There was Ruffly a lot of birds at Goldcliff

At 5.45 am on Saturday morning I stood in the newly extended Snipe Platform at Goldcliff Lagoons gazing out into the semi-darkness. The horizon had a thin curtain of cloud which partially covered the orange-colored hunter's moon. The sun would be rising soon I hoped it would provide some illumination of Priors lagoon so I could get a better look at a flock of birds that had congregated at the far side. Earlier there had been three hundred or so Teal ducks but they had caught sight of me entering the platform and had made a noisy exit.

The sun eventually broke through and revealed a small flock of Black Tailed Godwits and knots
wading towards me through the shallow water was four Ruffs. These medium-sized waders have been frequenting the lagoons for the last week or more. These are likely to be migrants. Ruff are very rare breeders in the UK and are specially protected. Hundreds of years ago they were widespread breeders in the Uk but dues to environmental change e.g destruction of wetlands due to drainage they have more or less stopped breeding in the UK.

The four juvenile Ruff

Nice to watch up close

Ruff now breed in Scandanavia, the Netherlands and Siberia. You can potentially see a Ruff at any time of the year as some birds don't leave the UK to breed but usually, they can be seen during spring and autumn migration.

In the winter months Ruff migrate to Africa and some birds have been known to reach the distant shores of South Africa.

The appearance of Ruff in winter plumage is quite plain and boring compared to the male birds in summer. Ruff are known for having strikingly colored puffed up feathers around their head and neck like a "ruffle". Sadly in the Uk, we don't get to see them in breeding plumage very often.

The four birds I was observing look like juvenile females as they have a buffy orange color to their breast and neck.

The view I had was the closest so far and the quartet seemed quite content feeding happily several meters in front of me. They were joined for a short while by a solitary Dunlin that looked very lost and called continually as if hoping to find the rest of its flock.

As the morning sun rose higher into the sky the water on the lagoons became mirrorlike and provided an opportunity to take some nice reflections shots.

Something disturbed the tranquility and the flock of Black Tailed Godwits and Knot were gone. Flying quickly over the sea wall. The rising tide was not at its zenith and today it was not going to be particularly high so there was likely to be mud out there where they could choose instead of the lagoons.

I headed to my favorite platform - Redshank and met up with a few birders. Monks Lagoon had a couple of small flocks of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. The island had a few Curlews - none of them were color-ringed.

Dunlin and Ringed Plovers

A flock of Black Headed Gulls were roosting and providing a little entertainment as they occasionally took flight and seemed to squabble amongst themselves. Almost hidden in plain sight amongst all the white of the gulls was a single Avocet.

Feeding on the edges of Monks were three very clean looking Greenshanks. This was really nice to see and they were good to watch relatively close up for a change.

Avocet and three Greenshank

Then swooping low over the platform and our heads came a big raptor that looked at first glance like an "Osprey". It wasn't. The bird was one of the whitish Buzzards that visit the lagoons regularly that are nicknamed "Bosprey" because they have a tendency to make birders heart race and get easily mistaken as an Osprey.

"Bosprey" one of Goldcliffs regular Buzzards that have very pale plumage

For high tide it was relatively quiet though on the waders front. There were a few species around but not an many as anticipated. 

Suddenly a black silhouette appeared on the horizon and in cruised "Flossy" the Glossy Ibis.

It flew in and landed on Priors. It was time to investigate Priors again and see if I could get a reflection shot.

Enroute to the Snipe Platform the hedgerows were alive with small birds. Cettis and Chiff Chaffs were calling and big flocks of Goldfinches were flocking all over the fields.

The sky above was full of House Martins and Swallows. The whole reserve had that "buzz" as if all the migrating birds were gathering for one big last "feeding pit stop" before traveling on to Africa.

By the time I and a few other birders got to the Snipe Platform "Flossy" had departed.

The Ruff remained and the odd Snipe. Beyond the perimeter of the reserve and out towards the Saltmarsh we watched hundreds of Knots and other waders gather in a huge flock reacting to a Marsh Harrier. They went high swirling into a huge ball.

Then a flock of Lapwings touched down on priors and behind them almost just like airplanes queueing to land at an airport came in a big flock of about 160 Knots. I was now in my element.

Knots make a landing

The knots started to preen and wash but all of them huddled in close to each other. Suddenly they looked twitchy and boom off they went again. Apparently a Peregrine Falcon was the cause.
They hurtled around in a tight flock taking the Lapwings, Dunlins and Black Headed Gulls with them.

Just caught them banking left with a reflection.

Knots showing off their pale underparts

Ruffs showing their darker upper plumage

Priors was now barren of birds. It had been a good show though and I had caught some nice flight shots.

We decided to leave the platform and head for the seawall side and try our luck there.

Several Wheatears were taking advantage of a huge amount of flies that were all over the reserve. When we were taking pictures I could hear popping noises and found that it was gradually being covered in small green colored beetles that were covering the fenceposts and rocks of the seawall.

Wheatear on the sea wall

It was keeping an eye on me.

I glanced across at the hedgerow bordering the farm, It was full of small birds, In 15 minutes my friend Nev and I saw Chiff Chaffs, Willow Warblers, Wood Warblers, Robin, Blue and Great Tits, Goldfinches and a Spotted Flycatcher. It was incredible.

What a fantastic sight I could have stayed there all day. Another brilliant morning at the reserve, I can't wait already for my next visit.


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