Zooming in on the waders

Black-Tailed Godwits and Knots explode from Priors Lagoon

This weekend marks the beginning of my "staycation" and time to relax from work. I can't think of a better way to unwind and get some stress relief than to go and do some "bird therapy" at yes, you have already guessed it I expect - Goldcliff Lagoons :)

Before dawn, I was walking into the reserve with my good friend Paul Joy. Daybreak was looking a little cloudy so we gave chasing a sunrise on the wall a miss on this occasion.

I have recently written a Guide to Goldcliff Lagoons and as we approached the first hide I said to my companion "we had better go and check this hide as you never know what we may miss if we walk past". I must practice what I preach.

As we stumbled in the near dark into hide 1 and fumbled to find the hide window catches I could not help but feel excited about what we may see on Monks Lagoon. Sometimes there is a horde of birds roosting and on other occasions it's dead.

We peered out in the pre-dawn murk and there was not much to speak off until we scanned towards the sluice end. Stood in a row were three rather large looking Egrets. I have now got a new Nikon P1000 camera that I used primarily for identification purposes and I can use it as a secondary scope. It has got incredible reach - 3000 mm which is outrageously good and ideal for Goldcliff.

I zoomed in on the white birds and excitedly both Paul and me confirmed what we suspected - they were Great White Egrets. Not a species that you see every day at Goldcliff. these were also our first that we had ever seen at the reserve after a few false alarms previously where I have mistaken Little Egrets for a Great White. The birds are much bigger than Little Egrets and have great big yellow bills.

Three Great White Egrets

I grabbed a couple of record shots and then Paul was running out of the hide like a stampeding buffalo as he was hoping to get a better picture from the redshank platform. I overtook him en route my younger legs giving me a little more speed. Unfortunately half-way to the platform we heard a heron-like croaking noise and my gut feeling was they had flown. Running to the redshank platform also feels a long way and seems to take an eternity when carrying all your kit and by the time I got to it the Great White Egrets had gone. Typical, I could not help but wish we had stayed put at Hide 1 but that is bird watching for you. Wildlife does what it wants and it will not obey our wishes, it does not get called wild for nothing.

Monks Lagoon was a little on the quiet side and at the moment the best place to be in the mornings is the Snipe and Marsh Platform on Priors Lagoon. We headed in there as quickly as we could.

Not much of a sunrise but the light got better

The wader flock had gathered together in good numbers opposite the Marsh Platform. The flock consisted of 250 + Black Tailed Godwits, 100c Knot, 40c Lapwing, and 30c Redshank. There was also as Greenshank and at least 8 Snipe on the edges of the reeds.

The gloom soon lifted after dawn and the sun started shining illuminating the whole lagoon. It was like a torch being shone into the darkness and its amazing what gets revealed with a little more light. A Water rail crossed the gap between the reeds and I was able to grab a quick record shot.

A Water Rail crosses the gap between the reed beds

Out of the main red bed crept "Flossy" the Glossy Ibis. This enigmatic bird was lit up in all its multicolored glory and started to preen itself for a good thirty minutes before it flew off and landed on Becs and out of sight.

"Flossy" the Glossy Ibis

The wader flock was joined by a flock of Dunlins that began to busily feed and soon there was a real wader spectacle starting. We were joined by several birders and one of whom was new to birdwatching and I must admit I could not help but think what a great place to start learning the identification of waders is Goldcliff and the novice was having a  great start, picking up new lifers all over the place thanks to a bit of guidance from ourselves.

Snipe were showing in good numbers

Dunlin feed on Priors

A very clean looking Greenshank

The Knot Flock

The waders became increasingly agitated. Something was spooking them. Suddenly the lapwings lost their nerve and hurtled up into the sky. Their alarm calls cascaded throughout the wader flock and soon all you could hear was a terrific noise of beating wings and piping alarm calls warning everything that something bad was around.


The flock moved in a great wave hurtling above the reedbeds and swirled upwards and downwards. I was in my element. Wader flocks in flight I absolutely love.  The protagonist did not reveal itself and soon the frightened waders descended to the waters of the lagoon again.

The sky was full of waders

Lots of waders in flight

When the calm resumed there were now four distinct flocks - Black Tailed Godwits, Knots, Lapwings, and Redshank.

We then noticed a little commotion amongst the Black-Tailed Godwits and saw that an unlucky Godwit was badly injured. It could not stand and was gradually getting very waterlogged in the water. A group of Godwits were protectively guarding it and shooing away inquisitive Redshanks. Whilst upsetting it was also interesting and a little heartwarming to see other Godwits showing compassion for their injured flock member. It was sad in the end as the injured bird slowly faded away and then the rest of the flock moved away. The general feeling was that a Peregrine had caused the waders to take a flight earlier and this Godwit was a casualty from all the chaos - it may have been hit by the falcon and escaped or had collided with another bird - who knows if that can happen.

Injured Godwit

As life settled down we looked to the skies as overhead there was a lot of visible migration. Meadow Pipits, Swallows and House Martins, and more unidentified small birds passed through the reserve.

Occasionally a Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail would fly past calling as they did so. The hedgerows were alive with small birds and several times we heard Chiff Chaff contact calls.

Then the calm ended and the flock exploded in total chaos. There were birds everywhere my camera's lens was full from corner to corner with flying waders. It was amazing. The cause of the disturbance was a juvenile Peregrine Falcon. It hurtled across the sky like a fighter jet, rising up and then stooping down sharply to pursue the massive flock of waders that moved as one to try and avoid any of them being singled out. Back and forth the aerial battle went across the tops of the reeds, the falcon swooped past the Marsh Platform turning sharply with the sun at its back to strike again at the flock. Again and again, it chased its prey but suddenly it veered off and gave up heading off towards Monks.

Corner to corner waders fill the frame

The flock hurtles past

The noise of the many beating wings and piping calls is amazing

The Peregrine begins a dive

The falcon acquire a target as it passes the Marsh Platform

Well, that really was something amazing to watch. My camera had eaten through several memory cards and I was sure I had captured some great pics.

Once again Goldcliff Lagoons had delivered an unforgettable experience.

Things bode well for the rest of the week with some monster hide tides between 17th and 22nd of September. This should result in a lot of birds being pushed in off the saltmarshes and high tide foreshore roosts. I can't wait.


  1. Fabulous blog, really missed a treat!

  2. Very nice read. Where is your guide to Goldcliff? I usually assume that the best time to be at this and similar sites (assuming suitable weather etc) is from a couple of hours before a high tide, but this hasn't always worked well for me at goldcliff. Is there some other rule here?

  3. Hi Paul Seligiman. Please take a look at this https://www.thewildlifeoculus.com/p/goldcliff-map.html . I like high tides coinciding with dawn or dusk.


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