A review of my year at Goldcliff Lagoons

I've had some time off during the festive break to think, look back and review my visits to Goldcliff Lagoons. 2022 has been a strange year for me with various ups and downs. Life in general has been busy and there has been lots of twist and turns. My previous focus ( some may call it obsession ) of my favourite reserve has never really wavered but I have had some other projects to invest my spare time in that has led me away from Goldcliff.

In particularly I have spent quite a bit of my free time trying to get closer pictures of waders , flying drones and forest bathing inn the woods of Gwent.

Covid 19 has also remained something we have had to live with throughout 2022. Whilst restrictions have gradually lifted it has remained an ever present spectre in the shadows always potentially about to pounce on you. In December this year it finally caught up with me and put me out of action for a week.

In September my father passed away and this has had a huge impact on me in general and if I am honest it will take me time to get over it - he is dearly missed.

Nevertheless when I have had the opportunity to visit the lagoons I have made the most of it. I was determined this year to try and get some views from a distance of the reserve with my drones that would show some of the seasonal changes in the reserve. 

I have always taken aerial photographs at a respectful distance outside the reserve area. 

Water levels in March were very high. All three lagoons were full of water.

The view from Goldcliff Point/Seawall

The most significant change I recorded this year were the water levels. When the year started all three lagoons - Monks, Priors and Becs were positively over flowing with water. They continued to brim over with water for much for the winter and spring months. It was quite funny when I think back recalling conversations birders had complaining about the high water levels and whinging that no waders were visiting the lagoons. Of all the lagoons that was kept the fullest was Priors Lagoon.

Priors in my opinion can be one of the best lagoons for seeing waders at Goldcliff Lagoons. The Marsh and Snipe platforms can provide quite close views when the water levels drop and the waders choose to roost on Priors. 

However when its full with water it tends to be a bit like a duck pond. In fact Priors is the "freshwater" lagoon on the reserve so perhaps its meant to be that way by design. The two other lagoons Becs and Monks which over the last few years appear to be preferred by a number of wader species are both saline lagoons.

Arguably one of the most significant things that happened in 2022 at Goldcliff Lagoons was the water levels getting very low.

As the year progressed towards the summer the weather got warmer and drier. The UK experienced a bout of extreme weather - a major heatwave. Out of the three lagoons the water level on Priors lagoon was maintained whilst the others began to get lower and lower. I dont know whether this was something prescient and intended by the NRW but keeping the water levels high on Priors turned out to be a very good thing indeed.

By the summer it had been so hot and dry for weeks that the lagoons Monks and Becs had dried completely out. The water levels on Priors began to get lower also but fortunately it always had some water in it and was never allowed to  dry out. 

By August Monks and Becs Lagoon were bone dry with only Priors with water.

With only one lagoon left with water in it this resulted in lots of birds - particularly waders congregating on it which resulted on some great birding - more about that later.

Fortunately by the end of the autumn months the typical welsh weather had returned and with it plenty of rain to fill all three lagoons up again.

Well thats enough about water levels, lets move on and talk about the birding.

My first visit to the reserve in 2022 incredibly did not happen until 27th February.

It was a lucky one and I was really grateful to see one of the two Barn Owls that had been gracing the reserve with their presence.

Barn Owl quartering the reserve

The owl was quartering the lagoon near the Snipe Platform just before dawn and its super white plumage really stood out in the gloomy light.

I could watch the Barn Owl hunting forever as its am amazing sight. The owl would perch up on various posts , then silently fly above the long grass and dive down to try and catch an unsuspecting vole or mouse. The Barn Owl never lingered for long before first light and would then return to its daytime roost. Later in the year I would get lucky on a number of other visits and got to watch the Barn Owl hunting during the day - not sure of that was a good thing or not as it may have been struggling to find food or had chicks to feed - or both!

That day would also be my first sighting of some wader species on the reserve. One highlight was a Spotted Redshank that eventually stayed so long on the reserve it started to turn into summer breeding plumage. 

After a few more subsequent visits I would eventually photograph  it flying with some Common Redshanks which showed off the differences in its beak and makes quite a good identification learning tool I think.

The Spotted Redshank ( far right) with two redshanks.

Flock of Dunlins

In addition to the Redshanks there were plenty of other waders to be found on the lagoons. In the early spring Dunlins were often seen and they provided some nice aerobatic entertainment when they took flight.

In March the Avocets started to be seen on the reserve more. At this time of year they start to settle on the lagoons in a large flock in readiness for the breeding season. Eventually they pair up and start to build nests on the the islands on Becs and Monks. Unfortunately this year  ( yet again) they had little success breeding which was very disappointing. Lets hope things improve for 2023.

Avocet flock

One nice sighting was a Spoonbill in March and I managed to see it during a number of visits. Sightings of this species seem to becoming more regular and I would predict Spoonbills will continue to feature at similar times again next year.


Perhaps one of the most photographed species of birds in 2022 at Goldcliff has to be the Kestrel. I think almost all year round there has been a male and female birds showing in a very confiding manner . They have been a real delight to watch and there has been some great photographs posted online by people. I have taken my fair share of photographs of them as well. More often than not the Kestrels have just landed on a post in front of one of the hides and taking a picture of them has been like shooting fish in a barrel. 

Kestrel (female)

The Kestrels were often seen with a Sparrowhawk and a family of Green Woodpeckers. They all seemed to be getting quite territorial and I am sure they were all in dispute over there various patches on the reserve.

Three Spoonbills

As the spring passage period progressed a nice big flock of Black-Tailed Godwits began to be seen using the lagoons more frequently. They were probably using the reserve to rest, feed and moult before migrating North to their Icelandic breeding grounds.

