you know is all act. It was waiting for a bird to get separated or confused in the flock or was it really playing a  misdirection act and after something hiding in the reeds. Who knows but it caused mayhem.

I love swirling flocks of waders and so was in seventh heaven. The Marsh Harrier continued to quarter the reeds and slowly cleared the lagoons of birds. All the waders vanished up out towards the salt marshes but had no where really to go. The tide was in to the max. The only mud was on the lagoons.

Knots and Black Tailed Godwits - and the Marshy.


Knots


The Marsh Harrier headed off after about twenty minutes and slowly calm returned to the lagoons. I watched the Knots return and settle on Monks. Small flocks of Dunlins , Curlews, Shelduck and Ringed Plovers took it in turns to hurtle in and settle on Monks. Typically - the lagoon that was furthest away from my position.

I decided to go and set up on Hide 2. A weather front was coming in with a thick layer of cloud obscuring the setting sun and turning the dimmer switch on - the light was now fading.

From hide 2 I had a spectacular view of Monks Lagoon.  Opposite me was a large flock of Knots, roughly divided into equal numbers. Around them were a large number of Black Headed Gulls. Half way to the next platform were a number of Curlew and Black Tailed Godwits. Three of them if you looked carefully were Bar Tails.

Part of the Flock


Closer view

The mud was now covered in Dunlins and huge numbers of Ringed Plovers (also the odd Little Ringed).

As I scrutinised the Dunlins I spotted a nice adult Curlew Sandpiper. I was joined by a couple of birders who also noted seeing two juveniles.

Curlew Sandpiper on left. Ruff top and two Knot mid-view. Black Headed Gulls foreground.

Curlew Sandpiper at front

Its amazing to think that many of the Knots (Calidris canutus) I was looking at are juveniles that have hatched this year in the high Arctic and have flown all the way to Wales. Knots are known to fly some of the longest non-stop flights of any waders. Whilst they look a drab grey colour they are in fact known internationally  as "Red Knots" because their summer breeding plumage is a vibrant red colour.

As the sky darkened three snipe showed on the far side of Monks and a couple of Ruff were sighted.

There were birds everywhere but everything has to end  eventually - especially when the light has gone. It was time to depart. I must admit , it was probably one of my best visits this year. I was in my element when the Knots took flight. I love lots of birds doing what they do best - "flying".

Startled flock of Knots





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