Oh what a sunny day on the levels

The pre-dawn orange glow


I started my Saturday morning with freezing fingers scraping the ice off my windscreen in the dark with ELO's Mr Blue Sky blaring out of the car stereo. Looking up into the early morning "stupid o'clock" sky I could see thousands of stars glittering.

I was up early to try and get some nice sunrise pictures and the clear skies meant things were looking promising. My destination, as ever, was going to be Goldcliff. A few weeks ago I tried the same but was disappointed as it all went cloudy just as the sun was rising. This time I was hoping for more luck.

After a little trip in the car, I soon found myself stood admiring the view from Goldcliffs sea wall. It remained dark but it was so clear and quiet. Not silent but it was free of the human noises of hustle and bustle that you get during the day, like a constant hum in the background. What you hear at this time is the gentle noise of the incoming tide and the haunting calls of Curlews and the occasional peep of an Oystercatcher. I love it.  When I used to work nights we used to call it the ghost hour.

It almost feels like the calm before the storm, but today I did not want a storm I just wanted a stellar sunrise instead.

Whilst setting up my camera kit I was soon joined by birding friend Nev Davies who is a like-minded soul and was also hoping for a sunrise.

As dawn approached it was as if a natural " alarm" clock had gone off. Nature began to wake up. A pair of Ravens and flock of crows began to put on an aerobatic display.

Raven calls recede the rising sun

It was is if they were all getting excited for a new day to start. Curlews, Shelduck, and Wigeon gathered on the edge of the water. A big flock of Turnstones hurtled in and landed on the mud a stone throw away from us both.

Seagulls screamed to each other across the sky and some settled on the groyne posts.
An orange glow began to spread on the horizon. It all looked pretty ominous. Then up the sun came and it was glorious. Everything was lit up that lovely golden color.

Up comes the sun

The sun between the groynes


Mission accomplished it was time to move on. Next up it was Goldcliff Lagoons for me and elsewhere for Nev.

We have just had a week of horrendous rain and the reserve resembles a bog at the moment. The ground is waterlogged and it's very muddy. Wellies were essential and I trudged through the reserve to check each hide and platform.

The Peregrine was in its usual spot on Monks lagoon. Perched upon a bit of a rock on the island.

At Priors, I met up with my other birding pal Paul who was busy scanning the lagoon for birds. Glossy had been seen earlier by him and there were plenty of ducks. We picked out a Pintail and two Goldeneyes but there was no sign of the Black-Necked Grebe that has been hanging about for a week or so.

In front of the Snipe, platform were a pair of swans that were doing a courtship display. I guess with the turning of the year all the birds will now start pairing up as spring approaches.

Tucked down a few meters away from the platform were two Snipe. Great to see so closely from the aptly named platform we were stood in.

Common Snipe at Priors

Preening Common Snipe


At one point a male Marsh Harrier quartered the reed bed, caused a bit of chaos and then descended into the reeds. It later reappeared when we checked the Marsh Platform.

Male Marsh Harrier


Checking the foreshore it was busy. I haven't seen it with som many waders for a good while. There was a big flock of Dunlins that had Grey Plovers and some Knot mixed in with them. As the tide began to come in more birds settled that included - Avocets, Redshank, Curlew, Lapwings and notably a flock of Pintail ducks.

As we started the return journey through the reserve Paul spotted something on Priors. He thought it was the Black-Necked Grebe but between us we struggled to get a good view of it.

He headed for home as duties called for him and I tried one more time in the Snipe Platform.
As I watched the Snipe again something small and greyish suddenly popped up in the water next to where the Snipe had settled. Amazingly it was the Black-Necked Grebe! It put on quite a show and I enjoyed fabulous views of it.

Black-Necked Grebe


My afternoon was spent walked the Uskmouth Newport wetlands site. I was wondering if there was going to be a Starling murmuration. Apparently, its gone a little quiet on that front lately. I am not surprised after the weather we have had.


Wader flock at Uskmouth

Dunlins flock together and a murmuration starts

The mud on the foreshore had quite a few waders. There was a big flock Dunlins that did there own version of a murmuration at one point. A second flock of waders came in and settled on the mud and I spotted Knot and Gery Plovers with them.

I stayed until sunset and was glad I did as it was fantastic. The pictures will speak for themselves.

The setting sun


Setting of the sun over the estuary

The afterglow lit up the sky with some lovely colors


As I strolled back marveling at the dusk skies which were turning reddish-purple in the afterglow of the setting sun I passed a big reedbed on the Saltmarsh Lane side something made me scan across the reeds. In the gloom I saw movement - it was a raptor. I quickly focussed the camera and tried to dial in some low light settings. Through the viewfinder I could see a white band at the base of its tail. A distinctive identifying feature of a rare raptor. It was the "ghost of the Newport Wetlands" - the "Ring Tail" - a female Hen Harrier.

"Ring Tail" Hen Harrier

Lucky to get a picture in the dusk light


What a great finish to a lovely sunny day on the levels.

PS Tomorrow is "Flossy" the Glossy Ibis' first anniversary of being seen at Goldcliff.

"Flossy" the Glossy Ibis.

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