Yankee Fever


Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper (Center). Grey Plovers (Left and Right)

I was having a conversation with my good friend John Lawton (aka Video John, watch his videos by clicking here) at Goldcliff last weekend and we were musing over whether another American migrant would drop into the reserve. I had missed the Pectoral Sandpiper that turned up last month and really would be pleased if some vagrant species such as Baird's Sandpiper or a Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper put in an appearance during my staycation. The latter species had been sighted recently at Slimbridge and well you never know, it may move on to Goldcliff, as it is not really that far away on the scale of things. The COVID situation was also not looking at all good and I was expecting some further lockdowns to be brought into force as positive cases were on the increase for Newport and some of the other boroughs. So this week was likely to be my last week at the reserve if a local lockdown was introduced. I was determined to make the most of it.

On Monday I arrived before dawn at the reserve. A mist had settled across the levels but the sky was clear and a good sunrise looked promising. 

I met up with a chap called Chris, one of the Curlew Monitoring Team that I have been helping out and as we walked through the reserve checked the lagoons from the various platforms. Monks Lagoon was quiet, Priors was occupied by over seventy Greylag Geese on it ( some of them ringed) and Becs looked devoid of anything other than Canada Geese from a distance.

I stopped off at the Marsh Platform for a better look at the other side of the reeds and noted that there was a large wader flock huddled against the reeds. It consisted of Black Tailed Godwits, Lapwings, Redshank, Knots, Snipe, Dunlin and four Greenshank. There was no sign of "Flossy" the Glossy Ibis.

I decided to track back to the Snipe Platform and watch the dawn and the sunrise over the misty fields.

The sun breaks free of the low mist and cloud

The Sun burns through the mist

After enjoying the sunrise I returned to the Marsh Platform and was hoping for a Harrier to arrive to put the wader flock up. The raptor did not show but instead from the bank, near the Marsh Platform, out of the long grass came three rather dapper-looking Ruffs that started to feed in the early morning sunshine.

Three Ruff

The wader flock had the jitters and on several occasions got spooked and took flight only to move on a little down the lagoon and then they would drift back to their previous location. Birds were dropping in and out all the time, especially Redshanks, Knots and Dunlins.

The wader flock on full alert

 The Redshanks and Greenshanks were very mobile and seemed to be flying around Priors moving over the reedbed regularly. The Lapwings as usual were quite jumpy and tended to take flight at any sign of trouble. Most of the time in response to a large gull or two that flew low over the lagoon.

Lapwings take flight

My friend John Lawton joined me a little before 8 am. He had been watching several waders that had landed the other side of the reeds on Priors. He had been observing a Greenshank and had also seen another bird that he had videoed which was definitely not a Greenshank. In fact, what he had seen was something much better - a Lesser Yellowlegs Sandpiper ( a Yankee Bird !). It had not hung around long and John soon lost sight of it but had recorded a video of it.

The Yellow-Legged Sandpiper seen by John Lawton on Priors at 7.38 AM 22/09/20. With my thanks picture courtesy of John Lawton.

I suspect it may have been in with the main wader flock earlier hidden unnoticed by me and had flown with the Redshanks over the central reeds. It was a brilliant spot, by John.

John and I kept an eye on the roosting waders for a while. There was a lot of activity. A Peregrine swept across the lagoons at one stage and caused a flock of Dunlins and Knot to rocket from Monks Lagoons over to Becs. The Lapwings shot up into the air, the Godwits went into alert mode popping their heads up and lots of small stuff started to blast around the lagoon in panic. Birds were dropping into the wader flock from over the top of the reeds and a flock of Dunlins were mesmerizing me as they flew back and forth in front of the Marsh Platform.

Dunlin Flock

Dunlins Feeding

Things then calmed down and I had a chance to scan the Dunlins - there were no Curlew Sandpipers or Little Stints but later when I reviewed my flight shots both species has been present in the large flock that had been speeding past us.

A Little Stint is there - can you find it?

I then left John for a while as I wanted to check in with Chris and see if any Curlews had turned up.

