Chasing sunrises, sunsets and a SemiPalmated Sandpiper

For the last couple of weeks, I feel like I have been chasing my tail at times when out with the camera. I like to be out with the camera during the "golden hours" That means being up early on my days off before sunrise and spending some time out late in the evenings for sunsets.

The weather has been quite good mostly and on Saturday I decided to climb the Skirrid (Ysgyryd Fawr in Welsh) with all my gear to catch a sunrise. I failed epically.

The weather gods are a fickle lot and I started up the hill under a clear star-filled sky only to reach a cloud-covered summit with a gusty wind that made it feel like winter. The panoramic view is always good but was small consolation for I had hoped for a magnificent sunrise.

 The sun did make an appearance eventually burning a red fiery line across the cloud obscured sky threatening to break through but it never did.

Better luck next time I guess, if it was easy it would not be worth doing I suppose.

The rising sun trying to force its way through the clouds

I needed a rest to catch my breath after all the exercise so sat at the top with my back to the trig point out of the wind eating my breakfast - a curly wurly :) being circled by a family of Ravens who seemed very inquisitive - perhaps they have a taste for chocolate. They probably thought I was mad. They are amazing Corvids, clever birds that have that "air" about them - that's a funny statement, of course, they do, as they were flying about 300 feet up in the sky :)

Two of the four Ravens circling me.

Black and White shot thatI think shows off the atmosphere

I did not linger long as a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Goldcliff Lagoons was calling out to me and I wanted to tick the species off my lifer list. This rare wading bird that's smaller than a Dunlin was observed a couple of weeks ago feeding on the mud at the reserve. It caused something of a local sensation amongst the birding community attracting quite a lot of people with scopes and cameras.

The semi-palmated is not an easy bird to identify. Especially when there are similar waders around like Little Stints. I was fortunate to see the Little Stint but ducked on the "semi" the weekend before. The "semi" is probably a migrating bird that has become way of course. Its meant to be migrating from countries bordering the Arctic Circle such as Canada and Alaska to South America via North America - but the odd bird seems to get lost and ends up on our shores.

Despite spending all morning at Goldcliff and waiting for the high tide very few waders put in an appearance which was something of a let down if I am honest. as I love my waders.

There were plenty of other birds to see, however. It is now that time of year where the Autumn Passage of migrating birds is well underway. Now Goldcliff is a like a "motorway service station" where migrating birds drop in rest and feed. The water at the lagoons is low at the moment with lots of mud exposed. The whole reserve is brimming with invertebrate life. Bugs that swim in the brackish lagoons, bugs that crawl over the mud or feed on the animal dung and bugs that fly.

The skies have been full of small midges and other flying insects. Swallows and Martins have been hurtling across the skies taking advantage of the rich food bounty.

Passerines have turned up in force. Yellow Wagtails accompany the cow heard wherever they go feeding on insects the cattle disturb. Wheatears and Whinchats have been perched like sentries on the fence posts outside Hide 1. Every now again swooping down to the grass to pick off a Crane Fly.


Redstarts and Whitethroats have been spotted along the hedgerows. The reserve really has been full of life.

At the back of Hide 2 On Saturday was s small horde of different species of dragonflies the bulk of them being Southern Hawkers who were all feeding on a swarm of gnats.

But - not much to write about when it came to waders. The company was good however with lots of my birding friends putting in an appearance which is always good.

Flossy the Glossy Ibis turned up on Priors Lagoon and seems to be getting more tolerant of people as the months go by. It's now 9 months since I first saw it rise out of the reeds on a cold January morning. It will be applying for a British Passport before long I think.

Flossy the Glossy Ibis

I finished off the day marveling at the vibrant orange colours of a Small Copper butterfly.

Small Copper

I've been determined to try to see some waders this week and of course the semi so have been down Goldcliff for tow high tides in the evenings.

I also planned to try for some nice sunset pictures but alas the weather has always made a turn for the worse.

The visits have been more productive on the wader front. A good number of Dunlins and Ringed Plovers, including some Ruffs, Greenshanks and Turnstones have been flocking on Monks and Becs.

Four Ruffs on Priors

On Tuesday there were Curlew Sandpipers in amongst them which was good and on Wednesday there was a small whitish wader in with the Dunlins. It was smaller than a Dunlin and was possibly a semipalmated sandpiper or a Little Stint. the bird was too far away and only could be viewed with a scope so identification was at best a little "iffy".


My highlight on both visits has been a female Kestrel. She has been very accommodating and graced me with some close-up views. I just love watching her hover effortlessly against the wind.

Female Kestrel


Perched near the Redshank Platform

Late on Thursday evening the Dunlins and Ringed Plovers were putting on quite a show hurtling around the reserve in response to an unseen predator.

Dunlin flyby

They careered across the lagoon back and forth for several minutes before settling opposite Hide 1. As I scanned them with the scope hoping to see a semipalmated sandpiper -  a female  Sparrowhawk exploded from the island into the wader flock and grabbed a bird. Typical - I was staring down the scope rather than my camera lens and it was all over before I got on my camera. It was fabulous to watch nevertheless.

Dunlins and Ringed Plovers flee a Raptor.

I ended the visit with two of my birding pals watching the Wheatears feeding as the sun set behind a thick layer of clouds. At one point I caught some of the sunbeams shining through a gap in the clouds and then the light was gone.

Wheatear opposite Hide 1

Now I look forward to the weekend. That semipalmated sandpiper is out there and it's waiting for me to find it one day :)

The last rays of sun breakthrough as the sun sets behind the clouds.


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