Big flock of Black Tailed Godwits ( and Avocets)

Black Tailed Godwits

In April I was interviewed by George McDonagh for the Newport Story Trails project. George interviewed me at Goldcliff Lagoons whilst I gave him a tour of the reserve. He did an audio recording of the interview and also created a 3D scan of me in hide 2.

Later in August I would be invited to a showcase event in the city centre and it was amazing to see hear my audio recording and the 3d scan work form part of a rich tapestry of stories featuring many people who live in Newport. I felt like I had contributed to a piece of historical work and helped to make the Goldcliff Lagoons reserve remembered in a historical archive for future generations.

The work that George and the whole StoryTrails team had done was very impressive.

Also in April I presented live on You Tube to Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) which was  Hosted by the Swansea Local Group of the Wildlife Trust.

In May the spring migration was ramping up and there were plenty of new visitors arriving on the reserve. Wheatears  were turning up on the seawall. Taking time to have a pit stop before moving on to the Gwent Uplands to breed. 

Whimbrel were also popping up here and there and one of them even landed on the sea wall.

Wheatear (female)


I had perhaps the cutest moment of all time on the reserve when a small flock of young lambs came bounding up to me and wanted to be cuddled. On more than one occasion this happened - they all new my name and would run up to me bleating "blaiiir". On one occasion I found myself sat on the wall for an hour surrounded the lambs who took turns having the backs of their ears scratched and I found it very amusing that they tried eating my boots.

My lamb friends


They all became members of the Goldcliff Sea Wall of Fame.

The drought in the summer started to have a huge impact on the reserve. Monks and Priors began to dry up until eventually the lagoons mud was naked hard by the fierce summers heatwave.

The drying of two of the lagoons forced many of the wildfowl and wader species to move to Priors Lagoon which had plenty of water.

In many respects from a birdwatching point of view it turned out to be a good thing. There were several sightings of Great White Egrets. These huge birds seems to be increasingly expanding their range throughout the country and like Spoonbills they are not so much as big a surprise to see them as they used to be.

Great White Egrets

Great White Egret and Littel Egrets on Priors Lagoon.

In August Priors was now starting to become a very busy lagoon and you never knew what may turn up.

Many of the fish eating birds such as Herons and Egrets were having a field day feeding on elvers and other small fish now concentrated in Priors.

I spent sometime doing evening visits and during one evening that was very memorable for its sunset and the time I spent with my son we watched hundreds of Curlews, Whimbrels, Oystercatchers and Godwits fly in to roost on the reserve.

It was really spectacular and wonderful to witness.

Magnificent Sunset

Curlews fly in to roost

During August my only lifer this year from Goldcliff Lagoons turned up - a Citrine Wagtail.

I wrote a blog post on this bird which can be found here.

Citrine Wagtail

September was bad month for me as my father sadly passed away so i must admit things all went a little hazy for the next couple of months.

In October my one highlight concerning Goldcliff Lagoons was being able to see the Grey Phalarope that had been hanging around Priors Lagoon for a few months.

Grey Phalarope

The Phalarope stayed on Priors lagoons for over a week.

My writing had a to take a back seat for a while and my visits to Goldcliff Lagoons were very limited.

In November I resumed my local birding activities and returned the lagoons - this time leading Dursley Birding Club on a guided walk of the reserve.

I enjoy spreading the love of the reserve and raising awareness of this little jewel of a location we have in the Newport Wetland Reserve.

The main highlight when shown Dursley around was seeing a female Black Redstart on the seawall near the farm.

I hung around after the bird club headed home and enjoyed my last sunset of the year at Goldcliff Lagoons which was quite a wonderful sight to behold.

Dursley Bird Club

Black Redstart

My final Goldcliff sunset of the year

Later in the month of November I visit on a very cold morning and watched a Male Marsh Harrier quarter Priors Lagoon.

The bird looked fantastic and every time I see one on the reserve I remind myself that these raptors are rarer than a Golden Eagle so I am really proud to be lucky to have them visit my birding patch.

Marsh Harrier (male type)

My final visit of the year was in early December. Any other visits to the reserve were scuppered by my catching Covid and being in quarantine for a week , the festive period and work getting in the way of things - although I have ventured birding elsewhere to finish off my wader photography targets of the year.

During may last visit the one bird that I think just about everyone has photographed this year was showing well - the female Kestrel.

The Kestrel (female)

So I reach the end of my review of Goldcliff 2022. Its been rather fragmented year with lots of ups and downs. The weather yet again has dominated things appearing every year now to swing from extreme to extreme and some how the wildlife has to cope with all this climate change.

I missed quite a few of the more interesting rare visitors this year and I am sure many of the other Goldcliff regulars will have there own perspectives based on their own sightings and experiences.

There has been some terrific photographs posted on Social Media by various visitors and it has been good to see that so many people are enjoying the reserve.

Brian Thomas has continued to maintain the Friends of Lagoons Website where he records all the bird species seen and I am calling out his excellent work and recommend birders visit the website and cast their eyes over the species records observed this year.

A total of 161 different species of birds have been recorded. A great number for such a small reserve.

There is much again to look forward to next year. I am going to become a NRW Volunteer and give some of spare time to supporting the Goldcliff Lagoons reserve. I am very much looking forward to this and giving something back to the reserve that has provided me and others with so much joy.

Finally I would like to thank all those who have spent time with me at the reserve. I have throughly enjoyed the company, the laughs, banter and putting the world to right. There is a great community on the reserve and I always look forward to seeing my birding friends - both new and old.

I wish you all good birding at Goldcliff Lagoons for 2023.

My final Goldcliff picture of the year features a lovely Buzzard that was quite happy to just stare back at me for ages. A lovely experience.


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