New Passage and Pilning Wetlands

A flock of Dunlin speed by me.

 Since 6pm on Tuesday Newport has gone into COVID lockdown. This means Goldcliff Lagoons has been out of bounds to me and many others who travel there from outside the county borough. I live in a county borough that at the time of writing is not in lockdown. This may change over the next week or so.

The lockdown of Newport has really impacted my birdwatching as Goldcliff Lagoons is my patch and with me being unable to attend there I really needed to find an alternative so I could get my wader fix.

This time of year is really good for waders as its right in the middle of Autumn Passage and the birding at Goldcliff Lagoons had been outstanding with most recently a Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper having turned up on the reserve.

Goldcliff however is just one place on the Severn Estuary where you can go looking for waders. On my last visit to Goldcliff, I had been speaking to one of the birders who had told me his patch was a place called New Passage that is near Aust and Severn Beach. From what he told me it sounded very good. I had been to Aust previously to photograph Short-eared Owls and New Passage is just a short distance away. There is also a reserve called Pilning Wetlands which consists of several pools that a farmer has purpose-built for wildlife that lies on the edge of the saltmarsh at New Passage.

Now this area was sounding like a good substitute to Golcliff Lagoons whilst the lockdown was in force.

So over the last week, I have been visiting New Passage and the Pilnings Wetlands with my friend Paul Joy. We have spent quite a bit of time over there walking the sea wall, watching flocks of waders feeding on the mud as the tide recedes, and scanning the pools of the Pilning Reserve for rare birds such as the Pectoral Sandpiper.

I must admit I have been impressed by the whole area and in terms of travel time does not take much longer than it does to get to Goldcliff Lagoons.

I have decided to break this post up and describe some of the key locations and add some photographs to illustrate it.

New Passage

To visit this area, I found that it was easiest to park on New Passage Road. It's a residential area with no designated car park so you need to park respectfully and there is limited capacity for parked cars.

I have included a map below that should help readers familiarise themselves with the area.

https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

If you walk West from New Passage Road you will soon find a public footpath that leads onto the Sea Wall. Walking South along it will take you to the Prince of Wales Bridge and eventually Severn beach. If you walk North then you will walk towards Northwick Warth but before you get anywhere near this the wall comes to an end and from here you will have a great view of a muddy pill and the Saltmarsh.
This is a great spot for watching waders on the mud especially around high tide.

Watching waders from the sea wall


Black-Tailed Godwits, Knot and Dunlins

Shelduck, Dunlins, Redshank and Ringed Plovers

Black-Tailed Godwits, Redshank and Dunlins

Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins

I must admit I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting comfortably on the wall at a respectable distance watching the waders doing their thing, undisturbed on the mud. On occasions, they can come quite close. My highlights over the last week have been regularly seeing Curlew Sandpipers in with the Dunlin and even a small flock of them.

There is also a large flock of Black Tailed Godwits which puts on some spectacular aerobatic displays when a Peregrine starts harrying them.

On one occasion a rather large Sparrowhawk was seen on the saltmarsh. It caused quite a sensation at the time as it was suspected to be a Goshawk. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

The flock of Black-Tailed Godwits

Peregrine Falcon

Curlew Sandpipers

Over the last couple of visits to this location, I have seen the following wader species-

  • Dunlin
  • Sanderling
  • Grey Plover
  • Oystercatcher
  • Black-Tailed Godwits
  • Bar-Tailed Godwits
  • Curlew
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Redshank
  • Knot
  • Turnstone
  • Ringed Plover

Pilning Wetlands

A short walk from the New Passage sea wall and you will arrive at the Pilning Wetlands. The "pools" are privately owned but you can stand on the public footpath that runs through Northwick Warth and scan the pools from there. It is an impressive location.

Map of the area that is displayed on the information board.

The Pilning Wetlands



A view across the wetlands

The Pilning Wetlands

The Pilnings Wetlands for the last two weeks has been the temporary home of a rare North American migrant - a Pectoral Sandpiper. I have been lucky on a couple of occasions to have seen it.

Pectoral Sandpiper and Snipe


The Prince of Wales Bridge

When you visit it is well worth walking down towards the Prince of Wales Bridge. At high tide, some of the waders roost on the sea wall or close to it on the shoreline and you should keep an eye out for them.

I found a small flock of Dunlins initially roosting and then feeding on the exposed mud as the tide started to go out. I was able to get quite close to them without causing any disturbance and at a respectful distance.


Roosting at high tide

Dunlins rest at high tide

Sunsets

The Prince of Wales bridge is an amazing piece of engineering and architecture. It was an incredible feat of work to build across the dangerous Severn.

If you are lucky with the weather the sunsets are fantastic.

The Prince of Wales Bridge

Sunset

The bridge looks amazing against the sunset backdrop


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