Highlights of 2019

I have had a very busy year bird watching. Many an hour spent watching wildlife in the great outdoors has been at my favorite reserve Goldcliff Lagoons. I have however ventured quite far and wide this year to some other fabulous nature reserves and had the good fortune to have some great company from very good friends.

I have seen a total of  179 species. That magic 200 remains just that little bit out of reach for me. I saw 118 species at Goldcliff Lagoons alone which I thought was pretty good.

This year I invested an enormous amount of time and effort at Goldcliff Lagoons and it was great to present my photographic study of the reserve to Gwent Ornithological Society and Gloucester Birders in the Autumn. I was flattered to have a number of my good friends at the GOS talk and the fact that they took time away from their busy lives to support me was great.

I was very fortunate that several of the away trips I had this year resulted in me accumulating 33 "lifers", which I think I will struggle to ever achieve again.

I've decided to pick out some of my most memorable highlights from some of the best parts of my birdwatching year and produce somewhat of a top ten, in no particular order. Its been hard deciding what really stood out this year. I have challenged myself to only use one picture to illustrate each.

1. Glossy Ibis

My Goldcliff Lagoons bird of the year had to be the Glossy Ibis. I first saw "Flossy" the Glossy Ibis on the 20/1/2019. I had arrived at the lagoon at dawn on a particularly cloudy and miserable morning. As I passed Priors Lagoon out of the reedbeds where it had been roosting it rose into the sky. I had never seen a Glossy Ibis before this and was quite taken aback when I saw it. So were most of the feathered residents of the lagoons as they were similarly shocked and thought it was some kind of large predator and there was a huge commotion of frantic birds in flight fearing the worst. This sighting would be the first of many. To this day "Flossy" has remained a "resident" to the lagoons and Newport Wetland reserve area in general. Next month will be its anniversary.

One of my favorite pictures I took this year. In the early morning sun Flossy glided from Priors Lagoon over Monks Lagoon to produce a fantastic reflection.

2.Norfolk

My friend Neville Davies invited me on a birding trip to Norfolk. I had never been there before and was unbelievably excited as I had heard so many good things about the area. We stayed at a fabulous B&B and visited a whole host of reserves including Titchwell, Cley, Blakeney Point and Weeting Heath.

Norfolk produced an epic 16 lifers for me, including some of note such as Dotterel, Bearded Tits, Stone Curlew, Common Scotter, Little Tern and Nightjar. It was not only just about birds either. I saw Muntjac Deer, Grey Seals, and Hares ( which was also a first for me).

This trip was fantastic from start to finish. I was very impressed with how the whole area, not just designated reserve areas was brimming with wildlife. I have never seen farmland with such a variety of fauna and flora.

This was the first time I had been able to get close to a Bearded Tit for a photograph. Their metallic sounding contact calls are a giveaway. 


3. Skomer Island

This was my second annual trip to Pembrokeshire with my amigos Paul Joy and Nicola Johns.
I absolutely love Skomer and especially the Puffins. We had a fantastic trip, lots of laughs were to be had and we saw lots of birds, despite the usual weather woes and car troubles to contend with. The real standout event was when we finally managed to go on an evening safari boat trip. This was my third attempt in so many years so when we managed to get out on the boat hoping to see live Manx Shearwaters I was overjoyed. On our way out I asked the skipper "Will we some Manxies?" and he told me "Yes for sure you will see one or two". Well, we saw absolutely thousands, maybe 10000+, perhaps the largest number that even the skipper and guide had seen for years. Simply amazing.

Composite picture I took from the Dale Princess Boat. As you can see it was quite rough.Thousands of Manx Shearwaters.

4.Sunrises

This year I was determined to catch some sunrise photographs down at the Severn Estuary. Getting up at "Stupid O'clock" to arrive earlier enough for sunrise was particularly painful at times especially when as I walked to get into position and set up and the clouds would come over. Eventually, lady luck favored me and I was able to capture some nice sunrises, Choosing the most memorable has not been an easy task.

The wait is always worth it. My view from Goldcliff's sea wall looking towards the Prince of Wales Bridge.

