A day along the wall


The wall just after dawn

I spent the day yesterday from dawn until dusk rarely very far from Goldcliff Sea Wall. I started the day walking into Goldcliff Lagoons in the near dark a good forty minutes before dawn. There was an orange glow on the horizon and a crescent moon above it with a very bright star near it. In fact, the star is the planet, Venus. There was a mist on the levels and it was quite fresh.  My shoes were soon soaking and my feet were very wet from the dew on the grass.

A crescent moon and Venus

I had a bit of a purpose for the visit as I was hoping to see if any curlews were using the lagoons to roost. I have been in contact with a gentleman named Mike Smart who has a huge amount of enthusiasm for the conservation of Curlews and he and a number of people are very interested in whether there is any color ringed Curlews frequenting the reserve. It is really worth visiting the Call of the Curlew website and getting familiar with the work that is done to try and stop this enigmatic species declining.

So I entered Hide 1 and looked out into the darkness. I could hear lots of Curlews calling. I think it's my favorite wader call. It always gives me a big thrill to hear them. On the far side of Monks Lagoon, I could see a big flock of Curlews. The light was too poor for me to see them very well and there was no chance of me being able to see any rings. I could barely focus the camera and photography was out of the question.

I  hoped that they would settle but unfortunately as soon as the pre-dawn light started to brighten things up they were off, up into the sky as one, all 120+ Curlews flying towards Becs Lagoon and the sea wall.

A few Curlews remained but none appeared to have rings. Good to know the birds are still roosting at Goldcliff Lagoons but I can't really comment on how regularly they do this and whether its high tide specific.

I ventured further into the lagoons hoping that there would be a few waders on Priors Lagoon as it was only an hour or so after high tide.

The majority of the wader flock was at the far end of Priors and a little distant. Opposite the Marsh Platform was a smaller flock of birds and I thought I would take a look at them.

Spider web lit up by the rising sun burning through the mist

It remained quite chilly and the mist had not lifted even when the sun finally started to rise and burn through it quite spectacularly. I spent a bit of time at the rear of the platform and it was quite cool to see all the spider webs covered in dewdrops being lit up by the rising sun. Life on the lagoons was pretty quiet. The waders were generally sleeping and there was an air of calm.

I headed for the wall and joined two friends of mine Dan Webb and Andrew Strong who had camped out in their portable deck chairs again doing #vismig. I just don't have the acute vision for this. I just see little spots of black but somehow they see Siskins. They do however know their bird calls very well so I think a lot of it is based on what they hear more than what they see.

I could not help but do a little "meme" with one of the pictures I took as it did make me chuckle.

Impressive #vismig skills from this pair and they even had a tick for the sun.

The wall was good for spotting Wheatears and Meadow Pipits as they were showing very well. Passing overhead were lots of hirundines and Meadow Pipits but generally, there were not the same numbers as in previous visits. There was little wind and that may be a factor as the weather was just too nice, but I am not complaining as it was good to get some Vitamin D in my system before the long dark nights of winter soon start.

As mid-day approached the lagoons had really gone quiet so I decided to take a walk up the wall to Redwick along the wall and return later to Goldcliff Lagoons.  En route, I stopped to take a few pictures of the Common Darters that had perched in some sunny locations around the reserve. There were dragonflies everywhere.

Common Darter

The dragonflies have a habit of perching on the sunny fences around the reserve

As I walked along the wall I felt like I was never ever getting any closer to the Prince of Wales Bridge. When viewed from Goldcliff Point its like an optical illusion and only looks a couple of miles away. After about three miles of walking, I have up and started the long walk back.

Throughout the walk to Redwick and beyond the tide had gone far out and revealed huge mud and sandbanks. I could see Curlews, Oystercatchers, and Herons occupying them. The hawthorns bordering the wall were full of Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches, Linnets, and Stone Chats. Overhead a pair of Buzzards including one that looked like a "Bosprey" we see at Goldcliff were riding the thermals and mock fighting each other tumbling extending their talons. It all looked good-natured to me rather than anything serious.

By late afternoon I was back at Goldcliff Lagoons after a pit stop to dry my feet and change my shoes.

The lagoons remained quiet. I made my way to Priors and as I arrived up went the wader flock. Black-Tailed Godwits and Knots shot through the air. The light was pretty awful as at this time of day you are staring directly into the sun which remains high in the sky.

A Knot flyby observed from the Snipe Platform

Black-Tailed Godwits

Moving on to the Marsh Platform the light was better and I joined a group of birders visiting from the Bristol area. They were good company and shared a lot of their fond memories of various birding trips. The most notable birds on show were a group of six snipe that came out in full view feeding with some Godwits.

As high tide approached I found myself right back at where I had started the day, stood on the wall hoping the incoming tide would bring in more waders. I was joined by an old friend Gavin Vella and had a catch-up. He is one of the latest people to join my photo "Wall of Fame " collection.

A close encounter with a very confiding Wheatear

Posing for the paparazzi before it begins the long haul flight to Africa

When we were talking a very accomodating Wheatear popped up on a post in front of us and soon many a birder was enjoying very close views of a rather dapper looking bird.

Elsewhere things were hotting up on the lagoons. The wader flock had gone skyward several times. Something was upsetting them. The protagonist so far had remained hidden from us but there was definitely something out there - perhaps a Peregrine or a Marsh Harrier.

Then the Wheatear suddenly vanished. The waders became unsettled on Monks, some took flight whilst others carried on feeding.

Suddenly Gavin spotted something dart quickly across towards Hill Farm. The bird rapidly skimmed the grass near the path that leads to the farm and then shot skyward. It was a Hobby and may have been the hidden protagonist from earlier. The falcon circled the farm and we watched it catch dragonflies and feed on them whilst on the wing. Awesome to watch and my first sighting this year on the reserve.

Hobby swoops in. Dragonflies -beware

A fabulous bird to watch

The sun began to get lower as sunset approached. I was hoping to get some cool orange colors into my pictures later so we made our way to the Marsh and then Snipe platforms.

From the Snipe Platform we saw that Monks was full of waders busily feeding - Black Tailed Godwits, Knot, Dunlin, Lapwing, Redshank, and Snipe.

It was not long before the flock exploded into the air again. This time they were harried by a female Sparrowhawk. It was pandemonium as she pursued the flock hugging low to the ground as she crossed Monks. The waders dispersed across the sky in a number of flocks putting on quite a display of synchronized flying across the fiery backdrop of the setting sun.

Black-tailed Godwits at sunset

The flocks react to a Sparrowhawk

The waders settled on Priors this time keeping their distance from the Sparrowhawk which was now perched in a Hawthorn not far from the second hide.

Sparrowhawk lurking in the shadows.

The hawk moved on and life began to settle down again. Just like I started my day it became quiet and serene. There was now a nice afterglow across the waters of the lagoon and the birds began to roost.

It was now time for me to also go home and roost. What a great day to start my "staycation".

Home time approaches. The sun turns the reserve gold before falling behind the clouds.


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