Just passing through


Wheatear on the sea wall. About to start a journey to Africa

This time of year is often referred to as Autumn Passage. It is a busy time on the bird calendar. Many species of birds that migrate from the south in the spring to breed in the North have started to make their return journey. The skies above the UK are now like a busy motorway for these migrating species and Goldcliff Lagoons is like a motorway service station with a big McDonalds full of "invertebrate" burger for these birds to eat  ( refuel) rest and then continue on with their very long journeys.

The distance many of these migrating birds travel is truly immense and I find it absolutely breathtaking to think about.

Over the last couple of weeks, the seawall has been very busy with Wheatears that have been filling up their fuel reserves with insects before they literally jump off the wall and making their way to Western Africa.

Yellow Wagtails have also been seen throughout the reserve and they also will embark on a long journey that will find them foraging in grassland around the hooves of antelopes in Senegal and Gambia. I marvel at how interconnected our world is, and how interdependent nature and ourselves is. I make mention of the fact that I envision the wagtails in a savanna-like grassland with wild antelope but knowing how humans have impacted the world's environment so much, I expect in reality they are found in managed farmland and feeding alongside cattle near a village or town. Nature is now impacted by people everywhere and whilst we may make some effort towards conservation in the UK to protect summer migrants it's not necessarily the case where they winter and vice versa really the same is true.

Yellow Wagtail

The skies above the sea wall and the waters of the lagoons have been full of Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins. The odd Swift has also joined them. They too have been taking advantage of the rick supply of airborne insects at this time of year.

Many a birdwatcher who has visited this week has been scanning the wader flocks for the rarer species of waders.

We have a big flock of Black-Tailed Godwits now on the reserve. At least 250 birds and quite a few more and some occasions. These birds I think are a mix of breeders, non-breeders, and newly fledged birds. One of the birds at least is colour-ringed and I am waiting for some more information as I believe it was ringed in the UK.

Black-Tailed Godwits and Knots

The flock does a close flyby

The color ringed Godwit

Joining the flock of Godwits has been a growing flock of Knots. Like the Godwits the Knots appear around the same time every year. They all gather together as a large flock and use Priors Lagoon to roost. The Knots are not going to stay for that long on the lagoons. They have travelled back to the UK from where they breed in Greenland. The flocks will gather together, usually, non-breeders are the first to arrive and then breeding birds and newly fledged will arrive as the month of September progresses. The Knots will then disperse around the estuary and coastline throughout the winter. It appears that this Knot that visits Goldcliff are using it as a muster point.

Knots roost amongst the Godwits

I love this time of year as it often gives me an opportunity to take some photographs of big flocks of waders especially when they get startled by a Peregrine or Marsh Harrier.

The smaller wader species such as Dunlins and Ringed Plover are continuing to appear in good numbers at the reserve, especially at high tide. On the mud opposite Hide 1, there have been a few surprises this week with Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Sanderling observed in among the flocks.

I was able to get a photograph of tow Curlew Sandpipers in flight this weekend. When these birds are on the mud roosting with Dunlins they can be very difficult to pick out. They will tuck their distinctive long bill into their feathers and look just like a Dunlin.  However, when they are flying they have a very distinctive white rump that makes them a great deal easier to identify.

Dunlins and two Curlew Sandpipers
Curlew Sandpiper (center showing the white rump)

Curlew Sandpiper (Central)

Curlew Sandpiper behind the log

The Dunlin flock has also had two Little Stints joining it. The Little Stint is the UK's smallest visiting wader. They are tiny birds practically the size of a small sparrow. The Little Stints are also migrants. They breed in the Arctic Tundra

Little Stint

far up North and are making journeys to places such as East Africa and even the Indian Ocean

The Curlew Sandpipers similarly are just passing through. They breed in Siberia and are making their way to the African continent.

It's truly amazing to think that such as small reserve like Goldcliff is attracting so many international visitors. I know I love my photographs of birds but what I like the most is a good story behind the photos and when I view the pictures I have taken I cannot help but look at them in wonder, but not at how good (or bad) the photo is. No, I am thinking instead what amazing creatures these birds are. Many of them weigh no more than a few grams and they can fly thousands upon thousands of miles and I am lucky enough to observe their travels a couple of times a year when they are "just passing through".


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