5. Badger Watching

The last time I had seen a Badger before 2019 was when I was 17 years old and studying for my A-Levels. It had been a very memorable experience back them as I watched a family of badgers come out of their set. Back in those days there were no digital cameras, video cameras or mobiles so it was just a case of watching and remembering things. When Paul Joy invited me along to a National Trust managed site to watch them I was well happy and excited. The visit proved much more that I had expected with prolonged close views of a family of badgers in the evening sunshine. As we say in the valleys it was "Bang Tidy".

Simply - amazing experience.


6. Hen Harrier

I had heard reports of a Hen Harrier having been seen at Goldcliff and the wider Newport Wetland Reserve for a while. The bird was rarely seen and almost like a ghost. After reading a sighting of one in early December I set out to scour the wetlands area for a day to see if I could find the elusive bird. After a day's birdwatching on the levels with no success, I decided to finish off a fairly uneventful day and watch the Starling murmuration. As chance would have it whilst waiting for the Starlings a Hen Harrier turned up and was pointed out to me by an equally excited RSPB volunteer.

My first sighting and photograph of a "Ringtail" Harrier. A much-oppressed species of bird and a rare sight.

7.Slimbridge

I had not been to Slimbridge for several years. In January I made my first visit of the year with Paul Joy and Nicola Johns. It was so good an experience that I ended up becoming a WWT member. I have made six visits this year and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. There are some really good hides at the reserve and the new Estuary Tower is absolutely brilliant. The sheer numbers of waders this year for me has been a big attraction. I have loved watching the big flocks of Golden Plovers, Lapwings, Black Tailed-Godwits and Knots. The South Lake hide has often afforded some really close views of waders in flight. There have been two bird species that have stook out that are not waders, however. Bitterns and Water Rails. Both birds are rarely seen closely and for prolonged periods, but this year at Slimbridge I had both.

Whilst in the Zeiss Hide we watched a pair of Bitterns hunting in the reed bed. This one caught a Perch and swallowed it whole.

8. Steart Marshes

Steart is a relatively new reserve and in some regards reminds me of the Newport Wetland Reserve area. The reserve at Steart is managed by several organizations including the WWT. The Quantock Hide was amazing and Paul Joy and I had our closest views yet of Golden Plovers. When a juvenile Peregrine Falcon turned up it caused mayhem and I marveled at how close it hovered against a strong headwind within several feet of me whilst on the hunt.
I was really impressed by Steart and it had lots to offer including the most winter thrushes I have ever seen, lots of waders, cool hides, Roe Deer, a confiding Kestrel and Short Eared Owls.

Peregrine Falcon in action. It turned in front of me. It was so close I could barely focus on it.

9. Waders in Flight

If there is one particular type of photograph I love taking its flight shots of waders. I simply adore big flocks of waders especially when they become startled and take to their air and perform amazing synchronized aerobatic maneuvers that would put the Red Arrows display team to shame.
This year I have taken an unbelievable amount of pictures, my Nikon D500 sounding awfully like a machine gun at times as I rattle of picture after picture to try and get something in focus and just right. It's been hard to choose a picture for sure from thousands.  

Black-Tailed Godwits and Knot in spring at Goldcliff Lagoons. This is what gets me up early in the morning and brings me back again and again to the lagoons.

10. Sunsets

To end my top ten memorable moments of 2019 it has to be with a picture of the sun going down.
I have spent a huge portion of my spare time at Goldcliff Lagoons and in the summer months, I have loved the fact that after a busy day at work I can get down to the reserve and relax. The day often ends with me watching the sunset. The so-called "Golden Hour" has often resulted in some great photo opportunities with many a wader flock coming in to roost on the mudflats or the lagoons themselves.

There is nothing better than to end the day watching the sun go down. The sunsets on the horizon lighting up Monks Lagoon at Goldcliff an amazing color. All of it framed by the Redshank Platform.

So that's my top ten memorable highlights of 2019. It by no means includes all my favorite pictures and memories. It's been hard to choose from them all.

Thanks again to all my readers and friends. All the best for 2020.






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