From the sea wall, I could see that the tide had not yet flooded the Saltmarsh and there was no sign of the Curlews at the edges of the water.

The wall was alive with Meadow Pipits, Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears. They were feasting on thousands of small insects that were either airborne or on the grass and sea walls rocky foundations. There was a huge amount of visible bird migration (#vismig). In fact, I don't think I have ever seen so many Meadow Pipits on the reserve.

Meadow Pipit

Close up

At one point one of the Wheatears landed on a post less than a meter from another birdwatcher.

There was no sign of any Curlews on the lagoons and high tide remained a few more hours away so there was plenty of time for them to arrive.

I rejoined John who had been guarding my camera bag and probably wanted to move on. John certainly was eager to check the other lagoons as there was lots of activity on the other lagoons. Before we left I took some more photographs of the wader flock before we left the Marsh Platform. At the time I could not see the "Yellowlegs" that John had seen earlier. On reviewing the flock pictures later I discovered that the"Yellowlegs" had been in the main wader flock at 9.18 am so must have slipped into the flock at some stage after John had seen it earlier in the morning. Perhaps during the commotion caused by the Peregrine.

The wader flock - Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper I believe is shown top left preening

John and I headed back around to the Snipe Platform. On our way, another birder told us he had seen a Merlin successfully take one of the Dunlins.

As we approached the back of the Lapwing platform and Hide 2 that overlooks Monks a birder told us that he had seen a small flock Grey Plovers on Monks. John and I took a look.

There was indeed a flock of Grey Plovers. Every time you looked they seemed to be growing in number. Now and again they would fly off only to reappear as quickly as they had left but return in greater numbers. Soon there was 12 in number and a couple of Knot.

Then from nowhere appeared a different daintier bird. I immediately began to track it using the super-zoom of the Nikon P1000. I remarked to John how skinny that it looked compared to the Grey Plovers which looked massive next to it. That's when the penny dropped with John and he got his camera focussed on the bird and he said, "You know I think that's the Yellowlegs" and indeed, it sure was.

The Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper

The Gwent Bird recorder had also clocked the Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper on Monks and had broadcast the sighting to the world on Twitter. Minutes later I saw people running excitedly to the Lapwing viewing platform 

John and I joined them for a view of the  Lesser Yellow Legs in the corner of Monks where it was now darting in and out of the lagoons grassy verges.

Lesser Yellow-Legged Sandpiper

Daintily walks around on Monks Lagoon

From then on the birders began to arrive in numbers. I headed back around the reserve to check out Becs Lagoon and see how the Curlew monitoring was going. When I got to the far side of the reserve and joined Chris over 430 Curlews were roosting on Becs.

The heat haze was horrendous and my camera's zoom lens just could not cope with it meaning if there were any coloured rings to see I was not going to be able to read them. Chris had checked them out already using his cope and very keen eyes.

It was time for me to head back. I stopped at the sea wall and had a very close encounter with a pair of friendly Wheatears. They seemed to have no fear of people and I lay on the grass and one of them almost landed on the end of my camera lens. The pictures I took are very much "Full Frame".

Keep off the sea-wall

The Wheatear had practically no fear

So close I had to do a headshot

Walking back through the reserve there was now an air of feverish excitement. "Yankee Fever" was now upon us. Birders were filling the platforms with their scopes and cameras, all eager to catch a glimpse of the "Yellowlegs". The bird must have moved to Priors Lagoon again and the last I heard as I walked through the reserve was that it had flown off towards Goldcliff Pill. I am sure if it returned it would be picked up again quickly as no doubt lots of eyes would be scanning anything that moved to catch a glimpse of it.

Another good day at the reserve. So the musings we had on the weekend about an American vagrant wader turning up had come to pass. I was happy to have seen a Lesser Yellow-legged Sandpiper for the first time - it has been a while since I have had a lifer on the reserve this year and was chuffed to get the tick, a few pics and a video of the bird. 

Unfortunately, when I got home I was greeted by my daughter with some really bad news. "From 6pm tomorrow Dad, Newports in lockdown". Oh no, that means no more visits to Goldcliff Lagoons for me until further notice.


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